The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 220 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the show we are going to be talking about how and why studios are employing multiple writers to work on some of their biggest features, and what that means for those screenwriters involved.

We’re going to be looking at taxes that writers face in the City of Los Angeles. And we’ll be asking the question is Hamlet fat. And to what degree does the writer’s intent even matter.

Three very different topics.

Craig: No, they’re all related somehow. Segue Man will connect them.

John: I will try my very, very best. You will also get a chance to see me being Segue Man live and in person. I’m going to be doing a show with Drew Goddard for the Writers Guild Foundation. That’s Wednesday October 28 at 7:30pm. It’s at the Writers Guild headquarters. Not the big theater, but just the headquarters. So, small little room. There are still a few tickets left. It’s a $20 ticket. It’s a $15 ticket if you’re a WGA member or a student. And so there will be a link in the show notes for that. Drew Goddard, of course, wrote The Martian. He did Cabin in the Woods. He’s done a tremendous amount of TV. And he’s just a great, smart screenwriter. So I’m looking forward to that conversation.

If you’d like to see me talk with him, come join us on a Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Craig: That sounds like it would be something well worth seeing. That room is called the Multipurpose Room.

John: Yeah. Doesn’t it sound just like Cafetorium in your elementary school?

Craig: Well, yeah, because the Writers Guild is as close to a government institution as you can get without being a government institution. So they do things like have the multipurpose room. And the multipurpose room is in and of itself maybe the worst room in Los Angeles, because it’s this brutally bare box. And, yet, inside that room awesome things happen all the time. This will certainly be one of them. And it doesn’t have a ton of space.

What’s nice about the multipurpose room, worst room in Los Angeles, is because it’s small, you can hear everybody really, really well. Usually you guys will get microphones, so there’s no question about that. And when it comes time for Q&A, because it’s not some massive audience, almost everyone will get their question answered.

John: Yeah. That’s a nice thing about it. It’s also small enough that if I’m sitting in the little director’s chair, I can see everybody in the entire room. And so it just feels much more intimate than really even the things in Austin feel like, which is a segue.

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Because just days later we will be in Austin for the Austin Film Festival. We’re going to be doing two live Scriptnotes shows there. We’re going to be doing a normal live Scriptnotes panel. We have Scott Neustadter, we have Andrea Berloff. We have a third guest which is yet to be confirmed. It can even be confirmed while we’re taping the show, because if he would just text you back we would know the answer to that.

If you are coming to Austin and to see us, you do need a badge or ticket or whatever else is required for the Austin Film Festival because these are Austin Film Festival events. So people have asked about that. It’s like, nope, it’s really part of the badge or ticket to come see these things. But there’s not a special ticket on top of that.

Craig: No. No. If you have a general entry, then you can go to any of the — I mean, almost any of the panels. There are a few special ones like where they serve food or something like that. Those are different. But I’m doing another panel on structure, on theme, and character, and structure, and some people have asked on Twitter if that’s going to be recorded, or it’s something we’re going to put on the show, and the answer is no. That you actually have to go to the Austin Screenwriting Conference/Film Festival thing to see this.

If you are going to Austin and you —

John: That’s because it’s a special performance piece that Craig can only do live.

Craig: I can only do it live.

John: He actually requires everyone to surrender their phones before they enter into the space so nothing can leave. You’re allowed to take notes, but only one piece of paper. So —

Craig: You know, I mean, here’s the thing. In all seriousness the reason that I don’t want to record it or anything is because I honestly believe it’s valuable. And I noticed that Jim Hart, the screenwriter Jim Hart, he’s doing a similar panel on the same topic. I don’t know what his insights are. But he’s got a whole like website thing now that’s — I think you can pay money for. It’s called the Hart Chart.

I would never do that because you know the way I am. I don’t like charts. And I don’t like —

John: Well you also don’t like making money.

Craig: I don’t.

John: You’re an anti-capitalist. You’re essentially the Bernie Sanders of this show.

Craig: I’m the Bernie Sanders of Screenwriting.

John: You are angry in a way that does feel like —

Craig: Right. And there’s umbrage. I’m Jewish. I’m angry.

John: Holy cow. I’ve just figured it all out.

Craig: I’m from Brooklyn. Yeah, no, I’m young Bernie Sanders. “I mean, what is going on?” So my whole thing is I want people — I consider it to be something special, not because I thought of it, but it’s special because it’s the result of 20 years of thinking about these things. And also because unlike all the other structure things out there which are really about this happens now, then this happens now, this is all about from the writer’s point of view. You have to create something. What is the order you go in? Idea. Character. Theme. How do they interact and how can use that to actually build something, rather than use some system to analyze movies that are already in existence.

So, if you are going to Austin, you should go to that. And obviously you want to go to the live Scriptnotes podcast. And you want to go to the Three Page Challenge. The good people, Erin Halligan, who runs the Austin Screenwriting Conference, was nice enough to rejigger the schedule slightly so that the live podcast is no longer competing with the Saving Mr. Banks panel.

John: Yeah. Which is very nice of her. And I should say the live podcast means that we will be live in Austin and there will be an audience there. That episode will come out Tuesday, just like a normal episode will.

Craig: Live on tape.

John: Exactly. But you’ll actually experience some special things if you’re there live in person because we will inevitably have to cut some things out of the show because of slander.

Craig: [laughs] There will inevitably be slander.

John: Particularly if that third guest makes it on to the show.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: Oh yes.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: So, in the show notes at you’ll see our whole schedule for Austin, the things that we’re going to be doing. I guess I’m also on a dual protagonist panel, just like I randomly got assigned to that. And that should be fun. I’m moderating that one.

Craig: Neat.

John: So, come see us if you’re in Austin and you want to hang out with us.

Next up on the Workflowy of things to follow up on is something you put there about an odd French ruling about plagiarism.

Craig: Yeah. This came through just today I believe. You know, we talk about these cases all the time where people say, “You stole my movie,” and nobody ever wins. Well, here’s a situation where someone won. But it’s unique. The person who was complaining was not some guy or some girl. It was the somewhat legendary filmmaker John Carpenter. And the person that he was going after was none other than Luc Besson.

So, here’s what happens. Luc Besson has a company that puts out movies. I guess the company is called Europa Corp. I presume it’s a French based company because Luc is French. And it seems like Europa Corp puts out like genre fare that’s not Luc Besson stuff. And they put out a movie called Lockout which was a science-fiction/action movie where Guy Pearce is a hero, an ex-con tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter from a prison in space.

Apparently not a success. Nonetheless, a bunch of people in reviewing the film noted that it was essentially kind of a rip-off of John Carpenter’s Escape from a City series, Escape from New York, Escape from LA. That the character of the ex-con having to go rescue a president or a president’s daughter was remarkably close to what Carpenter had done in those movies. And Carpenter sued.

Now, where this is fascinating is that a French court ruled in his favor and we’ll include a note in the show notes, so you can read the summary of their judgment, but essentially they said, yeah, a lot of these story points are really similar. And so, yeah, we’re going to go ahead and order Europa Corp to pay 20,000 Euros to John Carpenter, 10,000 Euros to the screenwriting team of John Carpenter and Nick Castle. And then 50,000 Euros to the rights owner of the movie, who I think in this case — I don’t know who the studio was. Which is fascinating.

So, the French court seems to be following a different standard than we follow here. What’s doubly fascinating is that the French court ruled on behalf of Americans against a French company. From the summary description I would say this: I don’t know enough of the details to argue in favor or against this ruling. All I can say is if courts in the United States spoke in similar ways, everybody would be suing everybody a lot.

John: I think you’re right. This definitely felt like the broad strokes of the idea were similar enough that you could say, oh yeah, they definitely feel like the same basic plot points are being hit in both things. Of course, one is in space and one is a broken down Los Angeles. But I can’t imagine this happening in the US and this being the outcome.

The other thing I was thinking about is like I don’t know how much it costs to sue somebody in French court, but that’s not a lot of money to be winning. It’s hard to say that was worth it, because I have a hard time believing that it didn’t cost that much money to even bring the lawsuit.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you’re looking at a sum total of 80,000 Euros, which is something like $140,000. I’m guessing given whatever the exchange rate is now. And, no, that’s probably not that good compared to the fees, unless they also got legal fees paid for.

What’s interesting is that most of the stuff they’re talking about in their decision are things that we would probably call ideas. Also, I don’t know what kind of defense was mounted here. My guess is that in the United States there would be an effort to show that the John Carpenter movies had borrowed quite liberally from movies before in terms of the idea of ex-cons on missions to save people is not new to John Carpenter. I suppose —

John: The Dirty Dozen.

Craig: Right. Exactly. Dirty Dozen comes to mind immediately. And there are others. And what they didn’t say was that there were lines of dialogue. I mean, there are specific situations that feel, like for instance they said in both movies the hero manages undetected to get inside the place where the hostage is being held after a flight in a glider/space shuttle.

John: Those are very different things.

Craig: Yeah, what? It’s crazy. I mean, what? That’s not the same.

John: To me what’s most fascinating about this result is that so often when we’re talking about copyright infringement or sort of like, you know, what is acceptable borrowing, versus you’re ripping somebody off, it’s always like this one movie was produced and this other movie never happened. And so you’re comparing a potential, an idea for a movie that was never shot, and a finished film.

It’s so weird to have two finished films that both come out. You can like look at the finished products side by side and say like, oh, these are the things that one took from the other. I can’t think of other examples of that.

Craig: There is one fascinating case. I’m not sure we’ve ever talked about it on the show. It’s almost worth its own episode. And it’s not a copyright case. It’s a case of a movie being redone and both movies being issued. I don’t know of any other example like this other than The Exorcist IV. I think it was IV.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: So it was originally done by Paul Schrader. Paul Schrader wrote a script, shot a movie. Finished the movie. The studio said we don’t like this. Let’s redo a bunch of it. Let’s fire Paul Schrader and let’s hire —

John: Renny Harlin, wasn’t it?

Craig: Thank you. Renny Harlin. Exactly. Let’s recast certain parts, not change the characters, just put different actors in. Let’s rewrite some of it, but let’s keep some of it, and shoot a bunch of stuff and release that as a different movie.

There are two of the same and yet different movies and it’s fascinating to compare them.

John: Those occasions are so unusual that like they become notable for that. And sort of the what if this happened, well, this is the one example of that happening.

The other thing if we’re going to talk about obscure legal cases, I don’t know all the background, but I’d be willing to do the research on it, is Whoopi Goldberg and I think it’s T. Rex, where she was like essentially forced to do this movie based on a contract, and she didn’t want to be in the movie, and they basically held her to her contract and required her to be in this movie, which is great. I just love that these bizarre things happen.

And so when you are forcing an actor to be in a movie they have no desire to be in, what the outcomes of that are.

Craig: I, in the back of my head, have this memory of that the cherry on top of the bizarro sundae of T. Rex was that the studio took out one of those For Your Consideration ads, but I could be wrong. But in the back of my mind I feel like there may have been a For Your Consideration Whoopi Goldberg in T. Rex. We’ll see if I’m crazy. That might be drugs.

John: I have some real-time follow up. The movie is actually called Theodore Rex, not T. Rex, and the artwork is about as amazing as you could possibly picture.

Craig: Is it Whoopi back to back with — ?

John: Side by side with her sort of puppet man T. Rex.

Craig: It was like The Dinosaurs show kind of like.

John: Very much like The Dinosaurs show. He’s wearing a hoodie. So, he may be starting a tech company. I’m not quite sure what the plot of the movie was. But she’s a cop, so.

Craig: Well, of course.

John: In an alternate futuristic society, a touch female detective is paired with a talking dinosaur to find the killer of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, leading them to a mad scientist bent on creating a new Armageddon.

Craig: [laughs] Well, that’s not a great idea for a movie.

John: No, but Armin Mueller-Stahl is also in it. So, there’s some good people. George Newbern. I wondered why there weren’t more George Newbern movies, and this might be one of the reasons.

Craig: I found the tag line.

John: Tell me.

Craig: The world’s toughest cop is getting a brand new partner. He’s a real blast, from the past.

John: Come on. The movie writes itself.

Craig: It. Writes. Itself.

John: The other example I can think of, and I don’t think it was quite as acrimonious of a situation, there was an Ed Norton movie, a heist movie that he was sort of forced to be in, based on I think it was a Primal Fear contract that he’d done. So Primal Fear is how we first were introduced to Edward Norton. Such a great movie.

Craig: The best. I love that movie.

John: And my recollection of it is, and so I will probably get all the facts wrong, is that Paramount had a two-picture deal with him, basically when they cast him in Primal Fear. And they held him to it to be in this heist movie, which as I recall was actually a pretty good heist movie, and he was the villain in it. But he had no desire to be in the movie.

Craig: I’m so like all wrapped up in Theodore Rex right now. It was written and directed by a guy named Jonathan Betuel. It was the last thing he did. And when I look at stuff, so it’s an interesting career. He actually has a writing credit on The Last Starfighter.

John: Great movie.

Craig: Which is amazing. Everybody loves The Last Starfighter. And I’m just checking to see if he’s cowriter — no, he’s the sole writer of The Last Starfighter, which everybody loves. Then he wrote a movie called My Science Project, which he also directed. And that was in 1985.

Then he does a couple of episodes of TV. And then in 1995 he writes and directs Theodore Rex. And that’s it. You rarely see that. Usually, there’s some little dribs and drabs of something afterwards, or people kind of find a different angle in the business. I almost feel like he must have been like, you know what, that’s it. I’m done. You’re not getting rid of me. I’m walking away.

John: Mic drop.

Craig: It must have been a terrible, terrible experience for him, too.

John: Yeah. That’s another great potential episode that we’ll probably never actually do is the people who just walked away. And the people who made one or two great movies and just like, you know what, this is just not a thing I want to do and I’m going to go off and do a completely different thing.

Craig: Well, I mean, Bob Gale, right? This is my IMDb typing as I go. Bob Gale wrote Back to the Future. And there wasn’t much after that. And, by the way, it wasn’t like that was his first thing. He also wrote 1941, which was a Spielberg movie. He wrote Used Cars, which was maybe Zemeckis’s first movie. He wrote Back to the Future, and sequels. He also did an episode of Amazing Stories. Remember the Spielberg anthology series?

John: Yeah. Trespass in ’92, I see.

Craig: Yeah, Trespass actually is a cool movie. But not really, no, most of it like episodes of TV and most of his credits are like the contractual characters by credits that go with all the Back to the Future stuff. He just never — maybe because he was like, you know what, I just wrote the best movie. I’m good.

John: Done.

On the topic of writing and writing new and different things, this is the end of October and I’m strongly considering, well, November — there’s a lot of pressure in November. So, there’s the pressure to get a flu shot. I already got my flu shot.

Craig: Good for you.

John: There’s the pressure to grow a mustache, to acknowledge men’s cancers.

Craig: Can you even do that?

John: I cannot even do — I can’t grow a mustache. You can grow a mustache, couldn’t you?

Craig: I could grow a mustache in like a minute.

John: [laughs]

Craig: I’m shaving right now. [laughs]

John: I’m incapable of growing a mustache. That’s the sound we hear, because it’s not the e-smoking anymore. It’s shaving.

Craig: No, it’s my hair growing.

John: Oh, okay. That’s good.

Craig: It’s my facial hair growing. I could totally grow a mustache. I just don’t want to because I don’t like it.

John: So the other things we do in November, of course, is figure out a new way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey. That’s really an end of November task. The other thing November is good for is writing a novel. So, there’s NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month. And I’m strongly considering actually just doing it this year.

Craig: Wow.

John: And there’s an idea I have that is not a movie idea, or at least it’s not an idea that wants to exist first as a movie. And so I’m thinking about actually doing it this year and hitting my word counts and writing a book.

Craig: That’s crazy.

John: It’s crazy. And honestly there’s real work that might knock that into the realm of impossibility, but I’m seriously thinking about it. So if I do decide to do the book, on the site I will let everybody know and I will certainly post my progress.

Do you remember a long time ago on the site I had this little thing that could fill in like progress on something? It was like a CSS thing. And you used to use that as well.

Craig: Sure.

John: And maybe I’ll make the new version of that, so people can see how far I’ve gotten and which days I’ve hit my goals or not hit my goals.

Craig: That’s amazing. I have this little secret novel that I’ve been writing at — even glaciers move quicker. Because, you know, I’m working on other stuff. And then when I do finally come around to it, I’m so conscious of the fact that people will read this. It’s not like, oh, and this becomes this. No, this is it. So, get it right, you know? I’m far too fastidious, I think.

John: So we’ll see if I end up doing this. Our friend, Derek Haas, is the only person I know who consistently writes both books, and movies, and TV. And, in fact, in November there’s a book launch party that we’ll both be at.

Craig: Correct.

John: To celebrate his most recent novel. And he’s able to hit those pages and he gets up at like five in the morning and writes his book. And I don’t know that I’ll ever have those work ethics, but I might try it for November.

Craig: Derek, we like to say, he’s that guy who sits down and goes, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to write a novel.” And then he just starts writing. There’s a beautiful, carefree nature to him. I wish I had it. Like I feel like those are the people when it’s time for bed, they get into bed and they go, great, good night. And they close their eyes and they’re immediately dreaming. I wish I were that.

John: Yeah. Wouldn’t that be so wonderful?

Craig: I’m not that.

John: I have a hard time picturing Craig Mazin’s schedule because you will be online at just bizarre hours. And then if I do though email you at eight in the morning, you’re right back there again.

Craig: Well, there are times when my schedule makes no sense to me, to my own body. I can’t predict the way my brain works. Right now I’m in the middle of a little bit of craziness. So, sometimes there is that adrenaline, and I make the mistake of thinking every time this adrenaline is awesome. I’m going to be like this forever.

John: You’re invincible.

Craig: I’m invincible! Uh, King Kong does have something on me. When I finish this little crazy thing, I will almost certainly fall asleep for a week, and also get depressed.

John: Yeah. Those things happen.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Finally, last bit of follow up here. If you are listening to our show through not the official Scriptnotes app, but through any other app, you may notice that we actually have chapter breaks. And my favorite podcast client, which is called Overcast, now finally tracks those chapter breaks. So if you hate our follow up, and never want to hear our follow up again, you can skip forward right to the place where we start talking about our first topic, our second topic, our third topic. Also really good if you just want to zoom in on one thing we talk about.

So, if you’re using Overcast, I would check out the chapter marks because Stuart actually puts them in every week. And way back to the first episode we have chapter marks for every single episode. So, check those out if you haven’t and check out Overcast if you’ve not. It’s really a terrific app for iOS, for listening to podcasts. They also switched to a model now which it’s free, the whole app is free, and if you want to support them, just an in-app purchase, you can support them for a month or for 12 months. And it’s basically pay what you want. And it’s a great app. So I paid the most I could.

Craig: You are a lovely person. I just might download that. That sounds good.

John: It’s a good app.

Craig: And I guess in other podcast news, just because I know people really want to know, yes, Louis B. Mayer will be returning for a third episode of You Must Remember This by Karina Longworth.

John: I cannot wait.

Craig: Just keep that in mind, folks. Louis is coming pack, with a vengeance.

John: Yeah. I think you have some choice words as I recall what Louis Mayer needs to say down the road. So, good.

All right, let’s get to our topics for the week. First one is writer’s rooms. So this actually comes from a question that a listener sent in. This is Vic Digital, which I doubt is his real name, but he wrote in as Vic Digital.

Craig: I wish it were his real name. I wonder if it’s like Dig-i-tal.

John: That’s what it actually kind of looks like.

Craig: Vic Dig-i-tal.

John: Yeah. He writes, “Over the last few months I’ve been seeing lots of what look like non-standard processes for developing scripts, specifically genre scripts. You’ve got the situation with the Transformers movies, where Robert Kirkman, Akiva Goldsman, and a bunch of others got together to map out the next ten years of Transformers movies. You’ve got the Star Wars Story Council, or whatever it’s called, and all the stories that need to pass through that, be they movie, or TV, or novel/comic, or even sticker book.

“You have stuff like the next Wolverine movie where I know they’re seemingly working on it since the last movie came out, but you see comments from Hugh Jackman talking about how they’re working on the script and whoever has great ideas.

“I see this a lot with sequels to big movies where the existence of it is heavily dependent on the stars’ involvement. There are a few other recent examples that aren’t popping into my head at the moment where the stars were talking about the development of the script and his influence on it.

“Anyway, for each of these, what does the actual development writing process look like if you’re the writer who finally comes to work on it? Does it resemble a typical writing process? Or are you guys horrified to discover what these other writers might be forced to do? Are the writers just at the whim of all these other powerful forces? And is it a straight adaptation, more like a rewrite? How do stars get involved in the process?”

So, I want to take this as a jumping off point to talk about something we’ve all kind of noticed, this trends towards especially big tent pole movies, bringing in a bunch of writers at the start. Not necessarily writing together, but being in a room together to sort of break story together. And the way that we tend to — a lot of times you will see the actors involved in the process early on in the development, especially of sequels.

So we could take through his notes, but also I want to link to an article by Rebecca Ford from the Hollywood Reporter which gave some good examples of the kinds of situations that writers are encountering and the complications for the Writers Guild when what does it mean if you’re a writer employed on a project, but you’re not actually writing, so therefore there’s not going to be an expectation of credit.

Craig: What a mess. There are so many complications and problems with this. Let’s talk about the easy ones which are essentially the kind of legal contractual ones. The way our credits work, we do limit how many people can be credited on a movie so that you don’t end up with Written By and then 12 names. So, written by nobody really. Written by everybody. And also the Writers Guild I think has an investment in the notion that what we do is unique and it authorial, and therefore in its best form it is the expression of vision.

Sometimes the vision is a shared vision of one or two or three people, but we’re not in the business of sitting 60 people down in a room to cobble things together like Frankenstein.

So, when people do gather together and start breaking stories together, the issue is they’re not an MBA legal writing team. A writing team at maximum can be three people. So, they’re running into these issues down the line there. And to be clear, not everybody is doing this in a way that’s problematic. For instance, over at Universal where Chris Morgan and Alex Kurtzman are overseeing their Monsters Universe thing, they are seemingly doing it correctly.

They have each movie that they’re contemplating has a writer. They do gather everybody together so that they all can coordinate, so that the narratives have some intertextuality. And they don’t break each other’s movies, but individuals are writing individual movies. And that seems fair.

You have situations that are not new, but regrettable, where a studio will hire simultaneous writers to kind of compete against each other. I’m not a big fan of that for a billion reasons. But, in the end, again, individual writers are being hired and writing and their work can be evaluate individually for the purpose of some credit down the line.

John: Although it becomes increasingly challenging. So look at the two Warner Bros. examples. So, both Wonder Woman and Aquaman had multiple writers writing simultaneously. And so if ideas are showing up in both of those scripts simultaneously, how do you credit those things? If I were the person who had to do an arbitration on that, I would be at a loss.

Craig: It’s very difficult. The guild has encountered situations where they’re asking arbiters to figure out what to do with simultaneous screenplays. Traditionally, everything is chronological. So, you write first, you’re writer A. I write second, I’m writer B, and so on. They have had situations where they’ve had writer A1, A2, and A3. And chronology now is no longer an issue. And if there’s overlap, basically everybody gets credit for it. And who knows, because that’s only fair. It’s like, well, they all wrote the same damn thing and that’s in the movie, so each one of them is credited for it.

It’s a mess. What happens all the time is the desires of the marketplace are completely dismissive of our, we’ll call it ideology, our desires for what we think are ideal situations. So they think, yeah, screw it, this is great. If one writer is smart, maybe five writers will be five times as smart. We’ll put them all in a room together and they’ll figure out Transformers together. It’s just — putting the complications aside — from a creative point of view I don’t get it. If I were running a studio, I would not do that ever.

I think that is a recipe for down the middle, edges rubbed off, group think. I hate it. I hate it.

John: So, let’s talk about some other scenarios and the pros and cons of that. I wonder whether the James Cameron Avatar movies were a precursor to sort of what this is. So, the development of the Avatar sequels, Cameron oversaw essentially a writer’s room of very smart writers and they were talking through the whole world and all the movies kind of simultaneously. And then they were each assigned a movie to write. This feels like a situation that’s more analogous to what we think about as normal television, where you have a showrunner, who in this case is an incredibly powerful writer himself and director, James Cameron, and he is building out the universe of what he wants this thing to be and then assigning writers to do stuff.

That feels more like what we described with the Chris Morgan thing, where each of those writers is individually responsible, but they’re also responsible for making their thing fit with the other people’s scripts.

The Transformers thing feels much more challenging because it’s honestly — it’s kind of like the bake off situations we talked about on the show before, where you’re bringing in a bunch of writers to pitch on an idea and then you’re going to hire one of those people to do something. The difference being we always say like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if they paid those writers for all the time they’re doing coming up with those ideas?” Well, in this case they are, but then they’re ultimately hiring one person to do it.

And I was talking with a writer just last week who was going in on one of these situations. It was a one-day writer’s discussion about a project and then at the end of the day they were — the next week they were going to pick one of the people who was in that room to rewrite the script.

Craig: That’s horrendous.

John: It does seem incredibly, I don’t know, it feels incredibly abusive. It feels — it just feels weird. And so a writer might go in on that because they want to have a relationship with that production company. They want a chance at doing that project. So, those writers were going in, they were getting paid, but they weren’t getting paid much, and they weren’t getting paid as writers. They were getting paid essentially as independent contractors for a day’s work.

Craig: My objection, I mean, look, there are circumstances about this where you’d say, well, this is great. Look, there are bake offs, everybody goes in, they pitch all their stuff, they don’t get paid. This is like that, but they get paid. So why is this bad?

It’s bad because they’re getting paid and then their stuff is being mulched into a slurry of a story that someone else is going to write. If you are being hired for your story, you write your story. We’re not supposed to go in there and be cogs. And the last thing in the world I would ever want, forget as a writer, as somebody on the other side of the table, would be to bring together a group of eight writers, sit them around a table, let them know — let them know — that they are now on a reality show where there’s going to be one person standing at the end. And then listen to them engage creatively how in god’s name would that not just be creative blood sport where the — it’s just terrible. It’s stupid. It’s counterproductive. I’ve said this before, I would much rather see a movie that has mistakes that are consistent with the right things than a movie that’s just 100 different people’s right choices that have nothing to do with each other. It’s bad, bad moviemaking. And I don’t like The Transformers movies, not because — I’m just not a fan of robots hitting each other. It’s not my thing.

But, why? Why do they feel the need? The Transformers seems like the last movie you need this for. Just have somebody who really cares and has passion for — and you know, oh, Marvel gets this. You know, Marvel gets it. That’s a very powerful company. Kevin Feige is a powerful guy. They have big meetings with lots of people who all have ideas. But then they turn to one filmmaker and they say make me your movie, please.

One. Not 100. You will never get, never in a million years would you get The Avengers if you sat 12 people in a room and had them all grasping for money. It’s sick.

I don’t know if I’m coming across quite clearly here. [laughs]

John: I think you’re being very internally consistent, because you’ve often praised sort of Kevin Feige and the Marvel model. And Kevin Feige is essentially the showrunner. And so even though he has incredibly strong kind of showrunner directors, you look at Joss Whedon for god’s sake, coming in and doing those things. Famously on Avengers 2, they didn’t agree on some things and Feige wins. I mean, he ultimately is the person steering the ship for the entire Marvel universe and that becomes an important thing.

I want to go back to the point about round tables. I don’t do very many round tables. I think you do a few more. But there’s I think only one case where we’ve both been in the same round table. And it was a useful round table on a script that was going to go into production. And afterwards, you ended up working on it. But that wasn’t an audition for you to sort of go in and do that. You were able to sort of help them get through one specific thing and were a godsend to them, but that wasn’t a job audition for you.

Craig: No. No. Typically when you have those things, they are — the idea of a round table is you’re not the writer of the movie. You’re not being hired to write the movie. We’re asking you to read this and give us your thoughts and opinions. So basically we’re paying you a little money to be development executives because either we’ve expressed our perspective and we found that we need some more perspective, or there are things that everyone suspects writers would just be better at figuring out.

There are times when after a round table has concluded, the director and the studio say, “You know, maybe instead of whoever just wrote this last draft, we should have one of the people in the room execute some of the things we really liked that came out of that room.

And almost always it’s execute something you said, you know, as opposed to execute something that everybody else said. But it’s rare, and there’s absolutely no expectation, in fact, that may have been the only time that happened to me. Most of the time, you’re going in and just, you know.

John: And most of the time I’m doing it as a favor to the writer, if the writer is still involved on the project, to the director if I have a relationship with the director, or to the people involved in making the movie because you’re trying to make the best movie possible here.

Craig: Right.

John: Before we segue to the talk of actors and sort of how actors have control over things, and sometimes don’t have control over things, we should talk about what’s different with features and TV, because we had a whole episode about how features are different. In television, there are writer’s rooms. Almost all television is written with a writer’s room. And so even though an individual writer goes off and writes a given episode, the story is broken and figured out in a room generally.

The reason why the credits don’t become so complicated is you’re making 10 or 13 or 22 episodes of the show and the reality is you are kind of figuring out like who should get credit for a given script. And it’s kind of assigned. It can be controversial at times who gets assigned the credit, but I know friends who work on shows that are essentially written as a room and they just kind of go through the order and say like this episode was written by writer A and this episode was written by writer B, when in fact they all worked on every episode.

But they can do that because they’re making a whole bunch of episodes of this TV series, versus making one movie every three or four years.

Craig: No question. Every now and then somebody will say, “You know what would make the feature film credit rules a lot simpler, if you just used the TV model.” And I always just say that’s the stupidest possible suggestion. The TV model is predicated on the notion that everyone gets a credit. Everybody. Films are one episode TV series, so no, not everyone, in fact, almost no one will get credit, especially if a lot of people have written on it. It’s an entirely different situation. Credits for films are much higher stakes situations.

Residuals are calculated in a very different way and generally will produce more income for feature writers than they do for writers of episodic television, at least these days. It’s why when somebody says, “Well, we’re just doing what they do in TV,” I just want to say, well, you’re stupid. Because it’s not TV.

John: It’s not TV at all.

Craig: It’s not.

John: Let’s also talk about actors, because this point about I guess Hugh Jackman being interviewed about the Wolverine sequel, it’s not a new thing that actors, especially the star of a movie, particularly the star of a sequel of a movie has the ability to greatly influence the development process of that movie. And that’s not a new thing whatsoever.

I think what’s new is that Hugh Jackman is getting interviewed all the time, and so people will ask him questions about how the Wolverine movie is going, and he gets to answer. But I can tell very honestly having worked on the Charlie’s Angels movies, having worked on other big movies with big movie stars, they’re a part of it, and they’re going to be a part of it, and they always have been part of it. Because they are looking at what they’re going to do in the movie. They’re looking at their brand. They’re looking at what’s exciting for them.

And they’re not necessarily the best qualified people to be talking about story, but they’re going to be part of the process of figuring out how this movie is going to work and play. And part of the reason why A-list screenwriters get paid A-list screenwriter money is because they’re able to have those conversations with big movie stars and make the movie stars feel heard, but also get the movie to happen.

Craig: Yeah. There are times when it’s very understandable. If you’re coming in and someone has been playing a character for five movies, it’s not possible that you understand that character better than they do. It’s just not possible. And you must listen to them. Not only have they lived that character five times, but they’ve also been through wars you haven’t been through, and seen things that didn’t work, and they have shot scenes that ended up being cut. They know stuff.

The best actors on — let’s put that example aside — and let’s talk about a typical movie. I think the best and smartest actors are the ones who are confident enough to express their opinions and then listen to opinions and trust their creative team to some extent. And it’s nerve-racking because if it fails they are the ones 50 feet tall being embarrassed. And I get that completely. Sometimes I feel like the movie business is a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of what we’ll call good directors.

Good directors tend to make good movies because they’re good directors and also because all the other crap that everybody else is constantly dealing with, they deal with just a little bit less of it. It’s a lot harder to sit down with Martin Scorsese and say, “I don’t think you get it. I’m not doing what you want me to do.” Mostly I think actors in a very relieved kind of way can say to Martin Scorsese or to Woody Allen or to David O. Russell or these directors that keep coming up over and over in Oscar season. I’m here for you. Tell me what to do. I think you will make me shine.

John: And looking at it from — I’m sympathetic when I look at it from the actor’s point of view, because if they’re a star, they may have some control over — or they can control what movie they want to make, which movie they choose to make. They can hopefully influence the script to a degree, which they feel like they can deliver a performance that they’ll be happy with. During production, they’re there, they’re present in the moment, so they know what they’re doing. They can’t necessarily know how the scene is going to ultimately feel. But then they’re just — they’re done and they have no more control over anything after that point.

They can’t control the edit. They can’t control almost anything else about the movie. So, if they’re a little over-freaking out about the script at the start, it’s because that’s maybe the only opportunity they’re going to have to defend the things that they are important.

Craig: I’m with you. I sympathize tremendously. It can be frustrating when you’re dealing with an actor who is maybe less confident, who is focusing on the wrong things, and it happens from time to time. It’s a natural thing in Hollywood for people who do a particular job to start to look at other people doing that job and ask why are they getting a thing I don’t get. So directors look at another director and go, “Why does that guy have final cut? Why don’t I have final cut?”

Writers say, “Well wait a second, why don’t I have a bungalow and a production deal when they have a bungalow and a production deal?” And actors will say, “Well why does that A-list actor get to have the story conferences and do their own draft and all the rest of it, and I don’t? Maybe I should. Maybe I’m doing this wrong.”

It’s a toxic thing that goes on. I think sometimes everybody — writers, directors, actors — all start to push beyond their comfort zones because they feel they’re supposed to.

John: Absolutely. If you see the A-list movie star of your movie star is getting involved in these decisions you feel like, well wait, I should be speaking up my opinions on these things, too, and then it goes down the line. And when you have movies that have many stars in them, it can be incredibly challenging to balance all of those competing viewpoints. And thus Charlie’s Angels was a challenging movie to make because you have a lot of people with a lot of strong opinions.

Craig: As you go on in your career, if you can last, you begin to accrue the benefits of your time in the war, because studios want a producer that everybody looks up to as being authoritative. They want a writer that everybody feels confident in and relaxed by. They want a director that is a sure hand. And they want actors who know how to do all of it, not only the show up on time, know your lines, deliver a great performance that’s attuned for camera, but then play the game of selling the movie. Everybody is desperate for the pro who is going to put everybody else at ease, because the deal with our business is at any given point there’s somebody on the rise who’s fame and position is a little beyond their experience level.

And that’s when we start to get into trouble.

John: I agree. The last point I would like to make about these writer’s rooms is there is an analogous situation in feature animation. So you look at how Disney features are made, how Pixar features are made, and there’s a bunch of people looking at story all simultaneously. And some of those movies are fantastic and they really benefitted from a lot of story brains focusing on really every beat. And so while there may be one or two credited writers, there’s a lot of people who are in the trenches every day really figuring out story.

What I would point to as being a crucial difference between live action features and animated features is animated features are entirely iteration. And so you are going through the process multiple times. You’re making the movie every day. And so you are seeing — well we’ve tried this cut, now we’re going to try this cut. What if we changed this thing? You’re going through scratch reels. You’re going through storyboards. And because it’s a process of continuous iteration, you can invite all those voices in and really benefit from all the eyes and all of the brains you’re applying to it.

Making a feature is not that way. And the times we’ve tried to make features that way it has not gone especially well. Features are a thing you ultimately shoot once, and then you go through multiple edits, but that shooting happens once. And so you have to approach it with one blueprint, one plan for how you’re going to do it.

Craig: It is an inherently risky proposition and I think a lot of what we’re seeing now with these group rooms is a misguided attempt to mitigate the risk.

John: I agree.

Craig: In fact, it is the risk that gives you the opportunity for magic and great success. And when you mitigate, you are definitely lowering your chance of disaster and you’re also, I think, muting — seriously muting — your chance to make something that breaks through.

John: Cool. All right, our second topic is taxes. So, death and taxes are sort of the —

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Segue Man, we’re never supposed to talk about. But taxes are a thing that just this week I’ve encountered two people in my life who have been hit with these weird tax situations. And it’s an LA city tax. And so in general this is not like state or federal income. It’s a special thing that’s happening — people who have income that is either writer income, or other income that is not as an employee.

So, I’m going to put up a couple of different links for people to go through. First is an LA Weekly article that sort of talks about it and writers who like made $500 in freelance being hit with like a $30,000 tax bill.

Craig: Geez. God.

John: A Reddit thread that goes through it. And some information about AB63 which is often the notification you’re getting that you owe this money. So, the short version of this is that if you are a screenwriter working on a studio feature, that many is being paid to you, you are being paid as an employee. You’re relatively well protected from most of the figures of this tax, although there could be a home based business tax which will kick into, which is so complicated I don’t want to get into it.

But what my friends were being faced with was essentially they had some 1099 income for some freelance writing. So not feature writing, but writing for a magazine, or writing just a little thing, or doing coverage. And essentially if you do not file a specific piece of paperwork saying that you are a business and that your income will be below a certain thing, they can penalize you and charge you fees and fines for not having filed this paperwork.

And so I don’t have much more to — we could talk about sort of the frustrations of it, but I’m going to encourage people to follow through these links if you are in the City of Los Angeles and you are earning income and you are not paying a business tax on it, be mindful that you may be expected to pay a tax on it. And if you get a notification that you’re supposed to be paying a business tax on it, take it seriously because it’s not like jury summons where you just kind of ignore it. Apparently it gets much, much worse if you just ignore it.

Craig: I admit that I am aware of this problem but I don’t live in Los Angeles. And so I live in La CaƄada, which is its own city, and my office is in Pasadena, which is not in Los Angeles. This is the weirdest thing, this tax. It erupted like ten years ago, as I recall.

John: Yeah. There’s a slightly different thing, so I think what you’re thinking about ten years ago was essentially the City of Los Angeles was coming after screenwriters saying like you are a home-based business and therefore you have to file home-based business tax. And I was trying to find if I had blogged about it, and I guess I hadn’t, but I was really up in arms about it because I was like that’s just crazy. So you’re essentially saying that if I made the exact same money but I was working on the Paramount lot, versus working a block off the Paramount lot, I wouldn’t have to pay the tax.

And they’re like, yes, it’s because you’re a home-based business. It’s like, no, I’m not. I’m a writer who is working at home. And they’re like, oh, that’s a home-based business. It became — so the Writers Guild got involved in that situation. And ultimately to cut the story short, I ended up having to pay taxes for a few back years because of that, because it was better to pay that than to keep arguing and fighting about it.

Craig: Could you have told them, oh, I don’t write in my house. I go to Starbucks and I do it.

John: That is what is fascinating. And so my belief is that my business manager actually — she does check where am I writing certain things. So if I’m writing a movie and I’m actually writing the movie in New York and being paid for writing this movie that is shooting in New York, I’m not paying that tax on the income I’m receiving in New York because that’s not LA-based income.

Craig: This is the part of government that makes me…argh.

John: I sort of suspected this would kick up Craig’s instincts on this topic.

Craig: All my libertarianism, my latent libertarianism starts to jump out.

John: What I find fascinating and frustrating is that weird murky definition of like are you an employee, or are you a business is such a strange question, especially in 2015, in the age of Uber, in the age of a freelance economy, that every person is a business and so therefore we’re going to start taxing every person like they’re a business when the difference between W2 income and 1099 income shouldn’t be that big a factor.

Right about this point, all of the international listeners have skipped forward with the chapter markers set up, because like I have no idea what these taxes mean. But essentially a person internationally should know that taxes in the US, there are federal income taxes, there are state income taxes, so the State of California, and some cities have income taxes. LA does not have a city income tax. And this feels like a weird way that LA is trying to do an income tax without having to call it an income tax. And yet it hits people really strangely because it hits both people who are making a good amount of money like feature screenwriters, but people who are not making very much money at all, it hits them kind of unfairly as well.

Craig: Stupid.

John: Stupid. I don’t know if have anything more to say other than just venting frustration and umbrage.

Craig: Yeah. Good. I like it when you — I mean, that is a pathetic excuse for umbrage, what you just did. I mean, your voice didn’t raise.

John: Not a bit.

Craig: There was no — your blood pressure didn’t rise. Your creepy 30 beats per minute heartrate —

John: [laughs]

Craig: Never went up.

John: I’m not Spock. This is not my pon farr moment.

Craig: Exactly.

John: This is just expressing frustration rather than — a great thing.

What I will say is that I don’t perceive the WGA becoming deeply involved in this because it tends to be targeting writers who are not writing under contract for a studio. So, therefore it’s not as much their issue. But I would say that most aspiring screenwriters are probably doing writing for other people, or are doing other jobs, even if it’s just teaching at a class, or teaching a class for somebody, they’ll have some of this income and just be mindful of what the possible ramifications of that are.

Craig: Done.

John: Done. Last, this will be so simple to figure out. Is Hamlet fat?

Craig: [laughs] I read this article. It’s really interesting. There is a throwaway line in Hamlet where he is referred to as fat. And obviously we — all of us who have seen the many, many multiple versions of Hamlet, if you say to somebody, “Tell me what Hamlet looks like?” you’re going to say, well, probably like Laurence Olivier, you know? He looks slender and he looks like he’s dithering about what to do. He might have tuberculosis as people often did.

But there is a moment where —

John: It’s during the sword fight at the end when Gertrude says —

Craig: Queen Gertrude says, “He’s fat and scant of breath.”

John: Yes.

Craig: So, the question is, is Hamlet fat? Well, they go through this whole thing and it’s, well, which text are you looking at because there were multiple versions of Hamlet. And what does fat mean. How does Shakespeare normally use fat? And by the time they’re all done, they’re sort of like, yeah, he probably, I mean, he was a little fat.

John: Yeah. So the article we’re referring to is by Isaac Butler. It ran in Slate. And, listen, we’re not a podcast about Shakespeare. What I found fascinating about the question of is Hamlet fat is that sense that the author of a piece gets to decide ultimately who should portray that character and how that character should be portrayed.

And so you and I write features and television, but we write things that are going to shoot exactly once. And so ultimately an actor is cast in that role and if that actor does not meet what the text describes, we may need to make some changes because there’s reality. We know who that actor is and it has to make sense.

And so often some of the last work we are doing on a script is tailoring it to the person they put in that role. And we may have opinions about what that role should be and who that character should be played by, but ultimately a person is cast and it’s our responsibility to match what our eyes are telling us.

Compare that to a play, or to any musical, or anything that’s written from the past, if you’re staging a new version of that, it’s going to be a different actor every time. And you have to be mindful of the fact that the author’s original intention may not be what we’re seeing there. So, you’ll have dramaturgs argue about what this thing meant and what the author’s intent was, but ultimately you’re free to do whatever you want to do and feature directors can make radically different choices.

Craig: Nobody I think is subjected to more reinterpretation than Shakespeare because he is essentially the proto playwright for, well, probably some Greeks, but you know, for most people I would say he is the proto playwright. So, he’s constantly being reinterpreted. In fact, if you mount any production of Shakespeare that is really true to the text, it feels boring and almost like a wasted opportunity at this point.

What’s interesting is that the text says, “He’s fat,” and nobody who was interpreting Hamlet all along in the 20th century took that to heart. Because I think it’s hard for people to look at an overweight character as somehow this tortured soul like Hamlet, which of course is not true to life. If anything, the opposite is true. Overweight people suffer more, I think. And their internal life and their minds are as vibrant as anyone. So, it’s a bias. It’s just a flat out — just a bias.

John: But what’s fascinating, ever since I first heard this article discussed and then I actually read the article, as I think through my recollection of Hamlet and sort of like what Hamlet needs to do in the course of the play, sticking a heavy 27-year-old actor in that part in some ways makes a lot more sense to me, because the way that he is sort of stuck in his head, and the way that people are treating him, even Ophelia falling for him, it doesn’t feel like she’s falling for him because he’s hot. It’s his brain that’s actually attracting her. It’s essentially his doom that is sort of attractive to her.

So, I found it really kind of interesting to think through the whole story with those changes. And often that’s kind of a screenwriter’s job, isn’t it, is to imagine the world with one thing changed and what the ramifications are of that change. And so putting a few pounds on Hamlet does give you some different opportunities.

Craig: Without question. And as we progress through our evolution of narrative understanding, our interest in narrative cutting closer to what is real seems to be increasing. We want to see things that are true to the world around us, whether it’s actors that aren’t just white or aren’t just traditionally beautiful or aren’t just thin. And so I think it’s a good thing for us to start asking those questions all the time about everything.

It’s also good for the audience. I think it’s what they want. I mean, there will always, always be a desire for idealized perfection on screen. People will always want to see beautiful people doing very big romantic things on screen because ultimately we’re not that far off from where we were back in the days of the Greeks when gods would come down and start doing this stuff.

You know, we look at Brad Pitt on a screen. We’ve elevated him essentially to a demigod. Not spiritually speaking, but that’s kind of the place he’s occupying for us. Not surprisingly, he does really well when he’s playing Achilles, actually.

You know, so we’re getting better and our interests are getting a little more broad in that regard.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I think it’s good. I like this sort of thing. I like the fact that people might have been wrong all along about Hamlet. I think it would be cool. And the article does cite that there have been some actors who aren’t traditional skinny that have played Hamlet.

John: Yeah. There’s the Paul Giamatti’s who have done it, which is great. I also look at — you look at Lena Dunham and if you took the text of Girls and didn’t have Lena Dunham in that place, and you cast a standard CW pretty actress in that part, it wouldn’t be the same show. And who she is and what she looks like is a fundamental aspect of what that is. And even when it’s not in the text, it’s informing the way the characters in the world treat her. And I think that becomes an important aspect of it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Another thing I think about is the movie School of Rock, Jack Black is sort of iconically great in the central role in School of Rock. They’re making the Broadway version of that. And they cast Alex Brightman from Big Fish in that part. And so it’s that challenging thing where you say like, well, he’s not playing Jack Black. He’s Alex Brightman. He’s doing his own thing. And yet it was determined that they wanted him to be sort of Jack Black size. So he actually is heavier now so that he is more reminiscent of our perception of what Jack Black was like in that movie. And that’s an interesting thing. And I’ll be curious if down the road, that musical is going to be huge, but a year from now or when Alex leaves the show and another person comes in, will they always have the requirement that that actor has to be heavier? Or will we eventually get to the point where you realize that wasn’t important at all.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, you know, they kept changing through the actors on that, and it became less and less important over time that it be so iconically the same way that we saw it from the movie.

Craig: Yeah. They’ll run into that, I assume, at some point when they’re doing the umpteenth version of Book of Mormon that Elder Cunningham won’t necessarily have to be zaftig. It’s interesting. I don’t know necessarily why they felt that the lead in School of Rock the musical had to be heavy. I mean, it’s interesting. Maybe they did it to avoid the criticism that they didn’t have somebody — I mean, part of the problem with the world now is everybody is in fear. We live in fear of being accused of something. So, sometimes these decisions are made in weird ways that are a little calculated. That’s actually a really interesting thing that they asked him to gain weight for that.

John: I was thinking back to Big Fish when we did it with Norbert Leo Butz. And so I had the luxury of seeing a bunch of different actors play that role. So we had Hugh Jackman. We had other actors along the ways different people playing that role. And that was incredibly helpful as an author to see what is the character and what is what the actor is bringing to the character.

Ultimately, because Norbert Leo Butz was the Broadway version of it, that does sort of solidify in mind like, oh, that’s what that is supposed to be. And then after we’ve closed, and I’ve seen regional productions, and the Boston version I was there, just people are fundamentally different. And they bring different things to the role. And it’s been really fascinating to see the inherent aspects of the person come through and what that character is and sort of how does that change our perception of the character and the story based on who we cast in those parts.

Same thing happens like with the Will character and many productions are even much more multi-ethnic than the Broadway version. And if you break the essential belief system that these are all people who are biologically related, how does that change your perception of the story?

Craig: Right.

John: It’s been fun to see.

Craig: You can start to see why people panic so much when they’re casting a movie, because that’s your shot.

John: Yep. That’s such a great point, because in a movie you’re casting it exactly once. In everything — a play or musical, you are — every time is a different assembly of unique elements.

Craig: Correct.

John: Cool. It’s time for some One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a brand new show called Computer Show by Adam Lisagor, the incredibly talented director and star of many great online videos and other things, commercials. Computer Show is set in 1983. It is very much like the Computer Chronicles on PBS, if you remember that. Except that it is these hosts are interviewing people who are running modern companies. So, they’ll interview the guy who created Reddit or other sort of VC entrepreneurs. And they are completely clueless about what they’re talking about.

And so it’s incredibly deadpan in a very great Adam Lisagor way. So I will include a link to several episodes of that. It’s just terrific and Adam is so smart.

Craig: That sounds like something I would like.

John: You would like it.

Craig: I would. My One Cool Thing, of course, is Tesla Autopilot.

John: I honestly don’t know what this is, so tell me all about it.

Craig: So the most recent generation of Tesla Model S automobiles came with all these sensors built in. And initially the only functionality was basically what you can get in a lot of modern cars. For instance, the adaptive cruise control. So if you set your cruise control in a lot of modern cars it will read ahead and slow down if it detects that it’s creeping up on a car. Stuff like that.

Or when you get too close to a curb it goes boop, boop, boop. Nothing special. But, just this week, Tesla released a major revision of its software which is unique to Tesla. Only they can really do this. It’s spectacular. It’s like you get a whole new car. And they turned on a whole bunch of functionality. And now the car has autopilot. I can get onto a freeway and I’m in my lane, I pull twice on the little cruise control stick, and it drives itself.

So, now it is adjusting its speed and also moving the steering wheel and following the lane.

John: Wow.

Craig: If I want to change a lane, I hit the lane change signal, and it goes, oh, you would like to go to the left lane. It checks, yep, good, moves into the left lane, and then stays in that lane. Now, it’s in beta, and they say keep your hands on the wheel just in case, but I tried it and it’s so creepy and good at what it does. And I know for sure that within — I’m going to say within 10 to 20 years, no one will be steering their car.

John: I concur with you that that will happen. And I’ll also be fascinated to see whether learning how to drive a non-super automatic car will be just like a, I don’t know, will it seem like a vintage thing, or will it still be a mark of distinction that you still know how to drive? I’ll be curious what the future is like for that.

My question about the autopilot in its current form, so it does not have your navigation information in, so it’s only if you’re already on the freeway, then you can hit this button and it will engage. And that you will disengage that when it comes time to exit the freeway, correct?

Craig: Yes. Exactly right. So if you press on the brake. So it’s braking for you and accelerating for you, but if you press on the brake, or move the steering wheel yourself, it goes, okay, you’re back in control now. It’s academic to look ahead and see that, yes, they will integrate the navigation into it. They’re going to integrate reading stop lights and stop signs into it. It’s just inevitable.

This is the first step toward it, but it’s inevitable.

John: It’s going to be great.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. That is our show this week. So our outro this week comes from Matthew Chilelli. If you have an outro, please send it to us. You can write in at and send us a link.

Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli and produced by Stuart Friedel. A reminder that we have transcripts for every single episode of the show. So if you go to and search for Scriptnotes, you can find every back episode.

If you would like to listen to the back episodes, you can find them at It’s $1.99 a month for a subscription there. It gives you access to the whole back catalog and the ability to use our apps to get back to those episodes. So that’s at

A reminder that I will be talking with Drew Goddard on October 28 at the WGA. So if you want to come to see that you should get tickets. There’s a link in the show notes. The show notes are always at

Short questions are great on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions, write in to

Next week will be a normal week, and then we’ll be in Austin. And the Austin episode should be up a normal time on Tuesday after that. Craig, thank you so much for a fun show.

Craig: Thank you, John. See you next time. Bye.

John: Bye.