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 232 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show, we will talk about terrible notes screenwriters get and what happens when novelists attempt to adapt their own books.
Craig, welcome back to your home little set-up, your office. We are now on Skype, we don’t have to see each other in person anymore.
Craig: Yeah. Always awkward to look into the face of John August —
Craig: To see his dead eyes, to hear the words and clicks as the babbage machine inside his dome calculates what to say next.
John: Yeah, Mathew has a whole special filter that takes that out when I record by Skype. But live, you know, there’s no way to really conceal it.
Craig: You can’t conceal the babbage.
John: There was enough bustling in that auditorium there that nobody really heard it.
Craig: No one except for me.
John: Yeah. How did you feel Austin went?
Craig: I thought Austin went great. It may be my favorite of all the Austins I’ve been to. And it started off on a weird foot because they had this storm and the airport got shut down. So you and I weirdly kind of got in under the wire and got out after the wire. I mean, compared to everybody else, we had the easiest travel of all time.
But I thought it went really, really well. You know, we had to do a little rejiggering on our live podcast because of the travel issues and other things. But we got two great guests regardless. I thought our Three Page Challenge went really well.
Craig: And then I enjoyed doing my seminar on story structure. That seemed to go really well. And it was just fun seeing people. It was a good group. Lots of old faces, some new faces. Oh, and our wives and husbands were with us.
John: Yeah, which was fun for the first time to have them there with us.
Craig: Here’s a question for you. I don’t know if this happened for you, but I was kind of hoping it would happen for me, and it did. And that is — just every now and then, the person that you’ve been spending your life with, you know, at this point now with Melissa it’s more than half of my life, it’s good for them to see you in like another context —
John: For sure.
Craig: And see people like, “Hey,” you know. It makes them kind of — I don’t know, just appreciate the other side.
John: There’s always this question in my head. It was whether Mike really believes I am where I say I am, or that if I’ve actually hidden my phone in some other city and I’m a spy living some other secret life. So it’s good for him to see like, “Oh, those places I talk about going, they are actually real and there are people on the other side of that conversation.”
Craig: I’m glad that I’m not the only one because, you know, the joke that Melissa and I always have is that there’s this recurring plot on Lifetime made-for-TV movies where a woman meets a man and he’s the man of her dreams, and he just seems so perfect, and then she starts to realize over time that he’s been drugging her every day and confusing her and having sex with her in her sleep. And then cheating on her, manipulating her, and stealing her money. And every now and then, she’s like, “Are you drugging me? Is this real or is this drugs?”
John: So at least Melissa got to know for sure that it was drugs.
Craig: Yeah. Oh, it’s drugs. We didn’t —
John: 100 percent. It’s drugs from top to bottom.
Craig: We blindfolded Mike and Melissa and just brought them to a room that where we hastily scrawled Austin on the wall and then just kept them high as hell for a few days. It was great.
John: Yeah, it was a fun time.
John: So people have already listened to the live show that we did, that was last week’s episode. The Three Page Challenge we did, that is now up in the premium feed. So if you’re a premium subscriber to Scriptnotes, you can listen to our Three Page Challenge where we had three really interesting scripts to talk through and we got to talk with two of the writers of those scripts and about what they had done. So Kelly Marcel was our special guest for that.
John: If you are not a premium subscriber, this may be a good time for you to run over to scriptnotes.net and sign up for that. It’s $1.99 a month. You get access to all the back feed and episodes like the Scriptnotes live Three Page Challenge. And also an interview I did with Drew Goddard for the Writers Guild Foundation last week. And so that will be up in the feed by the time you hear this. So a good chance to catch up on things you may have missed.
John: All right. Our future guest, Tess Morris, she’s a young woman we met at Austin this year. She’s a friend of Kelly Marcel. She was there with a movie called Man Up, which was having it’s, I guess, North American premier at Austin. But that film is actually going to be showing at Sundance Cinemas here in Los Angeles starting, I think, next week, when you listen to this podcast. And we are going to have her as a guest on the show. So if you would like to understand what we’re talking about, I would recommend you go out and see her movie. It stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. And that’s premiering in New York and Los Angeles I think next week. So just to give you a heads up that that’s a future topic, so if you want to know what we’re talking about, you should probably go see her movie, which is really good.
Craig: I think it’s safe to say that she’s delightful.
John: She is in fact delightful. She’s British and delightful. But delightful in a different way than Kelly Marcel.
Craig: Everyone is.
John: Yes. [laughs]
Craig: [laughs] That one is unique. No, Melissa kept saying about Tess, she just kept saying, “I’m sorry, but she is adorable.”
Craig: She is adorable. And the funny is you said she’s a young woman. She’s not that much younger than we are.
Craig: But she seems like she is, like you want to adopt her and, you know, I keep saying like, “Come stay with us, you could be just our older daughter.”
John: It’s interesting because the character that Lake Bell plays in the movie is very clearly inspired by Tess. And it is a woman who is very immature in sort of fundamental things and makes a list about sort of like act like a grown up, and that seems to be a goal for Tess as well. And so, we could talk about being a grown-up, and especially romantic comedies, which is a thing that Tess has essentially written a thesis on about how romantic comedies function and what their function is in the cinema universe. So that’ll be a great conversation we’ll have with her, eventually. And it’ll make more sense if you see her movie first.
Craig: Word, word.
John: Another clip you may want to watch is online. It’s from Andrew Friedhof who just won the Nicholl Fellowship for his script. And he gave this really nice acceptance speech. So Robin Swicord introduced him. It was a nice acceptance speech. And at the end of it, he thanks you and me, which was just crazy.
Craig: It was. And it was very touching. And he seems, first of all, like the nicest person ever, you know. Sometimes you see somebody and they’re talking and you think, “I don’t know what it is exactly but they just seem so gentle and so kind and so nice.” And he said some very lovely things about you and me and the show. And it was very touching, you know. I mean, you know my whole thing these days is being grateful, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m grateful that we — and he’s Australian and, you know, his point was like, “Look, we’re all the way there on the other side of the world from Los Angeles.” And so, these things, like the show that we do, and there are a lot of other resources, obviously, are lifelines for people. And so it was very nice to hear, and it keeps me going week after week. I have no idea what keeps you going, some sort of blend of synthetic oil and jet fuel.
John: Absolutely. It’s a special formula that I’ve been working on for years. I mean, actually, through the power of radio, we don’t have to summarize what he said, we can actually just play a little clip. So let’s hear a little clip of what he said —
Craig: All right.
John: About us.
Andrew Friedhof: On the off chance they hear this, I’d like to thank John August and Craig Mazin. I consider myself a proud alumnus of Scriptnotes University, particularly for someone from overseas who doesn’t live in this area, obviously. So yeah, to actually have their advice, umbrage-filled advice, has been invaluable to me, so I really appreciate that.
John: So that was lovely. So Andrew, I connected with him on Twitter, so he’s in town for a little while longer doing a thousand meetings, he’s doing The Water Bottle Tour of Los Angeles, which we’ve described. And so we wish him lots of luck and congratulations on this success for him.
Craig: No question, it’s exciting. And you know, look, there’s a little side effect of the show that we do here, and that’s when we’re both old, I feel like there’ll just be a wave of screenwriters who will take care of us, who’ll bring us hot meals, you know, blankets.
John: I mostly just want people to be a little bit sad when I die. That’s really my only goal.
Craig: I don’t know if they will, because you’re not going to really die. You’re just going to, you know, stop working.
John: Yeah, that’s true. I’ll actually multiply. I’ll be some sort of underlying A.I. that’s just floating out there in the universe.
Craig: You’ll just keep getting parts replaced until people are like, “Yes, technically, it’s John August, but it’s not. There’s barely anything left of the original, of the one.”
Craig: I mean, this thing has been built up over centuries.
John: Yeah, because I’m Skynet basically.
Craig: [laughs] You become Skynet. Oh, I, on the other hand, will be dead. [laughs]
John: You’ll die in some like really embarrassing accident.
Craig: Yeah. I’ll die of explosive diarrhea —
Craig: In front of a crowd, yeah.
John: [laughs] That was good.
John: My last bit of follow-up is, a couple of weeks ago I talked about that I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo, where you try to write a novel in the month of November? And I’m actually doing it. I had to start it while I was in Austin, but I’ve actually kept up my word count, and so if people want to stalk me and see how much I’m actually writing per day, I will put a link in the show notes to my official NaNoWriMo profile where you can see how much I am writing each day.
And it’s been really interesting, because you and I have both written some fiction, and I don’t know about you, but I find it challenging overall to switch gears and just be in pure prose the whole time.
Craig: It’s very challenging. You certainly feel like you have let go of that comforting structure, that — I mean, there’s just a rhythm to screenwriting, and it’s the rhythm of scenes more than anything.
Craig: A scene feels like a bite size accomplishable thing to do. It has its own beginning, middle, and end. Screenwriting is all about propulsive motion of some kind, emotional or narrative. And in novels, that is occasionally there, and sometimes it’s the last thing you want to do. You want to be reflective, you want to change the vibe completely. So it’s a far less structured form of writing, and that can be a little scary at times. I mean, I have no idea why you’re doing this. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t understand it. [laughs] Honestly, I hope it wins the Pulitzer.
John: Thank you. I’m not trying to write the Pulitzer book, but I’m enjoying what I’m writing.
One of the things I have noticed is that I’m looking at sort of what the feeling is, as the cursor is blinking. And a difference between screenwriting and writing prose is when you’re screenwriting it’s very clear what state you’re in. So am I in a line of action or in a line of dialogue? And your brain switches gears for like what you’re trying to do there. And in prose, you could sort of be in both. And so as I’m trying to express a character communicating some information, it’s like, “Oh, am I going to do that through dialogue or am I going to do that through a summary of sort of what the conversation was?” Am I going to step outside of the actual moment I’m in to fill in details about someone’s history or, you know, an anecdote that relates to that moment? It’s a very different set of states in writing prose fiction than writing screenwriting. Just on the level of what’s happening right underneath your cursor.
Craig: Yes. That’s absolutely true. I remembered thinking, when I was writing prose, that I also had this option to shift gears dramatically in terms of the way the story was being relayed to the reader. In film, you can’t, because you understand people are going to have to shoot this. Ultimately, it conforms to reality. When you’re writing prose, you can slip into a dream state at any moment. You can slip inside someone’s mind, you can slip inside a memory, and you can shift those gears tonally. In fact, you want to. You want to keep people on their toes a little bit. And there is the beautiful freedom of choice. And of course, the terrifying freedom of choice.
John: Yeah. It is. The switch of tenses is also a thing that you have to wrestle with when you first get used to it. Screenwriting is written entirely in the present tense, and that’s because everything you’re seeing on screen is happening right there at that moment. Most fiction is written in the third person singular. And it’s interesting, there’s that change of voice, that change of having to decide whether you are an omniscient narrator who knows everything about the characters, whether you’re limiting your perspective onto a certain character, whether you are invoking the second person to say you at times, in that sort of casual way, rather than saying one might notice, like you might see all those choices are interesting and you find yourself having to make them for the first time, and then having to decide, is that the right choice for the rest of the book I’m trying to write?
Craig: Yeah. It’s yet another thing that you can even switch. You know, Stephen King has this stylistic quirk that I kind of love where he’ll write traditional prose, third person, past tense. And then suddenly somebody will start thinking something, and now he’s in first person, present tense.
Craig: And he’ll slather a bunch of italics over it. And stuff like that is kind of fun, because you start to realize, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, the writing is the movie.”
Craig: There is no movie. This is it. So I might as well have some fun and break a bunch of rules, as long as — you know, as long as you know what you’re doing and it’s all intentional. It’s so much fun. I don’t know. I mean, one day, I have to get back to —
John: One day, you’ll finish your book.
Craig: One day, I’ll finish my book. And it’ll be probably around the time that all these Scriptnotes listeners have grown up, become wealthy, and are bringing me soup and blankets.
John: Yeah. But at least you’ll have something to do while you are waiting for your stories to begin.
Craig: But let’s not kid ourselves [laughs]. I am going to be playing Fallout 12.
John: That’s what you’ll do. 100 percent.
John: Or The Room Part 46.
Craig: Oh, I mean, well, just wait —
John: Just wait.
Craig: Just wait.
John: The last thing we need we need to do in our follow-up is talk about the death Melissa Mathison, so the screenwriter of E.T., Indian in the Cupboard, The Black Stallion. E.T. is one of those really seminal movies for me. It’s one of those things where I realized like, “Oh, this is a movie, and it’s making me feel things.” And that comes from her script.
Craig: Well, it’s a seminal movie for practically everyone, I think. And one of the reasons why is that it — and this is where, you know, when you get a great screenwriter with a great idea. And she did invent E.T. You can instruct culture about how you can look at a genre in a different way. And to say, “I’m going to make a family movie about a little boy who meets a friendly alien,” and make it really the “Jesus” story, make it the gospel frankly —
Craig: And to do it beautifully and touchingly, to present a family with a single mother, where that’s not kind of a thing that is a thing, it’s just that’s life —
Craig: To have kids that talk like actual kids. It was beautiful. And if that were all that Melissa had done, it would have been enough. But to have also done Black Stallion and Indian in the Cupboard and Kundun, just remarkable. I mean, the breadth of her career, the different kinds of stories she did, worked with — you know, repeatedly worked with the best directors. Her last work is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG which Spielberg, I think, is going to do. And that says something right there. You know, when arguably the best Hollywood director ever works with you in the early 1980s and then is working with you in the mid-2010s, you probably are pretty good. I mean, she was one of the best who ever did what we did. And it’s very sad because it’s untimely. I don’t know if they indicated what the cause of death of was, but she was in her 60s. It’s too early. I assume that it was some kind of illness, and it’s a shame. And everyone, certainly everyone who screenwrites needs to know her name. But everybody who loves movies needs to know her name.
All right. Let’s switch gears and talk about studio notes. Or not even notes we get from studios but from other people who read our scripts. And the notes that drive us craziest because they are so unhelpful or unspecific. And we each have a list of some things that drive us crazy. Craig, why don’t you start?
Craig: Hey, I’m going to just zero in on the one.
John: All right.
Craig: That after all this time, this is the one that — it’s the only one of all the repetitive, useless, silly, boring, edge rubbing off notes that you get, and you’re going to get them. This is the one that sends me into advanced umbrage. And it’s this. “This character feels unlikeable.” Even as I say it, there is a rage building in me, a violence that I can barely repress. And the reason why is because a lot of notes that you get that are bad are — they’re what I call conforming notes.
“Please remove the things that are unique in your screenplay and push them more towards something I’ve seen already because it makes me feel safe. I simply can’t look past my own fear to the experience of the audience. It’s more important to me that I feel safe.” And I understand why those happen, and of course, part of my job is to not let bad things happen to the screenplay while making the other person feel safe. But this note — this note is just stupid, because it doesn’t even make you feel safe. It’s just wrong.
Not only can your character be unlikeable, people like your character to be unlikeable. They love unlikeable characters. The only thing they ever ask of us is that unlikeable characters at some point indicate that they are self-aware, that they know that they’re a little off. And that there is a hint in there, a thread that you can see can be pulled to lead to redeemability, to redemption. And that the character does, in fact, unfold into something of a likeable person. They don’t have to become a good person, but that you can see some humanity comes out. We love curmudgeons. We love the cranky drunks. We love the vulgarians and the addicts and the criminals and the cowards and the neurotics and the selfish. I mean, look back at Bad News Bears.
John: Oh, yeah.
Craig: I mean, I want to carry with me a poster of Bad News Bears. And the next time someone says, “Well, I think this character isn’t quite likeable,” I’m just going to unfold it, circle Walter Matthau’s face and then smoosh that into their face so that whatever the sharpie I used to circle Walter Matthau’s face makes a weird sharpie smudge on their face and they got to walk around all day. And every time someone says, “Well, what’s with the sharpie smudge?” They go, “Oh, yeah, I said that a character should be likeable.” And they’ll be like, “Really? What about Walter Matthau?” And they’ll say, “Yeah. That’s where I got this.”
John: So it’ll be sort of like Ash Wednesday where people have smears on their faces but it’ll be the sort of — it’s the Sharpie Tuesday.
Craig: It’s Umbrage Tuesday.
John: It’s Umbrage Tuesday. It’s a new holiday that we’re instituting in Hollywood.
Craig: By the way, how great is it that Andrew Friedhof actually mentioned umbrage in his Nicholl speech? [laughs]
John: [laughs] Yeah, I know. If you just patented that word, I mean, we could have made some money here but no.
Craig: So much money.
John: You gave it away for free.
Craig: As you know, I insist on losing money.
John: So let’s try to unpack likeability, because I think when a studio development executive or a producer says “unlikeable,” let’s take a look at what they’re actually trying to say. I think sometimes they’re trying to say that they worry that an audience will see this character, not relate to this character, and will not want to follow him or her on their story. And unlikeable tends to be a note that you get at a character’s — not first introduction but early on as a character is going. And they’re worried that the audience is not going to go on the ride with the character because of things they’re saying, things they’re doing, that they are not engaged in the right way. So sometimes it’s because they’re taking actions which are offensive. But sometimes it’s because they’re not giving you anything to hold on to.
Is that where you see people using the word unlikeable?
Craig: I think so. But it seems to me that it’s almost more of a knee-jerk thing of they think that audiences are simple and have only two positions on their dial which is “Aw” and “Ew.”
Craig: And that’s it. But that’s not true. In fact, “Ew,” contains an enormous amount of “Aw.” Take a look at Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. He throws a dog down the garbage shoot. He’s homophobic. He’s racist. He’s mean. He’s cruel. He yells at children. And you love him because you can see under it “aw”.
So like I just said here, the character has self-awareness or a sense of redeemability. You see when he’s alone that he has a mental illness and that he’s struggling and you go, “Aw.” And we want that. We want it. And I just feel that sometimes — in truth, there is no redemption for this note. If you say to me — and I don’t get it a lot, but if you say, “Well, this character isn’t very likeable,” in my mind, you’re dead.
I don’t know how else to put it. You’re dead, because you have no risk in you. You have no interest in any kind of true complication to a person. Because the only people, I think, we are interested in in movies are the ones that have something about them that is unlikeable. I can go down movie by movie. You give me any movie, any character, I’m going to go, “Oh, there’s the thing that’s unlikeable about them.”
How much did you love Meryl Streep’s character in Doubt?
John: Oh, yeah. I understood where she was coming from. And that was the crucial distinction. If I understand what’s making them tick, I am fascinated and I like them even if I wouldn’t necessarily want to be in a room with them.
Craig: Right. Because there is also the implication that underneath the crust is something else. And then the question, why is the crust even there? You know, we want it. We want it. It’s just so weird. If anything, if I were in their position, I would give the note “This character is too likeable.”
This woman is just too — I like her so much. Why do I need to see her go through anything? Just leave her be, you know.
John: I think the other kind of unlikeability that people are confusing here is — so there’s how the reader/audience feels about the character. But it’s also how the characters within the universe respond to that character and how they’re responding to what he or she is doing.
So when you said Meryl Streep, I was thinking about Devil Wears Prada which is, again, an incredibly, on the surface, unlikeable character in the sense that like the people around her don’t like her. But because she’s functioning as a villain, that’s good. And that’s sort of what you’re going for.
Real life experience that I had, you know, for the last 15 years is the character of Will in Big Fish. So in the movie version that’s Billy Crudup’s character. And the notes I got from very early versions of the script and sort of all the way through the process is like, “We don’t like Will.” And it’s like, “Well, that’s fantastic because Will is basically me, so thank you for making me feel great about that.” I feel great about myself.
But I kept trying to unpack what people meant when they said that the character Will was unlikeable. And what they’re really saying is, “We really like Edward. And Will seems to be an obstacle to Edward. And that doesn’t make us feel happy. So something is wrong.” And what I was trying to communicate is like, “Well, they are serving as a protagonist-antagonist relationship. They’re going to push each other, and that is their function, and it’s what we’re trying to do.”
It wasn’t until we got to — in the musical version, we were in Chicago and we were still wrestling with this note, people said like, “We don’t like Will.” And we cast the most charismatic lovely actor you could imagine, Bobby Steggert. And people still would come to this note saying, “We don’t like Will.”
And ultimately what we discovered is people didn’t understand what was going on inside Will’s head. And that’s where we had to write a whole new song called Stranger which lets you actually — it give him an “I want” song that lets you sort of understand what it is he’s trying to do. And in writing that song and building the first act around that, suddenly all those “Will is unlikeable” notes started to go away. So I think a lot of times, when you’re hearing that likeability note, it’s that they’re confused about what the character is actually after or what the function of that character is in the story.
Craig: Right. And that’s how I get around it, usually. I mean, I think to myself, well, “I don’t want you to like anyone in my movie. I want you to hate them and love them both at the same time.”
Craig: And you know, there’s that line, Sondheim’s line from Into the Woods, “You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.”
Craig: Nice is bad.
John: Nice is so bad.
Craig: We don’t want nice. I don’t want you to like anyone. And so you’re right, if they’re saying, “Well, I just don’t like him,” I think then part of the job is to say, “Here’s how I can make the audience engage with this person’s crustiness, with the bad part of them, with the part that’s kind of awful.” The “Ew” needs the “Aw,” you know.
Craig: And you just got to figure out how to get it in there so that you are delighted by them. And we know. Here’s the thing, that’s why this note makes me crazy. We know from a hundred years of cinema that audiences love villains. They love villains. They love them, you know. Usually, it’s your favorite part, you know. I mean, I think back to seeing Superman as a kid, Donner’s Superman. I mean, Gene Hackman makes the movie. I hate him and I love him. He’s awesome, you know.
And I don’t know, this is the one note that sends me over the moon. And so if you are a notes giver, I want you to strike this. Strike it away. And if you encounter a character that you’re not liking but you’re also not deliciously hating, then give that note. Say, “I want to really not like and love this person.” I want “Ew” and “Aw.”
John: The other thing I want to urge note givers to do is you’re not allowed to ask for likeability and edgy at the same time. And I so often find I’ll be in a conversation, like, “Could we just make this edgier but also make the characters likeable?” And those are conflicting notes and you will have nothing but tears if you try to do both things simultaneously.
Craig: Yeah. Notes like that, they are a cry for help. I really do believe that.
Craig: They are. This person is no longer thinking about a movie. They’re just frightened to death. And Lindsay Doran used to run Sydney Pollack’s company. And she said that Sydney had this thing where Lindsay would say, “I want this character to be — I want to love him but I also want him to be edgy.” And Sydney would say, “So you want a close up with feet?”
Craig: And that’s it. It’s like you can’t.
Craig: You can’t have a close up with feet. But when I’m working with her —
John: You can frame it in kind of an impossible shot that would do it. Like if it was a yoga teacher, I could see what the close up would be.
Craig: [laughs] Exactly. And she we do this all the time to me. She would say something to me and I go, “That’s a close up with feet.” And you know what she would say that was amazing? She’d go, “I know but I want it.” And I would start to think, “Well —
John: If Lindsay wants it, you got to do it.
Craig: I wonder if there’s a way to make a close up with feet here. Or it would actually make me start thinking about how to be interesting and clever about certain things. But you know, she is not doing this, what you’re talking about. The edgy and likeable thing really is a cry for help.
Craig: Using the word edgy alone is a cry for help. It’s an indication that you’re drowning and maybe this business isn’t for you. I mean, one of the great episodes of The Simpsons was the Poochie episode.
John: Oh, just absolutely the best episode.
Craig: It’s seminal. It’s really important. And I mean that. It’s important for anyone to watch, to understand, how the kind of banal villain of Hollywood works. They want something that’s edgy. They want a paradigm shift. They want it to break the mold. And they want it to be out of the box.
They don’t know what any of these things mean. It’s ridiculous. Never. Never. Never ever say — don’t say edgy. There’s other words. There are better words that mean something. I don’t know what the hell edgy even means.
John: No one knows. The other thing I don’t know what it means is confusing. And so, this is a note I will get saying like “This section is confusing” or “I like it but it’s confusing.” And whenever they’re saying “It’s confusing,” I try to sort out whether they’re saying, “I am confused” or “I’m worried that a theoretical audience will be confused.” Because when you actually ask that question, you can suss out whether there’s something that they fundamentally didn’t get that I actually need as a writer to fix in there so they actually understand sort of what the intention is. Or are they just worried that the audience is so much stupider than they are that the audience won’t understand what something is going to be. And they want to dumb it down for the audience.
And what’s frustrating about the “It’s confusing” note is that confusion by itself is not a bad thing. If you look at the stories you love, at certain points in any story you’re going to be confused and your confusion leads to curiosity. And curiosity makes you lean into the movie and really care about what’s happening next. It makes you want to solve the problem. If everything is just completely straightforward and you sort of know what’s going to happen the whole time, there’s no point in watching the movie.
So the trick for the screenwriter is balancing confusion with, you know, clarity so that the audience and the reader feel like they know enough about what’s happening right now, but they’re really curios about how these things are going to resolve. And the answers to those questions are going to be hopefully rewarding. And that’s my frustration with confusion is that so often underneath that note is the desire to smooth out any possible wrinkles.
Craig: Well, you know, you said a lot of things that are very insightful here. And I think that what’s really underneath it and what really bothers me about this note, at least for me, is that there’s a hubris involved. Because you’re right. What you’re saying — you’re asking a first question which is, when you say “It is confusing” like that’s a fact, are you saying, “I am confused” or are you predicting that an audience member would be confused?
And furthermore, when you say this blithely, are you saying it in ignorance of the fact that this question is the one that we preoccupy ourselves almost the most with. The titration of information is the name of the game for screenwriting. What do I tell you? How much do I tell you? How much do I mislead? How much do I conceal? How much do I misdirect? We’re thinking about this all the time.
So yes, every now and then, we’re going to get it wrong. You and I see this when we see Three Page Challenges and we’ll often comment, “Well, we’ve crossed the line from mysterious into befuddling,” you know. And so mystery good, befuddling bad. And what is the factor that rules over everything? Intention. As long as you’re intending me to feel this, great. If you weren’t intending me to feel this, bad. That’s a great discussion.
When these people, when they wander in and they’re like, “Well, I read this part. It was confusing.” No. No, no, no. You don’t get to say it like that. Ever. Because you are discounting that there’s so much more calculation that went into this than you can imagine.
What you need to say is either, “I was confused, so let’s figure out how to match intention to result.” Or you need to say, “I am worried that an audience will be confused by this.” At which point, I often say things like, “I’ll tell you what, let’s put some things in here that are modular.” We know we can lift them if we need to so we’re not stuck with them. But if this section needs training wheels for people, here’s some training wheels. And if it doesn’t, we won’t have to use it, right? We’ll have the option. Because I’m thinking about that all the time. And the truth is I’ve never been to a test screening where at least, at some point, the audience was confused by something that I thought was going to be painfully obvious and thought something that I thought was going to be really mysterious was painfully obvious. It’s like you are always surprised at some point, so I get that.
But the hubris involved of just saying “It is confusing.” No, you are an idiot.
John: Yeah. It’s a state. And whether that state is internal to the person or inherent to the text. I think most development executives are comfortable talking about a character arc. And so when we talk about likeability, we talk about, you know, hopefully we go from this place where we see the character in this one state and they grow and become a better person at the end of the story.
Well, stories have an arc as well. And so there should be confusion. It should be murky and befuddling. And it should arrive at a point of clarity, hopefully, by the end. And so sometimes you can deflect some of those confusion notes with “This is the point. This is the journey of the story. This is how the mystery is unfolding.” And if you can do that and talk about it, usually with character intention, and make sure that it’s really clear what the characters are trying to do moment by moment. Some of that confusion goes away.
Oftentimes, I like to do what’s called a freeze frame where you just, like, look, stop a scene and like look at all the characters on the screen. And just point to each one and say, like, “What is that character trying to do?” And if you don’t know what the characters are trying to do, you do have a problem. That’s really a reason to stop and rethink what’s going on there. But if you understand what all the characters are trying to do, it’s okay that what’s going to happen next in the story is a little confusing. As long as you believe that the characters know what they’re attempting to do next.
Craig: Exactly. Exactly.
John: Oh, these notes. All these notes. This all ties in very well to an article that you flagged for us. This comes from Slate by Forrest Wickman called Against Subtlety. And do you want to summarize Forrest’s argument here?
Craig: Well, it’s a bit long. I guess we’ll zero in on the part that I found kind of cut to his thesis here. He was talking about, I guess, our evolution in our relationship with things that are subtle versus things that are on-the-nose. He says, you know, it was once true that saying that something was “on-the-nose” was actually kind of a good thing. It’s like, “Great, you nailed it.” [laughs]
So he says, “A reasonably as a decade ago, ‘on-the-nose’ typically meant something positive. Most dictionaries haven’t even added the new definition yet, keeping instead only the century-old meaning of ‘exactly right’ or ‘on target.’ Now, calling out the on-the-noseness is practically its own sport. We spot it in a callback to an eight-year-old episode of Mad Men, the title of an episode of Wayward Pines, the appearance of some portentous-seeming oranges in Breaking Bad, or even the lighting and staging of Nashville.
“And so we mock obvious symbolism. We cringe at message movies and melodrama and novels that too readily reveal what they mean. And we roll our eyes at too-clear subtextual signaling even when we sit down to watch wonderfully unsubtle programs on TV. If we no longer hold the high above the low, why do we still hold the subtle above the unsubtle?”
So he’s coming at this — and I understand there is kind of a thing where you think, “Well, if I got it then it couldn’t have been that interesting, so it’s bad.” [laughs] You know, I mean, whereas things that are — I guess, the average person’s cynical viewpoint of the fancy moviegoer is somebody that likes to sit in the movie that makes absolutely no damn sense whatsoever, and then walk out and go, “Yes. Yes. Intriguing. I think what he was trying to say…” And so he is kind of taking the other side of that.
John: Another way of looking at it is by fetishizing subtlety, we are encouraging filmmakers to sort of not actually be clear at times. Or just sort of actually not make the point. Like, if you made the point then you’ve missed you the point in a strange way.
John: And that is, I think, a dangerous thing to do. And it ties very well into this idea of confusion. And sort of, you know, you sort of leave with these muddled messes that sort of don’t quite arrive anywhere. And you say like, “Oh, it was very subtle.” It’s like, “Yeah, but we didn’t actually get anywhere.” And that can be a real challenge.
Craig: Well, I think that Mr. Wickman is making a slight mistake here in his essay and it’s a mistake of perspective. Because when he’s talking about “we,” I think what he means is we, the people who are critics, not reviewers, but engage in, you know, cinematic criticism of films or content. That we, on our side over here, are struggling with this. And I would respond that “you” on the other side over there are struggling with a lot of things. And that, in fact, audiences and writers understand that they have engaged in a contract whereby some things will be made clear.
Clumsy symbolism is a thing. We all know clumsy symbolism, but that doesn’t — the problem with clumsy symbolism isn’t that we hate being informed or that we hate that something is revealed to us. It’s that it’s bad. So the example that comes to mind, although he is a, you know, a giant of cinema, Martin Scorsese put that rat in at the end of The Departed and I think everybody went, “Well, yeah. Yes, he is a rat.” You know, that just felt hamfisted.
But no, I don’t think audiences sit down and do what he’s describing audiences do. I think that these people do it. And it’s certainly of no great help to the creator of something. Obviously, we are again trying to gauge and do math, and just as I said, we’re always doing the calculus of how much information. We’re always doing the calculus of, “Okay. Well, how much of this stuff should be really indicative or subtle? How much of it should be things that people can tease out with each other on Reddit like a puzzle if we engage in that at all?”
But I don’t think that we, creating-wise, have a problem. And I don’t think the audience has a problem. I think that this is a problem of people who engage in critical analysis, because so often I think their profession comes down to say something new. And if everyone gets it, well then it’s not very new. Therefore, it must not be good. That’s where the logical mistake is made.
John: What you were talking about before in our confusion discussion, about how sometimes you will write additional things that will be modular, that we cab hopefully take out in case people are not getting them. Some of those things are designed to be less subtle. So like, if things are so subtle that no one is actually understanding what the point was, that’s where you put that thing back in that makes it less subtle. And you and I have both been through test screenings where after the test screenings it’s like, “Crap, we’re going to have to put in a line of ADR dialogue over somebody’s back to actually spell something out because people are just not fundamentally getting it.” That something was too subtle or was too easy to miss and therefore people can’t actually understand it.
I think one of the challenges about movies overall is that movies keep playing forward at 24 frames per second. So when you’re reading a book, you can stop and go back and flip through a few more pages and really dig into sort of what’s going on, really how it’s feeling, like how it’s landing for you. Like, did you miss something? Movies keep chugging along. So if you’re sitting in a dark theater, it has to make sense the first time through. And because of that, sometimes things can’t be quite as subtle as they would be in a book. And that’s a fundamental nature of movies.
John: The other thing I wanted to look at is, this essay is titled “Against Subtlety.” And I think — I’ll try to find the link to it, but there’s also another Slate article about “Against Against.” So this whole form of an argument is when you title your article against something, you have to sort of stake a big claim about sort of “This is the way things are and this is not the way things should be,” which is actually sort of absurd. And so there’s a middle ground which is it has to make enough sense for the audience to understand what the intention was but not be so obvious that it feels like you were just beating them over the head with it. And finding that line is really challenging especially when it’s not one artistic voice behind things but it’s a committee. A bunch of people have to come to an agreement about what those lines are going to be.
Craig: And furthermore, the arbiter is a population. It’s not an individual. So you can make the argument that if you create a piece of art and two out of ten people understand it and eight don’t, that you shouldn’t change it because you made it for those two people. The thing is, for what we do, we don’t have that luxury because people have invested not our money, we’re not paying for it. Other people are paying for it and they don’t settle for that. They want eight out ten people to understand it. They would really like ten out of ten people to understand it. So you don’t have the luxury of tuning yourself to the smartest or the most puzzle-oriented audience member.
You know, he cites some reviews of Spielberg’s movies. And one after another, they were accused of being heavy-handed, so was Hitchcock, so was Kubrick. Kubrick, for God’s sake. So is Wilder for God’s sake. And then he talks about how Great Gatsby initially was. Apparently, here are some phrases applied to it by critics when it came out. “Painfully forced. Not strikingly subtle.” And even in 2013, New York Magazine disdained the book for being, “Full of low-hanging symbols.”
Well, you know, I would like to punch New York Magazine right through itself. They aren’t full of low-hanging symbols. You know why we think Great Gatsby is full of low-hanging symbols? Because it’s instructed to us as children. And the way it’s instructed to us in part is through symbology.
The fact of the matter is that you don’t need to know that the glasses of T.J. Eckleburg — I think that’s his name — represent the eyes of God. Because as you read the book, they impart a certain feeling to you. I think the last person that wanted his book torn apart like that would be Fitzgerald. And yet that’s what literary analysis does. And now, it turns around and blames people for not being subtle enough because they figured it out. I don’t blame crossword puzzle creators for writing a crossword puzzle that I can solve.
Craig: It’s just dumb. And furthermore, I don’t need to solve movies. I can just have a feeling. I’m okay giving myself in and giving myself into a book and just thinking how eerie it is that those glasses seem to be there staring down, staring down. That’s a feeling. I don’t need to go further with it to enjoy the book. And I would argue that for most people that put some kind of evocative symbolism in their work, they don’t want it to be interpreted like an English teacher would either.
John: I think you’re absolutely right. The last thing I would say about the difference between film and other arts is that we make movies for big giant screens. And so sometimes you put things on a big giant screen, those symbols look really huge. And so your perspective on what that is telling you, it’s going to be very different based on the context of how you’re seeing it. But we also have to make our movies so that they make sense on an airplane seatback.
And so because we don’t have full control over what the experience will be when you’re seeing this film, you may make some choices that are going to split the difference, hopefully, in a way that suits most people seeing your film. And I think where I often find that is in the sound mix, because the sound mix is where you’re going to make sure that people are able to hear those crucial things that have to be heard even if it makes things a little less realistic.
The color mix will be the same kind of situation where you’re doing your color timing to figure out what the look of your film is going to be. Well, if you are on a great screen, you could go really dark and people will still be able to figure stuff out. But if you try to take that exact same color timing and play it on, you know, a crappy TV, you will not be able to see anything. And so there’s reasons why subtlety may not be possible because of the technological limitations.
Craig: Yeah. And I think this is why critics who consume culture at a rate and quantity far beyond what it’s intended will gravitate towards things that other people find confounding. Simply because they are doing that thing in their minds, that Groucho thing. Why would I want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member? Why would I want to like any movie that I understand?
Craig: I get it. So therefore, how good could that be?
John: Couldn’t be good at all.
John: Let’s do our last topic today which is books and novelists who adapt their own books. So this came up because just last week while I was in Austin, I was on a long phone call with an author whose book I really think is great. So he and I were having a conversation about the possibility of trying to make it into a movie. And it was an interesting conversation because he has also written screenplays. And so he was excited to have me potentially be involved. But he also wanted to write the screenplay himself. And that is a challenging discussion.
But it ended up being a really good discussion because I got to talk through, I think, some of the real pros and some of the real cons of novelists trying to adapt their own books. And Craig and I haven’t rehearsed this at all so I’m really curious what he thinks about it.
There have been good examples recently of authors adapting their own work. And sometimes being spectacularly good. So I’m thinking of Gillian Flynn with Gone Girl. I love the book. She did a great job adapting that for Fincher. And Emma Donoghue just did that with Room, which is her book. She wrote a great screenplay for that. But you also have J.K. Rowling who didn’t adapt the Harry Potter books. Steve Kloves did those, and I thought did a great job adapting those books and making a whole cinematic universe for those. And now, she has come around and she’s doing The Beasts and Where to Find Them, and that’s her first screenplay screenplay.
So there’s definitely, from this author’s perspective who I was talking to on Friday, I can see why he might be really into the idea of like, “Oh, I’ll do it myself because I actually know the characters. I know the world. I know the universe. I can protect my work to some degree.” And I had to sort of make the counter arguments about they’re fundamentally different forms. And that his trying to hold on to things from the book was ultimately going to hurt it at as a movie.
Craig: Well, first of all I love that you said that we didn’t rehearse this implying we’ve ever rehearsed anything. [laughs] Maybe you do. I literally have never rehearsed anything in my life.
John: Well, we did not pre-discuss. We haven’t talked through like sort of what our different talking points will be on this.
Craig: This is true. As it turns out, I am very sympathetic to your point of view on this. It is interesting. Traditionally, authors would not adapt their own novels because not only because there was the concern that maybe they’re moving into an art form that doesn’t really belong to them or isn’t their second nature but studios in particular I thought were very suspicious of this. Because, you know, their whole attitude is it’s a movie, I don’t care about this book. Sometimes they love every part of the book. Sometimes they just like the idea of the book.
I’m in the middle of adapting a book now that’s going to be a very loose adaptation. The prior adaptation of a book I did was an extraordinary loose adaptation because that’s what everybody agreed was the right thing to do. And in those cases, it’s quite evident that the last thing you want is the novelist doing that and I would imagine the last thing the novelist would want to do would be to do that. But there are these interesting new novelists now and you list three of them. Is it Gillian?
John: It’s Gillian. I looked it up.
John: I thought —
John: Because I heard someone say it and it’s Gillian Flynn.
Craig: So Gillian Flynn, Emma Donoghue, and J.K Rowling. All three of them, well two of them have already proved it.
Craig: And I suspect that Joanne Rowling is going to do a good job. She is incredibly smart. I mean, just so obviously smart and more importantly, she understands an audience I think better than practically any other novelist I’ve ever read. I love her books and she just knows the audience so well. Steve Kloves and I think Michael Goldenberg did one of them. All those movies were brilliantly screen-written. They kind of curated those novels gorgeously and even though those films were I think quite, quite loyal, I mean extraordinarily loyal to the novels, the screenwriters managed to kind of get the best of both worlds. And I suspect that she’s — I don’t know her, I would love to — but I suspect that she’s a student. And, you know, she’s often said that Hermione is her. Well, if she’s Hermione, she’s going to be a real student. She’s going to sit down and talk to people. She’s going to read those screenplays again. I bet she’s going to spend some time with Mr. Kloves to talk about how he did it and I bet she does a great job because she knows that it’s different.
John: Yeah, so I think there’s definitely examples of writers who are great at doing both things and to those writers, I say full speed ahead, all credit.
The conversation I had with this writer was about his book and how there were certain characters. Here’s a great example. I asked how old is this main character and he said, “Well, it’s written for kids who are, you know, 10 to 12 so sort of in that range. Readers really want to relate to somebody who is about their age or just a little bit older so in that range. It could be up to 14.” And I said, “How old is the character?” Because in a screenplay, a character is going to be one age. That character is going to be one actor. We’re going to cast somebody in that role. And it’s not going to be the audience. It’s going to be one actual actor and so we need to know how old that boy is and that’s going to fundamentally change the nature of the universe around him.
I had to ask about sort of these characters who are in the second and third act and what is their actual relationship, are they the same person, are they different things, are they manifestations of one thing or another? And it’s really fun in the book, because it’s sort of ambiguous. But I said, “It’s not going to be ambiguous in the movie. They’re going to have to be one thing or two things. It’s a fundamental question that has to be answered. ” He’s like, “Yeah, well, we’ll have to get to that.” The challenge is that like all the things that were delightfully ambiguous in the book could not be delightfully ambiguous in the movie because movies are one fixed expression of the possibilities that the book lays out.
Craig: Yeah, you certainly put your finger on it there. I mean, we talked about it earlier, part of the fun of writing in prose is anything is possible. And one of the miseries but also comforts of screenwriting is almost nothing is possible because you have to shoot it. You have to shoot it and so your job is to try and make impossible things appear on screen in possible ways. And similarly, you’ll see, I think, novels, novels can wander.
Craig: They can be very lax. They can expand and collapse moments as they wish. This becomes harder to do in movies particularly as you’re getting towards the end.
Craig: When people simply need to go to the bathroom and they’re running out of patience because they aren’t reading this and then putting it down and calling someone on the phone. They are captive.
Craig: And so it is a different relationship that you have with them. It is an interesting thing and I think that there are probably — just as I would argue most screenwriters would make bad novelists, I would argue that most novelists would make bad screenwriters. There’s a reason we do what we do. And then of course there are those brilliant few, and hopefully you’re one of them, that can move between those two worlds. So, and I thought, you know, Gone Girl was a terrific example of how to do that.
John: Yeah, absolutely. And what she recognized in Gone Girl is that the essential conceit that she made the book where she had these alternating chapters and ultimately it broke and you sort of saw a revelation sort of at the midpoint. The movie was able to do that but it was only able to do that because it had built a very different rhythm going up to it and built enough goodwill in the audience that it was going to be able to make a huge change and have that be successful. And she had to build a really different engine to sort of get you through that huge shift that she’s made.
Emma Donoghue, you haven’t seen Room yet and I don’t want to spoil anything about it. Where I think — I mean, I think she really did a terrific adaptation. There are a few moments I quibbled with and I recognized that afterwards I think the reason why those didn’t work as well for me is because in the book version, you have full insight. You know what’s going on inside a character’s head and you recognize that the whole story ultimately becomes the boy’s perspective on sort of what the situation is and her misunderstanding, in some cases, of what the situation is. So when you see that in the movie though, you’re naturally going to be in a more third-person perspective. And so you’re seeing there are two scenes which I was watching and I didn’t understand why the characters were doing what they were doing. And I think I was sort of not supposed to because it’s really kind of in the boy’s point of view. And it was frustrating for the audience.
John: And frustrating for me. And that is a real limitation, I think, of sort of the medium. I don’t think it’s necessarily an easily solvable problem. I’m not saying a different screenwriter would have done a different or a better job of that, but it was a limitation that the form put on this story that wouldn’t have been there in the novel version.
Craig: Yeah, I think that adaptation is hard enough. When you’re self-adapting, the pitfalls are that many more and that deeper.
Craig: You just have to tread extremely carefully and you also in a weird way have to tread with great humility.
Craig: Because the achievement of the novel does not guarantee the achievement of the screenplay in any way, shape, or form. You are essentially starting at esteemed zero.
Craig: So you just need to be aware of that.
John: If I could offer any thought for why a different screenwriter might not have hit that same trap is he or she would have maybe seen that like I’m not going to be able to communicate what’s really going on in the scene and therefore I can’t actually have this scene happen. I think you would have written through those sequences differently recognizing that the limitations you’re putting on yourself are going to make this scene which is probably really good in the book not actually make sense in this movie version.
John: And again, it’s a challenge because that’s an incredibly successful popular book and the more popular a book is, the harder it is to change anything fundamental about the plot. And that is a real issue. Obviously, the Harry Potter books had to wrestle with that. Everyone knew every beat of those Harry Potter books. With Big Fish, no one had read that book and so I could change everything in that book and no one knew or cared. There was another book I was involved with where when I set it up, it was an obscure little book and then it became a much, much bigger book and it became clear that the things I thought I was going to need to change were not going to be possible to change because it was a bestseller and that’s a challenge.
Craig: No question. It’s really why I marvel actually at how good Kloves did. It’s kind of amazing because the books are enormous. And, you know, it’s funny, the first book wasn’t short. It wasn’t what I would call long. It was on the longer side for young adult fiction but then the books got bigger and bigger and bigger. By the time you got to the end, it was massive. And he just got it all, like he got everything you wanted. And you never felt cheated in any way. He understood that. And I think about this when I’m adapting things now. What I’m looking for are those moments when things change and the stuff in between them, you are going to have to compress and perhaps simplify. It’s the things that matter. Those are the things that you actually want to take all the time with. That’s why the book worked, you know.
John: Yeah, I think the biggest observation people have about the difference between the movies and the books is Ron’s character and something that is just dealing with sort of who you actually have in that role, and when you have a flesh and blood person in that part, he, to me, feels different in the movie than he does in the books. And I like them both but I think Kloves had to recognize this is who I have, these are the skills that this actor has, which are great, and I think that the character plays differently to me on screen than it does on the page. But they both work.
Craig: One thing that movies do better than anything is engage us emotionally. It’s a rare thing to read a book and start crying. It’s an incredibly common thing to see a movie and start crying.
Craig: I’ve cried at Adam Sandler movies. [laughs] I mean, on purpose. You know, they connect with us. So when you watch a Harry Potter film, Harry’s story occupies this enormous emotional space from who he is, how he was born, to what he must become, to the things he goes through. He is repeatedly tortured and tortured and tortured. And that is so effective that to then ask the audience to now look over here at this emotional space and this person’s internal life, “Isn’t this rough?” It is rough. It’s rough that Ron comes from a poor family and he’s on the bad end of a classist stick. It’s just not the same as your parents being murdered and you being the chosen one and have Voldemort having a piece of you in him and wanting to kill you and you having to actually let yourself die in order to save the world because you’re Jesus. It’s just not the same.
Craig: It’s not the same like, you know, the New Testament doesn’t really go into like what was going on with Mark at home, you know.
Craig: But he was there. He was watching in the story that we cared about.
John: And therefore, we can only see Mark’s home story as it relates to Harry and so that’s why we’re not going to go home with Ron unless Harry is there.
Craig: And it’s why Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is so much fun because you can say, “Well, what if that was all of the emotional space?” You know. And I love stories like that where you just go sideways and you go, “Well, what if this was the story?”
Craig: And it’s funny, it’s actually something I’m trying to do right now on another thing and I love that but you have to understand if you’ve written a novel where three people have their own beautifully articulated emotional spaces, it’s going to be hard for an audience to actually split their attention that way. Our emotional tension is almost always focused on one person or one relationship.
John: Yup, I agree.
All right. Let’s talk through our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing, god, we’ve talked a lot about books today but mine is a book. It is Bartleby, the Scrivener which is a Herman Melville book which I read while I was in Austin. It’s super short, like you can read it in one sitting. It’s 99 cents on Kindle but totally worth reading. And the very basic plot summary is you have a lawyer on Wall Street who has scriveners who are people who are copyists, who make copies of contracts. And he hires this one guy who ultimately just refuses to work and yet the lawyer can’t quite fire him or can’t quite get him to leave his office. And that’s the entire plot of the story and yet it’s just delightful and delightfully well-written.
And the reason I heard about is because Slate did a thing where they took Bartleby, the Scrivener and they have the whole text, although I think it’s challenging to read the whole text in one long webpage. But they did essentially like a director’s commentary or like a filmmaker’s commentary on it. And so they have all these little footnotes and sidebars on the edge to talk through the different criticism and the different things that are actually happening in the story because it’s a short enough text that you can actually like really look at it from a bunch of different perspectives and sort of like what is this story even about because it’s deliberately ambiguous. And so, it was just a great example of trying to take something that doesn’t want to have a director’s commentary and put one on there so you can look at both the text and the surrounding information simultaneously. So I will link to both Bartleby, the Scrivener and the version of it that Andrew Kahn did for Slate where you can see all the notes about it.
Craig: I will check that out. What else could my One Cool Thing be but The Room Three.
John: So I did not even know this existed until I saw it here on the outline.
Craig: Very excited. So The Room was a One Cool Thing. The Room Two was a One Cool Thing. And now The Room Three is a One Cool Thing. For those of you who are not initiated, The Room series is a game for iOS or Android and it is essentially a mysterious occult themed puzzle game. The controls are just as simple as touching. There’s no moving around really and you are solving a series of beautifully rendered, creepy, awesome puzzles. You’re always in a room. You’re always interacting with some bizarre object that moves and opens and unfolds and transforms and it’s just beautiful. And they’ve done it again. And each one has been a little bit bigger than the one before it and they are so smart. I think it’s Fireproof is the name of the developer and they are so smart because they understand that you don’t need that much new. You just need to re-experience it and to get back into that vibe. It’s wonderful. Play it with your headphones on and volume way up. I love it. I mean, I got it on Wednesday, I’m already 60 percent of the way done and I’m bummed out because it’s going to be over soon. Yeah, but it’s great.
John: So pretty much anything with Room in it is recommended. So we love The Room the game. I loved Room the movie. Of course the other movie, The Room is a classic.
Craig: “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa.”
John: And Craig, the four of us need to do a locked room puzzle because we’ve never done one of those and I suspect you’re terrifically good at those.
Craig: Well, I’d like to think I’m really, really good at them but I’m okay at them. You know, I’ve done now three and I’ve gotten out of one out of them. So I usually go with Megan Amram who everybody should be familiar with. She wrote on Parks and Rec. She now writes on Silicon Valley and she also has a book out about science, Science… For Her! I think is sort of a parody —
John: I have the book.
Craig: Yeah, it’s great. She is amazing. And David Kwong, my favorite magician, and Chris Miller of Lord and Miller. So we go with a bunch people, Melisa goes, and they’re great. They’re so much fun but, you know, they’re hard.
John: They’re hard.
Craig: They’re hard. We did get out of one of them in almost record time. I felt good about that.
John: Very nice. And that concludes our episode of Scriptnotes. So if you would like to subscribe to Scriptnotes, please go over to iTunes and click subscribe and while you’re there leave a comment. It helps other people find our show which is lovely. Show notes for this episode and all episodes are at johnaugust.com/podcast or /scriptnotes, that’ll work fine. Scriptnotes.net is where you go for all those back episodes, all the way back to episode one plus bonus episodes like the live Three Page Challenge we did in Austin and the Drew Goddard episode. If you would like to send us a note, Twitter is the best place for short messages, I am @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. For longer messages, write into email@example.com. Our outro this week is by Matthew Chilelli who also edited the show. Thank you, Matthew. Our show is produced, as always, by Stuart Friedel. And that is it. Craig, thank you again.
Craig: Thanks, John.
- The Austin Film Festival
- Sign up for a premium subscription at scriptnotes.net for access to bonus episodes, like this week’s 2015 Austin Three Page Challenge and John’s interview with Drew Goddard
- Man Up on Wikipedia and Apple Trailers, and writer Tess Morris on IMDb and Twitter
- 2015 Nicholl Screenwriting Awards: Andrew Friedhof on YouTube
- Follow John’s progress on his NaNoWriMo profile
- Los Angeles Times on Melissa Mathison
- Against Subtlety from Slate
- Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener on Project Gutenberg, and the interactive, annotated version from Slate
- The Room Three from Fireproof Games
- Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)