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 236 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today, on the program, somebody buys Final Draft. But it’s not an aspiring screenwriter, rather a giant accounting software company. We’ll talk about what that means for Craig’s favorite application and the state of screenwriting software in general.
Also, today we’ll talk about franchises. We’ll do a ton of follow-up questions about previous discussions, including some “How Would This Be a Movie?” that are actually going to be movies. And we’ll answer listener questions, too, about reading your boss’ script and moving on from a draft.
Craig: That sounds like a lot.
John: It sounds like a lot. It wasn’t very much until we just added the last little thing.
Craig: I know —
John: Right before we started recording.
Craig: It’s way too ambitious. But you know what, I feel like we could do it.
John: I feel like we could do it because we’re an ambitious podcast that gets a lot of news attention. This last week we got written up in Vanity Fair because of our live show, our Hollywood Heart show with Jason Bateman and The Game of Thrones guys. There’s a whole article in Vanity Fair about that now.
Craig: I don’t know how Vanity Fair makes their money. I’m guessing ads on the internet.
Craig: We should get some of it. I mean, we did the work.
John: We did the work. There is reporting on something that we did.
Craig: Yeah. I mean —
John: Yeah. So Joanna Robinson just did a little write-up about The Game of Thrones guys talking about how the first pilot was terrible and how you said it was terrible and the things they did to fix it. And she noted that it’s not just booze and death threats that keep these two together, which really could be said for you and me as well. [laughs]
Craig: I’ve definitely been having a strange week in the news.
John: You have. Craig, you passed me in Twitter followers which is just — which is fine. Also just kind of bonkers because like I’ve been hovering above 50,000 for a long time. And if you look at the chart, you’ve rocketed it up in the last month.
Craig: I want people to notice. Play it, rewind if you can, and listen to John’s “Which is fine.” [laughs]
John: Which is fine.
So Craig, here’s a fascinating thing you’re going to find is — I don’t know if on Twitter you ever got ads before. Did you get ads in your timeline?
Craig: I don’t think so. You mean like a sponsored tweet or something?
John: Like a sponsored tweet or like you’d scroll past and there’d be an ad in there.
John: No. So I don’t get them either. But apparently a lot of people do get them. And it’s because you and I crossed a certain threshold or because we have little verified checkmarks, we don’t get any of that stuff. So we live in a slightly different Twitter universe than other people do.
Craig: You mean it’s better?
John: It’s better. We sort of — we are in the express lane of Twitter, which is odd. But you are now in the center of Twitter firestorms because you keep poking the bear and the bow — the bear being your former college roommate.
Craig: He’s no bear.
John: No, he’s not a bear.
Craig: No. Bears are cool. [laughs] Yeah, I know I’m not going to stop.
John: You’re not going to stop?
John: And people will not stop emailing the ask account to say if I could get you to go on a national media appearance, and the answer is no. So you can stop writing in.
Craig: And I’m so sorry that that’s happening. For whatever it’s worth, I get bombarded constantly, every day, six or seven calls.
What’s kind of remarkable to me is news organizations will just have different people call and you start to realize that every organization is terrible in the world. So —
Craig: Like, you know, so CNN will have somebody call. And then two days later somebody else from CNN will call. And then three days later somebody else from CNN will call. And then NBC calls, but then MSNBC calls. Nobody talks, and anyway, I’m not doing any of it, ever. So stop calling.
John: Which is good.
Craig: That ain’t going to work, but fine. [laughs]
John: So last night I had my own little media spotlight because I got to host Beyond Words 2016. So this is who I had up on stage with me. So I had Matt Charman who wrote Bridge of Spies. Drew Goddard from The Martian. I had Jon Herman and Andrea Berloff from Straight Outta Compton. John McNamara from Trumbo, Phyllis Nagy from Carol. We had Charles Randolph and Adam McKay from The Big Short, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy from Spotlight, and Aaron Sorkin from Steve Jobs.
John: That was a lot of people on stage. And if it sounds like that was too many people to have on stage, you are correct. That is more writers than you should ever have on stage for a Q&A.
But it ended up being really fun. And so we got a review. We got a write-up. Which I didn’t know they would ever write a review for a Q&A, but they did. So David Robb from Deadline wrote, “It was a high-spirited evening with lots of laughs and no controversy.”
Craig: That’s the way we like it.
John: That’s the way we roll.
So it was actually a really fun time. And everybody was great. No one had nearly enough time to speak. But I tried to structure it in a way that everybody got to speak pretty often so that it didn’t just go for like a half an hour without hearing from anybody. So it was a fun night.
If you were not able to attend but would like to hear it, you’re in luck because it’s going to be on the premium feed. So we’ll have that up maybe at the same time this episode goes up. So if you want to go over to scriptnotes.net, it’s $1.99 a month to get all the back episodes and premium episodes, and that will be one of them.
Craig: Spectacular. That must have been quite the task to wrangle — I mean, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11.
John: Yup. So me, plus 11 people.
John: You could barely fit all those chairs on the stage because we had the sort of couchey kind of things. We’ve done a lot of events at this theater. And so we went with the couch mold and — but it was a lot of people there.
And so I tried to structure questions that there would be some speed rounds where everybody would answer one thing and it would be really short. And then we try to go in-depth and talk about relationship with characters, relationship with setting up the worlds.
It was interesting. But what was so weird about that group of movies and that group of writers is like they were almost entirely movies about real people.
John: And so we could really focus on that.
John: And so except for Drew Goddard who ruined everything by writing The Martian.
Craig: Right. Drew ruined it.
John: But even Carol, as I went — as we sort of got into it, Carol is, you know, based on some real experiences. And Phyllis’ relationship with Patricia Highsmith and sort of the weird way that they met and first became friendly was a huge part of that. And the sense of responsibility writers have to their subjects, be it the author or be it the real-life people you’re portraying, that was a great thing to get into. And I don’t think — people weren’t answering the same questions they answered throughout the rest of the award circuit, which is fun.
Craig: Yeah. That’s the idea. I mean, when I did the session with Charles and Adam for The Big Short, I tried my best to come up with questions that I didn’t think they are constantly — I mean, because you can — it’s amazing. I don’t want to use the word lazy or anything, but man, these people, a lot of them don’t even try. They just ask the same question. They’re not embarrassed to ask the same questions over and over. I would be so embarrassed.
John: Yeah. You got to talk about new things.
Craig: Yeah, give it a shot.
John: So one of the things we did talk about was what was one of your favorite scenes that is not in the movie. Or something you wrote that didn’t make it through to the end. And except for Aaron Sorkin everyone was delighted to sort of tell us those things. And I think those are often really revealing because those things that don’t make it up there were probably very important to you in the writing of the movie, but they weren’t necessarily important to the final version of the movie because, obviously, these movies all turned out great without those scenes being in them. So that was a good look at sort of the process and the emotional journey you go through as you’re writing.
Craig: I’m always struck by how you can take writers who are at the top of their game and take them at a point in their career when they’re in the middle of all this glory. And they’re all writing different kinds of things completely, and they all come from different places, and the problems are all the same.
Craig: They’re — it just — that’s actually very comforting, I think.
John: Yeah. There’s a shared experience of being the person trying to make this impossible movie happen. And all these movies were incredibly unlikely movies to exist. And so the fact that they all turned out and came out this year is a great testament.
I found it weird that three of these movies take place in the ’50s. And so I kept waiting for someone to cut together these movies into like one cohesive whole.
John: Where like Carol is in Bridge of Spies and Trumbo is suddenly walking through. Because certain people could kind of be in both places. And of course you have Jeff Daniels who is both in Steve Jobs but he’s also in The Martian, and so he could, you know, be yelling at people for different reasons.
Craig: Bridge of Carol Trumbo.
John: Yeah. That’s maybe not the strongest.
John: But we can workshop it.
Craig: Yeah. [laughs] Let’s get a roundtable together.
John: Yeah, we can go out to one of the vendors and they can come back to us with some title treatments and some, you know, one-sheets. And we can really figure out what that’s like.
I will say, if you are an aspiring editor who likes to cut together mash-up of things, I would say, go for those three movies and cut them together and make something new out of it. Because they very much feel like they could exist in the same color-space-universe. So go for it.
Craig: I feel like I’m on the verge of a new character, by the way.
John: Uh-oh. Let’s work through this right now because I want to hear it.
Craig: Well, you know, we have Sexy Craig.
John: Yeah. And everyone knows how I feel about Sexy Craig.
Craig: This is — the new character is Cool Craig.
John: Oh, all right.
Craig: He’s like — Cool Craig is like this. He’s like, “Yeah, you know, it’s like, ah. Everybody’s just like all part of the same world, you know?”
Craig: Yeah. I mean, like, I don’t know. I can’t even get worked up.
John: Yeah. [laughs] Absolutely. It’s that sense of being like really connected but detached at the same time.
Craig: You know what, it’s not Cool Craig. It’s blasé Craig. [laughs] It’s actually — it’s the opposite of cool. But I’m going to work on blasé Craig.
John: I wonder if it’s maybe like a Whole Foods Craig. It’s really — yeah.
Craig: Ooh, I like that, Whole Foods Craig. That’s — it’s like a mixture of blasé and cool. Done.
John: Yeah. Done.
Craig: Okay. Whole Foods Craig.
John: This last week my daughter has been watching a fair amount of TV including Grease: Live, which I thought was fantastic. I don’t know if you saw Grease: Live.
Craig: Amazing. And I’m actually — the script I’m writing now is for the gentleman that produced that. And they were just — I mean, talk about going into a thing all muscle tight and, on my god, it’s going to rain, and what happens, and then poor, you know —
John: Vanessa Hudgens who lost her husband — who lost her dad.
Craig: Yeah. Her father died like six hours before. I mean, it’s just like, that’s ugh. But it was — I thought it was the best of all the versions of live productions they’ve done on network TV.
John: I thought it was spectacular. And look, I have some issues with the underlying material of Grease, but I thought they actually did a really smart job of just making that a huge, entertaining moment of television live in front of my eyes.
And it did definitely feel like they were like sprinting on tightropes. Like I just couldn’t believe that they were able to do this thing live in front of me.
Craig: Yeah. And you know — look, I know — I saw the tweets, you know — the point of Grease is change everything about you to get a man. You know, yeah. And also, it was made in the ’70s and so it’s like, whatever.
John: Yeah. It’s the ’70s version of the ’50s. And if we wanted to get our best lessons about how to live life out of stage musicals, I think we are really in trouble.
Craig: Well, also, it’s like, no one is coming to Grease for that. No one. You know why you’re going to Grease? For the romance and the songs. And it’s funny and they all get together at the end. They go together like ramramlam and dingidy dingidy bam.
You know what, man, it’s like, ugh. I just feel like, can’t you just like enjoy the music and not like overthink it? I don’t know, man. You know what? It’s like, whatever.
John: I think a Whole Foods Craig is going to work.
So before we got on to the Grease topic, my daughter has been watching a lot of things that involves sort of young adults flirting. And so she was just like, “Can you show me like how you flirt?” And so I was — we’ve been trying to demonstrate like really inept flirting, and it’s just delightful because she’s like, “No, no. You’re doing it wrong.” I’m like, “Ah, thank you, thank you. Somehow you were conceived. So I don’t know, I did something right.” [laughs]
Craig: I just think that I would pay anything to watch that. [laughs] To watch you teach flirting classes to your daughter. I just like —
Craig: So you turn towards the flirt recipient and you engage the flirting protocol, adjusting for input variables. [laughs]
Craig: And she said, “No, Daddy.”
John: She said it was the worst, that I was doing a terrible job. But what’s fascinating is that she was comparing against a template that has been enforced by like Disney Channel shows.
John: And so her idea of like what cool is, is really sort of like this weird manufactured adult version of what kids should think is cool.
John: And so it’s just — it’s all so completely synthetic.
Craig: Yeah. You don’t match up to Zack and Cody at all.
John: Not a bit. Now they’re the best.
Craig: They’re just better than you.
John: They are better than me.
Let’s get to some follow-up. So hey, do you remember way back in Austin? We were sitting there in that church and we were taking through How Would This Be a Movie. We had Steve Zissis up on stage. Who else did we have up on stage?
Craig: I believe we had Nicole Perlman.
John: Oh, Nicole Perlman was there, yes.
And so we were talking about Zola. And so Zola was the young woman who was a waitress, and then she was also a stripper. And she did a little of sex work connecting. She wasn’t a sex worker, but she was helping facilitate sex work for a friend, an acquaintance.
Craig: The word you are looking for is pimping.
John: I think she was pimping and —
Craig: She was a big pimping.
John: She was pimping. And she had a very wild, very dangerous weekend, which she tweeted about. It was a long stream of tweets that became sort of this sensation. It was like, well, what is real here, what is not real here.
That became an article for Rolling Stone written by David Kushner. And it is now becoming a movie. So this last week it was announced that James Franco will direct from a script by Andrew Neel and Mike Roberts.
Craig: Nailed it.
John: Nailed it.
Craig: Now I’m really curious to see what angle they take on this, because we kind of went through all these permutations of how you could approach it. And so actually a very interesting example of how a story can open itself up to four or five different — totally different kinds of movies based on the same thing.
Craig: I’m fascinated to see which one they choose.
John: I am, too. It seems a little bit strange that Franco is involved because like there’s an overlap between this and Spring Breakers, which seems — well, it could be good or it could be bad. I don’t know that he’s going to be playing a role in it. So it’s just — I’m curious to see what this will end up becoming.
Craig: I am, too. I am, too. I think that they will be smart to come at it from some angle that will be relevant beyond our general interest in the story, because it already seems like it’s 1,000 years old.
Craig: And by the time the movie comes out it’ll seem like 20,000 years old. So there’s got to be more to it than just “Here’s what happened.”
John: Yup. We’ll see.
Craig: All right.
John: Another bit of How Would This Be a Movie, this was from a later episode, we talked about sleep paralysis. And Matt, a listener writes in, “Jeffrey Reddick who is the creator and writer of Final Destination wrote and produced a feature called Dead Awake this past fall. It’s in post-production. The log line is a young woman must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real life phenomenon of sleep paralysis.”
Craig: Nailed it.
John: Nailed it. It totally is exactly the movie I think we pitched would happen. And it apparently did happen and it is now in post. I was looking for a trailer. There’s no trailer up yet as we’re recording this, but it sounds like a movie that you will see in a theater, or on iTunes.
Craig: I think so. I think all these people should be paying us even though that guy did it before we ever said it.
John: Absolutely. We’re giving him some advanced promotion. So just like Vanity Fair should be paying us.
John: I think Jeffrey Reddick, if would want us, slip us a few dollars, we’re not going to say no.
Craig: Or hey, if you don’t, it’s all right man, whatever.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Either way it’s great. I’m liking this Craig.
Craig: You just like it because it’s not Sexy Craig. [laughs]
John: I like — here’s the thing about this Craig. This Craig has no umbrage whatsoever.
John: This Craig, all umbrage has been completely pulled out of it.
Craig: Yeah. Well, we’re going to get to Final Draft soon enough. [laughs]
John: It’s like there was a Transporter accident. [laughs] And all the umbrage went to one Craig. And this is just the one that has nothing left in him. He’s just a sheep.
Craig: You know what, nobody would want the good Craig. They would just kill him. They would set phazers to kill.
John: You can’t do anything.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah, you’re useless.
John: I have a bit of correction. In our discussion of dead scripts, one of us mentioned Armageddon and Deep Impact and a listener wrote in to point out that Deep Impact actually came out first. I always forget that but it is actually true.
John: All right. I believe it.
Craig: Sure. Yup.
John: We talked about Matt and Matt was looking for a place to write. So David wrote in. Craig, tell us what David wrote.
Craig: He said, “For $19.99 a month, that’s $19.99 a month, I have a business lounge access to any Regus in the United States.” I think I’m pronouncing Regus correctly. “I’m in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and I use them all over Jacksonville. It works great for me. I’ve moved on but still keep it. I love it and wrote my first draft there of my most recent effort. Regus rents offices mostly to sole proprietors and small businesses. Those individual offices are extremely expensive but the business lounge accounts are a steal.”
John: That’s absolutely great and true. And I can imagine something that sort of like an airport lounge would be great and perfect for exactly those kinds of things. It’s like it’s a clean, well-lit place that maybe has some coffee and you just go there and you do your work. That makes a lot of sense.
John: So our mutual friend, Dana Fox, she does a lot of writing at the Soho House in Hollywood. So that is a fancy club at the top of a building on Sunset. And that’s another great place to sort of go for meetings and coffee. But I also know writers who just sit at a table and bang out a draft there. So it’s another good choice.
Craig: Yeah. A lot of writers go there. Every now and then Todd Phillips and I would write there. But the problem with the Soho House, I mean — and this is frankly, that’s the Soho House is for rich people. And I think even then they make a decision about whether or not you’re Soho House people.
John: I have applied and have not gotten in, so if SoHo House wants to accept me, they could.
Craig: Well, they have a no-cyborg policy. It’s pretty strict. But —
John: I’m sorry.
Craig: Yeah. But the problem with Soho House is that inevitably people that you know are going to walk by because it is that kind of Hollywood incestuous place. And then you’re not working, you’re talking now, you know.
I love — you know, it’s so funny like, the only person near me, truly near me is John Lee Hancock because his office is just two floors below mine in the same building. But the two of us are so similar. We never ever bother each other, ever, unless he wants to use my scanner.
John: Yeah. I mean, he’s doing pretty well. I bet he could afford his own scanner.
Craig: You know, that’s the thing. But look —
John: And the other thing is I honestly don’t even use my scanner that much. I just use the app on my phone. And it’s just, it’s so much easier.
Craig: I use the scanner if I have to like — at tax time, it’s pretty good.
John: Yeah, if you have a bunch of pages, it’s —
Craig: Yeah, a bunch of pages. But I should just start charging him, right?
John: You should, absolutely. Or if he got a lounge access account to —
Craig: To my scanner.
John: To Regus, I bet they have a scanner.
John: They probably have a copier and a scanner. It’s probably one of those combo units, but it would be be fine.
Craig: Hey man, whether it’s a combo or not, you know, it’s like you pay and then what happens, happens.
John: 100%. Craig, you’re so right.
Craig: Here’s another question. This one is from Mario. And he asks, regarding our dead scripts discussion, “What if there were something, anything, in one of those dead scripts that you felt could work well in a different one, maybe even one you’re working on now?”
John: Yes. So that’s a great question. So has there been anything in one of those dead scripts that you’ve sort of taken and repurposed for something new?
John: I say basically no. There was one idea that I tried twice. And essentially, there’s a split screen action sequence, which I wrote in the first Charlie’s Angles and we ended up not shooting it. And so I ended up doing a similar kind of thing in another script that has never been shot.
So it’s a similar idea where at a certain point the wide screen goes split screen and you’re following two separate threads through both sides. So it’s really the same idea, but it’s so vastly different execution because the story is different. That it’s just the same. It’s only the very general same idea. There’s no beats that are the same.
I’ve never been able to like take a scene from one thing and move it to another. It just — that just never works. Everything is sort of bespoke and custom to that one movie you’re making.
Craig: Yeah. And occasionally I will hear writers say, “Well, you know, I wrote this scene in this other movie and I’m trying to put it into this one.” And I just think, “Why? Just, you know, write a new scene.”
When people do that, I feel like they’re clinging not to some kind of incredibly utilitarian piece of work that could fit into one movie or another. They’re clinging to some sort of feeling they had when they wrote that scene. Like, “I nailed it.” You know, “I got it.” Or that scene represented some kind of breakthrough for them and now they’re just basically clinging to it like, you know, some sort of shining example of their goodness and trying to put it into other things. It will never ever work, ever.
John: So if you’re a standup comic, you’re going to have your jokes. And you’re going to have your jokes that you go back to and the things that you know work because they’ve been tested. But it doesn’t really work the same for screenwriting because everything is very much, you know, the scene in front of you. So it’s very hard to move a joke from, you know, page 19 to page 64, much less from one movie to another movie. So it’s very hard to sort of take material from one script and move into a completely different movie.
Craig: I also feel like if you can, something is wrong with your current script. Because even jokes, unless it’s the broadest of movies, different characters say different kinds of jokes. They don’t — it just doesn’t work.
Not only have I never done it, I’ve never actually even considered doing it. It’s just those scripts are done and that’s that, and let’s just move ahead.
John: At some point, we’ll have Chris Morgan on, who writes The Fast and the Furious movies. And that’s a situation where I can imagine that there were stunt sequences which were considered and designed for one movie that for whatever reason they didn’t shoot, but that were actually really good ideas as sequences, which could be repurposed for another movie. I mean, obviously you would write everything in them, like the story stuff would change. But if the idea of, “What if we did these kind of trucks doing this kind of thing?” might be valid in a different The Fast and the Furious movie. That’s the kind of thing I could imagine being moved from one movie to another movie. But in most cases, it’s just not going to work.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, if you’re talking about shifting a sequence from one movie to its own sequel, then I think it’s fair game because, you know, they’re the same characters. It’s the same tone. So, sure, I think that’s fine.
I don’t think we actually did that when we were working on the Hangover movies. But we — I remember at some point we talked about like, “Oh you know, we wanted to do that thing in 2. Maybe we should do it in 3.” And I don’t think we ended up doing it, but I get that.
But that’s not I think what Mario is getting at, which is, you know, because if the script is dead, you’re not working on the sequel. [laughs]
John: So if you’re copying a sequence from one script to another script, you might be using some screenwriting software, perhaps even Final Draft.
Craig: Segue Man.
John: And that was in the news this week. So it was one of the things most tweeted at me this week, was this bit of news that production management specialist Cast & Crew Entertainment Services has bought screenwriting software leader Final Draft Inc. for an undisclosed price.
Cast & Crew said the deal, announced Tuesday, continues to accelerate its investment in technology supported by its majority shareholder, Silver Lake Partners. Cast & Crew which provides payroll and residuals processing and accounting systems and software, and production incentive consulting was acquired by Silver Lake Partners in mid-2015.
Marc Madnick, CEO and Chairman of Final Draft, said the deal will lead to better software and customer experience for screenwriters and filmmakers.
John: Together, “we will accelerate our development process and further solidify our industry leadership for many years to come.”
So in the show notes, you’ll see links to the Variety article but we’ll also put in the original press release which has sort of more details, kind of, about the deal.
Craig: This is awesome. [laughs]
So even the strange coincidence, I’m working on this project for HBO. It’s the first — it’s a miniseries, first television thing I’ve ever done. And it had taken me forever to finish this thing that I was doing and I finally turned it in. And then they paid me.
And I had forgotten actually that I was supposed to get paid because they didn’t pay for so long but I had taken so long. And these checks came and HBO — so all these companies go through payroll services. Usually, when I get paid, like for instance, I think Universal uses Entertainment Partners.
John: That’s where I get most of my stuff.
Craig: Yeah. So that’s a company that handles payroll for the studios. I think they handle their own in-house payroll, so their own employees are paid through their own company. But outside vendors get paid through this service because when they pay writers, actors, and directors, it’s complicated. It’s not just paying you what they owe you. They also have to then keep track of how much they paid you, when you hit the certain cap, how much fringes they have to then send to the unions for pension and for health. And then there’s the whole residuals thing, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
But this was the first time I got one from Cast & Crew. I didn’t even know what it was when it showed up. So Cast & Crew — so at least I know they handle the payments for HBO.
John: And I want to make clear that the check came through properly and Cast & Crew did a good job, at least, in terms of getting you paid.
Craig: Oh yeah. No, Cast & Crew did a brilliant job getting me paid.
Craig: And they seemed like — this seems actually like a perfect match between a company that is the ultimate in bean counting and Cast & Crew. [laughs] So what in God’s name would these two companies have in common? It’s actually kind of a brilliant sale.
What is valuable about Final Draft? Well, let’s talk about what’s not valuable about it. The software stinks, in my humble opinion. It doesn’t work as well as a number of its competitors. It offers fewer features than a number of its competitors. It is refreshed far less often. It is way more expensive than any other option.
So why? Where’s the value in it?
The value, in a weird way, is in its format. Just because they were first, and because they were the leader for so, so long, their format, their file format is the industry standard file format. A little bit like the way VHS became the standard format for home recording even though, as many people will angrily say, Sony Betamax was a far superior format.
So FDX is the VHS format of screenwriting files. And you may say, “Well, you know, isn’t PDF — hasn’t that eliminated the value of FDX?” Almost entirely, but then there’s this little piece.
And the little piece is when you are in production and you are porting the script into breakdown software, breakdown software to schedule your movie, budget your movie, break it down for departments. All that stuff, which is very technical business, nuts and bolts, bean counting kind of stuff, the FDX file format pipes in, and that’s what is — their format kind of owns that space.
So this is actually a very smart marriage because I can easily see how a company that handles payroll can say, “Well, we can actually just take over this other nuts and bolts kind of thing. We’re really good in nuts and bolts. Let’s just buy the format that the nuts and bolts come in and we will do it.”
Now, what does this mean for the rest of us?
John: Well, before we get into what it means for the rest of us, I think you’re wrong sort of largely. And so I want to talk —
Craig: Hey man, whatever.
John: Yeah, hey, man. So we can have differences of opinion.
So let’s talk through what they said about it and I think they believe maybe what you believe. Here’s the quote from Cast & Crew.
So, “With a clear strategic vision and the active input of our clients, we are leveraging technology to create compelling end-to-end solutions,” said Eric Belcher, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cast & Crew.
“We are delighted to partner with the best screenwriting software company in the business. We see powerful links between its exceptional product of family and the digital payroll and production solutions we are providing. It all starts with a script.”
Wow, so many buzz words crammed into such a small space.
All right. So I do think that they perceive that there’s going to be some way that Final Draft will be able to tie better into — I don’t even know that they really do production budgeting but I think they probably want to do production budgeting and go into all their other systems.
The thing is, Final Draft is client software. It’s a thing that you use on your computer. And that’s not the people who are really using their normal accounting software. It’s a really different customer. So I think that is a real problem.
And the FDX file format, Final Draft created it but they don’t really own it. It’s just XML. So Highland, my app, writes and reads to the FDX format just fine. And so do all of the other screenwriting software.
So even though Final Draft created that format, they don’t own that format. They have no special keys or mastery to that format. So if they really tried to sort of lock it down some, but they can’t because they picked an open format that anyone can read and pick through. So there’s no magic benefit you get from it.
What I do think you get from Final Draft, though, is I think you get the name Final Draft, which is honestly, for all of our frustration, is synonymous with screenwriting software. I think if you talk to somebody who doesn’t know anything about screenwriting but if you asked like, “What program do you use to write scripts?” They’ll say, “Oh, it’s probably Final Draft,” because that’s the one they’ve heard of.
Craig: Yeah. That’s true. And actually, I don’t think we disagree, because you’re right. I mean, every good screenwriting solution offers an export to FDX because it’s academic to do. FDX isn’t a proprietary format, anybody could write through it. So you’re absolutely right about that.
I think that what they’re trying to do is go into companies where they are already providing the one part of the business service, paying people and saying, “We’d like to actually — we’ll give you a rate.” Like right now you’re paying this company to do this part of the bean counting. And you’re paying us to do this part. How about you pay us to do both parts and it will end up costing you a little bit less?
I suspect that’s what they’re going for. But here’s what I know for sure. When Marc Madnick, our friend, says the deal will lead to better software and customer experience for screenwriters and filmmakers, he is lying through his teeth. There is absolutely no way that that’s true. None.
John: No. I don’t think that’s — I don’t think that’s accurate at all because to lie you have to be intentionally trying to deceive. I think he may genuinely believe that.
I don’t think that’s going to be the outcome. So I agree with you that the outcome will not be better for most people. But I — he sat across from us — I do take him at his word that I think he thinks it will be better for people.
Craig: I don’t think he thinks that at all.
Craig: Because he knows how he spends money.
Craig: And Final Draft basically is an advertising company. They have a product that they barely change and update. They have four people working on that part of it. Everybody else is in sales and promotion. And —
John: We should acknowledge that sales and promotion ended up becoming one of the sponsors of our live show from last week, much to our surprise.
Craig: Much to our surprise. Yeah, no, that’s what they’re good at. So that’s where the money will continue to go. And in fact, I think this partnership is about something that has nothing to do with the end user — the typical end user of Final Draft. This partnership has everything to do about cornering a certain part of the post-production marketplace or the — I’m sorry, the production marketplace here in Hollywood.
How in God’s name would the fact that they are now owned by a payroll company help a kid who’s 19 years old in New Jersey looking to write his first screenplay? It has nothing to do with him. And so therefore, that kid’s not going to be serviced any better. That’s ridiculous. It’s —
John: So I agree with you, Craig. I was just saying I don’t think — I don’t think we can necessarily say that Madnick is lying when he says it’s going to happen.
Craig: Yeah, you’re right. I’m — okay. Let me amend it. I can’t say for certain that he’s lying. I can say for certain that what he’s saying will not turn out to be true. Is that fair?
John: I think that’s absolutely fair to say.
John: So my question when this happened is sort of why or why now. And I have no great insight into the finances of Final Draft to know whether they are doing great and like this was a chance to sort of buy them at the peak or if they were in trouble. And I say that honestly because while I make another screening app, my app is nowhere near the Final Draft of the world.
So I don’t know whether this was, “Uh-oh, everything is going south. We better sell the company. Maybe someone will buy the company.” And that’s — whether this was saving Final Draft or whether this was an investment firm coming in to scoop up this brand name that was available. So I don’t know what the real reasons were for why this happened.
Craig: Generally speaking, you don’t sell your company when it’s on the upswing.
Craig: Because there is really no point unless it’s going to open up some new marketplace to you that you didn’t have access to, which is not the case here. So —
John: If you’re Marvel and you sell to Disney and you can do amazing new things.
Craig: Correct, because Disney opens up a marketplace. They just have this infrastructure that’s so much larger than yours and they have theme parks that you simply don’t have and don’t have the capital to construct, and an empire of hotels and floating hotels, right? So that’s not applicable here.
So in my mind, I’m thinking — I don’t if they were in trouble, but I would imagine that our repeated theory that, you know, they had kind of reached the end of the golden era of being the only person out there was becoming true.
John: Yeah. So the people who bought them is Cast & Crew, but Cast & Crew was itself bought just in the middle of 2015. So it’s this big company called Silver Lake Partners, basically an investment fund, so they own a stake in a lot of different things including William Morris, WME.
What’s odd is I looked on the Silver Lake Partners thing, and they don’t even announce that they bought it, so — that they bought Final Draft. So you know, whatever Cast & Crew paid for it, it wasn’t enough that it made it to the front page of Silver Lake Partners. It wasn’t a big enough deal to have mattered to that.
Craig: Well, it’s actually kind of fascinating to me when they said they bought Final Draft. What did they really buy? I mean, what they bought was the code. They bought intellectual property. They’re not buying — I mean, what are the assets there beyond that?
John: Well, they’re buying Marc Madnick. They’re buying the team. It’s however much you want to value that team. [laughs]
John: Because as we talked about, obviously there’s programmers and there’s a marketing team and there’s a support team. How much of those do you want to keep or need to keep? I don’t know.
Craig: I’m going to just predict that within five years Marc Madnick has moved on to another enterprise.
John: Maybe so. And maybe this is a good way for him to transition out of doing it.
John: But I don’t know whether he’s going to want to come on the show to talk to us about it, but he came on before.
So let’s talk about what this means for actual users. If you are a person who is using Final Draft right now, I guess I would preface this by saying, if you are using Final Draft and happy, well, good for you. I mean, I guess, if you like it, that’s fantastic. A lot of people don’t like it, but that’s — and then there’s many good other choices out there. And I think there are choices that weren’t available even three or four years ago. So it is better for this to be happening now than it would have been a couple of years ago.
Craig: Yeah, certainly. Ultimately, this won’t change anything for the typical end user. I can’t imagine that Silver Lake Partners and their subsidiary, Cast & Crew, is going to spend unnecessary cash on a product that seems to sell regardless of quality.
John: Yeah. I could think — my concern would be that oftentimes, especially on the Macintosh, and really — I’m going to fully reveal our Macintosh bias here because — Craig, do you know anybody who writes on a PC?
Craig: You know — yeah. I mean, I’ve never seen them do it but I’ve heard them say it.
John: Yeah. So most of the screenwriters I know are writing on Macs. And most of the TV writers I know and TV showrooms I know or writer’s rooms are writing on Macs. So that’s really my experience.
And my experience has been that when the Mac System Software gets updated, Final Draft breaks. Not always, but very often Final Draft breaks. My concern would be that if the people who now own Final Draft choose not to spend a lot of time and money on it, Final Draft could break and become irrevocably broken for even longer than it has been in the past.
Craig: Well, I would imagine that they — see, I actually think that maybe that’s the one thing that might get fixed because they are corporate and because they aren’t — when you — when something is just one part of your company then the costs involved aren’t so, you know, egregious. And you might think like — well, Marc Madnick, he was, “not in the business of going out of business,” which I think he translated into not in the business of doing his job.
Craig: You know, and putting out software that was robust and worked and was up-to-date. This company might actually go, “Okay. Look, we’re a real company here. We just got a memo from Apple saying that the following software has been deprecated for 18 years. Can we hire somebody to fix this now please?” I could see that possibly happening.
John: But here’s the thing, if Final Draft breaks on a Macintosh, they have to scramble to get it to work again. If this giant company — if this one little thing that’s not a huge priority for them breaks, then it’s not going to be a priority. And so that outside contractor they are bringing in to do this work, it’s unlikely to be awesome. It’s unlikely to sort of be — I mean, the good thing about Final Draft having exactly one product that sold is like all their eggs are in that basket and they’re going to protect that basket very carefully.
Craig: And they still had a bad basket.
John: They still had a bad basket.
John: But that’s where they’re at.
So let’s talk about the state of screenwriting software just in general because it has been a little while since we’ve done that. And I’m going to break this into sort of two categories.
So there’s the screenwriting software you need if you’re doing production work, where you need to do locked pages, revision marks, AB pages. You need this if you’re going into production and there’s an AD and there’s a line producer, and you are submitting things for budgets and you are with Craig with his little cart and you are generating new pages because they’re shooting a scene in two minutes.
I think, honestly, the two choices you have at this point are Final Draft and Fade In for that level of stuff. Would you agree with me there?
Craig: Yes. Although I will add that WriterDuet is coming up strong.
Craig: Generally speaking, I think the problem for WriterDuet is that most of the time when you are somebody writing in production, the notion of writing on something that is cloud-based is — makes you a little nervous. But yes, I think largely speaking, correct. If you are doing big boy, big girl screenwriting, you’re going to want Final Draft or Fade In and, you know, for my money, Fade In is vastly superior.
John: So the other one that still exists which some people use, god bless them, is Movie Magic Screenwriter, which has not been updated for a while. But I know some actual TV shows that use that in the room and they still use that for production. So that’s sort of legacy software that still apparently works.
So those are your kind of choices. And you’re going to probably end up using one of those three things if you’re doing those lock-down pages. What I would encourage most of our listeners, though, to look for is you’re not going to be using that stuff very often. And so if you’re looking for an app to write in, you may choose to use a different app for writing.
So the app I make it’s called Highland. It is very simple and very straightforward. Slugline works very much the same way. And you know, the web-based things, WriterDuet, some of the other ones we talked about, that Amazon thing, Celtx, which I guess some people like, those are other choices.
But I write in Highland. Everything I’ve been writing has been in Highland. Justin Marks writes in Highland. There’s good choices that aren’t appropriate for final production work but are really good for the script you’re turning into the studio. So that’s my pitch for that.
Craig: Yeah, absolutely true. And more to the point, if you’re listening and you haven’t made a purchase yet, you need to understand that Final Draft, again, is so much more expensive than the rest of these solutions. It’s not even funny. They’re grotesquely more expensive.
I think the most expensive of the alternatives we just mentioned is Fade In which is $49, I think. Whereas you’re looking at nearly $200, I think, for Final Draft, for a new —
John: Yeah. Final Draft always seems to be on sale a lot. So I think Final Draft’s price has effectively dropped and is often at around like $99 when you want it to be at $99.
John: I think the reason I would say beyond just the expense is not just the dollars you’re spending but the amount of time you’re spending to learn an application that isn’t working the way you need it to work.
John: I guess the best analogy for me would be like, “Hey, I want to go camping. I want to try camping.” And so you have a couple choices. You could go out and buy like the $2,000 tent and the sleeping bag that is rated down to 20 degrees below Fahrenheit, and the whisper-light stove and all this thing. And you could spend a lot of money and get a really complicated thing.
That would be great if you were scaling up Everest. But it’s not really the right choice for like, “Hey, we’re going to like to the lake and like go fishing.” And so I think there’s this temptation to buy the fanciest thing with the most bells and whistles and the most features —
John: Which is not necessarily going to serve you the best.
Craig: I agree.
John: And that, to me, is really the experience with not just Final Draft but also Fade In, is that like you open up Fade In or Scrivener — I didn’t even mention Scrivener — there’s so much that you’re faced with that is, you know, it’s not about putting words on the page. It’s about sort of figuring how the app works.
Craig: Yeah. Those are professional tools and not everybody needs the professional tool.
John: I think there’s probably a fair number of screenwriters who are not screenwriters because they thought, “Well I need to use Final Draft or one of these big apps in order to write a screenplay.” And they’re like — they were trying to learn how to write screenplays and at the same time they were trying to figure out how to use this application. And these two things got conflated and that’s not necessarily the healthiest way to approach learning how to write.
Craig: I think WriterDuet has two modes. One is a monthly or something like that. But then one is free. And the free one actually is pretty fully-featured and a great way to kind of at least get your feet wet without spending a dime.
John: Yeah. And if you’re going to, you know, just get started with things, that’s a great place to go. My hesitation with the web-based stuff has always been that I’m worried that the service is going to go under. And as we talked about on the script episode, suddenly things are just gone because things magically disappear in the cloud.
Craig: Yeah. He’s actually done a pretty good job the way he’s designed it where — from what I can tell, it’s doing both. It’s saving locally and it’s a little bit like a Dropbox kind of sync solution. So even if you don’t have access to the internet, you still have the file locally and you can still work on it.
Craig: So that’s, you know, not —
John: Progress, at least.
Craig: Yeah. No, it’s not bad. It’s just not quite — yeah.
John: So let’s talk about Final Draft and make our wild prognostications about what happens one year from now and five years from now. Do you think we will have Final Draft a year from now?
Craig: Oh, for sure.
John: Five years from now?
Craig: Yes, but I don’t think — it will be different management. I don’t think Mark Madnick will be around in five years.
John: I would guess the same way. I think there will be something like Final Draft and there will be some changes that will come out, and I bet the website will improve. I bet there will be some things that happen.
Weirdly I did look though at the Cast & Crew website, and like there’s this really abstract like woman and a bird as the photo on the lead, like, ha, that doesn’t feel like accounting software at all. Five years from now, I think someone else will be running Final Draft or there won’t be Final Draft. That’s my prediction.
Craig: Yeah. It’s going to — it’s all about the intransigence of the — what do they call it? The work flow, the — you know, the departments that are processing these files into schedules and budgets and all this, they are just so entrenched in like, “I use this software, beep-a-boop-a-bop.”
John: Yeah. But so here’s the thing is that there are maybe 100 people in all of Hollywood who needs to use that software versus thousands of screenwriters. So there’s no reason why thousands of screenwriters need to use that software —
Craig: I’m with you.
John: To send in that script to a budget because any application can create that.
Craig: You and I are — have been saying this forever and I’m still just puzzled. I’m just puzzled by why — you know a lot of times people say, “Well I’m working on a show and the showrunner uses Final Draft. So I guess we’re all using Final Draft, blah, blah, blah.” You know, it’s so annoying.
Craig: So annoying.
John: It is annoying.
All right, let’s change topics. Let’s talk about franchises. This comes from Mark Rasmussen who asks, “I was at the WGA Beyond Words panel last night and made the observation that every single one of the nominated screenplays are either an adaptation, a based-on, or a biopic. And when you throw in all the sequels, prequels and remakes.”
And this actually is — ties very well into a blog post I did this last week which is called “It’s Franchises All The Way Down.” And this was a discussion we had over lunch where I was wondering aloud how many of the top 100 grossing movies were either sequels or the first film in a franchise. So they were either, you know, Star Wars 7 or they were Star Wars. They were like an original film that created a franchise. And so around the lunch table we were speculating like, out of the top 100 movies, maybe 30 of them are part of a franchise, maybe 50.” The answer is, Craig?
Craig: It appears to be 86.
John: Yes. So 86 of the top 100 movies are either the start of a franchise or they are in fact a franchise, which seems crazy. There’s only 14 movies in the top 100 that are just single movies, that that there’s no other — they’re not based on a previous movie, they’re not — they didn’t spawn a sequel, which seems crazy.
Craig: Well, yeah, and no. I mean —
Craig: Look, if a movie does so well that it is on this kind of list or at least getting close to this kind of list of the 100 all-time top grossing movies, of course the studio is going to demand another one even if the original people say, “No, we don’t want to do it,” they’ll find somebody to do it. There’s just, you know, nobody wants to be the people that leave that money on the table. It’s actually kind of when you look at the ones that are single, you realize why.
John: Yeah. So let’s take a look at the ones that are single. So we’ll start with Titanic. You can’t sink the same boat twice. And so obviously there have been many parody videos of Titanic 2 like the boat comes back.
John: But no.
John: 2012, Interstellar and Gravity are sort of the same boat. Like they’re not literally boats but the same idea like it’s the thing that happens exactly once. You’ve destroyed everything once and you sort of can’t go back and destroy it again.
Craig: Correct. So you have movies like The Lion King which because they were animated at a particular time where we weren’t doing computer animation but hand animation, they decided to make the sequels to those things for home video.
John: Yeah. And so for this exercise, we’re only counting the things that were theatrical sequels. So obviously the Lion King had a direct-to-video sequel but if the Lion King were to come out right now and be the same hit that it was, obviously you do the real sequels.
Craig: Oh, no question there would be a Lion King 2, no question.
John: So in the same boat with Lion King, we have Ratatouille, Up, Inside Out, and Big Hero 6. And there is discussion that Big Hero 6 is going to have a sequel. There’s nothing preventing them from doing Ratatouille, Up, or Inside Out as a sequel. Up would be kind of the hardest of them, but they’re all Pixar movies and Pixar is making other movies. So, to make the sequel to that they have to not make something else that could be a great franchise.
Craig: Correct. And we know the Pixar doesn’t shy away from sequels. They’ve gone through three Toy Stories, they’ve gone through three Cars movies I believe, and they are currently doing or I think their next movie is the Finding Nemo sequel.
Craig: So they don’t have a problem with sequels but you’re absolutely right, if their choice is to do an original or do a sequel, they’re going to do an original or a sequel, but they can’t do all of the sequels so…
Craig: And yeah, like how do you make a sequel to Up, I mean, how old is Ed Asner? It would be crazy. Now, the one that’s fascinating is ET.
Craig: Because ET, if it were made today would almost, I mean there’s a 100% chance of multiple sequels. But at the time, you had the biggest director in the world who had just made a bunch of the biggest movies in the world, make another biggest movie in the world and I think after that, he was like, “I don’t need to do a sequel, I’m going to make another biggest movie in the world.”
Craig: And so it just didn’t happen. In fact, I don’t know if you remember but ET, it wasn’t long, maybe it was 10 years, they did a theatrical re-release and it made a ton of money again.
John: Yeah, it’s a great movie.
John: And that’s one of the situations where, you know, yes, if we were to make that movie now, we would do the sequel and you still could make the sequel if you wanted to, I mean, those people are still alive and around. So I’m not going to say we’re never going to have a sequel to ET, we may not have it with Steven Spielberg, but I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible to make a sequel to ET even now.
Craig: They will not make a sequel to ET without Steven Spielberg.
John: All right.
Craig: It would just be dead on arrival I think.
John: We’ll see. They made a sequel to Star Wars without George Lucas.
Craig: Well, after George Lucas proved that it would be a great idea to make sequels without George Lucas. I mean that’s the thing. And, you know, you could say like Jurassic World is without Steven — but that was his — he produced it, it was with his blessing. It was many years later and Steven had also made two sequels.
Craig: So this, no.
John: Yeah. So in the show notes, I’ll have links to the original post because there was talk of a sequel to ET, and Spielberg was going to do one at one point and then decided not to do it.
John: Forrest Gump, there was a sequel written. They just decided not shoot it. Inception and The Sixth Sense, both of those movies are kind of twist movies and it would be very hard to sort of go back and do them again. Inception I think is the easier one. Inception is like, well, we’ll have another adventure sort of like another heist film.
John: The Sixth Sense, you still have some of those people are around and alive. There’s still Haley Joel Osment. You could do a sequel to it even without Bruce Willis. There’s —
Craig: Sounds like a super bad idea.
John: It does.
Craig: Yeah, Inception I think actually could make a great sequel.
John: So DiCaprio has never done a sequel so do you do it without DiCaprio?
Craig: Yeah, I think you could absolutely do it without him because I don’t think that the brilliance of that movie — and I love Inception, I don’t think the brilliance of that movie comes down to Leo, although he, you know, delivered a fantastic performance. It comes down to the concept and the nature of the world it proposes. So I think you can absolutely do another one with an entirely different cast.
John: Yeah. So the question is, how crucial is Christopher Nolan to that thing? Could you make Inception without Christopher Nolan or would that already have a negative spin going into it?
Craig: I wouldn’t want to make it without him writing it with Jonathan or however he wrote that one. I mean it’s — the part that is unique and attractive is the part that came from his mind and that’s through the story. I think somebody else wonderful could shoot it. Yeah. But no, I think you need him.
John: Yeah. And the final movie of the top 100 is Hancock which was not a hit. It was not a bomb but it wasn’t kind of crying out for a sequel. I think if it had have been a bigger hit if there would have been a sequel.
Craig: Is this domestic?
John: This is all-time worldwide.
Craig: Worldwide? And Hancock, how much money did Hancock make?
John: Hancock made a tremendous amount of money. So it’s like 97 though on the list so it’s going to get knocked off by next year.
Craig: Wow, that’s crazy.
John: That’s crazy. That’s Will Smith for you.
Craig: I didn’t know.
John: So right now, a bunch of people in their car are screaming, “What about inflation?” And so in the same blog post, I do link through the same list of 100 that are inflation-adjusted. So of course Gone with the Wind is the top thing. When you look at the inflation-adjusted list, there are a lot more single movies in there but not as many as you would think. So it’s 49 of the top 100 are neither a sequel or the start of a franchise of the adjusted ones. So we’ve always been making sequels and they’ve always been making a lot of money. It’s just the trend has accelerated.
Craig: Oh, without a doubt. And so, you know, we can say I think with surety that we live in an era of sequel saturation unlike any other before it. And I had this discussion with — actually with Chris Morgan who writes the Fast and Furious sequels. So Chris and I have spent a lot of time on movies with numbers on them. And, you know, then we’re writing our own things and people are saying, “Great, and we’ll get around to that but we need you to write the sequel to this other thing.” And the frustration is, you just want to say, “Don’t you all realize that you got to have the first one to have the sequel? So when can we do the first one of something?”
John: Yup, and that is a thing that I’ve said so often in rooms and frustrated. It also weirdly gets thrown back at you. It’s because sometimes you’ll be pitching them an original idea and they really want to know, well, what — they’ll be thinking like, “What is the franchise here? Can I make four movies out of this?” because they’re not going to want to focus on that one movie. So it makes it especially hard to make. Honestly, most of the movies that we were showing or been talking about at the panel last night, like those movies were not sequelable movies. You’re not going to make The Martian 2 because you got him back and that is one of the frustrations is sometimes the best movies by their nature kind of can’t have a sequel.
Craig: Right. So the world is dividing — the studio world is dividing between movies that are made to win awards and movies that can be franchises. And then there’s this gone, lost practice of making movies for mass audiences that aren’t designed to be franchises and —
John: So we can’t make Fatal Attraction anymore because that’s a movie that can only happen once and it can’t be franchised.
Craig: Yeah. And that kind of stinks, you know. It’s the only genre I think that kind of gets a pass on it is comedy because even though they try and make comedy sequels a lot and they do, I mean, you know, you just saw Ride Along 2 but, you know, they wanted to do a sequel to Identity Thief and none of us wanted to do it. We just wanted to do other things, you know, but they didn’t freak out. They weren’t like, “What? You’re costing us a franchise.” They were like, “Okay, yeah, that would have made money but, okay, we understand.” Comedies can kind of come and go because comedies don’t turn into, with rare exception, don’t turn into these juggernauts that generate hundreds and hundreds of million dollars of profit every single time plus ancillary, god knows what, you know. When you’re talking about new things and you’re trying to get them to make a movie that they haven’t made before, they are asking how many more can we make?
John: Yup. And so part of the reason why they want those things to be adapted from other material is oftentimes that material has already lent itself to sequel. So there’s already a reason to believe that you’re going to be able to make sequels from this thing. The nature of the project, if it’s based on a toy, well, that’s a big toy line that has a whole bunch of different ways it can go or when they’re putting together a writer’s room for Transformers or for Terminator or for some other big property, it’s like, well they want to see like, “Could we make a bunch of movies out of this?” because while they would love to have one hit movie, they would also love to have five hit movies.
Craig: Absolutely. So take a movie like Jack Reacher. So we all know that it’s hard to make movies now that are what we would call adult movies, not porn adult movies, but movies about adults doing real adult things and it’s not explosions. It’s just that good old fashioned kind of thrillery movie, right. Normally, the discussion would go like this, “I want to make a movie based on this novel and we can get Tom Cruise. He’s awesome. What do you think?” “You know, we’re not really making in that space.” “Okay, well, what if I told you that there was like 50 of these books?” “Oh, really? Okay, yeah.”
John: Yeah, it helps.
Craig: Because here’s the deal, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If it does work, we’re going to make it over and over and over and over. And that’s where the real money comes.
John: Yeah. So I don’t have any great lessons to pull out of this other than to say that we kind of always made franchises, we both strongly believe that you can’t make a franchise until you make the first movie. So you have to make that first movie. You don’t always know what that movie is that’s going to spawn a franchise but everyone can sort of sense the thing that probably can’t be a franchise because of the nature of the movie. So it’s why it’s harder to make Gravity for example because there’s no possibility making a sequel from it, but sometimes you make really good movies that can only be made once.
Craig: I think sometimes people go to the movie theatre and they see some movie come out that is the first of its kind and they think, “Why did anyone make this?”
Craig: It’s because they were hoping that they could make 12 of them. That’s why.
Craig: Simple as that.
John: And sometimes — yeah, and sometimes people make the movie that can only be made once like Inception because that filmmaker has tremendous power and in order to make the next Dark Knight, he gets to make Inception and that’s awesome. So we need to sort of celebrate when that’s possible to happen.
John: Indeed. One last thing about my list, you’ll notice that I didn’t count Avatar or Frozen. The things that are very close to becoming sequels, I left off that list because I strongly believe that there will be Avatar sequels. I strongly believe there will be a Frozen sequel.
John: So I’m not counting those.
Craig: No, no, there absolutely will be. They’re working on it.
John: Jerry writes, “I’m a writer’s assistance to a produced writer-director in Seattle. My boss handed me a screenplay she wrote a while back. It is a ‘comedy’ but it ain’t funny. It’s very specific to a particular subculture and it feels dated. If and when she asks my thoughts, how do I give honest criticism without making her unhappy?”
Craig: Well, she’s going to ask your thoughts because she gave it to you. [laughs] Right. I assume that she gave it to you because she wanted — okay, Jerry. So you’ve got some choices here. So let’s talk Machiavellian. She’s your boss. I assume you like your job so one option is lie. Just say, “I read it. It’s so good. It’s really funny. I had a couple of thoughts that if you want, I was just going to mention to you just things to think about if you were still working on it but I like this, I like this, I like this. It’s just really good and really helpful to read.” Hmm, Machiavellian, good.
The other option is to say nothing but then you risk that day when she surprises you by saying, “Hey, did you ever read my script? Because you’re my employee,” right? And then the third option is to treat her the way you would treat any rational human being who has asked for your opinion about their work and that is to be — to provide dispassionate, honest criticism that is neither over the top nor a pulled punch in that is clear and shows that you’ve really thought about the material and provide some potential solutions or ways to solutions. But you really got to think about who you’re working for here because I don’t know.
John: Yup. The choice is almost always choice one.
Craig: Yeah. [laughs]
John: Let’s just be honest. And so, here’s what I say is, you know, it’s basically choice one which is to say like basically you love it, but I would say it’s easy to couch notes in terms of your reaction or something that makes it sound like it is you’re failing. So I often find — so I kind of fell off the ride here. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be feeling here, I didn’t quite know how these points were going to connect, and I think I was questioning this. So as long as you can talk about your subjective experience of reading it and not make it sound like it’s something that they did wrong, that can be a helpful way to sort of get your note out there without making it sound like you didn’t love it.
Craig: That’s a great, great way of putting it, John. I really — that’s perfect. You should do that, Jerry, what John just said.
John: So Jerry, do that. Our last question comes from Mark Rasmussen who asked a previous question. He asks, “How do you know when it’s time to step away or shelve a script that you feel is not working?”
Craig: I’m the wrong person to ask that question to because I don’t do that. First of all, I don’t think I ever have the luxury to do it. I mean, the truth is just because of the way my career started, you know, I started writing and then I was working and so with the exception of one screenplay, I’ve always had some sort of gun to my head and an expectation, a professional expectation that I’m to finish something.
John: I think Mark though might be asking more about the dead scripts because as we talked through those, there were a couple of things which you and I both said like I did a draft and it just wasn’t anything that was worth sort of going back to. So it may not be — I don’t think he’s saying like pull the ripcord midway through.
Craig: I see, I see. Okay. So after you finish, okay. You give it a little bit of time and then you kind of check your own emotions and feelings. It’s hard enough to write things when you don’t have passion and there isn’t the wind at your back. It’s nearly impossible to do it when you’re dreading it and the wind is in your face. So you just ask yourself, am I looking forward to writing this or not? And if you’re not, and you’re looking forward to writing something else, perhaps you should listen to that voice. It’s not a great voice to listen to mid-script because in mid-script, we will sometimes get the 7-year itch but after the script is done, if it hasn’t landed the way you were hoping with other people, then maybe yeah, listen to your little voice.
John: Craig, you’re absolutely right. And to me, what it is, is if I’m excited to do another pass because I’ve just spoken with somebody who had great thoughts and suddenly I’m engaged to do that next pass, then absolutely I should do that next pass. If I’m dreading going back into it because I’ve lost the thread, I just don’t know what it is to be doing with it, that’s a sign that I should probably be writing something else and set this thing aside. Maybe I’ll come back to it, likely I won’t, and that’s just the reality is that you’re going to be writing a lot of things in your life and that thing that you spent six months on may not be a movie and that’s okay, too.
Craig: Yeah, it’s like, man, just let it go, you know, and if it was meant to be, it would be.
John: Craig, it’s time for One Cool Things. So I think you’re going to do the coolest One Cool Thing.
Craig: I am so excited about this. I got a tweet about this and sometimes those pan out, sometimes they don’t. This time, it panned out like beyond. I cannot wait.
All right. So there is a game, I’m a little late to this, a few months late, called Pandemic Legacy. It is a board game and we’re going to provide a link in the show notes to someone’s review of it which really goes into why this game sounds so great. I haven’t played it yet, but the description of the game, I bought it. It’s on its way.
The description of the game makes me salivate. And as far as I can tell, on the one hand, it’s a very simple strategy game. It’s — the idea is there — you and — you’re playing two to four players and each player is a CDC scientist and you’re trying to stop outbreaks of viruses across the world. There’s a Risk-like map and, you know, as viruses spread, you’re taking actions and there are actions cards, you know. So it’s strategy and resource. Okay, it’s a regular game. Here’s where it gets crazy. Two things as far as I could tell. Crazy part number one, as you play the game, when you experience certain things, there are stickers, right, and you or your opponents can choose stickers that apply to your characters. And those stickers stay there permanently meaning the next time you play that game, the game is different.
Craig: So there’s — and in fact, you can even get to a place where like your game is done, right, which is amazing. So you’re permanently changing the game every time you play the game. Awesomeness number two, there are eight sealed things in the game box and on rare occasions, it will tell you open up the secret prize in box number three and you open it up and there’s something inside and the reviewer doesn’t tell you what but he gives the example of like let’s say it’s a little motor boat and you have no idea what good is this. And then later you realize, oh my god, there’s an airborne spore that’s only, you know, on land or it has infected our planes and you need a speedboat to get from place to place. So there’s these little things and those again, those are one shots that then change the game permanently.
And then the thing that really grabbed me and this kind of gives away like how bananas this thing is and why I must play it, one of the secret boxes says, “To be opened only if you have lost four games in a row,” and no one knows what’s in there. I mean you could open it and find out but I don’t want to know. So there’s like — it’s got spoilers, it’s got meta games, it’s got permanent changes. If you — certain victories give you permanent buffs, certain failures give you scars that last permanently, so we’re going to play it. You and I are definitely playing it for sure.
Craig: We got to think of our other two players. They’ve got to be serious, they’ve got to be people — I think they’ve got to be people that can do left and right brain because a lot of this — the way he described it is it’s a bit of like a strategy board game combined with dungeons and dragons because you are playing characters and you’re making these really difficult choices about what to do and who to save and who to kill. So, I can’t wait.
John: I’m excited. So I have not played Pandemic Legacy but I will tell you that in the board game community, this idea of a board game that is permanently changed by playing it is sort of a thing and so some Kickstarters now will launch where they will send you two copies of the game. So basically you will have one clean copy and one to destroy.
Craig: In fact, Pandemic Legacy does this as well. They have a red box and a blue box. They are identical. This way you can say, “Alright, the red box is the one I’m playing with this group, the blue box is the one I’m playing with this group.” Also, they’re referring to this game as season one.
Craig: So they will carry on to some sequel game. I can’t wait. I’m so excited.
John: Very excited. My One Cool Thing is The Katering Show, With a K. It’s this Australian team. These two women, Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan. They are ostensibly doing a sort of YouTube cooking show where they’re talking about cooking gluten-free or cooking with ethical ingredients but it’s really sort of about their lives and everything falling apart around them. They are incredibly funny. It is just really well done. It’s available on YouTube in the US, probably everywhere in the world. It’s just terrific and I just love Australian comedy in general but this one was just delightful. So they’re short episodes and you’ll probably burn through all of them at once.
Craig: They are awesome. Years ago, I saw this one — their episode 3, We Quit Sugar, and so I’m going to watch the other ones, but I recommend that you start with that one because it’s spectacular.
John: So Craig, I’m watching this and I’m really questioning why no one’s figured a way to use them here because you see Rebel Wilson, you see other great Australian people who’d be able to crossover. I just feel like there’s a thing you could do with these guys that could bring them to a bigger audience.
Craig: Well, all right. So why don’t we see how powerful we are?
Craig: Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, you don’t know us and we don’t know you, we don’t know if you listen to the show, we don’t know if anybody you know listens to the show, but if some magic should happen, give us an email, drop us a line, and then let’s — who knows? Let’s see what happens. Yeah.
John: We will see what happens.
John: That’s our show this week. So our outro this week comes from Sam Tahhan. If you have an outro you would like to have us play on the podcast, write in to firstname.lastname@example.org and send us a link to that. That’s also the place where you would send your emails about questions or follow-up or things we got horribly wrong in this episode.
Our episode is produced by Stuart Friedel and it’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. You can find us on iTunes. You could just search for Scriptnotes. If you search for Scriptnotes, you’ll also see our Scriptnotes app that let’s you get you to all of our back episodes including the live shows we talked about, the Beyond Words, and other interviews we’ve done with cool, famous people.
If you would like to follow us on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. He’s currently ahead of me in the Twitter count followers. I am @johnaugust. And you can find the links to all the things we talked about in the show notes. That’s at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. Craig, have a great week.
Craig: Hey, man, whatever.
John: Whatever, it’s fine.
- Vanity Fair on the original Game of Thrones pilot
- @clmazin’s followers growth over the past two months
- Deadline on the 2016 WGA Beyond Words panel, which you can listen to now with a premium subscription at scriptnotes.net
- Grease Live on Fox
- Scriptnotes, 222: Live from Austin 2015, and Variety’s article on the upcoming Zola movie based on this Rolling Stone article
- Scriptnotes, 233: Ocean’s 77, and Dead Awake
- Variety on the acquisition of Final Draft by Cast & Crew, and the official press release
- Highland, Slugline, Writer Duet, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Fade In, Amazon Storywriter, and a host of other apps for writing in Fountain
- John’s blog post on franchises all the way down
- Shut Up & Sit Down’s spoiler-free review of Pandemic Legacy
- The Katering Show, and the Craig-recommended third episode
- Outro by Sam Tahhan (send us yours!)