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 program, we will look at what the giant success of Star Wars means for screenwriters and the film industry. We will look at a startup that uses exclusive algorithms to predict which movies will be hits or flops. Ooh, get your waders because there’s going to be some umbrage muck there.
A WGA proposal that changes the number of years board members can serve. And in the craft corner, we’ll look at how you tell an audience what your characters’ names are. So a busy episode.
Craig: Indeed. Plus we have some questions and things.
John: We have a lot to go through. But this is our first normal episode in a while. Last week, we had Aline and Rawson on, and that was so much fun. But Craig, it’s honestly great to have you back.
Craig: Well, thank you, John. I’d like to think that everybody likes the original formula of Coke. You know, we are the original formula. This is it.
John: Well, it’s fascinating. It’s like the original formula of the Coke has been sort of supplanted by Mexican Coke. Classically, I mean, you should think that American Coke is Coke. But in Los Angeles restaurants, you order Mexican Coke because it’s made with sugar rather than being high fructose corn syrup.
Craig: Right. It’s made with cane sugar instead of — or, well, I don’t know, sugar. It’s funny, like, most sugar comes from beets, I guess.
John: Yeah. Sure.
Craig: But none of it’s really the original Coke because the original Coke had cocaine in it.
John: It’s so good.
John: Somewhere on Twitter, a person linked to this photo of some product that was sold and the ingredients in it were amazing. It was like alcohol, cocaine and like morphine. And it was like an over the counter thing you could buy.
Craig: Cocaine wine.
John: Cocaine wine.
John: Oh, more cocaine wine for Hellen Keller.
Craig: Oh, so good. [laughs]
John: All right. Let’s do some follow-up because there’s a bunch of it.
John: Alex writes in, “In Episode 7, another wonderful episode wherein you guys offered your thoughts and opinions on female health issues — “
John: “Craig ended up by promising, ‘Next week’s episode is entirely about vaginosis.'” Alex continues, “I’m not saying that things don’t come up from time to time to bump the planned schedule, but for the next 222 episodes or so, I’ve been waiting for this episode.”
John: “Before I continue spending my $2 per month, do you guys have an ETA on the vaginosis episode? And if the solution comes down to yogurt, I’m going to be very disappointed.”
Craig: Yeah, it’s a great question. So I’m going to try to make this as quick as I can. This is the vaginosis episode, okay? And this should be family-friendly. It’s just science, folks.
Craig: So what is vaginosis? Vaginosis. Everyone’s like, what the hell is going on? Vaginosis is not a yeast infection. A lot of people think they’re the same thing. They’re not. Vaginosis is actually far more common than yeast infections. And it’s one of those good bacteria, bad bacteria things.
So you know, like there’s a whole thing now about good bacteria is really important for our health. We all know that’s sort of like in our gut bacteria is really important. Well, it’s also really important in the vagina because a particular kind of bacteria called lactobacillus keeps the pH balance in the vagina slightly acidic, and that helps kill bad microorganisms that come to the vagina.
Okay. I’m going to say vagina about 1,000 times, by the way.
Sometimes that balance gets out of whack. And a different kind of bacteria called gardnerella begins to proliferate, and that kills off the good bacteria, the lactobacillus.
Why does this happen? It just gets in there. You can think of ways it might get in there. I mean, the point is the vagina is an opening and stuff gets in openings. That’s just life.
Anyway, the point is, another — well, there’s another reason it happens. This is the worst thing. Sometimes women douche, and they should not. As far as everything I’ve read, that’s just like the worst thing. Because what it does is, perversely, the thing you’re doing to clean your vagina, is just cleaning away the bacteria that keeps your vagina clean, and then you can end up with this situation which is vaginosis.
And what are the symptoms? I’m not going to go into the symptoms. They’re unpleasant.
The point is this, she’s asking about yogurt. So people went, “Okay, well, if vaginosis is caused by things being out of whack and there’s not enough of the lactobacillus in there, how do I get more lactobacillus? I know, yogurt. Because it has lactobacillus.”
Sort of not really. Two different strains. And also, eating it isn’t really the same thing as putting it in your vagina which, by the way, people have tried to do. They’ve literally dipped tampons in yogurt and stuck it up in there.
And there’s like one study that says that might work. One study. But mostly, the studies say no, eating yogurt doesn’t really do anything. Even taking probiotics doesn’t really seem to help, because it’s just kind of the deal.
So this is a bummer, Alex. We’ve finally gotten to the vaginosis episode and what I’m telling you is I can’t even give you yogurt. I can give you nothing except, unfortunately, antibiotics. Which is not great because those come along with all other issues.
But it’s just one of those things. The vagina is an opening, things get in openings. Sometimes there’s infections. I’m sorry.
John: Yeah. It feels like one of those intractable problems that we often face as screenwriters where, you know, it’s just the way things are and you have to accept that it’s the way things are.
Craig: It’s just the way things are.
John: You could sometimes be vigilant for like things not to do. So you’ve given some useful advice on like not douching.
Craig: Yeah. So don’t douche. There’s no cause for it.
The worst of them actually not only wash away the good bacteria, but then they raise the pH of the vagina which then makes it even harder for the good bacteria to survive or come back. There’s just no reason for it. I know why it’s there, but don’t do it.
John: Lewis in the UK writes, “On your live show, you urged people currently using their parents’ Netflix accounts to get their own. This got me wondering what difference it would make to you, the screenwriter.
Assume I currently use my dad’s Netflix account and there are 1 billion people identical to me following my actions. What effect does it have on you if I and my clone army get my own account under the following conditions? One, neither of us watch your movie. Two, I watch your movie. Three, both I and my father watch your movie. Cheers, Lewis.”
Craig: Cheers, Lewis.
John: Yeah. So Lewis is asking what difference does it make whether I watch something on my dad’s Netflix account or my Netflix account. And the answer I think has to do with just overall numbers of subscribers to Netflix and that the more people Netflix have watching movies, the more money they have to spend to buy the rights to our movies.
Craig: Yeah. But there’s another thing, too. I think there’s residuals issues because Netflix pays the studios.
Now, we don’t really know how Netflix pays the studios, it’s a big bit of a mystery. But I suspect that it is somewhat metric. They’re not going to be paying Warner Bros. as much for a movie that made $2 million as they are for a movie that made $100 million that people are constantly clicking on and watching.
So Netflix has metrics for everything. The more people that are watching a particular movie, the more probably they’re going to send to the studio a portion to that movie. And then that becomes gross proceeds for the studio, which then impacts our residuals on our end.
If one person watches the same movie five times on Netflix, I don’t know if Netflix says it was watched five times. Maybe, but possibly not.
Craig: But if two individuals watch it each once, that may count as two viewings.
John: Yes. So in general, it comes down to we do not get paid — in sort of the iTunes model, we get paid a specific residual for you are renting that movie or you are purchasing that movie. And that is lovely and it’s much more straightforward.
When a services licensing a movie for a period of time at a certain rate, we don’t get a portion individually residuals for that one person who watched it. But the more people overall who are watching that movie on that service, the more likely that service is going to say, “You know what? We better have The Hangover Part 3 next month because a lot of people love to watch that movie.” And that’s the service you’re doing us by getting your own account and watching that yourself.
Craig: I mean, of course, there’s the — I mean, Lewis isn’t — he’s asking a very specific question about how it affects, but then there’s just the moral thing, you know.
Craig: Stop leeching off your parents. [laughs] You know, like, it’s embarrassing.
John: Spoken as the father of a teenager, yes.
Craig: Well, yeah, it’s embarrassing. Like, I mean, the last thing I would want to do is be leeching off my parents.
John: Yeah. It’s generational.
Craig: That’s just me.
John: Sean writes, “My script has been picked up by a couple of producers to be made next year and they’ve asked me to direct.” Congratulations, Sean.
John: “They have chosen a venue and hired actors for a read-through. I’ve asked around and gotten some recommendations from others who have been in similar situations. Common advice was to watch those attending and read their body language, et cetera to find any spots that lag, spots that are engaged. My question is, what advice do you guys have about the questions I should ask those who attend the read-through so I can get the most out of it?” Craig?
Craig: Well, that’s interesting. I’m not sure that this whole body language — I mean, you really should just watch it like an audience member. I mean, you have to kind of take yourself out of the seat of being the director so to speak, because when you’re doing a live read-through, they’re just going to read it through. You can’t stop and start them. At that point, you really should trust yourself rather than — now, what you can do is you could have somebody set up a little camera to film the audience. Film, record the audience, that you can then review later to look for squirming. You can see like, for instance, if it’s a comedy, did we remember — was that a big laugh or not a big laugh? We can’t quite remember.
But mostly, I would say, just place yourself in your audience mindset and you experience it. And you take notes. And you monitor how you feel.
What do you think, John?
John: I agree. I think the value for the read-through is for you as the writer-director and for the actors. And if the audience and the producers and other trusted friends are watching this and they’re able to give you helpful things based on their observations, that’s great. But really, let the experience be about you and connecting with the actors.
The read-through is going to be one of the few times where all those actors are in the room performing the entire thing together. Movies aren’t like plays where the entire thing is staged each time. This is probably going to be the only situation in the entire process where the entire thing is performed. So just get a sense of what it feels like as a whole thing.
I would say, when you’re taking notes for yourself, look for lines that certain actors have trouble with. Look for moments that seem kind of clunky, or where the actors’ instincts about how to play something are not your instincts so you can go back and work through those before you show up on set and have to deal with those.
John: But I would say let that experience of a read-through be a chance for everyone to sort of come together and sort of celebrate the work as a whole, because it’s never going to be whole again until you see these people at the premier.
Craig: Quite, quite true.
The other thing to look out for is judgments about particular actors in the role at the read-through. Some actors really are film actors. They come alive when it’s quiet and the camera is on them. And they act to a camera, and they’re brilliant at it. They’re not great stage actors. Sometimes they’re intimidated by being on stage. Sometimes they tank it on purpose. They just don’t want to be judged, so they get very small.
I’ve seen so many big movie stars do this at read-throughs where they just suddenly seem so small, almost like they’re afraid to be big because it’s embarrassing to them.
So, I wouldn’t make anyone a hero out of it, and I wouldn’t make anyone a goat out of it, because there’s an enormous difference. A little bit like when people say, you know, there’s that term daily laughs —
Craig: Where, you know, it’s a big laugh in dailies or it’s a big laugh on the set. And then you put it in the movie and it’s like, “Nah, it doesn’t work.”
Craig: Make note of the context. Sometimes the performances will not at all be what you’re getting when you’re there on the day.
John: Yeah. All right. Our last bit of follow-up harkens back to Episode 112, and we looked at this video that had gone viral that week called “Dear JJ Abrams” which offered four points of advice for what JJ Abrams should do now that he was setting off to direct the Star Wars movie. [laughs] So I thought we would revisit what those four points were —
John: And see whether those were actually meaningful. As I recall, you were openly kind of skeptical and mocking of this guy who made this video. But here are his four points.
Craig: Because he was saying obvious things, I think. [laughs]
John: Yeah, he was saying kind of obvious things. But here were his four points. Star Wars happens on the frontier. Is that true to Star Wars 7? Yes, it was.
Craig: Uh, yeah.
John: Very much. The future is old.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Like the movie starts with the wreckage of previous battles and I think it is very old.
Craig: And also the equipment was just taken directly from the prior — from the original series. So the blasters looked old. Yeah.
John: Yeah, they did. And there were lots of old people in it as well. [laughs]
Craig: Yeah. [laughs]
John: The force is mysterious. I’d say, mixed bag here. Because there wasn’t a lot of talk about the force in this movie.
Craig: Well, I think it were — I mean, we all know what it is at this point.
Craig: And I did like that the ball was moved a little bit forward on the force. You know, the whole staring, grunting duel between Kylo and Rey was something new. We hadn’t seen that before.
Craig: It was a little X-Men-y.
John: Yeah, it was a little X-Men-y. Kylo gets to make a blaster bolt hover in mid-air. That was cool.
Craig: That was awesome.
John: That was cool.
Craig: Loved that.
John: Finally, Star Wars isn’t cute. [laughs]
I would counter with BB-8. BB-8 is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in an entire movie. I want nothing but BB-8 in my entire universe.
Craig: It’s not true. Star Wars is cute. I mean, even Jawas were cute. BB-8 is cute. R2 is cute. C3PO is cute. The little woman with the big eyes was cute. Yeah. I mean, even that monster on, you know, that was rampaging at one point was kind of cute.
No. Sometimes Star Wars is cute. There’s nothing wrong with that.
John: There’s nothing wrong with being cute.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know, I still — I’m actually angrier about this baloney advice to — I love his advice to — I mean, I don’t know what I said. I’m guessing, if I could go back and listen to 112, that probably what I said was, “This is lame because all you’re doing is giving obvious advice that later you can take credit for.”
Craig: “Oh, he must have listened to me.” No, he didn’t. Stop it.
John: Yeah. No, he didn’t. Correlation is not causation. That’s going to come up later on.
Craig: It’s going to come up, yeah.
John: All right. Let’s go back to Star Wars. So new topics here.
John: Star Wars is going to be the biggest movie of all time.
John: We’re recording this about 10 days before this airs, the episode is going to air. So by the time this comes out, more of these records will probably have been broken. But on Box Office Mojo, which is probably the best place to look up sort of like how movies are doing over time, it’s fun that Star Wars knocks down sort of every record. So like fastest to 100, fastest to $200 million, fastest to $500 million.
The movie is also incredibly well-reviewed. And so I thought we might talk just for a minute about like what the impact of Star Wars will be on the film industry and for screenwriters in the coming years based on its gargantuan success.
Craig: Well, I did feel — I think I said on a prior episode that this would be — we would find out just how much money a movie could make. I mean, that’s kind of what’s happening here.
Very exciting for our friend, Rian Johnson, who’s making the next one, because I think that we will find out how much more a movie could make when he — I think his movie will become the biggest movie of all time.
Craig: It’s really exciting. Implications for the film industry? I don’t think there are any. This is a little controversial, but to me, this is a little bit like saying, “Well, what were the implications for Harry Potter?” Harry Potter was unique.
There were some other YA properties that came out, but they in themselves were — they had their own fan base and they had earned their way in. Like, say, The Hunger Games had earned its way in.
Star Wars is unique. I don’t know if anyone else can look at this and think, “Oh, well, let’s just do that.” You can’t.
John: Well, you can’t do that.
So in terms of it being unique, I think it carves out a space of like, you’re not going to make any kind of movies that are even like Star Wars for a while because Star Wars is Star Wars. And so I think if we were trying to make a big space opera, just put that on the back shelf for like 20 years because this is going to take up that entire universe. And anything you’re trying to make that is a big space opera is going to be compared to Star Wars here.
I think if you’re trying to make a giant Dune right now, it’s going to be compared to Star Wars in ways that aren’t entirely fair but would be natural.
Craig: Well Dune actually is not a bad idea. Hold on a second. [laughs] Hold on, because I agree with you.
I remember when Star Wars came out, it was succeeded by a series of terrible rip-offs and knock-offs, some of which I actually kind of liked because I was a kid and I liked that stuff. But Dune actually, this is probably a great time for Dune because —
John: You think so?
Craig: I do. Because I think people’s appetite has been whetted for the grand space opera. Game of Thrones is just Dune not in space, right? Dune is amazing.
Look, you’ve hit a little bit of a weird spot for me because I’m obsessed with Dune. I mean, I love the David Lynch movie. I’m obsessed with the David Lynch movie for so many reasons. But Dune’s incredible. And I do think it would be — this is a great time to do Dune.
Who has the rights to Dune?
John: They’ve been trying to make it for a long time. Pete Berg —
John: Yes. It was Pete Berg at Paramount. I think Favreau had a version at Paramount at some point.
Craig: That seems like a weird — I mean, you know, sometimes these weird matchups work. I wouldn’t have said Favreau for Dune. But regardless, I mean, maybe he could figure it out. It’s just, Dune is amazing.
This is not a bad time for Dune. Hold on. [laughs] I think you figured something out by saying no to it.
John: So here’s some implications I do think it will have, is that, sort of like the giant Marvel movies sort of just suck up all of the oxygen, and all the box office around them, whenever these Star Wars movies drop, it’s going to take — it’s like a huge meteor impact, and it’s going to be very hard to open a movie around those. And so that sense of like what weekends are left is going to be incredibly challenging.
So knowing when the next Star Wars comes out, knowing when future things down the road comes out, there are going to be fewer and fewer weekends in which you could safely program things. And so you’re going to have to look at sort of inadvertent counter programming, which is like, well there was no other place to put this movie, so we’re going to put this movie — this time I wouldn’t call it counter programming, but it’s really — we had no other place to release it.
Craig: We’re going to call it counter programming, yeah. [laughs]
That’s a very good point. That is the true impact on the film industry of Star Wars is that when the next Star Wars film comes out, no one can be on that weekend. They’re actually just going to give them the weekend. I mean, yeah, they might do — like Sisters was I guess their attempt at counter programming, but it’s interesting because —
John: It was a mixed bag.
Craig: It doesn’t really counter program. You can’t counter program Star Wars because Star Wars is for everyone.
Craig: Every age, every gender, every race, everyone all over the world. Therefore, you can’t counter program it unless you’re literally just showing movies to animals. Like if animals could buy tickets, like pets, then you can make like — this is a decent movie. Okay, on Star Wars weekend, you should have a film of like bacon being made and you invite dogs. That would work. [laughs]
John: I think maybe in the sixth or seventh week, they probably will have like a bring-your-dog-to-Star-Wars day at some theaters because like you want to go see the movie with your best friend, and your best friend is your dog. [laugh]
Craig: That’s the saddest — that’s so sad. [laughs]
John: I think it’s wonderful.
Craig: Oh my God, it’s the saddest thing ever.
No, you’re right. I didn’t even think about that. That’s another reason why I think Rian’s film will be the biggest movie of all time because it will have nothing. Nothing will be around it. You’re right, huge —
John: Well, nothing was really around it this weekend. I think this last time, people recognized that like, you know, they couldn’t compete. And that’s why so many, I think, the for your consideration movies got released earlier, like more towards Thanksgiving rather than on Christmas because I think they could see that it was going to be just a disaster to try to open against one of these things.
John: I mean Hateful Eight, I had a hard time getting the screens it wanted. It was a challenging time for other movies.
Craig: Yeah. Well, it was a challenging time in the Galaxy. And you know, one kind of okay thing is at least, you know, there are two big seasons to release these A-bombs, you know. One is summer, which is getting longer and longer. And one is the Thanksgiving-Christmas time.
Craig: So if it were in the middle of summer, it would — they’re smart to not do that. This is the Harry Potter time, which is that, because, you know, summer becomes exhausting. It’s exhausting. I get so tired of the onslaught.
John: One of the nice things about Christmas holiday, because I know there was — they were originally trying to make this a summer movie. And when they pushed it back to Christmas, there was a concern like, “Oh, they cost themselves some box office.” But adults have a lot of time off over the holidays. And so adults can see movies twice over Christmas in ways they couldn’t during the summer. And that’s useful.
Craig: Great point. And I think Lord of the Rings was a Thanksgiving-Christmas.
John: Absolutely. And Titanic was. Avatar was. So there’s precedent for making a huge amount of money at this time of year.
Craig: Yes, for sure.
John: But let’s take a look at sort of the content of the movie. Some people slam it for, like, it gives the fans exactly what they want. And it’s like, well, yes, it gives the fans exactly what they want, which is basically it feels in some ways like a soft reboot. It sort of performs the Stations of the Cross of the original movie. But also, it gives the fans what they want in terms of like, they want the universe to sort of grow a little bit and sort of not all be like white men running around. And they made very smart choices for that.
So I think as we see these re-explorations of classic properties, the chance to go back through and address some of what’s new in 2015 and 2020 versus the original films could be great.
Craig: Yes. I mean, it’s not going to be like this. I mean, this is — Star Wars is unique. I cannot bear to read one more think piece about Star Wars. It’s atrocious. It’s a movie. Go see the movie. Enjoy the movie or don’t. And then go home. Stop essaying every freaking thought you have and comparing it — no one cares.
The tidal wave of static that has erupted from the keyboards of the obsessives is overwhelming. I mean, it’s just a movie. I went to the movie and I enjoyed it. I could have a conversation about it with my friends. Sure. I’m not going to write some essay about it as if to say, “Guys, guys, guys, guys, I know a million people have written about this, but this is the one.”
John: This is the one.
Craig: This is it. This is correct. That’s the subtext of all those, which makes me nuts.
John: Perhaps the conversation that you do want to join in on though is on the January 25th special episode of Scriptnotes where we’ll have Lawrence Kasdan, the writer of Star Wars. And he’s going to talk to us about the movie.
Craig: Segue Man. Yes. He is going to talk to us about the movie and many other things.
Lawrence, Larry to those of us — Larry is fascinating for lots and lots of reasons. But what I really want — I mean, to be the guy that writes Empire and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Body Heat, and then 30 years later, co-write the biggest movie in history. Wow, it’s unbelievable.
John: Yes. It’s going to be great. So again, we’re recording this episode super early. So I don’t know if there are still tickets available. But if there are tickets, you can find those at hollywoodheart.org/upcoming. And that is where you can get tickets to our special show of Scriptnotes.
But I’m not sure yet if it’s going to be a normal episode of Scriptnotes in the sense that it will be in the feed. We have to figure that out with sort of the actual technical demands of where we’re recording. And also, this is sort of a special event. So I don’t want to promise that everyone can get this free on Tuesday and not truck down to see us in downtown Los Angeles.
Craig: Yes. And Jason Bateman will be there, which is great.
John: Oh my gosh, Jason Bateman.
Craig: Yeah, and he’s terrific. And it’s for charity. It benefits children.
John: Yes. It’s a good thing. You know what does not benefit children? [laughs]
Craig: Segue Man. [laughs]
John: Segue Man. [laughs] It is a small Belgian company called Scriptbook.
Craig: Oh, god.
John: So the pit on Scriptbook is that they are using data science to figure out which movies are going to be hits or going to be flops. [laughs]
Craig: Thank God.
John: And so the CEO of the company, Nadira Azermai, raised money. They have a million dollars’ worth of financing. They are apparently in discussion with studios, not clear which studios, about their technology and their ability to predict which movies are hits or flops. So I just want to play one little clip from a promotional video they did so that you can get a sense of the company in her own words.
Nadira Azermai: I like data but — there is a big but, I also have a strong gut feeling. Sometimes you just want to back your gut feeling. And if I can back my gut feeling with really something that’s scientifically proven, then I have peace of mind.
John: Craig, I feel like this was forged in a lab just to anger you. This was like — this was a grain of sand introduced into your inner oyster belly.
Craig: Yeah, yeah. And here comes a pearl of absolute contempt and disgust.
Craig: Putting aside the stupidity of what Ms. Azermai just said, which is that she has created a number and database algorithm that is completely trumpable by her own gut feeling, this is not even new. That’s the thing, this snake oil baloney isn’t even new. She is the — I don’t know what, 12th of these things that have popped up that we’ve discussed. I mean, remember there was that one guy, Rocko, or whatever his name was.
Craig: There are so many of these guys. They’re all peddling the same thing. And what they’re peddling — okay, what they say they’re peddling, is an algorithm designed to analyze screenplays, and then out will come success. But what they’re really peddling is the oldest thing in the game — confidence. [laughs] They’re peddling confidence.
And so they’re saying, “You can be confident now. You can be certain. You can be relaxed. We’ve got it covered with our baloney. You don’t need to live in a scary world where you aren’t in control of outcomes.” I am so, so sorry to say that this business is scary and we are not in control of our outcomes. We can influence them as best as we can.
It’s a little bit like raising children, you just don’t know. And anyone who tells you they know is lying. These people are — and what numbers? What are they — what possibly can you pull out of a screenplay?
The whole point of it is that it’s exciting and has this weird mystical interconnection between movie and audience. The script itself is not the movie, so you can’t tell from the script. And these people are stealing other people’s money, and it’s making me crazy.
John: Right. Since there are so many factors to tackle this on, so let’s talk about the script, and sort of like, basically they’re talking about breaking down a script and finding the things that work and the things that don’t work.
Fundamentally, those are always going to be qualitative characteristics. Unless you’re talking about like the number of words per page, or the number of pages of the script, I mean, all of these things, they’re going to be qualitative. Things like, you know, what is the act break? Well, three smart people can disagree on what the act break is. Are there four jokes on this page or two jokes on this page? Well smart people can disagree.
So you’re relying on human fallibility to, or human opinion really, to determine which of these boxes get ticked in which ways.
John: That is an inherent issue that nothing in their materials made clear how they’re making those decisions about what the actual stuff in the screenplay is.
Craig: Yeah. They’re not waving some kind of Geiger counter over this. It’s not what we call observable fact. It is intuitive judgments that they then assign facts to. Well, those aren’t facts. You can’t rate that. It’s ridiculous.
Furthermore, what they’re comparing the screenplays to are movies. Let’s be honest, right?
Craig: They look at a screenplay and they say, “Well, this screenplay has the following elements that have succeeded in these movies.” Screenplays aren’t movies. If you want to really do your data baloney nonsense, go to movies that have succeeded, then go back, find the screenplays. Not just one, all of them.
John: To be fair, I actually did look at the website, and they do do that.
John: They’re trying to compare screenplays to screenplays.
Craig: Okay. So they go back to which screenplays? The final shooting script? It doesn’t work. Doesn’t count.
I assume that’s what they’re doing. That’s baloney. No. To be properly predictive, you have to go back to the first draft or to the pitch or to the spec.
John: I think it would be fair to go to the draft they put in production, whatever draft you green light.
Craig: Okay, fine. Then that, even that. But they don’t have access to that. They don’t. Because as you and I both know, things change constantly. And then of course there’s editing and all this other stuff. It just doesn’t work.
Craig: It doesn’t work. And on top — even if they had all the information, if they had every single word that was written, it still wouldn’t work. And here’s why. Because movies are not controllable. That’s the big secret.
Remember — did you see that movie, Nixon, the Oliver Stone movie?
John: Yeah, I did see it.
Craig: There’s this point where Nixon is, I think he’s at the Lincoln Memorial and he gets into a debate with these hippies who are yelling at him and saying basically the whole thing is his war machine and you’re not even in control of it. [laughs] And he gets into his limousine, he’s like, “She’s actually figured it out. The truth is, I’m not in control. None of us are. We’re just kind of holding on to this thing that’s galloping out of our control.” That’s a movie.
So you can run this all through your software. Here’s what the software doesn’t account for. Robert Downey, Jr doesn’t want to say those lines. That’s it. Software done.
John: So let’s check another vector of why this is so problematic. Let’s talk about Ryan Kavanaugh and Relativity.
So Relativity, it was a company that financed a bunch of movies. They ultimately started making their own movies. And the pitch behind Relativity was always, if you saw the articles about Ryan Kavanaugh, the charismatic CEO of it, was like we have our own software that makes it so we can’t lose money. And then they actually proceeded to lose a bunch of money.
So they’re not the first people to ever come up with this idea of like we can predict what’s going to work and what’s not going to work because we have software, except that it didn’t work.
Craig: It’s just, I’m tempted to call it arrogance, but I don’t think it’s arrogance. I actually think it’s just a crafted lie. It’s just very clever people who see an opening and an opportunity. And the opening and the opportunity is a bunch of scared executives who are desperately trying to figure out why things work and don’t and how to keep their jobs for God’s sake because they have children in private school and they have mortgages. And these people come along and throw them a life preserver. The problem is the life preserver is made of lead.
John: Yes. So I want to talk about what’s actually useful or meaningful about this kind of work, which is that, studios already — every studio in town already has a department. They have people whose job it is to find comps.
And so as they’re looking at like, do we make this movie or do we not make this movie, they have a whole department whose job it is to figure out how much can we anticipate making on this movie, in this market, and that market, and that market? And basically like, is this a smart investment for us or not a smart investment for us?
That’s kind of fine. And I don’t fault a studio for doing that because if the studio is saying like, “I don’t know how we’re going to possibly make money on this movie,” that’s a reasonable reason not to make that movie.
John: The challenge is it can be so hard to find a comp for a certain kind of movie. So I was talking with Andrea Berloff for Straight Outta Compton, when Universal — I think it was actually Warner Bros. before Universal had it, they were trying to figure out like what comps to compare Straight Outta Compton to. And they’re like, “Well, is it Get on Up, the James Brown bio pic?” Well, of course it’s not that, but that’s the comps they had because there hadn’t been a movie like Straight Outta Compton.
And that’s the truth about most movies unless you’re making a low budget horror movie or a certain kind of mid-range comedy. It’s very hard to find a template that’s going to fit what this movie is you’re thinking about making.
Craig: And then the sick thing is that what they’ll try and do development-wise is force the movie toward a comp —
Craig: Which is the stupidest thing of all. Now they’re literally making movies to feel comfortable in their data nonsense.
Craig: Some movies you just have to say, “This doesn’t have a comp.” That’s the point. That’s the point. “You know what? Let somebody else use our movie as the comp. We’ll be the new comp.”
Now, you could say Straight Outta Compton is a comp for other things. But until you have somebody say, “I’m just going to make this movie because I think it’s good and I think people are going to like it and enough with this comp baloney,” all that stuff really is, is them arguing to somebody that there is a science behind what they do. But this is a fact. I’m now giving you a fact. All of you, there is no science behind what they do. None. All of this, whether it’s from the outside people or from their own internal departments, all of it is designed to make it appear as if there is a science. There is not. That’s that.
John: So we’re going to ask Alex who wrote in about vaginosis. We’re going to ask Alex to put this in the follow-up file to make sure we do come back and look at Scriptbook in, I don’t know — do you give it a year, like two years, whether that still is a company that exists?
Craig: I mean they’ve all — we’ve given them all loads of time and they’ve done nothing. [laughs] Nothing.
Craig: No, nothing. I think Nadira — Nadira? My dear Nadira, if I were you, I would figure out a way to pocket as much of that million dollars as I can because no, this is not going to work.
John: I don’t think so either.
All right. My bit of umbrage this week is sort of related. It comes from an article by Todd Cunningham in The Wrap. Before I say the headline, I know that writers often don’t get to pick their own headlines and so we have to sort of discount any headline as being sensationalistic because it was probably editor that did it. But anyway, here’s the headline, “Box Office Shocker: Movie Reviews Matter in 2015.” That’s the headline.
So here’s the actual meat of the article. Cunningham says that 12 of the top 15 movies this year were well-reviewed by critics. And he says, “Not one of the year’s Box Office bombs had more positive reviews than bad.” This doesn’t seem shocking at all. So he says it’s a growing trend because critics liked 9 out of the top 15 movies in 2010 and 10 out of 15 movies in 2012. He doesn’t say anything about the other years.
So the obvious thing that I was screaming at my phone as I was reading this on Twitter was correlation is not causation. It’s like basically you’re saying like, “These two things happened at the same time.” And it’s like, “Well, yes, maybe people like good movies.” That should be the headline for the thing. “People Like Good Movies.” And so if a movie is good and if it succeeds at the Box Office, it’s because people like it. And if it succeeds critically, it’s because critics like good movies, too.
There’s nothing here. And it drives me so crazy that so many words were spent making it seem like, “Oh, you know, we have to really worry about what critics think because they have a huge impact on Box Office.”
Craig: We are swimming in a sea of stupid today, my friend. I mean, the stupid on this burns so bright, so hard. Here, let me rewrite the headline for you. “Film Criticism Shocker: Film Critics Now Copying Audiences.” [laughs] I mean, so yeah, film critics are people and audiences are people, right?
Craig: Sometimes film critics hate a particular movie and audiences seem to love it. I’m personally familiar with that syndrome. [laughs] Sometimes film critics love a movie and audiences are like, “Yuck.” Sometimes, there’s overlap. In this case, the weird cherry-picking here has led this guy to believe that there is a significant overlap all of a sudden. [laughs] That the overlap is meaningful, and the overlap is in one direction and not say film critics finally going, “You know what? Maybe we should adjust our tastes to what people generally like.” It’s nonsense. You can’t draw any conclusion from it, whatsoever. This is stupid. The stupid grows by leaps and bounds.
Here’s another fact, another fact for everyone out there. Anytime people start talking about movies and statistics, you should just start getting pre-angry because stupid is almost surely going to follow.
John: Yeah. And possible conclusions will be drawn out of that supposed data.
Craig: Crazy, just crazy.
John: So two of the examples he cites were Fantastic Four and Terminator Genesis, both of which tanked and both of which got bad reviews. The reality is everyone knew those movies were going to tank before they tanked. The tracking on those movies in the weeks leading up to them was low. People seemed to sense that these were not good movies and they were correct.
And so while I do think it’s true, and that you could probably study this, is that word spreads about bad movies faster because of Twitter and social media and Facebook and everything like that. That’s not critics. That’s just people being people.
John: And so it’s a slightly faster version of what’s always happened. And it’s maybe harder to hide a bad movie for very long, which I think explains why movies can drop off so quickly and especially bad movies can drop off so quickly, but that’s not critics. It’s just reality.
Craig: It’s just reality. And first of all, we don’t even know if these movies are good or bad based on these things anyway. So a Box Office bomb doesn’t mean you’re a bad movie. There have been famous Box Office bombs that are amazing movies. Blade Runner was a Box Office bomb, was it not?
John: I think it was a disappointment at least.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, so that in and of itself doesn’t mean good or bad. But yeah, it seems to me like a company puts a trailer out for a movie, people watch the movie, they go on Twitter, they go bananas in their hatred of the trailer, and every film critic is on Twitter going, “Well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate this. Everybody else seems to hate it. I’m not blind and deaf, you know.”
Craig: So here’s a new headline for Todd Cunningham’s article, “Movie Critics Reading Twitter.” [laughs]. Stupid.
Craig: So stupid.
John: Yeah, it’s not great.
Craig: Come on, Todd.
John: All right. Next topic. The WGA sent out a list of proposed constitutional changes to its membership.
John: There are three things in the constitutional changes. Craig and I have not discussed them whatsoever, so I don’t even know what Craig’s opinions of these things are.
John: Yeah. I will tell you that on the day this podcast comes out on Tuesday, January 19th, there’s an informational meeting. So if you’re a WGA member who wants to informationally meet about these things, it’s 7 pm at the 3rd and Fairfax main building in the conference room.
Craig: No one is going to go there.
John: No one is going to go to that.
Craig: That meeting is constitutionally required and nobody ever goes.
John: Obligatory. So let’s pretend we are at this meeting and we’re having this discussion. [laughs] There are three things that are being proposed, three amendments.
John: I will start from amendment three and work my way back to amendment one which I think is the reason — the only one we’re going to have disagreement on.
John: Amendment three, reducing the number of signatures that a candidate needs to be nominated by petition. So essentially, if you are going for the Board of Directors, it reduces how many signatures you have to get on your petition or your application, whatever you want to call that to be considered.
Craig: It used to be 25 signatures, now it’s 15. Obviously, those 10 signatures are going to really make a difference — I mean, come on, who cares? It doesn’t even matter. Like if you need 25 signatures in today’s day and age with social media and you can’t find 25 signatures, it means you can’t find one signature. It literally means your mom won’t even sign it. So 25, 15, 1, who cares? If you want to run for the Board and you’re a member in good standing, just go ahead and run.
John: Yeah, go ahead and run.
John: Amendment two, reducing from 16 to 12 the number of candidates the Board Nominating Committee is required to nominate. You and I have both served on the Board Nominating Committee so this is — basically, every time there are like eight seats open, we have to get 16 people to run for those seats and that can be challenging. So what is your feeling about reducing this number?
Craig: It’s a little bit of a mixed bag, but I get it. I mean, what ends up happening is the nominating committee will put forward 16 candidates, some of whom are legitimate and have a shot and are good, and some of whom are just either cannon fodder or we just need to fill out the spaces, you know?
The problem with reducing it is just that there is a sense that if you’re not nominated by the committee you’re not a real candidate. But I don’t think that that’s the way the directional arrow works. I think it’s more that it’s people who are legitimate then ultimately end up getting nominated by the committee, not vice-versa. People that you know have a lot of support, have stature, and are likely to get elected are then people that the NomCom will always nominate.
So I don’t see reducing the burden on the nominating committee so they’re not stuck, it’s not a bad thing. I don’t have a problem with that. I mean, if the nominating committee puts out — what is it? Instead of 16, what is it down to?
Craig: 12, and nobody else runs on petition, so you have 12 candidates for eight seats. I’m okay with that.
John: Yeah, I guess I’m okay with it too.
Having been the person who had to twist some arms to get people to run, I know, it’s this weird thing where like — you don’t actually say this, but like, “Would you please run? Because I promise you won’t get elected.” Which is the weirdest thing, but like sometimes you are throwing some people in there just like — just to fill stuff out. And when those people don’t get elected, they’re sort of relieved not to get elected. And that’s not really good for anyone either.
The only thing I would say that is good about when you have to find 16 people is like sometimes it makes you think past your obvious choices and like — I’ve had to go really deep and like, “What writers do I know who actually I think could maybe do this job? And I’ve reached out to people who I haven’t talked to in years to try to get them to run and they’ve thought seriously about running.” So that could be a good thing.
Craig: Yeah, I agree. I don’t think that this rule will change much, to be honest with you. I think that the — for instance, the nominating committee that you and I are both on, I feel like we actually nominated more people than we had to.
So a lot of people want to run. I think, you know, if somebody comes in and says, “Look, I got the 15 signatures, you want to nominate me?” “Yeah, sure.” The truth is the voting population, they have no clue who gets — it doesn’t really matter.
John: Nope, it doesn’t.
John: Finally, amendment one, increases from two to three years the length of the terms of the board members and officers and modifies the election cycle and term limits provisions accordingly.
Craig: Right. So this one, I’m not such a big fan of. Everybody serves for two years. On the Board, everybody serves for two years as an officer. Here is the value. The value is, well, A, fewer elections. The value is that once they begin this thing, it’s set up in such a way that there won’t be an election during a negotiation year so you’re not having elections conflicting with the, you know, membership votes on contract.
It provides more stability for staff. They don’t have to wonder like, “Who’s going to be president, you know, in two years?” They can wait maybe there’ll be a new president in three years. Because that’s a whole thing for them like —
John: Yeah, sure.
Craig: You know, whose in-charge of this place, and that’s fine.
Here’s what I don’t like personally. I don’t care that it’s annoying to have elections during contract season. Tough. I don’t like the idea that we’re going to get — look, here’s what it really comes down to. There are two types of union politicians for writers. There’s the kind that is dynamic and wants to change things and has great ideas and is positive and has skin on the game and is aware of what’s going on in the world. And then there is the kind that is just bored and looking for something to do and really likes sitting in a room making “decisions.”
There have been a ton of bad, bad Board members and some bad officers as well. And frankly, there’s more bad ones than good. I don’t know how else to put it. And the idea of extending the lifespan of some of those terrible ones just makes me, ugh, I don’t like it.
John: Yeah. To me, it comes down to the question of quality of candidates as well. And I think that sometimes you’re able to get really great people to serve for two years that wouldn’t be willing to try to serve for three years, and that’s just the reality. And so I would rather have to vote one-and-a-half times more often and get good people in there and get bad people out of there than to have people in there for three years.
Craig: I totally agree. I don’t mind reading the pamphlet once a year for eight Board candidates. I don’t mind reading the pamphlet once every two years for officers. It’s hard for me to go to a working screenwriter and say, “I need a three-year commitment from you.” Two years is hard enough, you know.
So where you’re going to end up is you’re going to end up with moving our system, I think, closer to what you see like, I don’t know, with the jury system where it’s a lot of retirees or people that don’t have quite as much going on. Because, you know, people who are busy just can’t commit to three years. They can’t.
How do you say to a writer/director or writer/producer or a writer that’s getting stuff made, “I need you for three years?” “Well, there’s, I don’t know, a 50 percent chance that I’m going to be on location for a chunk of time in the next three years, how can I agree?” It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t like it.
I’m not going to vote yes on that one. I got to talk to some people — I got to find out like what — I want to talk to Billy Ray about this and find out like why this is necessary. It just feels dumb to me.
John: I think Billy Ray is an example of a kind of person who you do want to keep around for longer. I mean, as long as you can have Billy Ray on the Board, you’d be delighted to have it. He’ll get termed out more quickly because of — if this doesn’t change.
Craig: Yeah, but here’s the thing, Billy, yes you’re right. But there’s so many more bads than goods. And the good ones —
Craig: Can influence things regardless. Billy can be the chairman of the negotiating committee forever.
Craig: He doesn’t have to be a Board member to do that. Well, he could be the co-chair or the effective chair. I mean, my point is there’s other ways. And frankly, we need new people anyway. We can’t just have Billy do it over and over and over again.
John: Agreed. Let’s talk about Negotiating Committee and sort of negotiations and trying to schedule in a way so that we don’t have an election during a possible negotiation. To me, it feels like negotiation isn’t really that time where we’re sitting in a room opposite the other people, it’s really that year leading up to it.
It becomes so long. You don’t really know sort of when the bulk of that work is going to be anyway and when the strategy and planning for that is going to happen. So I think, yes, you don’t want to change horses mid-stream, but like that’s — the stream is so wide now that you have to change horses at some point. And I don’t think it’s going to really matter whether it’s a two-year or a three-year thing.
Craig: No, I mean, the idea is that if you have — if I were Patric Verrone, I would love this idea, right? So I can be president for three years. I’m guaranteed to both run the lead up to negotiations and the negotiations and the aftermath of the negotiations and I cannot be interrupted.
Craig: So it puts way more power in the hands of the president. Way more power in the hands of the president. And frankly, less power in the hands of the Board as I see it, because it also puts more power in the hands of the executive director. Because if the executive director and the president are close, as is often the case, then the executive director — the one bit of leverage that the civil oversight has in our guild is that you can fire the executive director, which we have done.
Craig: If you got, you know, a friendly president, that’s three more years of job security. If that guy can run again, usually incumbents win, and now you’ve got six years of job security. It’s too much job security.
Craig: It is. I don’t like it.
John: I don’t like it either.
All right. So that was our quick take on these things. Again, you could go to the meeting or you could also just read other people’s follow-up. There are arguments, of course, in favor of all these things. And so, you’ll get the packet and you’ll be able to look through why they did what they did, and why they’re proposing these things.
John: Cool. All right. Our last bit is some craft stuff which has been saved up for, god, many, many episodes. But I want to talk about character names, not basically how you pick character names but how you tell the audience what the names of the characters are. Because in a screenplay, obviously you’re reading it, obviously you know all the characters’ names because you’re reading their name above every bit of dialogue. But if you’re watching a movie, you don’t necessarily know what the characters’ names are. And sometimes, that’s fine.
I was thinking back through my own movies and in the middle section of Go, the characters that James Duval and Breckin Meyer played — Breckin plays a character named Tiny. James Duval’s character’s name is Singh. You wouldn’t really know it in the movie because no one ever calls them by name, and it’s fine. But in other cases, it really is very important that you know who the character is because people are referring to a character who is not even on screen.
So I want to talk through the ways you can introduce the names of characters to an audience who’s just seeing the movie and who’s not reading on the script.
Craig: Great idea.
John: Cool. Easiest way to do it is simple introduction. There might be some reason why a character introduces himself to another character. So, in Go, Burke says, “Hey, I’m Burke.” And Ronna goes, “Ronna.” And therefore, you’ve established Burke’s name and you already knew what Ronna’s name was. But that’s the simple way to do it.
Craig: And these things do happen. They don’t happen frequently. In life, when people meet, usually somebody’s introducing you to somebody or — but you know, occasionally, people — you’ve probably had that experience where you’re talking with somebody on a plane or something. I mean, I don’t talk to people on planes, ever, but maybe you do. And after 10 minutes, one person finally goes, “By the way, John.” And the other person goes, “Oh. Craig.”
Craig: That can happen. I mean, people do introduce each other.
I see in — a lot of times I’ll read screenplays where people are just introducing each other. They’re just shouting each other’s names out almost like they have Tourette’s. It’s crazy. So you just got to be careful that it doesn’t feel forced and stupid.
John: Yeah. It should only be a situation in which it would naturally would come up. And if it all feels forced to do it, I would say, don’t do it.
The next most natural way to do it or common way to do it is just the simple question and answer where someone asks another character what their name is and they reply. And therefore you’ve established the names.
So in the last Star Wars, the question is like, “Oh, what’s your name?” And he says, “FN2817.” “I’m going to call you, Finn.”
Okay. You’ve just established the character’s name, and it’s actually a plot point. Like, we don’t — this character didn’t have a name and he’s now been given a name. And for the rest of the movie and for the rest of the franchise, his name will be Finn because of this scene that happens in a tire fighter.
Craig: Yeah. Very cool. Giving somebody a name is a great way to learn somebody’s name, for sure. But it doesn’t come up often. I guess what’ll underlie a lot of these suggestions is just as we’re constantly looking for ways to vary exposition or make it gentle or elegant, we do the same thing with names. We’re always looking for these little tricks of ways to not just — not feel like the record needle is skipping.
John: Yep. Third way. Character A calls character B by name. And so it’s that thing where in talking with somebody, you use their name and that’s how a name comes out. And so that’s the “Damn it, McGonagall” way of establishing who somebody is in the scene by having another character say their name aloud.
Craig: This is the one that is the hardest to pull off well.
Craig: Because generally speaking, we don’t say the other person’s name when we’re talking to them. If I’m talking to you and I know you, we presume that we know each other’s names. It’s so rare for me to say, “You know, John.” “Oh, you know what I think, John?” [laughs] It just — it doesn’t — we don’t do it that much.
John: You do it more often if there are multiple people talking where you actually have to direct something to somebody, then you might use their name to pull their attention back. Or pull their attention if they’re doing something else. You might say, “John, look at this.”
Craig: Yes. And where I think that we probably the great majority of times we say somebody’s name is when we’re talking to a different person about them.
Craig: This is, I think, the easiest way to introduce names is for somebody to look at somebody else and go, “What’s with John?” “What’s with her?” “Did you hear about John?” That sort of thing generally helps.
Of course, the other way of introducing characters’ names is to introduce it, well, we’re going to get to that. That’s the last one. I don’t want to give it away.
John: A version of what Craig just described is that sense of like you refer to somebody by name who you’ve not met yet. And then, generally, in the next scene, you meet that person. So you’ve established the expectation of going to — that you’ll meet this person and then you actually see the person.
So in Go, that’s the conversation about the skipping over to Simon to by the drugs. They say like, “Oh, I don’t need Simon, I’m going to Todd.” And the question, “Todd Gaines?” And in the next scene like, we’re at Todd Gaines’ apartment. And that sort of establishes like “Oh, his name is Todd Gaines.” And that’s useful and helpful.
John: The final way is to literally show the name like to have it printed out someplace. So classically on a door, a mysterious slip of paper, there’s something with a name written down which will become important.
Craig: Yeah. You see this all the time. Look, here’s the truth of this — it’s funny. On the script that I’ve written for Lindsay Doran, after I don’t know how many drafts, she said, “You know, we never hear this character’s name.” I was like, “Oh. Well, I guess we’ll have to figure out a place to do it without seeming clunky.”
The truth is, a lot of times when I watch movies, I think, certain characters, I don’t need to know a name because they’re personality is kind of their name, you know, if they’re side characters. So I wouldn’t obsess over name stuff. But obviously, for your main characters, you just have to figure out how to work it in without seeming clunky.
John: Absolutely. And so while you’re working it in, particularly for your main characters, it’s important enough that you find a good way to do it naturally early on because, I think, if it’s a main character who I don’t know their name for like 20 minutes, I get really kind of frustrated. And something bubbles up that says like, “Hey, wait. I don’t even know who that character’s name is. I don’t have like a box to put my information about that character in.”
For minor characters, I agree. Sometimes it’s not even worth worrying about because any chance to like really force that out is going to feel weird. Ask yourself, you know, if the audience never knows that character’s name, will it impact their enjoyment of the movie?
John: If the truth is it doesn’t, then it just doesn’t.
Craig: Exactly. It just doesn’t matter. It’s like, you know, it’s funny. We always watch The Ref. Every Christmas, I watch The Ref with Melissa because we love it. And Christine Baranski, I can never remember her character’s name and it doesn’t matter. She’s crazy screamy aunt something. [laughs] Like, you know, that’s — she’s just great. And so it doesn’t matter what her name is. I just know that she’s the sister and she’s crazy.
Craig: Yeah. Sister-in-law and she’s crazy.
John: Yeah. Cool. All right. I think it’s time for our One Cool Things.
Craig: All right.
John: My One Cool Thing is called Ghost Streets of Los Angeles. It’s a blog post that looks at Google satellite imagery of streets in Los Angeles. And what you’ll notice if you sort of zoom in and zoom out, there — most of Los Angeles is on a pretty clear grid. But there’s sometimes, there’ll be weird buildings that are, I don’t know, strange diagonal and you can sort of follow that diagonal. Even though there’s not a street there, it feels like there’s this weird diagonal throughout Los Angeles in different places. And those are because there used to be streets there.
And so what this blog post is doing is it’s looking at some of these ghost streets that are no longer existing streets but used to be streets and how they’ve changed the property lines of different buildings. And so you can see sort of — you we can basically follow where there used to be streets that are no longer there.
Craig: That’s creepy.
John: It’s actually kind of cool.
Craig: It’s creepy.
John: Creepy. And it reminds me sort of in screenwriting, a lot of times, you’ll see a movie and you’re like, “Why is that thing there?” It’s because of like a much earlier draft. There’s a reason why that was there. And like the underlying causes are not there anymore, but you still see like the echo of a previous draft being in there still.
Craig: Right. A ghost scene.
Craig: Exactly. Okay. That’s interesting. Well, my One Cool Thing is One Sad Thing.
Craig: Vilmos Zsigmond, the great cinematographer, passed away on January 1, 2016. Which in a way is kind of — if you’re going to die, die on the first of a new year just so you get that extra year on your grave stone.
Craig: So he was the cinematographer behind these incredible movies, most of which dominated the ’70s. He was very — I was thinking of his movies and his work as being very ’70s. McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, Blow Out.
And you know, there’s that period of ’70s movies that we, you know, all cinephiles kind of adore. And I always think of him when I think of those because he was this uniting piece across all these incredible directors like Robert Altman and Steven Spielberg and Michael Cimino. And he had this — all of it’s wizardry to me.
I don’t understand cinematography. I mean, I understand what I see, I just don’t understand how they do it. So it’s kind of fun to watch them and not know what the hell they’re doing.
John: When you’re on the set and you see them like setting flags and cutting — I just have no idea what they’re actually doing. And like, they’ll spend like five minutes like tweaking things. I just don’t understand what they’re doing.
Craig: I have no idea. I don’t know what — I honestly don’t know what stops are. [laughs] I don’t know —
John: I know what stops are.
Craig: Okay. You know what stops are. I don’t. I mean, I know the difference between long lenses and wide lenses, but I don’t understand all the other stuff they’re doing back, all of it. I don’t get it.
But there was something about — so Zsigmond, he had this style that seems so real in the sense that movies, you know, can be very candy-coated. They can be very glossy. They can look like movies. They can have that shine to them. There was something about his cinematography where it always just looked like I was actually there.
Craig: It was drab in a beautiful way. It felt like naked eye to me. He was so good at that and it was so perfect for that time and those movies. I mean, McCabe and Mrs. Miller was, you know, didn’t want to be like those —
Craig: You know, old westerns or something. It wanted to look like that, like you were there. So a big fan of his. Sad to see him go. And so, adieu. Adios.
John: Adieu. Great. Craig, it was nice to have you back on the show.
Craig: Well, thank you.
John: It’s so good to — it’s good to be back in our normal environments here.
John: Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.
John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Mary Webb. If you have an outro you’d like us to play at the end of our episode, you can write in with the link to email@example.com. That’s also the place to send questions like the ones we answered at the top of the show.
On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. If you want to come to our live show on January 25th with Jason Bateman and Larry Kasdan, you can probably still get tickets at hollywoodheart.org/upcoming.
If you would like to leave us a comment in iTunes, we would much appreciate it. That helps people find the show. Just search for Scriptnotes in iTunes.
John: And that’s our show for this week.
John: Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John.
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