The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s show is probably a PG-13. It’s not very strong language, but there’s a little bit there. So just a fair warning if you have kids in the car.
[Begin live show]
John: You guys think you can do it without me?
[Audience sings the theme]
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
So Craig, we’re doing another live show. We just did one. Now we’re doing another one. But can you please paint a word picture for our listeners at home what would they see if they were here with us.
Craig: So we’re on a beach.
Craig: We are in a lovely downtown space here in Los Angeles.
Craig: The room is gorgeous. Once again, fans of screenwriting podcasts, beautiful. [laughs]
Craig: As always. And everybody is excited. It is a diverse crowd of people that are interested. We have both Ashkenazi and Sephardic in here. And it’s one of you. Yes, yes.
And everybody is very — they’re just beaming. I think in part because, you know, unlike — we always do these things for some charity. We’ve never — at least I don’t think we’ve ever done it for ourselves. I never get any money out of this. [laughs]
John: We are a money-losing podcast from the get-go.
Craig: I’m not sure I believe you anymore, but okay, fine.
John: You can audit the books at some point.
Craig: Yeah. But this is for a wonderful charity that our friend John Gatins has been involved with for a long time. Academy Award nominee John Gatins, by the way, who is here tonight. And so this one is kind of a special one. I think it’s a terrific thing. And obviously you heard about what the — it’s Final Draft, huh?
John: Yeah, Final Draft is the sponsor. What I love about these shows are the surprises that you encounter.
John: So like, Final Draft is the sponsor, that’s a surprise.
Craig: They’re giving underprivileged kids Final Draft. Haven’t they suffered enough?
John: [laughs] Final Draft, thank you for doing this. We are genuinely appreciative. You are doing good things for kids and the arts.
So this is — now it’s also a special night because we have some terrific guests. We have with us tonight Jason Bateman. And we were going to have Larry Kasdan. Now, I think you’ve all gotten the message. So Larry unfortunately couldn’t make it. There was an illness in his family and so he had a good excuse. So we panicked. [laughs]
Craig: And part of the panic was, if you’re going to deliver the screenwriter of Star Wars to people, that is going to draw a certain kind of person. [laughs]
John: Yes. How do we replace that person? [laughs]
Craig: Yeah. How do you please that person?
John: The person who does not desire to be pleased, that person has one sort of set goal.
Craig: And there are really hard opinions. So we reached out and found what I think is just as good, maybe even, just as good. So tonight with us we also have Dan Weiss and David Benioff, co-creators of Game of Thrones.
Craig: When Larry does listen to this, and he hears that, a little tear, a little tear.
John: So filling this whole word picture of the space that we’re in, it sort of looks like, if you had like one of those hipster weddings, this is the space where Craig and I would get married. There’s a whole bunch of white chairs, it’s a big empty loft. If you had like a little girl like with flower petals and like a string quartet in the corner, totally our downtown wedding —
Craig: You had me at get married.
John: All right. But in the very back of the room, back by the woefully small bathroom facilities, which you’re welcome to use during the podcast, please don’t, just get up and go. There is a table back there and there are notepads back there.
On those notepads, you may write questions for Larry Kasdan. We promise when we see Larry Kasdan to do an episode, we will ask those questions, we will ask no other listener questions other than the people who are here in this room because you are the best people in Los Angeles. So, that table in the back.
I think we need to start by bringing John Gatins up here because he is the one who roped us into all this. John Gatins, please come up.
Craig: Did you guys see Flight by the way? Did you see Flight?
John: This is the gentleman who wrote Flight.
Craig: I mean, right? Pretty good. That is you, right? That’s the John Gatins.
John Gatins: Yes. Yeah.
John: But John Gatins, you are not merely a writer. You are also a person who somehow roped us into this event. So please tell us what your relationship is with Hollywood Heart.
John Gatins: Okay. David Gale, who’s sitting right behind Craig’s wife, we made a movie together in 1998 called Varsity Blues.
Craig: Have you seen Varsity Blues? Pretty good.
John Gatins: Pretty good. The greatest Texas high school football movie ever made. [laughs]
John: Nothing compares to it. There’s no other Texas football things that have ever been good.
Craig: Where did Remember the Titans take place?
John Gatins: Not in Texas.
Craig: Got it. Then you’re good. [laughs]
John Gatins: Friday Night Lights, well maybe. But in 1998, and you had already started the charity but you had a great event at Paramount, which I went to. And there was all these photos from camp and you started talking to me about this camp that — the arts camp that we do every summer in Southern California.
And I went out and saw the camp. And then I was kind of hooked because I never went to camp as a kid. And this was like, camp, like kids singing to me, like they sang me into camp, like I was a camper suddenly. And it was awesome.
And so we started bringing movies every summer. We would bring a movie and, you know, the kids were like — they loved it. It didn’t matter how bad the movie was. They’re like, “This is a great.”
And I made the movie Dreamer for DreamWorks and I brought it there.
John: They thought it was great.
John Gatins: They thought it was — it was the greatest Dakota Fanning horse racing movie ever made. Ever made. So —
Craig: It was pretty good. [laughs]
John Gatins: I’m going to give you one guess as to what’s the greatest drunken pilot movie ever made starring Denzel Washington.
Craig: I got nothing.
John Gatins: [laughs] So anyway — so David. I started to go to camp and then he asked me to be on the Board, and I joined the Board. And I taught writing out at the camp because we do writing and visual arts and dance and music and filmmaking. And it’s this amazing thing.
So I got involved with all these incredible people. And I have to thank John and Craig for being willing to do this, and for David and Dan, and for Jason, and everybody who put this together, and all of you people who came because we’re a very small charity, quite honestly. And it’s like we have gone through 20 years — how many years, David?
David Gale: 21.
John Gatins: 21, which is kind of an amazing thing. And the camp goes on every year and we help kids from all over the country come to Southern California for this camp. It’s awesome.
John: Great. So in addition to being a writer, you are also — you really started in this industry in a completely different field, which is acting. And so you have some really prestigious credits which people might not be aware of.
Craig: Like for instance, I assume you’ve all seen Witchboard 2.
John Gatins: The greatest Ouija board sequel ever made, Craig.
Craig: It’s pretty good. He’s in it, and he delivers.
John Gatins: I play Russel Upton and I, you know, originally I lived through the whole movie and then I showed up on the day that we started filming. I was like dead on page 102 or something.
John: Yeah. So you almost made it to the end of Witchboard 2?
John Gatins: Almost made it to the end, John. Almost made it to the end.
John: Very good. So a movie that he was not killed in was actually a movie I directed in 2006.
John Gatins: Yeah. That’s right. So John’s movie, The Nines, was really funny because I had this assistant who had just started working for me. You know, I don’t really, you know, whatever.
So I was like, “Do you want to meet Ryan Reynolds?” I’m trying to impress her. She’s like, “Yeah, I want to meet Ryan Reynolds.”
So we drive downtown and John is directing this movie, you know, and I’m like just show up, just shoot my gig, you know. And I said to John, I said, “So I don’t really understand. This guy, he plays a TV writer, it’s like. But you know, he’s kind of an asshole, you know.” But I mean like — so he should be — and he’s like, “He’s you.”
And I was like, “Okay. But he’s a jerk to this guy.” And you know, Ryan Reynolds, he said, “It’s your relationship to me.” [laughs]
And John walks away and my assistant looks to me and she’s like thinking, “God, am I working for an ass?” But that was the greatest meta movie —
Craig: That’s amazing. Like he dumps it on you and then walks away.
John Gatins: He walks away. He does that.
Craig: He does that to me like on the podcast auditorially all the time.
John Gatins: Yeah. Yeah. He walks away.
Craig: Just walks, like his voice walks away from me.
John Gatins: Just leave you out to die.
John: It’s just a slope. Yeah.
So John Gatins, I wrote this part for you. And I realized I sort of made a classic rookie director mistake because I never had you audition for the part. I just assumed you could do it. And one of my goals for 2016 is to really like correct past mistakes. And so I’m wondering if we could maybe — if you’d be willing to audition for that, that same part again?
Craig: Yeah, he’s willing.
John: So I made some sides. So that’s that. And Craig, would you read with him?
Craig: Yeah. Of course, I’ll read with him.
John Gatins: Jason, I may need a little help here man.
John: All right.
Craig: Jason can’t help you now.
John Gatins: I need my glasses! I literally really can’t see.
John: You can put your glasses on.
Craig: You know, back in the Witchboard 2 days, no glasses.
John: So let me set the scene here. So this is basically any casting director, you’re going in there, you get your sides, you’re reading through it, maybe a little set up about what this is. This is taking place in a hotel gym. This is late in the second half of the movie.
John Gatins’ TV Show has been picked up for series or picked up — the pilot got picked up and going to go to series. At upfronts, Gavin’s character played by Ryan Reynolds in the movie, but maybe we’ll recast him too, is confronting him over a casting choice that’s happened.
So that’s the scene that we’re going into. So if I am the casting director, I’m probably hitting record right now. I’m probably over there — “This is the person.” “This is the person we’ll go — “
Craig: Yeah. I’ve already got the job.
John: Yeah. You’re really the casting pro here. This is the guy reading opposite you.
John Gatins: I’m in character, John.
John: All right. And, when you’re ready.
John Gatins: Look, I’m sorry, but I’m kind of not. I want my show on the air and I think it was shitty for you to go after Dahlia behind my back.
Craig: I heard your show was gone.
John: I heard you fired Melissa McCarthy without having backup.
It’s not how I remember this. [laughs]
Craig: Hey guys, not a cool thing in an audition. Don’t do that.
John Gatins: Sorry.
Craig: Continue please.
John Gatins: I heard you fired Melissa McCarthy without — you never would have hired me for this.
I heard you fired Melissa McCarthy without having a backup. Why would you pick up a show when you didn’t have a star?
Craig: The network wanted Dahlia.
John Gatins: Yeah, in my show. We tested right before you. Our numbers were through the roof.
John Gatins: Really. Who’s your exec?
Craig: Susan Howard.
John Gatins: She would know. She was there. Ask her. [laughs]
John: Okay. That was good.
If I could give one — if I could give one note.
John Gatins: I’m starting to get comfy up here, John.
John: If I can give one note.
John Gatins: Yeah?
John: I wonder if you’re really more of a Gavin. I mean, could you — would you mind switching?
Craig: No. I wouldn’t.
John: All right. So Craig, would you mind reading the part of John Gatins?
Craig: No. I would love that.
John: All right. So when you’re ready, maybe just show him kind of what that might be. [laughs]
Craig: Look, I’m sorry, but I’m kind of not. I want my show on the air. I think it was shitty for you to go after Dahlia behind my back.
John Gatins: I heard your show was gone.
Craig: I heard you fired Melissa McCarthy without having a backup. Why would they pick up your show when you don’t even have a star?
John Gatins: The network wanted Dahlia. [laughs]
Craig: Yeah, in my show. We tested right before you. Our numbers were through the roof.
John Gatins: Really?
Craig: Really. Who’s your exec?
John Gatins: Susan Howard.
Craig: She would know. She was there. Ask her.
John: Yeah. All right.
I think long-term listeners of the show will recognize that Craig’s career as a writer is near its end. And he’s going to probably be — he’s going to be an actor here pretty soon.
Craig: Pretty soon.
John: I mean, Steve Zissis is here. He’s already trying to get you — to get you cast in things. All right?
John Gatins: I’ll tell you this.
Craig: I don’t know if just saw that magic but it’s real.
John Gatins: Is my mic on? Is it on?
Craig: We turned it off. [laughs]
John Gatins: Am I still here? Am I still talking? What?
John: It was still good. And so I think there’s still really a part for you. And we really want to thank you.
Craig: That’s how he ends every audition. “Is this — Am I here?”
John Gatins: “Is this — am I good?” “Is this on?”
Craig: “Am I good?” [laughs]
John: So John Gatins, I just want to really say, thank you for coming in.
Craig: Thank you, Johnny.
John: I think it might be a good time to bring another — an actor up here.
Craig: Like a real one?
John: An actor who does it for — we have a really great one here. Could we welcome a director and actor, Jason Bateman.
Craig: Jason Bateman.
It’s our traditional greeting. It’s how we do it.
Jason Bateman: I thought that was really good, John. That was tight. We’d like to call you back next week.
Craig: Wow. Cool.
John: You wouldn’t do that over Skype. You’d want to be in the room with him so you can really feel his energy and his presence?
Jason: I mean, a couple of times I’ve been lucky enough to be on the other side. I don’t — auditioning is terrible. And it’s even worse on the other side when you’re watching an actor auditioning. It’s like, it’s just — it’s the worst situation in the world.
That was fantastic.
John: I have a line I’d like you to do.
Jason: I don’t do drugs anymore.
Craig: Shush. We’ll get to your drug problem shortly. Here’s a line of dialogue I’d like you to see if you can take a swing on this one.
Jason: Did you write this?
Craig: No. “It’s a delicious honey graham taste made to stay crispy and crunchy in milk.”
Jason: I’ve done that one.
Craig: [laughs] That is, correct me if I’m wrong, the very first taste of Bateman that America got in a Honey Graham —
Jason: It’s not.
Craig: It wasn’t?
Jason: No. My crap started earlier than that.
Jason: But I did do a very special honey — was it a Honey Nut Cheerios or a Honey —
Craig: It was a Honey Graham Crunch.
Craig: Yes. You were in a go-cart.
Jason: I was in a go-cart on a golf course somewhere doing speed way too fast on a golf cart path.
Yeah. I did a bunch of commercials. And then after you do a bunch of commercials your agent says, “Well now you qualify to go out and start reading for, you know, shitty TV shows.”
Craig: And that brings us to Silver Spoons.
Jason: You book a few of those and you get to do some better ones, and then you work your way up to Identity Thief, Craig.
Craig: Yes, well. You were in it.
Craig: You were all over it.
Jason: There was no sarcasm in that.
Craig: Oh, no.
Jason: The shit was tight.
Craig: Tight. [Laughs]
John: But let’s talk about why you were in that movie.
Jason: Where did he come from?
John: I want to know the process of you as an actor and then later on, as a director, you’re reading a script. How much of the script do you actually read before you say like, “Yes” or “No” or like, “I don’t want to finish reading this”? What is the process you go through of figuring out like, “This is something I want to spend months of my life trying to do?” What goes on in your head?
Jason: It’s a really good question.
John: I ask good questions.
Jason: No, it’s great.
Craig: I had that one written down but it was after the Honey Graham commercial.
Jason: I mean, there’s a lot of different answers to that and I don’t want to put you guys to sleep, but you’re probably interested in this. Majority of you are screenwriters. Yeah?
Jason: First of all, it’s annoying that we idiot actors take so long to read scripts. I know that probably, you guys have been on the wrong side of like, “Wait. Have they not read it yet?”
I mean and it is so difficult to write scripts. I tried once when I was 20 or something. And it is, what you guys do, and I’m not just trying to curry favor, it is the hardest thing in the world, what you guys do. So, my hat is off to you. The least we can do is like, read it as soon as we get it, right? [Laughs]
So there’s that. And then, to answer your question, how much of it do you read? You should finish it which I do, but it takes me a really long time to read a script because I’m not just zipping through it.
You know, you’re trying to imagine it. You’re trying to see if you can plus it or fit it, right? Because that’s our job. You guys have written it, we have to act our part or play the character in such a way where these words would make sense to come out. So it should take some time, so it takes me some time. And I usually decide before I start reading it whether I’m going to do it because it usually has lot to do with the people that are involved. If you like the people that are doing it and those people are really good at what they do, you can make something that — you can make a script that is, maybe not as good as it could be, you can make it better, perhaps. Especially if the writer is on the set and they can see kind of what angles it’s taken. And can kind of change it along the way.
So I will decide pretty much before I start reading it. And then if I can’t find a way into the act, into the character, then I’ll say, “Well, damn it. This is not a fit for me.” But I wish it was, you know?
John: So as you’re reading through the script the very first time, are you stopping at the end of your scenes and saying like, “Could I actually do that? Do those words fit in my mouth?” Is that the kind of thing you’re working through? Or are you tiring to picture yourself being on that set?
What is the combination of things? Is it mostly the character and the role? Is it the other people involved? What’s making you say yes or no?
Jason: It’s really, it’s about the people involved. It’s not about the size of the role or whether it’s like, you know, Citizen Kane. It’s really about, is everybody involved with it kind of like, “Is this a party I want to get invited to?” You know, no matter — whether I get a good seat inside the party or not, like are these cool people that I want to like be a part of?
And then, as far as you said something about fitting in my mouth and I was writing a joke to that and I forgot the rest of the sentence.
Craig: I got, here. I got 12.
Jason: You got it. He’s so fast.
John: Craig’s quick with those jokes. But talk to me now about reading scripts as a director because like is this something you want to spend a year of your life trying to put this whole movie together. What is that process? And you’ve just directed your second big movie. What is that?
Jason: Not big. Big is not the right word.
Craig: No, I’m sorry. Big full-length movie. A movie that could show up on a big screen.
Jason: That’s it.
Craig: That’s what it is. Theoretically, 10 people in this audience —
Jason: It won’t be up on that screen long but they will be there.
John: I saw Bad Words at the Arc Light?
Jason: For a day.
John: Yeah. But I saw it there. So what is your process of that? Whether you want to dedicate your life to that, would you know how to do that stuff?
Jason: Yeah. I mean, it’s — I love reading a script that would demand that the director takes full advantage of the privilege of the position, which is, that is the job where you get to unapologetically lead multiple departments and just try to communicate in the most articulate possible way what you would like each of them to do in order to create one experience, shape one experience for the audience.
And so, some films, that’s not really — in some scripts that’s not really their intention. It’s maybe, it’s a joke thing or it’s an effects thing or it’s — see, I like stuff that’s a little bit more complicated. I mean, I enjoy all films but it’s stuff that I would want to direct — the stuff that’s really challenging where it would really demand that you know how to utilize each department to create that one thing. Like a glib comparison, but like a conductor, you know? Like you need a little bit out of the horns and a little bit out of the strings and together there’s one sound and, you know.
Craig: But this is not something that you’ve come to, now. This is — I did not know this. But you directed three episodes of The Hogan’s. The Hogan family television show —
Jason: That’s right.
Craig: When you were —
Jason: That’s right.
Craig: But here’s the part that kind of —
Jason: The three best ones.
Craig: You were — granted, stipulated. You were 18 years old. And now, let me tell you what I was doing when I was 18. I was stuck in a room with Ted Cruz.
Enjoy my pain. You could have been doing any of the things I wished I was doing instead of being stuck in a room with Ted Cruz. None of which was directing.
So you’re a heartthrob, you’re an actor, you’re on television. There are girls and probably some drugs. I’m just thinking maybe a little bit of drugs here and there. Just a touch.
Jason: I don’t know. I can’t remember. I think you’re probably right.
Craig: [laughs] But you chose even then to direct and you know, having worked with you and now, having seen your movies, I mean, you really are a proper filmmaker. Sometimes, actors I think arrive at this sort of later on. You, it’s always been there.
And this is a kind of a weird question and I don’t know if there’s an answer, but all this time have you been kind of a director who’s been acting? Or are you an actor that’s kind of also been directing? Do you know what I mean? Like where is your soul?
Jason: Yeah. I am — this is — you’re going to make me cry up here.
This sounds too precious but I would think maybe a director that was acting, only because starting so young, you get to see the process for so long and you know, look, acting is not difficult. I mean, Jesus Christ.
Craig: We just proved that. I mean, yeah.
Jason: I mean look at — John is like, Oof.
But we all do it, you know? You guys are different with your best friend than you are with your mom. Like that’s just behavioral manipulation in a convincing way, right?
Like your mom is going to know if you’re not being sincere so you’ve got a really kind of thread — you got to be believable. That’s acting. It’s so simple. So if you get bored by doing something kind of simple, you start watching shit that’s really interesting like, how a guy can like load a camera and like build dolly track. And so I started to really get an early appreciation for how much work it takes to build a fake world. I mean, there’s no one there that doesn’t need to be there.
And so, I started to watch what all these people do and saw who got to communicate with all of those people. And that was the director. So I really started to watch that process and said one day, hopefully, I can do enough work where I can create an opportunity to diversify or get the privilege to do that job.
Craig: And now also, you are producing, I mean you have your own company that produces the stuff that you’re in, produces the stuff you make, produces things that you’re not in, and so that’s a whole other vibe. Have you been working with screenwriters a lot as just a producer where you’re not in the movie but kind of going through that development process?
Jason: A little bit, yeah. I mean, I’d like to be doing it more but it’s hard. It’s hard to get you guys in the room and get you guys — you guys are busy.
Craig: They’ll line up for the room.
Jason: No. I mean, like there’s not a lot of people that are willing to do the hard work of writing. I mean, it’s difficult. It takes a lot of discipline. You guys like have to stare at the wall all day to come up with something even better than yesterday’s idea. Like that’s discipline.
It’s difficult to get people in there with great ideas and then once those ideas come in to try to shape them into something that you think you can kind of navigate and execute. Yet still keep it something that makes sense to you guys, that you can still have ownership on and it still lives inside of you because you got to do all the heavy lifting. I mean, that’s a really tough process, as well. And I’m just starting doing that but I really love doing it.
John: Can you talk us through, either as an actor or director, when you have that first meeting with a writer? So you’ve read the script. It’s really good. You’re sitting down with her and you’re talking through this thing. How does that go well? Like, what are the good versions of that first meeting? What are you saying? What is the writer’s saying so you can — ?
Jason: After you read the script, and you start talking about notes —
Jason: And things like that?
John: Yes. So how is that from an actor’s perspective, what is the best version of that meeting or a director’s perspective? Because we only know it from the writer’s perspective.
Jason: He asks so much better questions than you do.
Craig: I know. I know. He also — he does like everything. You know that, right?
Jason: Oh, I know. That’s good. You do that great.
Craig: I know. I’ve always done that.
Jason: I mean, the best version of that for us or the best version of that for the writer? Ideally, look, you’re trying to get it produced. I mean, we are on the same team at that point. We want to get the script into the kind of shape — I should ask Aaron Schmidt this — Aaron, we work together, and he helps me develop some of the stuff into stuff that’s a little bit better.
You’re trying to get it made so you’re trying to let them know what your partner at the studio wants to see, what they need, and is there room inside of your creative bandwidth to move it in that direction and still have it be something that you can deliver. You don’t want to change it out of something that you guys love and what you guys want to do. You just try to find, basically, that compromise, that creative negotiation there.
John: From the writer’s perspective, we played all the characters until the actors showed up. And so one by one, those roles are being assigned off to people. And so, can you think of examples of like really good hand-offs where like, you guys would come to the common page of sort of what this character was like?
Jason: Craig, gave me a great hand-off a couple of —
John: Yeah. The idea was — but like, so, Craig, that’s actually a good question for you, though, because you played his character for him.
Craig: I give you lip service. I gave you that hand-off.
Jason: John’s not — John doesn’t understand what we’re talking about.
Craig: Not at all. No, he understands, he doesn’t care. Look, that’s his face of not caring. That’s it.
Jason: He’s giving an eyebrow. He’s got to, it’s Yin and Yang, guys.
Craig: You know the thing with Jason — I’m sorry, Justin or Jason?
Jason: I get Justin as much as Jason.
John: Justine is your sister. She emailed me today and she’s looking for a nanny.
Craig: We were — I think we were sitting once outside like having coffee somewhere. And like, maybe, in an hour five people came up and said, “Can I get your picture?” And two of the five called you, Justin.
Jason: Yeah. That’s my average, everyday. It’s true.
Craig: Fantastic. That’s his average.
Jason: You know, it is an interesting point because you guys play all the characters as you write them and what I’ve noticed with some writers that are first-time directors, sometimes, that’s an uncomfortable transition.
You know, there are sometimes, not all first-time directors who are writers do this, but sometimes, I’ll notice that I’ll get or an actor will get a false-negative from that director. In that, you know why? The note will be coming from a place of, “Well, you know, you’re just not saying it the way that I’ve heard it forever and forever.”
And that’s not necessarily wrong because the audience, obviously, hasn’t read the script before. They don’t have any preconceived notion of what that line is going to sound like, what that character is going to be performed like. So, that’s one thing that is an interesting process to go through with a writer who starts to direct is trying to get a mutually-agreed upon finish line and then how we get there really should be kind of up for grabs. Like that’s where the actor needs to take a little bit of ownership. You know, not complete autonomy on that. There should still be a collaboration. But it is the time for the actor to start to pee on the furniture a little bit.
And sometimes, you know, a writer who is just starting out as a director, that’s an uncomfortable process. And I totally empathize with that. But it’s not done like, you know. And then even once the film is shot, then the editor gets to pee on it, you know. And, boy, that guy is smashed back there. That’s two. And then marketing will change the profile of it again and it keeps growing.
Craig: You know, we try — we talk a lot about being specific in our voice. And I try as best as I can to write for somebody that exists. I think the danger sometimes for writers is we write our characters in our head and we see these people. But they’re not people in the world, they’re people in our heads. That’s not a matchable thing. I try and write for somebody that I know exists. What’s interesting then is you don’t get that person a lot of the time.
But in a weird way, that gets you out of then being stuck because you say, well, I wrote this for somebody that exists, that means I can write it for somebody that’s similar, that exists. I mean, I think that that’s — I mean, look, the easiest thing in the world is the arrangement that we had where I know you’re playing this part and I know Melissa is playing this part. That’s a breeze.
And then we get rid of that thing. But for most people who are writing specs, they’re a mile away or three miles away from that.
Jason: Right. And then it becomes the director’s obligation to make a case with the studio that this person needs to play this part because if you try to put this round peg in a square hole, it’s going to make the writing not work. And the writing already works.
One of the really good things that I learned from doing so much sitcom work is that all these scenes work and you just have to pick the right kind of emotion or attitude to make it work, to fit that. Like, because you’re working with the same material for the most part all week.
So, if on Monday you’re playing that scene jealous, it might not work. But if you play it paranoid, then it starts to pop. And sometimes you need the writer and/or producer there to say, “Hey, you know, when we wrote this or when we broke it in the room, it was going through that sort of lens. That’s kind of how we wrote it. That’s how we see — so try playing it with that emotion.” And there’s nothing wrong with the writing, it’s the actor that’s making the wrong choice.
Craig: There you go.
John: He said it himself.
Craig: That’s it.
John: Done. We’re finished.
Craig: Right that. Perfect
John: Jason Bateman, you’ll never top that. I think we should bring up these guys who have peed all over Game of Thrones.
John: They made that —
Jason: A lot of peeing, a lot of screwing in that show.
Craig: A lot of screwing and blood.
John: A lot of screwing and blood.
Craig: And peeing and puking. Oh, look, it’s Stuart. Weird delayed cheer for Stuart.
John: Yeah, weird delayed cheer for Stuart.
John: Let us welcome up the co-creators and showrunners of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
Craig: Let’s bring it down. Let’s bring it way down.
David Benioff: There goes the evening.
Craig: Can you feel the energy just.
David: You kept Jason here to make with the jokes. Keep it lively.
Craig: All right, we’re going to blow through these questions real fast, get these guys off the stage. Here we go. Do you have any introduction?
John: I do have an introduction. What I wanted to talk to you guys about was the sense that you’re starting your 6th season, well, you’re going to start airing your 6th season, but you guys, you’re actually ahead of all of that stuff. So an episode will come out — there will be a controversy in that episode — you’ll be having to address publicly the controversy in that episode, but that was like a year ago for you guys, and you’re already on the next thing. Where is the present tense for you guys when you are writing this huge thing that just keeps going? Is there any sense of like this is where Game of Thrones is, or is it just this big blur of time for you guys?
David: That’s what we tell people when they get upset, we say, that was a year ago. Get over it, it’s done.
John: It seems like, oh, they’re going to address that controversy in like the next episode or something. It’s like, “Well, no you’re not, I mean that thing is already done.” And your show is also block shot, so you have to plan your whole season way in advance. You’re going where there’s snow. You have these multiple units. You’ve made the most complicated thing for yourselves imaginable. Why?
Craig: Yeah, why?
Jason: Craig, you are the best.
Craig: Thanks man.
Jason: You are the best. John is slowing you down, man.
Craig: [laughs] That’s so true. Anchor around my neck. All right.
D.B. Weiss: I like that Melissa is just sitting here with her arms folded.
Jason: You’ve got to leave this guy, Melissa.
D.B.: I remember getting, we got an email, I think it was the second season, an email from Greg Spence, one of our producers at the beginning of the week, it was a mass email to everybody and it said, “Everyone, this week we will be shooting scenes for 9 episodes with 5 directors and 4 units in 3 countries. Happy Monday.”
And that is kind of as you mentioned, we have to have all the scripts written before we start shooting because there’s no way to schedule the show otherwise because we’re shooting in multiple locations with multiple director/DP teams, and it’s just really the only way. It’s kind of a hybrid television/film scheduling model. But sometimes it gets confusing to keep it all together, but by the time we get to that point, we’ve written the scripts already, and before the scripts, we wrote a very detailed outline, and before the detailed outline, we were very steeped in the world of the books, so it gets confusing sometimes. We have Dave Hill who’s somewhere in the audience, one of our writers is there to keep things in order. I don’t know where he is. Where is Dave Hill? Stand up, David Hill. That’s Dave Hill.
We have a lot of help. We have a lot of really, really smart people who let us know what comes after what.
John: You may have smart people, but you’re also having to deal with a whole network, a whole marketing department. They might not necessarily really understand everything else that’s going on.
Craig: Are you trying to depress them?
John: I’m not trying to depress them.
Craig: What’s happening?
John: I’m just saying —
Craig: I want more of the show you. You’re literally going to make them quit.
John: Well, we’re talking about the present tense. Let’s imagine if you can travel back through time, and like these two young writers who are considering doing Game of Thrones, what advice would you give to those young writers?
David: Well okay, this is actually relevant because we showed our pilot, the original pilot to Craig, what was that, seven years ago?
David: We were on the lot on Santa Monica in Formosa, we had shot the pilot, we had spent I think three years trying to get the show up.
D.B.: Yes, 2006 to 2010, it was almost four years.
David: It took us almost four years to get the pilot made. And we finished it. We’d been overseas for about seven months. We finally got it finished, and we show it to Craig, Ted Griffin, and Scott Frank. And watching them watch that original pilot was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I mean, it’s probably like appendicitis and that. And Craig, as soon as it finished, Craig said —
Craig: You guys have a massive problem.
D.B.: I had this, because I was taking notes. We were taking notes, I had this yellow like legal pad and I remember just writing in all caps, MASSIVE PROBLEM, underlining. And all I saw from then on that night was just massive problem.
Craig: I wasn’t wrong.
David: No, you weren’t wrong. We ended up reshooting the pilot, 90% of the pilot was reshot. I mean, it was like 92%, I mean, literally, so much of it was reshot that a different director got credit. Craig didn’t really have any brilliant ideas, except he told us, and we believed him because he was right.
D.B.: Change everything.
Craig: Well, I will say that the story, I mean, obviously, it has a very happy ending, but it’s one of the moments I will never forget is being invited to the premiere of the first season where they showed the first, I think it was the first two episodes of the series, and I was just basically — and it was at CAA, so you know, it’s the first season, you don’t get like now, when you guys have a premiere, I think they shut down a city, right? And they sacrifice humans. But then, it was just the small screening theater in CAA like your dad was there, you know. And so I went in just thinking, well, I’m going to see how this goes.
And I sat there, and this show unfolds, the first episode, and I am stunned. Stunned. And I very specifically remember walking out in between and you were there, and I said to you, “That is the biggest rescue in Hollywood history,” because it wasn’t just that you had saved something bad and turned it really good. You had saved a complete piece of shit, and turned it into something brilliant. That never happens. Here’s the crazy part. You guys, it’s honestly true, you guys are like a die that has all 20s on it, and then there was one 1, and you happen to roll the 1 when you made that pilot. That was it, it was a fluke. Everything since then —
D.B.: A DND reference. He’s making a DND reference.
Craig: Everything since then has been outstanding.
D.B.: I find that pandering.
Craig: Yes. [laughs]
John: I do want to point out that like Craig is now taking credit for Game of Thrones. I mean, that’s a remarkable thing that’s happened like live on this stage.
Craig: I mean, I’m not taking credit, I’m just acknowledging the credit I deserve.
John: I do want to circle back to the question though. At that moment, at the premiere where it went so, so well, if you could talk to those people who just did that, the two episodes that went so great at CAA what did you not know then that now, years later you do know? Is there anything you would do differently about your life, about the show, about how this is all going? Because —
D.B.: We still didn’t know anybody was going to watch it.
D.B.: And at first, it was a very slow build. They didn’t tell us this in so many words, but we got the sense that they were not that excited about the initial number. I remember we were scouting when it was airing, we were with Carolyn Strauss, who, for those you who don’t know, was the President of HBO to whom we sold the pitch.
David: So you would think she know something about ratings and understand the ratings.
D.B.: Yeah, and so they were getting the ratings in, and she gets the ratings, and she does the math in her head. She went to Harvard, so she does the math in her Harvard head, and she goes, “You guys, 8.2 million people watched the premiere. You beat Boardwalk Empire and Martin Scorsese,” and we were like, oh my god, that’s great. And then she gets an email, like five minutes later, she goes, “Guys, guys, sorry, no, no. 2.2 million people.”
D.B.: And we were like, how do you get from 8.2, to 2.2? And she said, “Oh, I read the demo number wrong.”
Craig: You guys have been friends for a long, long time, you were friends long before you started working on Game of Thrones together, but I’m always fascinated by partnerships, and specifically about the fights. When you fight, because just based on what I know about you, I’m just going to guess that it’s just two stonily silent people pushing their anger down, and then denying it to each other, and then just quietly turning a little bit red. Is that right?
David: I think in the 20 some years I’ve known Dan, 20 years-ish.
D.B.: Something like that. Jesus.
David: I think he’s threatened to kill me while drunk at least three times. Not like in a joking way, like I will beat your skull in.
Craig: [laughs] Really?
David: And the next day, I always tell him, “Dude you threatened to kill me last night.”
D.B.: I don’t remember it though.
David: And he never remembers. He’s always like, “No, I didn’t.” Dan has this tactic, if we’re arguing about something to do with the story or whatever, in effect a queue, he’ll write a 14-page email, and he knows that after four or five pages I’ll get so bored that I’ll just like — I give up, and so he always wins the arguments because —
D.B.: It’s a self-limiting tactic because there’s only so much time we have to write 14 pages. So you really have to choose, you can’t do it on everything, you got to choose your battles.
Craig: I just like that you just get bored with your own show and the email. Yeah, just do it. That’s spectacular.
D.B.: Fine, Ned dies. Fine.
David: Fine, chop off his head.
Craig: Do you guys — wait, that’s why that happened? [laughs]
David: I didn’t know until it aired.
Craig: “What? That was what that email said?” Now because you are involved in this massive productions, like almost military campaigns put the show on, while you’re writing, you were aware that sooner or later you’re going to have to pay the bill for what you’re writing. I’m not talking financially, I mean just literally, the execution of it. In those moments, do you think of — do you care-take the person down the line or when you were in production mode, do you curse that scene?
David: That happened today. We’re in writer’s room, Dave Hill, and Bryan Cogman, and Ethan and Gursimran were sitting at the back. It’s the six of us. Six people? Five?
Craig: Write him a long email.
David: Six. Yes.
David: And we changed one scene from an interior, like a little interior four-hander, to this massive kind of parade through the streets of King’s Landing which basically made like a little five-hour scene into a three-day extravaganza in Dubrovnik, and we said —
D.B.: We just realized like if Bernie Caulfield, who’s our like producer, capo di tutt’i capi, like the producer who actually makes things happen, if she were in this room now she would be swearing because she just had a scene in the throne room that turned into like, David said, it’s like a thousand extras and a whole day thing. But one of the greatest things about being in a writers’ room is you’re just insulated from those considerations, and you put the dream version of it out there. And we always end up scaling things back, we always end up, you know, Bernie and a bunch of our other producers end up — she has the chopping block email, so in the course of the preproduction process, she’ll send out every week or sometimes twice a week there will be just the chopping block and it’ll be her suggestions and some of the other producers’ suggestions about what could change to make some of the stuff we really love more manageable, what could go, what scenes are necessary, what scenes aren’t necessary. And no one’s afraid of putting anything on the chopping block and it all comes down and we — it’s not dictates, we discuss it.
But at the end of the day, like you’re in there, in the room, and you’re creating the version of the show, or the vision of the show that is in your head that you would love to make if you had unlimited time, unlimited money, and you don’t. So you end up paring that down, but it’s always better to start with that because then at least you know what you’re shooting for.
John: Can you talk to us about the outline and sort of going into the season, do have it broken down by this is the arc that’s going to happen over the whole season, or are you figuring out each episode, this is the beginning and end of this episode, this is how this plot line would move in this episode, before you start working on the individual script?
David: Right, so the episodes for season seven that are up on the board, and we’ve got the index cards that Gursimran’s writing up and pinning to the board, and misspelling everything and then we give her shit about misspelling everything, and —
D.B.: Mercenary. Come on.
John: And David, at this stage —
David: Reneg, R-E-N-E-G.
Craig: Yes, you don’t want to misspell that one. That’s —
David: Come on, Berkeley — so we got that, and we’re going to finish putting everything on the board, and then —
John: And this cards for each episode, so this is basically all —
David: Cards for each scene in each episode. And then we’ll finish that, we’re almost done with that, and then we’ll start writing an actual outline. Last year, Dave, what was it, like 130 pages, 140 pages? 160-page outline for 10 episodes, really detailed outline and then we start writing episodes, and we have to finish all of our scripts before we start shooting because the entire season is cross-boarded, meaning, it’s all shot like a movie. We might shoot scenes from the final episode in the first week. And there’s so much prep involved that everything has to be written. I mean, we keep rewriting over the course of the season, but it all has to be written so that people know how to get it ready. And obviously, it’s a lot of work, but it also, I think it helps focus us because deadlines are really useful for us, it helps make us work —
John: It also means that you get to do one thing at a time largely, so you are writing a show, you’re shooting a show or you’re editing a show —
D.B.: No, because we’re outlining for season seven and we’re also editing season six, and tomorrow, we’re going in to do sound. Sound tomorrow?
D.B.: Ethan, sound? Okay.
John: Right, so there still is that —
D.B.: It separates it more than you would normally have it separated. It’s at least the bulk of the writing has been done, so you’re rewriting while you’re shooting, and the bulk of the editing gets done after that —
David: People are leaving in droves, by the way. We need a new question.
D.B.: Well, that guy is going to the bathroom. So, is that Gatins?
Craig: All right, well here, I’ll keep them from leaving. Is Jon Snow alive or what?
David: Jon Snow is dead.
Craig: Okay. Next, I have a question for you. Wait, I have one last question for you. I’m going to say some presidential candidates, you’re going to tell me what character is best matched to them on Game of Thrones. Ted Cruz.
Craig: Not Ramsey? Because I lived with him.
D.B.: Oh, you know then.
David: Ramsey is actually kind of a badass. Like Ramsey fights —
Craig: You’re right, you’re right. He actually does, he accomplishes things. Correct. By the way, alive or dead characters, doesn’t matter, obviously. Chris Christie?
David: You almost got in trouble there. Go.
D.B.: I don’t know enough.
Craig: Terrible answer.
D.B.: Chris Christine?
David: Walder Frey.
D.B.: No, he’s better than that Walder Frey.
Craig: Yeah. That’s wrong, Robert Baratheon was the answer.
David: Yeah, yeah.
John: Yeah, that would be good, yeah.
D.B.: You have the answers, just give the answers.
Craig: Okay, two more, two more. Hillary Clinton.
D.B.: You want us to say Cersie.
Craig: No, that’s not the right answer. There is an answer to this.
D.B.: Well, what’s the answer?
Craig: The answer is Stannis because it’s like, “I’m supposed to be king.”
John: Wait…well, yeah, you’re good.
Craig: Why is there even a debate?
John: You could make the same argument for Jeb Bush, honestly, as Stannis.
Craig: Yes, but Jeb is more well, okay, one last one.
John: All right.
Craig: Ben Carson.
D.B.: I don’t, Mord the jailer? I don’t know.
D.B.: We both — we had the same answer.
Craig: The answer was Hodor.
D.B.: We had the same answer.
John: I like that special feature where Craig tells you who your characters are.
Craig: Yes, learn your show, guys.
John: On our podcast, on a weekly basis, we give a One Cool Thing. Craig usually forgets, but he remembered this time.
Craig: Yeah, I totally did.
John: So, Craig, do you want to tell us your One Cool Thing?
Craig: Yes. It’s going to sound freaking crazy, but I read about this in Wired, and it’s true. Microsoft Outlook, hold on, worst desktop email client ever. They have a client, they have an app for iPhone now, it’s outstanding, it’s really good, it’s better than any of the other ones I’ve ever used. So I’m actually using Microsoft Outlook on my iPhone and it’s free and it really works good, I mean, I know, it sounds crazy. But, you know —
D.B.: I feel like however many people left during my editing spiel, fives times as many just left after.
Craig: I got to point out, they’re riveted.
John: My One Cool Thing is a series of YouTube videos you can find which provides 12-hour or 24-hour loops of ambient noise including ambient noise from like the Star Trek —
Craig: See? See?
John: Star Trek Enterprise. And so you know you’re writing, so this guy who wrote in and who couldn’t write, he needs some background distraction noise, so they have the ambient noise from like all your favorite sci-fi movies.
Craig: You should be one of those noises by the way.
John: Yeah, yeah. So maybe rather than bleeping out this profanity, we’ll put in some ambient background behind all the stuff.
Craig: Yeah, ambient background.
John: And it was really good if you’re just like you’re at a coffee shop and you don’t want to hear the people talking next to you, you put on the headphones and listen to some ambient noise.
Jason: When is the last time either one of you guys got laid?
John: I got laid this week. It was amazing.
Craig: When did I last get laid? It was like last week. It was like last week!
David: Like last week.
Craig: Yeah. Last week-ish.
Jason: With some ambient noise and preceded by the five tones.
Jason: I get it. This is an incredible group.
John: All right.
Craig: We can’t all be good looking…
John: For writers, we’re pretty good. Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel, who’s here. Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did the outro. Thank you, Matthew. We really need to thank Hollywood Heart for having us here tonight. Thank you guys so, so much.
Guys, thank you all very, very, very much.
Craig: Thank you, guys.
John: It’s been a tremendous amount of fun. Thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, guys.
- Hollywood HEART
- The Lazarus Experience, our venue
- John Gatins on IMDb and Wikipedia
- Jason Bateman on IMDb, Wikipedia and a Golden Grahams commercial
- David Benioff on IMDb and Wikipedia, and D.B. Weiss on IMDb and Wikipedia
- Outlook for iOS, and The Office Blog on Outlook’s new look
- crysknife007’s Ambient Scifi Sleep Sounds Playlist on YouTube
- Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)