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 194 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, on the last episode we promised that this would be a really big show this week. And we will not fulfill that promise.
Craig: No. Well, it is a big show because we have a lot to talk about and it’s all good stuff, but the big thing that we were really excited about we’re kind of pushing down and episode or two. Look, here’s the best news of all: I think people are going to listen to this episode. They’re going to go, whoa, you mean that’s a B for these guys? That’s an A plus for everybody else.
John: Absolutely. We’re going to raise the bar even higher for that episode that we pitched and promised but didn’t actually deliver this week.
Craig: Yeah. We will.
John: Yeah, we will, eventually. Last week on the show I told you about a special screening of Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder that’s happening this week and it’s happening this Saturday, the 25th, at 5pm. If you are a WGA member you can RSVP for it. And if you do, you will get to see me speak with Bruce Joel Rubin, the writer of both of those movies, at a Q&A between those two films. So, if you want to come see that and you’re a WGA member, there is a special link in the show notes you can follow for that and RSVP.
There’s a pretty good chance that they may open up some seats for everybody else who is not a WGA member, so if you follow me on Twitter, @johnaugust, I will let you know if it becomes available for everybody else. And that’s it for the news.
Craig: Nice viewing experience there at the Writers Guild Theater. And Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, just not only two good movies, but just entertaining movies.
John: Absolutely. We didn’t do a special episode about Jacob’s Ladder, but we could do one.
Craig: We could.
John: And, of course, we have the episode about Ghost. You can go back to and listen if you want to get up to speed with your Ghost experience.
John: Craig, did you see in the news that the Writers Guild East added some new members?
Craig: I did. They went and organized, that’s our union term for bringing people in an employment situation under the fold of the union and under the fold of the union agreement. They organized writers at Gawker, the website notable for gawkery. Whatever they do over there.
John: Or for commenting on things in culture, I guess.
Craig: Yeah, they’re kind of a gossip — they’re a gossip website. I mean, let’s face it.
John: Gossipy, yeah.
Craig: Sort of a junkie gossip website. But that’s okay. Sometimes you’re in a junkie gossip mood.
Craig: And occasionally Gawker — in that Internet way they defy their own brand. Sometimes they do remarkable stuff actually. So, they kind of —
Craig: They hit extremes of god, and wow, very cool, as do we all. What’s interesting about this is that this is not audio visual and I think this may be the first time that anyone who does not do an audio visual job has been organized into the guild. I could be wrong, but I think this may be it.
John: So let’s talk about this, because we think of the Writers Guild representing film and TV writers and sort of people who make fiction stuff for screens is what I sort of think about. But we do have some journalists who are part of the Writers Guild. There’s a few little bits of things that are not what we think about as being Hollywood in the Writers Guild. And this is a new direction.
Craig: Yeah. So, the Writers Guild does represent some writers for news broadcasts in Los Angeles and back east, mostly back east. Some radio news as well. But it’s always been audio/visual. And whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.
This is new. Now, on the one hand, you know, I’m fine. Look, the East — the East is the East. One day I’ll do a whole thing about the East and how they drive me crazy. But there’s nothing to complain about here. I mean, I think anybody that works a writing job that can be afforded union protections, salary, minimums, credit protections, pension and health, those are good things. I hope they get all of those things. And since they are working as work-for-hire, it makes sense.
Is there a downside? No. It’s just that there’s no larger upside for the union. You know, when the union talks about organizing, the idea ultimately is that you should be organizing, there are two basic strategies. One strategy is organize massive quantities of workers so that you can use your total strength as leverage for individual contract negotiations. Like, SCIU.
John: Yeah, that service workers union is incredibly powerful and huge.
Craig: Enormous. And they have — if you said well what’s a service worker? Anybody from a janitor to a nurse. I mean, they’ve got — it’s just an enormous range of types of employees and types of work situations with god knows how many contracts. I mean, I can’t even imagine how many contracts they negotiate on a rolling basis.
The Writers Guild has always been the other kind which is to organize a specialized group of people who do something rare and because you essentially control the rare employees that people want, you have leverage to bargain on their behalf. And that’s SAG essential, the SAG/AFTRA version, definitely the DGA version, definitely the Writers Guild version.
The East seems to be kind of dabbling with this other version, which is fine. I don’t think they’ll ever accrue massive quantities in such a way that it would kind of sway industries, but it’s good for those writers. So, I guess the winners are those writers.
John: I would hope so. I definitely see what you’re saying though in terms of there’s the model of going really big and sort of getting as many people into the fold as possible, but you risk losing focus. And in the times where I’ve had conversations with Writers Guild members who are working in TV journalism, it is just such a different world that I worry sometimes that we’re not able to adequately represent their special needs and concerns. You know, on a daily basis they’re not facing the same kinds of things we’re facing.
So, the useful thing about having a guild be so focused on one specific thing is we can keep our eye on that ball and nothing gets sort of dropped. and I worry that in trying to get more people involved with the guild, you’re going to lose that kind of focus.
Craig: You’re right to be worried about that. The way that the West and East break things out, as you know, because you’re on the negotiating committee frequently, the West takes negotiation point on the big contract for film and television writers — the film and television writers making primetime TV shows, writing movies, and so on and so forth. Cable shows, too.
The East takes point on news contract negotiations primarily. They do have a culture of this on their end of things. It’s preferable, if you’re choice is I work at Gawker and my choice is no union or the Writers Guild East, no question. The Writers Guild East will — should be at least better for you.
But what would be better still would be joining a union that actually represents a lot of shops like Gawker. And that is not the WGAe. Nor, will it ever be.
John: Yeah. Being naïve, I don’t know that there is any union organization that really is representing these kinds of writers right now. And I think there’s a case to be made for — right now it’s Gawker, but there’s certainly companies that are making things that are more like what we normally do. So you look at BuzzFeed with the video stuff they’re doing. You look at Maker Studios or any of these places that are doing video design for the Internet, some of those places are in this murky middle where it’s very much more like our TV kind of model.
And when we do the big negotiations for the big contract, whenever we’re dealing with our major studio partners, the web stuff that they’re doing, that’s always a concern for sort of we want to be covered when we’re doing that. But these little indie shops, maybe you start covering more of those writers and getting them the pension, health, welfare, everything else they should have.
Craig: Yeah. The tricky part is you would probably need to create a separate contract. So, here in this case, they don’t even have a contract. What they’ve gotten essentially is approval from those writers to represent them. And now they’re going to negotiate a contract with the company. By the way, that may not work. I mean, that’s the other thing. But hopefully it does. I would be surprised if it didn’t.
For us on our end, when you look at something like BuzzFeed, it is a non-union shop. It’s a massive non-union shop. Most of this stuff out there now is non-union. Everybody’s been trained to work non-union. So, it’s harder and harder to organize those places. If we do organize them, we will need to create a new contract.
Craig: And what the Writers Guild is particularly good at is enforcing one contract that blankets one industry. What the Internet is really good at is defying that. So, you can’t find a contract that both BuzzFeed and Gawker and HuffPo, and some other major provider, that they’re all going to agree to the way that Fox, Sony… — Frankly, the situation that we have almost can’t ever happen again.
The situation we have with the studios, which is why I’m always keen to preserve it, I think, for as long as it’s preservable. But, you know, for the Gawker writers, I think this is a good thing. I hope it’s a good thing. And I hope that the Writers Guild East does a good job on their behalf.
John: Sounds good. So, for the bulk of our podcast today, we are going to be talking some follow up about the previous episode and the credits situation. So, we did a long podcast last week about how credit is determined for writing feature films. And so we had a bunch of questions from listeners who wanted to know more stuff, or had specific situations, so we’ll try to address those questions and concerns. We’re going to talk about Writer X, who is a mysterious figure who showed up on the scene to annoy Craig mostly.
Craig: [laughs] It’s true.
John: And we’ll talk about sort of the role of anonymity and sort of authority in that space. We’re going to look at this sort of weird email we got from somebody about this iFilm group and what appears to be sort of a really shady situation. And we don’t know anything too specific about his one company, but sort of general patterns to watch out for if someone says they are interested in your script. Well, let’s make sure they really are a real person. And, finally, we’re going to take a look at the GLAAD inclusion report, which is basically the gay and lesbian group that looks at media portrayals of gays, lesbians, and transgender people in movies and how they felt we did this year, or this past year in 2014, and how we could do better. So, we’ve got plenty of show this week.
Craig: So much show. Let’s dive in.
John: All right. So, let’s start with follow up on our credits episode. So, we’ll start with a really simple one. Somebody on Twitter wrote me to ask, “Being an arbiter seems like a lot of work. Do arbiters get paid?”
Craig: Yes. We get paid $400,000 per arbitration. [laughs]
John: Wouldn’t that be so wonderful?
Craig: It would be so wonderful.
John: Everyone would line up to do it.
Craig: I know. No, in fact, we get zero dollars.
John: Yes, we get zero dollars. So that’s another reason why it’s a huge commitment, because that’s money you’re not making doing your writing.
John: There has been discussion about should we have professional paid arbiters, and there’s logic for that and logic against that, and we won’t get into it, but it’s a source of great controversy.
Craig: Yeah, we’re basically — it’s the jury system. Essentially you’re a citizen of the United States, that comes with a bunch of benefits. One of the costs is you got to show up every now and then and do your part.
John: But jurors do get paid. Not much.
Craig: Well, in that case it’s not at all like the jury system. Scratch that. It’s so much worse. Not like the jury system was great anyway.
John: It’s the worst thing ever. And also like being a juror is not that much work. It’s tedious, but it’s not that much work. Being an arbiter is a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of reading involved and thinking.
Craig: I’ve clearly never been a juror.
Joe from — I just like saying Rancho Cucamonga — Rancho Cucamonga writes, “A script I co-wrote is tentatively going into production this summer and I fear the issue of credit is going to be a problem. This is a non-union, privately-funded indie movie, so I know I’m completely at the mercy of how the co-writer, who is also the movie’s director and executive producer, will assign credit. But I’m curious to know where I would stand if I were in the guild.” Good use of subjunctive.
“The script originated with the co-writer/director/executive producer as a simple log line and an extremely vague outline, about a dozen general plot points with virtually no details to any of them. I took it from there and fleshed out a more detailed outline. Then I came up with character names, their jobs, the settings, the subplots, all the supporting characters, and changed the ending. We worked off of that outline and we’re each happily sharing screenplay credit, but he made it pretty clear to me that he doesn’t think I should share story credit.
“He came up with the original idea and the structure, but I really came up with everything else. Should I share credit or is he right to claim that for himself?”
John: So, first, Joe, congratulations on your movie hopefully going into production. I hope it turns out really, really well. Your situation is sort of why you would love to have a Writers Guild contract for your movie, so that these things could be determined correctly and fairly. You have very little leverage in this situation, so you’re going to probably take the credit that you receive, which will be the shared screenplay credit and that’s how it’s going to be. And unfortunately that’s how it is for most of the film producing world.
Most of the film producing world doesn’t have the equivalent of our Writers Guild to figure out who the credited writer should be. And it is that sort of horse trading kind of nonsense that you’re experiencing right now. Craig, do you have any advice for Joe?
Craig: Well, no, because you’re right, and he’s acknowledging there’s really nothing he can do. I guess his question is “but is this right?” And, frankly, unless we read the material, we have no way of telling you if it’s right or not. I mean, what you’re saying is that you contributed to story. That in and of itself does not automatically qualify you for story credit. You would need to show per the Writers Guild arbitration a significant contribution to story.
And that, of course, is a term of art and interpretation.
John: So, let’s pretend that we are two of the three arbiters who receive this. Let’s pretend it goes to WGA arbitration. The kinds of things we’d be looking at when we’re determining story credit is we would be looking at written material. So, probably first piece of written material we’d get was this original sort of beat — whatever this co-writer/director came up with. And if it really is as vague as he says, and it’s 12 bullet points and a vague sort of premise of things.
You would look at this thing and if there really were no character names and there were no sort of details about who these people were and what was going on and sort of how the story progressed, maybe Joe could make a good case for sharing story credit. What would you be looking for for figuring out story credit?
Craig: Well, right off the bat he says he has a fleshed out outline that he did. So, now he has an outline. And outlines are by definition story material. They do not contribute to screenplay. They contribute solely to story. Sometimes I think to myself one of the ways you can determine what’s what is could this go in an outline, or would it need to be part of a screenplay. The fact that he invented a bunch of characters and a bunch of subplots, the fact that he changed the narrative, the basic narrative of the ending, these are all things that do contribute significantly to story.
From what he’s describing, if I believe everything he says, then of course, yes, he should share story credit. If he’s a little delusional, and it happens to the best of us, maybe not. But, given the situation that he’s in, I think there’s really no purpose in fighting over it. There are no residuals. It is at this point it’s essentially a question of vanity and fairness. Right? It’s both things.
Well, let’s discard vanity and let’s unfortunately just acknowledge that this is what happens. When you take the money to write a non-union project, you are in part taking money to absorb a certain systemic unfairness and this may be one of those.
John: So, our friend Howard Rodman would be upset with us if we didn’t mention the fact that there is an indie contract for the WGA. And in the future, if in this kind of scenario, you might look into whether that indie contract would be useful for you in the situation.
I cannot recall the details, whether arbitration is a thing you get with that indie contract or not, but it does give you certain protections down the road. It does give you the ability to have a little bit more control over your work than you might otherwise have. So, it would be something for a writer like Joe to look at in the future.
Craig: All right. What’s next?
John: Will Eisner’s Ghost writes, “The opening title sequence for Netflix’s Daredevil reads ‘Created by Drew Goddard.’ It seems strange for Goddard to take this credit when he’s simply adapting preexisting characters and preexisting plots. I’ve noticed very little in terms of actual content creation, but direct plot and character adaptation.
“Frank Darabont took a ‘Developed by’ credit when he put together The Walking Dead. And Dexter’s opening credits are ‘Developed for television by James Manos, Jr.,’ then ‘Based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.’ My question is that if enough of the creation of the plot and characters was done for Marvel comics as a work-for-hire, and then directly adapted by Netflix, might these comic book writers protest the WGA credits for Daredevil TV show? Even if they are not WGA writers and the work was done for another medium?”
Craig, what’s your take on this kind of credit situation?
Craig: Well, to be fair, I consider myself a feature film credits expert. I do not know much about television credits, so I can’t tell you exactly what the rules are that govern the created by credit versus the developed by credit, and how they do source material credits. What I can tell you is that the comic book writers of Daredevil have absolutely no standing to protest any WGA credits. They are not WGA members. They did not contribute material under a WGA contract to this television show.
The copyright for Daredevil is owned by Marvel. Marvel obviously made an agreement with Netflix. That agreement included a licensing of the material. And I presume a provision that the source material be acknowledged. But beyond that, no, the comic book writers unfortunately have no say. Just as, by the way, you and I have no say if they take — you know, we have some separated rights as part of our deal, which comic book writers don’t. But generally speaking when we write a movie for a studio, they get to do with it whatever they want, and we don’t really have much of a say at all.
John: Yeah. So, it is important, that distinction that all the rights to Daredevil, that is a copyright controlled by Marvel. And so when those writers who were writing stuff for Daredevil, everything they did, 100 percent of that gets owned by Marvel. And so when it comes time to make it into a TV show, that whole bundle of rights, it’s as if the author is Marvel, not that the author is the individual writers underneath that. And so Marvel gets to say what the source material is.
In terms of whether it should be created by or developed by, there are specific rules in the WGA contract about what that language is supposed to be, but it’s also a negotiated thing as well. And I’ve seen developed by on certain properties, and created by on other properties. And I cannot honestly tell you why some are one thing, and some are another thing.
I remember the old Lois & Clark TV show was the first time I saw the Developed by credit, but there’s been other cases where a similar kind of situation would have a Created by credit. So, I don’t know the specifics of Drew Goddard’s case.
Craig: All right. Well we did as best as we could with that, Will Eisner’s Ghost. We had something here from Jake. He says, “I began working on a project several years ago with a friend of mine. We did not get very far in the writing stage, just had a few of the basic plot points worked out, and some character notes. Since then, that friend and I had some problems and do not speak anymore.” Ooh, this is getting good.
John: I actually cut out one sentence here.
Craig: Oh really?
John: I cut out one sentence that talked about sort of like how the friend was really lazy.
Craig: [laughs] Well, I guess it’s back in, isn’t it? Cause the problem was laziness. Jake continues, “Recently, I’ve picked that project we were working on back up. I’ve made great progress.” Boy, do we get this all the time. “I’ve made great progress and I am currently past the outline and now actually on a first draft. I’m worried, though, that if this script gets produced he will have problems with not being involved anymore. I’m willing to negotiate some credit, I suppose, but don’t really know what those credits should be. Neither of us are WGA members yet, so this question isn’t so much about arbitration yet as it is about ethics. So, what do you think?”
Well, John, what do you think?
John: I think this is an incredibly common situation. And you are best served by having the conversation now if possible. You might be even better served by writing something else, because it could just be a really uncomfortable thing down the road.
I think it would be amazing if Jake actually ended up being the co-writer and director from the previous — the Joe from Rancho Cucamonga example. At one time I want to have like both sides of this conversation of the same thing.
Craig: That would be nice.
John: Like this guy says he should get story credit and he’s completely insane. This happens a lot where you’re sort of sitting around and you’re spitballing something and you’re like, yeah, let’s write this together, and then you kind of start, and you kind of stop.
I can think of at least a dozen examples of this happening among my friends. And in every circumstance the best situation would be to have the conversation right at the very start about how you’re going to do it and just write up an agreement between the two of you. No one ever does that, and so the next best solution I think would be to have the conversation now. The third best solution is to write something else or write something so different that it’s not recognizably the same idea. Craig, what’s your thought?
Craig: Well, I think that Jake is correct that it is about ethics, but what he’s leaving out is that it’s also about the law. Because he did in fact work on material with somebody else. They co-authored stuff. He may say that it’s some basic plot points and some character notes, but it’s stuff. That person owns the share of copyright on that stuff.
What Jake is doing now is creating a derivative work based on somebody else’s stuff. That is no bueno. If you go and you sell it, then what’s going to happen is your friend that you don’t talk with is going to get a lawyer and the lawyer is going to say, no, you actually can’t sell anything without us and we could scotch the whole thing, or hold you up for a bunch of money. Either way, you’ve wandered down a fairly treacherous path here, Jake.
And John is absolutely right. You must talk to him now and you must set an agreement now. And he should be included in some compensatory manner if you do sell it. But he also needs to kind of waive other interests in it. In other words, you want to be free and clear.
John: You do. And I’ve been in other situations where writing teams have broken up and what they’ll do is they’ll just sort of pick the projects and like each of them gets one of the two projects, or they’ll divide everything in half so that they don’t get weirdly entangled this way. Like the things that they were thinking about writing but they never really got started, they’ll make a list and actually divide those things up just to make things clear and safe and not crazy.
Since this was apparently the only thing you worked on with this person, you don’t have that ability to say like, hey, why don’t you take this idea and let me take this idea, and we’ll all call it even and be happy. You probably don’t have that, so you have that conversation and you say, hey look, do you remember that thing we were talking about writing? I think I have some really good ideas for it and I want to be able to do that. Are you cool with that? And if you are cool with that, can we just write something down agreeing on that? And the minute you say write something down, your friend’s barriers will go up. But, maybe you get through it.
Craig: Well I think then if I were Jake’s attorney I would say, listen, what we’re going for here is to get him to release all claims on this material. In order to release all claims on the material and to assign full and complete copyright to you, he’s going to need something in return, otherwise he’s a goof. So, what you promise in return is some percentage of any money that you make off of the project. And you can limit it in various ways, up to a certain amount, or so on and so forth, but that’s what a negotiation is.
Essentially what we’re talking about, Jake, is buying him out. And you don’t have to buy him out with money upfront. You can buy him out with a promise of some piece of money should you get anything. But you really can’t go forward without handling this now, because you are doing something that is both ethically wrong and legally untenable.
John: Yeah. I don’t know that he’s doing anything ethically wrong yet. I mean, I think thinking through and figuring out what something could be is a natural function of a writer. It’s trying to sell it or trying to represent it as your own would be ethically wrong.
Craig: Well yeah. Precisely. I mean, I guess that that’s — I’m presuming. Yeah, if he writes it and puts in a drawer, sure, no harm/no foul.
John: Danny writes, “I have a question regarding where ghostwriting fits within the credits system. Obviously the term implies that no credit will be given, but who makes that decision? Is the WGA cool with that practice? And I guess more broadly, how prevalent is ghostwriting within the industry?”
Craig: Well, that’s an interesting question. There isn’t a lot of ghostwriting the way we think of it in terms of novels and so forth where Pete Rose writes a book about playing for the Reds, but we know that he didn’t write it. [laughs] Some guy wrote it and took a bunch of money and just let Pete Rose say I wrote it.
Far more common in our industry is a bunch of people openly work on something and then one of them is assigned credit. There are times when individuals don’t want credit. I’ve worked on things where part of the deal was I don’t want credit for this. I’m not doing it for credit, it’s not the kind of movie that I think I should have my name on, or I deserve to have my name on. Or, I’ve done a job where I knew the people who I was rewriting briefly and I frankly just didn’t want to get into a thing with them, because I like them. So, in those cases you can say as a writer I’m requesting that I don’t receive credit, and the Writers Guild and the arbiters tend to honor this, unless it seems extraordinarily fishy, no problem.
There are pseudonyms where you can write something under a name that isn’t your own. Those are subject to some rules. For starters, you have the right to use a pseudonym if you make under I think it’s $250,000 for the project. If you make over that amount, you don’t have the right to use one. You have to ask. You have to ask the studio for permission. And we can understand why that exists, because sometimes they want to say “From the writer of so-and-so,” or they want to say award season voters, look, we got this guy to write this thing.
There are times, I have heard of situations where writers are paid to write something and then they do what we call farm it out. They turn around, they hand the job to somebody else who truly works in the ghostwriting way, writes the material. Then the writer who has been hired kind of does it a once over, or blesses it, and then sends it in as his or her own work.
I’ve heard of this. I’ve never actually seen it happen. There’s no concrete examples I’ve ever been shown of it happening. Personally, I find that notion to be odious, to the extreme. But I guess that would be the breadth of ghostwriting in our business.
John: Yeah, I was going to initially sort of dismiss this question altogether saying like ghostwriting doesn’t really exist. And it’s not a term you actually hear. Like ghostwriting is something you think about with books. It’s not a thing you think about with movies, partly because we have a whole credit system and there’s a reason why people are credited as writers.
But that last scenario you described is a real thing and whenever you hear about it happening you’re like, whoa, that’s crazy. And I actually haven’t heard about it for quite some time. But there was sort of a legend of an A-list screenwriter who apparently did have a team of people who wrote with him or all together and they would do a first pass and he would clean it up. And it always felt really, really weird and gross and fishy.
Craig: Well, it’s not a secret. It’s Ron Bass and he talked about it at length. Ron was a lawyer prior to becoming a screenwriter. And when he became screenwriter, he hired a lot of people as essentially interns, writing assistants, writing — I don’t know what you’d call them. And he would give them assignments and he would give them assignments on things that he was writing, but the idea being and now I’ll collect it and now I will run it through my typewriter and so when it comes out it’s my work.
And he was open about it and I think that in part was why it wasn’t unethical. Nobody that paid Ron Bass money didn’t know that this was part of how he worked. And for the time that he was working constantly in the business, people appreciated the work, so everything was fine.
It’s — I’ve heard of a couple of people though that do this quietly. And the idea is, okay, as writers we know it’s a little bit of feast or famine. Sometimes it’s frustrating when you hit one of those feast patches and you take a job and then somebody calls you up five days later and says I’ll give you twice as much for this. And you think, oh well, I would sort of — I could see myself writing that, but I can’t because I’m writing this. Oh, I know, I’ll take the money, [laughs], and I’ll turn around and I’ll pay some tiny pittance of it to desperate writers who want a shot. And they’ll understand it’s a ghostwriting situation. And then I’ll get all that money.
Well, great, except boo. That’s not cool. I mean, what we have is our name. We are representing that this is our work. And, frankly, if you do that, you’re going to sink your own ship pretty quickly.
Craig: I mean, it’s your reputation.
John: Yeah. It’s a different thing than I know writers who are sort of in that feast period who will be approached with something and say like I cannot do it, but I will oversee another writer doing something, and where they’re not coming in as — or basically they’ll team up with somebody to do it, like somebody who has a little bit more time on their plate. That I totally get. But what you’re describing, that sort of shady like someone else is actually doing it feels not only kind of unethical, but is actually probably in violation of the contract that they signed.
Craig: Oh, clearly.
John: Because the contract that they signed with whatever studio said that you will actually do this work. And for them to farm it out to somebody else is not going to be kosher.
Craig: 100 percent. It is a violation of your contract, both your legal contract, and your personal contract that you are going to do the work. When writers are supervising other writers, those writers are hired as the writers. They are participating writers. They are the ones who are up for credit. They’re acknowledged. Everything is above board. Essentially the screenwriter acts like a producer in that circumstance and that’s absolutely fine.
John: All right.
Craig: All right. We got one more here. Stephen Lancellotti writes, “I just listened to the credits podcast a week after IFC Midnight released a poster for my movie, The Harvest. I’m now curious, is my name supposed to be on the poster in the same font size as the director? Probably won’t make a stink about it, but just wanted to know for the future.” And we’ll include a link to the poster which makes a very big deal of — it says The Harvest, and then underneath a Film by John McNaughton. And then tiny type for everybody else.
Craig: If this is a Writers Guild movie, I don’t think that’s okay.
John: I don’t think it’s okay either. I think if you’re crediting the director in that larger type size, I think you have to credit the writer in the same size type. I think it’s a problem.
Craig: I think you do. I think you do. So, but the rules are arcane. There are all sorts of little twisty bitsies. You know, maybe if it’s a promotional thing, or if it’s prior to credits being fixed, or maybe if it’s home video as opposed — I don’t know all the ins and outs. But —
John: That’s what I was thinking, too. I think there might be a special case for home video versus theatrical.
John: But I think Stephen has a valid point. But he also has a movie, so congratulations on your movie existing in the world.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. You know, you can call up the guild and just ask them the question and they’ll walk you through it. I mean, I’ll tell you, if it wasn’t a guild gig, then all bets are off. They can do whatever they want.
John: Yeah. But you know, Craig, someone who might have the answer to this question because this person knows a lot about sort of how writing works is, well, I say it’s a he but it could be a woman. Because it’s Writer X. Writer X is a brand new person who has just shown up on the scene thanks to a blog post on the Final Draft website.
And this got tweeted at us on Thursday or Friday, and it’s just delightful.
John: So, I’m going to read just a little bit of it because we’ll read the sort of preamble and then we can get into a discussion about what Writer X is saying. So, this is me as Writer X. Okay?
John: “Hi, I’m Writer X. I’m a working screenwriter in Hollywood. Within the past five years I’ve been represented by two of the top talent agencies in town. I broke into the business with a spec. It got on the Black List and eventually became one of those elusive million dollar spec sales. Afterwards, I sold another spec, but that one only for half a million.”
John: “Still, it’s not a bad quote for someone just starting out. In addition to my spec sales, I’ve made successful pitches to two major studios. One of those pitches I did with an A-list director. We pitched it to the president of Universal Pictures. I’ve also nabbed several writing assignments with pretty much all the major studios and a number of A-list production companies. And I sold two TV pilots to two different networks.
“A-list actors and directors have been attached to my work. I’m collaborated with them.” It really does say I’m collaborated with them.
Craig: And I’m collaborated with them. [laughs] Wow.
John: “I’ve been in the homes of the rich and famous and seen some pretty crazy stuff. Guess what I was doing before I became a professional screenwriter? I was a dishwasher.”
John: Craig, I mean, I think we should maybe just stop doing the podcast because we’ve just been knocked off our perch.
Craig: We’ve been knocked off our perch. I mean, this person, what a life they lead. [laughs] It just sounds so awesome. I mean, they’re —
John: It does sound awesome.
Craig: They are collaborated with them. I love that “I’ve been in the homes of the rich and famous and seen some pretty crazy stuff.” This is so exciting. Who put this forth? Oh, Final Draft. Okay.
So, how did this get received on Twitter, John? [laughs]
John: I think people loved it. I think among all the screenwriters I talked with, everyone loved every bit of this.
Craig: Yeah. The —
John: But maybe for the wrong reason.
Craig: Right. There was I think a 100 percent consistent reaction of absolute disgust for so many reasons. I mean, to start with, the boasting tone of this is kind of excruciating. There is this kind of writing that people do when they’re talking to people who want to break into something where they really casually rattle off this long list of wonderful things that have happened to them, just incredible things, and then they end up by saying, “And by the way, I was just like you.” Ooh, good sales pitch.
John: Yeah, I mean, if we could have gotten Tom Cruise and his Magnolia character to do this introduction, that would have been fantastic. Because you can sort of see him with a little mic and just like talking a little bit hyper and energized and the boom, like I was a dishwasher. I was just like you.
Craig: Yeah. It’s pretty obnoxious. Well, it’s BS.
So, the first question is: is this person real? Or is this the marketing department? I honestly hope it’s just the marketing department inventing someone as a come on sales pitch because if it’s a real person, I’m embarrassed for that person. I’m embarrassed for them. And, frankly, I’m not angry at them because if they’re real, I feel like they’ve been hornswoggled and bamboozled. I blame Final Draft, because they must be getting compensated for this.
John: Yeah. I don’t understand the angle from anyone’s point of view.
John: And I was looking at this from Final Draft’s point of view, and like well is this all a marketing department thing? But if it is the marketing department, it’s just so odd because it’s not on their front page at all. And I guess people only know about it because it was in some release that Final Draft put out, or some email that Final Draft put out. But even the URL for it is really strange.
So, the actual URL to get you there, it’s FinalDraft/ —
Craig: Discover/Videos. Yeah, it’s under a videos thing, even though it’s not a video. Like they’ve really buried it.
John: It’s buried. And it’s in a folder for Final Draft Writer App for the iPad/meet Writer X.
Craig: It’s almost like they were like, you know what, we’re going to be viral man. I
John: Yeah, maybe they wanted people to discover this.
Craig: It’s a hidden thing. Yeah. Well, we discovered it. That’s the bad news.
John: We discovered it.
Craig: So, putting aside Writer X, if Writer X exists, I would urge you, Madam or Sir, to reconsider this. This isn’t what you should be doing with your time. It’s not, frankly, what professionals do. We really don’t talk that way, for good reason. It’s obnoxious. And if you’re taking money from Final Draft, I don’t understand why since you’ve sold a script for a million and then sold another thing for half a million, and you’ve nabbed several writing assignments with all of the major studios, and a number of A-list production companies. You seem to be doing great, so you don’t need this money.
So then the question is well what’s in this for Final Draft, why are they doing this? And it really comes down to the nature of this kind of pitch, which is very common and you’ll see it in real estate a lot where somebody who is just soaking in prosperity comes on your television set and says to you, you poor retch at home, “I used to be just like you, but then I discovered the secret. And If you share my secrets, you too will be rags to riches.”
And what’s so insidious about this is that they’re going to give you some baloney secrets. I mean, in this case one of them is apparently Writer X is going to tell us what screenwriters are supposed to wear.
Craig: That there’s these secret, what is it? The secret dress code?
John: The secret wardrobe?
Craig: A secret dress code of writers, which is insane.
John: I’ve written about the secret dress code and what I’ve always said before is the writer should be the worst dressed person in the room, but that’s one sentence. That’s not —
Craig: It’s also, it’s not a secret. [laughs] It’s just you’ve already put it out there for free.
So, they’ll give you all the — yeah, it’s the unspoken dress code. Guess what? It’s been spoken. And then how to decipher the Labyrinthine language in Hollywood. For example, “If a studio exec just reads your first draft and tells you the writing is great, you think that’s good, well it’s not.” Uh, sometimes it is. Sometimes they say the writing is great and then they make the movie because the writing is great.
“Are you familiar with the phrases too broad or character’s arc? Well, you will be.” Oh, lord.
So, they’re dolling out these things that are either stuff everybody already knows, or just things that aren’t true. But what’s behind all of it, of course, is, oh, and naturally you’ll want to write on Final Draft. I mean, you’ll want to spend the whatever it costs now, $150 or $200.
John: Yeah. So, there’s no sales pitch in any of this so far. And so it’s the promise of like this is the first of like a regular series of columns. I would be surprised if there’s a second column, but it’s mean to be that this is going to be a bunch of columns coming through. And maybe eventually there’s supposed to be like some sort of Final Draft sales message, or it’s just supposed to be content that’s getting you to the Final Draft site. Or lend some authority to the Final Draft site.
But it’s a weird, gross kind of authority, or it’s not even authority. It’s trying to trade anonymity for secret or sort of like, you know, insider knowledge that no one wants you to have. But we want you to have the information. There’s nothing — there’s no secret information to have.
Craig: There is no secret information to have, but that ruins the promise. That ruins the hook.
John: That’s true.
Craig: There’s this sect of evangelical Christianity called Prosperity Theology, which is all about preachers telling their congregation if you follow the bible the way I explain it, you’ll get rich. But not rich in spirit. [laughs] You’ll actually have money.
Craig: On TV, I’m a big infomercial nut, so I’m sure some people out there remember Tom Vu. Tom Vu was a bus boy, see, same thing, who made millions.
John: A bus boy!
Craig: He made millions starting from nothing in real estate. Went on to be sued by his former investors. And then there was Don Lapre, the high school dropout. “I’m a high school dropout who learned the secrets of making money and now I want to share them with you.” And he was arrested, charged with fraud, and committed suicide in jail, which I hope doesn’t happen to Writer X or Final Draft, but you know, when you’re kind of playing in the same field as those guys, you got to stop and ask what are you doing here. For those of you who come across this stuff, just continually ask why.
Why is this here? Why does any company that’s looking for money out of my wallet, why do they need me to believe that for instance there are places that screenwriters should hang out. No, there ain’t. Not one. There is no one special secret place where screenwriters go and money falls from the sky and your scripts get better. No. It’s all baloney, right?
So, rags to riches stories are scam bait, 100 percent of the time. Secrets I’ve learned and will now share with you, scam bait, 100 percent of the time.
John: Yeah. I bet you could just sort of build a regular expression matching pattern and sort of search the Internet for that and you would find that invariably that is a scammy sort of come on and proposition. Like any time that you see that phraseology used together, there’s something bad and dangerous around there.
I was thinking about this from the perspective of this guy/this woman who is writing this and sort of what made them say yes, because I don’t get it. Like if we’re taking this at his or her word, that all this true, this guy has a million and a half in his pocket and has these writing assignments, I mean, unless there’s an extra punch line is like “and then I lost it all to drugs,” then I’m interested. Then I’m intrigued. But that doesn’t seem to be the situation here. So, what is the appeal of writing this column? And why not write it under your own name or write it some place that’s not on the Final Draft website?
I just fundamentally don’t get it. And that’s a strange thing to me.
Craig: Well, it’s so safe to do this. You know, you and I have used our own name forever and we are really among the very few. Most writers just don’t want the unwanted attention of jerks and there are jerks out there.
John: Yeah, there are.
Craig: And a lot of writers are nervous that if they say things under their own name that there are going to be reprisals from studios and so forth, and you and I have just never — we’ve never had that problem. And I also feel like we made calculations early on that we frankly weren’t going to be saying anything that should get us into trouble with somebody. And if it did, that’s not somebody we want to work with.
Craig: Everybody, I think, has a desire somewhere in them to want to be the sage on the mountain dolling out brilliant advice so that everybody can gather around. Okay, so here’s a rule, [laughs] baseball has the 5-10 rule. The 5-10 rule says if you’ve been with the same team for five consecutive years and you’ve been a Major League player for ten years or more, then you can’t be traded without your consent. 5-10 rule.
I like a 5-10 rule. You can be the sage on the mountain after five credits, or ten years of steady work.
Craig: Until you get the five credits, or the ten years of steady work, please do not doll out advice like the sage on the mountain. And, by the way, when you finally do get that stuff, don’t actually be the sage on the mountain. You and I, I don’t think either one of us feels like gurus or anything. It’s ridiculous. We’re just guys trying to do this gig and help people. So, you know, don’t.
John: You know, well what’s weird is I looked at all of Writer X’s boasting, and Writer X has not gotten a movie made. And that is a fundamental sort of flaw there in the sense of, you know, you look at the 5-10 rule, like well Writer X has zero credits. And so in many ways it’s back to sort of everyone else who is just writing about how to be a screenwriter. It’s like, well, this is where you’re at so far. And I think, you know, if you and I were to sit down with this Writer X and talk with him or her about what that journey has been so far, I bet there really is some interesting stuff to learn about what it’s like being on the Black List, what it’s like having those initial meetings. The things you’ve learned and done.
But doing it under this veil of anonymity, like you’re suddenly Julia Phillips and like you’re writing a tell-all memoir about Hollywood is just crazy-pants.
Craig: It’s particular crazy-pants when you’re using it to humble-brag or brag-brag, unhumble-brag. You know, you and I, we don’t talk about how much money we make. We don’t talk about who bought our pitches. We don’t talk about who we sat in a room with. And we don’t talk about that stuff because it’s gross. It’s just gross.
How will that help anyone else? You know, the people that are baiting a hook are making you jealous of them so that you want to be like them so that you can spend money towards them and something, right? Well, we don’t want your money. We just want you to be you.
You don’t need Writer X. You don’t need Final Draft, now more than ever. You don’t need the secret place, the dress code. You don’t need anything other than your talent, your hard work, a unique point of view, a passion, that’s what’s real.
Sorry, no pill for your weight loss today.
John: No, I’m sorry.
I just wanted to close on this topic of anonymity because I look at some of the Twitter accounts I follow, and I’ll follow like Mystery Creative Executive or Anonymous Production Assistant, and I find those things really interesting because in some ways they’re telling truth about little specific things that happen in their life. And they’re not trying to give you advice, but they’re just like articulating what it’s like to be in that place.
And there are in some cases really good reasons for their anonymity, because if they told you more about who they were, they would lose their job. And so that I totally get. And there’s a long tradition of that sort of anonymity. Like, look at the Federalist papers. Like those Fathers of the American Revolution, they didn’t sign their names to all those little pamphlets, but they were trying to sort of rally people to a cause or to explain what it’s like and what their opinion was, and that’s a great, wonderful, protected thing.
I don’t feel this at all here. I don’t feel like there’s any sort of call to action other than sort of like, hey, look at me how great I am. There’s no sort of insight here that is worth my putting up with your anonymity there. Everything that this person said in that initial column, if I knew their name I’d think, well, you sound like kind of a jerk, and kind of like a boastful jerk.
And it’s not making me feel any better about the advice you’re giving. It’s just frustrating.
Craig: Yeah. That’s why they didn’t use their name. I mean, there’s nothing that this person said warrants anonymity. [laughs] Nothing. Right?
The only benefit that anonymity provides them, other than making them sound better than they are, is shielding them from direct vitriol. And shielding them from people calling them out directly and saying, what? For instance, I know this person and they didn’t do all that. Or, I know this person, and I don’t like their scripts. Or, I know this person, they’re cool, but what do they do — why are they telling people that there’s a dress code? There isn’t.
You know, and then it’s about you. You know, you and I are accountable for what we say. This woman or man — not so much. So, don’t listen to people that aren’t accountable. You can listen to them, but, you know, take it with a grain of salt, because they’re not accountable.
I mean, that’s why I love that Rachael Prior who used to be Mystery Brit Executive came out of the closet, so to speak, segue coming, and revealed that she was in fact Rachael Prior, an executive at Big Talk Productions, which is a very reputable British production company that’s co-run by Edgar Wright. It’s a real company and she’s a real person and they make real movies. And she finally said, you know what, I think it’s okay. I think I can actually just be me. So, I like that.
John: That’s been the new trend, is not anonymity, but actually like owning your words. A lovely idea.
Craig: How about that?
John: All right, next on the docket of things that will enrage Craig. This was an email we got from a woman named Esther who writes, “A friend reached out to be for advice after getting a real scammy looking email from someone claiming to want to buy his script. Apparently these are going around and a lot of young writers are paying to get the ‘special report’ so their script can be bought, only to realize it was a scam by a company that offers script coverage for dollars.”
And we’ll link to other people who are writing about this same situation. So, this is the email exchange that went back and forth. This writer received an email from James Cole. Do you want to be James Cole?
Craig: I’m be James Cole, sure. I have recently reviewed your film script and as head of development for iFilm, I am interested in acquiring your screenplay with a view to producing the film in the near future. iFilm is currently tasked to produce a number of films with our partners/investors. Please let me know if you would be interested in selling the rights and optioning your script.
John: So the friend got this email and said, sure, yeah maybe, I’m interested. Tell me more. And this is what the guy said.
Craig: Great. In that case we can escalate your script up to our investors, but we would need an independent FR script report attached to. If you get this professionally done by a script editor, we will arrange rights options which are negotiable around £25,000. If you’re unfamiliar with script editors, I can recommend some.
John: So, do you want to guess who he might recommend?
Craig: Well, I’m going to guess he’s going to recommend a company called Bentley Marks.
John: And so, Craig, you did some detective work on Bentley Marks. So what did you find out about Bentley Marks?
Craig: Well, to back up for a second, a bunch of people have gotten these letters, not just Esther’s friend. Apparently, this company iFilm sent a bunch of these letters to people whose scripts they found at various levels of success through festivals and websites that host these things. Some of the scripts were quite old. And so they all say, yeah, we want an FR script report. By the way, I guess it stands for Film Ready. There is no such thing.
But then the company says, but you know, we’re not going to give you this money and we won’t give you your lottery winnings from Nigeria unless you pay for the report. But, here, use this company Bentley Marx.
So, Bentley Marx, a company that I’ve never heard of, and for good reason, seems to be located in Dubai. But if you take a look at the registry information for their domain name, they are registered to a James Hore who is at 43 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London.
If you look at iFilmGroup.com, their domain is registered to James Colby, 43 Berkeley Square, Mayfair London. Huh. What is 43 Berkeley Square? Is it some massive complex that could possibly hold two different companies? No, it’s a virtual office service. That address is sold by a company called West One business in the UK and the idea is you pay them a monthly fee and they host this address that looks like it’s a real place and then they just forward it to your personal home, this way your company looks real as opposed to something you’re doing out of your basement, or whatever they call a basement in London. I don’t know what they call it.
John: Or a basement in Dubai. Or wherever this is actually.
Craig: Precisely. And the funny thing is like Bentley Marks, they have an address in Dubai. It’s not really — they’re not — they’re registered to the same — they’re the same people! The point is this scam is obvious. Right? I mean, as far as I can tell, unless I’m missing something here, they troll the Internet for screenplays. They send an email to that person saying we might make this, but you got to pay this other company some money. I don’t know what it would be, $150 or so for notes. And that money goes right into their pocket. And if 20 people bite on this a month, and they’re charging even $100 a pop, well all right. Now we’ve got, what is that, $2,000 a month? Not bad.
John: Yeah, some money.
Craig: It’s some money. Point being, this is not at all cool. And I have no problem, if I’ve gotten wrong, iFilm, come on the show and explain yourselves. But this certainly sounds like baloney to me.
The actual iFilm Group website does feature some movies that they have either produced or going to produce. They are not what you would think of as mainstream releases. They do look very much like direct to video, B2C kind of movies. Let’s see if we can find some titles of what iFilm Group is working on these days. They’ve got Fatal Insomnia.
John: Yeah, that’s the worst kind of insomnia.
Craig: The worst kind. They have Dark Rage 2. I don’t know if they have Dark Rage 1. And they have Exorcism. And then one of the strangest titles of movies ever, Internal. It’s just called Internal. Uh, I don’t think that too many of you have caught Fatal Insomnia.
So this is rough. I hate seeing stuff like this. It’s just really, really lame and —
John: We often knock against people who are trying to scam young writers saying like I’ll teach you the secrets of writing or, you know, buy my book and stuff. But this is like you are representing yourself as somebody who is going to buy their script, which is sort of the fantasy for a lot of first time writers. Like someone wants to buy and produce my screenplay and make it into a movie. And then it ends up being one of these sort of scammy not really real companies.
That’s just a shame. And even the name iFilm, I just looked it up on Wikipedia. So, there was a company called iFilm, but it’s been defunct for quite a long time. So, they’re trading on sort of like half memory of like I kind of think I remember iFilm, sort of. And, yeah, there kind of was a company that became, it was like an MTV Network that became Spike. There was a history to that name, so it sounds kind of legit and kind of real, but this is not legit or real. And it feels bad.
Craig: Yeah, it’s also ridiculous on its face. A company is calling you and saying we’re interested in giving you £25,000 for the rights to your screenplay, but we need somebody else to tell us if it’s any good. What? How does that make any sense at all?
Craig: I honestly would be surprised, no, I take that back. I would not be surprised if somebody fell for this, because every year somebody falls for the Nigerian lottery scam. Every year.
John: Every year.
Craig: It doesn’t matter how ridiculous it seems. This just feels like a scam. And if we’ve gotten the facts wrong, happy to hear from the people at iFilm Group. But certainly on the face of it, it does feel like they’re doing something scammy and unethical and for shame.
John: Yeah. Craig, have you ever been scammed or has someone tried to do like a physical scam on you? Because last time I was in Paris for the first time, someone actually tried to do the gypsy ring scam/trick.
Craig: Oh really?
John: It was actually fascinating. And so it happened and it’s like, oh, that must be a thing. And so I went back to the hotel and Google and was like, oh, that’s a whole thing. And that guy did exactly that act. And so this is sort of what happened. I was jet lagged, so I was just walking around Paris early in the morning. And this guy said like, oh excuse me, sir, you dropped something. And I was like, no, I didn’t.
He’s like, no, here is a ring. And he had this little gold ring he’d found. And he’s like, oh here, just take it. I don’t want it. Like, no, no, you take it, it’s fine. And I was like I don’t want it, goodbye, thank you. Because I just sensed that something was wrong. But so on the Internet, I read sort of what the rest of that story goes, and essentially there’s a whole plot that sort of happens where they get you to take the ring and it’s like, oh, but we’ll split the money, or this — and it becomes this long conversation. And you essentially have to pay this person to go away.
And so the only solution to it is just to never touch the ring and to go away. And the ring itself, sometimes it starts as a pretty good ring that you can tell it’s actually pretty good, and then it’s sleight of handed to like a cheaper brass ring. Most of the time it’s just a brass ring and it’s a way to start them talking to you.
Other times it can result in pick-pocketing and other things, but it was fascinating to see this thing happening right in front of my face. And in some ways this email had the same kind of markers of this scammy thing about to happen.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve never — that’s not happened to me. I think I just look mean. I look like a real problem. You know, [laughs] like —
John: Yeah, you do look like trouble. People cut a wide berth around you.
Craig: I kind of do. I look like trouble. I look like the kind of person whose not only going to not take the ring, but lose his mind and do something crazy. I’m just not worth it. I’m the kind of guy that’s not worth it. I just have that look. I have resty angry face.
John: [laughs] Our final big topic today, GLAAD released a report about the 2014 movies. And so GLAAD is the organization in the US that takes a look at media portrays of gay, lesbian, transgender people in films and in TV programs and tries to advocate for better inclusion and awareness of those issues.
And so for 2014 they looked at all of the releases by the major studios. There were 114 movies they looked at. And they do statistics year after year showing sort of like how many gay men are portrayed, how many lesbians, how many bisexuals. Sort of what the nature of those portrayals were. And in no year is it especially good. In some years there’s better portrayals versus worse portrayals.
This is the first year I sort of looked closer at it and they actually break it down by studio and they sort of articulate what exactly they are seeing and what the trends are that they are noticing.
So, I will send you to the report. I’m not going to sort of summarize it for you. But they had this interesting thing called the Vito Russo test, which was based on the Bechdel test which we talked about before on the podcast. So, the Bechdel test is a way of looking at how women are portrayed in films. And so it’s asking like three simple questions about sort of how a given movie is portraying its women and then you either pass or fail the Bechdel test.
The Vito Russo test is a similar kind of structure. And it’s pretty straightforward. So the film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. So, does it do that? If so, that character must not be solely or predominately defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity — i.e., they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight and non-transgender characters from one another.
So, it’s like if it’s a gay character, they can’t only be gay. They have to be some other function.
The LGBT character must be tied to the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, meaning they’re not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authentic, or perhaps most commonly set up a punch line. The character should matter, which is an interesting way of looking at inclusion and sort of inclusion that counts for something.
John: So we’ll send you to this report. They break it down by studio, which is kind of interesting, and within the studios, the sort of indie arms of some of those studios as well. So, Craig, what did you take from looking at this?
Craig: Well, the numbers are seemingly better than they used to be, I guess. I didn’t love the way they arranged the — I wish that the studio content had been broken out better, because you had to click on each individual studio and I just got tired of doing that.
But in general it seems like things are getting a bit better, not for transgender characters, but for gay men in particular seem to be — most of the inclusive films, let’s see, 17.5% of the big studio releases contain characters identified as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. That’s not a bad number.
Craig: You know, I mean if you’re sort of going by general population, I mean, the percentage of the population that’s gay is a very hard thing to pin down because of lying, [laughs] but 17.5% doesn’t seem terrible.
John: It doesn’t seem terrible. But if you actually look through the individual reports, you realize that they’re being very inclusive about who they’re sort of folding into that. So, like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movie counts as being gay because Ian McKellen is gay.
Craig: What? But that’s not — he’s not gay. We don’t know that. He never said anything about men or women in that movie.
John: Yeah. So honestly very minor gayness is enough sort of to count for this. So that’s a thing to keep in mind when you look at that number.
Craig: That’s strange.
John: It’s inflated.
Craig: It’s odd that they would inflate that number. You would think that it would be in their interest to be as accurate and parsimonious as possible with handing out that. Well, regardless, what’s interesting to me as a writer is maybe less the numbers than in the way the portrayals have occurred and how they have changed over time. Because it doesn’t help anybody if 80% of movies feature gay characters and it’s pejorative or negative portrayals.
There has been a remarkable evolution I think over the last ten years, some in the last three years. I just think the evolution of the portrayal of gay people in popular culture has just been moving so rapidly and in a very good way. In drama, traditionally being gay was associated with tragedy, being ill-fated or twisted somehow, or the fake lesbians to just make men happy, or the gay guy who was the girl’s best friend.
And interesting that the Vito Russo test sort of calls this point out that often homosexuality was considered remarkable and determinative in and of itself. That if you’re a gay character in a movie, that’s your character. Gay character. [laughs] Rather, meaning that has so much more significance than straight character. There’s no character that’s defined by their straightness. That I feel has been changing pretty dramatically, no pun intended. What do you think?
John: I think so, too. You know, you look at both in the dramas and the comedies, you see more characters who you can identify as being gay or lesbian, and it’s not being made a big deal of it, which is great. I think there’s a lag in feature films versus television. And I think television was faster because television moves faster. And television is usually much more reflective of the current state of culture and films by their long development process tend to be lagging a few years behind.
One of the real challenges though is that on television you’re seeing characters over a long period of time, so if a character is gay, you have more time to actually experience that and sort of see the richness of their life. In a film, you know, that third lieutenant could be gay, but if there’s no reason to actually know that, there’s no scene that’s going to get that to you, that information may never come out.
And so you’re going to be — gays sometimes are going to be less visible in feature films just because there’s no opportunity to actually see that they’re gay or to sort of identify them as being gay because there’s not a point to it.
John: Versus other minority portrayals, where you can visibly see like, oh, well there is a Pacific Islander and that person exists in the world. You can just spot that. And so sometimes it’s harder to spot gays in feature films because there is no scene in which they have the ability to identify as gay.
Craig: Yeah. If a gay character doesn’t have a love story in a movie, then you might not know, but I think an awareness now that there are certain non-romantic signifiers that we have all the time. Characters leave their home and there’s a wife who is a day player, has no line, waving goodbye.
Craig: There is a woman at work who has a photo on her desk of her and her husband. You know, these things I think are well worth considering as we kind of go through. And in a way it helps make the movie realer, because that’s the way life is now. It wasn’t that way ten years ago. It simply wasn’t. Now it’s different.
And movies should keep up with the world around them. So, that’s something that’s worth considering as we go through as writers. Comedy is a whole other area, because in comedy for so long, and really up to I would say just a couple of years ago even, gay was considered in and of itself funny. And I’m as guilty of that as anyone. Anybody that works in comedy, anybody, including gay comedians would find this inherent comedy in being gay, even if they were gay-friendly or gay positive.
The thing is, it’s not funny anymore. It’s just not. Now, there’s a question. Should it ever have been funny? That’s a hard question, because the thing about comedy is funny is what people laugh at. Funny doesn’t really have a morality to it. What has a morality is morality. Comedy kind of follows social mores.
So, you can watch the Friar Roasts from the ’70s, they’re on YouTube. And there will be race and gay humor in those that just make you wince. Forget not funny, you actually go, “Ooh, god.” All the people on the dais are going bananas. People in the audience going bananas. Roasts today, there is still a ton of race and gay humor, but it turns on bravery and defiance. In a weird way the joke of the race and the gay humor is, oh my god, look, they’re being bad on purpose, in front of each other, and in a way that sort of signifies how confident they are as people of color, as gay people, or as straight people around people of color, or gay people.
But I guarantee you in — I don’t know how long it’s going to be — maybe five years, maybe two, maybe 20, I don’t know, that too will one day make us all wince. I think that comedy basically echoes the world and it always will, which is one of the reason why comedies often don’t hold up, but comedians have to kind of go where the funny is.
John: Yeah, comedy so often it’s finding those moments of friction in the real world, like those things that are sort of you dare not really quite talk about, and like finding a way to talk about those things, but then the conversation moves on. And if you’re still trying to talk about that, like oh no, that’s not funny anymore, that’s just really uncomfortable and weird.
And so I agree with you. You look at some movies that were genuinely funny back in the day and there are moments that make you wince because it wasn’t political correctness or anything else, it’s just like that’s just not a thing that could be funny anymore.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. Now, there are really interesting cases where I think you can look at something now and laugh at it in a different way. When Airplane! came out in 1980, Stephen Stucker who played the flamboyantly gay — I don’t know what you call it, the air traffic control tower guy, I don’t know what his actual — you know, they were all up there and the air traffic controller guy. And he was hysterical and everybody loved him. And they were laughing in part because, oh my god, that guy is so gay. Look, the gayest of gays. But when you watch him now, and Stephen by the way was a member of the Kentucky Fried Theater with David, and Jerry, and Jim, and had kind of come up with them, when you watch it now it’s still really funny, but you’re not laughing at him, you’re laughing with him. He’s just remarkably witty. The fact that he’s gay is so no longer what’s funny. What’s funny is specifically what he’s doing. It’s actually — I think there is a gay comic sensibility and it is as broad as straight comic sensibility, but there is this — it’s a subset. There’s a thing there. And he does it so brilliantly.
So, there are times where these portrayals can last and actually the way we find them funny changes. But there is the idea that, oh my god, I kissed a dude. No, that’s not funny anymore.
John: It really isn’t funny anymore. And rape culture is not funny anymore, either. That idea like, oh, you’re going to go to prison and you’re going to get raped. It’s like, ooh, man, that’s just really uncomfortable. So, both that gay panic and sort of gay rape panic are not funny anymore.
There was a period of time that Saturday Night Live went through, and I think Janeane Garofalo talked about it when she left the show, where like every episode there was some sort of like alien anal probe rape joke. And it was really weird and uncomfortable. And thank goodness we moved past that.
And now the joke would be trying to make that joke. I mean, like it would be — it’s lucky that you sort of get to a place where like you can comment on that as a joke type.
Recently they had a commercial where it was some sort of anti-depressant for parents when your kid is acting super, super gay. And it was right at that uncomfortable level of like, ooh, but like the commercial was making it really clear that like it’s not the kid’s fault. You just have to get over it.
Craig: Right. That worked.
John: That worked, because it was understanding what the pain was underneath there, and what the uncomfortable feeling was, and sort of leaning into it in the right way. So, I would argue that you’re never trying to — you can’t stop making jokes that involve gay people. You just have to find ways to sort of use them in comedy that is appropriate for today and also hopefully for the next five years. You don’t know what ten years is going to be.
Craig: And this is why comedy is hard, because sometimes go out on a ledge where you need to live as a comedian, and they fail. And when they fail, especially now in our culture now, everyone goes insane. And Patton Oswalt has spoken a lot about this on Twitter and elsewhere in his lengthy protracted war of words with Salon, which Salon tends to act like the Internet’s schoolmarm.
And his point was, you know, comedy is supposed to be dangerous and occasionally when you do it you’re going to miss. You know, you’re throwing knives, you will occasionally miss and hit something you weren’t supposed to hit, or hit it the wrong way. And that’s part of the gig. That’s part of the occupational hazard of being a comedian. But we do know that you have to — as comedians, the really good ones, they’re listening all the time, really carefully.
Louis C.K. does not do some of the material that he used to do, because it’s not funny anymore. You know, there was a time when all of America loved The Honeymooners, men and women loved The Honeymooners. And the catchphrase was Bang Zoom. The catchphrase was “I’m going to beat you, Alice.” That was the joke. It’s just not funny anymore. A lot of times white people will say, “Why is it that black people get to stand up in a comedy club and make fun of white people, but if white people stand up and make fun of black people, everybody goes crazy.”
Here’s why: it’s not funny, that’s why. It’s just not funny. Just go where the funny is and be aware that it changes. So, I hope that GLAAD, I like that they concentrate on general numbers, but I also like that they’re starting to look at context, because to me that’s really where things are going to change. And I think about it now. I never thought about it. Never, never, never, never. Ten years ago, I’ll be totally honest, I never thought about it whatsoever. Wasn’t a problem. I think about it all the time now, because it’s right to. It seems like what I ought to bed doing.
John: Yes. I think we all ought to be doing it as well. And we should also do our One Cool Things, because it’s been a long show so far. So, I will start with my One Cool Thing. This week is Rage Quitting, and it’s this article by Chi Luu, it’s looking at this new kind of term that’s sprung up in the last few years. Words like rage quitting, ugly crying, stress cooking, humble bragging, which we used earlier this podcast, angry cleaning. It’s that construction where you take two things and jam them together. And it’s a weird construction because the first word is almost always negative and the second word is an activity.
And so you get what it means, and so like you know rage quitting is a thing. I’m storming out of this job all of a sudden. Stress cooking, ugly crying, we get what these things mean. But they’re sort of a new way of forming things. And I just love when language finds ways to sort of create new terms for things. And concepts that can exist only because we’re jamming these two words together in this sort of accepted way of doing things.
Craig: Yeah. Hate watching, isn’t that one of them?
John: Hate watching, absolutely. The perfect thing. And so that first word is always negative, and you don’t talk about joy cooking. I think you could do that, but you don’t. It’s always a negative that leads into the verb. So I thought it was really fun. And the article also talks about some of the other sort of ways we create new terms, like adding holic to things, so like, you know, I’m a workaholic or whatever, adding holic as an idea.
A thon, so a podcastathon, we understand that it’s something that goes on for a long time.
Mc, as a sort of shortening down of things, or a cheap version of things, so like a McJob, not being a real thing. So, I just love when people are describing new words and especially when people are describing the way we create new words. So I will point you to this article.
Craig: I wish there was something called Workahol, where you could just —
John: I’m going to drink a fifth of Workahol.
Craig: Workahol. And I got so much done. I’m a workaholic, but I do get a lot done. My One Cool Thing was briefly alluded to way back in episode 150 by somebody who was writing in, but I’ve had some personal experience with it now so I thought I would mention it here on the show. It’s called Kano. And it’s for children. It’s a computer kit. And the idea is that your child can actually build their own computer. Don’t go crazy, it’s not quite your MacBook Pro, but it’s sort of like a Lego-ized version of a computer with circuit board, and a container, and connect ribbons and so forth.
And it comes with this wonderful little instructional guide that helps you put it all together. And it’s actually kind of cool. It runs on Raspberry Pi. And you can hook it up to your TV with an HDMI cable. And it’s got little games and things, but more importantly it also has the ability to instruct you on programming. You can learn to code. You can make games. It’s very cool.
And it’s a little pricey.
John: Did you build it or you just saw it in action?
Craig: I didn’t build it. My daughter built it. So, she’s ten, and she just sat down — she’s a self-starter. She just sat down and did it. She built it. She was super crazy excited. And when we hooked it up and we saw text scrolling as Raspberry Pi loaded up, she just jumped up and down for 30 seconds, which it took because this is not a fast computer. But she was so excited.
So, it’s great for kids who like building and like technology like my daughter does. And it’s a little pricey. It’s $150 at Amazon. But, I suspect maybe you might be able to find it a little cheaper if you went on eBay or something like that. It doesn’t need to necessarily be brand new.
If you have a kid who is into this sort of thing, it’s a nice place to look. So, that’s Kano. And their website is Kano.me.
John: Fantastic. That is our show for this week. So, if you would like to write to me or Craig with your thoughts on things, the place for those longer things like we read today is firstname.lastname@example.org. Little short things are great on Twitter. So, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
If you follow me this week, I may be having an announcement about the Ghost special screening, if we open it up to the general public. Right now it’s only for Writers Guild people. But if you are Writers Guild and want to come, you should RSVP for that. We are on iTunes. So, you can search for us on Scriptnotes and you can leave us a review while you’re there. It’s fantastic if you would do that.
We also have an app. We have the Scriptnotes app. You can download that and listen to all the back episodes going all the way back to episode one. Scriptnotes.net is the place you sign up for all those back episodes. It’s $1.99 a month. And our show this week is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did the outro this week, another great outro by Matthew Chilelli. And, Craig, I will see you next week.
Craig: See you next week, John.
- RSVP here for the April 25 WGAw screenings of Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, featuring a Q+A with Bruce Joel Rubin moderated by John August, and follow John on Twitter where he will let you know if tickets are released for non-WGA members
- Gawker Media Editorial Staff Welcomed by WGAe
- Scriptnotes, 193: How writing credits work
- LA Times on Ron Bass and his in-house team
- The poster for The Harvest
- Meet Writer X
- The not-so-well-dressed screenwriter from johnaugust.com
- Tom Vu and Don Lapre on Wikipedia
- Stage32 discussion on iFilm Group
- The Paris Gold Ring Scam
- GLAAD’s 2015 Studio Responsibility Index
- More on Internet Neologisms: Rage Quitting is a Thing by Chi Luu
- Kano is a computer you build and code yourself
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)