The original post for this episode can be found here.
Craig Mazin: Hi. This is Craig. If you’re in the car with your children or at home with your children, you may not want to play this episode too close to their delicate little ears. We’re going to be using some bad language, some R-rated language. John asked me to do this warning this time because he was concerned that usually when he does it, people think at first that I might have died, but I didn’t. I’m alive. Now get your kids out of the room.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 225 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast, we have Tess Morris, the writer of Man Up, and she’s here to talk with us about romantic comedies. And we’re so excited because we just saw her movie and it’s really great. And so everyone can see her movie but we can also talk about the thing that her movie is which is a romantic comedy and it’s not a shame to be a romantic comedy.
Craig, you just watched it so I know you have so many things you want to say to Tess.
Craig: Fresh in my mind, the tears have just dried on my freshly bearded cheeks.
John: Yeah, people might have a chance to see that beard on December 9th. We’re doing our live show in Los Angeles.
Craig: Segue Man.
John: Hi, I’m Segue Man. Natasha Leggero, Riki Lindhome, and Malcolm Spellman will be our guests for that show along with some other folks who are not quite confirmed yet, but who I think are going to be fantastic.
People have been writing in with questions, questions like is there a Three Page Challenge at this live Scriptnotes? No, there’s not. Do I need to reserve a specific seat? And my belief is that no, it is general admission. But the most important question is, where can I get a ticket? And the tickets are available at the Writers Guild Foundation website, wgfoundation.org. They are $20. The proceeds benefit the great programs of the Writers Guild Foundation.
So you should come see us because as we’re recording this, we’re more than halfway sold out. So we might be sold out by the time you listen to this. You should probably pause the podcast right now and get yourself a ticket to the live show.
Craig: Fools, fools for waiting.
John: They are fools.
Craig: I mean do they not know that we’re the Jon Bon Jovis of podcasting?
John: Yeah. I mean the younger people might not even know what that reference is but, you know, they might think that is important.
Craig: Hey, kids. We’re the Jon Bon Jovis of podcasting. If that doesn’t motivate you, you’re right, we’re old.
John: Yeah, Wikipedia that. In the mail bag this week, a couple of questions came in about Amazon Storywriter. Do you know what Amazon Storywriter is?
Craig: Not only do I know what it is. I went and actually fiddled with it even though you suggested on Twitter that I never would, I already had, by that point.
John: Congratulations, Craig.
Craig: Thank you.
John: So what did you think of Amazon Storywriter? Or do you want to describe what it is for people?
Craig: Well, as far as I could tell, I mean I didn’t go in-depth, but it appears that Amazon has created their own screenwriting software. So it’s basically a word processor that formats automatically in our screenwriting format. All the standard stuff. It’s Courier. It’s got all of your basic elements. And it works pretty much like they all do, combination of tab and return.
And it’s free and it’s Cloud based so everything saves on their servers and then you can then very easily pipe it through to their Amazon Studio thing for submissions. Also, it does export to FDX which is the Final Draft format. This whole thing by the way, side note, Final Draft I believe, I believe that company is going to die. The format will survive and I hope that we eventually kill that format too because it’s nasty, but the format will survive.
Anyway, back to this. It actually worked quite nicely. I mean, it’s not fully featured in terms of revisions and production work and all the rest of it but it was quite elegant. It worked very nice. It was smooth, looked nice.
John: Yeah. So you say it uses tab and return but really it’s more like — it’s based on Fountain, which is the format that I co-created the syntax, so you’re just typing in plain text and it’s interpreting what you’re doing and figuring out what the different pieces and parts are. And that part actually worked reasonably well.
Craig: Wait, Amazon stole your shit?
John: Didn’t steal it. Actually, it’s a public format that we created called Fountain.
Craig: They don’t have to even acknowledge that they took it?
John: No, no. That’s what open source is. It’s like it’s out there in the world for the world to use. And so their implementation of it is actually pretty good except they left out some kind of important things like bolds or italics or centering.
Craig: Yeah, I noticed that I couldn’t bold slug lines, and also I couldn’t, like there’s no way to automatically set it. So for instance, I like to have two line breaks before a new scene header, and it didn’t seem like that was automatable.
John: Yeah, that’s not automatable yet. So it does some of the stuff that Highland does where you can throw a PDF at it and it will melt it down and bring it out as plain text so you can edit. So that’s kind of nice. It’s just trying to do a lot of things that Highland is trying to do or that Slugline is trying to do or really any of the other screenwriting apps are trying to do and it does an okay job with it. It’s all online. It’s free-ish.
I don’t really think that many people are going to use it in any meaningful capacity. Though I think you’re going to have a lot of people who write like two scenes in it and then never touch it again. That’s my hunch.
Craig: We’ll find out. I mean listen, you know, my whole thing is, I’m basically rooting for whoever Final Draft is playing against so if it doesn’t hurt anybody, I’m all for it. I mean I still think that there are better options. I get very squirmy about the Cloud based option. Just the idea that it’s only Cloud based, I know that you can export it and save it locally but I don’t like it so much.
John: Yeah, we’ll see what happens. Next bit of follow up in the mail bag is from Pam. And Pam writes, I have this one-woman crusade. It’s futile, but I persevere nonetheless. I would love if people would stop using the word dick derogatorily. My dad’s name is Dick. He’s an amazing, wonderful, caring man. One of the most important people in my life. Whenever I hear people using the word dick pejoratively, it hurts me on his behalf. You guys use it a lot especially this [laughs] — that’s the voice of Tess Morris breaking through, not even —
Craig: [Laughs] Tess, you’re not even on the show yet. You have to wait for your spot.
Tess Morris: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Craig: I’m glad you’re here.
John: It feels like it’s been increasing exponentially in film lately actually. Craig, what is your opinion of the word dick?
Craig: It’s one of my favorite words. It’s weird but this whole thing is basically delusional except for this one moment of awesome clarity where she says, “I realize it’s futile.” Yes, Pam, it’s futile. The word dick exists simultaneously as both a pejorative for penis or a person who’s a penis-like person.
Tess: Thanks for clearing that up, Craig.
Craig: Right. Or it is short for Richard. Your dad’s name is Dick. I know a lot of guys named Dick and they’re cool guys. And I mean Dick Cook was a beloved executive at Disney. Everybody loves him still. And the thing is, if your dad, trust me when I tell you, whatever pain you’re feeling on his behalf, he’s heard it way worse, way worse. If he’s made it all the way to this stage of his life, I’m assuming that he’s at least middle age, if not older, and he’s still going by Dick, this is a hardened man. He’s going to be fine. He knows the world isn’t going to stop using the word dick. That’s crazy.
Tess: My dad’s called Richard.
John: Oh, yeah. And is he okay?
Tess: He’s fine. He’s absolutely fine. But also, I think one of my favorite quotes ever from a film is 37 Dicks from Clarks, you know. “Was it 36 dicks?” When he finds out how many dicks that his girlfriend —
Tess: Has and he just can’t get it out of his head, can he?
Tess: And it always makes me laugh.
Craig: I think that dick is a great counterbalance to some of the pejorative words that we toss on people that are related to female genitalia. Dick is our kind of cool balanced way of saying, no, no, no, if you’re called either male or female genitalia, we’re saying we don’t like you.
John: Yeah. Going back to Pam’s dad. I feel like —
John: The challenge is how we —
Craig: You mean Dick?
Tess: You mean Dick.
Tess: We don’t know Dick.
John: We don’t know him at all. And so Pam —
Craig: Some of us know him more than others.
John: Pam’s objection to us using the word dick pejoratively, well, it’s been used his entire life anatomically. And the anatomic thing is probably actually worse or sort of more annoying than pejoratively because I think when we’re saying dick, we’re saying like don’t be a dick.
Tess: It’s quite a British word I must say. I don’t hear it that much.
John: Oh, yeah? We use dick all the time.
Tess: Yeah, I hear it much more at home.
John: Craig and I are both Anglophiles. So we try to be British.
Tess: Where did it come from? I mean what is the dick?
John: I don’t know.
Tess: What is it? We should find out.
Craig: You know what I love is, in England, I love spotted dick. I mean I don’t love the actual food. I just love that it’s called spotted dick.
Tess: Yes. Yeah.
Craig: Sounds like a venereal disease. I love that.
Tess: Yeah, it’s a pudding or dessert as you call it.
Craig: It’s a pudding or dessert. Exactly. Like would you like some spotted dick? Absolutely not.
Craig: Nobody, by the way nobody, I don’t care how much you love dick, if it’s got spots on it, you don’t, you just don’t. By the way, Pam’s realizing now this is backfired terribly. Look, Pam —
Tess: Pam’s regretting it.
Craig: It’s just funny. What are you going to do? Funny is funny. I’m sorry that you’re hurt. You need to get over this. You need to accept that this is the world and nobody is going after your dad. And I think if you talk to your dad about it, he would probably say, “Pam, I love you. You’re awesome. Thank you for caring about me but it will be okay. We’re good. We’re good.”
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Tess: I like that this is how we started though.
John: Yeah, this is very important, your introduction to the podcast was discussion over dick.
Tess: Thank you. My laugh about dicks.
John: Last week’s episode, we talked about Whiplash. And so we had a bunch of listeners writing in with different things. One of the questions was good and maybe you will have an opinion on this as well, Tess. We talked on the podcast about there was a scene that was around a big dining room table and how scenes around tables are actually much more difficult to film than you would think they would be because you have to match so many eye lines and angles that it actually just takes forever to do.
And so listeners wrote in to ask, what are other scenes that you think would be really easy to shoot but end up being like really difficult to shoot?
Tess: Ooh, that’s a good one.
John: Craig, do you have any thoughts about scenes that are deceptively difficult to shoot?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, you listed a couple of great ones. I mean the ones that are I think most deceptive are montages of any kind.
Tess: I was just about to say a montage, yeah.
Craig: Yeah, because a montage is like shooting 20 minutes. It’s basically the work equivalent of shooting 20 minutes of finished scenes for 30 or 40 seconds. And of course the stupidest, meaning the most work inefficient montage of all time, I still maintain was Allen’s flashback in Hangover 2 where he remembered all those events, but as they were all children so we had to film a montage twice but with children.
Tess: I think the easiest montage is probably the Rocky montages, though. I imagine that they were not stressful to film.
John: No. But I think looking back at your movie, Man Up , there’s one —
Tess: Two montages.
Tess: Montage, montage.
John: Yeah, montages.
Craig: Deux montage.
John: Deux montage.
Craig: Deux montage.
John: So I was thinking there’s a montage in which they’re bowling and that’s actually a fairly — and you’re shooting a scene, so it’s a bunch of different little setups.
John: But you’re all in one place. The really killer montages are things that look like it’s just two-eighths of a page on your script but you’re going to a whole bunch of different locations.
Tess: Yeah, we did that for the second one. The first one was the bowling one that we shot that the first week of filming as well and we just played loads of loud rock music and got Simon and Lake to, you know, get on down. But the one when she does the triathlon through the streets of SoHo, that was quite tricky.
Craig: And that one looks so, it’s just like, okay, she’s running down a street, she turns down an alley, swims through some bachelorette party girls, then asks a guy for his bike then bikes on over. It’s like, yeah, it goes by —
John: That was probably two nights of filming.
Tess: That was, I think it was two nights, we had to obviously shoot — Lake had a stunt, well, also a funny story. The bit where Simon like legs her in the taxi with her, she’s our taxi driver, a stunt taxi driver actually crashed into the car in front of him during filming.
Tess: So that delayed things slightly.
John: It does. So montages are a time suck. He goes to over the window is my example. So like you’re in a scene and then like characters just move around in a room. You’re like, oh, the characters are moving around the room, but you don’t realize until you actually need to film one of those things is that like once a character has moved over from this place to that place, all the other angles in the room have changed and, you know, you may be crossing a line. There’s complicated things that may have happened because those characters have shifted their position.
And it may be the right choice to have those characters move around, but it’s taking up extra time. That’s why you sort of, you know, instinctively love to have characters just like find a place and park.
John: Because it saves you time and geography problems.
Craig: Yeah. You’ll sometimes and this is something that DPs will, it’s fun watching DPs and first ADs fight because of course the first AD is like shoot it as fast as you can and the DP is like, “I want it to look great.” A lot of times for things like this, you know, you have a scene of people in a room, and that’s your master and then you start covering it, but if somebody moves and changes position, well you need to — now you need a new master, and new coverage. So what they’ll do is they’ll lay down some track and as the person moves, they’ll move the camera along the track and so they’re repositioning their master as they go and then they try and do on the opposite side the same thing so they can reposition their coverage as they go.
Sometimes it doesn’t work and then yeah, you’ve screwed yourself especially if somebody goes to the window and looks out the window.
Tess: Oh, no.
Craig: Oh my God, now you got to be outside looking up at them looking out and you got to see their POV, you got to be pointing it down. Ugh.
Tess: Talking of tracking in two shots. What nearly didn’t, well we did — our DP, he’s called Andrew Dunn. He’s incredible. If you look him up on IMDb, he’s just got the most brilliant, eclectic CV. And him and our director, Ben Palmer, knew that they wanted to shoot everything with two shot, absolutely everything so we got all those little comedy reactions that you really need obviously in a romantic comedy, but we nearly didn’t get Waterloo Station because it was so tricky to film there. And then our DP went down there with the director and just was like, “Okay, we can do this, but we’re going to do it at 3AM in the morning with 50 extras and we’ll have a tracking thing and we’ll just move with them the whole way through right up until she’s under the clock.” So otherwise it would have been like with — I think us and Bourne are the only two films to have shot in Waterloo Station.
Craig: I know, it’s actually amazing because when — it’s such a different scene.
Tess: What are you talking about? Bourne is very similar.
Craig: I mean, I just love the total — I mean — but it’s the same setting, and it actually looks different because it’s a different scene. I don’t know. It’s just a funny thing.
Tess: Well, he goes up all into the scene.
Well, he’s all angles. Like everything in that scene is all sniper angles. Like either it’s you’re looking up where the sniper is going to go or you’re looking down at the sniper and this thing is all eyes and misconnections and straight aheads and so.
Tess: We didn’t need a sniper. Yeah but I like that that might go down in sort of Wikipedia facts.
John: The two movies shot there. The last thing that comes to mind for me that seems really simple but is actually really complicated or at least requires complicated decisions is anything with driving. So usually with driving, you have two choices. You can have a real car, or you can green screen it. And so green screening it saves you a lot of time because you can park it on a sound stage, and just shoot whatever angles you want to shoot and then just like put the windows in in post. And a lot of things do that these days and they do it so well that you don’t really notice.
Tess: Yeah, I mean nowadays you don’t know the difference, yeah.
John: It looks so much better.
John: So that’s often a good choice and sometimes it just means like not moving around. So the other choice is to put the car either on a trailer or really drive an actual car and mount the cameras to the car and that can look more realistic but it also limits your ability to move around in the car. The thing you also realize once you actually have to start putting cameras on actors in a cars is that there’s a limited number of ways that you can get both actors into a shot or to sort of cut back and forth between reactions. So that’s a reason why don’t you see movies that have a lot of time in the car.
Or you see rare exceptions of movies like that Tom Hardy movie which was entirely in the car.
Tess: In the car, yeah. I always think about Thelma and Louise, and I think about those driving shots because I always wanted to know how they did that. I’m sure there is a behind the scenes document.
John: But there’s a really good reason why they were driving a convertible.
John: They could get shots —
Tess: Keeps it open, yeah. But it’s also very cool as well.
John: It’s very cool, yeah.
Craig: Yeah. Most of your road trip movies at some point or another, I mean, nowadays, you will do a lot of it with green screen. It saves you a ton money and time and effort. You can go so much faster. It’s brutal shooting processed cars where either they’re on a flat bed or you’re driving ahead of them and the actor is actually driving just because you got to do an entire take. You need a run of road. You have to have the cops shut it off. There’s noise. But, there’s nothing like it for the reality of getting in and driving and getting out, you know. So you build an enormous amount of time for those things and enormous expense beyond it. Driving, to me, is number one. The thing that seems the simplest and is the most annoying.
Tess: It’s almost like a movie is quite hard to make isn’t it?
John: Yeah, you think so. I think writers never quite appreciate.
Craig: Well, here’s another question that we got in from Brian from Syracuse. And he writes, “After following along with this week’s script to screen exercises involving Whiplash, and hearing you guys quickly discuss how both scenes really underline the dramatic arguments posed both in the micro sense of the individual scenes and in the macro sense of the entire film, I was wondering if it might be possible for you to elaborate a little more on the subject and maybe provide a couple of examples how these types of scenes pertain to your own films. Do you usually have the dramatic argument of the entire film and then look for a way to include a scene that specifically addresses or accentuates this argument/conflict?” Brian —
Tess: It’s a long question.
Craig: Yeah. But you know, like he put a lot of thought into that question. I appreciate it.
Tess: Yeah, it’s a good question.
John: I would say that in my experience, I won’t necessarily know what the dramatic question or argument of the film is as I’m starting to write it, but it’s there already. Like, it’s the reason why I’m writing the movie and it’s sort of central to the DNA of the movie. And so that if I’ve picked the right movie and I’m approaching it from the right way, that central question — that central theme kind of permeates every scene regardless. And so, if a scene isn’t about that central question, it’s just not going to last in the script, it won’t last in the movie.
Tess: Yeah. I would say, it usually takes me the first draft to find my axiom — my central axiom.
Craig: Good word.
Tess: Thank you. I know especially because I write mainly romantic comedies, you are sort of always wanting to look for the bigger question for your leads or your leading lady or leading man. So I think — yeah, at the moment, I’m writing something, I remember I got my axiom about two drafts in which was when is the right time to meet someone, is there a right time to meet someone, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, I think mine comes about as I get into the — probably the same as you, really. I have to get into it a bit.
Craig: I think I’m a little different than you guys.
Tess: Of course, you are, Craig. You got to be different.
Craig: Yeah. Well, I mostly just ask what you two do and then I think, “Do the opposite.” I do try and start before I begin crafting scenes, I do need to know. It doesn’t have to stay this one. It can change and evolve. But I need to at least begin with some central question because I need to know that my character believes the opposite of that central question. And I need to start designing scenes — and he said, like, do you look for a way to include a scene that specifically addresses? Yeah. I try and design scenes to test the character and lead them towards the truth or punish them for —
And by the way, your movie does this beautifully. Like, every time — like, I always talk about two steps forward one step back. Your character moves towards something, the possibility of an entirely opposite way of living, and for a moment it’s working and then you punish them. This is exactly how I approach these things. So I do need to kind of know. And over time, the question might change and thus the scenes might change. It’s just hard for me to start unless I have something there to build off of.
Tess: I mean I have — I think with Man Up, because I wrote that on spec. And I really did know, probably from the very beginning, I knew what I wanted to say about life. But then I need to — what I have to do — Philip Seymour Hoffman had a really good quote which was that writers need to fill up and then they can kind of write. And I think I sort of — I have to take a few more years to fill up again, to write again, if that makes sense. Because I sort of put everything into one script. It’s not very financially a good thing to be.
John: That’s not a viable strategy.
Tess: Yes. It’s not a viable strategy.
John: I was watching a friend’s cut of his movie. And it was a very early cut and so it was a place where a lot of stuff was still fungible and could change. And this idea of stating your central dramatic question, that’s I think my underlying note for him was that I had never heard any of the characters articulate what the movie was about.
Tess: Yeah, But you sometimes think as well, I mean I’m so into that. But I do sometimes think as well that you have to — when you’re just starting your first draft, I think there’s also opportunities to not be so sort of like regimented with yourself as well. Because I think newer writers sometimes say to me, you know, “I know exactly what’s it about.” And I’m like, “Oh, you know exactly what it’s about and you haven’t even started to write it yet.” You know, like, I think sometimes, especially if you’re writing in a comedic sense as well, like it can suddenly jump up at you what you actually were trying to say within a scene and then you go, “Oh, great. Now, it is thematic. Hooray.”
Craig: I think it’s fair to say, “I know exactly what it’s about for now.”
Tess: Yes, that’s totally fair. Yeah. But then allow yourself the freedom to you know —
Craig: Always. Always.
John: I think what I’m trying to articulate is that it’s good that you know what it’s about. But if you’re not letting any of your characters speak to the theme —
Tess: Oh, yes.
John: Or speak to what it’s about or actually ask the question, or take actions that invite the question, then maybe you’re missing an opportunity.
Tess: Yeah. Sometimes I put the actual question in. But then you realize that you’ve put it maybe in the wrong scene or at the wrong time. And then you’ll get to the point where you go, oh actually now I can have them say that.
John: Yeah. We talked in the last episode about how sometimes you will overwrite a little bit knowing that you can always pull it back.
Tess: I overwrite so much.
John: But it’s very hard to sort of put stuff back in the movie if you didn’t actually shoot it. And so having a character state the central thematic question may be a really good idea. And if it becomes too obvious, you can always find a way to snip out but it’s going to be very hard to stick back it in.
Tess: We thought long and hard about whether he should actually — anyone should actually say the phrase, “Man up,” in Man Up. And then I went for it but I went with the man saying it to the woman rather than the way around. But it was a real sort of thing about do we actually say the title of the film?
John: So everyone clapped when —
Tess: Yeah, everyone cheered, like, “Yay — “
John: “He said the title.”
Craig: They did it. They know they’re in this movie.
Tess: They know they’re in the film acting.
Craig: Are you familiar with the Book of Mormon?
Tess: I haven’t seen it, you know. And I need to see it. I’m probably the only person in the world who hasn’t seen it.
John: I’m probably the only person in the world who has not seen Hamilton.
Craig: Well, I’m going to see Hamilton.
Tess: I’m obsessed with that.
Craig: Oh, it’s the greatest.
John: Man up.
Tess: But you haven’t seen it yet?
Craig: Man up is the —
Tess: Man Up the musical which I would like to do, obviously, next year because I think it could work really well as a musical.
Craig: You want to do Man Up as a musical?
Tess: I’d love to do it as a musical. Do you want to do it with me, Craig?
Craig: I don’t know. I like it as a movie. I don’t think —
Tess: Yeah. Give it five years.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t see — I don’t think it needs music.
Tess: No, that’s true. But I just like the idea of doing it. Come on, humor me.
Craig: Let’s just make a new musical.
Tess: That’s true. Okay.
John: There’s a dance fight in Man Up and that would work very well on the stage.
Tess: And you know, it’s quite a chamber piece of a film, two-hander.
John: It’s a heightened chamber piece, and that’s a musical.
Tess: It is. Thank you.
John: Aaron writes, “I really appreciated your most recent episode discussing Whiplash. I totally agree about your take that Fletcher obviously offers Andrew the performance slot in order to embarrass and ruin him. But would Fletcher really put his reputation further on the line to ruin Andrew? Especially since Andrew was nowhere on the scene anymore, not at the conservatory, not playing clubs, nobody knew who Andrew was, and certainly nobody in the music community.
“He would be ruining a non-entity who already seemed to have given up. And yet Fletcher decides to get his revenge on this guy in a public performance at New York’s largest jazz festival in an ensemble he’s conducting. Sure Andrew would look terrible, but Fletcher is the person standing at the forefront of the crowd. He’s already lost his job, his reputation remains intact enough that he was asked to lead this ensemble performance, and now he’s out to give a crap performance. I just had trouble seeing him as that selfless in his vengeance. To sacrifice himself and his reputation in order to embarrass someone nobody knows.”
I thought that was a really interesting point. I never really thought about Fletcher’s choice to set up Andrew at the end. We’re spoiling the movie Whiplash for you.
Tess: Spoiler alert.
John: It is really an interesting idea that like Fletcher is going into this knowing he’s going to publicly embarrass himself, but he’s going to get a lot of blowback from that himself. If things go as disastrously as it seems like they’re going to go.
Tess; Yeah. I mean I don’t remember feeling — I remember just feeling so like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards in a good way after I saw that film. You know what I mean, I don’t know what you guys said about it last week because I unfortunately haven’t listened yet, but I will listen obviously.
John: Leave the room immediately.
Tess: Leave the room immediately. No. But I mean, it’s so visceral the whole film. There are things that you can pick apart. I understand why he’s questioning that. But in my heart of hearts, it’s such a film about being bullying and this whole journey that actually because he is such a bully, I kind of do believe that that’s sort of part of his awful journey. Do you know what I mean?
Craig: Yeah. There’s no way — let me offer our listening audience some certainty. There is absolutely no way that the intention there was that the character of Fletcher rigged the whole thing to bring some great performance out of Andrew. He absolutely did that.
Tess: Yeah, exactly.
Craig: He did that to humiliate Andrew and punish him because he truly believed Andrew had cost him his job and he was a revengeful bad person. And you can tell because Simmons’ performance shows joy, true sadistic joy at ruining him.
Tess: Yeah. Exactly, yeah.
Craig: And then also shows absolute shock when Andrew comes back and starts doing what he’s doing. And then epiphany when Andrew becomes something. And that is not the performance of somebody who goes, “Good. This is what I wanted to happen.”
Tess: It’s so incredible that performance because you still like him. It’s bizarre, isn’t it?
John: Yeah. So I loved Aaron’s phrase of selfless vengeance. I just think that’s a great, you know — it honestly was circling back to the question of the central dramatic argument. Is there such a thing as selfless vengeance? Because Fletcher is not acting in his own best interest at the moment. Like vengeance is actually kind of never in your own best interest. A rational person would never probably seek vengeance.
Tess: Rare. Well, Craig is —
John: I mean, is vengeance only emotional or can vengeance be intellectual as well?
Tess: I think it can be intellectual. I think you can play the long game in terms of vengeance.
Craig: You see, what’s going on here, John, is that you have a full Jew and a half of a Jew.
Tess: Oh, God. Yeah. Exactly.
Craig: Both of us are like, no, no, long term vengeance is part of our culture.
Tess: It’s part of our life.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. It’s what our parents did to us. I think that vengeance is always selfish. It can be self-destructive, but it’s selfish.
Tess: I think in the creative sense it can be very liberating. You know, write who you know, not what you know. So you know, I think there are times when it can be incredibly helpful. But it shouldn’t be to your own detriment or anyone else’s detriment. You know, you should just be secretly vengeful.
Craig: Well, we all know as writers that it’s fun to write characters who are looking for vengeance. And we also know that characters who are obsessed with revenge either die in the fire of their own self-destruction or finally let it go. We all know that’s kind of that’s the deal.
Tess: Yeah, it’s the journey.
Craig: Yeah, that’s the journey. And I’m amazed all the time at how many times I will meet writers who behave in ways that they would never allow their characters to behave. It’s like they haven’t learned those lessons at all.
Tess: It’s bizarre behavior, but we are all weirdos, that’s the other problem isn’t it? Most writers are —
Craig: You have no idea.
Tess: We have issues. So we write about them and then we pretend that we’re okay afterwards.
Craig: We’re not.
John: So Tess Morris, tell us about your issues. Maybe that’s a good segue into —
Craig: Segue Man.
John: Talking about romantic comedies. So our special guest who’s not said a word yet in this whole episode —
Craig: Yeah, who’s just rolled over tradition, steam-rolled.
John: Is Tess Morris, she’s the writer of —
Tess: Hi, I’ve been here for a while, yeah.
John: She’s the writer of Man Up, a new romantic comedy which you can see on demand now everywhere.
Tess: Yes. In theaters this weekend, wider, this is my pro language that I’m using.
John: Yeah, nice.
Tess: Thank you. In about ten or 12 cities, I think, LA, Grand Rapids, which really excited me.
John: Grand Rapids, Michigan. Come on.
Tess: Houston, Dallas. Yeah, but on demand as well on your special iTunes box.
Tess: To purchase.
John: This is a romantic comedy starring Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. And it is just delightful. So I saw it at the Austin Film Festival.
Tess: I was so excited that you sat behind me but I was also obviously really nervous. I was like, “Oh, shit. John August.”
John: It was really quite funny. And Craig just saw it through the magic of Internet connection.
Craig: But I knew that it was going to be good because my wife, Missy, went with you, John.
Tess: She did.
Craig: To see the movie and she loved it, loved it, loved it, and cried a lot.
Tess: She’s a big laugher. I loved her a lot.
Craig: Yes. She’s a big laugher, she’s a big crier. That’s why I married her, for the emotional extremes.
John: And the critics seemed to have laughed and cried in appropriate numbers. And it’s certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so congratulations on that.
Tess: We are certified Fresh.
Craig: I don’t care about that. You know that I actually hate that.
John: Do you have questions for Tess about what it’s like to get reviews like that?
Craig: No. I have no interest. I don’t care. I hope that you choke on those reviews. No.
Tess: Oh, you know what, we only remember the bad ones as well.
Craig: Well, of course the only review that I care about is my review.
Craig: My review.
Tess: It’s the only one I care about for you, Craig, about Man Up, as well.
Craig: It’s the only one of my reviews that you care about is my review.
Tess: Yes, your own review.
Craig: Well, I loved it.
John: So Tess, as you were introducing this movie at the festival up on stage, you talked about how this was a romantic comedy and people shouldn’t talk shit about romantic comedies.
Tess: Yes, I did.
John: So tell us about romantic comedies and what do you even mean by romantic comedies?
Tess: Well, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because ever since I wrote this film and it got made, I’ve become like the spokesperson for defending the whole entire genre. My big thing with it is that people sort of dismiss it so quickly. Like no other genre in the history of film. It’s quite a strange phenomenon that people are all, “I don’t like romantic comedies.” Or “Rom-coms are dead.” Or “Rom-coms are alive.” And et cetera, et cetera.
And I find that incredibly frustrating because there have been some brilliant ones in the last sort of 10 years or so. And I think also what happens is when they win awards, they’re suddenly not romantic comedies. So Silver Linings Playbook and As Good As It Gets and those kinds of, you know, brilliant movies.
I mean when you talk about romantic comedy, you’re just — you’re talking about something that has probably I’d say 72 percent — 68 percent comedy ,and the rest is romance. If you take your central love story out of the film and it falls apart, then you don’t have a romantic comedy, you know well you do have a romantic comedy on your hands rather. And I just adore them as a genre and I always have and I like all the ones, the hybrids. Like I love Romancing the Stone, the ones that are like the action rom-coms.
So I wonder if Long Kiss Goodnight is technically a rom-com? No, it’s not — her and Samuel L. Jackson, it’s not, that was a stretch. But yeah and I mean I love Sideways which is a rom-com between two men and I love Bridesmaids which is a rom-com between two women and Muriel’s Wedding. And I think like people sometimes forget that they’re watching one, and the art of a good one is that you don’t realize sometimes that you are as well. So yeah I’ve become sort of like this strange irritating person that constantly is like “I like rom-coms” and get annoyed when people you know say that they don’t.
Craig: I think you’re making a terrific point because I don’t — I personally love rom-coms, I mean and I really agree with your point that what we think of as romantic comedy is across almost every comedy genre. Identity Thief is a rom — it’s like an asexual rom-com, it’s like a platonic rom-com.
Tess: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: And I happen to love the genre and I miss it. I don’t know what went wrong exactly but and maybe we can figure out why —
Tess: I think I can tell you, yeah. I can tell you what went wrong actually.
Craig: Okay, what went wrong?
Tess: Well and it’s — and this is not me talking, this is me using the voice of Billy Mernit who’s a good, brilliant friend of mine and also wrote this book called “Writing the Romantic Comedy” which I’m addicted to and obsessed by because it’s the one book on screenwriting that I’ve read that just really inspired me and unlocked lots of structural points for me and thematic things. But I had a big chat with him about this. And he works for Universal actually, is a story editor, and he was saying that essentially what happened in the sort of late 90s, early ’00s, is that they had these huge hits with you know, the kind of Katherine Heigl set of vehicles and made loads of money, the studios made a ton of money.
But then they essentially killed the golden goose because they then started to make identical versions of those films, just probably like they do with most genres but for a longer time period with romantic comedies, which caused everyone to say the romantic comedy is dead which only really people started saying in the late ’90s early ’00s, before then, you know you didn’t really talk about it like that because they have such a rich history of movies that are romantic comedies. So I think there was just this you know, lazy time period where everyone started to say that and now people just resort back to that whenever there’s a new one they go, “Oh the rom-com is alive,” or something bombed at the box office, “It’s dead.” It’s like, give it a break.
John: Christopher Orr had an article called Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad, and the sub-head is, the long decline from Katharine Hepburn to Katherine Heigl, which I thought was —
Tess: It’s a great — it’s click bait — it’s a great title, great headline, but it’s not true.
Craig: Good anger. Anger.
John: Anger. We like that.
Tess: Can you feel it?
Craig: Umbrage. Umbrage.
John: We’ve got dual umbrage in this episode.
Craig: Vengeance will be ours.
John: But he actually raised some interesting points in terms of what has changed. And one of the points he brought up was that actors will sometimes do one romantic comedy and they’ll just stop —
John: Because they don’t want to be pigeon-holed as doing that, so you look at Will Smith in Hitch, who was fantastic in Hitch.
Tess: He’s great in it. Yeah.
John: It’s a great romantic comedy and he will not do anymore of them. You look at Julia Roberts and she made her start in romantic comedy but didn’t want to keep doing that so they want to do serious roles and —
Tess: Although I read an interview with her recently that said if she read a good one for a woman who was whoever old Julia, lovely Julia is now, I’d happily write you one, because I love her. Yeah, I mean I don’t know whether that’s because they feel like they don’t have as much integrity. I mean comedy as a whole thing and you all know this, both of you from writing yourself, that it doesn’t ever get the kudos that any other line of craft does.
Craig: No. It’s crazy.
Tess: And I would argue that to write comedy is far harder that to write drama overall.
Craig: Because you’re right.
John: So, a theory I want to posit is that part of the reason why it’s looked down upon is because almost definitionally a romantic comedy is going to have one woman in it, and like one prominent actress who has a major role in the movie. And we sort of don’t want to write for women anymore — or we don’t want to make the movies for women anymore.
Tess: Yeah, but I mean It’s so weird because I’ve done so many interviews about Man Up and someone ask me the other day, “Oh is your character a hot mess?” And I was like, “Oh piss off, she’s not a hot mess. She is a messy person.”
Tess: Who’s just going through some stuff and I think —
John: And she’s literally a very messy person —
Tess: Yeah literally a messy person. And I think also like you could switch the roles in Man Up and very easily either/or could play you know man or female roles. I do worry when people sort of think that there aren’t still stories about sort of romance to tell, because especially in the modern world.
Craig: I actually feel like were telling romance in every genre now. Part of what’s happened is everything — it doesn’t matter what it is.
Tess: And actually it’s too much, yeah.
Craig: Yeah, like no matter what the genre is, even if it’s like a wrestling movie, there has to be some sort of love story.
Tess: Or a Marvel movie.
Craig: Yeah by the way exactly, superhero movies like Ironman has to have Gwyneth Paltrow in a romance story. And we put romance into everything.
Tess: You know what, someone said to me recently that Superman wasn’t about his love for Lois Lane, and I got so angry.
Craig: Right well from the start —
Tess: That’s all that the film is about.
Craig: By the way that’s all Superman is about like —
Craig: I’m going to get some more angry letters, I don’t like Superman. I like that relationship. And I think It’s a really good relationship story and I don’t care about his powers but —
Tess: But it’s not a rom-com to be fair.
Craig: No, It’s not a rom-com, but I do think that we actually are more interested now, it seems to me in writing comedies for women that we have been in a long, long time. There are really prominent female comediennes that are stars now, whether it’s Tina Fey or Melissa McCarthy —
Tess: Kristen Wiig, yeah.
Craig: We’re getting a lot of them and — but were not doing the traditional romantic comedies in the sense maybe there’s a vague feeling that they’re old fashioned but I disagree. I don’t think they — I think that they are old-fashioned only in the sense that movies used to be awesome and like I thought what Man Up reminded of is a good — a movie like the kind they used to make and that’s not to say stodgy or old but —
Tess: No, no I take that as a huge compliment because that’s what I — the screwball kind of element and the kind of classic structure and whenever I read the bad reviews which I obviously I always do. Whenever I read the ones that say “Oh God It’s just like so obvious,” I’m like, no, you’ve totally missed the point like we’re embracing all the tropes because that’s what any good genre film does, embraces them but then turns them into — gives them your own sort of angle on it. So —
John: Let’s talk about the tropes because I think that’s actually one of the things that people sort of single out romantic comedies for, it’s like “Oh these tropes,” and we sort of slam on these tropes. So let’s talk about tropes. The meet-cute, is that —
Tess: Yeah, yeah I mean like — I mean there’s technically you know, seven —
John: Oh my gosh, there’s seven tropes —
Tess: Well they’re not really tropes, actually that’s wrong they’re more like the beats of a rom-com.
Craig: Can I try? I don’t know them I just want to take a stab at it.
Tess: Do it.
Craig: Okay. I’m going to start with a woman who is single and vaguely unhappy with her life.
Tess: Can be a man as well. Woody Allen.
Craig: Correct, I’m just going with the — I’m going to do the female version.
Tess: Do it.
Craig: She has given up on — she’s tried to — she’s gone through bad relationships and is about to give up.
Craig: There’s a meet-cute — so far so good — there’s a meet-cute where she or he runs into a person and they have sparks but they aren’t — the circumstances are such that they can’t just say fall in love. There are circumstantial things that are keeping them apart, obstacles.
Tess: All together. Yeah.
Craig: Good exactly. But they then start to — they go through a honeymoon phase where things are kind of exciting and they both think is it possible that this person, nah, we’re just friends, it couldn’t be, so they’re like kind of moving towards and away from each other out of fear because there’s a problem — the problem that they had in the beginning of the movie isn’t resolved. There’s a lie that one of them tells —
Craig: They get caught in the lie, they break up, and in the breaking up they return back to the world they started in, but no longer find that world satisfying and then one of them goes running.
Tess: I would give you a B-minus.
Craig: Okay, the B — by the way B-minus is not a bad grade because I never — I mean, you know — what did I — tell me where I went wrong and tell me what I left out.
Tess: No you didn’t, It’s all there really, I mean essentially what you’re talking about in terms of the girl who’s single — I’ll talk about Billy Mernit’s beats because that’s how I write. And he talks about the chemical equation which is the thing that in all writing you’re looking for your leading characters, what they’re missing in their life, what they are not doing. So in Man Up she is not getting out there, she is not putting herself in a position to meet someone. She is closed down, shut down. Yeah, then you got your cute-meet. I mean, in the history of time cute-meets are the hardest things to find original ways for your two leads to meet each other.
And I always love it, I always try and think about how do — like say you said to me how did you meet your partner, and I said, well I stole his date from under the clock at Waterloo Station. If that’s going to make me laugh, then that’s a good cute-meet. And then what you’re talking about in terms of your — Billy calls it the sexy complication turning point.
Craig: That’s nice.
Tess: Which is your end of act one, which is when — really in a romantic comedy you’ve got to find emotional obstacles to keep your two leads together. And really at the end of act one, in lots off these films, they’re not the great examples of it, they could just walk away and the film could end. Sorry, I don’t fancy you anymore, bye.
Tess: So you have to find either a plot driven thing but obviously what’s much better is an emotional obstacle or thing —
John: So either literal handcuffs or emotional handcuffs.
Tess: Exactly. Very good analogy, John August. And then you keep them together all through to your midpoint which is in terms of romantic comedy, you want to, in the smack bang of your middle of act two, you want to send them in a different direction to where they thought they were going, emotionally speaking.
And then they kind of start liking each other, but then you’ve got to get into the end of act two, your swivel second act turning point where someone makes the wrong decision. Someone always makes the wrong decision in a romantic comedy. It can be both of them and actually in Man Up, both of them don’t Man Up at the end of act two. And then all is lost from there onwards and you just have no idea how you’re going to get these two people back together and then in — you know When Harry Met Sally kind of did the brilliant run.
Weirdly now when I think about it, probably if you wrote that montage into a script now, someone would go “Nah,” wouldn’t they?
Craig: Of course, they say nah to everything.
Tess: And then he has a flashback so all of the moments in the film. And then he realizes that he loves her and then he runs.
Craig: Right, someone’s always running. I got that right.
Tess: Yeah, but you know what, they can be running metaphorically, they can be actually running. In Man Up, he does do an actual run, but I tried to sort off find a unique way without spoiling it for him to do that run.
Craig: Yeah and you did.
Tess: So it wasn’t just traditional —
John: Well you were calling out the trope.
Craig: Right exactly, you’re acknowledging, oh this is where they run, so we’ll give you a little something like a present.
Tess: Yeah. I mean you know, were quite on the button with the beats in Man Up, but hopefully, and I was saying to John actually when I first got here, when I wasn’t actually here, when I was pretending not to be here. I really — I sort of like love the fact that we are unashamedly saying, here they all are, you know, that I have no sort of fear in admitting. And I also think when you watch it again and this is not a plug to watch it twice, but the second time around, it’s a very fast movie the first time you watch it. When you watch it again, you can relax a bit more and understand some of the — you know catch some more of the jokes and more of the humor. So I think the first time you watch it, you can be like “Oh my god what is happening?” It’s like one night of kind of you know craziness.
But yeah and I mean I love — I just get so bored and tired of people sort off saying — the amount of times I get emails going would you like to talk about defending the rom-com for this, this, this? And I’m like yes.
Craig: You know what? It’s like —
Tess: I will talk about it.
Craig: I mean, I feel like the movie is a great defense. And what you’re describing when you say —
Tess: That’s my exhibit A.
Craig: Exactly, thank you. If you said look, I have a collection of tropes, and the job is not to throw them out, the job is to execute them in fresh new ways —
Tess: Yeah and hide them.
Craig: Well that’s what we’re supposed to be doing anyway.
Tess: I know
Craig: All of us.
Craig: That’s the point. So to me, I loved how traditional it was, and proved that a traditional romantic comedy still works because in the end — you know Lindsay Doran has this great remark, she says that movies are about what we care about at the end of movies, is relationships. And if you watch a movie, no matter what that movie is, the last scene is almost always about the relationship even if the movie is about robots blowing each other up, the last scene is the boy and the girl, or the boy and his car, or something, and it’s about the relationship. And you know the last scene — she always points out the last scene of Dirty Dancing. Everybody thinks Dirty Dancing ends with —
Tess: Oh, let’s talk about that.
Craig: She — you know, everyone says, “Oh, how does Dirty Dancing end? With her leaping?” No it doesn’t. It ends with Jennifer Grey talking to her dad.
Tess: No. To her dad exactly.
Craig: The relationship.
Tess: When I’m wrong I say I’m wrong.
Craig: Right. And so what Lindsay says is, what’s interesting is, they make these movies for boys and men about robots exploding, but then they put in this little relationship thing at the end to sort of say, okay, but also, you like movies about relationships. She said, when we make movies so called for women, that are about relationships, we’ve kind of said you’re smart enough to know that what you’re here for is the relationship. That’s the part everyone cares about anyway. The exploding robots, meh.
Craig: You know what I mean? So romantic comedies are the purest form of that, I love that.
Tess: They are because like my favorite thing in the world, I love people, like even if I meet someone that I don’t like, and I’ll be able to use them at some point in my writings, so I’m like I’ll talk to you, even if you are dick. Dick. Dick. Dick. Dick. Dick. But like I sort of feel like — especially like when people sort of say, oh, you know Lake’s character in the film, because she is very, you know, it is very autobiographical. I’m not going to lie. But like — but she’s a person, not a woman, if that makes sense you know —
Tess: And I think that’s the key to sort of — I mean, I know lots of men that have seen Man Up, and I get random messages on Twitter all the time sort of going “God, I really love that film,” like you know, I really like this and I love Simon’s character in it, and Simon Pegg is so brilliant in it and actually very underrated actor, I think genuinely in terms of like his actual dramatic chops. I mean obviously he’s not underrated comedically, but he’s very vulnerable in the film, and he’s very, you know, effed up, and all those sort of things. I’ve already sworn. I don’t know why I did an “effed up” then. I could have just said it, couldn’t I?
Craig: Say it.
Tess: Yeah they’re two people and no one really wants to be on their own, do they, in life, whether you want to be in a relationship or just be with your friends or be with your family, you know, that’s what life is about for me, being with people.
John: So one thing that occurs to me though about the nature of a romantic comedy is that, the — you can have a central dramatic question that is about sort of like, can men and women be friends, you know what is the duty to think — you can have central dramatic questions that aren’t necessarily specifically about that relationship, but the fundamental plot question that the audience is going to expect to have answered is like, will this couple end up together?
And the answer in romantic-comedy generally is yes. And so the challenge of the screenwriter is like how do you believably keep them apart?
Tess: Yes. You know your ending already, so in life, in writing, you’ve got to be so full of questions, I mean, that is just a part of the job, do you know what I mean? So it always really fascinates me when people, with romantic-comedies, they don’t think they need that, they think they just need two people who are they/aren’t they — it’s like, no, you’ve got to have these huge, big emotional things that kind of are running through it.
Craig: That’s, I mean to me, all the differences that keep people apart that are circumstantial, I think of as MacGuffins, they are the glowing stuff in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. I kind of don’t care about those things. I always care about the things that are internal to them, and their fears that are keeping them alone, or keeping them apart from this person, that if they only could take a risk with, things would go well. Why I think, to me, the joy of a romantic-comedy is not in wondering, will they/won’t they, because the answer is, they will.
Tess: It’s how they. It’s how they.
Craig: It’s really, it’s being reminded, this is why men should always go to romantic-comedies with their significant others, is because it’s reminding everybody of the joy of falling in love, and the value of falling in love, because over time, I mean, you know, John and I have both been in monogamous relationships for years and years and years and years.
Tess: All right, don’t rub it in.
Craig: Sorry, you can’t maintain a heightened level — and you talk about this in the movie, a heightened level of passion for all that time. If you did, your brain would explode, and you would be mentally ill. It’s just not possible.
Going to romantic-comedies, revives it, it makes you look at the person you’re with, and makes you remember the risks you took with them, and it also reminds you of the value of what you built together because in the end, when you watch a movie about somebody stopping the world from exploding, that’s never my job, but at the end of a romantic-comedy, when I see a man and woman come together and make an agreement to mush their lives together and build a thing, and I always love in romantic-comedies when they’re old couples too, like in yours, it reminds me that I did something really good.
Craig: That’s worth it, you know. I think that’s the value of the —
Tess: That’s the job, isn’t is? I mean actually, it’s funny because someone was asking me the other day whether they think that Nancy and Jack, the two leads in Man Up, stay together. And I actually said, “No.”
Craig: You’re terrible.
Tess: Well no, I said no because I feel like the film is actually about putting yourself out there and taking chances. That’s part of her mantras within the film, and it’s something that I struggle with myself, you know, I’ve been single on and off now for bloody years, and I go into a very closed in kind of environment and I don’t want to kind of like take any chances.
And I think the film for me, is trying to say to people like if you do something, enjoy it, and see where it goes, but don’t try and maybe over-analyze it and worry about, okay, is this the man I’m going to marry and is this my life I’m going to have? So I love that they get together in the end, obviously. I would always get them together at the end.
But strangely, with Annie Hall, when they are not together at the end of that, I actually love that film, but that’s the only thing I find slightly dissatisfying, although you know, arguably, from the beginning of the film, you know that they’re not very well suited.
Craig: Well, I mean that movie, you know, the original title of Annie Hall was Anhedonia.
Tess: Yes, good fact. Nice fact.
Craig: Thank you.
Tess: Fear of what?
Craig: Fear of pleasure.
Tess: Fear of pleasure. Exactly.
Craig: And so it really was a meditation on — definitely more Woody Allen in the —
Tess: Exactly and then it became her story, I mean you know.
Craig: That’s an existentialist movie, it’s in a weird way, people talk about it as a romantic-comedy. I don’t think it’s a romance at all. I think it’s actually an existential drama crisis movie.
Tess: Well, I think it is a romantic-comedy, but I think it’s fascinating that once the title changed to Annie Hall, you don’t really think about him as much in that film as you do about Diane Keaton. And I think that’s what turned it around, you know, he then probably hopefully realized, ah okay, this is actually much more about the breakdown of a relationship between two people that are a bit mismatched.
Craig: I do think that your characters, they get married, and they grow old together —
Tess: That’d be nice.
Craig: And then when one of them dies like at 92 —
Craig: The other one just sits down in a chair and dies like 10 minutes later.
Tess: Like six months later? Oh, 10 minutes? I was going to give them a little bit longer.
Craig: Yes, because that was just the way it was going to be. I believe that. I believe it in my bones.
Tess: Well, I have to believe to write it. Otherwise —
Craig: Exactly. And I think by the way, that you’re going to have this.
Tess: Thanks, Craig. You know what though, I’m fine though, like I think that like being single, I keep an edge.
John: Yes, absolutely, you get more writing done when you’re single.
Tess: It keeps me writing, yes.
John: Here’s a question for both of you. Do we think that romantic-comedies are by their nature dual protagonist stories, or can you have a romantic-comedy that has a protagonist and just an antagonist who does not change? Do both characters have to change?
Tess: Well Trainwreck kind of did that recently.
John: Yes, so Bill Hader’s character just barely changes.
Tess: He clearly doesn’t change. I would argue, actually I would — I liked it as a film, but I would have quite liked him to have a little bit more of a sort of journey, to use that word.
Craig: Yes. I think that the best of them, I always feel like there’s one protagonist. The dual protagonist thing to borrow a Tess Morris thing, I always feel it’s like 68, you know, 32. In this movie, it’s Nancy who is the protagonist.
Tess: Yes, she’s — I mean it was originally much more her, actually, and then I turned it more into a two-hander and brought Jack’s character in a bit sooner.
Craig: So I’m going to argue against sort of that because if you look at what Nancy is actually doing, especially in the bar scene where she’s like getting him to actually stand up to his ex-wife and that like, he is a character that has the most growth. He does the most things over the course of a lot of the movie to change.
Tess: He does, yes.
Craig: So ultimately, she is the person who has to do something at the end. He is the guy who does the big romantic run at the end, so he fulfills that Harry function.
Tess: Well, it depends where they meet as well. With When Harry Met Sally, they meet in the first scene, you know. And they’re together, they’re in every pretty much every single scene together about bar five or six or whatever, and I think with Man Up, it’s Nancy’s story for the first 12, 13 minutes, and then it’s entirely both their sort of journeys, but obviously she has more, I think it begins with her. She is the catalyst for the things that happen in the film.
Craig: I also think that, I mean you’re right, there’s the quantity of change that happens for Simon’s character, for Jack, but the profundity of the change, and the resistance, he’s already somebody who feels he’s defined as passionate, somewhat plastic in that nature, he’s emotional, he’s honest, he’s free with his feelings, he just needs to get over something. She’s bottled up to me that it’s like it’s the — he can make 12 changes over the course of the movie, but for her to uncork is like the hardest thing because it’s so — see, my problem with the single protagonist, and this is another thing I actually think hurt romantic-comedies is that for a long time the model was one person meets another person, the main character is flawed and can’t see that this other person’s perfect for them.
And they continue to fail in front of that person until finally, they succeed, and that person is essentially fixed in place as a moral ideal that you’re just waiting for them to grow up enough to earn. And that’s not quite satisfying for me as a moviegoer.
Tess: All my favorite rom-coms I would say are dual protagonist, you know, As Good As It Gets, and Silver Linings, actually, which is a great example of like something that begins with Bradley Cooper’s character, and then she just comes along and changes his whole life. And there’s a great sort of sub — I read a thing recently about how in the first scene when he meets her, when he says to her, you know, I find you — you look nice, I’m just saying that, I’m trying to get back with my wife, it’s not that I’m trying to come on to you, and actually, that’s the moment he falls in love with her, the first time he sees her.
Tess: And then she just bowls in and they have that brilliant kind of Hepburn/Tracy-esque kind of sort of dialogue between each other. And then it becomes their film, like once they meet, it should become a dual thing.
John: To wrap this up, so romantic-comedies, we’re saying they are not dead. We are saying that the things that people identify as being formulaic about them, are the tropes that are common to the genre, but you could say the same things about the tropes in any genre. And so we don’t slam on superhero movies for having those tropes and genres, I guess because they’re wildly successful.
Tess: Can you imagine if everyone got upset about set pieces in superhero movies.
Craig: How about like, how about the part where they discover their powers and don’t have control over them at first? How about the part where they make their suit for the first time. God.
Tess: I love it when they make their suit. I’m like, how are they going to make their suit?
Craig: Who cares? So boring, I’m so done.
Tess: Yes, sorry, John.
John: So we’re also saying that romantic-comedies are comedies which we are expecting to see one or two characters grow and change, but you can say that of course with any movie.
Tess: Any movie, yes.
Tess: And I think sometimes when people really hate a genre, I’m suspicious of them as a person.
Craig: Me too.
Tess: I’m like, “You hate romantic-comedies? Have you got no joy in your life that you — ” I mean I get a bit like —
John: That’s why I think you actually need to question them on what they’re defining as romantic-comedy because I think what they really mean to say, like I hate Katherine Heigl movies. It’s like, well, that’s fair, it’s fair to hate Katherine Heigl movies.
Tess: That’s fine, yes. I mean, I had an argument with someone recently about How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days. They hated it like with a passion. I was like, you know what, dude, it’s fine. I quite enjoy that film when I’m a certain kind of mood, but this kind of like association that it’s a chick flick, that I’m going to sit there in my track suit bottoms, well, I don’t know what you call them. Do you call them track suit bottoms?
Craig: Sweat pants.
Tess: And eat a massive bag of Maltesers. Do you have Maltesers?
John: I have no idea what you’re saying.
Craig: Here it would be sweat pants and a pint of ice cream
Tess: Yes. Like don’t get me wrong, I love Bridget Jones, she’s a fantastic creation and always has been, but like we’re not all just doing that. I might do that when I watch Con Air, and that doesn’t mean, you know, it’s what is making you feel a certain thing, and I don’t know.
Craig: Also, why are we apologizing for things that are true? Like there are moments in movies when men are depressed and they do male depressed things.
Tess: Yes, and they’re allowed to do that.
Craig: They’re allowed to do it. Nobody goes, “Oh my god — “
Tess: Exactly. In Sideways, no one went, “Oh,” which is one of my all-time favorite films, no one said, you know, “Oh god, he was so unlikeable.” The whole point is that he’s brilliantly unlikeable, you know?
Craig: We just did a whole episode on how angry that gets me —
Tess: Did you?
Craig: Unlikeable. The worst note. I believe it’s the last episode that you didn’t listen to.
Tess: I would say it’s the worst note particularly when you’re talking about female stuff when they go, “She’s just not likeable enough as a woman.”
Craig: For all genders, even if we’re dealing with genderless aliens or androids, it’s the worst note.
Tess: Do you think they got that note in Marley and Me.
John: The dog’s not likeable enough?
Tess: The dog’s not likeable enough.
John: Can we see the dog smile a little bit more?
Craig: Yes, people are going to want it to die.
John: Yeah. CG that smile in.
Craig: You know what that dog is?
Craig: That dog’s a dick.
Tess: He’s a dick. [laughs]
John: It’s time for One Cool Things. Tess, we should have warned you about One Cool Things.
Tess: Oh shit.
John: So you could be the third to go. You could say something that’s cool about your time in Los Angeles, because you’ve been here for a couple of weeks. My One Cool Thing is a profile of Nick Bostrom who is a scientist and a philosopher. He writes a lot about AI and sort of doomsday scenarios. And so the profile I’m going to link to is in The New Yorker.
And the things he was talking about are really interesting, but I thought it actually more interesting as a character profile, so just sort of digging into sort of what it’s like to be that sort of scientist guy who’s warning you about doomsday. It’s the character who in movies would be played by — I’m trying to think who is —
Tess: Kevin Spacey?
John: Kevin Spacey, yes, somebody like that who would be like, you know, I told you this is going to happen, this is going to happen. But the actual character that they outlined here is actually really fascinating and I think worth looking at.
Tess: Liam Neeson may be more —
John: Liam Neeson might be — Jeff Goldblum would be —
John: Goldblum is sort of the classic —
Tess: You didn’t stop to think whether you should.
John: Exactly, indeed, so be it Day After Tomorrow or Jurassic Park, he’s the guy who’s going to warn you about that. You’re playing god.
Tess: I’m with him. I’m with him.
John: What is so fascinating about this profile though is it goes into sort of this early decision to sort of like, you know, I am going to change my life completely. And sometimes we’ll see this in movies, but it’s so rare that you see this actually happening in real life where like you sort of have an epiphany and sort of like wrote like this is how my whole life is going to change and sort of did that.
And so a really interesting character profile, and also some good science in there as well.
Tess: Some good science.
John: Some good science. And if you like what they talk about in the fermi paradox stuff part of this, I’m also going to put a link in the show notes to this really great Wait But Why article on alien civilizations and what the fermi paradox is
Tess: Can you see my face? I’m just like what is he talking about?
John: Absolutely. It’s like you’re talking about crisps. I have no idea. And track suit bottoms?
Craig: Crisps. Crisps. I want Crisps. Look, you know what I think about all this. We’re living in a computer simulation.
Craig: We’re not real either.
Craig: End of discussion.
Tess: Thank you.
Craig: Did you say, “Thank you?”
Craig: Like I had put you at ease with that horrible proposition.
Tess: I felt suddenly like really relaxed.
Craig: That’s the opposite of what I wanted. You were supposed to start gazing up —
Tess: No, because I’m worst case scenario person. It’s the way I live my whole life in a state of panic, so when someone just says like, well, it’s over, it’s going to end, I’m like, “Oh, okay. Well fine. Good.”
Craig: Great, yeah. I get take a nap now.
Tess: Yes, that’s good, excellent.
Craig: My One Cool Thing, I would have done it last week, but I did the whole blood brain barrier business last week, so this week, my One Cool Thing, how could it not be Fallout 4?
John: You’re enjoying it, Craig?
Craig: A little too much.
Tess: Is this a game?
Craig: It is a game, well done, Tess Morris.
Tess: Thank you.
Craig: Fallout 4 — everyone else knows what it is, so I will just say this, the crazy thing about Fallout 4 is that it is exactly the same as Fallout 3. I mean, with like one tiny change that’s actually kind of semi-fun, it’s the same damn game, and I don’t care, I love it.
Tess: Is it shooting?
Craig: It is shooting, but it’s mostly, it’s quest-based, so people — yes, so you have missions and you go on and you find things, and sometimes you have to kill people, sometimes you have to talk to people.
Tess: Like the Fall Guy, then?
Craig: Like the what?
Tess: The Fall Guy, the show that was on in the ’80s?
Craig: Not at all like the Fall Guy. Literally not anything like the — so think of the Fall Guy —
Tess: There’s no Jacuzzi that you jump in at the end with some ladies?
Craig: No. It takes place in post-apocalyptic Boston.
Tess: It’s nothing like the Fall Guy.
Craig: It’s more like Mad Max than The Fall Guy.
Craig: Thank you. It’s more like Mad Max. But I don’t know, whatever it does to me and my brain, because I love following storylines, I can literally feel the dopamine squirting out of my brain while I’m playing it. When I’m done, I can feel the lack of — I know I’m taking drugs, I know it. I know I’m smoking crack when I play this game. And it’s disrupted my sleep this week, but it’s been great.
Tess: It’s been great. Like MacGyver?
Craig: Goddamn it.
Tess: Good storylines, though. My One Cool Thing, now I’ve had two minutes to think about it.
Craig: Is it either The Fall Guy or MacGyver?
Tess: It’s the A-Team.
Craig: It’s A-Team? I love that you watched all those.
Tess: Oh my god, of course. So my One Cool Thing, since I’ve been living here, I’m coming back because I love it so much, but I’ve had my little six weeks here, and I’ve been living in Los Feliz — you say Los Feliz?
Craig: You can say both, actually.
Tess: What would you say?
John: I say Los Feliz.
Tess: Los Feliz. Los Feliz.
Craig: You did it right.
Tess: Los Feliz!
Craig: Never that.
Tess: Never that? So I’ve been living there which I love because I can walk everywhere, because I’m British, I love to walk, so I’m like, brilliant. And I discovered the Vista Cinema since I’ve been here which I think is the coolest cinema I have ever been in. And it’s just at the bottom of Hillhurst and Sunset and I just — it’s like my dream cinema, I mean not only was True Romance, I think the opening sort of scene is filmed there, but it just has everything I need.
You do cinemas so well here when you have that kind of old-fashioned sort of like art deco-y kind of sort of thing. And I got quite drunk with a friend when we went to see Spectre, and we arrived so late, so we couldn’t sit together and we were like, oh, god, what’s going on?
And then they brought out some folding chairs for us.
Craig: Oh, how nice.
Tess: So we sat drunk at the back, and then realized it was two-and-a-half hours long. Let’s not even —
Craig: But you know you can walk out at the last half hour, and —
Tess: At one point, I did turn to my friend, I was like, should we go? And he said, I think we need to see it through, we just need to see it through. And I had sobered up by then, so it was fun, but anyway, I just love how there’s just one film on there, once a week, and it’s just got a beautiful atmosphere to it, and I just — if I could be in there every night, but the only thing is that they have only one film a week, that’s the only thing. So I can’t go every night, but I just love it.
Craig: You could go every Saturday night.
Tess: I was like a pig in shit when I was in there.
Craig: What a great guest.
John: Tess Morris, thank you for joining us on the podcast this week.
Tess: Thank you. It’s on my bucket list now, I’ve done it. I’ve been on Scriptnotes.
John: So is it no longer on your bucket list?
Tess: I’ll just keep coming back. I’ll just keep annoying you.
John: The buckets confuse me.
Craig: John can’t handle it.
Tess: His whole face just went, what, uh?
John: I’m so confused. My programming won’t allow for this.
Tess: I won’t allow for this.
Craig: Literally, you divided by zero, just froze. You can find us at johnaugust.com, for show notes, where we talk about a lot of things we have discussed on the show today.
On Twitter, I am @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. Tess, are you on Twitter?
Tess: I am @thetessmorris.
John: She’s @thetessmorris on the Twitter. If you have questions like some of the ones we answered on the show today, you can write in to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to listen to back episodes of this whole program that we’ve made, you can find us at scriptnotes.net, you can also find us through the app. There’s a Scriptnotes app on the applicable app stores.
While you’re in iTunes, you should subscribe to Scriptnotes because why not? It’s free. And you should leave us a comment which actually helps us a lot and helps other people find the show. So thank you for doing that.
You should come and join us on December 9th for our live show with our special guests. And if there’s still tickets, hooray. Well, or, I don’t know, but you should come to the live show on December 9th.
Last but not least, we have a few of the USB drives left of all the 200 back episodes of the show, so you can find those at the store at johnaugust.com, and we will send you one with all 200 of the first episodes of Scriptnotes.
Our outro this week is by John Spurney, and it is a really good one. So John Spurney, thank you very much. We’re not even going to talk over it because it’s so good. And Craig and Tess, thank you so much.
Tess: Thank you.
Craig: Thanks, guys.
- Buy your tickets now for the 2015 Scriptnotes Holiday Show on December 9th with guests Riki Lindhome, Natasha Leggero and Malcolm Spellman
- Jon Bon Jovi on Wikipedia
- Amazon Storywriter and Fountain
- Scriptnotes, 224: Whiplash, on paper and on screen
- Tess Morris on IMDb and Twitter, and Man Up on Wikipedia and Rotten Tomatoes
- Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad? by Christopher Orr
- CinemaBlend’s 30 Best Romantic Comedies Of All-Time
- The New Yorker on Nick Bostrom
- Wait But Why on The Fermi Paradox
- Fallout 4, and on Amazon
- The Vista Theatre
- Outro by Jon Spurney (send us yours!)