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 196 of Scriptnotes. A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast we will talk about writing tight versus writing long, producer credits in US television, the trend of hiring multiple writers simultaneously, screenwriter’s dress code, the jealousy over other writers’ success, and several other questions related to previous episodes. Craig, it’s going to be a very, very big and busy show.
Craig: Yeah. You want to pray for traffic right now. You need time folks. You need to settle in now, calm down, relax. You’re in a safe place. We’re going to walk you through everything.
John: Absolutely. So, this is a great podcast to listen to as you’re driving to the West Side, or from the West Side. If you’re in New York City, maybe this is a great time for the subways to slow down a little bit. If you have a big chore in front of you, like a lot of dirty dishes, maybe dirty up some extra dishes. Make an extra big pot of chili because this is going to be a lot of stuff today.
Craig: Mm-hmm, this is a five-chili podcast.
John: [laughs] In follow up, last —
Craig: I don’t even know what means. What does five-chili mean? I don’t even know what that means.
John: A five-chili podcast, I mean, is that a hot podcast?
Craig: I guess. It’s like you have to make five pots of chili. It really makes no sense. But sometimes when I say things that are stupid, I like to just keep talking about it. [laughs]
John: Yeah. It’s always important to dwell on the things that make no sense at all.
Craig: Yeah. So, what do we got today?
John: Last week on the show we had Ryan Knighton and he was fantastic. I loved that episode. And he talked about writing while Canadian. And people seemed to have a great response to that.
Craig: He’s a really intelligent guy. And he has this very interesting perspective on screenwriting because he’s an outsider. He’s an outsider because he’s Canadian. He’s an outsider because he’s a novelist. He’s an outsider because he’s blind. And he’s completely blind, by the way. Before we started the show, sometimes people say well they’re visually impaired, I can see some things. He actually smashed his head into the microphone. He’s that blind.
But he had all of these things that made him kind of an outsider and yet somehow through, oh my gosh, talent and hard work, he’s about as inside as it gets, writing a screenplay for Ridley Scott. And I feel like, frankly, everybody is an outsider until they’re an insider. And so I think that was part of it. But he was just particularly good at expressing what his perspective was and how it had changed over time. It was a great discussion.
And maybe my favorite part of it is that you and I got into a fight in front of him about what he looked like.
John: Yes. And so I want to sort of go back to that thing, because I said — we were talking about some project that he was involved with and someone had brought up Chris O’Dowd. And I said on the podcast, oh yes, I think Chris O’Dowd could play you in the movie. Or I said basically like you look kind of like Chris O’Dowd. And we threw it out to the listeners about whether our guest, Ryan Knighton, looks like Chris O’Dowd.
And the votes came back and I was wrong, apparently. He does not look like Chris O’Dowd.
Craig: No. He looks nothing like Chris O’Dowd. And it was interesting because usually when you say to somebody, oh, I think you look like so-and-so, they will either say, “Yeah, I get that,” or, “What?” But Ryan was like, “Oh, do I?” Because he hasn’t seen his own face in a really long time. So he might now look like Chris O’Dowd.
But, no, Ryan, you do not. I don’t know what —
John: I had a hunch I was going to lose this bet because Stuart Friedel was tasked with trying to find two photos to put in the show notes that would show how Chris O’Dowd and Ryan Knighton looked like each other. And he had a very hard time doing that.
So, he picked the two that looked the most alike. But he said, “You know what? You’re going to lose.” And I lost that bet.
Craig: Yeah, he just doesn’t look like Chris O’Dowd.
John: Scott wrote in and said, “As someone who is legally blind, though I am still able to use a computer and type, it was inspiring to listen to today’s podcast. One of my biggest fears is if I do lose all my sight completely, I wouldn’t be able to continue with my dream. That’s clearly not the case. Thank you. I listen to your podcast religiously, but not cultistly, and treat you and John like my film school.”
John: So, that was a very common email we got in. People loving that episode with Ryan Knighton. But I wanted to highlight that one because that last sentence, “I listen to your podcast and treat you and John like my film school.” So, it was written as if it was written to Craig, which is so strange because Craig never checks the email.
John: He doesn’t even have the password for the email.
Craig: I would if you let me.
John: It was so weird.
Craig: Yeah, you don’t — you keep me away from all that stuff. That is odd.
John: So I assume it was written towards Craig, not written towards Stuart, but maybe it was written towards Stuart. I don’t know.
Craig: Well, I don’t think anyone is treating you and Stuart like their film school.
John: Yeah, probably not.
Craig: I mean, listen, there’s something about me that either drives people away, or draws them in tight. I’m either the worst or best.
John: I think there may be like a daddy thing, honestly, where because daddy has strong opinions, you’re sort of like — you push back against daddy, but then you’re also sort of like, oh, but I love daddy. So, if daddy is on my side, I think you’re kind of the daddy of the podcast. If I’m the professor, you’re the father. And you give people stern talking’s to, but sometimes they love you for it.
Craig: I think of myself as the Oracle and you as the Architect.
John: Oh, great. Yes, so back to the Matrix.
John: Yeah. Great.
We have some questions for our listeners. So, this is episode 196. We are approaching episode 200. And we are trying to figure out what is going to happen at 200 and what is going to happen beyond 200. So, spoiler alert, there is not going to be a live show with an audience like we traditionally have done for some other big events, and that’s all because of Craig. Craig does not want to do a live show with an audience because he has stage fright suddenly.
Craig: Well, I just, I don’t know. We’ve done a lot of them. And I get this kind of panic, a little bit of a panic, that we’ll do one and suddenly we won’t be the Jon Bon Jovi of podcasts anymore. And we’ll have half of an audience full of people that have been there before. And they’ll all be like, “Yeah, you know…it’s all right.”
John: They’ll want us to play our greatest hits. Yeah.
Craig: Yeah. So, I figured, oh, well, you know, if you don’t go away, how can they ever miss you. But, you had a really interesting idea because then Aline started yelling at me, which as you know, is an intense experience.
John: So, if you’re the Oracle and I’m the Architect, who is she in this? Is she Neo? Is she Trinity? Who is she in the Matrix analogy?
Craig: I think she’s the Merovingian.
John: Oh, wow. I don’t know what that is.
Craig: Oh, you didn’t see the sequels?
John: I did see the sequels. I just didn’t understand them.
Craig: [laughs] I actually understand them. It took me a long, long time, and I had to do a lot of reading. It’s actually kind of amazing. I don’t — the third movie just does not entertain me. The second movie is incredibly challenging and entertains me and actually has some remarkable things going on philosophically and in terms of what they’re suggesting.
I don’t know, one day we’ll have that discussion. But the Merovingian is the French guy in the restaurant who is very, very aggressive, but also French. And she’s French and aggressive.
John: That is Aline, because she’s French and she’s aggressive. Done.
Craig: Done. Right? Although she would probably want to be Monica Bellucci, his wife, because she’s super stylish. I’m still going with the Merovingian on that one.
Anyway, you had this really interesting idea that maybe what we should do for the 200th episode, since it deserves some kind of attention, is a Google Hangout where we basically — anyone can see it, right? So anywhere around the world people can just hang out with us while we do our show.
John: Yes. So I think that is what we will try to do, something like that. And so I’m throwing this out to listeners basically saying, help. So, if you are a person, a producer, who does those kind of things where everyone can sort of tune in and listen and watch a livestream happening, that is a thing we would be interested in doing. And we would be happy to come to a place and do that and perhaps bring in a guest and do that.
But we don’t want to sort of have an audience big situation. We just want to have us doing the show live there. And maybe be able to take some real-time questions and comments from listeners around the world.
So, I know it’s very possible to do it just with a standard Google Hangout. And worst comes to worst, we will just do that. But I have a hunch that someone who listens to us in the Los Angeles area probably has a setup that is kind of custom made for this. And if they would like us to use their facility, we would be delighted to use their facility.
And so it would be probably a nighttime kind of thing, so people could watch it after work. And sit back and watch us do our show.
Craig: That would be nice. I just don’t want to wear pants. I mean, that’s really the thing.
John: Well, it’s going to be from the waist up, so it’s all fine.
Craig: Good. That’s better than from the waist down.
John: Oy. That’s never a good podcast.
Now, if you have a suggestion for that, you can write in to email@example.com, our standard email address, or on Facebook or Twitter. Just tell us that you are a person who knows how to do this thing.
I have two other questions for our listeners. First off, would you want a 200-episode USB drive? So, way back in the day when we hit 100 episodes, we put out a USB drive that had the first 100 episodes on it. And we updated those later on to 150. I’m not sure if people still want them. And so we haven’t been selling them for a while. If people are interested in a 200-episode USB drive, let us know.
So, again, you can tweet at us, you can let us know on Facebook. If there seems to be sufficient demand, we will make them. If there does not seem to be sufficient demand, we won’t make them at all.
Last question for you, this is something we talked about at lunch. If you had to pick your favorite episodes out of the 200 episodes of Scriptnotes, or basically like a beginner’s guide to Scriptnotes, what would those episodes be? Because there certainly are a lot of episodes. And I’m trying to put together a blog post about here are the top episodes of Scriptnotes. And it’s actually kind of challenging, because they’re all so very different.
The ones that keep getting brought up on Reddit are things like the Final Draft episode, or the more recent sort of investigatory episodes. But there’s also episode 99 about Psychotherapy for Screenwriters. There’s the Frozen episode. There’s Ghost. I don’t know which you would recommend as being the top episodes. But I would love our listeners to provide a listener’s guide. So, if you have ideas for that, email us, send us on Facebook, tweet us to let us know, and we’ll talk through those next week.
Craig: That’s a good plan. I like that plan.
John: Yeah. Just off the top of your head, are there ones that you’d want to single out for people to pay attention to?
Craig: Well, aside from the ones you mentioned, I think Raiders of the Lost Ark was our first in depth movie study. And I really enjoyed that one. Craft-wise, I thought our episode on conflict was really good. I’m trying to think of like one of the more oddball guests we’ve had, because we’ve had quite a few now at this point.
You know, I think the Lindsay Doran interview is great. The truth is that like everybody else I’m going to have some recency bias.
Craig: So, I think that people should dig deep. Dig deep into the back catalog. Look for those B-sides. Find something cool back there.
John: Sounds good.
All right, let’s get to today’s work. The first question comes in from Danny who asks, “Do you always strive to write the tightest, most economical ‘perfect script,’ or do you ever purposely write extra?” Craig, what is your answer to Danny’s question?
Craig: Well, I’m not sure that this is advisable. I don’t know if what I do is right, but the answer is, yeah, I always strive to write the tightest, most economical, ‘perfect script’ while I’m doing it, knowing full well that there is no such thing as perfection or even close to perfection. I might be completely off by 180 degrees. I might think that I nailed it and other people might hate it. This is just the life of what it means to be a writer.
But I don’t ever turn a script in — this is just me — I never turn a script in that I haven’t really carefully tightened all the little tiny screws and bits-a-ma-bobs in. I really try and keep it tight. Yeah. So I do a lot of editing and a lot of careful work.
I don’t write — purposely write — extra ever. I will save things that I think, okay, I’m taking this out and putting it aside. And this may be why I work well with Lindsay because she is the most — I thought I was the most obsessive about these little tiny things. You know, laser cutting the edges. And she’s even more so like that. I mean, every period, comma, everything is discussed and tightened and made just so.
So, that’s my process. I don’t know if it’s right. It’s just that’s the way I do it.
John: Yeah. I’m very mindful about where I’m at in the process. And in those early drafts, which are just for myself, when I’m just first putting words on the paper, I will try to write something that feels like the final scene, but I won’t freak out about making every sentence the leanest possible sentence it could be, or I won’t stress out as like, oh you know what, I bet I could do that in two sentences rather than three. I will just try to get it down on the page. And I think it’s most important, you know, the scene that is written is better than the scene that is unwritten.
So, I want to make sure I get something down on the page that reflects the intention. I will go through before it’s a draft I show to anybody and try to make sure that I’ve gotten the scenes as tight as I can and I’ve taken out the scenes that just are never going to make it into the movie. And that’s one of those hard things that only comes with time where you recognize, you know what, this is a lovely scene. We could shoot this scene. It will never make it into the movie. And so sometimes I’ve had to cut a five-page sequence because I recognize this is never going to actually make it in there.
John: But there have been times, and even recently, where I’ve looked at stuff with that sort of really sharp editor’s eye and said, “Will this ultimately make it down through the process into the final cut of the movie?” And I can’t say with certainty that it would. But then my question is will this help the people who are trying to make this movie understand what the movie feels like? Will this help get the cast and the directors to take this movie seriously?
If the answer sometimes is yes, then I would be more inclined to leave that scene, that line, that moment in the movie in the script for right now, because it helps inform the kind of movie that we’re trying to make. It’s helping be part of the trailer for let’s make this into a movie. So, sometimes I’ll recognize that this might not survive, but it’s important to be in the draft for right now.
Do you ever do that?
Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean, the distinction I make is this is good for the read, as opposed to this is good for the movie. There are times when something is good for the read. And there is value there, because a good read will get you to your movie. And a good read will also clarify your intentions and, as you said, fill in some of the blanks for people, even if it’s not required in the movie itself. And it may be cut in the editing room. It may be cut prior to shooting, but that’s one of those spots where you do have to acknowledge that while we are writing a movie, we’re limited. We’re limited. We just don’t have the tools that a movie has.
That’s why we don’t charge tickets to stand around and read screenplays. So, yeah, sometimes you want to keep something in there for the read. But I wonder if part of the difference between our techniques or work practices is just in the way we — you know how some people are auditory learners and blah, blah, blah. So, when you’re writing, do you find that your writing occurs while you’re writing, or is your writing occurring in your mind and then you write it?
John: I think it’s happening in both ways. I’ve described before on the show that essentially my process of doing a scene is just looping it, just visually looping it in my head and hearing the people talk, and figuring out, like filming the scene in my head, essentially. And then trying to get a version of that down on paper as quickly as possible. Then going through and finding the absolute best possible words to describe it.
So, it’s the looping. It’s the scribble. And then it’s the real writing. And obviously all of those phases are real writing, but we tend to think of writing as being that final phase where you’re picking which nouns and which verbs go in which order.
Craig: Well, I suppose my theory is no good, because that’s pretty much what I do, too. I mean, I play the scene in my head and I have people talking back and forth. I will start to edit dialogue in my head as I’m going. And then I start to write. And before I kind of say I’m done here, I do really read it through. And this is one area where I know you and I are different. I am a re-paver. I will go over it, and over it, and over it, and over it, and over, and over, and over. Then I move on.
I don’t feel comfortable moving on. I need — it’s like a security blanket. I need to know that if they had to shoot that tomorrow, there wouldn’t be a problem. So, it’s mental.
John: And because I write out of sequence, that’s not a huge factor for me. So, I don’t worry about that.
Craig: The thought of writing out of sequence makes my heart race.
John: But I want to circle back to this idea of how lean you can write, because there always is that option that you could take out that sentence. You could take out that parenthetical. If you really wanted to, if you looked at the final movie and you just wrote down here’s what the actors are literally doing, and here’s what they’re saying, that would be the screenplay of the movie.
It’s a representation on paper of what the movie is like, but it’s not a real plan for making that movie. And often the carefully written sentence description that is giving the feel of what that scene is like is as important as the lines of dialogue being spoken. And so I’m always very mindful of as I’m cutting, wow, I hope I’m not cutting meat and, worse, I hope I’m not cutting into the bone as I try to slice this thinner and thinner.
And as I’m trying to trim pages, as I’m trying to get the movie in its best fighting shape, I’m often mindful of like, wow, you know what would be better? If we just took out this whole scene, rather than trying to cut the scene down so short. I would be better writing around this problem than trying to just make a shorter version of this moment.
Craig: This is a constant inner battle. You don’t want to be the person who cuts nothing. Nor do you want to be the person who goes cut happy and starts to hurt your own movie. That’s almost scarier. This is where having a trusted partner is an enormous help, because when they are with you on the ride the whole way, whether you’re working very closely with a director, or working very closely with a producer, or those of you who write with writing partners, it’s baked into that situation.
Somebody can say, “Actually, we’ve hurt the movie. And so losing that hurt the movie, and we need to put that back.” And I’ve had those moments with Lindsay for sure. I sometimes get a little over zealous. And it’s interesting — somebody else defending your work and its worthiness of being in the movie is more compelling than you doing it to yourself, you know?
Because we are not objective, of course. I mean, it’s easy enough to fall down the trap of, well I read it, it’s good. If somebody else says, “You wrote it, and it’s good. Please put it back.” Maybe you should put it back. So, it’s good to have somebody like that along for the ride if possible.
John: There’s always this talk about you shouldn’t direct from the page, which we’ve dismissed many times. Of course you are trying to provide a vision for the movie. But I’d also say you shouldn’t try to control the Avid from the page. And if you are writing so tightly and so specifically that it literally feels like there’s exactly one way you could shoot this and no other way could possibly work for this, that may be a signal that you are writing a little close to the bone. And that you’re not giving enough space for this to exist in a scene, exist as a moment.
And there have been times where I’ve come into a scene and realized you are trying to park in too tight of a parking space and you’re not giving yourself the options of how you’re going to actually handle this moment.
Craig: Well, then, of course, reality will intrude. And so even if you’ve written the scene to be the tightest parking space of all time, hopefully you are still in communication and partnering with the production. And they’ll call you and they’ll say, “We got to change this. We can’t shoot it this way. But here’s what we have.” And then you go to work.
So, you’re right. There is a point of diminishing returns on fastidiousness. And you do have to be aware of that certainly, because ultimately the world will not conform to your micrometer-measured sentences. There’s going to be some confirmation to the world around you as you shoot.
John: A real world example that happened pretty recently. There’s a movie I wrote where I got these notes about tone and I realized what they were actually responding to was essentially I had edited it a little too tight. And there were moments of sort of scene description and sort of feeling that I had taken out just kind of for the economy of getting to the next thing. And without those it was feeling rushed.
I had taken out some of the painting of the world, a little bit of the feeling, the looseness, the suspense in some cases. And I needed to sort of put that back in. in some cases it was literally like adding a few more line breaks so that those — there was a little bit more air on the page.
And it’s so hard when you’ve looked at it a thousand times to recognize like, oh yeah, I actually do need that extra little bit of space there, because people are going to zip through this and not pay attention.
Craig: Yeah. You’ve become accustomed to your own material and it becomes part of your experience of the script to the point where you don’t need it anymore. It’s no longer a crutch for you. But everybody else needs it. Everybody else — they’re reading it for the first time, essentially.
John: I think it may have been Aline on the show who talked about you look at a joke a hundred times, like, wow, this joke is not funny anymore. It has to be cut. And then everyone else, like it’s funny for them because it’s the first time they’re seeing it. And that can be a real challenge, too.
Craig: Yeah. You’ve got to really be careful about that stuff. And, you know, as you’re going through — this is where, by the way, actual production experience is very helpful, and watching movies get edited is very helpful. Sometimes I will have discussions with producers or executives and they’ll say, “Well you know, we’re just wondering, do we need this line?” And I’ll say, I don’t know, but you’re there and you’re shooting. And it doesn’t require set up. It’s free. It’s essentially free.
So, where I take “do we need this” notes very much to heart is when it will actually impact the day. But if it’s not going to save any time, well, just do it. Why not? Unless people just don’t understand it, you know?
John: Yeah. There’s always that sense of, well, we could cut this. And they’re trying to point out like this is not absolutely essential. And so there’s this sense that anything that is not absolutely essential could be cut, and therefore maybe should be cut. And it’s a question always worth asking, but it’s never an automatic guarantee that you should cut those things.
A lot of times I’ll have moments, and I’ll know that in the back of my head like well that could disappear. And I’ll think through the editing math of like well if that moment, if that scene, if that line went away, would it be possible for everything to still make sense? And I’ll have a plan for it. But that doesn’t mean that the line should go away, because it could be incredibly integral to everything.
Certainly going back to our discussion of Ghost, there are so many scenes in Ghost that could go away, but that movie would be diminished if they went away.
John: And if they had cut those scenes during the writing process, the movie would not exist.
Craig: And then, of course, there were scenes that they did cut. And that’s the thing — sometimes I feel like when people are discussing a screenplay, the writer is there with the producer and the studio and the director, but there’s this fear of being humble. There’s a fear of admitting that we’re all guessing. But, it’s important to admit that right off the bat, because everyone who has made a movie has gone into that first screening and been shocked by something that worked, and shocked by something that didn’t.
Sometimes the biggest laugh in the movie is a line you didn’t even think was that good. It’s just —
John: Oh, 100 percent.
Craig: It’s the weirdest thing. So you have to kind of be humble enough to appreciate that there’s a chaotic factor to this that cannot be predetermined. It cannot be divined. So, if you’re on the fence, sometimes it’s good to skew in favor of inclusion.
John: It reminds me of the common thing said about when, I think it was Sony was buying Columbia Pictures, and the legend is always that one of the Sony execs pulled the Columbia exec aside and said, “By the way, we only want to make the hit movies.” And the similar thing for in making an individual movie is like the director saying, “Well, I only want to shoot the scenes that are going to be in the movie.” Or, “I only want to shoot the exact shots I need to make the movie.” But, of course, you don’t really know that. And so what you’re doing is your best guess about what things you’re going to want to have in the editing room to construct the final movie.
And so the writer is coming up with this material and hopefully shaping it in a way that if followed to the tee and really following his plan, you will have a good movie. But you won’t really know. And you won’t really know until you’re in your seventh cut of this film.
And so you’re trying to get the best material possible so you can have the best shot of making your film.
Craig: Yeah. That’s the great paradox of writing is that you have to write it like you’re shooting it, and that is all that will be shot, but at the same time you have to be flexible enough to change it.
John: Yes. Our next question comes from Michael in Liverpool who asks, “Can someone please explain why the TV show The Following has a list of producer credits the same length as my penis?” And I don’t know —
Craig: Does he give the length?
John: So he says that his penis is attached as a PNG, as a graphic, but that is not in fact true. There is no graphic attached.
John: So we’ll have to assume that his penis is about 13 names long, which is how many names —
Craig: I think you need to read this question like you’re from Liverpool. The same length as my penis?
John: Can someone please explain…?
Craig: No, that was kind of Irish.
John: I’m not great with my British accent at all.
Craig: This is The Beatles thing. The same length as my penis? Uh, well, how long is his penis? Let’s find out in names.
John: In names. So, there are 13 names listed on this episode of The Following. And so I went through and I did my homework and I actually looked up on IMDb like who those people were. And so of those 13 names, nine of them are writers, which is not surprising because in US television, most of the names you see listed as a producer are high level writers. So, they are writers who are no longer at the entry level. They are no longer staff writers or story editors. They have moved up the ranks.
And when you move up the ranks in TV writing, you get a producer credit. And those producer credits escalate as you rise higher and higher on a show, or sort of moving show to show.
Way back in 2004 I wrote a blog post describing sort of TV credits. And so this was the hierarchy that I listed then, which is largely accurate. So, you’re looking at given TV show, you’re looking at the credits scroll by, one of the executive producers is almost always the creator of the show. And that creator of the show may also be the showrunner, the person who is most in charge of the show at the moment, but it may not be the case.
There could be other people listed as executive producers. Below that, co-executive producers. Below that, somewhere in that vicinity, a consulting producer, a supervising producer, a producer, then a co-producer. Then below that would be a story editor and a staff writer.
Now, sometimes those aren’t exactly accurate, but that’s a general sense of what that is. The other producer credits you might see are a line producer, or an associate producer. Those are almost always not writers. Those are usually the people who are responsible for the physical production or the editing. So, those are some of the names you’re going to see. And that’s absolutely true with the credits for The Following.
Because there are so many names, we’ll have a list in the show notes, but essentially of the 13 names listed, nine of them are writers. So the only ones who aren’t writers there, there’s a woman, Lauren Wagner, who based on her credits I think she runs Kevin Williamson’s production company. Kevin Williamson is the producer/creator of the show.
Kevin Bacon is Kevin Bacon. He’s the star of the show. He’s listed as a producer. There’s a man named Michael Stricks who is a production manager. And there is Marcos Siega who is a famous director, a big director who is the director of this TV show.
Everyone else there is a writer. So, what’s with all the producers? Well, there’s a bunch of writers. And so that’s employment. That’s great.
Craig: It’s essentially a symptom of the fact that television is written by a staff. So when you have a large group of employees working on something, somebody somewhere has to figure out what they’re going to be paid. And anytime you’re paying groups of people stuff, what immediately begins to happen is a codification of salaries and leveling. So, we’re not going to pay everybody ad hoc. Nor are we going to pay you more money than the person that’s your boss. So, eventually titles occur.
And it’s very much a military system here. I mean, just replace lieutenant and corporal and captain with consulting and supervising and co-executive. That’s kind of what’s going on.
In movies, that’s not the way we do it. There’s one writer working at a time. And so there isn’t a staffing system and a ranking system. Sometimes the writer that ends up with the credit for the movie, the writer that’s written it all, well she actually got paid half as much as the woman who kicked the whole thing off, who got paid more. So, the salaries are all over the place, and therefore in features the producers are typically not writers — sometimes they are — but typically not and they are more running the business and creative end of the company of the movie.
But here I think it’s probably about salary.
John: Yeah. It’s about salary, it’s about experience, and responsibility on the show.
John: And so the people who have been doing this for a long time, they’re going to rise up the ranks and they’ll have higher producer credits on a given show. And that is a way of reflecting that and a way of paying them for that.
John: So, Craig, in your last answer you said that features do not have multiple writers simultaneously, but now unfortunately that situation seems to be happening more and more. Jay writes in, “My writing partner and I are repped working writers in the studio system with about five years of credits on relatively big studio movies, sadly none yet produced. But more importantly we’re big fans of Scriptnotes and have been since the start.”
Craig: That is more important.
John: Jay, you’re awesome.
Craig: That’s the most important.
John: It is more important. Yes.
“We just saw this disturbing report that WB is hiring established screenwriters like Will Beall, Jeff Nichols, etc., to start writing first acts for their upcoming DC movies. That is pitting three writers against each other to work on the same outline and write competing versions of Aquaman’s act one, for instance. Do you see the industry as a whole moving in a similar direction with writer’s rooms? Paramount is setting one up for Transformers, for example. Is this a larger trend in bake offs?”
A related post to this is Kim Masters at the Hollywood Reporter wrote a long piece about DC and Warners and them trying to figure out how they’re going to do their movies. And so both Aquaman and Wonder Woman have this situation where there are multiple writers working simultaneously on things and it apparently is not always the happiest situation. Craig, what do you think?
Craig: Well, the Kim Masters piece in the Hollywood Reporter, I think, puts its finger exactly on the big difference between what they’re endeavoring to do with the DC properties and what Marvel does with the Marvel properties. And I understand that at Warner Bros they’re looking at the way Marvel does it. They probably see some version of kind of a writing room system. And which is, by the way, the way that movies used to be done way back in the day.
And they’re thinking, well, let’s just copy that. It’s working. And I understand that. But, the main difference is there is one authorial vision being imposed on all of those Marvel movies and that’s through Kevin Feige who runs Marvel. And Kevin Feige is renowned for not only doing his job well but being an extraordinarily educated Marvel-ologist. He was hired, I think, in small part because of his encyclopedic knowledge of what is a very large collection of characters and storylines that interweave and reboot and restart and have various versions.
So, he is imposing a singular vision. If you are going to hire multiple writers to work on one movie as a bake off situation, they must be guided by one creative authorial vision. They have to be, or you will just end up with a bunch of parts that don’t fit together. And I’m not even getting into the fact that I think this is just kind of bad for writers and bad for movies in general. I think it’s not going to works. Unless there is somebody that has Kevin Feige’s knowledge of Marvel but for DC, I don’t see how this works.
It’s tempting. I know why they do it. It’s tempting. It seems like, oh, well it will go faster. Instead of hiring three writers in succession, we’ll just hire them all at once. It just doesn’t work that way.
John: Yeah. If writing were the kind of thing where you could clearly tell like well this is the version that won, and therefore we are going to get behind her script and her vision and she will be the one to deliver it and praise everybody — this is the one — then I could maybe see it working. I could maybe see the consensus of rather than have a bunch of people pitch their takes, we will pay them money to write it up and we can look at their actual words and say like this is the person who has the vision for what this movie is.
We will support her 100 percent and go with her vision. But what this article says and what we know from our other conversations is that is not at all what happened. And it’s not what seems to be happening in the DC movies. And it’s never really happened anywhere else. You might say like, “Oh, we’re going to have these three versions,” and then you’re going to have a bunch of different opinions about what is the best of those three versions. And then you’re going to hire on a director who is going to have different opinions about what the best of those three versions is.
And so rather than having one writer pulled in a bunch of different ways, you’re going to have three writers pulled in a bunch of different ways and everyone is going to be extra confused.
Craig: Yeah. There’s this thing that happens when one writer writes all the way through. They will get some amount of it right. They will get some amount of it wrong. No one is perfect.
Consider Joss Whedon, for instance. Joss Whedon is I guess the other singular vision over there at Marvel who has had enormous influence obviously on the movies that he makes, but on the movies around him at the same time that are touching on his movie. Well, Joss Whedon doesn’t get everything right. Joss Whedon makes mistakes. I’m sure Joss Whedon would be the first person 20 years from now to look back at Avengers and say, “Well here’s a bunch of things I think I could have done better.”
But here’s the thing. They’re his mistakes. They are mistakes that are consistent in voice, tone, and vision with the stuff that works. When you’re looking at a movie that’s been cobbled together from three, or four, or five different writers, like a Frankenstein monster, the mistakes will be incredibly jarring because they have nothing to do with the stuff that’s working.
They won’t be consistent mistakes. They won’t be part of the same feeling. That’s where things start to come apart. And I’ll tell you, when you watch a movie and it has that cobbled feel, it’s hard to even say what exactly is putting itself between you and the movie, but something is. It’s like there’s a thing between you and it. It starts to take on an artificial hollow vibe.
So, for instance, I’m a big fan of Chris Nolan and his Batman films. I can look at each one of those Batman films and say well here’s something I just don’t like, but the mistake is consistent and it’s part of Nolan’s vision and so I am okay.
John: I get that. Thinking about other situations where multiple writers are working on a movie simultaneously, James Cameron is trying it right now for the Avatar sequels. And so he is essentially the showrunner and he has — I believe it’s three writers who are writing the movies with him/for him. I don’t quite know what is happening in that room. Josh Friedman is a friend, but I don’t know any sort of secret insights about what’s actually happening, but the goal is for them to work together and create something that is better than any one of them could do separately.
Is that possible? Maybe it’s possible, but they certainly have a very strong showrunner in James Cameron who is going to direct these movies and has the vision for what they’re supposed to be.
John: That’s a situation I believe would work, rather than three writers reporting to a committee of people who then have to figure out what is actually going to happen and what’s going to go on. That seems to be the challenge.
Craig: It seems like Warner Bros is leaning on Zack Snyder to be their singular overarching vision bringer. But he’s been making this most recent Superman vs. Batman movie. Well, if you’re directing a movie you can’t do this part, right. So, Kevin Feige can do this part while Joss Whedon is making Avengers. So, it seems like they’re missing a vital piece there if this is the way they’re going to go.
And if they don’t have that vital piece, and frankly I don’t know if — for better or worse, the DC universe does not really inspire the same kind of obsessive encyclopedic curiosity that the Marvel universe does, then I think they may want to consider — I’m talking like I run Warner Bros. Isn’t this great? They may want to consider kind of returning back to their original model which worked extraordinarily well with Batman and that is to say find a filmmaker with a singular vision and give them that thing. But, the problem from them is they want — everybody wants the shared universe. Everybody wants to do what Marvel is doing.
It may not be possible.
John: The other question will be whether the Star Wars universe and sort of what they’re trying to do and Kathleen Kennedy’s role in bringing together all the Star Wars movies, will that be possible. Now, in that case they don’t multiple writers working on one script at the same time, but they are trying to build the future of this whole universe, and there has to be considerable creative collaboration and creative consensus in what that world-building will be.
And whether that falls on her shoulders or someone else, somebody has to finally make those decisions. Someone has to be the Kevin Feige in those decisions. And that will be interesting to see how that shakes out.
Craig: No question. I think that it probably very much is Kathleen Kennedy. But they’re making I think the right choice of, for instance, okay, so J.J. really took this next movie and did it. And Rian Johnson is taking the movie after that and he’s going to do it. And they are allowing a vision. They’re allowing a singular voice. And we should also acknowledge that J.J. brought in Larry Kasdan. And Larry is, you know, kind of the great keeper of the flame of the Star Wars universe.
So, Larry and J.J. were that first one. Rian is going to be the second one. That’s the right way to go. I feel like that’s the way to do it. This kind of Frankenstein — and also, frankly, pitting three writers against each other is — any time I hear a studio say, “Well, we’re going to do a cut and paste version,” I just think, yup, you’re done. That’s it. Movie is bad. That’s it.
John: Yeah. You and I have both in situations where the cut and paste has ended up happening because there have been multiple writers employed over the course of time. So, someone is brought in to rewrite something, you and I have both rewritten somebody, and we’ve both been rewritten. And sometimes those movies turn out just fine.
And lord knows it can sometimes work out, but are any of those movies as amazing as they might have been with a single writer writing all the way through? I can’t think of any. That doesn’t mean that it could never happen. But it’s generally not the best sign when multiple writers have been working on a movie. That’s the reality.
Craig: At the very least, if multiple writers are working on a movie, one writer needs to be the one that does the final reconciliation. You can’t have non-writers doing their cut and paste. They simply won’t see the mistakes that — and screenplay mistakes ripple forth like tiny little seeds that blossom into awful things.
Sometimes you just can’t see them there in the script and then, kaboosh. So, you know, I’ve been in situations where I’ve looked at three drafts and I’ve done something, and then somebody else has come in, and then I come back and they’re like, “Look, we want to keep this and this.” And I’ll say, great, but I still need to incorporate it properly. I can’t just slap it in. There’s a craft to this. There’s an actual job, [laughs], writing. I know, it’s crazy. Crazy.
John: That’s crazy.
A simpler question. Adam writes in, “I’ve always been someone who for lack of a better term dresses up. I feel more comfortable in a sport coat and tie rather than a hoodie. I have nothing against sweat pants. It’s just how I roll. I treat every general or pitch like something in between a job interview and a first date. And looking back I’ve probably been the best dressed person in the room more often than not.
“I’m sure I’m overthinking it because it was only brought up after Craig made it clear that there isn’t a writer’s dress code. But do you think there is a subconscious message I’m sending out by not wearing a t-shirt and jeans? Does the writer in a bow tie come off as less authentically creatively than the writer in a graphic tee?”
Craig, what’s your thought?
Craig: Well, I mean, I wish it weren’t so, but maybe. I mean, you know, this is one of those things. We’re all taught not to judge a book by its cover, and then everybody goes around judging books by their cover. And particularly in Hollywood where the cover of the book is the most important part of the book to the people that spend money hiring writers. [laughs]
Yeah, if you show up really buttoned up in a jacket and nice pants and a bow tie, it may put other people a little bit ill at ease. Like nobody likes to be the worst dressed person in the room. The writer’s job in Hollywood is the one place where being the worst dressed person in the room kind of makes you cool. And that’s okay.
You know, that said, Adam, I feel like you walk in and if you just acknowledge and you’re like, “By the way, this is how roll. I just like bow ties.” No will care. I mean, whatever immediate impression they get from your bow tie, it will be obliterated by the things coming out of your mouth. So, as long as you yourself are not a non-creative seeming person, I wouldn’t worry about it.
I mean, just know that it’s there. It will be something you’ll overcome every time.
John: Yeah. I don’t even necessarily know that it’s an overcome. I think it’s just being aware of expectation. And I think in most cases the expectation is going to be, well, writers don’t dress very well. And so if you dress very well you are pushing against that expectation. And that could be to your benefit or to your detriment.
Let’s say you are a Wes Anderson type. Then you wearing a bow tie is fantastic. Because they are bringing you in, they want to meet with you because they have a perception of you are and it fits that kind of brand. And so if the things you write are movies that people would wear bow ties in, they’re delighted to see that.
If Wes Anderson showed up for a meeting and he was scruffy and wearing dirty jeans and looked like he hadn’t bathed in a while you would say, “Wait, that’s not the Wes Anderson I was expecting.” So, looking like the person that they are expecting could be useful to you. And so if that is a dressed up person and you are writing dressed up movies, that’s fantastic.
Now, if you’re writing dark and gritty crime thrillers, if you are writing big goofy dumb comedies, that may be a bit of a challenge and you’ll just have to figure out what that is when you’re in the room and how you play that.
But, I wouldn’t necessarily change how you dress. You just want to come in there confident. And if confident for you is dressing up some, go for it.
I think my biggest caution against dressing up for these things, and when you say first date or job interview, that makes me feel nervous. And it makes me feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, or that you’re a newbie. And that you are nervous about this whole thing. And that is not a position of strength to be coming into that room.
Craig: I agree. Well, hopefully that will help you pick out tomorrow’s sartorial selection. But now we have something about writers judging each other. This is a question from Bobby. He writes, “I have a question/concern regarding all the to do over This is Working. That was the all-script, all-page challenge that you and I did. It sounds like a great script, and I do believe you’re right in your assessment of K.C.’s talents.
“I am filled with vicarious joy, but also jealousy at hearing him get such praise on your show. Basically the thought that occurred to me as I was listening to you continue to praise him in your follow up episode was ‘why him?’ And I realized that gets to the fundamental rub of all Hollywood success stories. The answer essentially comes down to ‘just because.’
“I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling jealous that his pages were picked over mine. I’m sure I’m not alone in believing I’m every bit as talented. I hope this doesn’t come across as critical, and certainly don’t take it as pouting or childish. I recognize that I had as much chance being picked as K.C. did. And that’s really what I’m trying to get at here. It’s all a lottery. Maybe your podcast just changed K.C.’s life. I’d be surprised if it didn’t.
“But it could have just as easily been someone else. And I guess I’d like to get your general take on that sentiment.”
What do you think about that, John?
John: I think Bobby is largely right. I think it could have been him, or anyone else. And also that feeling of why him, why not me, that doesn’t go away either.
And I’ll tell you quite honestly as I look at success of other people, or I look at somebody getting that great book assignment, that will still come up in my heart of hearts, too. Where it’s like, but why did that person get that thing, and why didn’t I get that thing? That is a natural human emotion and it doesn’t ever go away.
What I think the lesson to take from this feeling, and from K.C. Scott, is that to some degree it is a lottery, but you don’t win the lottery without buying some tickets. And K.C. Scott took a big risk by putting himself out there and entering the Three-Page Challenge, but then also being willing to send in his script and not know how we were going to receive it. And really tell us more about his life and his own worries and thoughts about the future. Those were all sort of brave choices.
So, while it could be anybody, it’s more likely to happen to somebody who is brave and someone who is taking some chances. And so if there’s a lesson to take from this, it’s that fortune does favor the bold.
Craig: I come at this from a slightly different angle because I recognize that this is something that a lot of people feel. And I think you’re probably right; it’s one of those things if you feel it, you feel it, and then it’s all really about what meaning you assign to that feeling.
I have all sorts of mental problems. They’re all related —
John: But that’s well-established.
Craig: [laughs] And a lot of them are connected to my work. The guns that I have are almost always pointed back towards my own chest. I have never felt jealous of another writer. I don’t have it. And I don’t mean to come off like a saint, because I’m not. I just don’t have that. I’ve never been jealous. If I’ve gone for something and somebody else gets it I just think, huh, well, they must have done something better. [laughs] I don’t know, that’s just the way I am.
But I’m never jealous about other writers. I always feel good when good things happen to other writers because I just don’t have that bone. I wish I could tell you it’s because I’m enlightened. I think it’s just because I’m actually missing that chunk of neurons. I have other chunks of neurons that cause me all sorts of trouble. So, I guess really I’m not much of a help for you here, Bobby, other than to say on my side of it, it’s actually quite nice to not be burdened by this. If there’s a way for you to be less burdened by it, then all I would say is this: it’s not going to help you. And it’s not going to get you anywhere. And it’s not going to motivate you.
And so when you feel it, just recognize it for what it is which is a meaningless feeling. It doesn’t mean that those people are better than you. And it doesn’t mean that you’re better than them. It doesn’t mean that the world is specifically unfair to you. The world is pretty much generally unfair to everybody. So, that’s the only advice I can give you over here in the oddly, weirdly, non-jealous camp. I don’t know. I’m a weirdo that way, I guess.
John: I would say that I am genuinely happy when other writers who I know are able to succeed and get great projects. And I’m genuinely happy for them when these things happen. But there’s always a voice in my head that says, “Well, why didn’t I get that call?” And then some of those self-doubts creep back in. And it makes me wonder, well, is it because I am too expensive? Is it because I am the wrong person for this project? Is it because I have this relationship with this person?
What is it that made it so I did not get that call? And Bobby is describing a version of that call, like why did K.C. Scott get called up to have this spotlight put on him. Well, the answer is sort of that kind of random lottery in this case. It was literally Stuart read a bunch of Three-Page Challenges. He sent us the ones he thought were the best. And we said we agreed. And we said, yes, this is the thing.
But just as easily it could have not happened.
I think the thing to take from this is that, yes, there is an aspect to this that is like a lottery. And the good thing about that is you can buy a lottery ticket. And the game is not fixed before you start to play. You can increase your odds of winning this lottery by figuring out ways to just literally increase your odds. Take more swings at bat. Take more general meetings.
Do what Ryan Knighton did in this last episode and he takes like 20 general meetings in the course of a week. That is how you get lucky is by making situations where you can get lucky.
Craig: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
John: That’s the lesson here.
Craig: I think that’s right. And, you know, you’re making a good distinction, actually. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Okay, I just heard a friend got a job. I’m happy for them. I am also wondering why didn’t I get called for that.” Those two things are different and can be maintained simultaneously.
And when you ask yourself I wonder why I didn’t get called, that’s a useful question, because that question can lead to strategies, plans. Okay, what am I doing now that I could differently? Because obviously there is something I want that isn’t currently here. Let me actually exercise some thought and care and take some action and see if I can’t change my circumstances. That’s valuable.
The part of jealousy that’s not valuable is the part that doesn’t let you enjoy, truly enjoy, when something good happens to somebody else. Even if it was something that maybe you wanted for yourself, that’s the part where you are in a weird way robbing yourself of what I think is one of the great pleasures of life, which is celebrating somebody else’s good fortune with them.
I love that feeling. When Rian told me that he was going to be writing and directing the next Star Wars, I mean, my little heart just about exploded. I was so excited. I mean, I just didn’t know, you know, like, ah, it was just the best feeling ever. I felt like — in a weird way I felt like I was doing it now because it’s my friend, you know. [laughs] I was so happy. So, that’s the only thing, Bobby. Just make sure that you don’t kill that, you know.
But, it’s a good thing, I think, what John is saying, too. Then sort of step back and go, “Well gee, if this is something that I feel I ought to have but I don’t, what can I do to change those circumstances?”
John: Yeah. The other thing you can take from that is it is possible for a person in this situation to achieve this thing, so therefore it is possible for me to achieve that thing. And that is a great take home from K.C. Scott is that this is a person who wrote a good script, put it out there, and got a great response from it. And that is possible for anyone who can write a great script.
John: Great. Circling back to our discussions of arbitration, David writes, “I’m a WGA member who has gone through an arbitration a couple of times. So, I found the episode about arbitration especially fascinating. I was reading that Donna Langley was defending her decision to hire E.L. James’s husband to write 50 Shades Darker, the sequel to 50 Shades of Grey, because he had done some work on the first movie.
“But he didn’t get a credit. Only Kelly Marcel did. Was Donna Langley legally allowed to say that? Was it against WGA rules to publicize uncredited writers? Or does that only apply to writers themselves?”
Craig, what is the actual rules here? What are common best practices? Talk us through what is legitimate for an executive like Donna Langley to say about that situation.
Craig: It’s an interesting question, actually. I mean, on the writing side of things we have working rules, which are union rules. They govern our behavior as union members. And we are subject to union discipline if we break them. And union discipline is essentially, it could be a fine. As far as I know the union hasn’t disciplined anyone for anything in forever.
But, one of our working rules is that we would abide by the credits as put forth and that we wouldn’t publicize a different credit. So, if we wrote on something and we don’t get credit for it, we don’t do interviews where we say things like, “I deserve credit on that,” or “I wrote a lot of it,” etc.
Now, was Donna allowed to say that? Probably yes. I think that the — almost certainly yes. The way the contract works is that company is forbidden to publicize incorrect credits. Once the WGA determines credits, they can’t print up posters, take out ads in newspapers, put a different credit on the screen or on video or when it runs on TV.
But it’s a simple free speech issue. And individual is certainly allowed to say I hired somebody to do something. That’s — I don’t think in any way that Donna did anything wrong there. And in that circumstance I think it kind of was something she probably had to say. I think, I mean, it’s a tough spot. Right? You’re hiring the author’s husband. It feels like, on its face, it feels kind of like crazy nepotism. So, you kind of need to be able to say, “No, no, no, he’s actually a screenwriter, too. He was hired to write on the first movie.”
That’s a fact. I think that was fine for her to say. She didn’t say he deserved credit on it. She didn’t say he was the screenwriter. So, I think that’s fine.
In general, it’s not something that you see executives doing because, frankly, they have as much investment as we do in our system of credits.
John: I agree with your separation of facts from sort of general policy and practices.
So, you know, by rules they’re not allowed to stick his name on as a writer. That very clearly would be a violation. But facts are facts. And so you can’t just pretend that reality doesn’t exist and that he wasn’t hired. I think it’s a completely reasonable thing for her to say in this situation.
And people will ask me about a film that I’ve worked on that I’m not credited on, I will happily say, “Yes, I worked on that movie, but I never claimed I should have gotten credit.” Yet, all the same, you will see the situations, we talked about the situations on previous arbitrations where people have been very unhappy. And so you can’t go back through and enter into a time machine and un-say all the things you said about who you thought should have gotten credit on the movie.
You said that aloud and that was a thing that happened. And that’s why I think it’s important to be very, very mindful about the kinds of things you’re saying publicly about movies that have not yet had final credits because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
And so just treating everybody fairly and nicely, and being kind, is a general good rule.
Craig: Yeah. It’s one of those areas where restraint is a good policy. If you must, for extenuating circumstances, as was I think the case here with Donna, yeah sure. But, you know, otherwise if you don’t have to, don’t. You know, it just feels more professional to me, at least, that we not do that sort of thing.
John: So, our next question comes from John in London. He writes, “I don’t think my question has been covered yet on the show, but the longer I wonder about it, the more it feels like a time bomb. I’ve begun to write film criticism for a website here in the UK and I’m having a great time of it. I would love to eventually work in Hollywood as a screenwriter. And I have the slightest paranoia that some of the reviews I’ve written, some of which have been mildly scathing, but eventually make me someone that can’t be hired.
“What do you think about this? Have I been watching too many ’70s paranoid thrillers? Or is there cause for concern about publicly criticizing one’s work, and then having it come back to bit me?”
Craig: Good question. Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest to you that you stop being scathing, just because I don’t really feel that that’s productive or helps anybody. Criticism is different than scathing. I don’t know what “mildly scathing” means. That’s an oxymoron. Regardless, film critics routinely overestimate their importance and impact on the business.
I actually think barely anyone would notice. It’s possible that if you wrote something and you sat down with the director that you wanted to direct your script, and you had destroyed that person, they would have something to say to you and rightly so because at this point you’d kind of be a hypocrite.
But, if you sat down with a studio, they don’t care that you gave their movies bad reviews. You know what they care about? If their movie bombed or not.
If you give a hit movie a bad review, it’s like you didn’t happen. If you give a bomb a bad review, it’s like you didn’t happen. [laughs] It kind of doesn’t matter, because the movie was going to bomb with you or without you. And the movie was going to be a hit with you or without you.
There is an interesting thing that happens with — it doesn’t happen frequently, but occasionally film critics will become screenwriters. Rod Lurie I believe was a film critic who became a screenwriter. Stephen Schiff, who I’ve mentioned before on the podcast, is an excellent screenwriter and he was a film critic for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. So he was pretty high up on that food chain.
And I once asked him about it, and it was sort of a version of your question, John. And he said, “Maybe three or four months after I had left my job as a film critic and started my job as a screenwriter, it kind of all came to me in a rush that the entire time I was writing film reviews and critiquing films for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair I had no idea what I was talking about. None.” And he said occasionally he would see a lot of his old cohorts who were still writing reviews and it was the feeling that he suspects ex-smokers get when they see their friends huddled outside of a bar all puffing away.
You know, there’s this other thing on the other side that actually is, frankly, more rewarding. So, I’m thrilled that you want to work in Hollywood as a screenwriter. I think that’s spectacular. And I would suggest to you that you would be better served working on that now than spending too much time writing mildly scathing reviews of movies. I don’t think that’s going to help you achieve what I think you’re saying you want to achieve.
John: I agree with you, particularly because your name is going to be associated with a bunch of reviews of movies that aren’t especially good largely. I mean, yes, hopefully you’re reviewing lots of really good movies and you’re saying very smart, wonderful things about them. And maybe you can be a champion for some movies that otherwise would go unnoticed.
But more likely, you’re going to have to see some terrible movies and tell everybody that they’re terrible. And your instinct will be to use your clever words to describe their terribleness in a way that is rewarding to the audience for having read through what you’re writing. And that’s not going to serve you well down the road.
If people do find those reviews, they will be mildly annoyed by you when you try to sit down with them for a meeting. If you want to be a screenwriter, I think you’d be better off writing screenplays than writing reviews of other people’s movies. Just, you know, it’s great to watch movies. It’s great to watch movies to understand movies, but just like we’ve talked about before, writing a bunch of coverage on screenplays is a great way to learn about screenplays and then you have to stop because it will just burn a hole in your brain.
And I think being a film reviewer will ultimately burn that hole in your brain and hurt you as a screenwriter down the road.
Craig: I agree. Our next question is from Kirk who lives in Huntington Beach here in sunny California. And he says, “What are your thoughts on using sizzle reels in pitches? Specifically Ripomatic ones? I found this term online, so I don’t know if it’s something people actually say. If not, I’m referring to when one would edit together clips of existing movies/copyrighted footage.”
So, as an aside, yes, people do say Ripomatic. So, the idea is that you would find bits of movies that would be sort of like the thing you’d be doing in your movie. And then you edit it together to show them sort of what your scene might look like.
Kirk continues, “I have a professor who swears by them. He has actually worked in the industry. But he also says not to use recognizable people, for instance, movie stars, the people in all existing movies. I have watched a few online.” I think he means a few Ripomatics. “Including Rian Johnson’s for Looper. He used voiceover from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the eventual star, but he used stuff from Se7en and we saw Brad Pitt very clearly.
“Is it better to use a variety of people, not just one actor as a stand in? Or is it okay to use one actor as the star of the sizzle reel? Or is it not wise to make or use a sizzle reel at all if I were to be pitching as a screenwriter and not a writer-director?”
John, what do you think about this?
John: I think sizzle reels are terrific for directors. Sizzle reels are a useful tool for a director to land a job or to convince people that as a writer-director that you should be hiring them to direct this movie. I don’t think writers should be making sizzle reels. I think writers should be writing scripts and that is where they should largely focus their time and energy.
But sizzle reels I think are good. I think they’re a useful way of describing to somebody what the movie is going to look like because words will fall apart. And people will see different things when you describe a movie. But if you show them what the movie could look like, that will get them excited and they will lean in and I think it will be a useful tool for you.
So, I strongly encourage sizzle reels. In terms of using one actor or multiple actors, it’s going to depend on what your project is. In most cases, I’ve found sizzle reels are much more useful to describe the world, what the movie feels like, rather than try to show a hero’s journey. Because frankly you’re going to be really Frankensteining something together to try to show this actor from different movies to try to make that feel like one movie.
What’s your thoughts, Craig?
Craig: Yeah, I mean this is not something screenwriters ever do. If you’re trying to sell yourself as a director, if you’re trying to get financing for a movie, sure. But we’re paid to create a movie through words only. That’s our gig. So, if we can’t pitch at using words only, then we have a problem. If we can’t provide some sample of our writing that is words only, we have a problem.
So, when you ask is it not wise to make or use a sizzle reel at all if I’m to be pitching as a screenwriter, my answer to you is it is not wise.
John: 100 percent agree. Now, there have been times where I’ve brought visual aids in, and that I think can be very, very useful. Like when we were pitching Prince of Persia, we brought in artwork that showed kind of what the world looked like. That was useful; it was something for them to — it was literally just like mounted on cardboard and showed what that thing looked like. Great. Terrific. Absolutely do that.
But if you’re having to stop and show a reel for something, then you have lost their interest in what you are pitching for your take. So, I would not recommend that.
Craig: Absolutely yes. Still photos, I mean, we did this with the movie that I’m doing with Lindsay. We had a collection of still photos that we submitted along to say, look, this is what certain things will look like. And that was very helpful. But no Ripomatics. No. And those are our questions. Those are the questions of the week.
John: There were a lot of questions, but we covered a wide range of topics. So, it’s almost time for One Cool Things. Before we get to One Cool Things, a few weeks back I had invited our listeners if they were in the Los Angeles area and wanted to join us for a play test of this new game we were trying, I would love them to come help play test it. And they did. They showed up. And they were wonderful. And we had a really good play test.
And we’re actually really close to being able to launch this game. So, the game is called One Hit Kill. It is a card game. It is fun. And if you want to see what the artwork looks like for it, even the people who came to the play test were testing some sort of generic artwork, so you can see what the real artwork looks like. We have a site now. It’s just onehitkillgame.com. And you can see what the cards look like. And it’s good. It’s fun.
And there’s also kind of a meta game happening on that site, so you can unlock additional cards. As we are recording this on a Thursday, no one has actually unlocked all the cards, so perhaps when this episode comes out on Tuesday someone unlocks it all on that day, I will know it just because of Scriptnotes and I will tweet my congratulations to you.
So, if you want to see this new game we’re about to launch, it’s called One Hit Kill and you can find it at onehitkillgame.com.
But now it’s time for the real One Cool Things. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing this week?
Craig: My One Cool Thing is called Rocketbook. This was tweeted to me by one of our listeners. It’s an Indiegogo campaign, so forgive me.
John: Ha-ha. I can’t forgive you for this, Craig.
Craig: I kind of can’t forgive myself. I can’t.
John: But tell us about it.
Craig: Well, it’s a sort of fascinating little product here. And their goal was $20,000. They have currently raised $669,000, so they’re doing pretty well. It looks like a standard school spiral notebook kind of deal. But it’s a bit more than that.
So, you take notes in it, and there are multiple pages. I think their typical one is like 50 sheets. And you take notes in class or wherever and then at the bottom of the page there are a bunch of icons. One of them is for Dropbox. One is for Evernote. One is for Google Drive. You know, stuff like that. And you can check which one of those you want your notes to go to. And then the idea is when you’re done, you use their app to take a picture of the double fold, you know, so you open up two pages at a time. Take a picture of those two pages at a time. It will read the pages, scan them, I think it OCRs them. It also sees which of the things you’ve checked off at the bottom. Sends the things to the various spots you want them to go.
And then in perhaps the niftiest little bit of all, if you use these particular kinds of pens called Friction pens by Pilot, you can erase the pages by microwaving the notebook. [laughs] I’ve stunned you, haven’t I?
Craig: I’ve just put me you into like a —
John: You have not stunned me at all. You have stunned me in many ways, but I want you to finish. So, talk me through the pros and cons of this product.
Craig: Well, I think the number one pro is microwave! I’m microwaving my notebook. I love the fact that there are multiple selectable paths to upload things. So, I’m taking notes on one page because I know I want them to go into a Dropbox thing, but on this page I’m doing stuff on a project that I’m sharing with other people, so I put it in a shared box at Google Drive. That’s really cool.
The fact that I can erase it that easily, so I don’t have to use pencil, I use pen, and it erases that easily is brilliant.
The only con as far as I’m concerned is that you have to actually take pictures of the pages which is kind of a pain in the butt. If you do this regularly, it’s very manageable. If you have six weeks of notes, which is probably not advisable, then it would become a huge bummer.
But, you know, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be that expensive. $65 gets you two of the Rocketbooks and a six-pack of the Friction pens. That’s pretty reasonable for a product like this. You know, in my mind I was thinking would this help my son because a lot of times the pages come out, they fall out of the binder, they go bye-bye in his room. So, I thought it was pretty cool. What do you think?
John: Great. So, I was fascinated by your choice of this because first off it’s Indiegogo, so it’s essentially Kickstarter. You’re recommending a Kickstarter project.
Craig: That’s right.
John: That’s fascinating. Second off, episode 100 of our show, we’re approaching 200, episode 100, what was my One Cool Thing? It was the Friction pens. And we were up on the stage in front of a live audience and you and Rawson made fun of me for the Friction pens.
Craig: Well, yeah, of course. The pens alone. Who cares?
John: Who cares? So these are the erasable pens. And so the reason why they’re erasable is it’s actually heat friction that erases them. So, yes, is it a clever idea to microwave the notebook to get rid of them, yes. But any notebook you microwave with a Friction pen on it will erase. So, that’s essentially nothing magical about the notebook.
Craig: I’m standing by Rawson and myself that you need both to be exciting.
John: So the microwave — I applaud them for using the microwave as a marketing hook.
Craig: Very clever.
John: I do salute them for that. So, this app that you point the camera at and it scans, that was another one of my One Cool Things. That was Scannable App from Evernote which does the same thing.
Craig: Oh really? Huh?
John: So, yes, that was a previous One Cool Thing, so we’ll have links to both of those there. It is a free app for Evernote that does the same situation. So, what is genuinely clever about what they seem to be doing is that you have multiple paths, so you can send it to Dropbox, whatever. So, I applaud them for that. But the $65, whatever that pledge tier is, any piece of people will work as well as the notebook. And the Friction pens you can get at Office Depot.
So, they’re making a lot of money on that. So, what you really essentially are paying for I think is the app, which has no small amount of engineering, so I applaud them for that, but I do find it fascinating that other previously dismissed things of mine packaged together are Craig’s One Cool Thing.
Craig: Well, I guess, you know what? You’re jealous. [laughs] That’s the deal. You’re just jealous.
John: That’s what it is. I’m deeply, deeply jealous.
Craig: All I can say is this. When you said it, nobody cared. When these guys said it, they got $670,000. There’s some magic in their pudding, man. They got a flavor in there. It’s like a special flavor. I don’t know.
John: I’m going to say that adding microwave to One Hit Kill will clearly be the thing that would push it over the top.
Craig: You could try. I’m just saying.
John: I should try.
Craig: You should try.
John: My One Cool Thing this week is the new trackpad on the 12-inch MacBook and on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. So, what is remarkable about the trackpad now is that it seems completely unremarkable. Like you click on it, it’s like, oh, it’s fine. Until you find out how it’s actually working. Have you seen how they actually do the trackpad now?
Craig: Yeah. It’s not moving at all. It’s just using this haptic thing so that it seems like it’s clicking. But it’s not clicking.
John: Yeah. It’s not clicking. It’s all an illusion. So, if you go into an Apple store and you go to one of their computers, if you were to turn it off, go to shut down and actually turn the power off, and you tapped on where the trackpad is, like it doesn’t click at all. But the minute you turn it on, it clicks. And it’s all an illusion. And so essentially there’s a little motor underneath it that is creating the vibration that really makes your finger think that it is clicking.
And so because it is all an illusion, it can also create the illusion that if you push harder on it, it has a second level of depth and it clicks down deeper. And it is remarkable how well it fools your finger into thinking that it’s done something that it has not done at all. So, I would just encourage you to try it out next time you’re at the Apple store because the first time I was at the Apple store and I was trying one I was like, oh, this must not be the new one because this doesn’t feel any different. But it was completely different.
Craig: I’m waiting on that one just because I’m looking for them to release a new cinema display that works with their USB 3.0 port. How are you — like for instance, right now, you have to plug in your microphone and you also have to plug in power. It wouldn’t work with this?
John: It really wouldn’t work with this. And so I was debating getting the 12-inch. I tried typing on it. I hated it. And people I know who have used it, they’ve said like, oh no, the typing is fine when you get used to it, but no one loves the keyboard on it. Or very few people love the keyboard.
So, my travel computer was an 11-inch MacBook Air. And it was just too small. The hard drive was too small. The screen was too small. And I was making do and I decided to stop making due. So, I ended up buying the 13-inch MacBook Pro and it’s great.
Craig: That’s what I use.
John: I’m happy with it. It’s heavier, but it’s fine. And the screen is delightful. And I got the new trackpad, so I’m delighted.
Craig: Yeah, that’s cool. All right. Awesome. That was a good show. Good show.
John: Good show. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did the outro this week.
If you have a question for me or for Craig, you can write to us on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
Longer questions like the ones we answered this week, you should write into firstname.lastname@example.org.
At johnaugust.com you will find the show notes for this episode and every episode. You will also find transcripts for every episode. So, thanks Stuart for getting those all edited because that is a huge part of his job every Thursday is getting those transcripts up.
John: If you are listening to this on the website, you should also go over to iTunes and subscribe, because that helps people find out about our podcast and sign up themselves. You should also leave us a comment, because we love comments, because we’re human being. You can also leave notes on Facebook for us or on Twitter. Specifically on Facebook we’d love to know your thoughts about, A, do you have a great venue for hosting our 200th episode where we can livestream it; should we do more USB drives; which are the best episodes we’ve ever done? Facebook can be a great place to tell us about that, or you can email us.
You can also find all of the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net. Some of my favorite episodes that you will find there are the bonus episodes, the ones that never got released to the main feed, especially like the Dirty Episode with Rebel Wilson.
John: Her story about the beret will make you never want to actually look at a beret the same way again.
Craig: Yeah, it was gorgeous.
John: It was gorgeously filthy.
John: So, that was a fun one. So, if you’re a new subscriber to the premium feed and you haven’t listened to the Dirty show, maybe listen to the Dirty show.
Final plug for One Hit Kill. It’s at onehitkillgame.com if you want to see the artwork for that. And we will be back with you next week. Craig, have a good week.
Craig: You too, John.
John: See ya.
- Scriptnotes, 195: Writing for Hollywood without living there
- Email us or leave us a Facebook comment and let us know your favorite episodes
- John’s 2004 blog post on producer credits and screenwriting.io on the television writer/producer pecking order
- Superman vs. Batman? DC’s Real Battle Is How to Create Its Superhero Universe by Kim Masters
- See artwork from our new game, One Hit Kill, and play our mini-game now
- Rocketbook: Cloud-Integrated Microwavable Notebook on Indiegogo
- Scriptnotes, the 100th Episode
- All our past One Cool Things
- The MacBook’s new trackpad will change the way you click on Macworld
- Scriptnotes, Bonus: The Dirty Show with Rebel Wilson and Dan Savage
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)