The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey this is John. So today’s show we have a clip from a movie that has some strong words in it. Not the F-word, but other words. So, if you’re driving with kids in the car, that is a warning. That is going to be our third segment of the show today.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 219 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show we are going to be talking to Aline Brosh McKenna, our favorite podcast guest, our most repeated podcast guest. She is here to tell us about the launch of her show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which she discussed way back on the Christmas episode last year. She’s the best.
Are you excited, Craig?
Craig: Well, she is and will always be our living Joan Rivers.
John: Yes. So, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show with Rachel Bloom, that debuts — it debuted yesterday if you’re listening to this on Tuesday.
Craig: Ooh, exciting.
John: But we recorded this before it came out, so who knows. Maybe things went crazily wrong. But they didn’t, because the show is great. We’re also going to be talking about Indian screenwriters who have gone on strike and what that means and sort of what they can look forward to. And we’re going to be looking at three pages from this aspiring writer who I think, you know, we’ll see if he has a career ahead of him. His name is Scott Frank. And we’re going to be taking a look at these three pages he wrote and also a scene he shot that was in a movie he shot that people love. And it’s a good look at sort of how the conflict on the page between two characters in a scene with dialogue can translate into a movie and sort of what you look for in writing on the page.
Craig: That is exactly right. And this should be an excellent show. I have a good feeling about this show. We have Aline, so you know we’re — I mean, she’s about to come and we’re going to have a ton of bizarre mixed metaphors and analogies.
We have some interesting follow up stuff that we’re about to get to. And then I’m really excited to sort of tear this scene apart in a good way and really analyze bit by bit how these things happen. Because, you know, it’s been a while since we’ve really gotten super crafty, so.
John: Yeah, this will be a crafty episode.
Craig: Crafty crafty.
John: So, let’s start with the follow up. The t-shirts for Scriptnotes are now out in the world. And so as I was going to see — I saw Sicario and The Martian over the weekend. I was walking from the restaurant back to go see The Martian and I saw one of the purple Scriptnotes shirts out in the wild, like a guy on Sunset Boulevard was wearing it.
And so he saw my double take and he goes, “Hey John.” I’m like, hey. I was just so surprised to see the t-shirt out there in the world. So, if you are out there in the world wearing a Scriptnotes t-shirt, that is fantastic. If you want to #Scriptnotes or #ScriptnotesTee on Instagram or Twitter, that’s also fun and fine.
If you are overseas, it’s a chance that you’ve not gotten your shirts yet. If you’re in the US, it’s more likely that you’ve gotten your shirts. They all went out last Friday, so a week ago as we’re recording this. So, people should be having them in their hands ready to wear.
Craig: Spectacular. It is fun to see those shirts around. I do occasionally see them. If you are walking around with a shirt and John crosses your path, you too can have a conversation with John that begins and ends with, “Hey John. Hey.”
John: I think there’s going to be a lot of those in Austin.
John: Speaking of Austin, the Austin Film Festival is coming up very soon. There will be two Scriptnotes sessions. There’s going to be a live Scriptnotes show on the Friday and there’s going to be a Three Page Challenge on Saturday. We were able to use our collective muscle to move the Saving Mr. Banks conversation between Kelly Marcel and John Lee Hancock, so it’s not at the same time as Scriptnotes anymore.
So you can go to both the live Scriptnotes show and to Kelly and John’s discussion and be happy.
Craig: As well you should. Yes. There was a little bit of a — I don’t want to call it an uproar, because it was about four people. But those four people were very upset, so we took care of them.
John: Yeah. We took care of those folks. So come join us for all those things if you’d like to. I don’t know our venues yet. I don’t know anything more about our shows, but I’m excited to be going to Austin and performing those shows with Craig and folks.
Craig: I think they said that we’re doing the live podcast in a church.
John: Yeah. And so the church last year, Craig wasn’t there last year. The church is a lovely venue, except last year we were seated on the — so, there’s pews, but we were seated on the floor. We weren’t up on risers. And it was actually very hard to see. So, I will do my best to make sure that we are up high enough so you can actually see us in that church.
Craig: No one wants to see us. They listen to us. It’s a podcast, for god’s sake.
John: Absolutely. Really what you can do is you can just put your blinders on and just pretend — like listen to it live before everyone else can.
Craig: Really what we’re saying is fly to Austin so you have slightly better audio.
John: That’s really what we’re going for. Actually, maybe worse audio, because now that Craig has a good microphone, we’re all set.
Craig: Great point.
John: Another bit of follow up. So, a couple episodes ago we talked about how would this be a movie, and one of the things we brought up was the French train heroes, so basically these three Americans who were on a train in France and they ended like taking down this guy who was shooting at the train. And they were hailed as heroes.
A weird bit of follow up that happened this last week is Spencer Stone, one of the three guys, ended up getting stabbed repeatedly in Sacramento. And there was video of it. It was just a really strange incident.
So, it wasn’t related to the French train attacks directly, but we were really wondering as we were talking about the French train possible movie, well, what would the second act be? How do you structure that? And maybe that’s a possibility of how you would think about what the second and third acts of that movie would be is basically what happens after that.
If that big incident happened in the first act, what is the life like for those guys moving forward? And as those 15 minutes start ticking down, interesting to think about sort of what happens when this heroic person goes home and whether that becomes a factor in other things of his life.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a little reminiscent of the Chris Kyle story, who was murdered here in the United States by an unhinged friend. This guy seems to have been stabbed in sort of just a random incident of guys out at night. And maybe getting into an argument or a fight or something.
He’s going to be okay from what I understand. It doesn’t feel — I mean, if I had passed on this movie initially and then someone came back to me and said, “Well what about now?” I’d say it’s still a pass.
John: Yeah. I think it’s still a pass, too. And I don’t want to sort of make light of the real plight of what happened to this one true guy, Spencer Stone, by saying like, oh, well, it changes the plot of the story. Obviously we’re talking about sort of a fictional movie about maybe some fictional people. But I think it was an interesting way to think about sort of what happens next, if you structured this kind of story with the big dramatic train incident happening at the start. What is the ongoing story of these three young men?
Craig: Indeed. Indeed.
John: Indeed. You have a bit of follow up here about Craig and Ezra and Marissa. I don’t even know what this.
Craig: I know, isn’t this is exciting? So, I have the craziest. A couple of nights ago, Chris Morgan and I went to the guild to speak to a group that was sort of a hybrid group of Writers Guild members and members of the Universal Emerging Writers Program, which essentially it’s designed to promote diverse writers, African American, Latino, Asian American, LGBT, the whole — the usuals, right?
Craig: You know, like okay, these are the folks. And it was interesting because they expanded that beyond just the people who had gone through the program to Writers Guild members in general. And I’m not sure exactly how they expanded it, but it was by far the most diverse room I’ve ever seen in the guild, ever. I mean, it was actually really encouraging.
And so we had this really nice talk about stuff and then afterwards Chris and I went over to Canter’s, because I haven’t been to Canter’s in — you know, I used to live around the corner from Canter’s. It’s been like 12 years.
John: I’m going to pause you for a second, because people who don’t live in Los Angeles have no idea what you’re talking about.
Craig: Oh, Canter’s. Canter’s Deli is an institution. It’s been around since the — I’m guessing the 20’s? 30’s?
John: It feels like 20’s.
Craig: Yeah. It’s an old, old building in the old Jewish district of Los Angeles, which isn’t really — eh, it’s kind of still Jewish.
John: It’s Jewish and Ethiopian in a weird way.
Craig: Right. It’s Jewthiopian. But it is an old school deli. And it is unchanged. And it’s just a neighborhood institution. And I used to go there all the time. It was the closest thing that I could find to sort of New York Jewish comfort food.
And it is New York Jewish comfort food. It’s just in LA. So I’m sitting there and Chris and I are chatting, and then he gets up to go to the restroom. And this guy comes over to my table, young man, nice guy, millennial mustache. I love the millennial mustache.
John: It’s fun.
Craig: He introduces himself. His name is Ezra. And he says, “I’m sorry to bother you. Is your name, Craig?
“Are you Craig Mazin?”
“I’m a fan of Scriptnotes.” And he’s super nice. He’s wearing a Mets hat, which I don’t like, and I tell him —
John: No, not a bit.
Craig: We talk about that for a bit. And then he says, “By the way, my girlfriend is sitting over there. Her name is Marissa. Her family owns Canter’s.”
Craig: And I was like, what? This is awesome! So I just went over and sat down with Marissa. Her mother is Jackie Canter. And we talked about Canter’s. It was the craziest — it’s like the coolest thing to meet nice people. I feel like all of our listeners are super nice. They are dating people that own classic restaurants, which is a huge plus for me because Jackie did send over some free black and white cookies and rugelach to Chris and to me.
John: Aw. That’s very nice. My similar kind of Scriptnotes adjacent story is a friend of mine was talking about he went to his barber who is in the Valley, I believe, and they were talking. And it turned out the barber said he was really tired because he has to stay up late after his shift because he’s a screenwriter and he wants to work at night. And he said like, “Have you ever heard the show Scriptnotes?” And he was a big fan of the Scriptnotes show.
John: So I just love that we have barbers in the Valley who listen to the show as well. If you are that barber in the Valley, hi, hello.
Craig: Yeah, well, you know what? Ezra, I just want to say thank you for coming over. You were an incredibly nice guy. I loved how much of a fan you were. And thank you for interesting me to your wonderful girlfriend, who should become your wife, Marissa. Because, let’s face it, Canter’s.
John: So when I saw this on the Workflowy, the outline of the show, I was like — so I was thinking is this Ezra Miller? I’m trying to think who is an actress who could be the Marissa. I was thinking too much is really what I was thinking.
Craig: It turns out to be a very simple but beautiful story.
John: A similar simple but beautiful story is really the Aline Brosh McKenna story, who is our first and — she was our first guest. She’s our first guest on the episode today. She’s first in our hearts. Let us welcome Aline Brosh McKenna.
Aline Brosh McKenna: I’m very happy to be here.
John: So, Aline, we are recording this on Saturday, but on Monday your show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, debuts.
Aline: It does.
John: And people are listening to this on Tuesday. So, it’s this weird state of being both before and after the moment. So, tell us about what you’re feeling right now, two days before your show premieres?
Aline: Well, I’m feeling quite after about the pilot, because we started shooting it a year ago. And we finished it around Christmas of last year.
John: You were actually on the Christmas episode and we talked about your pilot.
Aline: So, at what point in the grieving was I there?
John: It was pre-grieving. So, at this point you were like, “Oh, we’re a Showtime show and everyone loves us.”
Aline: Yeah. I think they did love us before they set us free. I think I’ve talked about the fact that the pilot sort of hung around for a while, got picked up by the CW. It was a shock to us how quickly it happened. We didn’t know we were going to be on the fall schedule. So we geared up very quickly. And the pilot we did a little tszuj on the pilot. We added some material and we edited out some profanity. And I’m excited that people are going to get to see it, considering how close it came to living on a shelf, or in a bin, in some garbage.
Craig: And so now you have this interesting thing. You ever see that — sometimes I’ll notice in a movie when I can tell when they’ve done a pickup or a reshoot because a bunch of times come by and the actor looks slightly different. With all the time in between, does everything still feel like, okay, from episode one to two does it still feel like, oh yeah, it’s still the same person, it’s still the same vibe?
Aline: Well we had a lot of the same crew come back, so we had a lot of people who were familiar with everybody’s look. And then one character was completely recast, so we didn’t have to worry about that. And there was one set, which is quite important to the series, but you only see it once in the pilot. And we were able to completely rebuild that. And that’s one that we use a lot.
So, I think you’d have to be a pretty fine careful student of the pilot to see the differences.
Craig: It’s the only way I’ll watch TV, just so you know. [laughs]
Aline: With a microscope.
Craig: With a microscope and a checklist.
John: Now, Craig doesn’t watch any TV, so the real question is going to be whether Craig actually watches your show. So far the critics have said that he should watch your show. This is Brian Lowry of Variety writing, “One of the fall’s most promising hours, full of infectious energy.”
Willa Paskin at Slate writes, “Charming, ambitious, utterly singular show.”
And there’s also a New York Times article which I’ll link to, because you guys have done a ton of press on this show. You’re actually one of the shows that people are singling out as being sort of groundbreaking and unique and something people are excited about.
Aline: Again, all the more gratifying. We’re very grateful. But all the more gratifying considering how close we came to being garbage.
John: I was at an event a couple of weeks ago and I was talking with an executive who works, I think, at CBS, and she was saying how much she loved your show and how excited she was. It’s so complicated, but CBS and Showtime are related, and so is CW. And so I said like, “I’m so happy and excited for Aline and for Rachel, but I’m also hoping that — I’m both hoping for their back nine and I hope that they don’t have to do the back nine,” because I’m just trying to think how will you possibly survive 22 episodes of your show.”
Because, you’re shooting what episode right now?
Aline: We are just in the middle of seven.
John: Great. And so you are only a third of the way through it. You must be exhausted already.
Aline: Well, I’m not thinking about it, because we don’t have our back nine order. They ordered five extra scripts. But we’re just kind of chugging through these first 13. You know, and it is what everybody says it is in terms of the workload is quite intense. But it’s been so fun. And it’s been such an interesting different kind of job for me. I’ve really enjoyed it. So, you know, as tiring as it is, I really don’t dwell on that. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Craig: I would love to know how you guys — I mean, look, any TV show is a difficult march. But how do you continually create new songs that rapidly and that frequently?
Aline: It’s, yeah, I mean, it’s quite something. We, Rachel and I, had thought about this show in quite a lot of detail when we thought we were a Showtime show. So, we had a bunch of stuff backlogged and that helped us. And when we started we hired — Rachel did the music on the pilot with her friend, Jack Dolgen, who now writes on the show and writes additional music.
But we hired this guy, Adam Schlesinger, who is halfway to an EGOT, among other things. He was in the Fountains of Wayne.
Craig: I love Fountains of Wayne.
Aline: He composed a Broadway show. He’s written a lot of comedy songs, including Broadway’s Not Just for Gays Anymore. And we picked him up at the beginning of this, when we got picked up. And he has been writing with Rachel, and with Jack. And they kick out the songs very quickly.
It’s funny. That has not been as much of an inhibiting factor. Sometimes we switch out the song that we want to do in a given episode, because while the songs are kind of standalone pieces in a way, they have to fit emotionally into the show. So, if the show gets rewritten, sometimes the songs change.
But Rachel and Adam, once they have an idea for a song, either separately or together, and then Jack as well, we’re able to kind of cook through those once they know what they are.
John: I have friends who write on other network shows, and they will get studio notes and network notes, and they’ll have to quickly scramble to incorporate those notes. And it seems like it must be an incredibly bigger challenge when you have so many other pieces that are depending on it. So, you have — not only you have Rachel being so busy, but you have the writing of the episode, you have the writing of the songs, you have the choreography. You have so many things dependent. So to try to make a simple, what seems like a simple change, would be incredibly difficult for your show.
Have they been mindful of how challenging that gets?
Aline: We hand the demos in as soon as we get them. And the songs — we try and get the songs with the lyrics into the script. Sometimes we’re behind. But conceptually they know where we are, song-wise, most of the time. And most of their notes reside in the storytelling, in the traditional aspects of the show. So, they’ve been tremendously cooperative. And I think people also people are real fans of the music, so they’re very excited to get those demos. And I think that is the funnest part of the show, for everybody who works on the show, including the crew. It’s just always fun when we have a day when we’re doing a video and there’s music and dance on the set. Sort of everybody wants to come down and participate. Those are fun days.
John: Talk to us about the writing. As you are figuring out an episode, there is a written document you’re turning in that is sort of for approval. Is that an outline? What does it look like? And how long is that?
Aline: Well this is new to me, because in features I try to avoid written outlines, because I find that people get bogged down and you end up in outline cul-de-sac. But in TV there’s really no other way to do it.
So we do two documents. We do a short document, which is like sort of a pre-outline, which is a couple of pages. We send that in. And then we get notes on that. And then we do a fuller outline. And then we try and make that as detailed as possible, so that when the writers go off to script they have a really detailed roadmap.
But I have found that I don’t mind the outlines as much when I know I’m in production. I think in movies what I never liked about those outlines is they just seem like it’s so theoretical. It’s so many steps to get to before you get to your job. Whereas in TV you know you’re making these things, so they seem like just necessary consensus builders, because not only do the networks need them, but every department needs them to sort of anticipate who is coming up casting wise, costume wise, art direction wise, and in all departments.
Craig: That’s the other edge of this brutal scheduling sword. I mean, they can pour notes on you and they can ask for outlines and all the rest. But the train is moving. So, their ability to influence things is limited as well. You’re right, in features, you turn an outline in and you could argue about that outline for a year if you feel like it. You can’t do that, for you.
And obviously the outline helps you — I’m going to use a phrase that I think fits you. It allows you to impose your creative will upon others. So, you’re in charge of this room now of writers, yes?
Craig: What is that like coming from our world where you are in charge of your room, which is you, to now being in charge of all these people and now you have to be accountable for yourself, but you also have to be accountable for what they’re doing? It’s a huge transition.
Aline: Yeah. I mean, I’ve loved it, because I’ve always struggled against the isolation and the claustrophobia of screenwriting. It’s always been a challenge for me. And it’s why I did TV early in my career.
We really have a lot fun. Our staff is six women and three men. And then we have two consultants. I have to say, it’s really fun to be writing in a room with smart people who are kicking in ideas and jokes. And it’s much more social. I really have enjoyed that. And I have enjoyed collaborating with all of the departments.
It is, you know, one of the things about — I’m definitely busier, but I’m definitely — I’m less stressed. And my husband has been noticing this. I think a lot of the stress that I experience as a screenwriter, obviously your days are not as grueling. As a screenwriter, the stress for me was always trying to get your, you know, it sounds pretentious, but getting your vision up on screen when it has to be mediated through a director. If you’re not directing yourself, you know, it has to be interpreted through a director or producer. And you’re not really the person making the decisions.
I think I have found that enormously more stressful in my life, because I am a very direct person. And so being a screenwriter, communicating when something is being made, there’s a lot of indirectness built in. And it really, if you have access as a screenwriter, it’s by virtue of the relationships you had, or you’ve built. But as a showrunner, your access is a natural part of the process. So, I feel like I’ve traded in some of my leisure hours for a more directly satisfying process.
Craig: Good answer, Aline. Good answer.
John: I was having breakfast with a showrunner on Friday, and he was at the end of his 10-episode season. And so he was now in the editing room. And so it was such a change for him because this whole time through he’s been in the writing room, and then suddenly when you’re in production you’re doing all of these jobs at once.
John: And so now he was really relieved to just like, “I could focus on doing one thing rather than three things.” What is your favorite part of this process right now? Are you enjoying the cutting room, or the writer’s room? What do you like?
Aline: That’s a really good way to describe which is, you know, there’s a writer’s room happening, there’s a production in progress, and there’s a post-department in progress. And all those things are happening at the same time. And I can’t speak for other people who do this job, but for me it’s about finding ways to empower other people to help you do this job. And I have amazing people who work with me who are very, very able to cover me on set, and can also cover me in post as needed.
I have found that the writer’s room is the beating heart of the show. If the scripts don’t work, nothing else works. And I think everybody knows that, especially on a show like this that has a very specific voice. And so I spend most of my time in the writer’s room, even when I’m rewriting. Some showrunners when they rewrite they go out of the room and do it themselves. I rewrite in the room with people, so that I get their input.
My biggest challenge, which is somewhat unique to our show, is that Rachel who is, you know, the show is not my voice or her voice, it’s our voice. And she’s full time in the production department. I mean, she’s in probably 80% of the scenes, 85% of the scenes. So trying to get Rachel’s viewpoint/involvement/writing style, all of those things inculcated into the scripts at every point is our biggest kind of institutional challenge.
John: So that it feels like it comes from one brain, even though it’s coming from both of your brains simultaneously. And since she’s on set, it’s sort of like Lena Dunham being on set. She can see whether this is not a choice that makes sense for the show, and call you in when she needs help on that kind of stuff, too.
Aline: Well, you know, the good thing is — I’ve never collaborated with an actor who was also writing with me. Obviously that’s an unusual situation. But I never worry about if there’s someone on set who understands the intention of these scenes, because she always understands the intention of these scenes. And if she doesn’t, she and I can huddle pretty quickly. So that’s really wonderful to have an actor who is your partner in that way. And we really love that. But we were laughing yesterday that when the show got picked up we thought, oh, we’re going to spend so much time together. Isn’t that going to be fun? And yesterday was a rare moment where we were walking across the stages together. And it was after the writer’s room had closed. And it was during a turnaround in the shooting where she was getting changed. We suddenly had 15 minutes together, which it felt like — you know, we always feel like we’re lovers sneaking around trying to find an extra moment together.
She’s shooting most of the time. So particularly when we’re on location, we actually don’t get to see each other as much as we would like. Ironically.
John: So the show will have debuted yesterday. What will your phone calls be like on Tuesday morning? Have they given you any sense of sort of what the expectations are? What you need to be able to do? Because it feels like you’re in this kind of nice spot, where people really like your show, but you’re also sort of the underdog. You’re like a well-regarded underdog going into the situation. So you just have to sort of clear the bar and get people to come back.
Aline: Well, you know, one of the things that’s been nice is I’ve been doing the other job, being a screenwriter, for many years. And I’m new to this job, so every day is a new thing for me. A lot of the people I work with have more experience than I do, so I’m often asking them like, “Now what happens?”
In terms of the reception of the show, I mean, obviously we hope people love it. I don’t have a lot of expectations. I mean, whatever you’re doing when a movie is coming out and you’re looking at tracking, which I try not to do too much anyway with a movie. But with a TV show, I mean, I don’t see why or how I could worry about that. There’s virtually nothing I can do.
My Facebook page is not going to help drive people to the show. So I’m not thinking about ratings and those things. I will be thinking — on Monday I will be thinking, okay, what do we start shooting this week. That’s what I’ll be thinking
Craig: Good for you. That’s the way to be. You know, because the truth is the world will do what the world will do. You know, for movies, our stuff is done by the time the release comes around. There is no possible creative impact that obsessing over tracking and box office can have on the movie itself. Not the case for television. And if you’re sitting there spazzing over numbers, I could see where it starts to get in your head and maybe influence how you’re doing it.
You know, I agree with John. I feel like my sense is this show — I don’t understand exactly what the parameters are for success and failure, but I know there is a breadth there. And clearly they like the show, because they’ve given you this extra vote of confidence. And it’s different, you know. I would be surprised — honestly would be surprised if — look, I mean, obviously if the ratings come in early and they’re terrific, then all’s good to go.
But if they come in and they’re not like over the moon, so what, they’re going to give you time. I do believe that.
Aline: Yeah. It’s an unusual show and so it might take people a little while. I mean, one of the funny things is I don’t have any of the familiar screenwriting excuses. For starters, their marketing has been phenomenal.
John: They really have done a great job.
Aline: So I cannot blame the marketing. And the other thing is it’s been a really interesting experience because this network in particular for whatever reason is extraordinarily supportive of women. They have a tremendous number of female showrunners. And they have shows with female content. And they’re so considerate of women that it never comes up. You know, that’s how kind of pervasive it is that no one is ever saying to me, talking to me about the women’s audience or girls, or their perspective. They’re just treating you like you’re making a show.
Aline: They don’t look down at the audience. You’re not ever gaming that point of view. They just want you to make a good show. And it never comes up. You know, we do jokes about female-driven stuff frequently. And it’s not even part of the conversation. So that’s also been a really wonderful experience.
I didn’t plan on doing television. And I think you guys, I’m sure, have been on conversations with me over beers where I’ve talked about why I wouldn’t do it, but now I think we’re in a time where you just go where the satisfying work is. And it doesn’t really matter what the format is. I feel like even the word television in a way is sort of a misnomer now because people are watching it in so many different formats.
You know, for me this has been one of the best experiences because I never made a decision to do any of it.
Craig: Right. It just sort of happened. I love that.
John: And you were ready for it. I know you have to go, but thank you for joining us for this segment. Because you’re Aline Brosh McKenna, you’re allowed to do one thing out of sequence if you’d like to. So, if you have a One Cool Thing or anything you want to share with our audience, you can do your One Cool Thing midway show.
Aline: Well, I do want to do a One Cool Thing. Thank you for asking me. I’ve worked on movie crews and they’re amazing. And you guys, I know, feel the way I do that crews are incredible. And I so admire what they do. But I’d never seen a television crew in process and they jam. I mean, they’re working so fast. We’re shooting so many pages a day. And I just am so impressed —
John: How many pages do you shoot in a day?
Aline: Seven or eight.
John: Yeah, that’s a lot.
Aline: And I’m just so impressed with everybody, just sort of the alacrity, and they’re on top of it. And they’re moving quickly and they’re anticipating stuff. And the crew has really blown me away. And I wanted to give a particular shout out to — we have a person who is to Rachel what Tony Hale is to Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep.
John: Bag man?
Aline: Yeah. We have — and her name is Bola. And she’s fantastic. I mean, she gets Rachel everywhere she needs to be and anticipates her every need. And she’s a huge Scriptnotes fan —
Aline: And she geeked out when she met me because she’s seen all the episodes and she was excited. So my One Cool Thing is the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend crew, with a shout out to Bola.
Craig: Nice. Nice.
John: Aline, congratulations, good luck, we’re so happy to have you with your new show.
Aline: Thanks guys.
John: And everybody tune in, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, on the CW in the US. If you are overseas, you should find a way to pirate it so you can watch it yourself.
Aline: It’s on Hulu the next day, I believe.
John: Oh great.
Aline: Yeah. And I think it’s also —
Craig: Do not pirate it. It will be available. It will be available.
John: What I will say is that so often these shows are put up online so people can see them for free. And clever Internet users can find a way to see promotional episodes.
Aline: Well, here’s the other thing. It’s on free TV. It’s a network. So you don’t you have to pay to see it the first time. You can pay to see it the second time if you want.
Craig: It’s free!
John: And you should buy all the products that are advertised on the show to support the show and tell them that you’re buying this brand of whatever because of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Aline: You know what? Particularly Hyundai. Hyundai was our first product placement. They were the first people to come to the table. And we have a big shout out to them in the show, obviously.
John: We’re you able to form a rhyme with Hyundai in a song?
Aline: No. They’ve not made it into a song. But let it be known that if we find the right advertiser with deep enough pockets…
John: It’s a good day for Hyundai.
Aline: There will be a song.
Aline: All right. Thank you, guys. I miss you guys. All right, bye.
Craig: We miss you too, Aline.
John: And that was Aline Brosh McKenna.
Craig: Ugh, I’m exhausted.
John: A national treasure.
Craig: I’m exhausted.
John: Similarly exhausting is the process of making a movie, and especially a Bollywood epic. And this last week there was news that the makers of Bollywood films were going on strike. There is a sort of general strike against Bollywood, but writers were a particular focus in this issue. And, Craig, you put this on the list, so tell me what you know about the Indian writer’s strike.
Craig: Well, this is really bigger than an Indian actor’s strike. This appears to be an Indian movie business strike. So you have directors, actors, music directors, cinematographers, all other technicians, junior artists, screenwriters, lyricists currently on strike, meaning everyone.
We are more familiar with the terms of writer’s deals and what it means to be a writer working under various jurisdictions. So, Anjum Rajabali is the — this is an interesting title — convenor of the Film Minimum Basic Contract. So, they have a union of some kind. I don’t know what labor law is like in India. I suspect quite a bit different than here.
They have something, it just seems to be either very week in areas, or completely disregarded and contravened by the behavior of the companies. Now, interestingly, it’s been a while since we’ve talked about, but the United States is unique among all nations when it comes to copyright. We have work-for-hire law, which says that somebody can commission a unique work from someone and the commissioner can own the copyright entirely. And the person who actually creates the work has no copyright.
No other country has it the way we do. Every other country is protected by the moral rights of authors, including India. And yet they’re still getting around this stuff, which is amazing. So, what it boils down to is that Indian writers don’t have essentially any of the creative rights we have here. They keep copyright, but it is essentially —
Craig: Worthless. It’s stripped down. They don’t get any royalties, because apparently they’re forced to sign them over, or something ridiculous like that, or waive them, which this gentleman argues is illegal. They don’t have any creative rights when it comes to credits. And they’re not guaranteed any credit at all. And this is — and this is amazing to me — they’re not guaranteed credit on screen for work that they share copyright in by law. That’s remarkable and incredibly abusive.
And I just think that those of us here in the United States who work in the intellectual property industry of all sorts should be watching this carefully and supporting the Indian filmmakers and Indian crafts people who are involved in making because it’s an enormous film industry there. Massive. And it is just remarkably exploitative, if this is correct. And I have no reason to think it’s not.
John: Yeah, so we will link to the article in the Times of India that talks through what’s going on there. And I can’t pretend that I understand very much about how the Indian film economy works, much less how the labor market in the Indian film economy really works. To me it was just interesting to see and to be reminded of the fact that things are different here and things that are sometimes annoying here, well, they could be much worse. And this a situation where things are much worse, where you have a film industry which is obviously incredibly vibrant and actually very productive, but it’s not necessarily productive in ways that are beneficial to people who do what I do for a living. And that is a real challenge.
So, I mostly read this as a, wow, let’s make sure we don’t slide back from the things we’ve already gained here. And look for like what are the possibilities of the things that do work here, how to spread those out to other places around the world.
Craig: No question. It’s a nice reminder of what we have. And all too often I will hear people in our union in their zeal to improve things denigrate what we have to the point of dismissiveness, first world problem whining, et cetera. And here is somebody saying, you know, even — he’s literally saying even the Writers Guild had to strike to get to their enviable position.
So he calls our position currently enviable. And it is.
Craig: And it’s a remarkable thing. It’s good to be reminded of it.
John: Yeah. As listeners who are listening overseas, there are Writers Guilds in other nations, but they’re often more guilds of artisans, and they’re more sort of about the craft of things and promoting the craft of things, rather than a true labor organization the way that the Writers Guild of America is.
They may not be able to do any of the protections that something like the Writers Guild can, because they’re just not set up that way. And we could probably point you to which ever episode that Craig really talked through part of why it’s different in the US because of the nature of copyright law and work-for-hire, which seems like an abusive thing, but it allows for writers to be covered in labor unions, which would not be possible if copyright were something that we held onto individually. If we were not employees of a corporation, we couldn’t get some of the things we do get.
Craig: That’s correct. And it’s interesting, the Indian situation is remarkable. They have 23 separate unions covering workers in their movie business. And I don’t know exactly how the definition of union there. But I’m just going to say presumably it’s similar. But of those 23 unions, there is one what they call the mother body, FWICE, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees.
So, there is some kind of overarching body that we don’t have here that is coordinating this massive inter-union strike. All 23 unions are on strike. This is precisely the kind of thing that calls for a strike. And I’ve always said the only strike worth taking is the one that you have to take because the only thing worse than it is the alternative, which is essentially death. Union death.
To me, if they don’t get this, they are effectively union dead.
John: So, what this massive union reminded me more of than anything else here is IOTSE, which is the union which covers many of the trades in the film industry. And they cover some things which are writing. They cover some animation writing. They cover things that many of our listeners may be involved with. And especially because we have many listeners who also work below the line. And certainly happy that there is IOTSE protection for so many of those job. But the IOTSE protection for crafts like screenwriting and animation writing, they’re not as strong as what the Writers Guild is able to provide for those writing services. And I hope that in the zeal to get all Indian film people paid fairly and treated better, and that the creative rights of the writers, directors, lyricists are at least given more than lip service. So, I’ll be curious to see how this shakes out.
And I’m not sure I will necessarily understand how it shakes out because I won’t have a great picture of what it is like right now.
Craig: Right. Well, we’ll follow it. And I think once there is a resolution of some kind, hopefully that resolution will make it clear what’s changed. And by looking at what’s changed, we’ll probably have a decent sense of what it was and what it is now.
John: Great. So, I’m so excited for this next section, because this is something Craig has recommended. This is actually something you talked through way back when. You had a site called Artful Writer, which if you try to visit artfulwriter.com right now you’ll get redirected because the page has gone away. But through the wonders of Internet archive, Craig was able to find what he wrote about this scene. And the scene is written by Mr. Scott Frank, who we know from Out of Sight. This movie is The Lookout. But he is a screenwriter’s screenwriter. And he is known for writing amazing scripts, but also helping to write a lot of other movies you’ve seen out there in the world.
And this was a scene that you picked out of his movie, The Lookout, and I’d love for everyone to sort of read along with us, but we’re also going to play the clip from the actual finished movie. So it’s not going to be one of those classic Three Page Challenges where you have to download the PDF and read along at home, although that link we’ll be there. We can actually listen to this scene.
But first, I think Craig should set it up, because I watched it without any setup and I was a little bit confused.
Craig: Sure. So, The Lookout is essentially a movie about a young many who has a promising future ahead of him. He comes from a wealthy family. And he gets into a terrible car accident. And as a result, he suffers lasting brain injury which is impairing him. It’s not impairing him physically as much as it has disrupted his ability to concentrate, his memory, and to some extent it has damaged his personality. He is a bit of a broken guy.
He actually has to live with another gentleman who is in the same kind of rehabilitation, or I guess you would call it adult monitoring program that he’s in. And this other guy is blind, so that’s his issue. So, you have a blind man and a brain-injured man, both living in an apartment together, kind of helping each other, and looking out for each other.
But The Lookout is not about that. The Lookout is about the fact that this young guy, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and remarkably the character’s name is Chris Pratt.
John: Yeah. I found that hilarious.
Craig: Isn’t that wild? This movie came out, I want to say, gosh, 2005 maybe, something like that. 2007. So, in 2007 nobody knew about Chris Pratt. [laughs] And so Scott Frank wrote a movie with a character named Chris Pratt. So Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt. And Chris Pratt is at a bar. His job is he’s the night caretaker at a bank, at a small branch in a rural bank.
And he meets up with an old guy he sort of knew from high school, but doesn’t quite know, and his memory is not working very well. And this guy realizes that Chris works as the night watchman at this bank and slowly starts to pull him into a plan where the bank is going to be robbed, Chris will be the lookout, and he will get a share of the money.
And at this point in the movie, Chris who wasn’t necessarily interested in this has kind of fallen for a bit of a baited hook. The bad guy’s girlfriend is a woman played by Isla Fisher and her name is Luvlee, Luvlee Lemons. And she just thinks Chris is the best. She’s falling for him, and he can’t believe it. And, in fact, she’s come back to the apartment that he shares with Jeff Daniels, who plays the blind gentleman named Lewis. And she has just had sex with him and everything is pretty great.
John: With Chris Pratt. With the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character.
Craig: Correct. She’s just had sex with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He thinks everything is wonderful. And that’s all really all that Lewis, Jeff Daniel’s character, knows is that something is up. And that’s pretty much it.
John: All right. So let me do some descriptive storytelling for people who are listening to this clip, but not watching the clip. So this clip is going to have Isla Fisher and Jeff Daniels. Jeff Daniels is mostly in shadow. Isla Fisher at the start of the scene is at the refrigerator. Then she comes over and sits across from Jeff Daniels as they have their conversation. There are moments at which we cut away and you’ll hear the audio shift. And that’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt listening in the other room to this conversation that’s happening in the main room.
But everything else is just these two characters talking, which is why I think it’s a good scene for our radio theater of Scriptnotes. So, let’s take a listen to the clip.
Luvlee, I presume. I recognize the perfume. Can I offer you some pie? It’s not homemade, but it’s decent.
No, thank you.
Gotta watch your figure I imagine, your line of work. Nice name, by the way -- Luvlee Lemons.
I don’t dance any more. I was never very good at it.
Please tell me you’re not waving your hand in front of my face.
Oh, sorry. Have you been blind your whole life?
Most of it. Yeah.
How’d it happen?
I looked at the sun too long.
Wow. You hear about that...
Let me ask you a question, what’s your real name?
Why? You gonna Google me?
I did, what would I find?
And what happens if I Google Gary?
How’d you meet Chris?
Center put us together few years ago.
And now he’s your best friend.
He’s a good friend.
Maybe your only friend, huh?
Hey, Luvlee? That thing I said about the sun? It’s a lie. Total bullshit.
I was about your age, some buddies and me wanted to make money, so we started a meth lab --
You blew yourself up?
Do I look like I blew myself up? No, I didn’t blow myself up. This was a while back, before meth was fashionable, so, unfortunately, it wasn’t yet known that if you work in an unventilated room, the fumes can, and in fact do, blind you. Something which probably could have been avoided if I had just stopped and bothered to ask a simple question: What am I doing here?
That is a sad story. I’m sorry. If it’s true --
Tell me, what are y’all cookin’, sweetheart? Why are you here?
The same reason you are. Chris Pratt.
Sweet. Course not quite as sweet as meeting in a bar. Or giving somebody a cellphone.
Gary wants to help Chris.
I bet he does.
Do you know Gary?
I’ve known lots of Gary’s. A few Luvlee’s, too.
Meaning something tells me that you really don’t believe you’re gonna to be invited to the next Pratt Thanksgiving.
I could be.
(Laughs) Sometimes I wake up and think I can see until I walk into a door. No, the Luvlee Lemmons of this world do not end up with Chris Pratt.
Thank you, asshole.
Sad but true. But, that brings me back to that original question, Luvlee. So tonight, in the dark, I’m going to help you out and ask it again: what are you doing here?
John: All right. And that’s our scene. So, if you want to read along with the script, which is very much like the scene, but there are a few changes in dialogue, you can. That’s also in the show notes, johnaugust.com. There’s a link there for the YouTube if you want to watch the YouTube and see sort of how it was shot.
So, Craig, talk us through what you see in the scene. How you think it’s working and what got you excited about this scene.
Craig: Well, to me the scene is really valuable as an instructive tool. We are always looking for examples of good scenes to show to people. Most of the time, what ends up happening is we show them exciting scenes. But exciting scenes are capable of hiding certain deficiencies because they’re full of fun. It’s a little bit like on a cooking show, it’s one thing to say, “Look at this. I made this remarkably complicated soufflé,” versus, “I made you a scrambled egg, but man, it’s a great scrambled egg.” Right?
So, what I loved about this scene was it was paired down to almost the barest minimum you can have in a scene. There is literally I think one or two lines that occur while Luvlee Lemons is walking into the room, but then she sits down and that’s it. It’s just two people sitting, they barely move, and it’s just talking. And, yet, I think it’s a great example of conflict and of what I would call scene harmony.
People will say sometimes, you know, it would be good if your writing were a little tighter. And it’s hard to understand what the hell that means. And what I think it means is that things are serving more than one purpose at a time. So sometimes I think about scenes as moving on three different axes. There’s whatever is going on inside the main character, there is whatever is going on between two characters or two or more characters, and then there is whatever is going on in the world.
And there are wonderful scenes that have only one of those things, but the best scenes to me have all three working together and affecting and impacting each other and kind of unfolding like a little puzzle. So I really thought that there was just some wonderful stuff going on here, and I would love to — I mean, I would literally go through this bit by bit and talk about what I love.
John: Great. Let me restate your three things just to make sure that I understand them and maybe anchor them more in people’s minds. So, in any scene, let’s say this is a scene with two characters, you’re looking at what is the inner state of that character, you’re looking at what are they trying to do, what’s driving them, both in the immediate term, but also longer term. So that’s one level of what you’re looking at.
Second level you’re looking at what is the conversation, what is the external thing that they’re showing. So, in this case, it is the ball that they are hitting back and forth. It is their conversation. And so it’s the nature — the scene is really just them talking. So, what words are they choosing, how are they responding to what each other character is saying? How are they both alive and present in that scene, pushing back and forth?
And that third thing is what else is happening in the world. What is the nature — it’s all the scene description, really. It’s the non-dialogue part of this story, which is what is the setting, what are the other sounds, who else is observing this. How does the situation present itself? What is the movement? All those other things that you’re seeing in the scene that aren’t part of the dialogue itself.
Are those these axes you’re looking at?
Craig: Yeah. Essentially we’re talking about internal, interpersonal, external.
So, the external ones are the easiest ones. A car crashes into your car. Things happen. Gun shots ring out somewhere. We tend to focus most of our work on the interpersonal. Scenes tend to be mostly about relationships and how people are, like you say, ping-ponging off each other. But there are some wonderful scenes where people are alone and realize the thing.
All of your good revelation moments generally are internal, but we understand them.
The fun of thinking about scenes this way is that you start to focus in on a really important question when you’re writing a scene, every scene, scene after scene after scene. At least one of these states — an internal state, an interpersonal state, an external state — at least one of them must be different at the end of my scene. Or this scene is not a scene. And it doesn’t belong in my movie.
And that’s where we talk — when you and I talk about intention and purpose, this is where the intention and purpose starts to happen. The changing state. What has changed inside of you? Nothing? Fine. What has changed between you and her? Nothing? Fine.
What has just changed in the world? There are times when you can get all three working kind of nicely. And I love that.
John: Yeah. Do you want to talk about Scott Frank’s intention as the author as we start this scene, or what the two character’s intention is? Because I think they’re both really interesting things to look at. I mean, Scott Frank has a checklist of things he sort of needs this scene to accomplish narratively and why it needs to fit into the story.
But we can also look at sort of what each of these characters is trying to do over the course of the scene.
Craig: Well, I think it’s actually a great question to ask. And here’s the nice part and the good news for everybody else. Scott does not have complicated intentions here. Your intentions really never should be that complicated.
Here’s what he’s hoping to accomplish with this scene. He wants Luvlee to be confronted by somebody quite a bit wiser and smarter than the dupe. And he wants that person to start making her feel guilty, because she is guiltable. Whereas her boyfriend, the bad guy, and poor Chris Pratt doesn’t know that that’s her boyfriend because he’s a little brain damaged — her boyfriend is not guiltable. Her boyfriend is just a bad guy.
She’s being used here, too, and so he’s — that’s what he’s trying to accomplish. It’s not Lewis is going to become the superhero of this movie to try and stop her. It’s entirely about having her character have a moment where she’s caught and needs to start contemplating a big choice. Am I going to follow through with this plan, or am I actually going to start honor the legitimate feelings I’m having for this dupe I’m supposed to be duping.
John: Great. So that is a goal for Scott Frank with his character. So it’s a change he’s trying to effect in Luvlee’s character.
John: And as much of a change he’s trying to effect, he’s trying to raise the audience’s question about sort of what her real motivations are and whether it’s possible to shift those motivations.
Craig: Exactly correct. And that’s key. Because in this moment, he is essentially creating an expectation for a resolvable drama. It’s a question of will she or won’t she. Is she going to do the right thing or the wrong thing? Does she really love him? Does she not really love him? Is she redeemable? Is she not redeemable? What is going to happen to the lookout?
And it all comes out of this scene. But what I find so wonderful about the way Scott has written this is that he took it upon himself to entertain us the entire time. And his entertainment revolves around revealing information about a character, the dreaded backstory, the dreaded exposition, that normally we’re trying to hide and bury. Here, actually works in service of his greater intention.
John: Yeah, the backstory he’s trying to reveal here is that issue of like how he became blind, which is one of those sort of like origin stories that weirdly is not so important in the movie as I recall. It never really comes back around. But it helps to explain how he recognizes the kinds of people that she is and that Gary is. That he’s been around those types of people before.
Craig: That’s correct. Suddenly his character starts to come into view as somebody that is more than we thought. He seemed like an avuncular, nice, blind fellow who out of brotherly love was helping this poor kid. And yet now we realize perhaps he sees more than we thought, no pun intended. And his revelation of this puts her in an interesting spot. Her response to it is what starts to make us learn about her.
So I want to talk about this interesting little moment here. The way this begins, she’s coming into the kitchen after post-coital to get something to eat. And it’s dark. And he startles her by saying, “Luvlee, I presume.” And he’s sitting at the table, but in the dark, because he doesn’t need lights.
And she sees him and he says to her this kind of nice — I call this Colombo stuff, like I’m going to lure you in by just being a nice guy. I recognize the perfume. Can I offer you some pie? It’s not homemade, but it’s very nice.
And then he says, “Got to watch your figure, I imagine, your line of work. Nice name by the way, Luvlee Lemons.” This is the first time anyone in the movie has mentioned that she’s a stripper. Or that she was a stripper. Oh, this is how he recognizes the perfume. He’s seen her before, sort of, like he’s been around. He knows that she’s a dancer, even though he can’t see.
And she admits it now very casually. And I love this. And this is when I talk about subtext and dialogue, a lot of times new writers struggle. They have a response. This guy has just picked at this little scab, this thing that she thought was hidden away. And he’s right away in a very pleasant, unassuming manner just gone, oh, I noticed you have this little scab here. Let me pick at it.
Of course, if we put ourselves in the point of view of a character hearing that, we immediately get defensive. And we want that person to be defensive. But in reality, if you think about the way you are with people, when someone puts you on the defensive, if you are a certain kind of person, a capable person, the first thing you do is immediately attempt to mask that you are defensive, because you understand inherently, but to show that is to show weakness.
John: So her line back to that is, “I don’t dance anymore. I was never very good at it.” It’s a way of throwing away a reaction to it. Just like, oh, that doesn’t bother me at all.
Craig: Exactly. Oh yeah, no, that’s right. Yeah. I was a stripper. I wasn’t very good at it. See, I can play the casual game, too. But already now, and for those of you who write three pages and send them in, think about how much we have learned in a half a page. An enormous amount, not just about who she was as a person, but about who she is now as a person.
And, then, there’s some comedy, which is great. She waves her hand in front of his face. This was a big laugh in the theater because she starts moving her hand in front of his face and he says, “Please tell me you’re not waving your hand in front of my face.” Big laugh. And it’s funny. But also why is she doing that? And you learn something else about her character now. She’s not willing to take it on faith that he really is blind.
What a fascinating thing to reveal about somebody, because now just casually — and by the way I do believe that when we’re in an audience we don’t necessarily pick it up overtly, but it seeps into us that she is suspicious. And who is suspicious of a blind man? Maybe somebody who is a little bit of a con-artist themselves.
John: Absolutely. The other thing which this is doing is showing that sort of third axis you talked about, which is what is the actual situation giving you. And so this is the setting, this is — it’s what it’s really like to be in that space. And she’s not convinced he’s blind. He’s already sitting in the dark. And so she’s doing a very natural human reaction which is is he really seeing me and he gets to hit that ball right back to her.
Craig: Right. And notice that at this point we don’t necessarily know what Lewis’s goal is. But, as every scene is a little mini-movie, the protagonist of the scene has a goal. The goal, the intention, is what is driving everything in the scene. It is driving his point of view. Everything he says. How he responds. And for the performer, how they are going to play the part.
He has a goal right now. We don’t yet know what it is. So then she says, “Have you been blind your whole life?” And it’s a perfectly bland question. And you might think, well why is she just asking a bland question right now?
What I get off of it is that this is a smart person. I notice that the way she answered his stripper question. She’s playing dumb. She’s playing innocent ingénue, because that’s the safest move. And he says, “Most of it.” And she says, “How did it happen?” And he says, “I looked at the sun too long.” And she says, “Wow, you hear about that.”
Now, another big laugh. When she says, “Wow, you hear about that,” here’s what he doesn’t say, “Uh, I think you know that I didn’t go blind by looking at the sun too long.” He lets it go. Instead he says, “Let me ask you a question. What’s your real name?”
Now I love this. So, again, playing at home, for your Three Page Challenge, and by the way, Scott cheated. It’s actually 3.5 pages, but fine. We’re at the top of page two. And by the top of page two I now know that she is a not trusting person. She is crafty enough to hide her defensiveness. I know that she used to be a stripper. I know that she likes to play dumb to avoid being held accountable. And I also know that he notices that she’s doing it and is going to move right by it, because he’s now interested in upping the ante. He’s chasing something and he feels like he can get her.
We are watching a fight, whether we know it or not. This is good as karate as far as I’m concerned.
John: So the next phase here is the “let me ask you a question, what’s your real name? Why, you going to Google me? If I did, what would I find? Probably nothing.” Here you’re making clear what is the intention of the scene, that Lewis actually is approaching the scene with some agenda, which is to try to figure out who she really is. And she is deflecting these questions. She’s answering a question with a question, which is a very classic technique to sort of avoid answering anything.
I think our expectation is that he’s going to keep asking her questions when in fact he doesn’t really care about the answers to those questions. He mostly wants to demonstrate that he’s on to her.
Craig: Right. Great point. So, what is the value of demonstrating that you know you’re on to somebody? You start to see what his real purpose is. He doesn’t really care, because he already — I mean, he doesn’t really care what she’s up to, because he knows it’s no good. He already knows it. He knew it before she walked in the room.
What he wants to do is make her know that he knows it, and make her start to question whether she wants to go through it. Whatever it is, he will not know at the end of this discussion what these two are doing. So, she again continues to play dumb. And he says, “If I did what would I find?” “Probably nothing.”
And that is a poor me. You know, like I’m no, you know, I’m no good. Now she’s trying a little sympathy. And he doesn’t pick it up. And he says, “And what happens if I Google Gary?” That’s the bad buy. That’s the boyfriend. And she goes, “I don’t know.”
“How’d you meet Chris?” Great. Great.
Now, I mention this because a lot of times when I read screenplays by new writers, or seasoned writers, arguments become very much to the point. And oftentimes in life they are very much to the point. It’s a rare thing to have a fight with your wife that goes like this. They don’t. But then again, fights with your wife, fights with your husband, they’re fairly mundane and low stakes. Or if they’re high stakes, they’re between two reasonable people who are not trying to entertain anyone with a narrative.
These two people are dancing. So much fun to watch.
John: I want to talk a little bit about just the words on the page, because this is basically just a two-hander, just dialogue conversation. But Scott is breaking up the page with these interjections.
So, Lewis asks, “And what happens if I Google Gary.” In the scene description, “She shrugs, hums ‘I don’t know.'” So this is a case where there’s sort of dialogue being put in the scene description, but it’s basically helping us show what it is that she’s trying to avoid saying, the I don’t know.
And also just keeping us from being just a solid gutter of dialogue on the page.
Craig: Right. Exactly. And the shrug and the hum as an action does help us understand a little bit better as we’re reading it. This is let’s say we have not seen the movie. We’re thinking about making the movie. It helps us get a little bit more of what she’s really doing there with this clear change.
Now, another wonderful moment here.
“How’d you meet Chris?” Nine out of ten writers would say, “Why are you changing the subject, Luvlee?” Because that feels fun. But I love that Lewis just answers it. Because he’s better than she is at this. He has no problem being a little patient here. Sometimes in chess you move your piece backwards. Great. This is jujitsu.
You know, there’s times to punch, there are times to feint. A lot of writers forget about the feinting part. So he answers. “Center put us together a few years ago.” She says, “And now he’s your best friend.” Lewis says, “He’s a good friend.” And she says, “Maybe your only friend?”
Now, by the way, this is now at the 1.5 page mark. Let us review. She used to be a stripper. She is suspicious. She knows something about con men or at least has that instinct in her. Lewis is insightfully determining that she’s up to something, he’s not sure what. And he’s not going to let her off. She tries to play dumb. It doesn’t work.
She tries to get sympathy. It doesn’t work. She tries to change the subject. It doesn’t work because he lets her change the subject which takes the power away from it. So now she’s going to stick it to him. This is the first moment where she jabs back and lets him know don’t think that this is going to be that easy.
And so what is his response, John?
John: “Hey Luvlee, that thing about the sun, it was a total lie, total bullshit.” So this is, okay, you’re going to hit me with this, then I’m going to lay down a few more of my cards here on the table. And it’s a change that we’re seeing here. Now I want to acknowledge that I am not as much of a fan of this middle section of the scene as I think you are. And I think there is a way this could have been taken out and we could have gotten a slightly better through line on this.
But I do like it more on the page than I liked it staged in that what Scott chooses here on the page, that may be your only friend, I could imagine a line reading of that where the energy really shifted dramatically in that scene. As filmed, I didn’t feel that shift as much I felt the possibility of that shift here on the page.
I think the transition from the earning “that may be your only friend,” and then getting to how he’s getting to “Hey Luvlee,” I really see the possibilities here on the page. I didn’t see it actually performed as much as it was cut together.
Craig: Look, I do love the scene as it is, but I understand what you’re saying. This is where the craft of screenwriting can be frustrating. Because, let’s put it this way, the person who staged and shot the scene is the same guy that wrote the scene.
Craig: So now imagine what it’s like when you write the scene and somebody else — I mean, the way that things are imagined are often so different, for those of who write them, or those of us reading the writing than they are from what we see. And there will always be those things.
But I do love how Lewis — so on the page she says, “Maybe your only friend?” He doesn’t answer that. Finally leans forward. Okay, I was waiting for you to show that you had a stinger. You did. Thank you. Now let’s talk real. Let’s get to it.
We’ve been dancing, feinting, and jabbing for a page and a half. You’ve now finally admitted that we’re in a fight and that you’re capable. Fine. Here we go.
So he says I’m going to now tell you the story of — he tells her the story of how he went blind. And what’s fascinating is we were not expecting this at all. We had no idea how he went blind. In fact, I remember watching the movie thinking I just assumed that he was blind. I didn’t know that there was a moment he became blind. And, in fact, when he said I stared at the sun too long, I presumed that was just his snarky way of saying I was born blind, duh.
But, no, and now he tells this story. And the story that he tells says that he went blind because he was one of the people cooking meth back before cooking meth was fashionable, and back before people knew what they were doing cooking meth. And he did not know that working with those chemicals in an unventilated room could blind you.
And he says something which probably could have been avoided had I just stopped and bothered to ask a simple question: what am I doing here. Mm-hmm. And at last, right, he reveals his goal. Not only does he reveal it — so, I just love the synchronicity. I love the harmony. What is happening here?
We have learned something that is a fact about our character, his back story. We have learned something about his internal life. Suddenly, this guy has become a different guy to us. He is not just a nice sweet blind man who is worried about his friend. He’s a criminal. Once a criminal, always a criminal. He’s a bad guy, too, in his own way.
And we now know why he’s blind and we have a certain appreciation for the tragedy and drama of that. We now know why he’s protective of Chris, somebody who is innocent and not a criminal and yet on the verge of becoming one. And we now know why he sees her for what she is.
And we also get all of that to change their relationship, which has been changing throughout to something very, very different.
John: So, he is telling this story about himself, but he’s putting her into the place of the story. He’s saying, like, you know, I did these criminal things and I should have stopped to ask myself what am I doing here. And that the I pronoun is really meant to be for her. Like what is she doing here? And that she should be asking herself that same question. It’s a way of very classically you tell a story about yourself hoping that the other person will see themselves in the story that you’re telling.
And it’s a smart move for Lewis to do that I largely believe, because he’s able to sell it as if it’s answering her question about how he became blind, but it’s moving forward his agenda with her.
Craig: That’s exactly right. And his — as his tactics have shifted, we arrive at this fascinating one, because the initial tactic was to be gentle, and then it was to be snarky, and then it was to be challenging. And now it’s to be empathetic. When he tells her this story, he’s revealing something of himself almost in trade. What he’s saying is I’m you. Don’t think of me as not you. I’m actually in the thieves guild, too.
So, pay attention now. You’re not getting hectored and lectured by a do-gooder. I’m trying to save you here. Then her response to that is, “What a sad story, if it’s true.” He hasn’t gotten her —
John: Yeah. So, once that story, if it’s true, that feels like a recall to “maybe your only friend.” It’s her finding backbone again. My — if I have an issue with Luvlee in this scene overall, it’s that she’s being asked to play dumb and smart simultaneously. And so I look at her lines at the bottom of page two, when he says, “It was a lie. Total bullshit.” She goes, “Oh…” “We started to make money.” She asks, “You blew yourself up?”
And, again, it’s hard to separate myself from the performance that I saw before I read the page, but it seemed like an earnest question, like she’s asking with a sort of baby doll voice, “You blew yourself up,” as if she really believed it. Whereas that doesn’t seem to track with the intelligence that I saw with “maybe your only friend,” or at least what her intention was with “maybe your only friend.” Does that make sense?
Craig: It does. The way I got it, I mean, when I watched the movie and the scene again, is that this is her move. Every character has a move, and this move has worked for her a thousand times, a million times. This is someone who has stolen a lot of money and manipulated a lot of hearts while she has lived a sad life. She’s probably also lost quite a few bites in her day.
And she is a stripper and she is using her body and she is using her wiles to survive. And she can’t help but presume that her best shot, her right hook, is going to be the one that will take this guy down. And so she’s going to keep going back to it, like a fighter with a bad habit who can’t believe it’s not working.
So, you know, you can look at her kind of choosing to do the same thing and expecting different results as a flaw in the execution, but you can also look at it as a flaw in her character, which is the way I do. That she can’t stop. But when she says, “What a sad story, if it’s true,” you’re right. That is her coming back to, okay, let me drop that tactic, it’s not working. Let me try a different one.
And also let me reveal that my initial suspicion of you, waving the hand in front of your face, hasn’t gone away. I don’t know — I’m not willing to let you in yet, give you the credibility to make me feel something that I’m probably already feeling. And this is when Lewis finally just says, “We’ve arrived.” We’re at page 2.5 now. “Tell me, what are you all cooking, sweetheart? Why are you here?”
And this is also just craft now, folks. He’s cooked food. She’s going to eat the food. He’s already eating the food. He’s a meth cook. What are you all cooking up here? Subtle. It’s not a big deal. It just makes things feel like a piece, which I like.
John: Yeah. It’s rhyming. It’s rhyming a word literally. I mean, it’s rhyming an idea. And using that to make it clear that there’s intention behind the words that Lewis is choosing.
Craig: Correct. And so we enter act three. Because I really think of that — that’s like let’s talk about the scene like a movie, act one presumes, and we get into act two when Lewis says, “Let me ask you a question. What’s your real name?” That’s the beginning of act two. The end of act two is, “Tell me, what are you all cooking?” Now we begin the climax.
She is now in full struggle mode. She’s losing. And she’s going to just start now throwing wild punches. “Same reason you are. Chris Pratt.”
He says, “Sweet. Of course, not quite as sweet as meeting at a bar, or giving someone a cellphone.” He knows things. She’s squirming.
Now she just says, “Gary wants to help Chris.” That’s out of nowhere. That was a mistake, right? Like you know how, I don’t know if you ever looked at the chess column in a newspaper where they analyze a game, or a bridge column. They report the moves. And when they get to a move that’s a mistake, they put a question mark next to it. This gets a question mark next to it. She made a mistake. And he’s got her now. And he says, “I’ve known lots of Garys. A few Luvlees, too.” [laughs] It’s so good.
She says, “Meaning?” But it’s over. And he says, “Meaning that something tells me you don’t really believe that you’re going to be invited to the next Pratt Thanksgiving.” Ow. Right? Just like, look, you’re a stripper. You expect me to buy this bullshit that the wealthy Pratt family is going to welcome brain-damaged Chris’s new stripper girl into the house? You don’t believe that. You don’t think anyone would ever believe that. That’s not what you’re up to here at all. This is about Gary. What are you doing?
And she says, “Well I could be.” And he says, just in case you didn’t get it, “Sometimes I wake up, I think I can see, until I walk into a door. The Luvlee Lemons of the world don’t end up with Chris Pratt.”
And she says, “Well thank you, asshole.” That’s it, right? She’s, okay, I’ve lost. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of admitting I lost. I’m just going to revert back to hurt girl and I’m going to stick with my lie.
And so now he has a problem. Because she’s pulled the rip cord and she’s exiting. And this is a great thing to think about when you’re writing arguments. When we have arguments with people, we’re in three states. We are pressing. We are sparring. Or we’re retreating. An argument is going well when you’re pressing. It means you’ve got them on the ropes and you’re just hitting them, right? Sparring means you’re in that ping pong zone. You guys are going back and forth. It’s an even match. Retreating is when you know this is not going well for you.
And when we are losing an argument, everyone has a strong instinct to say something that will get them out of it. They’re trying to run away now. So this is when people say things like, “I don’t know what you want from me.” Or, “What do you want from me?” Or —
John: “Let’s agree to disagree.” Yeah, the closers. Yeah.
Craig: Get me out of this. What makes this stop? And the problem is it’s effective. The person who has been pressing suddenly now knows they’re getting out of the ring now. Or the bell is about to ring and the round is about to end. I need to just throw the punch, the only punch that I have left. And so here, at the very top of page four, he says, “Sad but true, but it takes me back to that original question, Luvlee. So tonight, in the dark, let me help you out. Help you out. And ask it again: what are you doing here?”
And she has no response. At which point he gets up and says, “There’s some killer chicken salad in the fridge. My secret is the apples. Gives it a nice texture.” He’s like, all right. That was it. I’ve got nothing left for you.
But we get that his goal has been achieved to some extent. We can see it in her face. He’s planted the seed now. And it’s not a seed of you’re a bad person. And it’s not a seed of stop what you’re doing, or tell me what you’re doing. It’s a seed of using guilt to make her reconsider whatever the hell it is.
John: Yep. So, let’s talk about the differences between the scene we’re reading on the page and the scene as staged. And so one of the big differences is that in the scene in the film itself, we cut away to see Chris Pratt is listening to some part of the conversation. And so that is not reflected in these pages. So he’s overhearing some of this, which definitely changes the nature of our audience focus, because we’re always going to be sympathetic to our hero, and sort of what our hero knows. And it changes how Chris is perceiving both this girl and his roommate.
And so it really shifts the nature of the scene to insert that cutaway. It takes away from the sparring match to a certain degree. It’s like every time you cut away to an audience member in a boxing match. Like, well, you’re not in the boxing match to some degree. And it does change the nature of this conflict, because a scene about two people is now a scene about three people.
That’s one thing I noticed. I don’t know at what point during the process the decision to include Chris in that shot occurred.
The other thing I want to take a look at is if you’re watching the scene on YouTube, the conversation between the two of them, once they’re seated at the table, is very much the tennis match. It’s very much I hit the ball, you hit the ball, I hit the ball, you hit the ball. And doesn’t change a lot over the nature of the argument. There’s no — while there’s some pauses, the film itself doesn’t reset itself for some of those other moments and shifts along the way. So it’s a very straightforward way of covering this, which may be the best choice for it. But you can imagine a director taking other ways to sort of visualize what the shifts are in the conversation.
Craig: I agree with you. I suspect that the cutaways to Chris were something that they worked out maybe as they were planning how to shoot that. Because they needed to know that they were going to be in his room and shooting him listening. But it’s not on the page here, so I suspect it was a later decision. It’s an interesting one. And it’s also interesting and brave that Scott has this scene dialed in as carefully as he does, and yet is okay with losing some of the words, even in the audio, to really focus on Chris and how this is sinking in.
But it is an interesting choice and I actually think it pays off well, because we want to know that he also is starting to be concerned. And we want to know that this can set up conflict between him and Lewis.
It’s only interesting for Luvlee to do the right thing if she knows that she can get away with it. And so seeing Chris make a choice to believe her puts her and us in a more interesting dramatic state of mind.
The execution of the scene editorially, you’re correct, is very much about competing singles. You know, it’s funny, I remember talking with Scott. It was actually during the process when he was editing A Walk Among the Tombstones. And he said that he kind of had this big epiphany moment in post where he made a concerted effort along with his editor to reduce cuts and try and stay in takes as long as he could, especially in moments like this. And there are some excellent moments.
Another really, really good movie I think, A Walk Among the Tombstones, if you haven’t seen it. Some really good interesting conversations in that movie. And, yes, I agree that when we cut the audience will not necessarily make the conscious calculation that you’re cheating, but it starts to sink in. We know that the rhythm is being manufactured rather than actually being played. It’s a huge thing in comedy.
I mean, one of the great rules of comedy I learned from David Zucker is if you’re going to do a physical gag and it’s a thing where something happens that causes someone to get hurt, it must be in one. You cannot show the thing that’s going to cause them to be hurt and then cut to them being hurt. You’ve lost the credit for rigging the gag.
And similarly here, I do think that there are a couple of spots where it would have been better had it been in one long shot, to see that the two of them actually have that rhythm. Of course, who knows? See, the thing is —
John: Yeah, we don’t see the footage. And we don’t know what the actual day was like and sort of what the —
John: This may have absolutely been the best version of this scene with what they had, and that’s totally great. And there may be reasons why these were the performances that really landed. And so I can’t sort of second guess what that is.
Just in the hypothetical version, I love that you were talking about the physicality of her, and her stripper body, because I think that’s a real potential that her nature is — it would actually help sell some of those lines I had an issue with. If her nature is just to go to her baby doll voice and sort of use her body and then — I would love to see the moment of recognition where she goes, oh shit, I can’t do this because he’s blind. He can’t see my tits. So this is not — I need to stop doing this thing.
That is a potential, but that only can play if you have a little bit wider shots to sort of see what that is.
Craig: Yeah. One of the things that I wish I could round up movie reviewers and force them to sit and watch movies be painstakingly created, I wish they could see this. There are times when for whatever reason you can’t do what you want. It’s not that you didn’t know. It’s that you could do it. One of the things that comes up all the time when you’re shooting is well how will we cut this. Will it cut together? But, you’re also — when you’re doing takes you’re thinking where do I get the scissors in here? And can I get the scissors in? And do I need to get the scissors in?
Some of the most valuable direction that I’ve seen directors give actors is, “Great. Let’s do this again. And now let’s do it faster.” Because if there is a rhythm to this that is at the tempo I want, I won’t need to cut. But sometimes they flub a line. Stuff happens. This is life. So, I would have been fascinated to have been there that day.
But for people that are writing scenes, what’s so fantastic about this is that it really does focus everything down to — it’s as if Scott has pulled away every easy trick available. There are no guns. There’s no chasing. No one is entering or exiting once it begins. There’s literally barely light. It’s just two people and it’s entirely about the internal and the interpersonal.
And then at the end it is creating an external. It is creating this state that is going to either occur or not. And we know there is going to be a choice in this movie that’s coming down the line.
So, so well done and really worth studying.
John: Yeah, I think Scott Frank has a career ahead of him if he keeps writing at this level. We should all be so lucky.
So, Craig, thank you for that suggestion. I think it really is great to look at some finished — we’ve done episodes where we’ve looked at finished movies and we’ve talked through Raiders and Ghost, but this is great to look at sort of the words on the page, the scene, and be able to really focus in on just one specific moment.
I think it’s now time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is actually just a simple thing you can do if you’re ever traveling overseas. You will tend to have a little bit of extra money in whatever native currency as you head back to the US, or head back to your home country. A great thing to spend that on is iTunes gift cards. And the reason why you may want to do that is there will often be situations where you want to watch something that is not available in your home country.
So, for instance, we love to watch Downton Abbey. And we love to watch it when it comes out in the UK, not when it comes out here. Because we have some iTunes gift cards from the UK, we’re able to set up a British iTunes account and use those to fund it. And so we’re able to spend that money to watch Downton Abbey. Sometimes even a movie will be available on iTunes UK and not be available here. And so we spend that iTunes money to do that.
So, really useful if you’re traveling to — if you’re an American traveling to the UK, traveling to France if you love French movies, or Spain, to spend that leftover $25 you have to buy an iTunes gift card.
If you are traveling from overseas to the US, by all means do the same thing because it’s a way to get some of those shows like very soon Crazy Ex-Girlfriend before you might be able to see them in your home country.
Craig: Fantastic. Well, my One Cool Thing this week is a One Old Cool Thing. It’s Games Magazine. First of all, it’s a magazine. My wife gets Bon Appetit. She loves Bon Appetit. She has actually a very cool thing. They have like a club of people in my town that get together on a particular like one day out of the month and each one is assigned a thing from Bon Appetit magazine. And I actually think Bon Appetit is great. But other than that print magazine, everything else is gone except for Games.
Games Magazine has been around forever. It was around when I was a kid. And David Kwong, my favorite magician, and I — who we’re constantly doing puzzles together — he said you’ve got to just get Games Magazine again, because they have really good puzzles. And they do.
So, I love that I can still support a good old paper magazine that shows up at your house once a month. I forgot the fun of a surprise subscription. You know, when it comes in the mail it’s like, oh my god, I got Games Magazine. So, that’s my One Cool Thing this week, Games Magazine.
John: Fantastic. So, you’ll see links to the things we talked about on the show at our show notes at johnaugust.com/podcast or /Scriptnotes. Both will get you there. We are on iTunes. So, if you’re listening to the show through the website, better that you go to iTunes and actually subscribe, that way we get credit for you subscribing and other people can find the show.
We have an app for Android and for iOS. You can find that in their respective app stores. Through those and through Scriptnotes.net you can access all the back catalogue, so you can listen back to episode one, or to the Christmas show where Aline first talked about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with Rachel Bloom.
If you would like to send us a question, you can write short things on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions, write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have a t-shirt that’s on its way, give it an extra few days. And if it has not shown up then write into email@example.com, and that’s what Stuart checks to make sure people have actually gotten t-shirts in right.
Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth, who has written many of our great outros. If you have an outro for us, just write into firstname.lastname@example.org and send us a link to wherever you have it on SoundCloud or wherever and we will put it in the hopper. So thank you for everyone who has sent in those great outros. And that is our show this week. Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thank you, John.
- Austin Film Festival 2015 panel schedule
- Train hero Spencer Stone stabbed, and Scriptnotes, 214
- Aline Brosh McKenna on episodes 60, 76, 100, 101, 119, 123, 124 152, 161, 175, 180 and 200
- The New York Times on The Great American Musical, Side B, in ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’
- Rachel Bloom and Jack Dolgen (and Aline) on Scriptnotes, 175
- Bola Ogun, and the full cast and crew of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on IMDb
- Bollywood to go on indefinite strike from October 3 from The Times of India
- Scott Frank on Wikipedia and IMDb
- The Artful Writer on Scene Harmony
- Three Pages by Scott Frank, and the scene from The Lookout
- Use gift cards from other countries to make purchases in foreign iTunes stores
- Games Magazine
- Outro by Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)