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 221 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the program, we’re going to be looking at one of the most quoted and misapplied statements in Hollywood. That little chestnut, “Nobody knows anything.” We’ll also be looking at zombie cars, film school, and the question of whether screenwriters are gaming the system. Craig Mazin, are you ready for this big show?
Craig: Let’s put this way. I filled up my umbrage tank on the way in [laughs], so
John: I’ve got a bit of umbrage in my tank too, so I think it’s going to be an umbrage-filled podcast.
Craig: Here we go.
John: Yeah, so we should get right to it.
Craig: Buckle in.
John: A little bit of follow up and news about events ahead. At the Austin Film Festival, we’re doing our two live shows. We’re so excited. Andrea Berloff will not be joining us for the live Scriptnotes. She’s not going to be able to travel in to Austin. But instead Nicole Perlman who was our guest who talked about Guardians of the Galaxy and she’s phenomenal, so you should come see us and see Nicole Perlman and Scott Neustadter and other wonderful special guests at our live show.
John: Second off, on our last episode we talked about writers’ rooms and this trend towards hiring multiple screenwriters to work simultaneously in a room to break ideas for big franchises. And we talked about a couple of different properties that were trying to do this. We had a writer write in who is actually part of one of these big rooms. And so she didn’t want to say which room specifically she was in or she didn’t want us to say which room specifically she was in.
So I generalized out some of the things she said. But she actually had a really positive experience with it and thought it was a good thing. So I want to put this more or less in her own words, but considering I am just a man and she is a woman, we thought it might be better to have a woman read this aloud. And I could think of no person who’s better qualified to talk about Hollywood than Karina Longworth, the host of You Must Remember This. And after all Craig has often been a guest on her podcast.
John: Being Louis B. Mayer, so this is just payback for all that. So this is Karina Longworth reading the words of this screenwriter who is still anonymous.
Karina Longworth: I actually think the room was really smart and effective. It was certainly the most fun I’ve ever had in my career sitting around with a bunch of extremely smart writers. We spent the first couple of days learning all about the history of the project then spent subsequent days talking generally about mythology and interesting places one could take the franchise. We set out to tell a long-form story as opposed to get trapped in the typical formula of any big franchise sequel, blow more stuff up. The goal was for each of us to come up with a sequel, spinoff or prequel, enough to fill out the slate for at least the next 10 years. We weren’t therefore in competition with each other. All of the movies could get made if the studio found them viable.
We all went away to our lone wolf feature writing holes and came back and pitched our movies to the group. Some people asked for notes and others didn’t. It was amazingly valuable to have feedback from a bunch of people who write for a living, even if the feedback was just a round of applause from people who know what the hell they’re doing. But in no way were those stories broken as a group. It was no different than what we all do after we finish our treatments. We give them to our friends to tell us whether we’re crazy or not. Only in this case our friends happen to be getting paid really well.
It was a completely writer-driven process to an extent that I’ve never witnessed in studio development. The result was a bunch of movies that together form a cohesive narrative but also stand alone. If they pull off what we architected and what the intention is at present, then I think they will have pulled off something very novel and worthy indeed. Writers are very, very smart. Give us authority and autonomy and put us in a situation where we’re not competing or begging for scraps, and we can literally deliver you a franchise.
John: So, that was a very glowing perspective on what it’s like to be in that writer’s room. So it sounded like she had actually a really good experience.
Craig: Well, not only was it a glowing perspective, but it also is different than the story we’ve been told.
Craig: So when we did our podcast, our last podcast, we were keying off of an article. I think it was the Hollywood Reporter. And this isn’t what they said. I mean, factually, they seem to have gotten it completely wrong because what this writer is describing is essentially, exactly what’s going on with the Monster franchise over at Universal. And in our podcast last week I think we both said that that sounded like they were doing it the right way. And in this situation it sounds like they’re also doing it the right way. There’s nothing wrong with — and I would imagine it’s essentially necessary, if you are planning on writing multiple movies around the same shared universe, you need to coordinate. It sounds like they’re coordinating.
What it doesn’t sound like they did was the thing that we were most concerned about which was breaking individual stories together as a group. So I’m really glad that she wrote in to share her experience and also particularly glad that the studio in question seems to have opted to go about this the right way.
John: Yeah. So we don’t know specifically what the property was or what the thing that she’s working on. So I’m guessing it’s not the Monster movie properties, since we know all the writers who were involved in that. But, in a general sense, it does feel like, you know, each of these writers is coming up with an idea and it sounded like they were getting paid for a treatment. I’m not clear that they’re getting paid for a treatment. They were at least pitching something. It’s not clear that they were turning in any written material. Where it could be — let’s take, let’s say this was He-Man or something. If you were trying to build out the He-Man Universe, where I could see there being problems with this down the road is, you know, two different writing teams have a way to use a certain character or a certain beat that’s in that mythology, well, who gets to do that. And if they both write up this thing that involves some aspect of that mythology, that could still get kind of murky down the road. So
John: It doesn’t absolve everyone of all the problems that could possibly happen down the road but it does sound like a much better process than what I had envisioned.
Craig: I think that the job of traffic cop rests with the person who’s overseeing — for instance, at Universal, Chris Morgan
Craig: Who is our friend and a screenwriter is along with Alex Kurtzman they are the traffic cops. And so, they can’t I don’t think run into a situation where two people are both grabbing at the same bit of mythology, because their job is to say, “Sorry, you can’t. That one is doing that one.” You have to have somebody like that. I think at Marvel that’s Kevin Feige. You need somebody or it’s chaos.
John: Yep, and where this wouldn’t work especially well is if there’s no underlying material in a strange way, like, if you just said like, we want to do a bunch of movies that are set in space and you had a bunch of people trying to do that where there was no fundamental underlying piece of IP, then it gets sort of especially difficult because just the potential overlaps between those things and characters you didn’t really control — I could just imagine that being a bigger mess in some ways than if it were based on an existing piece of property.
Craig: It would never happen.
Craig: You can’t. If you opted to try and invent a shared universe from whole cloth, which is insane, you would still need them to create some genesis piece of material, a bible, you know.
Craig: That everyone could reference. Otherwise, I don’t even know what they would be buying anyway and they certainly wouldn’t be committing the resources to, you know, make many, many movies.
John: Absolutely. All right, let’s get to today’s topics. The first thing is something that somebody tweeted at me this week and it was in response to something I tweeted. I’m not even sure what my initial tweet was, but someone wrote back, “Oh, like William Goldman said, ‘Nobody knows anything,'” and I just bristled a bit because “nobody knows anything” has been one of those chestnuts that gets trotted out at any moment whenever something surprising happens. It’s like, “Oh, Hollywood, nobody knows anything.”
And I was frustrated because I wasn’t quite sure the context of the original quote. And so, I actually did some research this week and I pulled up William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade. So William Goldman is of course a legendary screenwriter, everything from Butch Cassidy to Princess Bride. Has worked, you know, throughout Hollywood. But the book in question is from 1983. It is Adventures in the Screen Trade. And so I got the book on Kindle and I did a word search to figure out where does he actually say, “Nobody knows anything.” And he says it a couple of different times in the book.
But the way William Goldman is actually using that phrase is so different than how people are trying to use that phrase whenever they’re tweeting it at me or when I see it quoted in an article. And so I wanted to look at what the original intention was behind that quotation and how we might steer ourselves back towards that quotation.
Now, Craig, as we mentioned before, you’ve been on Karina Longworth’s podcast
John: Being the voice of Louis B. Mayer. So I’m wondering if I could invoke your skills to be William Goldman and read this first little quote aloud.
Craig: Well, I won’t do it in the Louis voice because that’s
John: I think it’s probably appropriate.
Craig: She has the exclusive rights to it.
Craig: And I’ll just read it on my own bland voice. Although William Goldman, I did have the pleasure meeting him a year or so ago. And he has this wonderful voice actually. He’s very patrician kind of — it’s very — he seems like — he’s Jewish but he seems like a WASP. It’s that fascinating — who else had that? There’s a little bit of a — well, anyway, it doesn’t matter. The point is he has a great voice. I’ll do my best here.
This is from Adventures in the Screen Trade “Nobody Knows Anything.” “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and if you’re lucky, an educated one. They don’t know when the movie is finished. B.J. Thomas’ people after the first sneak of Butch were upset about their clients getting involved with the song Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head. One of them was heard to say more than once, ‘B.J. really hurt himself with this one.’ They don’t know when the movie is starting to shoot either. David Brown, Zanuck’s partner has said, ‘We didn’t know whether Jaws would work but we didn’t have any doubts about The Island, it had to be a smash. Everything worked. The screenplay worked. Every actor we sent it too said yes. I didn’t know until a few days after we opened and I was in a bookstore and I ran into Lew Wasserman and I said, ‘How are we doing?’ And he said, ‘David, they don’t want to see the picture.’ They don’t want to see the picture may be the most chilling phrase in the industry.
“Now, if the best around don’t know at sneaks and they don’t know during shooting, you better believe that executives don’t know when they’re trying to give a thumbs up or down. They’re trying to predict public taste three years ahead and it’s just not possible. Obviously, I’m asking you to take my word on this. And there’s no reason really that you should because pictures such as Raiders of the Lost Ark probably come to mind, which I grant was an unusual film. Why did Paramount say yes? Because nobody knows anything. And why did all the other studios say no? Because nobody knows anything. And why did Universal, the mightiest studio of all, pass on Star Wars, a decision that just may cost them and all the sequels and spinoffs and toy money and book money and video game money totaled over a billion dollars…” it’s a little bit more than that William “…because nobody, nobody, not now, not ever knows the least goddamn thing about what is or isn’t going to work at the box office.”
John: Uh-huh. Well done, Craig, and well done William Goldman. So I want to focus on what this isn’t saying. So this isn’t saying that decision makers are ignorant, that they know nothing. It’s not saying they don’t have taste. It’s not saying they don’t have experience. They truly do have the wisdom of crowds. They have sneak previews. They have all of these things. They have experience. They have, you know, their own taste. They have crowds. But they don’t have perfect knowledge of the future. And you instinctually did exactly the right thing was emphasizing the word no is that, you know, William Goldman is saying like you may have very good reasons to believe something but you can’t know with certainty what the future will hold. And anyone who does tell you they know with certainty what the future will hold is lying because you cannot predict all these things.
And so, what I get so frustrated about is they’ll use nobody knows anything as excuse for, “Well, why don’t we just try something wild because nobody knows what’s going to work.” Well, people actually may have really good sense of what’s going to work but they can’t predict things perfectly.
Craig: That’s exactly right. It’s a little bit like that exchange where someone says, “You think blah, blah, blah…” and someone says, “I don’t think, I know.” That means something, right? It means that it’s not in the realm of opinion, it’s a fact.
Craig: What Goldman is saying is that essentially all this stuff boils down to opinions so you can’t know it and therefore you have to make your peace with an uncertain world.
Craig: And so, of course, people are going to make mistakes but they’re not mistakes at the time. They’re only mistakes in retrospect. That’s the thing. You just don’t know. And he even — it’s interesting, he even italicizes the word know. There’s no — so we actually know that this is what he means. We don’t think this. We know that.
Craig: We know he doesn’t mean nobody knows anything. He means nobody knows anything.
John: Exactly. So there’s one other place in the book where he goes back to this nobody-knows-anything idea. And this is where he’s talking about studio heads and studio executives. And what’s so fascinating to me is that this book is written in 1983 and every place I sort of pulled stuff out, it’s like, wow, that feels so incredibly true. I mean, Star Wars is a billion-dollar franchise which is just so funny to think about it, you know.
John: I don’t know if it’s necessarily a trillion-dollar franchise but we know it’s still an incredibly big deal
Craig: It may end up.
John: All these years later.
Craig: Yeah. All right. So here’s another passage from Adventures in the Screen Trade. “As stated, the knowledge of their eventual decapitation is central to the life of the studio executive. And as also stated, when that happens, they will go indie prod which is both easier and more lucrative. So, why do the executives care at all if their movies succeed? Because there is a giant caveat involved. The better they’ve done as executives, the longer their lifespan, the fatter the deal they can strike for themselves when they’re canned. None of the Heaven’s Gate group at UA got rich when they were told to get lost. So it’s essential to the studio executive to be at least, for a time, successful. And since nobody knows anything and since the studio heads today haven’t got a lot of faith in their creative instincts since they’ve never been creative, they turn for salvation to the one thing that got them where they are: stars.”
John: And again, this is 1983 he’s writing this and yet everything he’s saying is completely true today.
John: When he says, “Go indie prod,” what he’s basically meaning is when you get canned as the executive of whatever studio, you get a deal at that studio to make movies. And so, when Amy Pascal leaves the leadership of Columbia Sony Pictures, she gets a big deal at Columbia Pictures to make movies for Columbia Pictures. And she gets to make a bunch of movies there and she will get a good deal there because she had a lot of success running Sony Pictures. That’s the way it’s always been and it seems to be the way that things are going to continue to be because that’s how this business works.
And so, you look at the studio executives, the studio heads, they are the decision makers. And so, as they’re making decisions, they are weighing a bunch of different factors. So if she doesn’t know how things are going to work, she’s going to attempt to stack the deck in her favor in a couple of different ways. Goldman says “stars”. So if you’re making a movie with Jennifer Lawrence, that’s more likely to be a hit than a movie with Zooey Deschanel.
John: It’s going to cost you more. But the odds of success are higher because Jennifer Lawrence is a true star.
John: A genre, a movie in a popular genre is more likely to be a success than a movie in a less popular genre. So making a western right now is incredibly risky. Making a superhero movie right now is much less risky. Even if the superhero movie is a lot more expensive than that western would be, it’s still less risky.
And the flip side of this is really the defense. If you’ve make a superhero movie with Jennifer Lawrence and it bombs, you have a real good plausible deniability like — I don’t know how this failed, but this was a pretty good bet. Like, I wasn’t going crazy here. This seemed like a reasonable bet. The chance to keep your job a little bit longer hopefully, but also to explain why you made this movie in the first place.
Craig: Yeah, he’s making this fascinating point about the motivation of studio executives that frankly I had never really considered and I’ve read this book but I think when I read it I didn’t have as clear of an understanding of the landscape as I do now just as the result of experience. And that is, this notion that they’re not trying to succeed because they want the studio to do well. They’re trying to succeed so that when they eventually get pushed out, they land on a comfier mattress, that’s kind of fascinating. It makes a ton of sense.
John: Yeah, I don’t know that it’s a conscious decision for them at all times. But I think it is the reality. I think, you could ask any studio executive, anyone who’s running a studio, “How long do you think you’ll be in this job?” And at some point, deep down, they do know that they’re not going to be there forever. And so they’re looking at sort of like, you run a studio for a set number of years and then you stop running that studio. It’s like there’s just a term-limit to it and you will move on. And there’s an expiration date sort of built in to that job.
Craig: I’m not going to ask any of them that question.
Craig: [laughs] I don’t think that’s a conversation that I want to have.
John: Next time you’re sitting down with a head of one of the studios, you just say, “Oh, by the way, how much longer do you think you’re going to be here?”
Craig: Yeah. Donna, you’ve been here for a while.
John: You really have been here for a while. Things seem to be going really well, Donna, right now.
Craig: I know. Right.
John: But how many bad things do you think would happen before you have to
Craig: I mean, you’re going to get fired, so I’m just wondering like, how long do you think is going to take you? That would be awkward.
John: Don’t ask that question.
Craig: No. I don’t think that that’s going to go well for you. I really don’t. And there’s actually — this is a — not to steal your Segue Man job, but there’s a really nice segue here to our next topic.
John: Let’s go for it.
Craig: The idea that studio executives are looking for security leads us to this next topic. An article that I read at Medium.com about — well, it’s called the Zombie Mobile. And we’ll include a link in the show notes of course. And it’s essentially a story of the crossover, the crossover which is that thing that’s not a sedan. It’s not an SUV. It’s that sneaker mobile kind of thing. And what the author Adrian Hanft does is he depicts, it looks like about 50 of these cars and they look exactly alike.
John: Exactly. If you’re looking at the graphic, he has all the different brands of these cars but in white and with like the hub caps sort of marked out. And you really could not tell them apart, one from the next.
Craig: It’s truly madness. I mean, when you look at it you feel like this can’t be real. But it’s real. And he goes into why this happened. And so I’m going to read a little excerpt from his article that I think is pertinent to a question that we’re constantly asking about studios and the movies that studios make.
He says, “People think they want a huge variety of options. But variety cripples our ability to make easy decisions. Car companies give the illusion of variety while keeping the actual categories very basic. This is why you only get five color options instead of choosing from a Pantone book. Deciding between red and white is easy compared to deciding between fire red or cherry red. Car companies understand that in order for you to make a purchase, they can’t overwhelm you with options. There are millions of combinations of vehicles, brands, and options but by breaking the selection down into bite-size mini decisions, salesmen are able to overcome our indecisiveness. Broad categories (car, truck, van) funnel customers towards making a purchase.”
What he goes on to say is the crossover became such a massive success because it even removed that choice. You didn’t have to decide between car, truck, van. They’re going to give you something that was car-truck-van. And they were all going to look alike basically because that’s kind of what everybody wanted.
Craig: And the same thing goes for us I think in the studio system. People say, “Well, why do studios keep churning out the same kind of movie?” Because that’s kind of what the audience wants. The audience struggles going for movies that force them to make tricky decisions. They need to know what it is before they go to it.
John: Yeah. Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice, sort of laid out this, you know, this idea sort of most recently in sort of in a biggest way about sort of how whenever you force somebody to make a decision, they sort of freeze and they don’t want to make a decision. And so by taking away their choices and not letting them make their decisions, you can get them to do something much more easily and much more quickly. And, to some degree, I think that’s true and when you look at the movies that stand out, they are sort of the oddballs and they take a lot more work and subtlety and skill to market and get any sort of breakout success because they were such oddballs. And the reasons why we see such a reliable template for making some of our big blockbuster movies is because people are familiar with it. They know what that is and they’re not going to be challenged by what they’re about to see.
Craig: Yeah, I think the idea of illusion of choice is really important because the audience or the marketplace, they do struggle with choice. But they hate the idea of no choice. So you have to make them feel like they’re getting a choice without actually forcing them to go through the pain of a choice. And so we have genres. And so we have movie stars that help kind of eliminate choice. When you talk to the regular American moviegoer, you get yourself out of Hollywood for a few days and just talk to people or you’re on vacation somewhere, they don’t refer to movies the way we do. They talk about, “Oh, that’s a Brad Pitt movie”. That’s it. “That’s a Brad Pitt movie.” That’s the genre: Brad Pitt movie.
Craig: It doesn’t matter. Everything else. All the — your fancy choices and things, it doesn’t matter. They don’t know who directs anything. They certainly don’t know who writes anything. If you asked people what movie directors do you know, you’d hear Steven Spielberg and maybe Martin Scorsese.
Craig: Nobody really cares about that stuff. So stars became incredibly important because they’re visible and they help them make choices. And then genres, “Oh, my god, that’s a funny movie. Oh, it’s like a physical comedy. Oh, yeah, it’s a horror movie. Oh, yeah, it’s a thriller. Oh, that’s a spy movie.” So interestingly, if I were to sit and talk about this article with, say, some of the fine people that run marketing departments in Hollywood. What I would say to them is this. You don’t necessarily have to be worried about material that doesn’t fit into a conforming box. As long as you think you can sell it like it does. In fact, I think the best situation is to offer something that’s familiar and comforting to the audience with marketing. And then once they’re there, because it was familiar and comforting, give them something that’s different so that they don’t walk out going, “Oh, yeah, well, it was the same old thing.”
John: Yeah. I’ve had similar conversations a couple of times recently about properties that I was trying to get involved with. And it was that question of balancing expectations versus what you’re actually going to deliver them. And so people think they’re going to come in and get this kind of movie. And they are but it’s actually differentiated by quality in a weird way. It’s like, you know, what’s our secret sauce? Oh, it’s actually a really good movie. It’s actually a really good version of that. And so, somebody comes in expecting like, “Oh, it’ll be okay.” And then like, “Oh, it’s actually surprisingly good,” well, that’s an extra kind of bonus. And I’ve had to have those conversations about like, I think you market it like it’s this. And so someone will say like, “Oh, well, I know, the script seemed like it’s really complicated.” It’s like, “Yes, but you know what, that’s the experience of watching the movie.
John: The experience of what you’re actually going to see in the trailer is actually much more sort of it’s these beats, it’s the simpler version of what that is. So the movie I wrote for myself, it definitely falls into a genre. And so the movie does some unusual and interesting things, but I think from the trailer, you would see the simpler version. Even a thing I turned in recently, there was concern that it would be confused as a different kind of movie. And so I wrote up the trailer saying, like, no, I think you sell it like this. I think you sell it like this genre of movie which it largely is but you don’t even discuss these other story points or don’t even bring them into the idea of the trailer because it’s just not important for your experience. If you’re a person who likes this genre of movie, you’re going to like this movie regardless.
Craig: Yeah, this is really important. And I think the good marketers understand that because, of course, now marketers are involved in what movies get green lit. The question shouldn’t be, “Does this movie having now watched it fit into a comfortable category for an audience?” The question should be, “Can I market this as a comfortable category?”
Craig: The fascinating thing is that most people ascribe the word “cowardly” to the studios who continue to pump out the expected how many more superhero movies can we get. How many more of this can we get? How many more of that? They’re just cowards. They’re just playing it safe. No. I think actually studios are willing to take all sorts of risks. It’s the audience that’s the coward. And I understand why.
Going to the movies ain’t cheap. And you know the easiest thing in the world to do? Stay home. So people are afraid to risk two hours of their life and maybe 50 bucks when all is said and done between you and your date to see a movie that they kind of don’t know that they want because they’ve never had before.
John: So let’s tie together our studio executive and our ticket buyer. So our studio executive three years in advance is trying to figure out what ticket-buyer wants to see. Ticket-buyer is saying like, “You know, which movie do I want to see tonight?” So they’re going to cost me the same amount of money to see Steve Jobs or to see Goosebumps. I don’t know that I’ll like Steve Jobs. Goosebumps, I’m not sure I’ll like it either, but I think I know what Goosebumps is. So maybe I’ll go see Goosebumps.”
John: And it’s a conservative decision but it’s a reasonable decision for the ticket buyer. And so the studio executive has to weigh these decisions but three years in advance and not even knowing what the movie is going to look like or what the marketing materials for that movie are going to look like.
Craig: That’s absolutely right.
Craig: It’s hard because we — are brains aren’t correct. I may say, “Well, I generally don’t like biopics and I don’t really care about computers. I do like horror movies and I like funny movies and I like Jack Black.”
Craig: “I’m going to see Goosebumps.”
Craig: The problem is that’s actually not a rational decision because even if I stipulate all those things, I still just might not love Goosebumps because Goosebumps is its own experience, separate from everything else. And I might love Steve Jobs. That’s really what marketing and what the studios are constantly struggling with is the irrationality and safety of the audience.
John: Well, doesn’t it make some sense though in terms of loss aversion — so, I’m not saying that loss aversion is a reasonable strategy. But it’s a very well-understood strategy. It’s that you’re more worried about hating something than you are getting joy about maybe I’m going to love this thing. I don’t think people — and I don’t mean to slam Goosebumps as a movie. I’m sorry I picked that as an example, but I don’t think you’re going to Goosebumps saying like, “I think this is going to be the best movie ever and I think it’s going to change my life.” I think you’re going to Goosebumps maybe saying like, “Oh, I think that’ll be an enjoyable way to spend, you know, 90 minutes.” Whereas the Steve Jobs decision is like, “You know, I might love it but I might also really hate it. And it’s not just my decision, it’s like whoever I’m taking on a date to see this movie, what is he or she going to think.” And so there’s a whole psychological aspect of that that is challenging.
John: There’s a part of the article where he talks about a wind tunnel. And wind tunnels are incredibly important for designing cars. And when you’re looking at how you’re going to build the car, ultimately the wind tunnel is going to influence the shape of the car greatly. He says, “There are only two directions you can go in the wind tunnel. You can either get blown away or move towards the wind. Take comfort of the feeling of resistance. It means you’re headed in the right direction. If you aren’t feeling wind resistance, you might be going in the wrong direction in the wind tunnel. Savor the feeling of the wind on your skin. Your heroes face the same winds and overcame similar rejections. Eventually, the headwinds produce lift and launch their work skyward.” So talking about the Wright Brothers. It’s essentially, you know, sort of trying to make a plea for — go to the thing that’s making you a little uncomfortable, go towards the thing which you’re not sure you’re going to love. It’s going to spark more interest in you ultimately than the thing that is really safe. And that’s really easy to say but hard to do on a daily basis.
Craig: It’s a wonderful sentiment and I’m certainly all for individual bravery and culture choice. However, it will not happen. It will not happen at least on a mass scale ever, because humans on a mass scale are fairly predictable and we have a lot of data here.
Craig: There’s a theory that they used to talk about in the old days with network television and when you had three channels. And it was called the least objectionable programming theory, LOP. And the idea was you didn’t have to be the best show on at 8:30, you just had to be the LOP. If people didn’t like the other two more than they didn’t like you, they’d watch you.
Craig: And so your job is to basically just be bland and inoffensive and not stick out at all and they would turn away from those other things and come to you. And I think a little bit of that goes on in movies but I would continually push this point that it’s okay to market things on a LOP basis and then deliver something better, because unlike television, when they bought their ticket, they’re in.
John: That’s absolutely true.
Craig: And then the game has changed. The game is not, well, just keep watching it week after week. The game is now, “Don’t walk out of the theatre until it’s over.” And then when it’s over, go home and start tweeting about it. That’s the name of the game. Two very different goals.
John: Craig, I have a question for you. Do you think LOP still makes as much sense in the age of, you know, infinite channels and infinite programs?
Craig: No, I think it’s over.
John: I don’t think it does at all. I think that’s really an outdated concept. I think it actually still does hold true in movies because you’re making a decision about how you’re spending these two hours of your time and it’s a zero sum game to some degree. You’re not going to be able to watch two movies that night. But with TV, you can easily graze. You can find the thing that most interests you. And so, this paradox of choice isn’t quite as much of a problem. It’s just, you know, there’s not enough time in the day to watch all the things you might be interested in watching but that’s a lovely problem to have.
Craig: Yeah, LOP is great for a situation where you’re trying to get enormous numbers to come to your choice and your competition is maybe two other choices, which was very typical for the networks in the ’70s and ’80s. MOP, not Michael Oates Palmer but the most objectionable programming theory, I think makes a lot of sense for TV today because everything is so fragmented that what you’re trying to get is you don’t mind getting a tiny audience. You just want them to be fervent
Craig: And you want them there week after week. So in fact, sometimes, the stuff that works best now on television is the stuff that’s the most stick-outable, and the strangest, and the weirdest, and the most hooky. It’s a very different vibe.
But for movies, when two or three major motion pictures are slugging it out to capture the eyeballs of mainstream movie-going America, not the movies but the marketing, I think, the marketing has to feel like that movie is the least objectionable.
John: Yeah. To try to wrap a bow around these two topics, getting back to nobody knows anything, I just want to stress the idea that William Goldman is not saying we might as well just have a bunch of monkeys throwing darts at a dartboard. That’s not what he’s pushing towards. He’s just saying that you can do all of these tests and surveys, you could look at what people say they really want, you could try to find the least objectionable program and do all these things that seem like really smart choices and you still don’t know that that’s going to be a path to success.
So I think he’s actually saying, you do all those things because those are reasonable, smart things to do. But don’t mistake the doing of those tests for what is really going to happen in true life because you just don’t know that. You can’t predict that.
Craig: You don’t know.
John: You don’t know me.
Craig: You don’t know me.
John: Our next topic, this is actually a short one. It could be a whole podcast by itself but it’s based on something that happened to me this week.
So I went to USC for film school and some USC film students started up this program, which is a very smart program called Dinner For Eight. And what they do is they invite an alum and eight current film students and we just have dinner someplace and we talk over stuff. This is a no-pressure dinner. You’re talking through what their life is like and they’re asking you questions and you’re asking them questions.
And I really took advantage of the chance to ask them questions because I’m always fascinated by why people go to film schools. And it’s something we’ve talked about on the podcast before. Because I can list good reasons to go to film schools, you can list good reasons not to go to film schools. But I was curious what people in film school right now thought about their decision. These were all grad students who were in their second or third year of grad school, and whether they thought it was worth it.
And so, around my table, they tended to think it was worth it, which I think is sort of a self-selecting group probably. But I asked them why they thought it was worth it. And here are some of the things they said.
Context. So, they were learning about screenwriting or filmmaking in context of the actual business that they were in right now. So, it wasn’t learning it from a book, it wasn’t learning it from one person. They had a bunch of people around them making movies. And they were making movies all the time, which was good and useful.
The collaboration, just that they got to work on either shooting movies or they were writing their stuff and they had people constantly there to sort of give them feedback on what they’re doing. Their professors, they had their peer group.
Acceleration. A couple of them said that they felt like they’d been writing for a while but it wasn’t until they were sort of like forced to sit down and constantly be delivering stuff that they really felt that sort of rocket ship take off, which could also be imagined if you like were staffed on a TV show, that sense of like, “No, no, you really have to do it now. There’s no excuses.” They described it similarly as being like good for people who were sort of stalled overall.
And so, a couple of these people had written before and they’ve been trying to do it for a while and they just couldn’t sort of get all the pieces to fit together. And sometimes, it was a skill thing they lacked but more often, it was a psychological thing. And they’re like, there wasn’t a gun to their head to do it, and so with a gun to their head to do it, they were actually delivering stuff.
I asked them how much they were actually writing in a semester. They said they were generally writing two bigger things in a semester. So they might be working on a feature and a TV pilot. That’s a lot. That’s a lot to be working on. But they also said that writing a bunch of little things, a lot of little small class assignments, was getting them sort of more fluid and more fluent.
So, it was interesting to hear this group of young writers, mostly writers, talking about their perspective on why they thought film school was working out well for them.
Craig: I always wonder, it’s really interesting, I always wonder what film school would have done to me. I don’t know if film school would have been good for me at all, you know. I mean, because I think about me, you know.
John: I think about you, too. So I think about you and John Glickman is a person we both know.
John: John Glickman runs MGM right now, but John Glickman was in my film school class. And I remember being in an elevator, we were going to I think it was our law class. And I was in the elevator with John Glickman and we held the door because Joe Roth got in the elevator. And Joe Roth at that point, he had already left Disney. He’d been running Disney and he just started Revolution, I think was his company.
Craig: The initial name of it was Caravan, then it became
John: Caravan. It was just
Craig: Then it became Spyglass, then it became Revolution.
John: So it was just Caravan at that point.
John: So, Joe Roth of Caravan gets in the elevator and John Glickman says, “Oh, hey, Joe. My name is John Glickman. I think the movies you’re making are really great. I really want to work for you. And these are the things I’m working on. This is what I’ve done.” And by the time he got out of the elevator, John Glickman had a job working at Caravan.
John: I can envision a young Craig Mazin in film school being similarly driven and plucky and smart and being able to get himself well-situated really soon. But I wonder if you would have become a writer or if you would have become a studio mogul.
Craig: Right. Well, it’s interesting because John Glickman did, in fact, go to work for Joe Roth and Roger Birnbaum at Caravan, stayed with them when they turned into Spyglass. Then when Revolution happened, I think Joe did Revolution and John and Roger went over to MGM. And then Roger kind of retired, I think, out of that. And John’s still at MGM.
Craig: He really actually has only had that job that he got in the elevator, which is crazy.
John: I was right there when he got it.
Craig: I don’t know, you know, it’s a really good question. I don’t know. And by the way, great segue into our next topic because our next topic sort of posits what would have happened with you and with me.
Somebody on Twitter tipped me off to this podcast between a guy named Ashley Scott Meyers and his guest, Gordy Hoffman. Ashley Scott Meyers runs a website. He’s a screenwriter and he also runs a website called sellingyourscreenplay.com. I’m not sure what it’s about. Oh, yeah, of course, it’s about selling your screenplay.
And, you know, the usual offer of script consultant, money, you know. You know how I feel about that. [laughs] Not good.
John: Not best.
Craig: I don’t feel good. But he also has podcasts that he does and he interviews people for it. And he himself is, in terms of his screenwriting, well, you’ll see he describes himself essentially as a B-movie writer.
Gordy Hoffman is a screenwriter and he also runs the BlueCat screenwriting contest. Have you heard of that, the BlueCat screenwriting competition?
John: I’ve heard of the BlueCat screenwriting competition mostly from tweets saying like, “Hey, should I enter the BlueCat screenwriting competition?” And I say, “I don’t know what that is.” But I sort of do know what it is just because people have tweeted me the question of should I enter the competition.
Craig: Yeah. It ain’t the Nicholls, but it’s a thing where you, again, pay money [laughs] to submit your script to a competition. And then there’s a prize, I think, of $3,000 or $4,000 or something like that. Also, he is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brother. So they have this conversation and suddenly, the topic turned to you and me. [laughs] And I’m going to read you some things and we’ll see what you think.
I mean, they start off debating this question of whether the oft-repeated advice, “Just write a great script,” is actually good advice. And Ashley says, “Look, I’ve spent my career writing B movies and I think that’s a great place for screenwriters to start out in. If you want to write a studio film, those scripts have to be great.” This is his words. “But there are some terrific opportunities for people in genre movies.”
And Gordy Hoffman says, “I don’t know. Can you raise a family on that income? How does writing a movie that’s not good, that’s product, how does that build a career?” And then Ashley says, well, you know, in the B movies that he, I guess, in that world that he’s in, you can make $30,000 to $60,000 — I think he meant doing one of those movies or maybe in a year, I’m not sure.
And then Gordy Hoffman starts talking about you and me.
Craig: And here’s what he says. He says, “When you look at John August and Craig Mazin’s point of view, they’ve made money in the studio system. My whole thing is I want to help you write a classic movie. Those are two different things. Gaming the system to make a ton of money is one thing, but ultimately, it’s my belief that if you want to get money as a writer and you don’t care if nobody likes your movie, some people are like, that’s exactly what I want. But I don’t want Craig Mazin’s job. [laughs] I don’t want to do that. If I chase a gratifying body of work, I’m still probably going to make some money.”
“What gets confusing is the John August/Craig Mazin podcast, it’s not really about writing an emotionally compelling, great culture-shifting movie, it’s about making money as a screenwriter. The fact is, that’s not what I ever talk about. That’s not what BlueCat is about. I’m just going to make good things. Chasing writing the best movie might in the long run be better for your career and your bank account.”
John: So it sounds like he’s disagreeing with Ashley Scott Meyers who says that like, “No, no, no, write B movies because — well, write B movies, I guess.” And Hoffman is saying, “No, you should write a great movie.” Am I fair in sort of there are two different opinions there?
Craig: Yeah. It seems like what Gordy is saying, aside from [laughs] he’s editorializing about you and me, is that in fact you will ultimately make more money if you do write something great.
John: So I’m trying to think about this in terms of the context of what we have said on the podcast and sort of what we are extolling. And the degree to which screenwriters are gaming the system to write movies that either I guess don’t get made or aren’t trying to be good versus the alternative, I’m not quite clear on what his perspective is here.
Craig: No, you aren’t because you’re a good person. You know, here’s the difference between you and me. A good person sees something that is deserving of vomit and says, “I don’t understand. Those words don’t fit together. I’m puzzled. I will take a nap.” The bad person says, “I am filled with rage [laughs] because I can see the bad conscience behind this.”
Putting aside how insulting it is, it’s also just stupid and wrong. There is no gaming the system to make a ton of money. There’s no such thing. Does not work. I don’t know what it would be. If there were a way to game this system to make money, then many, many more people would be gaming the system to make money.
John: Well, let’s talk about gaming the system because there are some examples of screenwriters who you feel like they just took that rewrite for the money and they had no interest in actually delivering a quality movie. I will say, in general, those people do not have long-lived careers or they eventually get called out for it and then they have to go back and start writing good movies.
Craig: Well, see, that’s exactly right. But then, that’s not really gaming the system. That’s making a mistake. Somebody says, “Here, I have a job for you,” and you say, “Well, I don’t care about it. I like making money. I’m not going to write anything good here,” then you’re right, you will not last. And so you didn’t game the system.
In fact, the system gamed you. There is no gaming the system. And they are talking about people that have, you know, long-running careers. That’s insane. Now, Gordy, his one writing credit I think is a movie called Love Liza, which he’s certainly very fond of. He speaks of it in a very fond way. I don’t think it meets his criteria of a culture-shifting classic film. But I haven’t seen it. I just
John: But I would say, it doesn’t seem like he’s describing it like a B-movie like Ashley Scott Meyers is describing his own movies.
Craig: No, no, no, no.
John: Not a bit.
Craig: No. He’s describing it as a big work. And he talks about how people still write him letters about it. I mean, he’s sort of saying, “I wrote something that’s important that people really like. That’s better than those things that those guys are writing because that’s just about making money.”
And my response is, we actually care about what we do, it’s just that you maybe not like those kinds of movies.
John: Oh, yeah.
Craig: That doesn’t mean we don’t. We do. We like what we are doing. It’s, oh my god, people might have different taste. I’m not sure I would like Love Liza. I haven’t seen it but it doesn’t look like my cup of tea.
So I’m not going to say, “Well, obviously, that guy was just trying to game some system.” That’s crazy. Similarly, I get confused by people who think that they understand our motivations for writing based on what they see on IMDb and not based on all the things we’ve written that haven’t gotten made.
But that aside, what I do know for sure is this. I know, as opposed to nobody knows anything, I know that this podcast is in fact [laughs] about, among other things, writing emotionally compelling, great culture-shifting movies. I’m hoping to God that some of our listeners do great work. Does this really sound like a podcast about how to make money?
And creepily enough, we’re the ones doing this for free and this guy is charging writers money to send him scripts. So, huh?
Craig: Huh. Well, moving on.
Craig: They continue their argument. What Ashley says is, “Well, you know, when I set out ” he’s pushing back on that, “When I set out to write B movies, I have high hopes. I try and make it as good as possible. But my main point is that I have accepted that I’m not a gloriously gifted writer. I have succeeded and sold a bunch of scripts because I’m pragmatic. Most people listening to this are probably in that boat. The chance of getting to the John August/Craig Mazin level is rare and there’s a certain amount of luck.”
Well, I was feeling really good there for a second.
John: Yeah. And I’m agreeing with some of what he’s saying there. There’s a certain amount of luck, absolutely. And I think we’ve said that many times on the podcast is that some stuff just happens because it happens. And you have to be in the right place to be lucky. But things could go very differently for anyone in this business.
Craig: Yeah. And I like his point, by the way — first of all, I think it’s an incredibly grown-up and brave thing to say “I’m not a gloriously gifted writer.” And he’s right. Most people aren’t. Most people trying to be screenwriters aren’t gloriously gifted because this isn’t Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, right?
Craig: So his argument is, “Hey, there’s this other area of screenwriting that may not be quite so, you know, golden city shining on the hill, but it’s something for people that maybe aren’t good enough to play in the major leagues.” It’s an interesting point. Gordy gets all upset.
He does not like the idea of luck at all. He says, “People that are successful, like Ron Howard, they don’t have a plan B,” which I thought was a fascinating choice, Ron Howard.
John: Yeah, Ron Howard, like he got to direct his first movie but he was already a successful actor when that all happened. He was a kid actor who was growing into being a grown-up actor.
Craig: Oh, yeah, all Ron Howard had going for him was being Opie and then being Richie on Happy Days. That’s it. Other than that
John: That’s it. No, he had no plan B.
Craig: You know what his plan B was? Living off of the money he had made. [laughs] That’s a pretty good plan B. He then refers to Ben Affleck and says, “That guy had some duds. Now he’s a huge success and in the middle of three tent poles,” which I think maybe he also thinks is part of the gaming the system. And I can’t tell. At this point, I’m confused by his point of view. But he’s saying, basically, take responsibility for your career.
And then, so at this point, I’m like, I think I’m rooting for Ashley here. [laughs] But then
John: [laughs] Craig, frankly, you’re rooting for the tidal wave, I can tell.
Craig: Well, I always end up rooting for the meteor. So then Ashley says, “Well, listening to the John August/Craig Mazin podcast, there wasn’t a lot of struggle in their career. Craig Mazin went to Princeton. But he was in the right place at the right time. He sold some scripts.” [laughs]
John: Aww, Craig. I’m sorry for you because I know there was some struggle in there.
John: Yeah, I mean, you
Craig: Come on.
John: I guess, how do you define the outer boundaries of struggle? I mean, how bad do things have to be to be a struggle? That’s actually a good thematic question for a play on Broadway, or actually, Off-Broadway.
Craig: Yeah, feels Off-Broadway. [laughs]
John: [laughs] It feels more Off-Broadway, obviously.
Craig: I just love the description of the birth of my career. It’s so awesome because like, went to Princeton, right place and right time, sold some scripts.
So here’s what happened, I go to Princeton where I don’t study writing or movies [laughs] or screenwriting or anything. I graduate with nothing. I drive to Los Angeles. I happened to walk out on the right street corner where in my hand is a script suddenly. And a guy is like, “Hey, you got a script? I’m buying.” And I go, “Yeah, here.” “Great, kid. Come with me.” It’s insane. Why would anyone think that?
John: What’s fascinating, Craig, is I remember it more like a Coen brother set up in a thing where like you accidentally got in the wrong car and there’s like a whole trunkful of money, except instead of a trunkful of money there was a script, and then you like accidentally drove up to some place that wanted your script. And it became a whole caper kind of thing.
My story is similar and sort of plausible in that same way where I came out here and I went to USC for film school. And I think I was genuinely lucky to be here at a time where the industry was growing and there were spots for more people and I got a job as an assistant and worked my way up. And I did very classic boring things where friends would read my scripts and pass them along. And I eventually got into rooms, and got hired to write scripts for people.
And whenever I talk to people about my origin story, I try to make it really clear, like that’s my origin story but that won’t be your origin story because all the variables will be different, both because it’s a different time, because you’re a different person, because everything just generally changes. But I would say, the broad strokes of how I got my career started are probably the broad strokes of how most screenwriters got their career started.
Craig: Yeah. You know, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. There’s an interesting study about the components of happiness. And one of the major components of happiness is expressing gratitude. And it’s hard when you don’t believe in God and you don’t have a system of religion to contextualize gratitude and yet it’s also not that hard really.
John: I don’t think it’s not hard at all.
Craig: Yeah. I mean it’s only — I guess I should say, it’s not hard, it’s just not as obvious.
Craig: So I’ve been thinking a lot about — and I try and be grateful and I try and express gratitude and feel gratitude in those moments. And I think that everybody that embarks on a path will have some aspects of circumstance at the time for which they ought to be grateful. And you’re right, there were aspects of the time that we began for which we should both be grateful. And, there are other things that, you know, were hard.
Craig: That is true, I think, for everybody. Everybody will have their advantages and disadvantages. Why people keep harping on this Princeton thing, I have no idea. I wish to God it had something for me, something, anything. I wasn’t hired by people who went to Princeton. [laughs] There wasn’t a network of people who all went to Princeton.
John: I think honestly, what’s helped underscore that is like, you know, he went to Princeton and you won’t believe who his roommate was. And I think that is what sort of gets Princeton stuck in the back at people’s mind.
Craig: There’s struggle by the way. [laughs]
John: There is struggle. Yeah, he did struggle. He had to live with Ted Cruz for a semester.
Craig: No, two. A whole year.
John: Oh, a whole year, I’m sorry.
Craig: Freshmen years, stuck in a room with that jerk. And, by the way just a political aside. Apparently, George W. Bush was speaking at some sort of Republican fundraiser for his brother. And he went out of his way to say Ted Cruz is dangerous and I don’t like that guy. And it was
John: Yeah, when George Bush is saying that, that is something remarkable.
Craig: Well, they said specifically that what shocked everybody was that W is like of all the things that he is known for, and there’s quite a few, one of them he doesn’t do that. He never ever bad mouths people like that, you know, at least within the Republican Party. Like he’s such a, you know, like he learned from his dad, you don’t do it. And they’re like, well, anyway, that’s what Ted Cruz does. He shakes everybody out of there.
So these guys kind of back and forth about and so Ashley is taking the position that luck matters. Gordy is taking the position that luck doesn’t matter. And then Ashley says the following. He says, “Would Craig has stuck it out for 10 or 15 years grinding it out?” And I think he means like it weren’t working. “And John August has all these technical skills, creating software, would he have stuck it out? He’d probably be running some sort of tech company. They’re smart and hardworking, so other opportunities would have come their way.”
And then he says, “The most successful screenwriters I’ve interviewed, there wasn’t a lot of struggle in their stories. They took off pretty simply.” I don’t think that he’s — that this word means what he thinks it means.
Craig: Struggle doesn’t mean failure. And success does not mean the absence of struggle. We have talked a lot about how you don’t really break in. You get a job. At which point, the gun now goes into your mouth. And you are typing in fear. And then you try and get another job and another. And the entire time, everything is conspiring to get rid of you. You are like a contagion in a body with an immune system. So you are being beset upon by your competition, by agents, by studio executives and producers and directors, all of whom know that they don’t have to care about you so they’re not going to because they already have to care about a bunch of other people they wish they didn’t have to care about. You never stop struggling. You never stop. If you stop — there’s no stopping. You know when you stop struggling, the day you say, I don’t need to struggle anymore, period, when you need to, that’s when you stop. Otherwise, you need to and you have to keep struggling.
John: Yeah. I think this idea of struggle fascinating because it’s really two different things we’re talking about. We want to talk about how writing is difficult, screenwriting is difficult in its own special way. The opportunity to get your writing in the hands of people who want to actually make it into a movie and then actually get that movie made, that is all incredibly difficult. So that is struggle, that is labor, that is difficult and it’s painful.
But I think they want to use struggle to be all the times it doesn’t work. And there’s a sense if you didn’t go through all the times where it didn’t work, then you didn’t really, I don’t know, you sort of don’t deserve it in a way or that — and its’ not true. That weird sense of like, art is an art unless you had to like cut your ear off to some degree or if you had
Craig: Yeah, art must require some sort of brutal pain and also, luck is hugely important because it seems like the people that succeed somehow got hit by a leprechaun’s magic shillelagh and just sort of coasted into millions of dollars and worldwide box office and packed movie theatres. And everybody else, it’s just as good, didn’t get by the shillelagh, so they’re struggling.
John: Yeah. I think we’re going to call our next podcast Struggling Gratitude because I think they’re wonderful, really amorphous concepts that are so key to what we’re really talking about because I think gratitude really plays into that sense of luck. And acknowledging that things could have gone so many different ways and we’re very lucky and fortunate to have, you know, ended up in this specific place and this specific set of circumstances that things worked out so well and to acknowledge that things could have worked out very, very differently in any of our lives.
And so, you know, to be thankful for our health and to be thankful for our families and for all the things in our life that are going so well and simultaneously to acknowledge that not everyone is going to have those things and it doesn’t make one person better or worse than the other person.
But I worry that, you know, glamorizing the struggle is ultimately a self-defeating kind of prophecy. It’s a sense of like how people in depression sometimes don’t recognize that they’re in depression because they literally can’t see that they’re in depression. And so romanticizing struggle is not necessarily the — it could have its own sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Craig: It’s not even a useful word.
Craig: I just prefer work.
Craig: Just work. Work, you know. And by the way, I will say that when all is said and done, with this exchange, I will — I have to give the fight to Ashley. I think that ultimately, he was making an interesting point and a valuable point about what you do when — forget the world of luck — the marketplace is telling you repeatedly over time we’re not going to put your work in a category of say this. Your work is in this category. And he’s being very, I think, responsible and pragmatic in saying, that’s not a death sentence.
John: Yeah. I want to actually sort of validate both of their experiences in the sense of Ashley who is self-identifying as writing these B movies, that he’s actually found a way to make that profitable for him. And he seems happy. Or at least, you know, he’s declaring himself content with sort of how he’s being labeled there which is great.
Simultaneously, if your objective is to write a kind of movie that is difficult to get made and, you know, artistically challenging and you like that artistic challenge, which many great movies come from that — I don’t want to say struggle — but come from that place. That’s wonderful too and that’s why I think we’re lucky to live in a film ecosystem where there’s now ways to make those movies.
So I don’t want to sort of denigrate either of their experiences in doing this or even that they can talk to us about, you know, how they perceive our experiences. I just think they’re perceiving our experiences very differently than how we perceive them.
Craig: Well, yeah, that’s a nice way of saying that.
John: Again, I’m being too nice.
Craig: They’re completely wrong is what you just said.
Craig: I think your perspective of your own experience is slightly more valuable than their perspective of your experience. I think that it’s not a bad operating principle to say the following. There are a lot of different ways to pursue the career of screenwriter. And if somebody pursues it honestly and with passion and vigor, then that’s good.
John: I agree.
Craig: I would never say to Gordy Hoffman, “Enjoy making your navel-gazing mumblecore,” because that’s not fair. It’s just a broad caricature and it implies motivations that I simply can’t say are true. It’s just mean. And I don’t know why he would feel the need to denigrate an entire swath of screenwriters who oftentimes work in certain kinds of movies and then suddenly make something else. I mean look, God knows, the best script I’ve ever written has not been produced. I’m looking at it. It’s on my desk. [laughs]
I love it. And I’ve heard wonderful things about it. And it is very — I think it’s very emotionally compelling. And I think it could be a culture-shifting movie. I don’t know if it’s going to get made, you know. This is the way of the world. It’s just the thing. But I try and like the way Ashley says, I try and make it as good as possible, no matter what it is. And you and I have said before, if we wanted to game a system to make a lot of money, we are in the wrong job.
John: For sure.
Craig: We should be in finance.
Craig: Yeah, no question.
John: All right. Let’s go to our One Cool Things for the week. Mine is a very simple series of books designed for preschoolers. It’s called Tessy and Tab. And so we got these when my daughter was two years old, three years old. She got them when she’s four and five also. But it’s called Tessy and Tab. Tessy is a duck, Tab is a Kangaroo. They are preschool age. They do sort of standard preschool kind of things. They kind of flip out on each other. They love to play in the park. The sentences in there are super, super simple. They’re designed for a parent to read with a kid, but ultimately for a kid to be able to figure out how to kind of read for themselves.
It’s not phonics, it’s all sight words. So it’s not going to really just teach your kid how to read, but for my daughter, they became sort of her go-to books for just like picking up to read at any point at any time. They are also really, really thin, so you can like shove 10 of them in a backpack and go through them.
What’s smart about Tessy and Tab, originally when they first came out, they were — they would come every two weeks in the mail. And so kids love getting mail. It’s like, oh, you’re opening this thing. And so that’s a whole special thing for them. The company kind of went under. It came back. And now they send you 60 of them all at once. And so if you were to get this box, I would recommend you sort of hide it away and give it to — you know, make a special envelope and like give it to a kid like every couple of days or on a set schedule because if you have young kids, they’re going to want to read the same book over and over again. You don’t want to strangle this book because you just can’t read it anymore. So it’s a great way to sort of swap in what the book is that you’re reading with your little kid on a daily basis.
So Tessy and Tab, there’ll be a link in the show notes. But they’re just really good and they’re the one thing that my daughter from two years old through six years old still continued to love.
Craig: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, my One Cool Thing, I have a couple of cool things this week, but they’re thematically linked. They’re both puzzles. This first is an easy one, BuzzFeed has a new crossword puzzle. I think it’s a daily actually from what I can tell. And it’s really good. The puzzles are constructed really well. They’re not too easy. They’re not crazy hard. There’s, you know, a touch of challenge to them. I would put them sort of like midweek New York Times level, sort of Wednesday-ish.
But what’s interesting about them is that they don’t have the editorial constraints of the New York Times. The New York Times famously has this — I can’t remember the exact name of the test. But the idea is would the clue and answer be something that you’d be comfortable reading to your grandmother at breakfast? BuzzFeed has no such restraint, whatsoever. And so they have like some pretty racy things and obviously, because it’s BuzzFeed, a lot of very modern, current language. So it’s a nice change of pace from The New York Times if you’re a crossword puzzler.
The other one is this site called logic-puzzles.org. That’s logic-puzzles.org. And it’s a company called Puzzle Baron or something like that. And it’s just one kind of puzzle that I love, that I always have loved. And it’s the logic puzzle where you are told six or seven facts about an arrangement of things and you have to deduce who ate what sandwich with what drink, you know, that kind of thing. Have you done these puzzles before?
John: I do. And Clue is a variation on those, but they are really fun. And there’s only really one way that everything could work out.
Craig: Exactly. There’s only one. So they are designed and I do them on the challenging setting where sometimes for a big puzzle, you get like four clues. And I’ve learned all these extra tricks that I didn’t know. And it’s such a great way to pass 20 minutes without feeling like you’ve totally wasted your time It’s a little brain sharpener. So I like them a lot. Give them a try. Logic-puzzles.org and it’s free.
John: Our special thanks to Karina Longworth for providing the voice of the anonymous writer in our first segment. You should really check out her podcast, which is amazing, called You Must Remember This. It’s on iTunes, but we’ll also have a link in the show notes. So thank you, Karina.
Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you have a question for us, you should write it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. johnaugust.com is also where you’ll find the show notes to all the things we talked about on the program today. We are on iTunes. We love it when you leave us a review there because it helps other people find the show. So thank you everyone who leaves those reviews. If you have a short question for Craig or for me, find us on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.
Our outro this week, in the spirit of Halloween, I thought we’d end on something really disturbing. So our outro is something Stuart found. It comes from Pokémon Red and Green, specifically a location within that game called Lavender Town. Do you know about Lavender town?
Craig: [laughs] I’m going to ask my son because he’ll know.
John: So according to urban legend, this really disturbing theme song caused Japanese children to commit suicide which is back in 1996.
Craig: [laughs] I don’t know why I’m laughing. I mean, no, it didn’t, that’s why I’m laughing.
John: So here’s a quote from what they say on the site. During the first two days of release of Pokémon Red and Green in Japan back in February 27th 1996, a peak of deaths occurred in the age group 10 to 15. The children were usually found dead through suicide usually by hanging or jumping from heights. However, some were more odd. A few cases recorded children who had begun sawing off their limbs, others sticking their faces inside the oven and choked themselves on their own fists, shoving their arms down their throats.
Craig: Oh, yes, shoving their arms down. Yeah, no, that’s — you see that. You see people doing that.
John: So anyway, the music you’re hearing underneath this is actually that theme music.
John: And it’s disturbingly — well, it’s familiar. So I leave you on this.
Craig: Don’t choke on your fist.
John: And have a happy Halloween and we will see you at the Austin Film Festival.
Craig: Bye, guys.
- Austin Film Festival 2015 panel schedule
- Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This
- Scriptnotes, 220: Writers Rooms, Taxes, and Fat Hamlet
- William Goldman on Wikipedia, and Adventures in the Screen Trade on Amazon
- The Zombie-mobile
- Least objectionable program on Wikipedia
- The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz
- The Selling Your Screenplay Podcast, episode 95
- Tessy and Tab
- BuzzFeed Crosswords, and logic-puzzles.org
- Pokémon’s Creepy Lavender Town Myth, Explained on Kotaku