The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode has Three Page Challenges in it that use some F-words, so if you’re listening to this in the car, there’s a very good chance we will end up using some of those F-words in the podcast. So, just standard issue warning for explicit language. Thanks.
Hello, and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My, my, my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 202 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, I’m in Vancouver Canada. You’re in La Cañada. So, in some ways we are straddling the border, but also in the same semantic space.
Craig: Yeah. La Cañada is the sister city to all of Canada. I love Vancouver.
John: One tiny little village in California. One giant country that is very close to the US border.
Craig: It’s massive. What are you doing up there?
John: Just vacation. Just a week’s vacation.
Craig: Ooh, I like it.
John: We picked one of the weeks of the year in which Vancouver is absolutely stunningly beautiful and sunny and it’s been terrific. So, I tweeted and you probably saw this tweet. I jumped off a bridge, which was quite fun.
Craig: Yeah. I saw it and I think you’re out of your mind.
John: Yes. I am insane, but it was actually tremendously fun. And it was because my whole family, or actually four people in my family decided, hey, let’s do it. And so I said, you know what, that’s a really good idea. We should do it. So even my nine-year-old daughter did it, which was again, questionable parenting if anything had gone wrong. But because everything went really right, it was empowering for her as a young woman who could take charge of her destiny and jump off bridges.
Craig: You know, it’s not. It’s not empowering. It’s sick. I don’t understand why you would do it. I don’t understand why she did it. I don’t understand why anyone does that. This bungee jumping thing — anything jumping, bungee jumping, jumping out of a plane, jumping — base —
John: Jumping on a trampoline.
Craig: Base jumping. Jumping off of a couch. [laughs] But you know, here’s the thing, I do believe that there’s some kind of genetic thing where some people appreciate that feeling of falling and other people hate it. And I’m definitely in the hate it camp.
My daughter is — she loves it. She loves rollercoasters and all that stuff. I can’t. And my son is like me. We can’t. You know, that feeling I’m talking about right?
John: Absolutely. It’s that feeling of being completely out of control, but at the same time knowing intellectually that nothing bad can actually happen to me.
Craig: I’m not talking about the psychological. I’m talking about the physiological feeling. Do you not get that sensation?
John: Oh, I absolutely get that sensation. But also I know that the endorphin rush that happens after is also tremendously great. So, I’m looking past that terrible moment to the great moment.
Craig: A couple years ago I was in Florida with my in-laws. We were having dinner and my wife’s grandmother, who is still alive, god bless her. Even though I think she’s 97 now. So she was about 95. We’re all sitting there eating dinner and this topic comes up, the topic of falling and that feeling.
And my mother-in-law said where do you feel that feeling. And I said it’s in the pit of my stomach. And we were all talking about where it was. And then my wife said, Gamma, because that’s what she calls her grandma. “Gamma, where do you feel that feeling?” And she looked up from her baked fish and she said, “In my clitoris.”
Craig: It was the greatest moment of my life.
John: And I have a suspicion that because of that she enjoyed the feeling of falling. I hope she enjoyed the feeling of falling.
Craig: No. [laughs] She wasn’t actually a big fan of it. No, because not all clitoris feelings are good feelings. There’s good clitoris and bad clitoris, I guess. But when a 95-year-old woman refers to her clitoris in any context, it’s spectacular.
John: Craig, we’ve just found a title for this week’s episode. There’s good clitoris and bad clitoris. It won’t be controversial at all.
Craig: No, no. Twitter won’t erupt.
John: Not a bit. So while the title of today’s episode might be about the clitoris, the actual topics we’ll be discussing today really have nothing to do with female genital health. We’ll be looking at three Three Page Challenges. We’ll be looking at a system for writing your screenplay that must work because the guy gave a Ted Talk. We’ll look at everyday heroes. We’ll look at what happens when a union threatens to sue a filmmaker.
But first, we have follow up. Craig?
Craig: Just a touch of follow up. I heard from a couple of writers on Telltale Software’s Game of Thrones app, because that was my One Cool Thing last week. And I did leave one name off, Zach Schiff Abrams who actually ran the writing room early on when they were breaking the story. They were very happy to be called out on the podcast. So, I just wanted to make sure that we acknowledged Zach because he was obviously a big part of the development of that product.
John: Craig, I played the first two episodes of it on this trip. I played one on the plane. I played one last night. They really are just phenomenally well done. So, a great recommendation from you, but really just a great experience for anybody who is jonesing for a little bit extra Game of Thrones in their lives.
I really want to make some House Forrester like t-shirts. I want like a House Forrester team shirt because I’m really rooting for the Forresters. And I just feel like more bad things are going to happen to them.
Craig: I mean, even Jesus is like, come on. Come on, you’re being a little hard on those people.
John: Now, Craig, have you gone back and made different choices along the way? Because for people who didn’t follow the last episode, these Game of Thrones games done by Telltale games, they’re sort of like Choose Your Own Adventure where you get to make choices along the way. They’re more sophisticated than the simple book kind of choices, but you can kind of make some choices that are going to affect the plot, but you also get the chance to rewind and make some different choices if you want to.
Have you just stuck with the original choices, or did you go back and change anything along the way?
Craig: I’ve stuck with my original choices. I suspect now that I’ve played through four of these things that it’s really the allusion of choice.
John: I think you’re right.
Craig: They carry over some things. They’ll say things like, well, you did do blanket-blank. But those things really still are contained within the rails of the story. The big things that happen, you cannot avoid happening.
John: I was curious whether the song the girl sings — this is not a spoiler at all — the song the girl sings incorporates some of these specific events that you did or didn’t — it was generic enough, so we’ll see.
Craig: No, I think that song actually is a good example of how your choices do impact things, because it’s those areas where they go, okay, we’ll reward you and make you feel like your choices matter. But your choices don’t matter. [laughs] Not really. You’re really just watching TV. You’re just watching a side series of Game of Thrones. That’s the way I feel about it. I think they’ve just done a great job.
John: So, while that game may be slightly on rails, this guy has a system that can break you out of your rails. This is a system for writing a screenplay quickly and, Craig, this is your entry to the Workflowy, so tell us about this guy and why we should maybe stop the podcast right now.
Craig: Well, someone on Twitter who just likes winding up — I mean, that’s what’s happened now. I get it. People go, “Oh, this will make him crazy.” And they’re right. I’m not complicated. They sent me a link to a website called FAST Screenplay. Fastscreenplay.com. And the gentleman who runs Fastscreenplay.com, Jeff Bollow, gave a Ted Talk, well, it’s a TEDx Talk —
Craig: In Dockland, which I think is —
John: It’s Australia.
John: And so he’s not Australian though. That’s a fascinating thing. I kept waiting for an Australian accent and it never came.
Craig: Right. I don’t understand the deal with TEDx. The deal with TEDx is pretty much anybody who can write the word Ted on a banner and stick it behind them gets to give a TEDx talk? I don’t understand any of it. Anyway, I went over to this website and I just got infuriated.
And here’s the thing. So, look, he’s selling a system. It’s the same old come on that we’ve read in a million different ways, in a million different places. He’s got a system to help you write a screenplay. It’s a system to help you write a screenplay that reads fast and eventually if you master his system you can write fast. Obviously, the system is not good enough to get him to sell screenplays for millions of dollars apiece. He would prefer to just take your money. Always interesting.
And you get this lifetime membership. Lifetime membership for a limited time only, $600. What?! And that regular price is $1,300. But, you know, it’s a special right now because it’s celebrating the release of his Ted Talk. But here’s the thing, all right, so whatever, it’s baloney, of course. I mean, he says things like, “FAST Screenplay is a yearlong step-by-step professional screenplay development system worth over $30,000.” Uh, yeah, if you also get like a Kia with it or —
[laughs] I mean, I don’t — how do you come up with that number? And then he says it’s designed to replace a three-year university program and ten years’ worth of real world, hands-on skills and insights, which as you know are incredibly quantifiable.
It includes over 1 million words of content. Oh boy. That must mean it’s good.
But here’s the thing that really snagged me in my little umbrage gland and started squeezing it. He says, “Please note FAST Screenplay is entirely not-for-profit. Every dollar that comes in is poured right back into the system, which is why we keep our price so low.” What the hell does that mean?
John: It’s fascinating.
Craig: So, of course, I immediately went, wait a second. Not-for-profit, that’s not just a phrase. That is a status. That’s a tax status here in the United States. It is an IRS tax status. So, I started looking to see, well, what is this company? Well, according to their website, FAST Screenplay is trademarked and copyright by Embryo Films in Sydney, Australia. Embryo Films seems to be just a — seems to be a for-profit film production company that is turn owed by another media company of some sort.
I see no information indicating that they have any kind of tax exempt status as a non-profit or not-for-profit corporation. But also if it’s not-for-profit, why are you charging anyone anything? Why don’t you just put it out there?
John: There’s a subtle distinction between not-for-profit and unprofitable. And there are many businesses that are unprofitable, but not actually not-for-profit. It’s an important distinction that seems to be really swept under the rug here.
I found the site and his whole video kind of fascinating. And I had to sort of keep skimming through the video because it was just so empty and vacuous and it’s just like a bunch of buzz words strung together in a way that had the qualities of human speech without actually having any content.
John: And the site is very much the same thing, too. But, honestly, you could switch out the word screenplay for almost anything else on any page and it could be about like investing in real estate, or how to do almost anything. So, it felt like there was a template kind of behind the whole thing.
That said, I thought it was all really well executed template stuff. And so I found myself sort of fascinated and repulsed by him as an individual and what he was trying to do. And as a character I found him kind of fascinating. As a person who is trying to take money from screenwriters, I found him, of course, just to be horrible.
Craig: Yeah. And this is a new twist on the generic horribleness of these sorts of people and these sorts of ventures. And it’s the, oh, we’re not-for-profit. Does that mean — do they pay themselves salaries? Like what do they do with all of this money if they’re not for profit? Is it to run this website? That can’t cost that much. I mean, each person is giving them hundreds of dollars, even if you just go month-to-month, which is an option.
A three-month subscription is $300. That’s their minimum, as far as I can tell on their website. So, everyone is giving them somewhere between $300 to $1,300. What are they doing with all that money?
Are they paying themselves salaries and so that’s why it’s not-for-profit? None of this makes any sense. I don’t know what this sentence means. “Every dollar that comes in is poured right back into the system.” What?
John: Well he says very clearly, “Our goal is not to make money off writers. It’s to generate screenplays which we can turn into films and lift the overall quality of screenwriting to empower individual voices and visions around the world.” Parenthetical, it’s the “variety of imagination that expands our thinking.”
Craig: What the hell does that mean?
John: I don’t know what it means. But I found it all kind of just amazing, as if some sort of bizarre AB tested kind of system developed the perfect like I’m going to get money off of screenwriters system.
Craig: I think you’re actually onto something. This really does feel like a brilliant application of a standard get rich quick template. That you could plug in real estate or investment or work from home or penis enlargement, or any of these things, and lay it out like this and it would work.
I’m just baffled.
John: So, here is why — I’m trying to always play my devil’s advocate. Like, well, what if he really is sincere, and what if he truly believes what he’s saying. And on some level he might truly believe what he’s saying. But if his overall goal is to improve the lot of writers and to do the things he’s saying in these dreamy kind of speeches, there are many other ways to do that. And there are many sources he should be looking for those screenplays rather than trying to create a new class of brilliant screenwriters from scratch.
That’s the part that feels so incredibly disingenuous. He’s saying like, oh, I searched throughout Australia and could not find any good screenplays, so I must now make more screenwriters. That I just don’t believe on any level.
Craig: Yeah, I know. If he doesn’t care about profit and he wants to help screenwriters and he has this brilliant system that will transform you into a genius, just publish it on the web for free.
John: That would be great. You could either do that, or you could fund the very needy Australian screenwriters who have things they want to make, and they cannot make them in Australia because it’s challenging to make films in Australia. That would be another great way to do that.
Craig: I just — I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m tired.
John: Let’s switch to a happier topic. This is another great suggestion from Craig Mazin. It’s an article by Jordan Crucchiola called Bring Back Everyday Heroes. It ran in Wired Magazine. And it’s talking about the nature of heroes in our movies and how they have literally gotten bigger. And as the movies have gotten bigger, literally the men in these movies have gotten so much bigger in a way that is strange and perhaps dangerous. Craig, take it.
Craig: Well, every now and then you come across an article that says something that you think is immediately obvious and yet no one has pointed it out yet in this kind of way. And this was one of those articles. So, Jordan Crucchiola, I’m going to go with the standard Italian pronunciation, I don’t know if that’s right. So, what he says basically is that we used to have a certain kind of American action hero, a male American action hero who at least physically was roughly like the average guy.
He uses the example of Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China. Kurt Russell, he’s in decent shape. You know, he’s not overweight, but maybe he had gone to the gym a bit. There’s not a ton of muscles there. And that’s kind of the point. But now he says take a look at the evolution of Hugh Jackman from the first X-Men movie, where he played Wolverine, to now. And it’s astonishing.
I mean, truly astonishing. It’s like looking at the before and after pictures of Barry Bonds when he was playing as a rookie for the Pirates and he looked like he was basically 170 pounds soaking wet. And then eventually after all the ‘roids and the HGH, he was like the Incredible Hulk. It’s a very similar thing when you look at Hugh Jackman’s body. And I don’t know if there’s any kind of chemical shenanigans. I just think it’s insane amount of working out.
And what he says, at least the point he’s making, is this isn’t just a superficial issue. It’s actually affecting stories, and that’s what really fascinated me because the truth is when an actor has a certain physicality it limits or it certainly influences the choices you make about that character.
John: Exactly. So, a lot of times you’ll be writing a character who is supposed to be like the ordinary guy next door. So, an ordinary man forced into extraordinary circumstances. But the Rock isn’t an ordinary person. He is sort of by definition special from the very beginning. And the characters who we are seeing in these kinds of movies these days are these just larger than life and sort of impossible people. So, you don’t have the Kurt Russells as your action heroes. You don’t even have the Keanu Reeves as action heroes. You have these super human gods.
He does single out like some movies really call for gods. So you look at Captain America, well I mean he’s Chris Evans because he’s supposed to be this sort of larger than life character. He’s like this ordinary man who got transformed. That’s great. Or you have Thor. And Thor is supposed to be a god. Great. Chris Hemsworth is perfect for that.
But you have these other people that are supposed to be just kind of normal folks. You end up casting the Rock in it, suddenly you have to change the backstory to make some reason why that person is in this movie right now.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, here’s what I think silently goes on when I see a character who is just an amazing physical specimen. A certain amount of drama is immediately diminished. Here are some things that I think can’t be true about that character. They can’t be lazy. They can’t be unmotivated. They can’t be undisciplined. They can’t be depressed. They can’t be resigned to life. They can’t even be uncool, because it’s essentially impossible to become that freaking awesome if you’re held back in all of these other ways. And so you start to lose dimensions of that character. You also start to lose a certain amount of risk.
So, when you look at The Terminator, obviously Arnold Schwarzenegger is supposed to be massive because he’s this possible robot. But playing against him you had Michael Biehn who basically was like a 165 pound guy.
Craig: And that made it better, you know. I mean, you don’t want — and eventually you could see how those movies then turned into bigger against bigger. You know, we had what you’d call great everyday heroes. Harrison Ford, who kind of elevated fear as the epitome of heroism. All of his characters were always afraid. And that made them more believable. Charles Bronson was skinny but super angry, which I thought was really cool. Steve McQueen sort of embodied whatever the non-physical dimensions of a classic masculinity are. And then you had Sean Connery who was all about charm and confidence instead of brawn.
You see the difference between Sean Connery’s body and Daniel Craig’s body. It’s not even close.
John: Absolutely. You look at Harrison in Indiana Jones. Now we would make Indiana Jones with Chris Pratt who has also transformed from schlubby guy into super-hot guy and sort of action star big muscle guy. And that changes the nature of that character.
Now, it would be a question of when Chris Pratt plays that character, is he going to keep this new Chris Pratt body, or is he going to go back to an ordinary size? I don’t know. But it does change our approach to that character if he’s already the biggest guy in the room.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean, is this the worst thing in the world? No. There’s still actors that portray a kind of an everyman sense. But there is a dark side to this. For every article about the latest fashion for women or the latest fad diet for women, there are three articles saying this is not good for women and for girls.
But these things that are happening now in movies I think are probably also not good for boys and for men. And there’s some interesting — I started looking around, some interesting statistics. Over the last three decades, the percentage of men that said they had body image concerns has gone from 15% to 43%, which is a rate comparable to those currently found in women.
And when you look at what they call the muscularity of ideal male body representations, from 1979 to the 1990s it went way high. And is currently still way, way up there. I think it’s not great for boys to look up to the heroes and see these absolutely impossible to achieve bodies. I mean, they’re not impossible to achieve. Well, from where I’m sitting they are.
John: So, here we’re taking a look at how male heroes have become sort of giant and larger than life. In many ways I’d say that women in movies have always been sort of these impossible to achieve ideals. They’re always like they’re a great cook and yet they’re hot in the sack and they’re stunningly beautiful and they can do all these things. Women are always supposed to be perfect.
And in some ways we’re maybe falling into the same trap with our male characters where what you said before, if that guy is that ripped he can’t be lazy. By his nature he couldn’t be sort of the slack off. I just worry that we’re going to end up with these characters who are so perfect from the beginning that they’re not going to have any journey to go on.
You know, you look at Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. We talked about Michael Biehn, but Linda Hamilton in the first Terminator, she’s just an ordinary woman. She’s not — there’s nothing special about her. She’s a waitress. And then because she’s ordinary, she’s really fragile. And then in the second movie she can become hardened and tough because of the events of the first movie. And she can be ripped in that movie and that was a great transformation. That was a change.
Now, I just worry that she’s going to have to be sort of jacked from the very start and that’s not the same kind of movie. That’s not the same kind of experience.
Craig: I agree. It’s a little bit of the superhero-ization of human characters. I think for a lot of these actors, they realize that in Hollywood today the apex of our business and the apex of how you are employed as an actor is to be a very popular superhero. And so you have to have a certain kind of body.
And the problem is that you have that body while you’re making that movie and other movies. And you can’t stop, because there’s going to be four action man movies and you have to be jacked up for all four. So, looks like when you’re doing the other movies in between, you’re going to also have to be jacked up. And that’s becoming an issue.
John: It’s limiting the kinds of movies you can make. I was trying to think of some movies that wouldn’t be possible to make because we don’t have the right people anymore. Like kind of any movie that Burt Reynolds was in. You know, you don’t make Smokey and the Bandit kind of because I don’t know who we stick in Smokey and the Bandit who is that sort of — maybe you just go with like the guy who stayed schlubby. Maybe go with like a Josh Gad kind of character because there’s just no other choice to make that.
Or the counter example, you look at Melissa McCarthy in Spy this last weekend, a huge hit. And maybe that was in some ways a reaction to everything we’ve been forced by like what a hero is supposed to look like. And that’s maybe the reason why Melissa has become this force in popular culture is because she’s not representing all those other ideals.
Craig: Well, yeah, I mean, she is one of the few women onscreen that represents that what a good third or more of American women actually look like and are ignored. And whereas no men are ignored. I mean, there’s an actor I can look at for every male body type onscreen, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep an eye on — it’s like well what we did to women and what we’ve always done to women onscreen is wrong, and now we’re starting to do it to guys.
So, how about we don’t do it to either men or women. [laughs] That would be nice, right? There is one interesting thing I noted was the casting of Paul Rudd as Ant Man which reminded me very much of when they cast Michael Keaton as Batman. And I thought, oh, you know, yeah. Like, that’s a regular person. Like the whole point of a superhero movie is that you are wearing a suit that makes you awesome, or that you have some sort of particular kind of training or attitude that makes you awesome. You don’t necessarily need to be massively jacked up. You can be a little bit more representative of a wish fulfillment.
John: I would say if you look at the Iron Man movies as they tracked across, I think they’ve focused much less and less on Robert Downey, Jr.’s physical health over the course of them. You know, you don’t shirtless shots of Robert Downey Jr. anymore. And maybe that’s great. Maybe that’s okay.
But, again, that’s a character who has a suit of armor, so therefore doesn’t have to be, I don’t know, doesn’t have to be ripped and doesn’t have to rely on his own physicality. And it would be great to see more movies with heroes who are relying on their physicality and its ordinary person physicality rather than sort of super seven days at the gym physicality.
Craig: Yeah. I’m with you on that one.
John: So, how do we fix this, Craig? We can’t just point out the problem without correcting the problem.
Craig: I think that these problems are always fixed the same way. A hit movie comes out that shoes a different possibility. So, every movie Melissa McCarthy makes is that movie right now. I mean, she has failed to fail. From Bridesmaids through to Spy, every movie she’s starred in has been a hit. Every single one. And she has this extraordinary fan base that is very broad and very deep and that’s a testament to her. And I think that’s opening a lot of eyes. That’s the way Hollywood works. They just respect money. They don’t actually have any real belief system. I think people think they do.
They don’t. Their only belief system is what will put money in my pocket. So, I’m hoping — I’m actually rooting for Ant Man. I was really rooting for it when I knew that Edgar Wright was doing it, but I’m still going to give this one its fair shot because it does seem like an everyman kind of deal. That’s the only thing that’s going to help.
John: I agree. And I think as we find heroes who aren’t the classic — the sort of new ideal of this sort of Superman thing, we just need to sort of point that out and make sure that people are aware that this is a good thing that we’re doing this.
The upcoming Fantastic Four, Miles Teller is in that. And Miles Teller isn’t a giant, ripped guy. Maybe that will work, and maybe that will be another sort of indication that there’s not just one type of person we stick in these kinds of movies. We’ll see.
Craig: Yeah. I think the better test are the guys like the Wolverines. Because, you know, Mr. Fantastic is supposed to be like a slender, stretchy kind of guy. It’s the brawlers, you know. The Kurt Russell used to kick butt and he didn’t need to be massive.
John: Where is our Roadhouse going to come from?
Craig: Exactly. Although he was really cut in that movie.
John: It’s tough. So, while we’re figuring out who should star in the next Roadhouse, Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA are working to make sure that we don’t see another aspect of the film industry portrayed. This is a lawsuit. Craig, talk us through this.
Craig: Oh boy. What a mess this is. So, a woman named Amy Berg has directed a documentary about the sexual abuse of child actors in Hollywood. The film is called An Open Secret. And it is currently platforming right now. I suspect like most documentaries it will not have a big theatrical life. It will mostly exist on video on demand.
And I have not seen the documentary, although it is about a topic that is sorely needed to be aired out. There is a legitimate issue that’s been going on for years and years about the sexual abuse of child actors. And one of the people that she interviewed was a gentleman named Michael Harrah who is a, or was a, manager of child actors and a former child actor himself who had been a longtime member of the SAG Young Performers Committee which he co-founded in 1975 and chaired from 2001 to 2003.
And when she sat down to interview him at SAG I believe she confronted him with the fact that this guy Joey Coleman, who was a former client of Michael Harrah’s, is accusing him essentially of making advances toward him. Having him sleep in Mr. Harrah’s bed. Mr. Harrah touching him in a way that he did not want. And when — since Michael Harrah apparently acknowledged that he might have done something unwanted. He said in the interview, “That was something unwanted I shouldn’t have done. And there’s no way you can undo that, but it is certainly something I shouldn’t have done.” Yikes.
Okay. Well, that’s not good. But here’s a really ridiculous outcome of this. SAG, feeling somehow like they’re being tarred with this brush because this guy is being presented as somebody who sat on a SAG committee and created a SAG committee, which he did, SAG has now threatened to sue Ms. Berg and is attempting to block her film because they do not want any references to SAG, SAG/AFTRA, or any SAG/AFTRA committees to be included in any portions of the documentary.
Then, they claim they didn’t do that. But they did. This is just terrible behavior by the union in my opinion.
John: So, we don’t have any more information about the actual nature of the allegations of the actual abuse way back there. So, this is just us talking about sort of what is the function of a union in sort of threatening a filmmaker for essentially defaming the union or saying anything untoward about the union or making sort of allegations about the union.
You can understand an organization trying to protect itself, but this felt like really tone deaf in terms of what they were trying to do. If you are a union representing actors, you want to embrace the idea of filmmakers tackling difficult subjects and try to sort of come to clarity. You want to sort of publicly state it is our goal to protect all actors. Like that’s the first thing you should probably be doing, rather than sort of coming after saying don’t dare use our logo in your film.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, here’s the deal. From what I understand from this article, Miss Berg’s film does not accuse SAG/AFTRA institutionally of any crime. What she’s saying is that somebody who was a co-founder and member of their committee, the Young Performers Committee, seems to be admitting, at least on tape, to very questionable behavior at best. And at worst, child molestation.
And SAG’s reaction just seems really, really out of whack. And I think sometimes unions do stuff like this because there is a certain amount of paranoia and monomania as a cultural default. They are so used to the fight that they fight with the companies that they go into this defensive stance where anything that is “not good for us” will therefore weaken us at the bargaining table and be bad for actors. Anything. So there is this closing of ranks when bad news arrives and I just think it was a huge mistake, huge mistake. And I would ask anyone over there that’s involved in this decision to think twice, thrice, and quadrice, because this is not what you want to be doing as a union, threatening to sue a director for a film that frankly is getting to the heart of something that’s hurting your members.
John: It very much feels like the memo went to the wrong department. And if the memo had gone to the public relations department, they would have had a response to it which would have been maybe the correct response. But instead it goes to the legal department and the legal department does what legal departments do. They respond in legalistic kind of ways. And they don’t necessarily have a good sense of how something will play out in the broader world. And that really feels like what happened here is that if your first instinct is, well, we have to threaten a lawsuit because that’s what we do, that’s not going to necessarily be the right outcome here.
So, again, that speaks to leadership and sort of who you put in charge to sort of make these decisions about how you handle situations that come up.
If I were SAG, if I were running SAG, and lord knows I would never want to run SAG/AFTRA, but if I were running that I would look at this as a really good test case for when bad stuff happens, how are we going to make the decision about who should handle it and the ways we should handle it. And this was just really bungled.
Craig: It’s bungled. And I think you’ll see a little bit of what they call the Streisand effect. Where very famously years ago somebody found out where Barbra Streisand lived and put her address and a link to — a Google Earth photo of her home on the Internet on some small unattended corner of the Internet. She found out, went crazy, sued, and suddenly everybody knew where she lived. [laughs] And everybody saw her house. And I think that SAG/AFTRA is just making this so much worse because now when I hear about Miss Berg’s movie I immediately think, oh yeah, that’s the one that SAG/AFTRA is suing her over. That’s crazy.
What a bad decision. Bad decision. Bad. Bad, bad, bad. So, no good SAG/AFTRA. Big mistake.
John: All right. Now we get to go to some good things. We get to look at three Three Page Challenges. So, it’s been a while since we’ve done this. God, maybe ten episodes. But if you’re new to the show, every once and awhile we invite our listeners to send in the first three pages of their screenplay or their pilot of a TV show and we look through them on the air.
So, if you would like to look through these pages with us, you can find links to the PDFs at johnaugust.com. Just search for this episode and Stuart will put the links in there. You will also find them on Weekend Read if you are on the iPhone and want to download them on there.
So, we have three of these. Thank you to everybody who submitted them. If you would like to submit your own scripts to be looked at for the Three Page Challenge, just those first three pages can be sent to johnaugust.com/threepage, and that is where you will find instructions for sending us your three pages so that we can look through them on the air.
We get about 100 a week or something, and Stuart has to go through all of them. So, if we don’t get to yours that’s because of just sheer numbers. It’s not because we don’t individually like you or love your writing. Stuart tries to pick a representative sample of what we get in and sometimes the best of what we get in, but sometimes just things that have interesting things to talk about. And I felt like all three of these Three Page Challenges had really interesting things that people can learn from.
John: Craig, which of these should we hit first?
Craig: Well I’m holding Get One Free in my hand by Zach Kaplan.
John: Let’s do it. Do you want to — ?
Craig: Summarize this?
John: Yeah, recap that for us.
Craig: All right. I’ll give you a little recap. So, Get One Free, written by Zach Kaplan. It opens on black and a voiceover, a man that we’ll know as Sadler is talking about how even in suicide brand loyalty matters. And then we fade in on a convenience store where Mr. Sadler is buying a pack of cigarettes from a low key paranoid Indian man in his 50s, Barry. And he identifies that his brand is Camel Crush. And then while Barry goes to get his cigarettes, Sadler looks around and imagines different kinds of people and the different kinds of cigarettes that they buy and smoke. And in voiceover comments about how blue collar types smoke Marlboro Reds and sorority girls smoke lights. And housewives smoke Parliaments. And depressed 65-year-old men smoke L&Ms.
And then at last he gets his cigarettes. He goes out into the parking lot, sees four teenager skateboarders, teenage skateboarders around his car. And they ask him if he could buy them some cigarettes. And that’s essentially our three pages.
John: Absolutely. So, this reminded me a bit of, because this had the nature of a character who is in the scene and we also had his voiceover through a lot of it, it reminded me a bit of Fight Club in that sense of where you have sort of the narration of the moment in addition to the things happening within the scenes.
If I had a frustration, it’s that while the voiceover felt like it was happening in its own space and was sort of its own movie, the actual action happening onscreen wasn’t that compelling in our first three pages. It was a lot of just standing there, waiting around, looking at things. So, I felt a little under-excited about Sadler, our hero, based on what he was doing. Basically the only information I had was this ongoing voiceover from him and it wasn’t giving me a great sense of who he really was, or why should we be looking for what he does on page four.
That was sort of my first instincts here. The actual writing of the voiceover about sort of the different kinds of cigarettes, sure, I totally get that. But in some ways it felt like it would be a more interesting Tumblr post than a voiceover setup for what we’re seeing right here on the screen.
Craig, what was your instinct?
Craig: Similar. I thought that it was — first of all, I’m not one of these people that has a voiceover problem. You know, we hear this all the time, “Don’t start your script with voiceover, blah, blah, blah.”
No, go ahead. It’s good. I like it. I thought it was a mistake to start the voiceover where he did. So, Zach has the voiceover begin over black. That little speech that he does there is disconnected from any visuals so unless it’s something a little epic and poetic and specifically expository like say the beginning of Lord of the Rings, it’s just going to feel a bit of a mistake to hear just that much talking over darkness. Also, it’s not necessarily.
Because we’re going to go back and we’re going to have voiceover in a bit, I’d rather just open with a guy buying a pack of cigarettes. And the man says what kind and he goes, “Oh, I’m sorry Camel Crush.” And then he begins to think about what he just said and about brands. That would be more interesting to me. I would actually just recommend cutting that first chuck of VO.
A little bit of a problem for me, I actually got a lot I thought about who this guy was from his VO. He seems nihilistic. He seems too cool for school. He seems bored with life. He’s got that tone of a person who observes without feeling like he’s part of humanity.
A little bit of a problem is I don’t actually believe what he’s saying here. I don’t believe what he’s saying about these brands. There’s a little bit of a facts not in evidence. He’s telling me that plastic surgery infused housewives in their 40s are all about the Parliaments. Are they?
And if they are, who cares? I mean, there’s a little bit of a who cares factor to that. When he goes outside and these kids ask him to buy them cigarettes, it ends really well. I like this. There’s a certain wit here. The kids ask to buy cigarettes and then they hand him a $5 bill and the kid says, “Here’s five bucks. Wait, haven’t I seen you on TV,” which is interesting. He must have been on TV.
Sadler says, “No. And you can take those five bucks and buy a time machine, because it’s not 19-fucking-95.” And that’s really smart.
So, I think that Zach has a really good sense of how people talk. He’s got an interesting rhythm. I think he’s trying to be cinematic here which is cool. The content may be, I don’t know, I’m interested. I’m curious to see where it goes. This may be the wrong topic for a good writer. Because it feels a little forced, but it may also work out pretty smartly.
John: So, I agree with you about the voiceover and that by starting the voiceover over black, it makes it feel like that is the framing for the entire movie. But the voiceover speech is just about the cigarette thing. And I can’t believe that the whole movie is going to be about brands and cigarettes. So, by starting it within the scene I think you’re going to make a stronger case for here’s a guy and now we’re going to hear his voiceover while he’s waiting for his cigarettes. That’s going to probably get us better started on this specific thread of who he is.
Because there is so much voiceover and it feels like this is a thing he’s going to do throughout the script, that it’s not just going to be the situation where there’s some voiceover at the very start and then it goes away for a lot of it, and there’s also going to be situations in which Sadler is going to both be talking within a scene and when he’s going to be voiceover-ing, I would consider putting all of Sadler’s voiceover in italics just to make it really simple and clear to the reader which things are being said to a character and which things are being said just to the audience.
An example is on page three. “The kids turn to him, nervous. ‘Hey man, um…can you buy us a pack?’ ‘Welcome to the team.'” That’s a voiceover and I think it’s great that that’s in voiceover, but it would be very easy to skip over that voiceover little tag because you just become blind to it. So, sticking in italics might help us realize that the moment didn’t stop. We just had a line of voiceover there.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a really good idea. Plus, there is a little bit of a formatting — I’m going to call it a mistake.
John: I agree.
Craig: It’s not a killer, but he’s putting VO in a parenthetical where the so-called Riley’s go, like thoughtfully. He’s putting it under the character name. Typically what we do is put a (VO) in parenthesis next to the character name. So, it would say, SADLER (VO) on one line, and then his VO.
John: Most people would call that a character extension. So, if it’s a parenthetical, something that’s in parenthesis right after the character’s name, that would usually be voiceover, OS, or OC for off-camera. Sometimes I’ll do that for On-Radio, just to be clear it’s a different kind of speech but it’s not talking about the delivery of the line, or not clarifying sort of the action that’s happening there.
Craig: Yeah. Especially in a script where, you’re right, I think your suspicion that there’s going to be a lot voiceover is correct. You’re actually going to save a lot of space.
John: Yeah. Helpful.
Craig: It’s a ton of lines, yeah, that you’re just wasting there.
John: I had a bit of an issue with the shopkeeper. “A low-key paranoid Indian man in his 50s, BARRY, tends to him. Sadler stares at the cigarettes.” So, you call this guy Barry, but is Barry going to keep coming back? Because it felt weird to me that we’re giving this guy such a specific name, a name that doesn’t really fit a 50-year-old Indian man description. And so I have to keep track of these two names. And Barry and Sandler for some reason feel kind of similar.
So, by the time I saw Barry again, I was like, wait, who’s Barry? I had to go back to figure out that it was the shopkeeper. If it’s not an important character, I would maybe just keep him shopkeeper if we’re not going to be circling back to see him again. How did you feel about that?
Craig: I agree. There are a couple issues here on Barry. One is that, yeah, you’re right, if he’s not a recurring character, call him Clerk I think would be fine.
I wasn’t quite sure why he was so hostile. It seemed like a pointless hostility unless they have a preexisting relationship which doesn’t appear to be the case, because Barry doesn’t know what his brand is.
Also, if you look at this paragraph, this is something that I see a lot and I would make a suggestion here, Zach. “SADLER, 35, slightly hipster-ish, dirty blonde hair, stands dead-eyed in front of the counter.” And then I would do the line of dialogue. “Sadler: Can I get a pack of smokes?” Then say, “A low-key paranoid Indian man in his 50s, BARRY, tends to him.” “What kind?”
Because when you do it all at once is happening is I am imagining, when I read action I’m imagining it happening. What I’m imagining happening the way you’ve written it, Zach, is a guy standing there and another guy is tending to him. I don’t know how that means. I just feel like two people are staring at each other and then finally someone says, “Can I get a pack of smokes,” which I don’t think is what you —
John: I agree with you there. Splitting that up is going to make that read a lot more clearly. So, page three is where I had the most issues with action lines and figuring out the best way to arrange our sentences to get the effect across. So, “EXT. PARKING LOT – SOON AFTER Sadler’s walking to his car, but he sees a group of four adolescent, skateboarding degenerates around his car.” In this sentence we’re using the word car twice, which isn’t awful, but isn’t maybe the best we could do.
We also need to capitalize FOUR ADOLESCENT SKATEBOARDING DEGENERATES or some part of that to indicate that these are actually people.
Craig: Yeah, I’d capitalize DEGENERATES.
John: I would agree. That’s the best choice. And I’d write around one of the cars, just because it’s more important that as Sadler is walking out he sees a group of four adolescent skateboarding degenerates around his car. Just get rid of the second car. Repeating a word within a sentence without effect is not your best choice.
Next paragraph down, two paragraphs down, “Sadler takes a few steps back, unsure, then keeps walking toward his car.” It’s mean to be a character moment, but by keeping it all as one sentence you sort of lost the flow. So, if you broke that into two sentences, “Sadler stops, unsure. Stills himself. Continues walking towards his car.” Breaking that was two separate things makes those actions you can actually play. As one sentence it’s like I don’t know where it began or where it ended.
Craig: I think that beat is clashing with what’s going on anyway. I mean, what I took from that was that he was nervous that these kids were there to beat him up, or rip him off, or something. But in fact the kids themselves are nervous because they want cigarettes. They’re waiting for this guy to come out so they can ask him for cigarettes. If you see a bunch of nervous kids around your car, you’re not nervous. I think he probably should just say, “Can I help you guys with something?” and we could skip this beat.
Remember, in a movie we’re going to have to watch this guy stop, see them, take a step back, then walk towards them. Then “Can I help you guys with something?” It just feels like it’s going to get cut. It’s not informing what’s going on.
John: I agree with you. So, Craig, what’s your verdict after three pages here?
Craig: My verdict is that Zach has some skill and I like the way he writes. I like his dialogue. I thought that he’s — and there’s an interesting. I will say I’m particularly pleased with the fact that he’s clearly writing about something, even if the voiceover at the top is perhaps out of place. The notion of brand and what brand means for yourself as you are self-harming is interesting.
I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know what the point is yet. I just like that there’s going to be a point, hopefully. So, it’s ambitious. I don’t know if any of it works out well. But, no, I was pleased.
John: I would agree with you. I’m curious enough to see what this movie becomes, because after the end of page three I really have no good sense of where it’s going to go. You have a sort of nihilistic hero and we don’t know sort of what the next step is for this movie. So, I think I would get to page ten and if it was — I’d hope by page ten to know what kind of movie I was in.
The last thing I would say is most people who send in Three Page Challenges put some sort of contact information on the front page. Just a generally good idea to put an email address or some way that people could get ahold of you if they love your pages. Zach didn’t have one. But if you are sending this in, it’s useful, because you want people to like this and reach out to you to tell you that you’re a great writer. So, put some sort of contact information on your title page.
John: Great. Our next script is called Not Dark Yet, by RM Weatherly. And RM is a woman. Stuart confirmed this for us. It is a script written in Courier Prime, so therefore it’s already about three steps ahead.
Craig: Oh lord.
John: Oh lord. Let me give a summary of this. So, we start in a well-ordered street of cookie-cutter McMansions. Just outside this neighborhood we see Damon Carol in his 30s who is standing over a dead body. He’s in his pajamas. He has his dog. And he’s come across a body. And he’s really not freaked out by it. He sort of kicks it with his foot. It reacts a little bit.
He tells the dog, “No, no. We won’t call the police yet. The police are sleeping. We’ll wait till they wake up.” And he convinces his dog to leave.
Next we’re in a diner in the morning. And we see our guy, who is evidently a detective, talking with a potential client. Her name is Eva. And they’re talking about her hiring him to do some recon on her husband who might be having an affair with somebody. She’s not convinced that he is having an affair. It’s sort of more idle curiosity. And they talk about sort of that there aren’t many detectives left in his line of work in this area.
So, that is where we’re at at the end of three pages. Craig, talk us through it.
Craig: There’s a lot of confusion in this for me. And so I was working hard to try and figure things out. And failed in spots. I think I succeeded in some spots. But let’s talk content first. The contrast of the cookie-cutter McMansion neighborhood, wealthy suburb, to a forest — now it says just outside the town. I have no idea how we’re supposed to know that it’s a forest just outside the town, unless we see the forest from the suburb and then cut to the forest.
And then we see Damon Carol who is there with his dog. He’s wearing matching monogram pajamas under an overcoat. He’s staring at this corpse. He’s at ease.
Okay, interesting. Fine. He touches the body with his foot, then cringes as the corpse has a phantom reaction. I don’t think that’s how corpses work. There is some sort of stuff like that shortly after death. But not like when you’re in the forest and somebody touches you with your foot, you’re not going to sit up. And even if you did, Damon should freak out because — and then realize that it’s phantom reaction.
He then says to his dog, “I thought I smelled something.” Now, I don’t know if that’s “I thought I smelled something,” or “I thought I smelled something.” I don’t know what he’s talking about.
John: It feels like it’s in the wrong place. I got really tripped up by that line, too.
Craig: Yeah. I was so confused by it and I even thought like, wait, is this one of those things where the corpse has evacuating its bowels? I literally had no idea what the hell was going on that point.
Then, some headlights approach and he covers the body up. It says, “Suddenly, at the sight of HEADLIGHTS approaching in the distance, Damon picks up debris to create a leafy sheet over the body.” Well, he’s certainly speedy, isn’t he? This is a car driving by, and he’s going to cover a body with leaves before the car gets past him? I don’t think so. That didn’t work.
Then, he says, “We’re going to come back.” And he says to his dog, “The po-lice don’t get in till 7.” At this point I’m like, okay, wait, so that’s sort of like an African American dialectic affectation. Is he black? And the name Damon is a pretty common name for black men. So is he black? I don’t know, because no one is telling me. But am I supposed to know from that? Or is that just an errant hyphen?
John: Is it affectation? Is that some weird way that he’s talking for an affect?
John: We have no idea. We don’t have enough information about him to know what the hell is going on.
Craig: Right. So, at this point, now I understand the point of a scene like that is to create mystery, but there’s a fine line between mystery and confusion. I need to know that I’m not supposed to know things. I can’t think I’m supposed to know things but I don’t. That’s confusion.
So, okay, we get to this diner. Now, this is an interesting conversation. This woman, and all we know about her is that she’s robust and big-boned. I don’t know what that means exactly. Does that mean fat? Does that mean tall? Does that mean fat and tall? Big-boned is a euphemism, that’s sort of a meaningless euphemism. Regardless, there’s an interesting dynamic here. This is where I started to perk up.
Essentially this woman is saying, I got from this conversation that he was a detective. And I got from what her comments were is that the detective business is sort of done. He’s the only detective around because there isn’t really any crime around here. And then she suggests that she will hire him to tail her husband because he might be up to something. And you know what? She’ll even pay him double. And at that point Damon realizes she doesn’t suspect her husband at all. She’s taking pity on him. She’s essentially trumping up a job to pay him.
Now, that’s interesting. But it came out all wonky. It’s a good dynamic. It’s a good subtext to arrive at. The problem is I only determine that from the action lines. I don’t think I get it from the dialogue.
Craig: And so it’s wonky. It’s off.
John: I agree it’s wonky and it’s off. And I actually had a challenge with that whole diner scene because the line that leads into right now is, “Are you alone?” And then we cut to a diner. And so my natural story brain goes like, oh, whoever is asking that question must be the person who is like seating him at a table, or something like that.
So, I read Eva as a waitress the first time through. And it wasn’t until I got to the end of page three that Damon motions for the waitress for another cup of coffee and I realized like, oh wait, they’re sitting at the same table. And I didn’t catch that here. Because there’s nothing that indicates that they’re sitting at the same table. All we hear is “The voice belongs to a robust, big-boned EVA KEYS, in her late 40s. Damon takes a sip of coffee, considering his answer before speaking, but Eva has a mill of questions. She continues:”
So, I didn’t get that they were sitting alone at a booth. I didn’t know anything about the space. And so I just made the wrong assumption based on the prelap getting me into here.
I got confused a lot, too. And let’s talk about the nature of the setting. The suburb and then the forest. Right now, RM, she has Wealth Suburb — Night and then Ext. Forest — Continuous. Continuous isn’t really the right choice here. Continuous is if it literally is a continuation of the same action. And that’s not where we are. So, just give Night here. So, we’re traveling to a new place, put the city lights in the distance if you want to. Do something to let us know where we are in relation to that previous place you set up.
I’m not convinced that cookie-cutter McMansions is going to make sense for this character ultimately with the conversation we have later on, but regardless, if the forest needs to be near, show us where the city is and tell us that it’s important.
Craig: Here’s the thing. You’ve touched on something important. What Eva and Damon are discussing essentially is that he’s the only private eye that’s left. And he says, “That’s right. Damon Carol, the only one in the book.” And I don’t like lines like that where somebody clearly announces their name so the audience knows. There’s better ways to do that.
But, why would there be any private eyes in a McMansion suburb? That’s not where private eyes are. Why would anybody be surprised that there’s only one left? Frankly, they should be surprised that there’s one at all.
Craig: It just doesn’t make sense.
John: If it were like a dying town, if it were a Cincinnati or like something that used to have private eyes and they all left because everybody left, that would be great. Or if it was some sort of like it was a boom town that people moved on from, that would be great.
I like the idea of the last detective left in a town. That’s a great idea for a character. And I sense that this Damon guy could be really fascinating. And I’m projecting forward, but I’m guessing the reason he hides this body is so that he can actually discover it later when the police are there and get credit for it. He has a whole game plan. But I’m not getting it through the scenes that I’m actually seeing on the page.
So, even this thing about the phantom reaction. I have a sense that RM has an idea in her head of what that reaction is. Describe it. Be specific rather than just say a phantom reaction, because I don’t know what that is. Does it shit itself? Does it pass gas? Does something pop? Is there spontaneous spasm? Anything would be great. But phantom reaction, I don’t know what that is.
Craig: Yeah. I’m going to make a suggestion, RM, too. I’ve been thinking about this diner scene. The idea that someone is hiring a private eye out of pity is really interesting. I think the scene would probably work better, and I don’t know if this ruins the story or not, if he’s sitting in a booth with this woman and he’s saying, “Are you ready?”
And she says, “Yes, I’m ready.”
And he opens up a folder and he shows pictures of her husband. And he says, “I’ve tracked him here, I’ve tracked him there. I’ve checked his texts and all the rest of it, and this is where he’s been going.” And he shows her. And it’s — he’s going to the library.
And she’s like, “Oh, so he’s not cheating on me?”
And that’s when Damon leans back and says, “No, he’s not cheating you. And that’s when I decided to follow you.” And then he shows pictures of her and how she, or texts that she called him and said, “Look, just do this, the guy needs the work.”
In other words, let him be a real detective to the point where he detects using his detective skills that this was a pity hire. Which is — because I want to know that he had to find out, that he didn’t immediately know it, but that there was that moment of sickening realization that somebody is giving you a handout. Like you thought you had a real job and it turns out to just be pity. That’s awful. So, find a way to demonstrate that a little more dramatically and with a little more surprise for the audience.
John: Agreed. You’re also describing a scene that has changes over the course of it. Where we approach the scene with one bit of information, we approach it with everything we know about detectives, and so therefore the next thing is that the detective is going to show us that the man is having an affair. Oh, but the surprise is that he’s not having an affair. The second surprise is that you actually hired me out of pity and the scene can build and change.
Craig: Right. Exactly. So, that’s what you’re going for. And I think particularly in an early moment when you’re establishing a character, showing that they’re competent is important information. I suspect that you’re going to want Damon to be competent. Demonstrating that they are in dire straits through their competence would be interesting, too.
So, anyway, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to happen there. And really do take this to heart, RM, that mystery is good, confusion is bad.
John: Agreed. We were talking about sort of the dialogue scene, but let’s also back up to the discovery of the body scene, which I think should play as a completely silent scene. I don’t think there’s any reason for a guy to talk to his dog. It feels forced to talk to your dog.
But, that moment of suspense where he’s like is he going to be able to cover up this body in time, give us some real — give us some time there. Give us some sentences to describe the sort of growing — the headlights getting closer. He’s trying to cover it up. He’s trying to find the right kind of leaves to go over it. The dog keeps knocking the leaves off it, like you know, there’s moments of suspense, or comedy, or something else there that’s going to be fascinating and we’re going to watch it because it’s such an odd choice to like find a body and then try to cover it up.
That could be great. And we could be with him in suspense and knowing will that car see him. Will that car stop? Will there by anything strange happening? Is he going to wave to the driver as it goes past? There could be something really great there.
Craig: Yeah. And maybe just so that you have the time to play that moment, don’t make it a car. Make it a couple on a date going through the woods.
John: Someone on a bike, nice and slow.
Craig: Yeah. Something. You got to think about real time. This is where screenwriters — it’s normal, we do it all the time. We compress time and space in our minds with such ease, but we forget that somebody at some point is going to be out in a freaking woods at two in the morning going, wait, ugh, the car has to be going like one mile an hour. We won’t even be able to see it until it’s there.
We need all this time for him to do all this stuff. It’s just never going to work. You got to think ahead to those moments. Those are the worst moments where you just think, oh, who cares. The audience. They care.
All right. Well, why don’t we move on to our third Three Page Challenge? This one is called Youth on Fire by Olufemi S. Sowemimo. And I’m going to summarize this as best I can, [laughs], because this is —
John: This is where you’re earning your big bucks today, Craig.
Craig: Yeah. I’m going to get a good paycheck out of this. We begin, again, with voiceover over darkness. Someone named Castor saying, “It takes three things to start a fire.” We then are in a college lecture classroom at night. We see two people in the center of the rooms, Sarafina Wyngaard, 19 and beautiful, drenched in some sort of viscous yellow goop. And holding on to her a beaten man, Castor Pollack, 22, and geek-nouveau.
Around them in the room there appears there’s been some kind of huge fight in here. And all of this yellow goop is everywhere. It’s on the walls. It’s coming down into puddles on the floor.
Outside the window, there’s smoke and fire, a college campus set ablaze. Sarafina is holding a Bic lighter in her hand, twirling it around. And so Castor in voiceover says, “It takes three things to start a fire. Oxygen.” Then we cut to a burn ward. He says, a different voice, male voice, Ken, says, “Heat.” And we see a burned figure on a bed with oxygen tanks. And then we go to a grassy field and we hear Sarafina in voiceover saying, “Fuel,” and we see two silhouettes making love, a burning gazebo directly behind them, casting their intertwined shadows.
Then we cut to a city street and an angry mob of teens and twentysomethings fighting with police, overwhelming them. And in voiceover, “All it takes to set it off is a spark.” Sarafina, back in the classroom, places her thumb on the lighter. And before it sparks we cut to black. And then we fade in on Arizona Institute of Technology, AIT Campus Day. It’s apparently finals day and Congrats Graduates.
There is a large bear. This is the school mascot. He’s on his hind legs and a placard says the AIT Great Bear. And a distressed student comes out of the building and he looks at his final exam, it’s terrible, he’s gotten a terrible grade. And he freaks out and starts attacking the bear, yelling at the bear about how upset he is and how much he hates school. And while he’s doing that, Castor in voiceover talks about how school basically screws everybody.
And that’s —
John: That’s our three pages.
Craig: That’s a lot in three pages.
John: It’s a lot in three pages. So, I love movies that start with provocative imagery and gives us a sense of sort of the flash forward of where is this all going to get to. And so that’s very much what he’s doing here is setting sort of some moment from probably quite late in the story where this couple is together, something terrible has happened, the school is on fire. There’s yellow goop for some reason. These provocative images invite us to ask questions and therefore we are intrigued to get the answers to those questions, and therefore we’ll keep watching the movie.
The challenge I face is that I got just really lost and I lost some faith in this movie’s ability to make me want to follow all the way to those answers. Especially when we got into this student who comes out and has all his interactions with the bear. That’s where I was like I don’t — I didn’t feel confident that I was in good storytelling hands based on the things that we’re happening, and especially in that last page.
Craig, where were you at with this?
Craig: Well, that’s right. I mean, so, look, lots of good things to talk about here. Olufemi has a terrific sense of how to create a mental image with text. And that, boy, that’s a big part of our job. And so I saw everything on the first page and a half. There was a hundred things going on. I saw it all. And that’s great. And I was really interested. And I understood that there was a mystery there. I wasn’t confused.
I was fascinated. And it was so interesting. I think that voiceover wise, you’re going to run into trouble moving voiceover like this between three voices because in particular I don’t think anyone is going to know that Castor and Ken are different people. Male voices, even when they’re different men, will often sound the same if there’s a continuity of voiceover like that. Particularly when we’re not seeing a different voice. And we don’t. There’s a burned figure on a bed. So, that’s a little bit tricky.
I thought the order, oxygen, heat, and fuel, was wrong, because we start with a lighter, then we go to oxygen, then we go to fuel. So I thought it should have been heat, oxygen, fuel.
But I was so like, oh my god, this is crazy. What — how — and I understood that I was definitely going for another Stuart special, [laughs], where we open at the end of a movie and then go to the beginning. And that’s because Stuart loves that. Don’t keep doing it just to make Stuart pick your scripts. But then, oh man, did it fall off the rails. And the reason it fell off the rails was tone. Tone, tone, tone.
So, the first page and a half is dark, and moody, and poetic. I mean, the character’s name on page one, and I don’t love things like this.
John: Sarafina and Castor.
Craig: Well, and also Castor — his name is — where is page one. Castor Pollack. Which is sort of a hammy reference to Castor and Pollux, the Roman twins. You know, all right, fine. He went to school, I get it. But the tone is mood and poetic and visual.
Then when we get to this scene, where the student, the first thing he does is yell at this bear and says, “Fuck you, rape bear. Screwed me right up the ass, you stupid bear. You like that? Did you like it, huh?” This — I’m like, wait, wait, it’s like I started watching Fight Club and then I cut to black and then the next scene I’m watching Neighbors.
Craig: What’s going on? I was so confused. And then Castor’s voiceover seems completely irrelevant because all we’re really watching is a student freak out and Castor’s voiceover saying, “Students freak out.” This did not work.
John: It didn’t work at all. And I lost a sense of where this voiceover could be connected to. So, if you’re giving me these provocative images and you have a voiceover that’s sort of establishing like, you know, to make a fire you need heat, fuel, and oxygen. Like, I get what that is. That’s like a movie telling itself. But then to have that voiceover and have multiple voiceover empowered people feeding me more stuff just made me frustrated and sort of confused about what was going on.
But I really want to talk about the stressed student, because what he’s doing is so crazy cartoonish, but even the setup feels really strange and sort of not specific to our shared understanding of how college campuses work.
Craig: Wait, you didn’t buy that his final exam was graded instantly? [laughs]
John: So, his final exam, and “red marks cover the page like battle wounds. Nonsense. Absurd. You can go do better, etc. Up top a score of 13 out of 50.” We have the macro lens out for that, because we’re reading a lot apparently. If we see this guy freak out, we’re going to get why he’s freaking out. And this felt like the kind of scene that should have taken place entirely without him talking or without anyone else talking. And so if you want to do some cartoonish things, don’t also have him say cartoonish things. You can have him take cartoonish actions or like, you know, get fucked by the bear, or sort of do that stuff that he wants to do, just let’s not talk about. Let’s just sort of show it.
And if you want to comment on it, maybe have real characters in the scene commenting on it, because the voiceover was just not working for us.
I also want to talk about the specificity of campus. Like what is campus? Colleges are big and I don’t have a sense of where we are on this campus. I needed a little bit more scene setting, because apparently this is where most of the story is going to take place, is my guess, since we’re ending there and we’re starting here. Give us more. Tell us, are we in the main quad? Give us a sense of what kind of school this is. Because you say Arizona Institute of Technology. It’s like, am I supposed to think ASU, am I supposed to think MIT? Those are very different vibes and very different kind of feelings of what those students are like.
In general, like since we’re going to end on sort of a war scene, is this supposed to be normal days? Is the calm before the war? Show us some calm before this guy storms out.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, when you have a character doing something like this guy is doing where he’s mimicking being raped by the bear, no one does that on their own. It’s just simply not — at that point you’re mentally ill. That’s crazy. You would do it in front of a friend to make them understand how you felt possibly. I mean, I don’t love it at all, but you would not do it alone.
And it’s being commented on, again, by Castor, Ken, and Sarafina in voiceover. We have these three disembodied voices like a Greek chorus suddenly now talking, like having a conversation in VO. Look VO can be terrific. A conversation in VO, when we have no idea who is doing it yet, very difficult. And when the tone of the conversation is in polar opposition to the tone of what we’re looking at, you end up with a disaster.
So, this is so interesting to me because I feel like page one through 1.5 is fantastic. And page 1.5 to three is horrendous. And so I guess I would say that’s good news, because if you can make 1.5 fantastic pages, you can make 110 fantastic pages. But, something went rapidly awry.
John: I also want to think about what is the audience’s expectation after this kind of opening. So, when we do the flash forward opening and then we’re coming back to sort of the real start of the movie, my instinct is the first person I see, or the first person I should be focused on should be one of the important people. And so when you tell me in the script “distressed student,” and then I get a page and a half of just distressed student doing stuff, I’m thinking well is this our hero? Is this the guy I’m supposed to be focusing on? Because as a moviegoer, I would assume like, oh, this must be our main hero person. But the reason I know it’s not is because you didn’t give him a name. He’s just called Distressed Student.
So, I’m really conflicted about sort of should I be paying any attention to this guy? Is one of these other people going to step in, oh wait, they’re being voiceover, so who knows. And that’s a real frustration. Stories don’t always have to start with your hero. Obviously many great movies start with characters who are not your hero, who are sort of disposable and you never see again, but movies that start with this sort of flash forward structure and then come back to reality, I would bet 90% of them, one of the very first people you’re going to see if your hero to establish, ground you in the reality of this is the character’s journey.
Craig: Absolutely true. In fact, I’ll go a step further. When you start with voiceover over a tableau like this, sort of a — I imagine this is all very tableau like, these first 1.5 pages. When you come out of it, you’re close on someone. You want to be physically close on a face. I could easily see the first thing we see being Castor’s face not beaten, and we hear over his face some cry. And then we reveal that he’s looking out his window at a girl who is sitting under a banner that says Congratulations on your Finals, or Good Luck on Finals, and she’s just sobbing.
And we go, oh boy. You know, I would get that. But you’re so right. You have to come back to a face almost to understand even time wise what the hell is going on. If you’re going to play the time game, help me.
John: Great. So, as always, I want to thank everyone who has submitted for the Three Page Challenges, especially these three people who were brave enough to have us talk about their three pages on the air. If you have your own three pages you want us to take a look at, it’s johnaugust.com/threepage, and you can submit your own. If you want to read through the ones we’ve talked about, they’re on the show notes, so just johnaugust.com.
It’s time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a video that everybody on the Internet said I should watch, but I avoided watching it because it’s 15 minutes long. Now I watched it and it’s really, really good. It’s called The Fallen of World War II by Neil Halloran. And what he did is a great data visualization of —
Craig: It’s so cool.
John: It’s so good. It’s all the deaths of WWII. And sort of showing in sort of a great chart form of like how many people died from each country, both military casualties and civilian casualties. And it sort of shows you how big WWII really was and how it sort of out-scaled everything that had come before it, and really everything that’s come after it.
And so it was harrowing but it was also — ends on a surprisingly hopeful note in the sense that you recognize that since the horror of WWII we’ve not had anything approaching that in terms of death on a global scale. So, really just spectacularly well done. Just a great example of what’s possible to do with great data visualization. It also reminded me way back in episode 30 I talked about The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronical of Atrocities by Matthew White, which if you liked this visualization, I would urge you to read that book. Because what it does is it talks through sort of all of history’s great atrocities, some of which are in Halloran’s video.
But it gives you a sense of like what is the context for these great deaths that have happened in history and the kinds of things that lead to these big catastrophic events.
Craig: Yeah. It’s great. Anytime somebody says how bad things are now, and the world is getting worse, I perversely want to punch them and make the world worse because we’re not even in the same galaxy of badness that existed in the middle of the 20th century.
When you look at Russia alone, it’s astonishing. When you think about what it means for millions of people to die, and then you think about tens of millions of people. It’s unfathomable. And there are all sorts of theories as to why it hasn’t happened since, one of which is kind of obvious, because it can’t. Everybody has nuclear weapons. You simply can’t do it anymore. You can’t have a war like that anymore. But I think also the war itself was proof that we shouldn’t have a war like that anymore.
It’s unreal. It’s just hard to fathom living on a planet and yet, you know, my parents were alive when that was happening. It’s just remarkable. Just remarkable. So, yeah, an amazing video.
My One Cool Thing is like on the other end of the spectrum. It’s on the loose end. So, I’m not a big wine guy, but any time I get a bottle or something I just want to say like, oh, is this crap or is it okay? And I think I mentioned this to you. There’s a website called CellarTracker where people can write their opinions of wine and it’s actually kind of useful because people that know about wine — and I am not one of them — will say things like, you know, this is a good wine, but don’t drink it now, drink it three years from now. Or leave this out for an hour, or just go ahead and drink it.
And they have an app now, it’s free, and one of the coolest things about it is you can take a picture of a wine label and it will search some database somewhere in the sky and show you that bottle of wine exactly from that year with all the reviews and thoughts on it. It’s so cool.
It will even give you a sense of what it should cost. So, if you’re in a store and they’re like, “This is the best and it only costs $120,” well, maybe it really only costs $50. So, very cool, and it’s free. They ask for a voluntary payment, which I have yet to do. Actually I just noticed that it said that. [laughs] I feel super ashamed. I will send my voluntary payment in. CellarTracker for iPhone and possibly for those other phones that others talk about.
John: Yes. The engine underlying it is the same thing that does Vimeo, which is an app I’ve used for a while. And I think it’s actually so smart because it’s a great use of like you have a limited data set. Although there’s thousands of wines in the world, there’s only thousands of wines in the world. So you can actually just digitize all of the labels out there and then figure out like these are the wines. And you can match those up to reviews of them and actually provide a useful service from that data set.
So, I thought it was just a really smart use of cellphone camera technologies, scanning, the power of the computers that are in our little pockets all the time to do it.
Craig: What a world!
John: We live in a great world. Better than WWII. So, this is all —
Craig: Yeah, and in WWII people were dying in the millions and now in 2015 my phone gets me drunk.
John: Ha-ha. And that’s our show this week. If you have something to say to Craig Mazin, you should write him on Twitter. He is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Longer questions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to leave us a review on iTunes, that would be fantastic. Just search for us there at Scriptnotes. That’s also where you can download the Scriptnotes app for your iOS device. We’re also available for Android devices on the appropriate app stores.
Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel who picked these Three Page Challenges. Thank you, Stuart.
Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli, and man, did I make his life difficult this week. We had Skype dropouts and my brain did not work very well. So, thank you, Matthew. If you have an outro for our show, we love to have great musical compositions as outros, things that incorporate the [hums], but in clever new ways. Matthew writes a lot of them, but we also have great people who have written other ones for us. So, if you have one of those outros, just send us a link to email@example.com and we will get that into the queue.
For Craig Mazin, I’m John August. Guys, thank you so much. See you next week, Craig.
Craig: Bye John.
- John jumped off a bridge
- FAST Screenplay’s Jeff Bollow at TEDxDocklands
- Action Movies, Stop Taking Away Our Everyday Heroes on Wired
- NEDA’s Statistics on Males and Eating Disorders
- SAG-AFTRA Threatened To Sue Director Amy Berg Over ‘An Open Secret’ on Deadline
- Submit your Three Pages here
- Three Pages by Zach Kaplan
- Three Pages by RM Weatherly
- Three Pages by Olufemi S. Sowemimo
- The Fallen of World War II by Neil Halloran, and fallen.io
- The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities by Matthew White
- CellarTracker for iOS
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Adrian Tanner (send us yours!)