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

So, Craig, as you know, I’m watching these two dogs for this summer and really enjoying it. I’m enjoying my life as a dog sitter. But as I was putting them to bed last night, I had a sudden flash of this one dog, who’s 12 years old. She’s, you know, she’s the Maggie Smith of these two dogs. She’s older, the dame —

Craig: The dame. The Dame Maggie Smith of dogs.

John: And so, while I want her to live another 20 years, that is just not just likely, and so she is at the — nearing twilight of her life. And I suddenly had this horrifying thought, like, what if people only lived as long as dogs? And whether society could even exist if humans did not live as long as they live?

Craig: I think so. It would look very different.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: There would be so much more sex.

John: Oh, yeah, it would have to be.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Well, except you would have sex with teenagers though.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s all weird.

Craig: Oh, oh, is that…

John: I guess, what I’m postulating is, what if humans developed as quickly as dogs do so they could actually, like, you know, that a four-year-old could do something useful and productive. But would you actually have society if people only live such a short period of time?

Craig: I think so. I think so — I mean, look, we’re the weird ones in the animal kingdom, you know. I mean, most four-year-old animals are perfectly capable of doing everything that animals must do. We’re born stupid because we have to be born too early because of our huge heads.

John: That said, you know, we are the weird ones, but we’re also the only ones who developed speech and culture and the ability to build cities and roads and do all sorts of other things. So I wonder if the other postulate would be, if we could live twice as long or three times as long, would society be vastly different?

Craig: It would be crankier, the driving would go downhill, just the overall quality of driving. I wouldn’t go anywhere near a farmer’s market, I’ll tell you that much.

John: Yeah, there would be so many slow shuffles

Craig: Oh, God. Just, you know, it would get — I think we’re in a decent spot now. They keep telling us that sooner or later, they’ll be able to take our brains and put them in a computer and we’ll live forever. Here’s my question for you, John. This is what keeps me up at night.

John: All right. I want to hear.

Craig: All right. So the brain is a big network of neurons, and though we can’t do it now, it’s — at least, let’s stipulate that one day it will be possible to take a scan of your brain, see every neuron, analyze every connection and then replicate it technologically.

John: I would agree.

Craig: Okay, fine. Stipulating that, what happens when I take you, copy your brain, put it in the computer and then I turn it on while you’re still alive.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s two of you now.

John: Well, you’ve made the world significantly better.

Craig: But here’s my question, which one is you? Is the computer you? Are you you? You don’t see through the computer’s eyes at the same time, so there’s two you. So, if I kill you — you, you, you’re dead. But then this other you is alive, so are you still alive?

John: Oh, no. You certainly committed a murder because you killed a human being. I think the other interesting question is, if you turned off that computer, did you — is that the same kind of murder as murdering a living, breathing human being?

Craig: But even putting aside murder, you don’t really live forever in that circumstance. What happens is your clone lives forever. But you, you, with the experience that you have, you’re going to die.

John: Yeah. You know, you’re fundamentally asking the question of, is a person the body and the organs and the everything else, or is the person the processes — is the person the hardware or the software? And that is a question that has been wrestled with by philosophers even before there was a real distinction between hardware and software.

Craig: Well, especially because the brain is both. You know, the brain is hardware-software. So I wonder about that. To me, really, what I’m hoping for here is that they figure out a way to take my brain and keep my brain alive forever because that’s me.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So then I’m good. I’m covered.

John: All right. In the first two minutes of this podcast, we’ve outlaid a number of premises for a sci-fi movies that Hollywood won’t make. But we can talk through the day’s work ahead of us, which is, the question is, is Hollywood making too many movies overall? What does Apple music mean for screenwriters? And we will also take a quick run-through a screenwriter’s job from pitch to premier. Those are big topics for today’s show.

But before we get to it, we have exciting news. So way back in Episode — I don’t know — 201, we asked our listeners whether — if we had a USB drive that had all of the episodes of Scriptnotes, all 200 episodes, plus the bonus episodes, would they want to buy such a mythical USB drive? And people said in a loud chorus, yes. So we are making those USB drives and we will be shipping them starting next week.

So if people would like to buy a USB drive with all the episodes of Scriptnotes and all the Three Page Challenges and all the other supplementary things, The Dirty Show with Rebel Wilson and Dan Savage, they can do so now. So it’s at

Craig: And would you say that’s like a $70,000 value?

John: It is — probably, you know, as we’ve gone through the ways that people could spend their money on screenwriting, I think it’s a pretty good bargain at $20.

Craig: I think it’s a great bargain at $20, yes.

John: But, Craig — I mean, do you want to offer any incentive to our long-time listeners? Is there anything we’d want to make sure that the people who actually listened to the show, who listened through our two minutes of philosophical ponderings about death and immortality —

Craig: Yeah.

John: Should we cut them a break? Should we give them a discount?

Craig: I hate discounts, but yes.

John: All right. So you can pick whatever words you would like and that can be the word that they can type in for a discount because we haven’t set this yet, so it’s your — it’s up to you, Craig.

Craig: I’m going to go with “singularity.”

John: Wow, that’s a challenging word but I like it. “Singularity”. So at checkout, if you type in the word “singularity” in a special little promo code box field, you can save 10%, so —

Craig: That’s $2. Totally worth it.

John: Totally worth it. That basically covers your shipping. So shipping in the US is like $2.79.

Craig: “Singularity” has saved you money.

John: Singularity has saved your money. Yes, so they’re brand new. If you bought the 100 episode one way back when, you’ll recognize it’s a similar kind of thing. So this one is white, it has our signatures on it, so, yeah.

Craig: Have we discontinued the confederate flag USB drive?

John: You know what? It was a controversial choice and it was really a lot of hemming and hawing, but no, we’re no longer selling the confederate flag USB drive that we never sold.

Craig: I’m disgusted. We’ve bowed to pressure, outside pressure. We had a tradition, sir. [laughs]

John: Yes, we had a tradition of not doing something and we’re going to continue not doing something.

Craig: Confederate flag, come on.

John: Oh, it’s madness

Craig: I know. That’s on our other podcast.

John: [laughs] Indeed. The old timey racism podcast.

Craig: Exactly.

John: Good stuff.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, we have a lot to follow up on this week, and you wanted to start off with something about reversion, which is a topic we covered in last week’s episode.

Craig: Yeah, we got a nice comment in from a writer out there whose lawyer had, I guess, reviewed what we said and added one factor that I had forgotten about, and it’s absolutely true. We talked about if you write an original screenplay, you have the chance to get the rights back. It’s involved, you got to pay them the money they paid you and all that.

But the timeline was such that five years after the sale or the completion of your first employment on the project, you have this window. And it was basically a two-year window to get the rights back and set up somewhere else. And the little part that I forgot was that that two-year window has to happen within a five-year window. So you have these two years, but five years after the window begins, it shuts and you lose reversion possibility, I think permanently.

John: All right. So in my head, I’m trying to visualize this. And so what I see is a gray bar, and then after that gray bar that was five years long, and there’s an equally sized gray bar, equal size but like maybe a lighter gray bar, and within that lighter gray bar there’s like a red two-year slider that — it has to fall within that two-year slider within that five years. This is why movies are so rarely reverting to the original writers.

Craig: Yeah. You’ve got a very limited window. But the truth is, I wish that this were the worst part of it, but it’s not. The financials, the fact that the purchasing company has to pay back interest on all the development fees that the first studio paid. Those are the things that really make it very difficult. But the timeline is tough. I mean, look, the truth is, practically, if you haven’t figured out how to get the reversion rights back within, you know, two or three years of the window opening, it’s never going to happen anyway, so.

John: Yeah, I agree with you. What’s interesting to me is that the point at which the writer had the most leverage to try to negotiate better reversion terms is also the moment which he or she was not likely to push for them. So that moment at which you’re selling this project for the very first time, that was the moment where you could have pushed for really strong reversion rights. But you’re also pushing for a lot of other things, and mostly, you’re pushing for upfront money which is a very reasonable thing to be asking for. And paradoxically, that upfront money that you’re getting is money that would have to be paid back. There’s a whole bunch of other reasons why studios don’t want to pay both a lot of money and make it very easy for you to get the script back.

Craig: Yeah, it’s true. And there’s also psychologically a little bit of a problem when a studio says, “We want to buy your screenplay,” and you start negotiating with them and one of your big points is, “Now, when this doesn’t work, can I blank, blank, blank?” Just psychologically it’s a little harder to do that and to be really aggressive about it. Everybody on the other side starts thinking, “Why are you so concerned about this failing?” So it’s a tough one, but, yeah.

John: Craig, something that occurs to me, which we didn’t really get into in last week’s episode, was what happens when a studio goes bankrupt? So let’s say you sold this to a production company that no longer exists.

Craig: Right.

John: Those assets could theoretically be purchased by another studio or — is are there sort of fire sales on intellectual property? What have you seen?

Craig: Yes, that’s exactly what happens. Basically, if a company that — and let’s presume it’s a WGA Signatory, because otherwise it doesn’t really matter. A WGA Signatory that owns screenplays goes under, they are either bought by another company in whole or they begin to sell off their assets. The WGA — the minimum basic agreement has many, many, many pages dedicated to assumption agreements.

You’re assuming certain rights when you buy things that have WGA stuff, but it’s very complicated. It’s very complicated and it does come up. You know, I’ve never worked for anyone other than the big studios, so I’ve never worried about it. But interestingly, I had like a weird thing happen when — back when we were doing the Scary Movies.

When we started them, Miramax was owned by Disney. By the time we finished the second one, I think, they had gone off on their own. And when they split, Disney and Miramax kind of decided they would share custody of the Scary Movies stuff as part of the divorce agreement. So we had two employers there at one point. It gets complicated. But honestly, if I talked about assumption agreements, I would be way out on a limb. That is advanced lawyer stuff.

John: Absolutely. And part of the reason why assumption agreements are so important is that, sometimes these companies are bought and sold, but the movies that actually were produced, somebody has to be responsible for continuing to pay the money that is owed to those writers for residuals and everything else. So it becomes an important part of our contract.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, it’s like, if you buy a company and they’re selling you things that have liens on them essentially, so, I go out of business, I’m a restaurant owner, I’m selling you all my kitchen equipment, but I owe a bunch of people money for that kitchen equipment. Well, when you buy it, you now owe those people money for the kitchen equipment. And it’s the same thing with movies. They’re assuming responsibility for all the residuals.

Now, there is an interesting thing that happens. There have been cases where companies have gone out of business. The assets essentially don’t get purchased and they become what we call orphan works.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Most of the orphan works are very old but there’s been a real effort between the Directors Guild and the Writers Guild to get the United States government which controls the Copyright Office to recognize screenwriters and directors as co-authors. That means copyright holders of orphaned works that had been owned by other people as part of work for hire, but those entities no longer exist. So it’s an interesting thing. In modern era, it will never happen because everybody now understands how valuable IP is.

John: Yeah. Next bit of follow up, back in Episode 201, we talked about the FIFA scandal. And we wondered aloud if it could become a movie. Craig, what is the answer?

Craig: Yes.

John: Yes, indeed. So this past week, just today as we’re recording this, it was announced that Ben Affleck will be producing a FIFA movie for Warner Bros. all about the FIFA scandal. This is the summary here. Capping off eight days in negotiations, Warner Bros. has won a bidding war for Houses of Deceit, a book by BuzzFeed investigator reporter Ken Bensinger which is being seen as a definitive account of the American FIFA exec Chuck Blazer and his role in the largest sports and public corruption scandal in history.

Craig: Yes.

John: Gavin O’Connor who recently wrapped the Affleck thriller, The Accountant, for the studio is attached to direct and will co-write the script with Anthony Tambakis. So —

Craig: Right.

John: That movie is going to be there. So we were speculating what kind of movie they would make and this doesn’t say specifically, but it gives us some hint about it. They’re focusing on Chuck Blazer who’s an American exec, which is certainly kind of reasonable to make it for an American audience. What else do we see from this summary here?

Craig: Well, in terms of the tone, it sounds like they’re approaching it the way we thought a studio would, that is head on. Not from the side as a comedy or something else, but head on. One interesting thing that they had picked up on it, that we just didn’t know, you and I just didn’t know about it, is that this guy, Chuck Blazer, I think was involved in the corruption itself. He became, as far as I can tell, I could be wrong, but he became essentially an informer.

And so what you have now is more of — their take is a little bit more like the movie The Insider.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know if you remember that movie, a really good movie. And they did say, Loretta Lynch, I guess teamed up with this guy back when she was just working at the IRS or something like that, so she has been actually tracking this. Now that’s interesting. Because if you start this character before she’s — you know, we said, “Look, the Attorney-General is too big,” and we were right, but if she’s not yet the Attorney-General and she becomes the Attorney-General towards the end of it, that’s really interesting. So an interesting version of it.

I’m kind of curious to see what the theme of it is. I’m curious to see if the theme is at all related to my thing about America finding its way towards kind of promising American justice again, or if they go a different way and there’s a whole different theme. Very interesting. But note, the movie is about two people, it’s about a relationship, it’s about one who is a soccer person and one who isn’t a soccer person. We nailed it.

John: We did.

Craig: Not that hard really. [laughs]

John: It really wasn’t that hard.

Craig: It’s kind of obvious.

John: I was curious like who they would pick as the character to focus on. And I didn’t really know about Chuck Blazer’s role in this, but it seems like a very natural fit for the kind of movie we would actually want to make.

Craig: For sure.

John: Yeah, good luck to them.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So obviously, how many movies get announced versus get made? Quite a few. But I think the people involved have a good track record of being able to make movies, so let’s hope.

Craig: Also, good object lesson for people out there who are like, “Oh my God, they stole my movie idea.” No, they didn’t. Shut up. Is there one cell in your body that’s like, “We talked about it and now they’re doing it” — even one?

John: Not a bit. Oh, God, no. No.

Craig: No, no, no. It’s ridiculous. Ridiculous. I’m now manufacturing umbrage. I’m making something up that isn’t true and then getting angry about it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know why, because it’s been too long.

John: Yeah. Now, if next week there is a Hadron Super Collider romantic comedy announced — and actually, it turns out there was, like I think David Koepp had worked on a romantic comedy many years ago, somebody like sent us a link to that. But if all three of our what-ifs became movies, then I would be a little bit suspicious. Or I would wonder whether we were not making the best use of our time. That we should have been out pitching these movies rather than describing them for free on a podcast.

Craig: Hey man. Pitching is easy. It’s the writing that sucks.

John: Yeah. We’re going to talk about that in our third topic today.

Craig: Okay.

John: The next bit of follow-up comes from Joe in Rancho Cucamonga. So in episode 194, you guys answered a question for me about how I would receive credit on an indie movie I co-wrote if I were in the WGA, and now I have another question regarding that situation. The movie did in fact go into production and wrapped a couple of weeks ago.

Craig: Congrats.

John: I was sent a copy of the shooting script and I discovered that I did in fact receive a written by credit with the director but so did another writing team. There’s really nothing I can do about it. But what I want to know is, assuming the best case scenario, once the movie gets picked up for some kind of distribution, how can I benefit from this movie?

It’s impossible for anyone watching the movie to tell what I wrote, so how will agents or managers or producers know what value I have as a writer? Am I at the mercy of whatever opportunities come to the director’s way and hope he reaches out for me again? I contributed quite a bit to this movie, and if it’s successful, I’d like to be one of the people recognized for it. I’d love your opinion on how to proceed with all of this.

Craig: Okay. Well, I’m going to make an assumption here because it’s not quite clear in the question. And the assumption is that this movie was not a WGA movie.

John: No, it was not. So flashing back to the previous episode, he wrote this thing but it was not a WGA covered movie whatsoever. So he said, you know, “What would have been different if it had been a WGA movie?”

Craig: First of all, he’s not allowed to do that. I hope he knows. Not allowed to write on non-WGA movies if you’re in the WGA, I believe, but fine.

John: Clarify more. He is a writer who has not joined the WGA.

Craig: Oh.

John: So he’s a pre-WGA member. So he wrote on this indie film that is not a WGA film. He’s not WGA. So he wrote in asking in his initial question —

Craig: Oh, if I were.

John: Yeah. “How would it be different if I had been a member of the WGA?

Craig: Well, now that we cleared all that up, I have a clear answer for Joe from Rancho Cucamonga. So what happened is they decided on their own what the credit would be. That’s what happens when it’s not a WGA film. You get a written by credit sharing with an ampersand director and then these other two who the producers have stuck their names on perhaps legitimately and who knows also as written by. So written by A ampersand B, and C ampersand D.

What you’re asking is, how am I going to be credited for this in reality inside the business? The answer is that, in my opinion, you will absolutely be lumped in with the director. If people loved the movie, they’re going to immediately want to know who the director is. They’re going to see that the director was writing with somebody. And they’re going to lump you in as the director’s writing partner.

If you want to not continue to work with that director then you have to go and make an aggressive tour to say, “Look, let me explain the narrative of how this movie came to be,” and in that narrative you are the hero. And I’m just going to presume that that’s true.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Not that people don’t occasionally tell stories that aren’t true, but presuming that’s true, you say, “Look, here’s how this actually came about and here’s what I think the reality of that movie is.” And if you talk about it in a convincing way, then people will understand that you were clearly a part of it.

But I want to caution you, Joe, that there will not be, unless this movie is literally nominated for an Oscar or makes a hundred times its budget, you will not get waves of attention for this credit.

John: I completely agree. You know, we don’t know exactly what genre of movie this is. If it is a small little thriller or a horror film or whatever, if people like the movie, that’s great. And that will only help Joe. There’s nothing in the situation is going to hurt Joe. While he hasn’t taken any steps back with his credit, it hasn’t pushed him very far forward.

So I think he still needs to think of himself as, “I’m a writer who is very fortunate to have something I wrote produced.” And if you were talking with an agent or manager or producer, they can see like, “Oh, he’s actually been through the process to some degree, like words he’s written have actually been filmed.” So that’s useful. But they’re mostly going to be hiring you based on the script that they’re reading on the page rather than this movie that you were one of four writers on.

Craig: Correct.

John: Yeah, and so that’s fine.

Craig: It is. You’re right, there’s no bad news here. I mean, that he’s better off today than he was a year ago. But he does have to be realistic here. And I actually love that he’s asking the question because it’s an indication that he’s already — that A, he doesn’t have a tendency to sort of smell his own farts. I mean, he knows that he has work to do still. And he’s going to have to tackle this.

This isn’t necessarily a clean kill. So he’s right to think about how to circumvent the obstacles that that credit is created for.

John: So I would also say that if the movie is good, and he should be really honest about whether the movie is good, what his feelings are and what other people who see the movie, what their response is, and if his relationship with these producers and the director is good, he should try to become involved in the publicity and news of the movie as it goes out there. And so that means to the degree that there are screenings and stuff, try to make sure that he’s invited to those things so he can talk about the movie as a major participant in it.

If the movie is not good, he’s not helping himself by going to those things and he can just stay home and write.

Craig: I’m with you on that one.

John: Cool. Our first topic today, is Hollywood making too many movies? That is the headline which is usually generally best answered by Betteridge’s law of headlines, in which if the question mark comes at the end of the headline, the answer is no.

Craig: I love that.

John: So this is an article by Brent Lang writing for Variety. And the central question really is not is Hollywood making too many movies? But it’s looking at the kinds of movies that Hollywood makes and asking the question where are the sort of mid-level movies? Like, you know, we seem to be making a tremendous number of indie films and releasing them theatrically, and we’re also making a huge number of giant movies. We’re not making any sort of mid-budget level movies. And mid-budget but also sort of like mid-performer movies. We’re making very few movies that make between $50 million and $100 million dollars. We’re only making sort of giant blockbusters and things that make $0.30.

So some of the stats he cites, in 2004, roughly 490 films were released on fewer than 1,000 screens according to data compiled by NATO the people who actually track this stuff. Last year, that number ballooned to 563 movies. So 490 to 563. The problem is that the greater profits didn’t follow the influx of films.

In 2004, revenue from films in this sector hit $380 million while admissions topped at $61 million. Ten years later, revenue stood down at $370 million while admissions sputtered to $45 million. So basically, we released a lot more movies on fewer than 1,000 screens but they made collectively less money.

Craig: Yeah. John, I am so puzzled by this article. The statistics are irrelevant. They don’t answer the question that he’s asked. I’m so puzzled by Brent Lang’s article here.

John: I think this would have been much better served by kind of three different articles because I think trying to address this all in one article is part of where the problem lies. Lay? Lies?

Craig: One of those.

John: Yeah, either one is great. English is an evolving language, I could say either one.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So let’s talk about this Indie film argument because I think this is actually something I felt is real and true is that this sense of getting your hand stamped by a theatrical release and then going to video on demand. A ton of movies that are sort of put out every weekend to the point where the New York Times and other major outlets have said, “You know what? We don’t have enough resources to actually review every movie that comes out theatrically, sorry. We’re stopping that policy.”

Craig: Right.

John: That’s a real change the affects people who make smaller movies.

Craig: Ish. Ish. I mean, because look, when you say hand stamped, that’s exactly right. So people have to understand something. When financiers make an independent film, they are funding it not with money out of their own pocket typically but rather from foreign presales. So they’re going to all these overseas people and saying, “Would you be interested in having the rights to run a movie starring these three people about this topic?” And they go, “Yeah, we’ll give you this much for that. We don’t even care about the script and who’s in it. Just those names, that, we’ll give you this much money.” “Great, thank you.”

They collect all those pledges of money. Now they have enough to make the movies, sometimes they have more than the movie costs and off they go. But part of the deal is, “But you can’t just give us some direct to DVD movie or direct to online movie, we need it to be an actual theatrical release. And here are the terms of what qualifies as theatrical.” So that gets worked into the whole business plan. And then at times they will go out and do a “theatrical release.” That release is to qualify them to then go and collect on all the money from all the foreign distributors. So it’s not really being released is the point. If we have more of those movies, we will have more of these rubber stampers.

John: The scenario that you just described is absolutely true for certain kinds of movies. And I remember a couple of years ago, there was an article about this movie, Zyzzyx Road, that had made the least amount of money theatrically of any movie. And that really was one of those situations where it was completely just supposed to get its hand stamped. It ran like three showings at a tiny theatre somewhere in the U.S and it was that scenario.

What I see more often though now is the movie that was like pretty good at Sundance that used to not get a theatrical release which now does get a theatrical release because of this day and date video on demand releasing, so we’re releasing to theaters and video on demand at the same time. Now, I think an interesting question to ask is, is that theatrical release component mostly just there to please the filmmaker or does it have a true value for the good of the film?

Craig: I think, still, that most of the times when you’re talking about — even though — here is why the statistic is so bad. He’s talking about movies that are released on fewer than 1,000 screens. How many screens? 999 or 1?

John: Yeah, I think that’s a weird cutoff.

Craig: Way too broad of a number there, right? Because, you know, if you’re talking about movies that are released on fewer than 10 screens, it’s all rubber stamping, it’s all to satisfy the filmmaker or an actor or to satisfy the terms of the deal and has nothing to do with a real theatrical release. If you were to say to me, “Look, the world of movies that are released on 800 screens, that’s really suffering,” that would mean something. But I can’t tell that from this number. So I’m going to refuse to draw a conclusion about how movies with smaller releases are actually performing.

John: Great. So the more interesting article which I think you and I would actually love to talk about is the article that looks at, what movies are we not making? Because the only movies that get released theatrically are these tiny ones and these super giant blockbusters, the movies that are incredibly expensive, that open super wide, and have to make $200 million for the movie to be successful.

Craig: Right.

John: And those are genres in which you and I have traditionally written some movies and those movies are, in some cases, much harder to make these days.

Craig: That is true. And if only Brent had talked about any of that, but Brent doesn’t talk about that. Because what you’re talking about is budget. What Brent is talking about is how much the movies made, which is the weirdest choice of focus for this article and that question, that the headline questioner is asking or even what the article seems to be addressing.

I don’t care how much the movies make. He’s essentially equating high performance with high budget. That’s not the way it works. There are movies that cost $80 million that make $20 million and there are movies that cost $30 million that make $150 million. So there’s a really good question to be asked about the middle-budget movies.

John: So I think there’s sort of two questions that are co-related here. Are we not making these movies because they’re not successful at the box office? Or are they not successful at the box office because we’re just not making them? Is it evidence of absence or absence of evidence for the reason why we see so few mid-budget thrillers, why we see no romantic comedies of a certain size being released anymore?

Craig: All right. So now we’re talking about the article that you and I would write. And here’s what I would talk about. I do think that part of the issue with the middle budget movie is that in success, they don’t make enough, which is a weird thing to say. But the cost of marketing has accelerated dramatically as movie studios seek to drag you away not from just three networks but from 78 possible entertainment options at home, plus the Internet, plus whatever the hell else is going on in your life. So it’s really expensive.

If you make a $30 million movie, you’re going to be spending more than the cost of the movie to advertise it. That’s a tough one, right? You know, whereas if you make a $200 million movie, you’re probably going to spend $200 million to market it. That would be overkill. So they’re expensive. And you may say, “Well, the $30 million movie made $150 million domestically,” and they’d say “Great, it was profitable.” It wasn’t. I mean, like I can’t really do a jig that it’s profitable because the studio next door, they just put out Avengers 3 and grossed $2 billion. What am I supposed to be? Happy that my movie made $20 million? Nobody cares. It’s just — so there’s a question of how profitable can that middle budget be.

The other thing that’s squeezing the middle budget movies is that in the non-comedy areas, a lot of the genre that used to live there — thrillers, police stories, what we call adult dramas, not pornographic dramas, but dramas about adult things — television has really come so far and done such a great job narratively in those genres that people seem to be more interested in watching those things play out episodically than they are in a self-contained two-hour format. So there’s the double squeeze that’s happened there.

John: I agree with you. The marketing thing is the challenge of — it’s like a switch you flip and you have to spend a tremendous amount of money or sort of no money if you’re sort of just like putting it out on a screen and going to a home video. If you’ve committed to releasing a movie wide, you’re committed to spending tens of millions of dollars, and that’s just the reality of a wide release.

The other thing I think is a factor is salaries. And so if you want to cast Jason Sudeikis in your movie, and you’re making a tiny little indie movie, he does it for free, essentially he does it for scale. If you’re trying to cast Jason Sudeikis in a bigger sort of action comedy, he’s going to full rate. And so there’s — it becomes very difficult to make movies for the sort of inexpensively enough that you’re saving enough money to make it really make sense to make that middle budget movie. Either you’re paying him all his cost or not paying all of his cost. There’s no sort of in between rate for these sort of romantic comedies or something else.

The other thing I would talk about is technology. And so it’s true that it’s never been cheaper to make a great looking little indie film. And that’s because we have amazing cameras, we have ability to do great stuff in computers, we can make things look great. And so we see these demo reels of these sci-fi short films like, “My God, that looks like a full theatrical production.” It’s absolutely true, you can do amazing things.

The challenges on making a real feature film, the cost isn’t in the technology, the cost is in time and days. And that does not scale. That does not get cheaper you know with technology just days or days you’re spending money on actors in making a movie and trucks and all of that stuff. So it’s very hard to realize those cost savings from technology in making these movies. And so if you’re making a romantic comedy, at a certain point you’re still — you know, you’re still doing 40 days of shooting and that’s going to add up.

Craig: No question, it’s a really good point you’re making. Bob Weinstein, I remember he used to constantly complain, why does this cost so much? Some guy is doing this on his computer. Yeah, well he’s doing one shot on his computer. You’re exactly right. If you’re making a typical VFX-laden feature film, you’re talking about hundreds of shots, hundreds of VFX shots.

And the only places that can deliver that many shots, and you can’t divide it up between a hundred different companies. There has to be some cohesion, I mean you can use two or three, and plenty of movies do, but not much more than that. Well, the only places that can handle that bulk, are large places. And guess what? They are fully aware that they are in low supply. There are not a lot of companies that can do the work in the amount of time you have. Therefore, they charge you. Of course they do. And you’re right, they are charging you, as they say, good fast cheap pick two. Well, when you want it good and you want it fast, and trust me when you’re making a movie, it has to be fast. Cheap goes out the window. No question. Yes.

John: Absolutely true. So let’s take a look at sort of what some of the solutions are for this, because there are some movies and some genres that we’re able to make and make money at. And so I was thinking about the sort of low budget horror film that get released, you know, there’s one coming out this weekend. We have a template for that. We have a template for making those movies inexpensively, releasing them wide, and they make money. And so that’s the thing that we sort of figured out how to do. Tyler Perry figured out how to make movies with predominantly African-American casts that would make money.

There’s a pattern for how you make those things. And I wonder if we can find a pattern for making the mid-budget comedy, a pattern for making the romantic comedy again so that those things become profitable to make. And it may not be that the giant studios are going to be willing to spend the money and time to figure out how to do that because the point that you made is like, “Well you know the guys next door just made $2 billion. We need to make $2 billion.” But if you’re another company that’s making no movies at all, it may be worthwhile for you to look at like, “I would love to make a movie that makes $50 million.”

Craig: Sure, of course I mean that’s the problem. You’re sitting in the office, you’re running a studio, and you’ve got three movies that each cost $40 million. That’s three sets of producers that are driving you crazy, three sets of actors that are insane, three sets of directors that won’t listen to you, three sets of writers that screwed up. All the problems that you have running a studio, there’s three of them right? The best you think — you’re thinking though, “Each one might make $50 million.” That’s a $150 million for all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into managing three movies.

Down the street they’re only making one movie, that one movie makes $1 billion. And they only need to deal one crazy producer, one crazy director, one crazy actor. So you can see how seductive it becomes. And certainly, the world of corporate America is not to find in a binary fashion of make money or lose money. It’s, how much did you make. I can’t keep you on if everybody else in the competitive space is making more in profit than you are. There’s something wrong with you. That’s the way it works, right?

Now, that aside, we know that occasionally there are movies in that $30 million to $50 million space that make a ton of money and are also repeatable. So a film like Pitch Perfect for instance comes along. It’s a smaller budget movie. It doesn’t even do that well box office wise the first time out, but then has this huge second life in ancillary markets, so they can go and make another one and make a ton of money off of it. For comedy, I think the mid-budget comedy is actually still the rule.

John: And what would you define as mid-budget in 2015?

Craig: 2015 mid-budget is $20 million to $50 million. So between $20 million and $50 million — and really I think $20 million to $40 million is the sweet spot. What you’re trying to do is get one or two comic actors that you know are brand names with the audience. And you are trying to keep the production aspects as manageable as possible because you know from a comedy point of view that people aren’t laughing at stuff because it’s lavish, they’re laughing because it’s funny.

So a movie like Identity Thief is not — it’s far from lavish. I mean, it’s really what it was, ultimately, was an independent movie budget at a studio because by the time you’re done paying Jason and Melissa and me and Seth and Scott Stuber and all the people that are above the line, there’s not that much left to make the movie. You’re kind of making it shoestring, and you’re doing the best you can. And we were cutting corners everywhere. And that was okay, you know. And I’m sure part of what happens, it’s interesting, is when comedy directors have a bunch of hits in a row, they tend to start being able to command larger budgets. Inevitably there is a snap back at them because the larger budgets usually don’t end up warranting themselves.

You know it’s interesting like I’m looking at Spy. I don’t know what Spy cost, but I’m guessing it cost a lot. And it’s interesting because I don’t think it’s going to make that much more than The Heat did, at least not domestically, overseas it’s doing much better. But that’s where comedies get risky when you start getting into that, like the Hangover, the first Hangover I think was $32 million. Now the second and the third started costing a lot because of the above the line but it was understood they would make their money back, and they did. But to go out and make a first — like a first of a comedy, and have it be $70 million, it’s risky. I wouldn’t do it. I’d be nervous.

John: So Craig, not talking about any one specific ones of your movies, but let’s say you’re making a $40 million comedy, what is the split above the line versus below the line? And to explain terms, above the line is your top tier actors, it is your director, your producers, your writers. So what is the split between above the line and below the line?

Craig: If I’m looking at a $40 million comedy, I would have no problem. Literally no problem with like a 40-60 split, where like 40% of that went to cast, writer, director, producer, and the rest was to make the movie, because I know that people aren’t coming to see a spectacle, they’re coming to see Melissa McCarthy, they’re coming to see Zach Galifianakis, they’re coming to see Jennifer Lawrence. That’s what matter. You know when you’re making a Hunger Games, it’s Jennifer Lawrence. You need Jennifer Lawrence to pay for the spectacle. But for the comedy, you need Jennifer Lawrence so the people go see Jennifer Lawrence. That’s what they want you know. So I would be aggressive about that.

John: So circling back, you look at one of these comedies that you’re making for $40 million, and there is the possibility that it breaks out and it becomes a giant, giant hit. And those are wonderful when it happens, but more likely, it’s like well it’s going to make some good money. It’s going to cross over 100 and people are happy?

It reminds me though of a conversation that I was just listening to on StartUp Podcast. So StartUp, talks to a business that’s just beginning and is trying to raise VC capital and grow. And they’re talking about two kinds of businesses, they talk about you know the Twitter, the Facebook, the giant and sort of moon shot corporations, and those are the ones who are trying to become you know, reach a billion dollar valuation. And they talked about lifestyle businesses sort of pejoratively, basically it makes money but like it’s not really interesting to investors because it’s not a good use of their time and their money. And I think in many cases, we dismiss these other types of movies that aren’t going to make you know a billion dollars as kind of lifestyle businesses where they’re just like, “Yes, it’s not the thing we want to do.” And I think, to a large degree, the major studies have been focusing on just these giant hits because that’s the pressure that they’re under.

Craig: Yeah, I mean I honestly don’t blame them. I think that if I were running a studio, I would hand this off in a way say like, “Here’s a division that makes comedies from this number to this number.” And so then those people understand that it’s not a problem if their movie returns 10% or 20% on investment. And it’s not a problem that the people down the street just made a billion dollars because that’s not their job. Their job is to do this, and to make money this way. And it would be nice to see especially because the hits can really take off and be hits for a long time. And they generate money in the library for years and years and years.

You know I mean look, Vacation, I mean the movie Vacation was made decades ago. It was a risk like anything else. I guarantee you it didn’t cost a lot. Well, now there’s another Vacation and how many Vacation sequels were there? And there will certainly be many Vacation sequels of this Vacation reboot. And you know the upside is real for these things. So that’s what I would do, I would say, “Hey, big studios, make a little — make a little division, you know.”

John: You know our friend Billy Ray is directing a movie for this company STX, which I had no idea of what this company was. I saw their logo when I saw a little screening of his film. And it’s a company set up deliberately to try to make adult dramas that no one else is making. And maybe that’ll work, maybe it won’t work, but it was an opportunity for Billy to make a movie for grownups. And that is an exciting opportunity.

Craig: Yeah, there’s been a lot of written and many tears shed over the demise of the grownup movie. And I don’t know. I don’t know if they’re coming back. I — you know it would be nice, but I don’t know.

John: Ben Affleck will make his FIFA movie and maybe that will be a watershed.

Craig: FIFA!

John: FIFA! By the time this podcast comes out, Apple Music should be existing in the world. It’s supposed to launch Tuesday that this episode comes out. So Apple Music is a subscription music program that Apple has promised and should be unveiling. People can sign up to stream all the music they kind of want to stream. About two weeks ago, Taylor Swift sent an open letter to Apple complaining about their plan to not pay artists during the three-month free trial. Apple reverses course and is now going to pay its artists. So we are not singer-songwriters. Well, Craig sings, and I’ve written songs.

Craig: There you go.

John: But that is not our main focus of this podcast. We’re mostly talking about things interesting to screenwriters. So I wanted to talk about what does streaming mean for screenwriters and what analogous situations could we find for people who are writing for film and television to the singer-songwriters who are concerned about Apple Music?

Craig: Yeah, we’ve been in this situation for a while now. We just have one major difference between ourselves and singer-songwriters. So we’ve had iTunes streaming television shows and episodes for free supported by ads in certain circumstances or Hulu. And of course there’s Netflix. Netflix is the ultimate subscription service. You pay your monthly subscription and it’s all you can eat of the movies they have to offer you. And the difference between us and singer-songwriters like Taylor Swift is that Taylor Swift when she writes a song has copyright, we don’t. So the people that we fight with, all the time, in this circumstance become our best friends and our advocates.

This is the great value of the percentage base residuals formula. The more they make, the more we make. So we rely on the studios to be as rapacious with these other vendors as they are with us. And they are. So they negotiate very aggressively with Netflix and all these other companies to try and get as much as they can for the product that they’re giving them. And interestingly, the networks themselves like television networks will say to writers, “We want to stream. We, ourselves will stream a couple of episodes for free, to get people to sample the show and we’re not going to pay your residuals for those.” And we go, “Okay.” But they don’t let anybody else do that.

It’s not like they let Netflix stream their movies for free for a while. They don’t. So we’re actually fairly well covered in this front. And I’m glad that Taylor Swift did this because the truth is, that Apple can afford to pay everybody while they’re not making money for three months. Apple could afford to pay everybody while they’re not making money for 15 years. That’s the God’s honest truth. So while it made business sense for Apple to do that, I’m glad that they kind of caved to the pressure. It was the right thing to do.

John: Yeah, thinking about sort what our situation is versus the artists that are going to be covered by Apple Music, it also reminds me of like authors and their dealings with publishers and their dealings with Amazon. It’s very complicated, the nature of the people who make the work and the people who buy the work and what the relationship really is. And it’s also complicated by the fact that we’re moving to sort of post-ownership society. So traditionally when you or I have written a movie, and someone purchases that movie, they’re buying the DVD, and we get that residual payment exactly once. Now, that person pays to rent the movie, in this case, they’re paying a monthly fee to — the ability to stream whatever movies for sort of all they can eat. And we’re given a percentage of the money that the studio has gotten from Apple for that thing.

It’s just another layer of abstraction and it’s harder to track viewing or units or anything like that. We just know that a number comes to us, and that is the money that we are receiving.

Craig: That’s right, and so the guilds will collectively audit the companies every few years. I suspect this is part of it. The companies themselves have to do a pretty good job of the counting because part of their decision about making movies now is, — well, okay, let’s run the model. How much will we get from Box Office? How much will we get from paid TV, from free TV? How much are we going to get from Netflix? So when they get — Netflix says, “Well, we’ll give you this much for this movie. And then these many people stream it and we’ll give you…”I don’t know how it works. All I know is that they have to, the studios have to account for the Netflix money.

It’s not like, “Oh, we just have a bunch of Netflix money. This movie got this much Netflix money, this movie got this much.” So that’s how we get our little piece of it. It’s a pretty good arrangement for us actually, because we don’t have to go toe to toe. We don’t have an ASCAP or BMI that we’re dealing with. But the real question is, and this is the thing that people have been puzzling over is, “What will end up getting us more? The old way where people would buy the DVD or the new way where people will…” — I mean I’ve watched my daughter rent the same movie five times. I’m like “ehh.” But that happens a lot.

John: It does.

Craig: And we actually, our deal on internet rentals is spectacular.

John: Talk to us about the deal, difference between internet rentals and internet streaming and sort of which is generally better for a screenwriter.

Craig: The best thing you can do to support directors and — well, I don’t know what the directing deal is — the best thing you can do to support screenwriters is to rent on the internet. So, you go to iTunes, it’s not a Netflix deal, you’re going to iTunes and you’re renting the movie and let’s say it’s, I don’t know whatever it is, like three bucks to rent or something. We get whatever the studio gets. So Apple keeps a piece, they send the rest off to the studio. Of that amount, we get 1.2%.

John: That’s good.

Craig: It’s very good. If somebody buys the movie on the internet and that’s like $9.99 or whatever, Apple takes their cut, they send the rest to the studio, we get something like 0.6%.

John: All right.

Craig: It’s not as good.

John: Yeah, and it’s not as good also because if your daughter rents the same movie three times in a row, we’ve made so much more money.

Craig: Yeah, it’s just a better deal.

John: So basically, our financial solvency is dependent on your daughter making irresponsible choices.

Craig: On my specific daughter which I think bodes well for all of us.

John: [laughs] She’ll never learn.

Craig: She will never learn.

John: Talk to us about the accounting for the Netflix model. So Netflix agrees to purchase a bundle of movies, the rights to a bundle of movies that they can air during a certain window.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Now, if I choose to watch Identity Thief which is while it’s on Netflix, is my individual viewing of Identity Thief at all accounted for you in your residuals, or was it only in the deal that was struck between the studio and Netflix for that window of time?

Craig: The God’s honest truth is that I don’t know.

John: It’s so complicated.

Craig: Yeah, I know for instance when you talk about HBO, it’s not accounted for by viewing. So HBO will negotiate to air a particular movie. They’ll say, “Okay, I want to put Go on HBO. What’s going to cost me to run Go for a year?” And they’ll give you a number and they’ll negotiate and that’s the number and that’s it. It doesn’t matter if a million people see Go or five people see Go. Obviously, the people that are selling Go will try and figure that number out because if it seems super popular, they’re going charge HBO more for the next cycle. I imagine the same thing is true for Netflix but I don’t know. Netflix may even have a situation with the studios where they are apportioning things out by these — I just don’t know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They’re really secretive about the whole thing. I mean they won’t even publish the viewing data for the shows they make.

John: Yup.

Craig: I don’t blame them.

John: Yeah. All right, let’s talk through really quick, we’ll try to do this in two minutes, the process of a screenwriter’s job from the initial idea and pitch to premiere. And just look at sort of what are the stages that a screenwriter goes through, and also really notate at what points in this process are you getting paid? Because I think there’s a misconception sometimes along the way. So, let’s say you have an idea for a movie, Craig, that is about, it can go back to your initial idea of what if people lived for only 12 years and then they were dead.

Craig: That was your idea.

John: Oh, it’s my idea but you can take it.

Craig: Oh, great. Thank you. Okay, so I have this idea, I write up a little pitch on my own, and then I call up my agent and say, “I’ve got this idea for a movie, set me some pitches up.” And he calls around and people say, “Yeah, I like that or I don’t.” And then I have a bunch of meetings. I’d go and I’d pitch it out and I get a call. One or more than that were interested and we agree that’s the one and we make a deal.

John: Great. So, at this point you’ve done a lot of work, but you’ve not received any money.

Craig: Not a dime.

John: Not a dime. But the deal is now made.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so you’ve signed your contracts, the contracts have gone in, and you are starting to write, and you’re writing your first script and ka-ching, you get paid.

Craig: Kind of.

John: Kind of?

Craig: Maybe. So a lot of places will say, especially new writers, we’re not going to pay you until the full long form contract is signed, and we’re going to take months to create that long form contract. Most places with established screenwriters or if your lawyer has a good working relationship with, the company will say, “While we’re working on the long form contract, can we all agree that these are the basic points of the deal? Let’s sign a certificate of authorship where the writer is saying okay, I’m officially acknowledging that you guys own copyright in this, I’m doing it as work for hire, that will get me my delivery money.” So get your delivery money.

The key is, when you’re ready to turn that first draft in, make sure you get your — if you haven’t gotten your commencement money yet, sorry, it’s commencement money to begin with. If you haven’t gotten your commencement money, don’t turn it in.

John: Yeah. For people who don’t understand, usually, when you’re writing for a studio, you’re paid half the money upfront and half the money when you deliver the script. So it’s just sort of keeps both sides honest that you’re not doing this for free and that you actually have to deliver in order to get the rest of your money.

Craig: So, you’ve written the script, you’ve turned it in, you’ve gotten your commencement money, you’ve gotten your delivery money, now they have a whole bunch of notes and you’re going to move on to your next step. And you’re going to do it again, and maybe there’s a polish and blah, blah, blah, and then suddenly they’re like, “You know what, we like this movie. Let’s go out to a director.”

John: Great. And you might have a chance to weigh in on who that director is, you might not. You will hopefully have a chance to meet with that director and discuss your shared visions for what the movie is supposed to be. That doesn’t always happen, it’s just really situational.

Craig: That’s exactly right. It runs the gamut from, “Oh, did you hear? There’s a director on your movie now, to sit in a room with us while we audition directors.” And I’ve been in both of those spots.

But then they’ll say, “We have our director and we’re going to go into production.” At this point, the director — and I’m just presuming that you haven’t been fired yet. So the director’s like, “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of thoughts, let’s sit for a while and talk about this.” So you start doing some production work on the movie. And you’re doing your pages and your asterisks, and your scene numbers if you’re a good-doobie.

John: Absolutely, and perhaps there’s even a table reading where all the actors gather around the table and read your script aloud just once so you know they actually did read it once. And maybe you’re doing some work after that because you’ve realized that certain actors cannot say certain words or that there are opportunities that you had not foreseen until you had this cast in front of you.

Craig: And God forbid maybe one of your precious lines of dialogue is sucky. It happens. So then you — there’s a big production meeting, the day or a couple days before the first day of shooting where all the departments sit around a big, big table and they ask questions and occasionally someone turns to you and goes, “Yeah, what is that? What did you mean there? When you said a tree, what kind of tree?” So you have that big meeting and then there’s production where you hopefully have some time to be on the set and watch your work being produced.

John: Yeah, and that can, again, run the gamut from being there every frame shot to — oh, hi! This is the writer. Okay, bye. And then you’re done.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You don’t know what it’s going to be, but you probably have some sense of what it’s going to be based what the process has been up to that point.

Craig: That’s right. At that point, by the time production rolls around, you should know where your place is in the world of this movie. And then the movie is done, right? So they’re going to run a screening, you’re probably going to go to the first test screening if you’re still involved with the movie. There may be some additional photography required. You know what, we really need a scene here.

John: Yeah. Some of my best experiences in making movies has been in that post-production process where you’re sitting in the editing room, you’re seeing opportunities, you are offering suggestions to help make that movie better because you have some fresh eyes that the director does not have because she’s been starting at this footage this entire time. You can remember what the original intention was. So maybe you’re useful in that point.

Craig: And also when you are writing for additional photography, it’s so surgical, it’s so targeted, everybody — you know that you’re writing something that fits right in between existing footage so it’s just easier to do I think. You know, there’s less of a theory about it and more of a fact, a plan.

John: Yeah. And I do want to point out one thing. So everything we’ve described, the only times you’ve gotten paid, have been times where we said write.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And so, you weren’t getting paid for these meetings about directors, you weren’t getting paid for usually the time that you were in — it depends. The time that you’re in production, contractually by WGA standards they don’t have to pay you if you’re just watching. Is that correct?

Craig: Yeah, they have to pay you if you’re writing stuff down on paper. So, if you are going to be doing any writing, what they usually do at that point is make what they call an “all services deal” where you’re no longer delivering drafts, you’re just — they’re just saying, “This is an amount of money for all the writing we need you to do from now until the movie is done.”

John: Exactly, so could include these rewrites you did during post-production or additional photography — there’s some deal that you’re probably happy to sign because your movie is getting made. Hooray.

Craig: Yup.

John: Yup.

Craig: And then they sell it, they make posters and trailers. You usually look at the trailer and you go, “Oh my God.” And then you send some thoughts to somebody that maybe gets listened to and maybe doesn’t. And then there’s a premiere and you get two tickets.

John: Ooh boy.

Craig: Usually. Sometimes you get more. You go to the premiere, you realize that you don’t know anybody there, you realize that the premiere is not at all for people that made the movie. The premiere is to sell the movie. You are uncomfortable typically at the premiere. There’s a party afterwards. You again don’t know any of the people there. If the movie does really well, there could be an awards thing going on. Most movies, that is not the case.

John: Some cases you will have to do some post release marketing so even if it’s not awards stuff, there might be things about the home video release or might be like going in and doing a DVD commentary. They’re may be some additional stuff they ask you to do or other special screenings that they set up after the release. I remember for Big Fish having to go out to the Palm Springs Film Festival and they wanted somebody from the movie to be there, so it’s me and Alison Lohman. And they had these fish balloons for us to stand by, but they were like the Finding Nemo fish.

Craig: Wow.

John: And so there’s these great photos out there of like, me and Alison Lohman and the Finding Nemo fish for Big Fish.

Craig: That’s terrible.

John: Yes. So was I getting paid for any of that? No.

Craig: No.

John: Because as a writer, you get paid for writing, you don’t get paid for anything else.

Craig: Correct. Literary material as they say. And then you’re — at this point, you probably never want to think about that movie again.

John: The only thing you might want to think about is, if this was your original idea, which in this case it was, you do own the publishing rights to the screenplay so you could theoretically publish the book form of the screen play and you would make absolutely no money in that, but that is a thing you could do.

Craig: You mean that’s not valued at $70,000?

John: No. It’s not valued at really any money whatsoever.

Craig: Bummer.

John: That took more than two minutes, but I just wanted to sort of really walk through the whole process and point out that writers only get paid for writing and there’s so many more parts of the job that you have to do and sometimes your life coaches and marketers and other hats you have to wear, all of which are just part of your job but not getting paid part of your job. It’s time for One Cool Things.

Craig: So, my One Cool Thing, easy, gay marriage.

John: Hooray.

Craig: So the Supreme Court, five to four, I don’t think that tally is at all surprising. If anything, maybe it could have been six to three. We didn’t quite know where Roberts was going to end up, but five to four. And you know what, what I kind of — other than the fact that I think it’s a terrific decision and a well-warranted decision, what I thought today was, you know, it’s so American to beat up America. It’s what we do. The rest of the world thinks that we’re all self-absorbed and self-satisfied. Far from it.

We beat up America more than anybody else does in a way that French people don’t beat up France and English people don’t beat up England. We really are this — we think of America like a business that could be doing better all the time. But I have a certain American optimism as well and my optimism is that even though at times it seems like we’re going backwards or down, that over time, America gets better. Over time I believe that. And I think that today was a real sign of how over time, America got better.

John: I agree with you. And so I’ve been involved with various versions of lawsuits challenging for federal marriage equality for eight years now?

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so it’s a great outcome and so I’m incredibly happy for everyone involved and I liked as people have acknowledged this victory that it was actually the result of many, many, many tiny steps all along the way and little acts of courage. I was gratified to see this and hopeful for what it bodes for the future.

My One Cool Thing is Neil Gaiman’s advice to writers who just can’t get anything on paper. And so I will put a link to this in the show notes, but essentially some fan wrote to ask, you know, I have all these great ideas but I can’t seem to put it down on paper. And Neil Gaiman wrote a fantastic Tumblr post of his advice for how to get those things down on paper which includes in part, “You must catch, with your bare hands, the smallest of the crows, and you must force it to give up the berry. The crows do not swallow the berries. They carry them across the ocean, to an enchanter’s garden to drop one by one, into the mouth of the daughter, who will awake from an enchanted sleep only when a thousand such berries have been fed to her.”

So he goes through this elaborate process for everything you can do if you choose not to actually just sit your butt down in a chair and write. There’s a whole magical way that Neil Gaiman outlines for getting your story written.

Craig: That is the most Neil Gaiman-y anything ever.

John: I loved it.

Craig: An enchanter’s garden, dropping berries into the mouth of his daughter, she has enchanted sleep. Very Neil Gaiman.

John: It’s very Neil Gaiman. And this has been our very Scriptnotesy podcast. So if you would like to subscribe to our show, you should go to iTunes and subscribe to Scriptnotes. If you would like a USB drive of 200 episodes —

Craig: Wow.

John: Plus bonus episodes of the show, you should go to and you should enter the promo code “singularity” in order to save 10%. That’s Craig’s choice for “Singularity.” Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you have a question for Craig Mazin, you should write to him on Twitter, he’s @clmazin, I’m @johnaugust. Longer questions you can write into And, Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: See ya. Bye.

Craig: Bye.