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 203 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, how are you?
Craig: You know, I’m doing quite well. I’m in the strange screenwriter summer place where my children seem to be off of work. I’m not off of work but I feel like I should be off of work. In fact, I think I have more to do now than I did before. I don’t think we ever outgrow the feeling that summer is supposed to be not-work time.
John: Yes. I had the week-long vacation which really felt like my summer break but I’m definitely now back into it. And I’m in to this rewrite and figuring out how to actually execute those things. I said, “Oh, yeah, sure. I can do that.” And then you stare at the scenes and figure out, “Oh, my god, how am I going to do that?”
Craig: Isn’t that the worse feeling when you think to yourself in the moment, “Oh, you know what, there is an easy path there.” And then after maybe five more minutes of private consideration you realize, “Oh, no, no. Oh, no, no.” But it’s too late.
Craig: You’ve said it was easy.
John: You already said yes.
Craig: Yeah, I know it’s terrible.
John: Yeah. And the challenges are, in general, I could do all those things but to do all those things without adding pages is incredibly difficult. So you’re looking at sort of how to make these changes work in a way that makes everything better and doesn’t drag stuff out. And I think I can really do that in this pass, but it’s just taken some really careful brain time to do it.
Craig, I don’t know if you ever do this thing called Morning Pages? Have you heard this idea of Morning Pages?
John: No. So I think I’m probably doing it wrong and I’ll probably explain it wrong. But it’s the idea that the first thing when you wake up in the morning, you go and you write down the stuff that your day is about or the stuff that you’re going to be working on that day and it’s meant to be a way to focus your brain and focus your attention. And I think there’s probably a philosophy that I’m not executing quite correctly. But this last week I tried it.
And so, every morning I’ve been waking up and before I go downstairs and drink my coffee, I’ll just spend a few minutes scribbling down sort of what this stuff is that I’m writing that day. And it has been useful, I think, in terms of focusing on what I’m actually going to do and what the scene work will be for that. And so, some of the solutions I found this week have come out of that. So, if people are looking for a new thing to try, that might be the new thing to try.
Craig: I do a similar thing but I usually do it right before I go to bed. Because I find that if I have some clarity about what the next days’ accomplishments are supposed to be, it’s a lot easier for me to go to sleep. I feel comforted. I think, okay, I have a plan.
If I go to bed without any concept of what the next day is going to be, sometimes, I toss and turn. I’m a little worried. When I wake up I can just start to do those things, of course, as you know, I will use the shower as the shower.
Craig: Get it?
John: The shower is the shower of revelations for how you’re going to get things done.
Craig: Don’t anyone ever tell me I’m not clever.
Craig: I changed a vowel sound.
John: Yeah, no one will ever tell you that you’re not clever.
John: They’ll never tell you that you’re not clever.
Craig: Everyone is thinking it.
John: So let us get to the work for today which is we were going to talk about what turnaround is and how it works. You know what, it’s possible we discussed turnaround on a previous episode, but if we have, it’s been so long ago that you and I don’t even remember what turnaround is.
John: So we’re going to have a Professor Craig explanation of what turnaround is.
John: We’re also going to answer a bunch of leftover questions from the live 200th episode. That was a fun time where we had people writing their questions, you know, listening to the show in real-time, sending in their thoughts and their questions. We were able to answer maybe five of them on the air, but we had a lot of them leftover.
John: So Stuart gathered them together and we’re going to try to blow through a bunch of them today.
John: So, it should be a fun episode.
But first we have some follow up. In the last week’s episode, we discussed a site called FAST Screenplays and our opinion of it to summarize was not high. And we did not think it was necessarily a site to which people should be paying money. Craig had the opportunity this week to do some follow up and conversations with the owner of the site and the program, Jeff Bollow. So do you want to summarize what that entailed?
Craig: Yeah, well, Jeff contacted both of us on Twitter publicly so everybody could see that that’s there and essentially and then followed up with an email saying, “Hey, you know, I feel like I’ve been misunderstood here and actually I’d love a chance to explain to you what I’m doing. I think you will agree that it is a positive thing and it really is worth $30,000,” and et cetera.
And before we decide how we’re going to deal with this, I did have one question for him. Because the thing that was bothering me I suppose the most, the thing that stood out the most that was setting FAST Screenplays apart from a lot of the other sites that we get angry about was that he was claiming it was not-for-profit. And so I asked him if in fact his company and I wasn’t sure if his company was Australian or American, if it was recognized by any relevant taxation authority as a not-for-profit or non-profit company and he wrote us back and said, “Actually, no, it’s not.”
And what he said is that he never intended to imply that it was a legitimate charity, you know, or a non-profit organization the way we understand them to be in the legal sense. He wasn’t even aware that that was possibly something that he could be misleading about, but he understands now that that is misleading and so he apparently has taken that description off of the website. So, at least, there was a positive development.
You know, I’m not sure how to go about this with him because on the one hand I do feel like anybody that we suggest is not being, hmm, let’s say, ultimately useful for the good and welfare of screenwriters should have a chance to defend themselves or rebut or explain. On the other hand, I’m concerned about just giving him our venue as a platform to promote his program. I don’t want to do that either because, frankly, I have no interest in that. So I’m not sure how to proceed here.
What’s your instinct, John?
John: My instinct is to do sort of exactly what we just did in this last 30 seconds which is to explain that there was a conversation and that some things were said, but, you know, it’s up to other people in their own venues to figure out the ways to respond and that it’s not our place to offer an open-mic to anybody who feels offended.
Craig: Well, I think that that settles that. I mean, I do think that he is obviously — he can go ahead and sort of put his own rebuttal up on his website. I was glad that we cleared up the non-profit issue. That was the thing that was really sticking out to me. But, yeah, I agree with you. I think — and, you know, we’ll respond to him but, you know, he was offering to explain his system to us and how it works. I just I’m not interested in that. I don’t —
John: I’m not interested either.
John: It’s a podcast about things that are interesting to screenwriters, notably us, and that was not particularly interesting to me.
Craig: We’re not interested in it therefore it will not be on our podcast about things that are interesting to us.
John: You and I both got a tweet from a person named Matt Treacy who writes, “Curious whether you guys actually do any genuine research or contact individuals before assassinating their character.”
John: And I do want to clear this up because we do a lot of research and people may not realize that part of the funds that we’re getting from the subscriptions is to hire private investigators to sort of really do the leg work and the field work to make sure that it’s possible for us to really, you know, know what we’re talking about. So it may just seem like we’re just two guys standing at microphones talking once a week but there’s really a whole crack research team behind this whole thing. And, you know, sometimes, you know, the ethical calls that we get into, it’s sort of like an Aaron Sorkin show where there’s a lot of back and forth, Craig and I are arguing before we get on the air but that we really have all the facts exactly right and straight. And I hope that comes across in our weekly banter.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, look, we sit down every week and we pick from a list of people who we feel deserve to be assassinated. And then we have, yes, a lot of times we’re yelling at each other, “But are you sure? Are you sure?” No, we’re not in the business of character assassination. We read a guy’s website and we commented on it. I think probably that’s a friend. I assume that’s a friend.
John: I think it may be a friend.
Craig: I think it might be a friend. I don’t think that friend is doing his friend any favors with that kind of thing. I mean, no, we’re not interested in character assassination. We are interested in protecting, as I said before, the good and welfare of screenwriters in general. Anybody that’s looking to make a buck off of screenwriters ought to be able to face this kind of critique. And considering that I basically start from a default position of don’t spend money on your screenwriter career, is it really that shocking that I had a problem with that?
John: Nothing is shocking to me anymore, Craig.
Our next bit of follow up is Tess Gerritsen who has a lawsuit in the works against the film Gravity. So we first talked about this in a full-length dedicated episode. It’s episode 183. And so I think it’s time for a little bit of Game of Thrones sort of previously on Scriptnotes so we can actually get all up to speed because it’s really complicated. So I’ll try to do the short version of this.
So previously in the Gravity legal drama, novelist Tess Gerritsen writes a book called Gravity. She sells the film rights to Newline for $1 million with additional payments due if they make the movie. Alfonso Cuarón makes a movie called Gravity for Warner Bros which is a giant hit. Gerritsen says, “Hey, wait, that movie is based on my book.” Warner says, “Nah-uh. It isn’t. And even if it were, the movie rights are owned by Newline and we own Newline so there’s no issue here.”
Gerritsen sues. She wants the money she feels that she’s owed and also a discovery basically, ability to do research within Warner Bros, so she can establish that Warner and Newline are deliberately trying to screw her out of the money.
So the judge here was Judge Margaret Morrow and she said basically, “Nope, you haven’t made a compelling case.” But she gave Gerritsen’s legal team an opportunity to revise their complaint to address the nature of the corporate relationship between Warner and Newline and that’s where we left it last February.
So in the meantime, it turns out Gerritsen’s legal team did file their amended complaint and Judge Morrow this past week came back and said basically again, “Nope.” And so we’ll put a link in the show notes to the actual like 50 or 60-page legal document that came out of it, like, Gerritsen’s opinion. But I’ll tell you, it’s one of the most boring legal documents I’ve ever gone through and I’ve gone through a bunch, because it’s only really looking at the nature of the corporate relationship between Warners and Newline and it’s just eye-glazingly boring in terms of what is the difference between a merger and an acquisition and a stock thing.
John: And, I don’t know, Craig, did you try to pile through it?
Craig: Yeah, yeah, I tried. You’re exactly right. What’s happened here is that Gerritsen’s case which the moral core of it is, “Hey, you ripped off my book.” And she also alleges that she did some writing on the screenplay that was developed of her book directly which was written by Michael Goldenberg, not the Cuaróns. The moral core, you rip me off, that’s been discarded. At this point now it’s just been drifting to this whole other thing of, “Hey, these are the same companies and so I should automatically…”
It’s very much now about the relationship between these companies. And so, naturally, the ensuing legal decision is as boring as that topic. And I couldn’t finish it because, as you said, it was eye-glazingly tedious. But the upshot is that the judge enlisting multiple cases and all that other stuff just said, “No, no, you’re done.”
John: Yeah, it feels like the whole thing was like one giant parenthetical. It was all like, you know, half of a page would be sort of parenthesis about all these other cases. And so, it was really hard to get through.
One of the key phrases that’s in here is “breach of implied covenant” which is basically that Katja/Newline had an obligation to pursue the claim against Warner Bros for, you know, making Gravity —
John: Which is the same as their project or related to their project, she wasn’t buying that. So that was sort of the upshot of that. It looks like there’s still one more round of this where they’re able to go back another time and try to make their case on the specific nature of the relationship, but she’s even sort of drawing a tighter circle about what could be in this revised complaint. So we’ll see what happens next.
Craig: it’s getting pretty watered down. I mean, look, she’s —
Craig: She’s now saying like, forget whether or not I can prove that they did this; now what I’m really angry about is that they, Newline, didn’t try and sue them. But, yeah, okay, fine and no, but also, where is the substance now? At no point have we ever seen any substance from her that Cuarón’s movie has anything to do with her book or her screenplay with Newline.
John: Yeah. So in her latest blog post Tess Gerritsen talks through sort of her reaction to this whole thing. And so, continuing tradition from the first Gravity, we have our friend Christy reading Tess Gerritsen’s words here so we can respond to it so it’s not just me talking this whole time. So here is a sample of the latest blog post.
“This ruling allows me no possibility of remedy. Even if the Warner Bros film had copied my story word for word there would be nothing I could do about it.”
John: Craig, is that true?
Craig: No, that is totally not true. It’s so not true that my teeth hurt.
John: So let’s imagine this hypothetical where she is exactly right, where there’s just no question that the film Gravity completely copies the plot, story, characters, everything from her book, what would be different about this situation?
Craig: So she’s saying, even if the Warner Bros film had copied my story word for word there would be nothing I could do about it. At that point, the easiest thing for her to do about it would be to file a credits complaint and she would certainly know. File an arbitration complaint with the Guild when the credits for Cuarón’s Gravity are being determined to say, “Hold on a second, they’ve left my name off. I should be included on this as a participating writer.”
If for story alone she had written material, not just the novel but had also written screenplay material, so right off the bat, there is a way — and let me point out, you don’t even have to be employed. If she had written a screenplay in her house and had — and there were some proof that it had existed prior to Cuarón’s screenplay, that would be enough for her to say to the WGA, “Hold on. I got ripped off here. I deserve to be a participating writer. I have material in the final screenplay of this film.” That is separate and apart from her rights issues and her contract issues with Newline and Warner Bros, but it would afford her, if she were correct, and hearing her hypothetical “copied my story word for word” she would almost certainly get some kind of story credit and she would also get residuals.
And then working backwards from there, it would be extremely hard for Warner Bros or Newline to say, “Oh, yeah, and you know what, we’re also not going to now honor the contract that says, if we make a movie of your book, you get $500,000.” I’ll ignore the 2.5% of net profits since that doesn’t exist.” Really, what it comes down to is $500,000 and credit. And so, of course, there would have been something she could have done about it.
But no, the Warner Bros film did not copy her story word for word. And I find this very slippery. What’s she’s doing is saying, “Well, okay, what I know is that I cannot show that they copied my story word for word or a word as far as I could tell, so I’ll just say that if they had, there’d be nothing I could about it.” But they didn’t and there would have been.
John: Yeah. Also, imagine this hypothetical. So let’s say it plays out more the way the real situation does where Tess Gerritsen says she was aware that there was a film called Gravity, at the time, she believed it wasn’t based on her book at all. It was only after seeing the movie that she was aware like, oh, she said she became aware like, “Oh, clearly, this is based on my thing. And I find out later that Cuarón knew about it and all that stuff.” Let’s say all of that is true, if in this hypothetical it really were based sort of word by word on her book or very strongly related to her book, there is no way Warners would have let this go to a lawsuit. The hypotheticals would have worked out very differently because there would be no sort of ambiguity about what the situation is.
The reality is she is sort of waves her hands and saying, “It’s the same title. It’s about these same kinds of things” but when you dig deeper into it, they’re very, very different stories. And that’s why Warners feels like, “You know what, these aren’t related at all.” And I think a lot of people would find they’re not related at all if they actual compare it apples-to-apples.
Let’s listen to a little bit more from what she says.
“The court’s latest decision focused solely on the Warner Bros/Newline corporate relationship. It did not take into consideration my novel or Cuarón’s film or the similarities between them.”
Well, that’s true. This is the nature of this new complaint and this new round was that it was only supposed to be about this relationship. That’s all they’re allowed to talk about.
Craig: Yeah, she’s saying this like she didn’t file this complaint.
Craig: She files a complaint saying, “Hold on, these two companies are more related than they think and the judge is saying, ‘Actually, no, they’re not.'” And now she’s complaining that they didn’t talk about the material in the book?
John: Yeah. One last one here.
“It did not address my third-act rewrite of Michael Goldenberg’s Gravity script in which I depicted satellite debris colliding with the International Space Station, the destruction of ISS, and the sole surviving female astronaut adrift in her EVA suit.”
So this is new information for me because this is the first time I think I’ve seen her claiming that she actually wrote on the screenplay itself or that she’d — because she said something about like she was writing like story stuff, but I’m really unclear now, was she hired to write on the movie? Like, is she a contracted writer on the movie? What is she claiming here?
Craig: The truth is that, I’m not sure, because like you, I seem to recall that she was providing story material of some kind in additional to her novel, you know, prose material that then was handed to Goldenberg possibly or maybe handed to the studio and not handed to Goldenberg. We don’t know. Now she’s saying that she did a rewrite of his screenplay itself. Either way your depiction, her depiction of satellite debris colliding with the international space station, the destruction of the space station, and the sole surviving female astronaut adrift in her EVA suit would in its essence have no more to do with Cuarón’s Gravity then what was it called, Deep Space Homer did?
Craig: You know, when The Simpsons did it.
Craig: This is the part about this that’s so puzzling to me, she —
John: South Park defense.
Craig: Yeah, there you go. Tess Gerritsen is behaving as if she invented the concept of a space station in trouble and astronauts adrift in space. I remember seeing that whole, the Mission of Mars movie had astronauts drifting in space. This is not new and that’s not the core of unique literary expression in fixed form. I think she refuses to acknowledge the fact that these casual similarities do not rise to the test of infringement or use of her copyrighted material or the material that she licensed to Newline. She has provided still as far as I can tell no concrete evidence. The way, for instance, was provided in the Sherlock Holmes case by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. There’s nothing. She’s just making assertions.
Craig: And I think frankly if her book had been called something other than Gravity, we wouldn’t be dealing with this lawsuit. It’s like the title has become a fetish where you can’t get past the fact that it’s two things, a book with one title and a movie with the one title and they’re both about trouble in space but that’s seems to be — I just, I’m puzzled by this. I don’t know why she’s continuing to do this. She’s going to keep losing because what’s not there is what needs to be there. This is the, you know, the case of the dog that didn’t bark. Where is the literary material that is the same?
John: So I do think I understand more why she’s pursuing it because from her perspective all of us could say these same things until the end of time. And she would still feel in her heart that it was based on it and she’s not going to ever change that feeling. I don’t think she’s going win this lawsuit. But I really do fundamentally understand why she feels the way she feels. It’s really hard to take yourself out of the experience that you lived and the book that you wrote and sort of your perspective. It’s not even sort of egocentricism, it’s just reality. And I kind of get it from her side and I’m sympathetic to her feeling about it.
Where I’m frustrated is that to raise this as like this is a battle cry to all writers that they’re going to try to screw you over, that this is a great injustice being done, that all writers are in danger. And this was my frustration in the original episode, too, is that she’s trying to generalize her kind of unique situation to the plight of all writers and that’s actually not accurate.
Craig: It’s not accurate. Here is the nightmare scenario she’s putting out there as one that she’s experiencing and therefore look out everyone. What she’s saying is if you write a novel and you license the film rights to a studio, the studio can then essentially be bought by somebody else and then if that somebody else rips you off, you have no recourse because the studio you sold the rights to are really the only ones that have standing. They’re the ones that have been “injured,” but they’re in bed with the purchasing company so you just got screwed.
Craig: Here is the problem with that. I don’t believe that’s how it works at all. It doesn’t work that way because it doesn’t happen. It would happen all the time. If it were that easy, it would constantly happen. It does not. This is the first lawsuit of this kind, I recall. And second of all, I would think that if you could show clear infringement, there would be a legal case against the people that you sold your license to to say basically you dealt in bad faith here.
Craig: And the material would be the proof, but it’s not there. So what’s happening is I think she’s confusing somebody saying, “You really don’t have,” I mean, based on what you’re saying you don’t have a case with — then none of you would have a case. No, no, it’s just — you don’t have a case. Because the similarities, at least, from what I’ve been presented don’t appear to be there.
John: Yep. So let’s move on to a new topic and this was suggested by a mutual writer friend of ours who asked, “Hey, could you guys talk about turnaround.” And so, turnaround is a term of art that you hear thrown around Hollywood about a script that used to be at one studio and now it’s at a different studio or something is in turnaround and it probably doesn’t mean quite what we think it means. And there actually are very specific terms to it. And so, whenever there is something that has very specific contractual language associated with it, my first recourse is to call Craig Mazin. And so, Craig, let’s talk through turnaround, what it means and what it means for screenwriters.
Craig: Sure. Well, turnaround basically means the studio that had been marching in a direction toward making a movie is turning around. They’re saying, “Look, we have been developing this screenplay. We have decided we are no longer interested in spending more money to develop the screenplay to a place where we could then put it into production. We are ceasing development on this project.”
John: Why would a studio decide to stop?
Craig: Well, all sorts of reasons. The most obvious is that they realize the futility of the effort. [laughs] After a bunch of tries, they all look at each other and go, “Does anybody still like this?” I mean, sometimes people buy things and they think, “Well, the idea is good. We don’t like the script. Let’s develop and now it’ll get good.” It never does.
Craig: Very frequently what happens is that there is a change in leadership at the studio. People are fired or quit. New people come in. They look at the development slate and they go, “What’s that?” And someone says, “Oh, yeah, we’ve spent $4 million trying to make that into a movie.” “Well, stop. It’s stupid. I hate it.” The project is now in turnaround.
John: What kinds of projects can go into turnaround? Is it anything that a studio is developing or only very specific kinds of projects?
Craig: Every single thing they’re developing can be put into turnaround. There are things that are more likely than others to be put in turnaround.
John: But let’s not conflate the idea of letting the option on a book lapse is not the same thing as turnaround. So in general, something that gets put into turnaround is something that the studio owns out right and entirely. So it could be a spec script that they purchased. It could be a book that they purchased. They didn’t just option it. They actually purchased it. They bought out all the rights to it. They own it and control it. So it’s not that they have a ticking clock on it. They really are done.
So, a lot of the work that I end up doing, working on is adaptations of books. And so there are some of those movies that haven’t been made. But those projects that I’ve written can’t go into turnaround really because they’ve left the options on those underlying books lapse. Or there’s some fundamental rights that are not associated directly with my script that a person would also have to buy. And so those things don’t tend to go into turnaround.
Craig: Yeah, essentially what happens is when they let rights cycles lapse, that is the ultimate proof of turnaround. Essentially, they’re saying, “We have a renewal fee coming up. Do we want to spend money to renew this or should we just kill this thing now?” So they say, “Let’s kill it now and let the cycle lapse.” It is essentially turned around and then it goes out of rights cycle, yeah.
John: Yeah. But in general, we mean turnaround when the studio is actively letting someone else buy it. Is that what you mean for turnaround?
Craig: No, to me, a movie studio can go into turnaround on a project and that’s the last thing anyone ever hears of it. It’s a dead letter office project. They stop developing it and it goes away forever. But things can be bought out of turnaround by other studios. And that’s where it gets a little interesting.
John: Great. So talk us through how a studio can buy something out and what a screenwriter needs to know about turnaround. If she was working on a project that is now in turnaround, what does that mean for her?
Craig: At the moment, it means that the studio that hired you or purchased your spec screenplay is no longer interested in making it into a movie. They’re not going to be spending any more money on you or any other writer to keep marching towards possible production.
It doesn’t, however, mean it’s dead absolutely. It just means it’s dead there. At that time, if an agent says to you, “Hey, look, you know, maybe we can get another studio interested in getting this out of turnaround,” what they’re saying is we can get another buyer who can come to your studio and say, “We actually like this project. Can we have it? Would you sell it to us?”
And this creates an interesting situation for — let’s call them Studio A has put something into turnaround and Studio B comes along and says, “Oh, you know, actually we would take that off your hands.” The question now becomes an issue of negotiation.
Studio A, let’s say, John, they buy a script from you. It’s an original. After a year, they say to you, “You know what, we kind of want to bring in a new voice.” So then they bring in me, which is natural, of course. [laughs] Of course.
Craig: Because they are hopeful, John.
John: To pay twice as much.
Craig: Yeah. [laughs] They want this to be good. So they bring it to me, I work on it for a year and then they look at each other and say, “Wow.”
John: We made a huge mistake. I mean, Craig Mazin to rewrite the script? What were we thinking?
Craig: [laughs] Basically, both of these guys have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that neither of them know what they’re doing and this should not be a movie. Let’s put it into turnaround.
Now, you, not me, because here’s the thing, I don’t control anything there, ultimately. I don’t have anything sort of to buy. And I’ll explain why. You do. You have this first script. So your agent goes to Studio B and says, “Let’s go get it out of turnaround.” Studio B calls up Studio A and says, “Hey, you’ve spent X dollars developing this on John and Craig and you’ve gotten nowhere and you have nothing to show for it, nor will you ever. How about we take it off your hands?” And Studio A says, “Fine. Pay us what we spent on it and you could take it off our hands.”
And then Studio B goes, “Nah, I don’t think so. How about we give you half? Half is better than nothing.” And so the negotiation begins. The reason that you have to drive that and not me is because of chronology. See, my screenplay is based on yours. Your screenplay is based on nothing. You created it. If they came and they just said, “We just want Craig’s script,” the problem is that my script is useless because it’s based on your script and Studio A would still own your script.
John: Yeah. Chain of title.
Craig: Chain of title. They’ve got to go all the way back to the beginning. That’s the key one. Now, they may go back to the beginning and say, “Look, we love John’s script, we hate Craig’s script. We just want to buy John’s script out of turnaround. And we assure you, as we develop it forward from John’s script, we will not be infringing on anything that’s in Craig’s script. So we just want to buy John’s script out of turnaround.”
Sometimes they say, “We actually really like what Craig did. We want to keep going, so we want to buy both scripts out of turnaround.” That’s how it works.
John: That’s great. So when can turnaround kick in? Is there something that a screenwriter needs to be mindful of? Are there ticking clocks, are there windows?
Craig: There are, if you’re talking about reversion. But that’s a different thing than turnaround.
John: Yeah, so let’s go through both of these. And, you know, because I think when the writer was actually asking us, I think he was really looking at reversion. He was looking at a script that was lying dormant for a while.
John: So let’s draw a sharp line here between turnaround and reversion. So, turnaround is the studio said, “You know what, we’re done.” Another studio comes to it and says, “Oh, you know what, we actually would really want to do that.” And sometimes, individual writers will have in their contract specific language about that turnaround, that there would be some sort of dates and times and abilities to control. But in a general sense, it’s just a negotiation where Studio B comes to studio and says, “Hey, you know what, we actually really do want to make this movie. What would you think about that?”
Now, Craig, sometimes Studio A doesn’t want to make the movie but they don’t want Studio B to make the movie either. Let’s figure out why they wouldn’t want that to happen.
Craig: Happens all the time. It is one thing to say, “We’re making a guess that this project is not worth producing.” It’s another thing to say, “We’re making a guess that this project is not worth producing and we’re willing to let another studio prove us right.” Because they may prove you wrong and there are a lot of examples of this.
For instance, Fox had The Blind Side. They didn’t think it was worth producing. They let it go in turnaround to Alcon and Warner Bros. And Alcon and Warner Bros. went along and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Fox was wrong.
Craig: That is, it’s embarrassing and it impacts them competitively. I mean, the worst thing in the world is you put a movie out in the same week and another studio puts out a movie that you used to have but you let go in turnaround and they kick your butt. It’s a little bit like trading a pitcher to another team and then three weeks later that pitcher no hits you. It’s just a terrible feeling.
So sometimes, it’s worth it to them to just bite the bullet and say, “No one gets it because we don’t want to have our faces rubbed in this.” And they can do that if they so desire on projects that are based on underlying material.
But, interestingly, they can’t completely do that with impunity when we’re talking about an original screenplay. And this is where reversion comes in. A turnaround is something that studios do. Reversion is something a writer can do. And this is something that’s in our collective bargaining agreement.
John: So talk us through it. Talk us through what a writer has the ability to do if she has written an original screenplay or something that she’s set up off of a pitch. It was her entire idea.
Craig: So she sold a spec or she pitched something that was original, they bought it, and she’s written the first screenplay. She has originated this. That is, A, number one criteria, it must be original. If there’s underlying material, there’s no way that she would ever be able to control the rights in toto for somebody else, right? Because there would be an author out there. Okay, so that’s number one. Script must be original.
Next, she has to wait five years from either the sale of her spec or when she finishes her initial services. If she’s hired to write a draft or even if she’s hired to write two drafts, when she’s finished with that, that’s when the clock starts. She’s got to wait five years.
Five years and then on the day that five years is up, a two-year window begins. The two-year window allows her to go shop this somewhere else. But we’ve got some restrictions. And frankly, the restrictions are so odious that reversion happens extraordinarily rarely. It is unicornic, as we often say on the show.
So, restrictions. You’ve got your two years. One, the two-year window only really begins if the script is not in what they call active development. Well, what is active development? From our point of view as writers, well, are you paying another writer to work on this? From their point of view, while we’re looking for another writer, we’re having meetings with writers, we’ve attached an actor, we’re talking to directors.
It can get very fuzzy. And essentially, the studio can obliterate your effective two-year window if they really want to. If they really wanted to, they can just pay somebody scale. They can chuck 60 grand at somebody to go really slowly over two years. So, there’s that.
Let’s say they’re cool about it. They’re like, “Yeah, cool. Take your two years. You got it.” All right. You can get the script back at that point by paying the studio the money that they paid you.
John: So in my case, let’s say that I wanted to reacquire the script that you had horribly butchered and the five years have passed. So I would be able to pay them back the 100K they had paid me to write the script — so let’s say it was a pitch. So I write them a check for $100,000 and I own the script again. And I don’t have to pay the money that they paid you, right?
Craig: That’s almost right. Yes, you don’t have to pay the money that they paid me. However, you have to pay them, I believe, the money that they paid you, plus interest, I think. I think. It may just be that you have to pay them back the money they paid you. Let’s just say it is. Fine.
Craig: You give them that money. Right off the bat, that can be a problem because let’s say they bought your script for $1 million. You don’t get $1 million. You get $900,000 after your agent. Whoop, it’s down to $850,000 after lawyer. Whoop, it’s down to, let’s say, 500 grand after taxes, okay?
Craig: And that was five years ago. They need $1 million. So right off the bat, that’s an issue. Okay, that’s number one. Now, you could theoretically find a studio to back you on this, right. If a studio wanted to buy it, that’s probably the way it works. So at that point, let’s say you have a partner in line already. And they say, “Yeah, we’ll take care of it. We will pay back the money for you.” But the new purchasing studio, in the case of reversion — because remember, reversion is something that must happen if you follow the rules. It’s in our contract. It’s not something that Studio A could do, right? If you catch them the right way with the rules, they have to give it.
So, unfortunately, there are punitive things built in. Studio B, when they’re trying to get something that you’re reverting, they have to pay the original studio for all the costs to all the subsequent writers, including the pension and health that was paid on top of that, and interest on top of it.
And this becomes tough, especially if you wrote a spec screenplay and then, as is often the case, six writers came along and each of them, you know, $1 million a pop or more and there’s $8 million against the screenplay and you get the rights, you know, in your two-year window and you take it out of Disney and you bring it over to Universal and they’re like, “Well, we’d love to but it’s going to cost us $12 million just for a script. And that’s too much. We can’t do it.”
And so, unfortunately, this is why reversion is very, very rare. It’s basically saying, “You can get your script back but you have a very narrow timeline in which you can do it. And the studio you sell it to has to be full burdened of development paid for. It can’t be negotiated down.” Frankly, you’re much better off just doing a traditional turnaround process.
John: Yeah. That sounds brutal. So, very few projects do go through reversion. More projects sometimes do go through turnaround. You and I both, through our Fox deal, we have sort of special reversion rights on the things we write underneath that special Fox deal. So I think sometimes there are special cases where, you know, a screenwriter would have better terms than sort of the standard WGA deal.
John: But it’s not common. And so, the writer who’s writing to us, I think he was asking about this exact sort of reversion question. And our general answer back to him is that it’s theoretically possible. But it’s challenging. Would our advice to him be to go forthright up to the studio and say, “Hey, it’s about this five-year window and I’m just wondering because I would like to reacquire it,” or should he just wait and then suddenly spring it?
Craig: I would wait and suddenly spring it.
John: I agree.
Craig: You know how this goes. People don’t want something until they realize somebody else wants it. You know, the worst thing you could do is come to a studio and say, “Hey, look, I was thinking about maybe getting the script out of turnaround because Chris Pratt wants to be in it now.” They’re like, “What? Oh, really? Great.”
John: What? What? What?
Craig: “He could be in it for us. And please go away. We’re hiring another writer.” So, in a way, you kind of want to spring it on them. It will work best if there is not a lot of money against the project. It’s going to be very tough to get it out of there with reversion if there is a lot.
John: Yeah. That is absolutely true. The last bit of leverage that you might have is that sometimes there are relationships. And this is a relationship business. And there are cases I can think of where someone has been able to take a project from one studio to another studio when Studio A would wouldn’t make it, they got it to Studio B because you say like, “I will never work for you again unless you let me make this movie somewhere else.”
And if you are a filmmaker with enough power to do that, Studio A may say yes because they want you to be happy and they want you to be able to do things in the future. I guess my general advice in the situation is become a very powerful filmmaker and then you can have more ability to do turnaround and reversion in the way you want them to happen.
Craig: No question. I mean, let’s remember that reversion, as I’ve described it, is something that we “get” for better or worse in the minimum basic agreement. It is a right for every single writer, including the person that has just sold their first screenplay. It is not a particularly great right.
So you always have the opportunity to do better when you have leverage when you’re selling something. You can put in what they call Proceed to Production clauses where if the company does not get you to production in a certain amount of time, you automatically get things back in an easy way.
Or you’re in a position where you can say, “Look, I’m writing this for you. You don’t want to do that. Let these guys do it and I’ll do that for you.” But when you’re talking about the minimum basics, unfortunately, our reversion rights are minimum.
John: The last thing I want to ask you about, Craig, is sometimes in relationship turnaround, I’ve heard something happen about like, oh suddenly this actor became attached and therefore that canceled the turnaround.
John: What’s happening with that? What is the nature of that attachment that messed up turnaround?
Craig: Yeah, I mean, there’s a thing called no new elements where basically, when you have Proceed to Production clauses and everybody deals with this. Producers deal with this, writers, directors, everybody. When you have any kind of contractual arrangement where you’re saying, “Look, if you don’t get me to production in a certain amount of time, I get to leave with this.” Or if you have a deal where it’s like, “Oh, I have a first look for you, right? I have a first look. You get to look at it once. If you pass, I get to take it somewhere else.”
A lot of times, you’ll see a no new elements clause which basically says, “Hey, when we say we don’t want it, we say we don’t want it as you’re showing it to us. But if you add a new element to that, like attaching a big actor or attaching a big director, that’s not the same thing you showed us. We get to have that now or at least we get a chance to say no to that.” And that’s only fair. Let’s say you spend a whole bunch of money to give somebody a bungalow and a production deal and all the overhead and the whole deal is but you bring us stuff first, and they bring you a script but they don’t really want to do it with you, so like, “Yeah, here’s the script and we don’t have anybody attached.” They’re like, “Um, no.” “Okay, thanks.” And then a week later you realize, you read that they have sold it to a different studio with Chris Pratt attached, “Come on, guys. It doesn’t work that way.”
So when they add a new element, or you add a new element, you got to realize you’re kind of resetting the clock.
John: Absolutely true. Great. So let’s get to some questions that were left over from our live show and talk through as many of them as we can. Jenny Shelton asked, “Can you talk about the difference between selling a screenplay versus selling a series? And if a new writer has sold a spec pilot, would that guarantee them a spot in the writer’s room?”
So Aline was on the show, so we were talking a lot about television on that episode. But I could talk about sort of selling a pilot because I’ve done that. And you’ve done that now, too.
John: So, selling a screenplay, let’s say you’re a new writer and you sell a screenplay. You are going to be sticking around for minimum of one new draft, Craig. What is the guarantee for new writers selling a spec screenplay?
Craig: The minimum?
Craig: You are guaranteed the first employed draft, essentially.
John: Great. So you will have a purchase price for that screenplay and they will also have to pay you Writers Guild minimum at least to do a rewrite of that draft. But there’s no guarantee that you’re going to continue on with that project after that.
In series land, there’s probably some WGA minimums there. I don’t know what they are. But I’ll tell you, in practice, if you are a new writer coming in without a lot of experience and you are writing a spec TV show, which didn’t use to be that common but now sometimes are more common. Well, they will just buy or read a script and say, “Oh, maybe we’ll try to make this.”
The very first thing they’re going to do is partner you up with an experienced showrunner. And, hopefully, the two of you together will figure out how to make this into a series and how to do all these things. You will, yes, be in the room for that show. You’re going to have some role in it. And as long as you prove yourself to be invaluable to it, you will have a function on that show. If you do not prove yourself to be invaluable, they will find a way to not have you be part of the show.
Craig: Unfortunately, that is true.
John: That is true. So, creatively, I mean, there’ll be contractual language, so you’ll still get paid for some things. But they will try to find a way to not have you be around because you are a drag on their vision for what the show should be.
Craig: Yeah, it’s not like they default to getting rid of the new guy. I mean, it’s not that. It’s just that what they default to is getting rid of somebody that they think is going to be disruptive or counterproductive to the production of the show, which is really hard. And the last thing you can really survive is any kind of toxic presence, particularly in the position of authority. So, yeah, you know, if you’re useful and essential —
John: I was fired off.
Craig: You were fired.
John: Yeah, I was fired off of my TV show.
Craig: Yeah. You were obviously a toxic. You were toxic.
John: I was toxic.
Craig: Toxic. You were toxic. [laughs]
John: Ugh. Steve Betters writes, “With regards to getting an agent, which is better, a really good script, a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 or 3/8? Is there a difference to that answer going for a writer’s assistant job?”
Craig: Too much calculation here, Steve. I wouldn’t worry about that. Who knows? You know, the whole thing about these numbers, the rankings, this is one thing where I think The Black List has caused trouble is The Black List and their system of 1 to 10 has started to codify what these numbers mean. They don’t mean anything at all. A really good script, a 9 let’s say, one really good script, a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, whose 9? Whose 9 is that?
Craig: And three scripts that are 8s, whose 8s? I don’t know what any of that means. This is normal to want to find some predictability and certainty. In a business like this, I must tell you, there’s none. There’s none. You just got to write as well as you can. You can’t write better than you can write. Try and get better as you go. But where you are right now, that’s as good as you can be and that’s as good as you can be.
John: To try to do this without the numbers, let’s do some adjectives rather than numbers. I think to rephrase his question of like would an agent rather have a writer who has written one spectacular script and nothing else or a writer who has written three really good scripts?
I maybe would side with the three really good scripts, only in the sense that you want to know that this person can write multiple things. This person is a workhorse. These are all things that are very exciting for an agent. But honestly, both those situations are probably people that an agent would be interested in.
As far as a writers’ assistant, I’ve never read anything that my assistants have come in — I’ve never read their samples. I’ve never read their screenplay material. So I don’t know that that’s necessarily a huge goal of yours to write an amazing sample to try to get a job as a writer’s assistant because you’re often not being read. You’re basically like, “Hey, you seem like a confident person who’s not going to screw up my life.” That is one of the fundamental characteristics of a great writer’s assistant.
Craig: Is that the way it works for the television writer’s assistants, you know, when they work in the room?
John: You know, I think sometimes they are read like in a staffing kind of way. But my inkling is that in many situations, they’re not really being read as writers. They’re being, you know, hired for — this person seems like a competent person to take the order from Tender Greens and not screw things up.
Craig: Ah, I couldn’t do that.
John: Yeah. I could never do that. And the fact that they end up becoming a good writer and that they have good ideas in the room is what gets a co-EP to read heir script and say, “Oh my gosh she can actually write.”
John: And that hopefully gets them the freelance episode on one of the shows.
John: Wayward writes, “Say, you’re bogged down in a script, around the rocky shoals.” This is an Aline Brosh McKenna term. She’s talking about pages 60 to 80, sort of like post middle, before you get into the third act. “Maybe things aren’t coming to you as fluidly as they were on the pages before, what are some good ways to evaluate whether or not you should put your head down and push through or take a step back and reevaluate the decisions you made up to that point?” Craig, what’s your advice as you’re getting stuck there?
Craig: I think you should probably consider doing both. I mean, you certainly want to go back, read from the start again and ask yourself where your plan might have gone awry. Hopefully, you had a plan. And maybe think to yourself that perhaps you are projecting the end of your script a little further away than it actually was.
What I notice is that a lot of people who run into the rocky shoals between 60 and 80 end up with a 128-page script and think, “Oh actually, I really think this is reading long. I probably should just move things up.”
Craig: Because things take longer to write than we think they’re going to take. But if you’re having trouble there, take a break. Show it to somebody that you trust, read it out loud, put it aside and come back in a week.
Or if you haven’t organized things prior to the writing, this would be the time to sit down and start making index cards and really ask yourself what needs to happen to get me from here to here and what would be the most interesting way to do that.
John: I think long-term listeners will know exactly what my advice will be, which is to skip ahead and write the third act stuff that you know because my hunch is that you have a really good sense of what’s happening later on. You’re just stuck in this one little moment. Write that stuff that you do know later on. Just don’t forget about sort of like what’s going to go in that middle part.
By the time you’ve gotten through that stuff, you’ll have some clarity about what needed to happen to get you to that moment. And what Craig’s realization of like, “Oh man, maybe I didn’t need all that stuff,” will probably become very clear once you’ve written that later stuff. That’s just my way of doing it.
Craig: I’m with you. Here, I’ll read one, if you’d like. This is from Rebecca. She says, “Army wife here. I’m happy with the idea of moving to LA to work my butt off. And my husband is very supportive of my writing. But the army thing, down with the Ryan Knighton version of doing things, I’m just wondering if you have any other suggestions for me. Are their entry type jobs like long-distance reading, et cetera, that might be possible for a gal like me? Not so delusional to think I can just write a spec and break in from wherever the army takes us. Also, want to be realistic and mature. If it’s not meant for me now, then it’s not.”
What do you have to say to Rebecca?
John: I love Rebecca.
Craig: She’s cool.
John: Rebecca is the best.
Craig: What I love about Rebecca mostly is that she drops the subjects of sentences. I love that.
Craig: I do that all the time.
John: She’s writing like she’s writing action lines.
John: You know, like a clipped scene.
Craig: It’s exciting.
John: Yeah, I love Rebecca because she is both optimistic and realistic simultaneously which is such a difficult quality to pull off. So, yes, as an army wife, you are probably going to travel around a lot. Los Angeles may not be the easiest place for you to get to. I would say that she should write, write, write wherever she is and build up a war chest of maybe three good screenplays and then look at whether it’s going to be realistic for her to come out to Los Angeles for a period of time and really make a run at this.
And whether their family — I don’t know if they have kids, sort of what their situation is, but there might be a realistic situation where she’s out here for six months trying to figure out this thing and see if it’s really going to be possible for her and see if it will work.
She won’t know until she tries. And I think it’s worth maybe trying.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s easier now than it’s ever been before. So one thing Rebecca could consider is just dipping your toe in by writing a script and sending it off to a place like The Black List, not because the numbers are determinative of anything. But at least, they can give you a general idea, am I way off base here? Am I the guy who goes on American Idol and gets laughed at? Am I the woman who goes on American Idol and they’re like, you’re good, you’re just not great? Or am I the person who goes on and they go, wow, you could actually win this thing?
Generally, find out what general bubble you’re in and then make some choices based on that because the last thing you want to do is uproot your life over something that probably just is never going to happen or won’t make you happy while you’re trying to make it happen. So get some like — I would say start there, by getting some very broad evaluations of your work, just so you have a sense of like where am I exactly in this whole thing?
John: And I’d also say that screenwriting is one of the few kinds of writing that is so location-dependent. Anything else you want to write, you could kind of write from anywhere. And so if there’s another kind of thing you want to write, if you want to write short stories, you want to write novels, if you want to write plays, honestly, all of that stuff happens everywhere. Screenplays and television, it’s just one of those rare things that is so specific to Los Angeles and to some degree New York, a little bit to Austin. It’s just not as realistic to do at other places.
So if there’s another kind of writing that you also like, try that other kind of writing.
Craig: Yeah. Agreed.
John: Kevin writes, “Random question. In Hangover III, one of the great jokes in my humble opinion is ‘Nobody eats four marshmallows, Stu!’
Craig: Nobody eats four marshmallows, Stu! [laughs]
John: This joke is in theory is set up in Hangover II, but could have been reverse engineered after the fact. What is the genesis of this joke, Craig Mazin?
Craig: I am the genesis of this joke. [laughs] Well, it wasn’t reverse engineered. It was forward engineered. So in Hangover II, Alan — oh, spoiler alert — Alan drugs his friends. He’s just trying to drug Stu’s fiancee’s brother with some chloroform-laced marshmallows. Well, I don’t know, I can’t even remember what he puts in the marshmallows, but we started with chloroform. And unfortunately, everybody eats the marshmallows and they all get drugged.
And so in Hangover III, we had a scene where the guys were on their way to Tijuana to meet up with Mr. Chow and we needed just like a bridging scene there and we had written one and we got out there and we were shooting it. And, you know, shooting scenes in cars is the worst. I mean we had the guys actually in a car. And we were in the chase car and all the process truck.
It just was not working. The scene was just deadly. I can’t even remember what it was. All I know is that — so after about few takes, Todd said, “All right. We’re not — this is never going to be in the movie. We got to figure something else out.” And so I did a first draft of another scene that we ended up then shooting in like a green screen car which I got to say, shooting green screen in cars now is great. It really — I mean for a simple discussion in car — I mean, for a cool car scene, no, but for a simple car discussion, it’s pretty great. It’s so much easier anyway.
And in that scene, they’re talking about how they’re going to get Mr. Chow and Alan suggests that he can drug Mr. Chow. He’s drugged lots of people before and Stu says, “Yeah, us. You almost killed us.” And Alan says, “No, that’s ridiculous. I set it so that you could eat at least three marshmallows before you would die.” [laughs] And Stu’s like, “What are you saying? That if we had eaten four marshmallows, we would have died?” And Alan says, “Nobody eats four marshmallows, Stu.”
I just love that Alan’s logic was such that he thought it through. And he’s like, “Yeah, no one’s going to ever eat four marshmallows. That was it. And that’s why —
John: It’s not a possible thing.
Craig: That’s why Stu is alive because — and by the way, here’s the crazy thing. Alan was right. Nobody eats four marshmallows. Nobody.
John: I’ve eaten four marshmallows in my life.
Craig: Yeah. You should be dead.
John: Adam Alterberg writes, “What are some tips for writing for production? Does the tone change when you’re doing rewrites day after day?” I’ll take the first crack at this. I would say yes. If you’re like literally writing the stuff that is being shot tomorrow, you might find yourself being a little less artful in the scene description and little bit more pragmatic to exactly what’s happening.
I do find that I’m a little less precious about my clauses and sort of how things are going to play in the non-dialogue lines because I’m just trying to get it to be as clear as possible and specific so that everyone and every department knows exactly what needs to happen.
Craig, have you found any change in what your writing feels like when you’re writing for production?
Craig: Yes, I think that is generally far more compact. It’s concise. And when you are writing during production, you are, well, you should be informed by what you’ve been watching. You’re starting to pick up on certain rhythms. You’re starting to see which actors do better with which material. You’re starting to see which ones are more fun when they’re talking and which ones are more fun when they’re not. And you’re writing to everyone’s strengths. And you’re also writing within the tone of what seems to be sticking out as good and away from stuff that maybe just wasn’t working.
I mean, production is going to reveal things about your screenplay. Nobody gets everything right, so your job is to notice what is right? And then write towards that. This is why very frequently the stuff that you write during production has a much higher rate of inclusion in the final movie because it’s informed.
John: There will be some times where, in the scene descriptions, like not angry at all dash dash because like you see that one actor is going just nutso in a place and you need to sort of rein that back. In the live show, we talked about writing with locked pages. And so you’re trying not to force page breaks because then it becomes an extra page. And so sometimes I will write the shortest sentence imaginable so it doesn’t break in to two lines, so you try to get things together. It’s not nearly so pretty.
And the funny thing is sometimes when they send out the Academy For Your Consideration scripts, you can sort of tell like which scenes were like the pristine sort of like, oh, the literary scenes like where everything is beautiful and like which were just like the nuts and bolts for productions scenes. You can sort of tell a shift in how that scene description is written.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean you start to lose all of the fufara, the fufara.
John: Yeah, it starts as poetry and becomes —
John: Much less.
Craig: Much less. Amy, is this your daughter or a different Amy?
John: It’s not my daughter. It is some other, Amy. There’s apparently multiple Amy’s in the world.
Craig: Who knew? Amy writes, “Is an unknown writer better off writing ‘high concept’ specs, that is to say inherently big budget, or should I write an indie drama with a limited budget.” There’s a lot of presumptions in that question. [laughs]
John: [laughs] I think most of our listeners know, our standard advice here is you should write the script that is the best script you can possibly write and the script that could actually get made. And both the high concept and the indie script have a chance of getting made if they’re the right kind of thing.
But if you are a person who should be writing big things, then write the big thing. If you are person who should be writing the small thing, you should write the small thing. If you don’t know what kind of writer you really are and what’s really interesting to you, pick one and write it and let’s see what happens.
John: Craig, what’s your thoughts?
Craig: I completely agree that we have lots of examples of people breaking in with big, big action adventure, tent pole kind of movies. We also have a plenty of examples of people doing the opposite and writing very small independent films and breaking in that way. And you have to write what you’re good at. Nobody wants Diablo Cody’s tent pole action movie. I don’t think Diablo Cody wants Diablo Cody’s tent pole action movie. It’s just not what interests her creatively, at least not to this point.
Similarly speaking, I’m not sure that I would want and I’m trying to think of like a big tent pole-y kind of guy. Like I don’t want their tiny little movies.
John: Simon Kinberg.
John: Let’s think about Simon Kinberg.
Craig: I don’t want Simon Kinberg’s My Dinner with Andre. I just don’t. I want Simon to do what Simon does. I will challenge this, though. High concept does not mean inherently big budget. There are a lot of tiny movies that are very high concept. High concept just means that there’s a big hooky idea at the heart of the script. And you can have a very small movie with a big hooky idea in it.
John: I agree. Juan writes, “I’m currently pursuing a BFA in film production at Emerson College. I’m also having a quarter life crisis because I have no idea what I’m going to do once I graduate. What are your thoughts in pursuing a collegiate film education versus diving into the industry head on?”
Craig: First of all —
John: We’ve talked about this before, but —
Craig: I mean —
Craig: He says he’s having a quarter life crisis, but that presumes he’s going to make it to 80. We don’t know Juan. [laughs] This could be mid life.
Craig: Think about it. This could be end life.
John: You could be dead tomorrow, Juan.
Craig: Exactly. You may not be alive right now.
John: You may eat your fourth marshmallow and this is all for none.
Craig: Nobody eats four marshmallows, John.
John: Oh, true.
Craig: I kind of love the way Zach said that. He was like righteously indignant. [laughs] Like how dare you say something that stupid? Look, my personal feeling if you are asking, and you are, is dive in. I believe in diving in. I think that if you have the money and the luxury and the time and you have been accepted to one of the very few prestigious film schools like UCLA or USC or NYU. I don’t even know if UCLA counts, USC or NYU, then sure, it’s something absolutely to consider. You will meet a lot of people. John went there and met a lot of people.
But on the other hand, it is absolutely not necessary. Scott Frank, I think, went to UC Santa Barbara. I’m not even sure he went to graduate school there. I didn’t go to film school. I don’t think Ted Griffin went to film school. I don’t think John Gatins went to film school. Alec Berg didn’t go to film school. I’m just running down a list of friends that just didn’t go, you know.
Craig: And we just dove in. So I would say, consider it a luxury. And if you have the money and the time, go for it. If you’re ready to go now and you’re more of a dive-in, let’s just do this, I learn better by doing guy, then dive in.
John: I largely agree with Craig. I did go to film school and it was hugely valuable to me. And I don’t think I would have the same career perspective if I hadn’t gone through film school. I just, I wasn’t ready to dive in, but film school was a great place for me to start.
I’m a little concerned for Juan that he feels, you know, finishing up his BFA and whatever is happening at Emerson isn’t giving him the confidence to say, “I know what’s next. I know what my steps are.” Well, that’s something you should be getting out of film school. You should be hopefully making friends and contacts with people who you want to be working with for the next 15 years and be excited about making movies.
And if film school is not making you excited about making movies, then something is wrong. So I can’t fix everything. But that’s my punch.
Craig: I just don’t think that anybody taking an undergraduate course in film production anywhere is going to get that kind of thing. I mean you, like you and Rian, I believe Rian went to USC as well, right? Rian Johnson. So you guys went to — this is a, you know, premier film school and it is supported by extraordinary alumni like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and others. And the people that you meet there are the cream of the crop and they will be in the movie business. They may be in the movie business hiring you. I mean they have a whole production, you know, a whole system for that.
Emerson College is a perfectly fine school, but I can’t imagine that a BFA in film production from Emerson College is going to put you in touch with a lot of people that will ultimately end up in Hollywood nor I am surprised that you seem puzzled as what to do.
This is the problem with higher education right now anyway. A lot of what passes for so called film studies in undergraduate education is really about film criticism. And it’s not about filmmaking. And you may have found some filmmaking there, I hope you did. There is no substitute for actual filmmaking.
People are different. Like John said something interesting. He wasn’t ready. And that’s important to know. And if you don’t feel ready, find your way to kind of — that channel that will prepare you. If you do feel ready, if you’re impatient — I was born impatient — then honor that and get in there. Get your hands dirty.
John: And I recognize as you were talking there that I misread and I was — for some reason thought he was an MFA rather than a BFA. So he’s an undergrad and as an undergrad, he asks, you know what, it’s kind of actually totally natural to not know what’s next and what’s happening. So I was sort of slamming Emerson for not helping you out as an MFA, but, no, as a BFA, you’re supposed to be a little bit lost in the weeds now. That’s just part of your nature and your life.
And so if you feel like you need more structure getting started, moving out to LA and going to a film school would be great. Moving out to LA and being the person who is scrambling would also be great. So just know which kind of person you are.
John: Do you want to take the last one here, Craig?
Craig: Sure, the last is from Crowe Sensei. “In episode 82” — oh, come on. That’s not fair. “Craig said,” like I would remember, “Craig said, he would be willing to read the entire script of The Answerer by Ben W. after reading his Three Page Challenge. Did Ben W ever send it in and did Craig read it?”
Yes. Now, I’m going from memory here because this is years ago, but I believe, yes, Ben W. did send me the whole thing. Yes, I read it. Yes, I liked it. And in fact, as I recall, I actually did send it along to a friend who worked at a, well, let’s just say a very prestigious animation studio, because it was intended to be animation, I believe. Or even if it wasn’t, it seemed appropriate for that medium.
So I actually did a nice thing. That’s how I remember it. That’s how I remember it, by the way. [laughs]
John: But I kind of remember that, too. I remember you talking about this on the previous episode that you did actually follow up with him and you did forward it on. So my recollection of it was the same as what you’ve just said, which means it probably actually happened.
Craig: How could we both be wrong?
John: That’s not possible.
Craig: Not possible.
John: Nobody eats four marshmallows.
Craig: No. Nobody eats four marshmallows, John.
John: Craig, talk to us about One Cool Thing.
Craig: Okay. So my One Cool Thing was featured at E3. By the way, I went to E3 for a day.
John: Oh my God, Craig, you went to E3? That sounds amazing.
Craig: It was —
John: Was it a zoo?
Craig: Yeah, it was a zoo, but it was a great zoo. It was like a zoo of — I mean, you know, there was a lot of fedora wearing, very cool stuff there. Just a general trend, virtual headsets everywhere. Everywhere. Everyone’s making them.
But Microsoft in conjunction with the Minecraft people demonstrated this thing. I didn’t see this live, but there is a video of it and we’ll put it in the show notes. It’s pretty startling. So they’re using this new technology from Microsoft called the Microsoft HoloLens. Have you seen this thingy?
John: I have. So it looks like a visor that’s in front of you, but you’ll actually be able to see through it and at the same, they’re projecting image into the lens you’re looking through.
Craig: Yeah. So essentially, it’s putting virtual things in your environment that you can see and they’re of remarkable quality, actually. And they were demonstrating how you can use this with say a game like Minecraft where you have a table set up and the HoloLens understands that this table is specifically key to what it’s creating and you can start to just through voice commands create an entire structure in Minecraft in front of you, in real space, right there that you can see and you can manipulate it. And by moving your head into it, you can see inside it.
It’s kind of remarkable. In looking at this stuff, you start to realize, we are on the verge of some awesome stuff, I mean truly awesome, mind-blowing stuff that’s going to change the way we interact with that world around us.
That said, apparently, the demo for this thing was kind of goosed to be maybe a little bit better than you might be able to get now. I mean I don’t know even know if the HoloLens is specifically available yet. But from what I understand, there are some field of view issues with this thing. It doesn’t quite work the way you want it to work yet. But as a general proof of concept, it’s astonishing, just astonishing.
And the applications are — I mean, just absurd when you think of the things that you can do once they nail this stuff down. It’s going to be pretty amazing. And I would imagine, John, when you and I are 60 years old, the way that we now all walk down the streets staring at our little phone. We’re all going to be walking down the street wearing these stupid goggles and just seeing what we want to see. I mean just seeing an entirely different world. It’s going to be bananas.
John: Yeah, it’s going to be crazy. The same way that I can’t do any work or walk any place without like a podcast in my ears. I will want to have my own reality projected in front of me so I don’t need to see everything that’s horrible around me. So there’s a whole troubling Black Mirror episode that could probably be written about just that.
But we’ll have a video for this demonstration in the show notes because my daughter saw the same video that you linked to. And she squealed like three times.
Craig: It’s squealable, yeah.
John: It is incredible.
Craig: Yeah, way, way cool.
John: Yeah. My One Cool Thing is Jonathan Mann who is a very talented songwriter, composer. He’s mostly known for Song a Day. And so in the sort of nerdy podcast world, he’s certainly well-known. He started listening to the show. And he tweeted that he loves the show. And he also tweeted a link to a video he made called Some Guy and it’s very much related to a conversation we had had where so often in the headlines or even in the stories about the things we write, we’re just referred to as, you know, it’s as if the movie suddenly happened, it was written by Some Guy.
John: And Jonathan Mann has a very funny song called Some Guy which is about this very concept. So we will use that as the outro for this week’s episode, so you can take a listen to that as well.
Craig: That’s awesome. Well, thank you, Jonathan. That’s really cool. And we’re glad to have you as listener.
John: So that is our show for this week. If you would like to send us a question, like one of the questions we answered today, short ones are great on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Our email address is ask@johnaugust and that’s where you can send those longer questions to us. It’s also where, if you have an outro, that you would like to put on the show, something that uses the [hums] intro, send it there. Send us a link to that and we’ll use it in a future episode, perhaps.
We are on iTunes. So go to iTunes please and subscribe. If you’re listening to this on the website where the show notes are, that’s fantastic. Also really helpful, though, if you do subscribe and leave us a comment to let us know that you enjoy the show, hopefully.
We have an app in the App Store. It is called Scriptnotes. It’s for listening to all the back episodes, way back to episode one and all the bonus episodes as well. You can find that in the app store for iOS and for Android. And that’s our show. So Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: And have a great week.
- Scriptnotes 202, in which we discuss FAST Screenplay
- Scriptnotes 183: The Deal with the Gravity Lawsuit, and follow up from Scriptnotes 186
- The Gerritsen Ruling, in its entirety
- Turnaround on Wikipedia
- The 200th Episode Live Show
- “Nobody eats four marshmallows” from The Hangover 3
- Scriptnotes 82, featuring Ben W’s Three Pages
- Minecraft Hololens demo at E3
- The “Some Guy” Anthem, by Jonathan Mann
- Outro by Jonathan Mann (send us yours!)