The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: So, hey, this is John. Today’s podcast, we’re going to be talking about the PG-13 rating and kind of necessarily we’ll be using some bad words. So if you’re listening to this podcast in your car with kids, here is just a warning about some bad language coming your way.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is episode 215 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast, we’ll be talking about the PG-13 rating, why it exists, and what it means for screenwriters. We’ll be talking about healthy and unhealthy relationships between writers and their representatives. And we’ll be answering some listener questions about what to do on an L.A. visit and using real stuff in your movies. So a big show today.
Craig: It is a big show. And I have to say that now that you — well, now that we have made it to episode 215, now it’s impressive. Every time you say it, I think, “Wow.”
John: A lot of episodes.
Craig: We have a body of work.
John: This past week we were on Franklin Leonard’s podcast and we talked about the show and things that are interesting to screenwriters. And it was weird being on someone else’s show with you talking about the show because it felt just like an extra episode that I didn’t have control of.
Craig: [laughs] Well, we’re starting to learn about you and your issues.
Craig: For me, it was exactly the same.
Craig: Show up and talk.
John: Actually, it was exactly the same because you did show up late and talked.
Craig: I know. It’s getting bad. Well, today, as people saw on Twitter, I thought I was 10 minutes late and in fact I was 1 hour and 50 minutes early.
John: Yeah. So maybe that’s good. Maybe that should be the plan is I’ll always pretend that the time of recording is a different time than it actually is. For people who just listen to the podcast and don’t look at us on social media, last Friday, I did post a long series of text messages between me and Craig from the very start of the show up until last week about Craig is running five minutes behind. So that’s up there for everyone to see. There’ll be a link in the show notes for that.
Craig: I mean, in my defense —
John: In your defense.
Craig: Those texts are over years.
John: Mm-hmm, true.
Craig: And, you know, obviously I don’t text when I’m on time.
Craig: [laughs] So that’s my defense.
John: That is an absolutely fair defense. And it’s worth waiting for you, Craig.
John: Aww. As I was putting together that series of text messages, I had to trim some stuff out that was just like not germane to it. But I regret, there’s a text message, I texted a photo of me and Malcolm watching Fantastic Negrito while you were off playing D&D with the rest of our friends. And I regret taking that out of the feed because it was just a nice moment of just me and Malcolm.
Craig: You know, I remember that and I still haven’t seen Fantastic Negrito live. But I do feel like I am responsible for his success.
John: Clearly, because you mentioned him on the podcast and talked about him for a few minutes. That’s really how a person becomes successful.
Craig: Well, that plus just a general mental exertion. In my mind, I’ve been willing him to be successful.
John: That’s good. Well, you’ve dis-secreted him into his success.
John: Most people, in order to implement the secret, they have to believe in themselves. But actually, just Craig believing in you is enough for it to come to be.
Craig: Yeah. It’s not even a secret.
John: No. The Secret is no secret anymore.
Craig: Yeah, my book is called the fact.
John: [laughs] So the other thing which is a complete fact is that our Scriptnotes T-shirts are available only for one — not even one more week. If you’re hearing this podcast on Tuesday, you have exactly two days left to buy these shirts and then you will not be able to buy the shirts. So you probably want to get on this.
So go to store.johnaugust.com. You’ll see that there are three designs for the T-shirt. There’s the classic Scriptnotes logo in purple. There is the Three-Act Structure shirt by Taino Soba in blue. Both of those have been very popular. And this year we have two different colors of the Camp Scriptnotes shirt, which is a brand new design. There’s Craig’s shirt which is blue. It’s a navy blue.
John: And there’s my shirt which is green. And this really hearkens back to the first batch of Scriptnotes shirts which we had two colors. There was umbrage orange for Craig and there was rational blue for me. And we’ll see. Right now we’re neck and neck, Craig.
John: And I’m really curious who’s going to pull ahead.
Craig: You know —
John: Do you want to pitch anything to your navy fans, your blue cabin buddies?
Craig: Well, I just want to say, you would look really sexy in that blue shirt.
Craig: You know, Sexy Craig loves blue. Ah, so sexy.
John: That’s a strong argument for or against the blue shirt.
Craig: [laughs] I think it’s both really.
John: It really is. So depending on what your reaction is to Sexy Craig imploring you to buy the blue shirt, you might —
Craig: Oh, come on.
John: Choose to buy the blue shirt or the green shirt. But whatever you do, the nice shirts are $19 each. We are posing the order into the printers on Friday. So that literally is your last chance on Thursday to order one of these shirts. We will be printing them. We will be folding them up on the very table on which we record our live sit-around-the-table episodes of Scriptnotes and sending them out to your homes so you’ll have them for the Austin Film Festival.
Craig: Yeah. We’re going to be in your house.
John: Yeah. So maybe as we’re looking out at the crowd in Austin we’ll see how many blue shirts and how many green shirts there are.
Craig: You know, Sexy Craig has been away for a while.
Craig: [laughs] I feel like he should be back more.
John: Yeah, maybe he can have his own spin-off podcast.
Craig: Yeah. He should.
John: He could do that on Earwolf.
Craig: Well, you know, I feel like Sexy Craig and Dan Savage could probably do a great podcast together just about sex, you know —
John: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Craig: And advising people.
John: Yeah, being sexy.
Craig: Just being so sexy.
John: We have some follow-up to get to. First off, couple of episodes ago, we talked about misleading reviewer quotes, that thing where you sort of excerpt certain words out of a review to make it sound much better than it really was.
Craig: I love this so much.
John: So talk us through this one example here.
Craig: Well, so there’s a review here for a film called Legend. I think it’s about The Krays, the British mobsters, stars Tom Hardy. And so they put up a very typical review-oriented ad where they just listed four stars, four stars, four stars, four stars. And underneath the four stars, who gave it the four-star review. And then in the space between their heads, they have what you would think would be yet another four-star review and the person who said it which was I think it was The Guardian.
John: It was The Guardian, yeah.
Craig: Benjamin Lee from The Guardian. But in fact, [laughs] because it was situated between their two heads, it wasn’t that their heads were obscuring the other two stars of the four stars, he actually just gave it a two-star review. [laughs]
John: I think it’s just —
Craig: So great.
John: I think it’s just remarkable because it’s such a different way of doing a careful excerpting. And a good graphic design can hide many flaws.
Craig: I loved it.
Craig: I mean, I loved it. And I actually think that everyone should do this. It’s so brilliant. And it again boils down ultimately the only value that reviews have for studios is to flack their movies. And so, yeah, I mean, hats off. Whoever did that should get a promotion.
John: I agree. And I was going to say like slow golf clap but now I’m questioning whether — do you think that is worthy of a slow clap or do you think it’s a negative thing to say a slow clap? I think a sort of an appreciative like slow clap like well done, well done. But there’s also you can slow clap in a negative way. How do you perceive slow clap?
Craig: Both. I think slow clap is flexible. And in this case, I would give it the honest non-ironic slow clap.
John: I think it’s a slow clap with a nod is really what the differentiation is.
John: Yup. In a previous episode we talked about Apple Watch. And I complained/bragged that I didn’t think the Apple Watch was doing a great job tracking my exercise because I have an incredibly slow heartbeat.
John: Or my heart rate is low.
John: And I think you had said a similar kind of thing. And a listener sent us a post about, I think it was a Swedish study, that low heart rate is linked very strongly to criminality. And so people with low heart rates are much more likely to be criminals.
Craig: Well, I guess that makes sense because they’re generally calmer in situations that would make everybody else nervous. So I guess we could say they’re just dead inside. So they need crime. They need crime to get their heartbeat up a little bit.
John: That’s what one of theories is is that maybe it takes a much larger amount of activity to get them excited. And so therefore they are pushed to criminality. But I think it’s one of those interesting/troubling kind of findings because it strikes back to like what is it called? Phrenology, where they start to feel the bumps in your head.
John: It’s like, well, that’s a thing you can’t control at all. Then what? Are you just like going to lock up people with low heart rates or you’re going to give them drugs so their hearts beat faster?
Craig: Well, no. I think that you would just kill them early.
Craig: The idea is you would screen everyone I think at the age of three.
Craig: That seems reasonable. And if your heart rate is below a certain number, you’re exterminated.
John: That’s true. And of course very easy to overlook in this study is that the odds of any of these people being criminals at all was really, really low. Period.
Craig: Right, right.
John: So it’s one of those things where, you know, people freak out because like, oh, this raises your risk of something 1% but it raises it from like it’s never ever going to happen to it’s never ever probably going to happen.
Craig: Yeah. This was essentially a valueless study and a bad headline.
John: [laughs] Yes. But even in those sort of bad headline stories, sometimes there is something interesting to study about why that correlation exists. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anything you can do about it. But it’s a correlation.
Craig: I think I’ve already suggested what we can do about it.
John: Is to kill all the slow heartbeat people.
Craig: At the age of three.
Craig: When they’re at their cutest.
John: But those people might not grow up to be professional athletes, which leads us to our final bit of follow-up.
Craig: Segue man.
John: Segue man. I’ve said on the podcast several times something like you are much more likely to be a professional basketball player than to be a professional screenwriter. And that my perception was that there are actually more professional athletes than there are professional screenwriters. That was an unverified, un-really-thought-through statement.
But someone tweeted at you and I this graphic that’s been circulated around which was apparently from — it has NFL logos on it, so it really is from the NFL, the National Football League, so not basketball but football, talking about what your odds are of making it in the NFL.
John: It’s a really cool graphic. We’ll have a link to it in the show notes. But, Craig, talk us through some of these numbers.
Craig: Well, they start by looking at high school football players, which according to them, you’re looking at around a million. And this is I think per year, essentially. So you have a million high school football players in a year, and that’s a million kids with at least one parent who thinks, “Oh, this is it. You’re going to make it.” But narrow it down a little further, let’s just presume we’re talking about seniors since they’re probably the most developed. That’s still 310,000 seniors.
John: Yeah. It’s a lot of kids.
Craig: It’s a lot. Of those kids, 70,000 will play NCAA football, college football. Still an enormous amount, 70,000. 20,000 of you will only play as a freshman. That’s what FR means, okay. Overall, 6.5% of high school players will play in the NCAA. So right off the bat, only 6.5% of those kids will even play college football.
John: So really 1 in 20 almost.
Craig: Right. Eventually, you get down to this number. The amount of players scouted by the NFL, 6,500. So out of the 70,000 NCAA football players in college, which again was culled out of the 310,000 high school football seniors alone and the million kids playing in high school football, 6,500 get scouted by the NFL. 350 are invited to the combine which is essentially the tryouts. You know, John, it’s like auditions. It’s like Broadway auditions.
John: It is. American Idol.
Craig: Exactly, but on a field where you’re hitting things.
Craig: Of those 350, 256 are drafted by the NFL. 300 rookies actually make a team. Percentage of players from the NCAA to the NFL is 1.6%. So to recap, 1.6% of 6.5% of 1 —
Craig: Million make it to the NFL.
Craig: It’s very tiny. And then, how many of them actually last? How many NFL players actually play more than three seasons? 150. This would be of that year’s class.
Craig: Very few. But I will say that I still think the odds are worse for screenwriting.
John: Look at these numbers. It does strike me that the number of actual professional football players is smaller than I was kind of guessing. So if you look at how this narrows down, it really does narrow down quite dramatically.
Compare that to WGA numbers. In 2014, there were 4,899 writers reporting earnings, which is basically writers who were working in some capacity. And of those, 1,556 were writing in features.
John: So if you have NFL players making your four — we have a number for 150. We don’t have the total number of football players who are playing in the NFL. But it’s not going to be 1,500.
Craig: No. It won’t be. So on that metric, yes, easier to be a screenwriter than to play professional football. But the metric that interests me is how long you play because I think from what I understand, at least from the WGA, is at any given point, a very large percentage of worked are people that will work once. Maybe twice, and that’s it.
Craig: So to have a career as a feature screenwriter, I bet there are fewer people in the WGA who have, let’s say, we’ll call it five years of earnings as a feature film writer than there are NFL players who have played regularly.
John: Yeah. So I’m going back to sort of my sort of off-the-cuff analogy of professional football players or professional basketball players to working screenwriters. The jobs are so different. And I think one of the reasons why it’s such a strange comparison is that it becomes very clear who can be a professional football player versus who can be a professional screenwriter. So there is almost nobody playing professional football, I would say, who wasn’t a high school football player and a college football player.
Craig: There isn’t.
John: And screenwriters, it’s not the same thing. You can’t say like, “Well, that kid from high school who wanted to be a screenwriter is now a working screenwriter.” There’s not the hierarchy process at all for becoming a screenwriter. Like literally, someone could have written their first screenplay when they were 40 and now they’re working as a screenwriter. So that’s a very different thing.
Also, the NFL, your career is short because of there’s always new people coming up but also because you get injured. And you don’t get injured in the same way as a screenwriter. You may stop working, you may sort of lose heat and nobody wants to hire you to write stuff, but it’s not the same kind of thing.
Craig: Right. Yeah, there is a built-in limitation on that which we don’t have. I mean, even if you stay healthy, you will age out of the NFL. You know, as you get older, you lose athletic ability. That’s just life.
But there is something on the flipside of that that is tricky for people that want to be screenwriters. And that is you can. You know, anyone can, theoretically, be a screenwriter. If you are 5’10” and 170 pounds, unless you are a brilliant kicker or super duper fast, you’re not going to be in the NFL.
Craig: And so you inherently can’t. But anyone can. So that’s the lottery mentality of screenwriting that you don’t see when you look at the NFL because it’s not a lottery. I mean, there’s an enormous amount of genetics and hard work and talent that should have been tracked along the way.
John: I guess it’s one of the reasons why if someone doesn’t succeed as a screenwriter, they might feel like a failure. But if someone doesn’t succeed as a professional football player, well like, “Well, no, you didn’t.” But no one’s going to say like, “Oh, I can’t believe you didn’t make it as a football player.” It’s like, “Well, of course you didn’t make it as a football player.”
Like it seems so remarkable that anybody would make it as football player. Like you can just sort of look at the person, it’s like, “Well, no, obviously you’re not going to make it as a football player.”
John: Versus a screenwriter, you can just keep slogging and slogging and slogging. Also, the only way you’re playing professional football in the U.S., basically, is to play for the NFL. Versus as a screenwriter, you can be doing your screenwriting thing and be still trying to make it as a professional screenwriter for a very long time on the edges. And that is a thing that doesn’t exist in football either.
Craig: Right. And so the opportunities are paired with the traps. I know a few guys who played Minor League Baseball and I know a couple of guys who played Major League Baseball. And, you know, the Minor League guys are, yeah, I mean they wished they had made it to the majors. But they’re awesome. I mean, they were in the Minor Leagues of baseball. I mean they were really, really good. They just weren’t good enough for that final level.
There’s no such thing like that in screenwriting. It’s not like there’s anyone out there where people are like, “Man, you are really good. I mean, you’re not great enough but, boy, you’re good. I mean, you’re really good.” It just doesn’t work that way.
So the opportunity is there but then there are the traps of, “Well, I just got to write one more script,” or “Well, I just got to try a little harder,” or “Well, you know, my time is coming.” And you can chase the lottery your whole life.
John: Well, I think what you’re pointing to is that good versus great is in professional athletics, there are clear metrics. You can tell how good a player is by, you know, whatever the metrics are of that sport. So I mean, how many runs, how many whatever, how many hits. You cannot track those metrics for a screenwriter. You can track how many things they sold, how many things they set up. But that’s not telling you how good of a screenwriter they are.
John: There’s no objective measure about how good your writing is versus another writer versus, quite famously in professional sports, you can really track that and sort of predict how good a team will be based on the players that are on that team.
Craig: And so, again, no one can tell you that you don’t have what it takes to make it.
Craig: No one will stop you from trying. Well, I mean, they can try but they can’t make a great argument. I mean, I can’t say, “Look, you want to be a pitcher but your fastball is 78 miles an hour. It’s never going to happen.” I can’t say that to anybody as a screenwriter.
Craig: So there’s nothing to stop you. And you just have to be aware of that because unlike these other things where they will stop you, no one can stop you. And so, good, but also, beware.
John: I remember talking with a writer after one of our live shows. It was at the WGA. And I can picture his face but I don’t remember sort of all of the details. But he said, “I just wanted to thank you because listening to your show gave me the permission to let myself stop trying to be a screenwriter.”
Craig: I remember that guy.
John: And I thought that was actually such a brilliant, smart thing. And this is a guy in his 30s, I would say. And that is a sort of brave and wise thing to sort of come to is the realization that there’s an opportunity cost to pursuing one dream, and that is the exclusion of other dreams. And that if you are monomaniacal about this one thing and that one thing isn’t working, you have to also be aware of the things you’re not trying to do because you’re pursuing this one goal.
Craig: Precisely. And there is a very interesting aspect, at least it’s interesting to me. A strange aspect to what I would call American dream culture where we are encouraged to imagine this wonderful and romantic and exciting, passionate, creative life for ourselves. And then if we just believe and try hard enough, we will achieve it.
Craig: The problem aside from the inherent unrealistic nature of that kind of dreaming is that the thing that you’re dreaming about, you do not understand. What you’re dreaming about is only what you can understand, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to dream it.
Craig: When you get there, it will not be your dream. Your dream is not attainable because it’s dreamlike [laughs]. I don’t know how else to put it.
John: I think Miley Cyrus might put it best in one of her lyrics is like there’s always going to be another mountain.
John: And it has to be the climb. And that’s the thing that feels so cliché when you hear it in a song lyric but you find it to be very true is that you kind of think like, “Oh, I’ll reach this destination and then I’ll be happy.” And then you reach that destination and like, “Oh, wait, why am I not happy? This is what I always wanted.” It’s recognizing that you have to find satisfaction and fulfillment in the work itself and in the struggle because there’s not an actual, necessarily, an outcome, which ties in very well to my One Cool Thing at the end of the episode.
Craig: And I feel like my One Cool Thing has been brilliantly set up as well.
John: Well, we should get on to our next topic so we can get to our One Cool Things at the end.
Craig: All right.
John: All right. So our first big topic today is the PG-13 rating. And it’s one of those things where once you start looking for something, it’s just sort of everywhere. And so this has been in my week a lot. So I finished this script and this script is intended to be a PG-13 script.
Originally, I thought that this was a pretty hard R. And I remember pitching it to a really good director and he said, “Oh, that sounds really cool. So we can do it PG-13?” I’m like, “Oh, no, no, it’s a hard R.” And I can see sort of the light dim in his eyes a bit. And then as I was driving back, I’m like, “Wait, why is it a hard R?” And I started thinking about like what are the things that absolutely would make it have to be a hard R. And by the time I reached home, I was like, “You know what, I can totally do this as a PG-13.” And so I believe I wrote this as a PG-13 now.
So I want to talk through what those characteristics are of a PG-13 movie.
John: But the other thing which struck me this last week because we were watching Reds. And Reds is a great movie.
John: And it is rated PG. And I’m watching this movie, I’m like, “How is this rated PG?”
John: It’s rated PG because it’s from 1981.
John: And so, in this movie, there are multiple fucks, there’s actual fucking. There’s, you know, sex scenes that are sort of more explicit than you would sort of guess would be there. There’s a lot of stuff in this movie that would not pass PG now and would probably actually push it to R, like you would have a hard time getting a PG-13 on Reds right now.
Craig: Well, if there’s multiple fucks and fucking, you’ll be R.
John: You’ll be R.
John: And so I want to talk through sort of what that is and sort of what that means as you’re having a conversation about making movies in Hollywood today. So, some back story on the PG-13 rating. We’ll put up some links in the show notes.
But PG-13 rating comes from 1984. And there’s an article by Frank Pallotta that sort of talks through the genesis of it. But it’s basically Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984 was the breaking point for the PG-13 rating. And you look at Temple of Doom and it’s a darker movie than the first movie is. There’s human sacrifices, a lot of blood. And there was enough outcry that the PG-13 rating came into being.
The text of PG-13 is “Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.” Again, it’s the MPAA, it’s the U.S. rating. Different countries are going to have different ratings around the world. And as we get into this, you’ll see that some movies that are rated one way in the U.S. are rated very differently overseas.
Craig: Right. And this was a rating that Spielberg himself pushed for because he felt that his kind of filmmaking wasn’t supposed to be R. It was meant for a wider audience but also it wasn’t quite as namby pamby as PG either.
Craig: And I think that he was right. It’s a useful rating to an extent. What’s happened over time is that PG-13 has replaced PG.
John: Yeah. So few movies that I see these days are PG.
Craig: Right. I mean, the feeling is, “Well, if we’re not PG-13, why don’t we just be G?” Or, you know, people view PG as G, which is startling when you consider what PG used to be. Because you’re right, PG there was nudity. [laughs] It’s backwards from what you’d think. I mean, it seems like over time society becomes more permissive about these things. When it comes to movie ratings, it’s gone in the other direction. We are less permissive.
John: Clearly. We were talking about this at lunch in that there’s this overall perception that culture has gotten more liberal over time. But on everything about sex and language, it’s gotten much more conservative, especially when kids could experience it.
John: And I’m not here to debate that. But I will tell you that as a person who’s trying to make movies, you are always having that conversation about what rating we think this is. And from very early on in the discussion of a movie, just like what I talked with the director about this movie, or when I talked about Scary Stories, that discussion of like, “Is this a hard PG-13?” The answer is yes, it has to be a hard PG-13 and not a soft R, because who wants a soft R?
Craig: Well, yeah. I remember early in my career I co-wrote a bad movie called Senseless. And it was never intended to be R. We wrote it to be PG-13 and they came back with R. And the problem was there was a bit where Marlon Wayans is making out with a girl. They are both clothed but he experiences an orgasm.
We don’t see nudity. We don’t see ejaculation. We just see him shutter and have an orgasm. And they said, “Yeah, that’s enough. R.” And for whatever reason, and again, just backwards, the studio was like, “Well, good. We want to be R.” I’m like, “No, we don’t. We really don’t because this is the softest R in history.”
Craig: And it was. When you make a rated R comedy in particular, there’s an expectation that there’s going to be — you know, it’s going to get edgy.
John: Yeah. And so let’s talk about for international listeners, they may not really understand what the difference is in terms of practically like boots on the ground. A PG-13 movie, teenagers can go to it and they don’t need special permission. A rated R movie, theoretically, most places in the U.S., they will not sell you a ticket if you are a teenager unaccompanied. You cannot get into the theater. They may check IDs at the door.
John: Are they doing that all the time? No. But that is the expectation. And as a parent, I will tell you that my expectation of a PG-13 movie is like, “Yeah, my kid could probably see it. It would really depend on sort of like the nature of the movie.” But there’s no way I’m going to let my kid see a rated R movie —
John: Unless I’ve seen it first.
Craig: Exactly. And interestingly, they will not check on PG-13. So that’s not a legal thing. That’s just a general signal to parents. But if a 10-year-old kid walks up to a movie theater by himself or herself and asks to buy a ticket to a PG-13 movie, they get it.
John: Meanwhile, I should caution people internationally who come to U.S. theaters. There’s nothing prohibiting a parent from bringing a baby into a rated R movie —
John: That will scream at a 10 o’clock show. So there’s nothing that stops parents from being terrible because of the rated R movie.
Craig: Nothing except my fists.
John: So let’s talk about what the things are that are involved in a PG-13 versus R decision. So it comes down to really three things. It is blood, boobs, and bullshit. And basically, it’s what we’re seeing in terms of violence, it’s what we’re seeing in terms of sex, and it’s what language we’re allowed to use in the movies.
So let’s start with blood. So I did a quick survey of some writer friends and director friends about what their experiences were with blood in movies because the last two things I wrote have some blood in it. I was concerned that like the amount of blood could just push us over the edge.
John: And what they came back to me was descriptions of the experiences they went through. And it seemed to me that if you have blood plus a verb, that is a potential problem. So if you see blood spattering, if you see blood oozing, that is more likely to trip you up than if blood is just an adjective.
So if something is bloody, not so bad. Something is bleeding, blood is flying out, that can be the problem, specifically if it’s human blood. Seems like the ratings board is much more forgiving of alien blood, violence happening to non-human creatures —
John: Not a problem.
Craig: Yeah. Of course there are times when we see movies and I think to myself, how did that get — I’m like, I know for a fact that I got jammed by the MPAA on something. And now I’m in the theater watching a PG-13 movie and they’re doing it. I’m like, “What magic did you guys use?”
I mean, for instance, I mean you’ve put this down in our summary to discuss. In Jurassic World, there’s that moment where the dinosaur eats someone off-screen and there is a splatter of blood all over the frame. And I think maybe they got away with it because the blood comes from off-screen, so you don’t see that it’s generated. But we know what’s happening. My daughter was terrified. She knows where that came from and it’s a big shower of blood.
I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s, you know —
John: Yeah. But they go back multiple times and they’re —
John: And one of the things that was a common refrain is that just like language, which we’ll get to, if you think there’s going to be a problem, you put in too much at the start so you can cut something out. And so you can go back to the rating board multiple times and you can show that you’ve cut stuff out and eventually sometimes you can win those arguments.
You’ll also make really strange logical arguments about, “Well, this superhero character is not actually human.” So the violence that you’re doing to him is not the same as violence to a human, because they seem to be very fixated on human to human violence. So even just in a fist fight, they don’t want more than a certain amount of blood. And they’ll be very deliberate about sound design or the feeling of fleshiness, the feeling that a body is being penetrated is a real issue and problem.
Craig: Yeah. It’s not a problem for Sexy Craig. I will tell you, one of the strangest blood rulings that ever came down was for Kill Bill.
John: Tell me.
Craig: It’s that sequence where Uma Thurman fights off the Crazy 88, I think they’re called, this enormous gang. So Lucy Liu’s gang.
John: So it’s the sequence that’s inside the pagoda, sort of the indoor sequence —
John: Not the one that was outside in the snow.
Craig: Right. So the indoor sequence where she essentially slaughters everyone. And it goes on and on and on. And there’s dismemberments and a ton of blood. And when they went to the ratings board, they came back and said, “It’s NC-17. There’s just too much blood. There’s so much blood and there’s so much spurting and splashing that it’s even beyond R.”
So rather than cut the sequence down, that’s when — I believe I’m correct about this — that’s when Tarantino decided, okay, I’ll have a moment where we’re kind of inside Uma’s mind and she blinks and the whole scene turns into black and white.
Craig: And in the black and white, the blood is not red anymore, it’s just wet. And then later she comes back and then it’s okay. And they bought it. [laughs]
Craig: Which is insane to me. But I actually think it made it a really cool sequence, so.
John: Yeah. Several directors said that it’s the redness of blood that can be the problem. So if you desaturate it, you can get away with more than you could otherwise.
John: So it seems crazy but it’s true. So another friend recommended this really great side by side comparison of The Possession, which is a movie about a —
John: A terrible Jewish box and — [laughs]
Craig: [laughs] Just like my mother.
John: Aha. This movie was released as PG-13 in the U.S. and it was cut down in the U.S. in order to hit that PG-13. But in the U.K., it was released just in the original cut. And so you can see what they actually did to trim to get to the PG-13. And it’s really interesting.
And so, there’s less blood spattering. They hold on blood not as long. So there’s a moment in the U.S. version where some blood drips on his shoe but you don’t see where the blood is coming from in the U.S. version. There’s just a little less violence and it feels like they also scale back on some of the sound design so that less bad things were happening to a person’s body.
Craig: Yeah. And there was one moment where they didn’t include a particularly graphic injury. You know, so in one version, you see a woman smash into a table from behind. You’re behind her. She smashes head first into a table and flops backwards. In the U.K. version, you’re looking up through the glass as her head makes impact.
Craig: And I got that. I understood, you know.
Craig: That made sense.
John: That’s violence. But let’s talk about boobs and let’s talk about sex. And so my —
John: Oh, Sexy Craig’s favorite topic.
John: My perception, and I don’t know this is actually true but this is sort of like screenwriter allure is that you’re allowed to show boobs once as long as they’re in a non-sexual context. So classic examples are Kate Winslet in Titanic.
John: And so he’s sketching her and she’s topless but it’s okay because they’re not actually having sex at that moment.
Craig: Yeah. It’s essentially artistic. And similarly, if you had a scene where a mother was nursing a baby or there was a scene where a woman was getting a breast exam, I don’t think that would push you into R. But again, this is an area where PG used to be more permissive.
So in the movie Airplane, Airplane was PG. And that was 1980. And there’s that famous moment where a woman goes jiggling by topless in the plane. And that was clearly meant to be sexual, and it was for me. And you would never be able to get away with that now. And not even PG-13, much less PG.
John: Yeah. And in terms of the actual seeing sex on screen, you know, I was looking through the movies that I’ve done and I don’t have a lot of sex scenes in my films. And the ones that do have sex scenes are rated R anyway.
So the first Charlie’s Angels, Drew wakes up in Tom Green’s boat and so she’s like half-covered naked. There’s moments in the first movie where she’s dangling naked from the Chemosphere over Hollywood and falls and rolls down a hill naked. And we were able to do it, but it was very careful to sort of like not show nipple.
John: So you can get by with showing a lot of boob and a lot of butt, as long as you’re not seeing nipple and sort of no pubic hair. And as long as you can do that, we can get away with the sequence. And again, it was not a sexual sequence, it was a comedic sequence.
Craig: Nobody has pubic hair anymore anyway. It’s all gone.
John: It’s realism.
Craig: It’s used to cover the plains. It’s all gone.
John: [laughs] it’s all gone now.
Craig: All gone.
John: But I don’t have a lot of other experience with sex in PG-13 movies. And so the thing I wrote — one of the things I wrote has a sex scene and I was careful it in ways that like, yeah, I could see the (inaudible) you wouldn’t see more than you would see on TV.
John: And I hope that works. I hope it feels like, you know, I’m seeing the right amounts of sex to let us know that a sex scene happened, but that we’re not dwelling on it.
Craig: I have a pretty good amount experience with the MPAA and sexual innuendo because when we were doing the Scary Movies, Bob Weinstein just loves sex humor and would just demand it be jammed in. [laughs] And it wasn’t really our favorite thing. But we did it. And inevitably, I would say to him, “This is — here you go, Bob.” And he would say, “No, it’s too soft. This feels like it’s PG.” That’s what he would always say, it’s PG. And I would say, “No, that’s going to be R. I guarantee you, that’s going to R. And we need to be PG-13 per your — ” And he’s like, “No, it’s PG.”
And then we would send the movie [laughs] and the MPAA and come back and say, “You can’t do that. It’s R.”
John: And give me an example of what that would be.
Craig: So for instance, a bad joke where we’re doing a spoof of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. And Regina Hall’s character, Brenda, is attracted to one of the villagers. And you cut to him, he’s standing. And we just see him waist up and he is moaning in ecstasy. And then we see her, she’s — essentially, we’re looking at her from behind. She’s waist level with him and she’s making a jerk off motion with her hands. And it clearly appears that she’s jerking him off. And then you reveal that she’s actually churning butter and he’s just so excited and the butter is delicious and it’s terrible joke.
Craig: Well, I mean —
John: That was too much innuendo?
Craig: Oh my God, way too much. So we had to go back and forth and it literally came down to how many times does her hand move up and down. I mean it’s the dumbest. These conversations get so stupid —
Craig: And so, I don’t know, like when it’s how many thrusts, how many hand movements and —
Craig: It’s so ridiculous. And because the point is the joke, it’s not about length. Either it’s offensive or inappropriate for a child or it’s not. I always thought it was. I would hate it. I would sit in these screenings and something like that would come on and I could just feel like 14-year-old girls squirming in disgust. [laughs] And I didn’t blame them. It just was — it felt creepy.
Craig: And, you know, but what could we do?
John: Yeah, that feels creepy. Test is actually a really useful one, is that, you know, especially when you are a parent or even if you’re not a parent and you just have to sit in an audience and watch something with some teenagers or kids and you’re like, “Oh, that feels really uncomfortable.” It happens, it’s a real thing.
I worked a little on the first Scooby Doo and so I saw an early cut of that. And I just loved it and then I saw it at the premiere and they had changed the word demon to monster in a bunch of places, and they’d done a lot of weird softening. And it was because they wanted a PG rating and they couldn’t — I think it was a combination. They wanted a PG rating and something about demons pushed them too hard. But it was also that parents felt — parents really didn’t like the word demon. And that they thought it was too scary. And so they went through and did a whole bunch of sort of careful softening. And I just thought it really hurt the movie.
Craig: I bet you that was a religious thing.
Craig: You know, because there —
John: I bet it probably was.
Craig: There are a lot of Christians that believe in demons, which is, you know — I’m just going to out on the limb here and say that it’s — there are no demons [laughs]. I’m going to go out on a limb, guys. They don’t exist.
John: A thing that is probably most evident from a script stage is language. And language is one of the few things that you sort of can control as a screenwriter on the page. And so let’s talk about what the beliefs are of screenwriters as they’re approaching language in movies. My rule of thumb and I don’t know if this is true, but this is just what people say, is in a PG-13 movie, you’re allowed one fuck as long as it is in a non-sexual situation.
John: So fuck you, fuckin’ a, go fuck yourself, all lovely. Let’s fuck, no. That’s not acceptable.
John: Or I want to fuck you, that’s not acceptable.
Craig: That is correct. As far as I know, that is the rule. That was always what was cited back to us. We would get one fuck and that was it. And it couldn’t be in a sexual context. What’s that woman’s name? I think her name is Beth Hand or something like that. She’s the MPAA lady who comes back to you and says, “Yeah, you have one too many fucks and one too many hand motions, whatever.” And I believe that was the rule. And I haven’t seen that rule violated, actually, in any PG-13 movie since I heard of it.
John: As screenwriters, I think we have watched every movie and we sort of like listen for that one fuck and it’s like, “Oh, there it was.” And then you sort of — I was just watching Wolverine, Days of Future’s Past — is it that one? No, sorry, First Class. And they try to recruit Wolverine and his only line in the whole movie is, “Go fuck yourself,” and then they walk out. And go fuck yourself, I guess it sounds like it’s a sexual situation, but it wasn’t — he wasn’t talking like I really want to fuck you.
Craig: Yeah. No. Everybody knows what that is. I mean we would carefully — there would be debates when we were doing the parody movies, “Where do we use our fuck?” And we would have — so we’d have three or four spots where we would shoot alternates because we weren’t sure where we wanted — I mean, and it’s sad, but it’s true. [laughs] It’s like salt on food. You add the word fuck in and the laughs get bigger. It’s bizarre.
John: They do. So let’s talk about shit and how often we can use the word shit and — because I’ve not ever run into a problem where I had to cut them out.
John: But do you run into that problem in your movies?
Craig: No, I believe that you are essentially unlimited. The only limitation is probably just how many times could people say the word shit anyway.
Craig: I mean, fuck, you can say constantly.
Craig: Shit, not so much. So you’re basically, if you use it, you can probably even say shit once in a PG.
John: Yeah, you can.
Craig: But for PG-13, you know, go for it.
John: Yeah. So we’re talking about movies and sort of the MPAA. But there’s also, of course, restrictions when you’re writing for television. And in many ways, those restrictions are stronger, at least, on broadcast television. And this weird sort of nebulous of cable television and sort of what you’re allowed to and what you’re not allowed to do on cable television. So the shit barrier has been broken in cable. And so most cable networks will let you say shit, throw it in as much as you want to do. And there’s a South Park episode where they go — they famously go way overboard with shits.
John: And do it. Watching Mr. Robot this season, which I really enjoyed thoroughly, I noticed they were saying fuck so often. And what they would do is they would say the F and then just like silence out the rest of the word. And so it was it — you see them on screen, so clearly, they were saying fuck but you just didn’t hear the “uck” of it.
John: And so I tweeted at the show’s creator, Sam Esmail, to say, “Hey, are you like breaking new ground there? Like I’ve not seen this on basic cable before.” He’s like, “No, I don’t think we’re breaking any new ground.” And a bunch of people jumped in to say that, “I guess on Breaking Bad, the approach was they would do it once per season. And in Mr. Robot, they’re doing it like seven times in an episode.”
Craig: Right It’s interesting. I seem to recall going around with the MPAA on a movie where we were going for PG-13 and we were trying to play that game of what if we bleep it. And they said, “No.”
Craig: “You don’t get to do that in a movie. It still counts.” I guess in television, it’s a bit different.
Craig: I mean, I don’t know, the whole thing is so stupid. It’s like, who’s watching the show? And my feeling is, if you can put a rating on the show, then put the rating on the show because — especially now, if your kid’s at home and you have no parental controls on your television, they can watch whatever they want.
Craig: They can watch a rated R movie with a press of a button. So put the ratings on the television shows. They’ve done it. And then just let it go.
Craig: Let there be rated R TV.
Craig: And not do this dumb shit.
John: Yeah. So I will say in the U.S. at least, there tend to be different standards for 8 o’clock shows, 9 o’clock shows, and 10 o’clock shows on broadcast networks. Cable networks tend to be much more liberal and sort of increasingly liberal when you get up to the pay cable, the HBOs, the Showtimes, the Netflixes, anything goes. And so they’re incredibly permissive about sort of what you can do.
John: If all this conversation is making you think of the documentary by Kirby Dick, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, you don’t have to tweet at us. We’ll have a link to that in the show notes as well. So that’s a full documentary that talks through the MPAA’s rating system and sort of the controversies about how it all works.
Craig: It’s so worth seeing, especially because the documentary itself was then subject to the MPAA’s bizarro rating system.
John: Yes, it becomes very, very meta.
John: All right. Let’s go to our next topic. Craig, how do you have a good relationship with your representatives, your agent, your manager and how do you have a bad relationship? What are some signs you can look for whether your relationship is going well or poorly?
Craig: Well, first, let’s start by acknowledging that when we talk about our agents and our managers if you have a manager, it is a relationship. I think a lot of writers feel like there’s some special category called representative and that’s its own thing and then — but it’s not really like — it is, it’s a relationship. It’s a relationship between people. And there are things that you can do to make that relationship work better and there are definitely things you can do to make it work worse.
So let’s start with the good stuff. I think the first thing that’s important for writers to do is be realistic about what their representatives can actually accomplish. Agents and managers are not magicians. Basically, what they are are people that are leveraging what you provide them.
John: Exactly. So they can only work their magic or to the degree they have any magic in showing the work that you’ve provided and getting that out in the town and getting other people interested in what you’ve written for them. They can’t tell you what to write. They can’t tell you how to write your stuff better. They can only work with the material you’re giving them.
Craig: Correct. And ultimately, they can’t force people to like something. They’ll do their best. Let’s remember that they get paid when you get paid. But they can’t force anything. So you have to be realistic about what they can accomplish. They’re just people.
Craig: Secondly, I think it’s important for writers to set the agenda of how the relationship should work. I think everybody that gets into the entertainment business, on some level, is a child with issues looking for parental approval from the world, which you will never get.
Specifically, you will not get it from your representatives and yet I hear often times writers describing or talking about their relationship with their agent like that person was their mom or their dad. They’re not. And what the danger of that transference in saying that my agent is like my mommy or my daddy is that what you’re then saying to them is, “In this relationship, you set the agenda. I’ll be sitting here waiting. You tell me what to do.” Bad idea.
You need to be in charge of your career in that sense. I actually think agents and managers appreciate it when a writer can sit down and say, “This is who I am. This is what I write. This is what I want to write. This is what I want my career to be like. And this is what I’m willing to do. Now, you help me do that.”
John: What you’re describing, I find so often. I think part of it comes because a new writer comes into the business and is so excited to have anybody taking them seriously, whatsoever. And if that person has more experience, if that person is 10 years older, naturally you’re going to fall into those I’m the child, you’re the parent roles. That’s not usually helpful for anybody.
And I remember my relationship with my first agent was sort of that thing. We were friends, too, but it was more that he was the person who knew everything and I knew nothing. And while that was accurate, it wasn’t overall helpful. And so when I moved to my current agent, we were much more peers. We were rising together and we could very much understand what each of us wanted.
Craig: Exactly. And when you lay out what you want, you actually enable them to get you what you want. It’s hard for them to get you what you want when you haven’t told them, when you’re just waiting for them to describe it.
Craig: They’ll start to lose faith in you, too. Everybody wants a strong client. They want missions. They want goals. They want just as we do. Like when we’re sitting with people and they give us notes, we don’t want, “Can you make it 5% funnier?” We want actionable items.
Craig: So give your representatives actionable items. And to that end, it’s important that you communicate purposely with them. We get a lot questions and I see a lot of questions. How often should I talk to my agent? Should I bother them every week or every day or every month? How about this? Bother them when you have something to bother them about.
Craig: So I don’t talk to my agents every day. Sometimes I go a month or two without talking to them. But when I talk to them, there’s an agenda and there’s a purpose. And that I think is very helpful because I’m not grinding the relationship with my insecure need to chitchat or gossip. We have a professional relationship. And I find that helpful because when I do talk to them, everybody takes it seriously.
John: Absolutely. I talk to my agent much more often than that. But, you know, there’s times where like weeks will go by. It’s because I’m busy writing something. And there’s really nothing to actually talk about. There’s no business to get done. And so those day where I’m talking to them five times, it’s because there’s something really pressing and decisions have to be made right away. And so I think, communicate purposely.
And also, get back to them quickly. So if they’re looking for you to read something or to respond to something, do it promptly. Because you’re expecting them to respond promptly, you have to respond promptly as well.
Craig: 100%. And similar to the get back to them promptly is listen to them. And this is something that I think a lot of writers say they do but don’t actually do. Our agents are constantly trying to tell us things. But because of their training and I think just the personality that goes along with agenting, they sometimes struggle to relay bad news or negative information. Listen carefully to what they’re saying. You can be skeptical about what they’re saying, but you can’t be a denialist.
Craig: Because sometimes there’s bad news.
Craig: And you have to listen to it and you have to be — you have to show a willingness to hear it and absorb it because there’s no way to move forward or get better or improve things if you’re denying what they’re saying.
John: And sometimes it means asking the tough follow-up question. So the kinds of bad news that you’re going to get from your agent is, yeah, they didn’t think the meeting went well, they’re going with another writer, they’re not going to take you for your optional step, you got passes from these places on your spec script.
John: The question which is harder to ask, but which is sort of needed to ask is, is there any feedback? Is there any sense of sort of what happened there? And sometimes they’ll have the answer, sometimes they won’t have the answer. Sometimes it’s a thing you can fix or change, sometimes it’s not. But by asking that question, you might find out like, you know what, they really just liked this other writer better. And like that’s going to happen. Or they just didn’t sort of believe in the draft. That’s going to happen too. And I’ve had to ask sometimes the tough questions like, was it me? Am I being unreasonable here? And sometimes I’ve heard like, “Yes, you are being unreasonable.” I remember Aline talking about her agent who said like, “Shut up and write the next draft.”
John: And sometimes you need the agent who can tell you that and you’re only going to get that relationship by asking those questions that could have negative answers.
Craig: Yes. Sometimes I find myself talking to a writer who is wondering out loud about something. And like, “It’s been a while. I’m trying to get work. It’s been a bit of a struggle. I’m wondering if maybe like somehow I’m on the outs.” And I just want to say, “If only there were someone you could ask. Pick up the phone, call your agent and say, ‘I am giving you permission to speak as frankly and honestly as possible, where do I stand?'” Only then can you do something about it. So you have to listen.
What you shouldn’t do — let’s talk about ways to poison the well — where I think things can go wrong, is when writers start to lean on their representatives like they’re therapists.
Craig: Or they’re emotional dumping grounds. You’re the person, I call it, a cry — you know, I’m going to cry on the phone to you because I feel upset. Or I’m going to treat you like my parent. Or in the worse case, I’m going to be abusive to you and blame you for everything that’s going wrong. Or on the flip side, I’m going to count on you like my angel. So I don’t have to worry about taking control of things. My angel will come and save me if I just pray to them hard enough. That’s not what they do and you will be disappointed.
John: It’s so tempting to vent to your agent because people are annoying and frustrating. But that person who you had a terrible meeting with could honestly be one of their good friends. And so you have to sort of, you know, be honest but measured in your criticisms with people and just not sort of slam a lot of doors.
Craig: Agree. You should not be passive. Don’t think of your agent as person who gets me a job. They actually aren’t people who get you jobs. They’re people who negotiate employment for you. You get you a job. Yes, they can help put you in rooms. Yes, they can help get you opportunities to get a job, but you are going to end up with a bad relationship if you view your roll in the partnership as entirely passive. It’s not.
John: It’s not at all. So you’re responsible for landing the job. They can sort of get you — they can put you on the runway, but you have to like fly the plane.
Craig: Precisely. Another mistake that, I think, people make in their relationships with their agents is being naïve about the nature of the agency business itself. So what will happen is someone will say, “I’m going to fire my agent. I hate them. I really wanted this job. And they knew I wanted this job. And then their other client got the job. And how can he do this to me. And it’s not fair, nanananananana.”
And I just want to say, did you not know? Oh, were you at the Just You agency? Did you not know that were other clients there that could also do what you do, that would also want what you want? Did you not think that they also had this conversation? Get used to conflict of interest. It’s inevitable. You can’t get around it, so don’t hold that against the agency.
John: You know what, I’ve sort of been at one agency for a very long time. And I really sort of only dealt with sort of one person, and sort of one way, it all works. But there are some writers, and I think you may know who I’m talking about, who play this sort of strange meta game where they’re at one agency, but they actually know agents at other agencies and they’re talking to other agents. And the other agencies are working for them, too.
There’s ways you could sort of be very connected with more than just your fundamental agent and really have a good sense of the overall, how it’s all working. I’m not sure that’s helpful for most writers. But there are people who, in some smart ways, really understand how everything fits together. And they can end up getting those jobs or having better relationships with filmmakers and with other talent because they are, you know, they’re friendly to everybody and they’re not sort of focused only on this one relationship with this one agent.
Craig: Right. And you should know as a client that if you end up in a situation where you feel your agent somehow screws you over in favor of another client, fire them, get a new agent, but just know that the new agent will be in the exact same position.
John: Yeah, I have a friend who’s looking at replacing his agent. And it’s one of those weird situations where he has to decide, do I stay at the same — he’s at a big agency. Do I stay at the same agency and go to a different team or do I leave the agency? And I don’t understand how it can possibly work that you stay at the same agency with different agents. I feel like, especially today, everything is so connected and you’re going to end up dealing with those other agents no matter what. And so just like you kind of fired them but you’re still around.
John: It feels like a mess.
Craig: It does feel like a mess. And lastly, I would say to our writer friends that when you talk to your agents, it is a mistake to on the one hand simply assume that they’re right because they’re talking to you. And then on the other hand, get angry when they’re not right. The fact is they’re just people. I don’t listen to my agents and invest 100% faith in what they’re saying. I have a conversation with them the way I would with anybody else. There are things that they know that I don’t know and I can — I know the difference between fact and opinion. But we have a dialogue about the opinions.
And there are times where I have challenged them and I was right. There were times when I challenge them and then they were right. But we have the discussion. It’s important that you do have that discussion with them because you will then forgo the disappointing ‘you were wrong’ discussion. Yeah, that’s right, sometimes they’re wrong. Shocker.
John: I think you also have to remember like what are agents actually trying to do? Agents are trying to keep their clients employed because agents get paid — we’ve said this a thousand times — agents get paid when you get paid. So their goal is to keep their clients employed. Their goal is not to make the best movies in the world. Their goal is not to make everybody happy or make one studio incredibly rich. Their goal is to keep their clients working.
John: And so look for their expertise in sort of what deals are happening right now, where things are getting set up, that kind of stuff. They will actually know a lot of information about that. Don’t look to them for great advice about like how this could be a better movie or what the nature is of — would this filmmaker be the right fit for you. Like that’s not going to be their expertise. Their expertise is in making deals, making connections, and hoping everything works out okay.
Craig: And even when you’re talking about their area of expertise, don’t be afraid to express your opinion. If they say, “Listen, we want to go in and ask for this.” It’s okay to say, “I actually want you to ask for this,” and then have the discussion. You can, eventually they may say, “You’re nuts and you just got to trust us on this.” And then you can. Just the way that it works in any discussion with people where they just finally look at you and go, “No, no, no, you just got to trust me on this.”
But there have been times where we’ve had those discussions and we came up with a new plan together.
Craig: You have input and this way you don’t feel like you just got jobbed somehow.
John: Yeah. You have to remember that you have a relationship with your agents and your managers, but you also have a relationship with studio executives and with producers and other people who are involved. And so sometimes, that triangle is sort of strange. And like, that producer will try to play you against your agents, or you’ll be trying to play the producer. And it’s a complicated thing especially as you’re trying to talk about money or how are we going to get this movie made? And recognize that different people have different agendas.
So invariably, as you’re trying to ask for a raise on a project, you’re going to get these weird phone calls saying like, “Oh, we can’t possibly do that. Business affairs is slamming us down.” And you’re going to have to make some calls yourself because your agent won’t be able to do it. Like there are going to be tough decisions that you yourself have to make and you can’t just expect your representatives to do it all for you.
Craig: No. But whatever those decisions are, you just have to know that you’re going to be making them in concert with your representatives.
Craig: So they need to know. And that requires you having those grown up discussions with them.
John: Yeah. You went through this whole thing without talking about your fundamental, underlying advice which is to fire your agent.
Craig: Well, you know, because it’s not going to necessarily [laughs] help you to have a good relationship with your agent.
John: No, it’s not.
Craig: But yeah, don’t forget that this is not a marriage. It’s a work partnership. It’s a professional partnership. So in the back of your mind, just know I can end this.
Craig: That in and of itself helps you be a little more confident and a little more aggressive — and when I say, aggressive, I don’t mean angry aggressive, I mean active, a little more active in the relationship because I want it to work. I chose this person to partner with professionally. I’m not going to then now lean back and just let them do everything and complain about how they do it. I want to work with them.
Craig: So keep that in mind that if it’s not working, you fire them.
John: Yeah. I’m going to underline the point you made, that it’s not a marriage. And that so we talk about how important it is to have a relationship and we may talk about things that sort of sound like marriage terms and about open lines of communication and expressing clear agendas. But you are not as bound to this person as you think you are. And if things are not going well, both parties have the ability to walk away and it’s actually very simple and relatively unencumbered. You are going to be dealing with them on some projects that they may have set up. Sometimes, there are lawsuits about, you know, certain things and who set what stuff up. But most cases, you just walk over to another agency and stuff is fine.
Craig: Exactly, exactly.
Craig: You will live. You’ll survive.
John: We have run out of time in this episode for two of the things we want to talk about, which is about what you should do in L.A. if you are just in L.A. for a short time as a screenwriter, and how to use more real stuff in your movies. So we’ll save those for next week. But I think we have to get to our One Cool Things.
Craig: They’re so cool.
John: So my One Cool Things is an article by Tom Chivers writing for BuzzFeed where he asked — he sat down with a bunch of atheists. And he asked them how do they find meaning in a purposeless universe? And I thought it was a really great conversation with a bunch of smart people because I think the default assumption is that if you are an atheist, you’re going to have a view that nothing really matters. And so well, how do you find stuff that does matter if there’s no sort of end game to it?
And for screenwriters, I think it’s really interesting because we have this incentive, this instinct to narrativize everything. And so there has to be a final goal. Like your hero has to accomplish something because they’re going to achieve something at the end. And as we look at our lives, we have those little small milestones, but we want our overall life to have some sort of purpose like my being here on Earth was meaningful for this reason.
And there’s going to be this natural instinct to, well, I do this and then because I did this, there’s a reward at the end. And the reward at the end could be heaven if you’re a religious person. But if you’re not a religious person, how do you find rewards in the present day? And I thought it was a bunch of smart conversations about how you find meaning in the present day. And if you don’t perceive life as being a dress rehearsal for this next stage, what does your daily agenda look like?
Craig: It’s a fascinating topic and certainly close to my heart because I am an atheist and because I do believe that I live in a purposeless universe and yet I also derive great personal meaning from my life and I have values and I have morals and I believe that those things are all compatible. And I’ve never actually met someone who is an atheist who says, “You know what, I’m going to drive my car into a crowd of people today, because why not?”
Craig: It just doesn’t work that way. That’s not the way we are.
Craig: There’s another great talk by Sam Harris. I believe it was a TED talk and we’ll throw the link on, where he talks about science and how even if you eschew metaphysics entirely, that the pursuit of scientific truth in and of itself helps us live a good life and helps form the bedrock of certain moralities. It’s really, really well done. So if you’re of this sort of bent, take a listen.
Craig: All right. Well, my One Cool Thing is a one cool person. And it’s an athlete so it ties in a little bit to our NFL discussion with the coolest name, Didi Gregorius.
John: That’s a great name.
Craig: Isn’t it great? So Didi Gregorius is the starting short stop for the New York Yankees. Why is he so cool? Well, for starters, he had just about the biggest shoes to fill ever. He was Derek Jeter’s replacement. Derek Jeter isn’t just a future first ballot hall of famer and former Yankee captain, but he’s an institution. He is just truly beloved, not only by the Yankees, but by all of baseball. And that’s a rare thing indeed. So you can’t get bigger shoes than that to fill.
And who did the Yankees turn to? Well, very odd guy in, at least statistically speaking. Didi Gregorius is a black man who’s Dutch. He was born in the Netherlands. He is, I think, one of two black Dutch men to play [laughs] Major League Baseball in history and maybe one of six or seven Dutch nationals to play ever. He speaks four languages. Born in Amsterdam, raised in Curaçao. And he’s young. He’s really young, he’s 25 years old. He’s never been an everyday player until this year. He gets paid $533,000 which is barely above the minimum. So the union minimum in Major League Baseball is $507,000. So he’s not even getting scale plus 10 on that, you know, in that sense.
So already, we have this very interesting character for our sports movie of a guy that has to fill in for legend. And he’s first month was a disaster. [laughs] He was terrible at the plate and even worse, he was terrible on the field. And that was really where everybody had kind of hoped he would shine because God love Derek Jeter, but as he went on in his career, his defensive skills did start to wane. And it was costing the Yankees some games.
Well, just like a sports movie and life doesn’t usually work like this, but in this case, it did. He turned it around. And he started to do amazing things in the field, truly amazing things. And he even started to hit the ball really well. And at this point in the year, so it’s his first year where he’s an every day starter, filling in for Derek Jeter, plus his name is Didi Gregorius which is the coolest name ever, plus he’s Dutch. He currently has the second highest WAR in the American League. And that means wins above replacement. It’s a fancy statistic that basically says, if we replace you with a scrub, how many games would we lose? [laughs] In other words, how many games do we win because you’re not a scrub?
Craig: And he is the second highest in the American League and fifth among all short stops. How cool is that? Didi Gregorius, awesome season. One cool guy.
John: What I love about your choice there is it plays on both of our instincts in that, you know, in baseball now, it does come down to so much the numbers. So you’re citing a number with this WAR figure and yet what is really appealing to you about him is not his numbers but about his sort of unique story —
John: And his unique character. And that’s honestly what we’re drawn to is we’re drawn to characters and we want to see the story even if the story may not necessarily always be reflected in the numbers.
Craig: Indeed, indeed.
John: And that is our show this week. So a final reminder. This is your last chance to get your t-shirt for Scriptnotes. And so if you want one, you should go to store.johnaugust.com. If you want to support the John side, you should buy a green camp t-shirt. But if you really need to have Sexy Craig’s blessing —
Craig: Oh, yeah, you want the blue shirt, don’t you, baby?
Craig: Was that like a shiver of disgust? [laughs]
John: It’s whatever you want to be, Craig. They’re only up there until Thursday. So if this is Tuesday, you’re listening to the show, you should chop, chop, get on it. Our outro this week is by — comes via Chris French. And so it’s actually a snippet from the Coming to America soundtrack which actually has the Scriptnotes theme in it.
John: So some time traveler listened to the podcast, went back in time and wrote it into the theme for Coming to America.
Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you have a question for me or for Craig, you can write those longer questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. johnaugust.com is also where you can find the show notes with links to many of the things we talked about. If you’d like all the episodes back to the very start, you can go to scriptnotes.net, that’s where you sign up for membership for $1.99 a month. That gives you access to all the back catalogue and through the app that you can find on the app stores, you can listen to all those back episodes.
We’re on iTunes. So while you’re there, leave us a rating. Leave us a little comment because we love to read those little comments.
Craig: We do.
John: We’re on Facebook, but we almost never check the Facebook, but we — because I mentioned it this week, we’ll actually check the Facebook comments. But we do check Twitter a lot. So that’s where I make fun of Craig for being late.
John: Craig is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust. And that is our show for this week.
Craig: Good show, John.
John: Good show. I’ll see you next week.
Craig: Next week, bye.
- For two more days, Scriptnotes shirts are available for pre-order in the John August Store
- Black List Table Reads, with John and Craig
- Craig is running a few minutes behind
- Tom Hardy’s Legend snuck a 2-star Guardian review onto its poster, made it look like 5, from The Independent
- The biology of crime: Low heart rate may predict criminal behavior, study says, from the Los Angeles Times
- The odds of making it in the NFL
- Addition of the PG-13 rating on Wikipedia
- How ‘Indiana Jones’ Finally Forced Hollywood To Create The PG-13 Rating, from Business Insider
- The Possession: PG-13 Vs. Uncut Edition Comparison on YouTube
- This Film Is Not Yet Rated, and on Wikipedia
- I Asked Atheists How They Find Meaning In A Purposeless Universe, from BuzzFeed
- Sam Harris’s TED talk: Science can answer moral questions
- Didi Gregorius making a name for himself with Yankees on ESPN.com, and Didi on Twitter, Wikipedia and baseball-reference.com
- Outro from Coming to America, sent to us by Chris French (send us yours!)