The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello, and welcome. My name is John August.
(Music, introducing Craig)
And this is episode 241 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
A special thank you to Med Dyer who cut together that weird intro of all Craig’s saying, “My name is Craig Mazin.”
Craig Mazin: I mean, Med Dyer is definitely on some meds.
Craig: That was trippy.
John: That was very trippy. Our episode this week is sort of trippy because we’re talking about a lot of different things including some ghosts, some taxi drivers, some dead chemists living in basements. It’s another one of those How-Would-This-Be-A-Movie episode.
John: We’re also going to talk about Creed and a lawsuit surrounding that, and the nature of fan fiction and what that means for people trying to use things that are other people’s things. So a big busy episode this week.
Craig: Well, we should probably just get right into it, instead of doing our usual 25 minutes of random chit chat.
John: Yes. So there’ll be no female reproductive health this time. It will be straight to the important business of follow-up, including cow tipping. So Travis writes in, “Being from Kansas, I felt the need to weigh in on cow tipping,” which was my One Cool Thing from a couple of weeks ago and the fact that cow tipping never existed.
He says, “You don’t have to drive too far out of town where I grew up to find open pasture and cows and I have seen it attempted twice in my younger days. I want to preface, I was only an observer, never a participant. Once, when I was in high school, where I witnessed a group of inebriated classmates try. There were about 10 of them and had no luck whatsoever. The second time I saw this attempted was in college by a 6’4″, 250-pound rugby player, who was made of all muscle. He went running at the cow at a dead sprint, made contact and shattered his collarbone. The cow hardly flinched. The guy had to have surgery and wore a sling for six months. Bottom line, your One Cool Thing is correct and don’t mess with cows.”
So there’s no such thing as cow tipping or I guess the point is, you can attempt to tip a cow, you will not succeed and you will hurt your body even more than you’ll hurt the cow.
Craig: I really do love the idea of this rugby player charging the cow and then popping off of it like a bird hitting a window. And the cow — I loved that also the cow hardly flinched, the cow was like, wah? I mean, you think about it, like, cows, right. So we’ve all seen that great scene in the original Rocky where he’s training by punching sides of beef.
Craig: That’s just a part of a cow, right?
John: Yeah, it’s part of a cow.
Craig: And he’s punching as hard as he can and we get it, it’s like, “Ouch, that hurts.” This is two sides of beef plus all the stuff inside of it. Yeah. No, of course, you’re not going to tip the cow over, it’s crazy.
John: It’s crazy. I just want to be that rugby player who has to explain it for the next six months. “Oh, how did you hurt yourself, was it playing rugby?” “No, I ran full speed at a cow and shattered my collarbone.”
Craig: Although I feel like in Kansas people will be like, “Oh, yeah, no, no, that’s the number one injury to rugby players right here.” [laughs]
Craig: Cow-tipping incident.
John: I wonder if that ever fully heals, or he’s kind of scarred for life with like a slightly droopy shoulder because of his cow incident?
Craig: Yeah, like, he’s 93 and in an assisted living facility.
Craig: His mind is a little gone and people are like, “Boy, what’s the story with this shoulder?” Like he’s moaning a lot and we don’t know why and they take an x-ray and they’re like, “What the hell happened?” And we’ll never know.
John: We’ll never know.
Craig: But it was cow tipping.
John: It was cow tipping. So at some point they’ll search the transcripts, they’ll figure out his height, and figure out when it would have happened and realize like, “Oh, this must be the guy who tried to tip the cow.”
Craig: Yeah, I like that they’re pouring all those resources to try to figure out.
John: Because absolutely no one is going to tip a cow after this because we are such a popular podcast that everyone will now know that you can’t actually do cow tipping.
Craig: You know what the overlap between our listenership and the cow-tipping population is?
John: It’s vast.
Craig: It’s really miniscule. It’s so small.
John: The Venn diagrams don’t even touch. They just sort of like bounce off of each other.
Craig: I feel like they kiss. They just slightly kiss.
John: Just a tiny little kiss, yeah.
Craig: There’s like one. We have one.
John: Yeah, it forms like an infinity sign. They just barely touch. Doug writes, “I saw Craig decline a request for the Hangover 2 and 3 scripts on a Reddit thread a couple of weeks ago. I would imagine that he wouldn’t say no if it was his choice. So what is keeping him from showing those scripts?” Craig, what is keeping you from showing those scripts?
Craig: In that case, it’s because I’m not the only writer of those scripts. I co-wrote Hangover 2 with Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong, and I co-wrote Hangover 3 with just Todd Philips, so they’re not really mine to send out there willy-nilly. That’s why on that one.
John: Doug continues, “Also I remember him offering to put up the Identity Thief script on johnaugust.com library, and that hasn’t happened.”
Craig: Yeah, that has not happened and that’s my fault.
Craig: So that one, I can put up. Well, technically I share separated rights on that one with the fellow who I co-wrote the story with, you know, we had — well, we didn’t work together but he has shared story credit, but I don’t think that that, that he would have an issue with that. What I want to do is put up my version of Identity Thief because, you know, there were like three of them and then there’s the shooting one I guess, but, you know, I actually think that it’s more interesting to see like, “Okay, here’s what I would have liked.” But that means I have to cobble it together and it takes time and —
Craig: So that’s — yeah. I’ll get there one day.
John: One day it’ll happen.
Craig: It’s on my list of things.
John: Yeah, and it is a very interesting point because we talked about this with award seasons scripts, it’s like, “Are they sending out the script they went into production with? Are they sending out something that resembles what the final cut of the movie is?” It really depends on the situation. In your case, you know, you would love to see the script that you think is sort of the best script that existed or, you know, could exist, and they’re all different things. It’s the process of drawing blueprints for a movie and then there’s the final version of the movie and they sometimes resemble each other, and sometimes they don’t.
Craig: Yeah, and I understand when it comes to giving out awards, what choice do you have? You have to give an award for the screenplay as it appears on the screen, so that should be the shooting script. But in this case, I’m presuming that people want to look at this to learn something.
Craig: And they can sit down and just watch the movie. Well, they can see the movie if they want, but I think it’s more interesting to see like, here’s a script that got made and here’s what it looked like, and then also to see where things changed and then we could always discuss why. Some of those changes, you know, happen in spite of the writer. What else can you say, you know?
John: Yeah, I would say in my very early writing career, reading the James Cameron scripts for Aliens and also for Point Break, which we had done work on, it was really illuminating to see like, “Oh, this was what was on the page. This is what was shot.” And sometimes you can see like, “Oh, that translated directly to this,” or like, “Oh, wow. That whole character, that whole sub-plot went away.” And you can start to figure out, you know, what changed because of that change.
Craig: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
John: So it is useful.
Craig: Yeah, it’s a good archaeological dig to do.
John: Indeed. All right. Something that came up in the news this week was the movie Creed which someone has filed a lawsuit saying that they, essentially the idea for doing Creed was stolen from them.
John: So I’ll give you some backstory here. So it’s a guy named Jarrett Alexander who’s suing the filmmakers of the Rocky sequel, including producer Sylvester Stallone and writer-director Ryan Coogler, and he alleges that they, “Took ideas from him and turned it into a multi-million dollar picture without compensating him.”
So I’m going to link to the article that Oliver Gettell wrote for EW. It’s actually more sophisticated than sort of like, you know, “Ah, they took my idea.” He pitched it. He wrote it up as sort of a spec idea and he was trying to get in the room with the folks who patrolled the rights to do it and he did not succeed apparently in getting in the room to convince them of his idea. He went so far as to shoot a trailer for it which is well before Ryan Coogler’s Creed.
John: So what’s fascinating is like this is not a copyright claim. And probably the reason it’s not a copyright claim is he doesn’t control the copyright on those underlying characters. So he doesn’t control Rocky. He doesn’t control Apollo Creed. So he’s suing instead for misappropriation of idea, the breach of implied contract, and unjust enrichment. Craig, do you think he will succeed?
Craig: No. No. Jarrett Alexander has such a terrible case here that even if he were in a room with all the other ding-a-lings that file these stupid cases and lose, they would all look at him and say, “Well, you’re crazy.”
Craig: This is the dumbest of all the ones we’ve looked at, this is officially the dumbest. So let’s break it down here. First off, you can’t be as you point out, it can’t be a copyright suit because he violated their copyright. Let’s just put that out there, okay?
This is the insanity of this. Part of copyright is that you control the right to make derivative works. Derivative works certainly cover the idea of a sequel or a prequel or anything like that. He’s violating their copyright by creating this thing. But fine, you could say, “Well, what are the damages?” It’s not like it’s out there in the world taking away ticket money from the real Rocky movies or from Creed, obviously it didn’t impact Creed at all. So, yeah, it’s not worth going after the guy on. But, just pointing out, yeah, so he’s violating their rights.
Then, according to the lawsuit, Alexander and his associates, god only knows who these people are — by the way, think about what they’re doing, how stupid it is. They’re already demonstrating that they don’t understand how either the business or the law works, right? They think they can go and sell this thing, but that isn’t theirs to sell. They then attempt to pitch the idea to various industry professionals, sending around the screenplay, and circulating links to a promotional reel, and they — including trying to get Stallone via Twitter, and there’s no response, right?
So they’re just literally flinging this thing out the car window as they drive down Hollywood Boulevard going, “Who wants this? Who wants this?” Right? Then, Sylvester Stallone and Ryan Coogler make their movie. So their suing misappropriation of idea, what does that mean?
Well, we know that ideas are not intellectual property. So it’s not copyright. What misappropriation of idea comes down to is that there are times when people engage in a certain kind of business discussion where it’s understood, I’m bringing you an idea that could turn into value, and you are listening to this idea with the implied understanding, and that’s what implied contract means, that if I like it, and I want to exploit it, I will engage in a good faith negotiation with you to purchase it.
And what happens is, so we engage in that formal discussion, I say, “I don’t want it”. I’m given — in other words I’m given the chance to reject it. I do reject it. And then I develop it anyway without you. That, the courts have said, “Yes, that is a contractual issue. It’s not copyright.” It’s contractual and then you can sue for some kind of damage there because there’s a breach of an implied contract.
John: So, Craig, is there examples of this happening in Hollywood? Because it sounds more like a, “I’ve come up with a great new business idea, I’ve come up with a service that I want to sell. A company I’m going to form.”
John: Is it used in Hollywood?
Craig: No. Not that people haven’t tried. And partly it’s not used because generally speaking, people actually do honor the implied contract of that arrangement. Because Hollywood is built around a system of checks and balances, like any stable system, and Hollywood is a stable system. You go in and you pitch something. You, John, you go and you sit down with, let’s say, Donna Langley at Universal and you pitch her an idea, and she says, “Hmm, no.” You leave, and then two weeks later you hear that Donna Langley has hired somebody else to write your idea. Well, she is not just accountable to you. She has to deal with the UTA now. And UTA has all these actors and directors and people that she needs to work with all those agents. She’s just — it’s bad business. She can’t do that. And so she won’t.
In the past, there’s one notable case where somebody tried this angle. So there was an important case called Grosso v. Miramax, because you’re right by the way that implied contract usually it’s a Silicon Valley issue. But down here Grosso v. Miramax, this guy named Grosso said, “Hey, Miramax, you made that movie Rounders, and Brian Koppelman and David Levien, they must have stolen my idea because I came and I pitched you some vague idea about poker, a movie about poker, and you’ve stolen my idea.” And Miramax said, “No, we haven’t, and ideas aren’t intellectual property.”
Grosso then appealed and said, “I’m not” — “You’re right. I’m saying you violated my implied contract.” And the court said — the Appeals Court said, “Yeah, you can absolutely sue for implied contract.” And everyone went, “See, a victory for the little guy.” Ah, no, no, all they said was, “He could sue for that.” So he went back and sued for a violation of implied contract and got his ass handed to him to the point where it was a summary judgment against and he had to pay for Miramax’s court fees. That’s how bad his case was.
Craig: So in this case, Jarrett Alexander is attempting the same thing. He’s actually got a worse case.
John: He does have a worse case because clearly he did not control any of this underlying material that he was trying to sell them.
Craig: He didn’t control it nor did he have a formal pitch with them in which they had a chance to reject, according to everything I’ve read. So literally, what he’s saying — and all you have to do, I mean, it’s not hard to think like a lawyer. All you do is just extend the circumstances to see if the law would actually pass the smell test for everyone. If Jarrett Alexander wins, so that means, all I have to do is go on Twitter every 10 minutes with some stupid log line for an idea and then anytime anyone ever makes something similar, I just go, “Oh, implied contract.” No. Stupid.
John: So let us circle back, and like, let’s wind the dials back and say you are Jarrett Alexander and you have created this — you have this idea, you’ve written a script, you’ve made this demo reel, the sort of pitch reel about what your movie is and you had gotten into the room with someone who controls some of the rights. So Stallone, somebody else who could actually make this movie. I think even if you had gotten into that situation, you still have to convince them that you are the person to do it, and that is a very tall order when you really have nothing to show for yourself other than this idea. Is it possible that it could have worked? Yes, it is possible.
It is possible they would say like, “You know what, we like this guy, we think his script his good,” they may not hire you to direct it, but maybe they’ll buy this property from you, at which point they control it fully and could do it. I just don’t see that happening. I have a very hard time imagining that this was going to happen ever for him. So in many ways, I think it’s absolutely fair for him to sort of like, you know what, as a writing sample, I’m going to write this movie that is basically a what-if Apollo Creed’s son came back.
John: But if I were to do that, I would never have the expectation that I could sell it or that I could ever sue anybody if they made a movie like it.
Craig: Yeah, there is where the delusion happens. I mean, first of all, you have to be delusional, truly delusional, to think that there is something that remarkable and unique about the idea that Apollo Creed’s son is trained by Rocky.
Anybody looking at those movies, if anybody pointed a gun at any Hollywood screenwriter and said, “Come up with a new Rocky,” they would look at Stallone’s age, and they would look and then they would think, well, who were the other characters that we care about? And then think, well, wouldn’t it be interesting if? It’s not. It’s not some brilliant bolt from the blue idea. It’s kind of obvious that what makes Creed a good movie is not that. And this is what people don’t understand, they think ideas are the thing, like, “Oh, yeah, all you had to do is just say, yeah, this guy trains that guy,” Yeah, no. That’s worthless. Truly worthless. And I can line up 50 filmmakers to make a terrible version of that movie that nobody wants to see.
John: Yup. And Ryan Coogler made a great version.
John: So I assume that this lawsuit will not proceed, or if it does proceed, it’ll get shut down for the same reasons that Grosso v. Miramax ultimately got shut down.
John: But I want you to check with the larger issue which is, this is essentially fan fiction, this is essentially like, I see something out there that I really like a lot and I want to write more about it. And we see that a lot with books so that you have the Twilight fan fiction, you have Harry Potter fan fiction. There’s a whole community of people who write using characters that are not their own characters to extend franchises and sort of bend them to their own will and way. And it’s a thing that’s become increasingly popular the last 10, 20 years.
And so in some cases that fan fiction has become real fiction, so you have Fifty Shades of Grey. Fifty Shades of Grey started as Twilight fan fiction, and EL James took what she started as Twilight fan fiction and essentially just bent it enough so that it was no longer those same characters but it’s the same kind of basic dynamics, the same situations, and became original fiction. That’s something that could have happened with this Apollo Creed movie, and theoretically you could have started with the idea of like, “What if this famous boxer now has to go back and train the son of somebody that he defeated a long time ago?”
John: He could have done. He could have essentially filed the serial number’s off and made it seem like its own original thing.
John: But by making it Rocky, it became a real problem.
Craig: Correct. And he can do that because ideas aren’t property, right? So in the case of fan fiction, and this is why this just shocks me that this guy has the gall to this when he’s the one that’s been trespassing on someone else’s property. With fan fiction, you have to understand that you’re always going to be playing a risky game. If your fan fiction is embedded enough in the source material in terms of taking characters, clear settings, then you are always living at the mercy of the rights holder who can squash you at any point.
Really, I don’t know of any other fan fiction works that have succeeded the way that Fifty Shades of Grey has. But in the case of that, I never read the fan fiction or the novel or saw the movie for that matter. So I really don’t know anything about it other than it involves people getting whipped. But it was based on Twilight but it apparently didn’t have much to do with the elements that are crucial and inevitable to Twilight like being vampires, right?
Craig: They’re not vampires in Fifty Shades of Grey, right?
Craig: So it was entirely portable. You just change some names and in the end what you were was you were inspired by one book to write your own book and that, I mean, look at — I mean, my god, how many Hunger Games-like books are there?
John: Or look at all of the fantasy literature that is influenced by Tolkien. I mean, that’s, you know —
Craig: Right, exactly.
John: Probably most of our sort of fantasy fiction has some debt, some emotional debt to Tolkien, some sort of literary debt to Tolkien. But that’s a different thing. And so I don’t want to sort of slam down on fan fiction because I think fan fiction is a really important way that some writers learn to write and some writers develop confidence in writing and develop a community around their own writing. But you have to be mindful of there’s a ceiling to sort of where you’re going to be able to go if you’re writing with other people’s characters and there’s also still a stigma to be a fan fiction writer. There’s a perception that it’s not real writing and that may not be fair but it’s true.
In the show notes I’ll put a link to an article by Cassandra Clare about fan fiction. So Cassandra Clare is now a pretty big, you know, YA novelist, middle-grade YA novelist. She has the Shadowhunters series. But she used to write fan fiction. And it took a while for people to understand that she was no longer writing fan fiction, this was original fiction and they kept looking for — in her original fiction they kept trying to find parallels to existing works assuming that they were fan fiction.
John: And that’s frustrating.
Craig: It is. Look, we all pay prices ultimately for the first works we do. People just expect us to keep doing the same thing and, you know, everybody looks at patterns but people can be retrained and obviously she’s done so. The deal with fan fiction is you’re absolutely right, new writers sometimes work in fan fiction because it’s like having training wheels on. There are a bunch of things they don’t have to figure out. Those things have been figured out for them.
It’s a little bit like building IKEA furniture. So the characters have been figured out for them. The tone has been figured out for them. The setting oftentimes and even major plot elements have been figured out for them and now they’re working within those things. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
You learn to ride a bike by first starting with training wheels. I assume people that learned to paint have done some paint by numbers or similar kinds of things or copying other stuff. That’s part of it. But just understand, when you are playing in somebody else’s sandbox in order to learn your craft, the price is it’s not something that you can then hold out to the world as being worthy of the same kind of respect and also financial remuneration that the works you’ve taken from command.
John: Yup. And I haven’t seen examples of — I suspect these will occur at some point where it’s ruled to be a transformative work, a transformative to the point where sort of like a lot of visual art sort of falls under that transformative thing where like they’re taking something and converting it so fully that it’s a sort of statement on the original work and it’s therefore protected as art. So you look at some of Warhol’s Soup Cans, you look at Jeff Koons’s works with existing things where he takes and changes the scale of them so dramatically or changes what they’re made of to the point where they are ruled to be their own unique copyrighted works.
That will probably happen at some point. We’ll see something that is so completely transformative that it gets its own protection and becomes an original work, considered an original work. But Creed was never going to be that. And I guess Fifty Shades of Grey sort of was its own thing. Like, at no point was there a lawsuit that I know of from Stephenie Meyer’s people saying like, “Oh, no, no, that’s Twilight fan fiction,” even though —
Craig: I’m sure they must have explored it but at some point they realized, look, if she changes these names —
Craig: And doesn’t use any of your characters, really, she’s just a lady inspired by your work, we’ll lose the case.
John: Yes, and embarrass ourselves.
Craig: And embarrass ourselves. In the case of Jarrett Alexander, he’s not Andy Warhol painting Soup Cans. He’s a soup company making soup cans that say Campbell’s.
Craig: It just doesn’t work.
John: It does not work. Anyway, we will come back to this case if there’s any resolution. I suspect the resolution will be that it will go away and we’ll not hear about it again. I was happy to see that there wasn’t sort of like a big, you know, Internet outcry saying like how dare they stole his work from him. I think the Internet seemed to understand like, wait, you know, you’re saying he stole Rocky from you?
Craig: Look, at some point I think after the 19th of these in a row, these are the lawsuits that cry wolf. Everybody I think at this point is like, you know what, until somebody actually wins one of these things and no one ever wins ever.
Craig: Until someone wins, I think you can all ignore it. It’s noise.
John: Noise. All right. Let’s go to our feature of how would this be a movie. We have three of them this week. And we’re going to start with a missing scientist and I’m not sure who, which of our reader sent this through to us this week but it was fascinating and I was just — I pulled out my popcorn as I was reading this because it is so bizarre and so strange.
John: So this is about a missing scientist found living in a basement drug lab. So a couple from Cottage Grove, Minnesota discovered a man living inside a secret laboratory in their basement. So this was a few Tuesdays ago, officers with the Warrington County Sheriff’s Office went to the Morgan’s family’s house after receiving a call of a possible break in. When the officers pulled up they saw the Morgan family standing by the road.
“They ran up to them and said that they heard a man shouting inside their basement and that’s when they called 911,” said Captain Bruce Normans with the Warrington County Sheriff’s Office. Officers said they could hear a man yelling in the basement the moment they entered the Morgan’s house. But when they moved cautiously in the basement they saw nothing but could hear banging sounds coming from behind the northern wall of the Morgan family’s basement, specifically echoing behind a large storage cabinet.
When the officers moved the large metal cabinet, they uncovered an entry way into a large basement room that was filled with various science equipment along with a terrified elderly man. The 83-year-old man was identified as Dr. Winston Corrigan, a chemistry professor from the University of Minnesota, who went missing in the fall of 1984 and was a previous resident of the home.
So essentially this chemist had sort of barricaded himself in this sort of secret room in the basement, had been living there since 1984 presumably.
John: And so the article includes like a photo of this man who seemed very, very out of it. So, this was fascinating. It would be even more fascinating if it were true.
Craig: Yeah. It turns out it’s not true.
John: Yeah. So we’ll also link to the Snopes article that discounts all this. So it’s a fake news site and so we can talk about whether the original story and like what that would be like as a movie because that’s creepy.
John: Or we could talk about sort of the site that put up the story and sort of why they put up a story. It’s basically it was a site called IFLscience.org which was deliberately sort of not even a parody but it deliberately wants — makes itself look like this legitimate site, this sort of legitimate news and science site and just sort of like why you put up a story. There’s something fascinating about the whole culture of fake news stories.
Craig: Right. Yeah, I mean, the actual story itself has some problems. I mean, there is some interesting stuff there I suppose if you wanted to do a creepy horror movie. The idea of someone living in your home. The problem is it’s a guy living in your home in the basement. He’s got to go in and out, a little bit like Hollyfeld from Real Genius. And he’s got to eat stuff and use the bathroom. So I’m not really sure how that works if it’s, you know, the man who died in the house is living in your basement or didn’t die. Some kind of twisty sort of thing, I suppose, maybe. But, yeah, actually kind of interested in the — I don’t know if either — I mean, the notion that you create a fake news site and then you put up these fake news stories. Do you remember that movie — was it called Conspiracy Theory with Mel Gibson?
John: Yes. Yeah, yeah.
Craig: So the idea was he was a nut who believed in a million conspiracy theories and he would publish them in this crazy, like a crazy man’s ranting publication and he just happened to be right about one of them and suddenly people were after him. And so it was like, what happens, it’s that old saying, you know, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not after you and that was that movie.
John: Do you remember that one time though where Mel Gibson was crazy?
Craig: I love Mel Gibson. You know I love Mel Gibson.
John: I didn’t know you loved Mel Gibson.
Craig: Oh, no, I’m obsessed with Mel Gibson.
John: That’s fantastic.
Craig: I think he should get a break.
Craig: I don’t know, man. Look, it’s like I understand. He said some things about gay people. He said some things about Jews. That covers both of us. [laughs] I still feel like I would give him a break. He was drunk. What are you going to do?
Craig: Plus all these things.
Craig: So let’s talk about the, if the story were true, and so like you’re taking the “true version” of that story. I think the idea of somebody living in your basement is a good starting place for either a thriller or a horror movie where like, you know, somebody in the family thinks there’s something happening in the basement or the kid sort of sees a person living in the basement and no one else believes them and like the secret door that he’s hiding behind is so good that like you can go down there you swear there’s nobody in your basement. And so you think you’re paranoid and of course there actually is somebody in your basement. And it’s kind of like Panic Room but in reverse like, you know, there’s that hidden place that’s going to come out and there’s a good psychological aspect of that because it really represents — you worry that there’s a sort of secret room in your own self that you’re not aware of.
John: So, that feels promising and there’s something very cool about that especially if you’re newly moved into this house, you could barely afford to buy the house. It has all the aspects of a haunted house thriller, except like —
John: You don’t actually need to have the super natural element and that could be very cool. I wonder if the trailer would play it both ways where like you’re not sure whether it’s supernatural or normal and there’s something fun about that as well.
Craig: Is there any way to do a movie where — like this where you flip the perspective and it’s a young couple moves into a — they move into a house. It’s like it’s not a very nice house, it’s kind of a junky house. And then they keep having these visions where at night they’ll have a dream where they go up to their roof and there’s this other house suddenly above them with these people in it and they can’t see them and those people are kind of threatening to them and then it becomes real and then eventually you realize they’re the ghosts in someone else’s basement.
John: Okay. That was a movie.
Craig: Oh, what was that?
John: And so spoiler warning for people who haven’t seen The Others.
Craig: Oh, you know what, I did see The Others. So maybe that’s —
John: And now you remember.
Craig: Yeah, they were the ghosts.
John: Yeah, god, we’ve ruined a movie for people to see.
Craig: Yeah. No, I totally forgotten that one but, yeah, you’re right. Yeah.
John: Yeah, that was The Others. So I agree flipping the perspective is interesting. I thought you were going to go for like you can actually flip the whole tone. It’s like what if you — like, you know what, I’m never going to leave this house. And so you’re like, the house sells or the house gets foreclosed because of bankruptcy and you’re like, you know what, I’m going to hide in my secret room. They’re never going to kick me out of this house, I’m going to live in that house. That could be kind of fun. And so it’s your relationship with the people who bought your house could be kind of fun.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t know. This one is a tough one.
John: I don’t know that it sustains a whole movie, but it’s certainly a premise.
Craig: Yeah, it’s a something.
John: Yeah, it’s a something.
Craig: I don’t think this is going to be one of the ones that we light the path for Hollywood to follow as we have done numerous times before.
John: No. But what I think it will probably not be a movie but is actually a fascinating character study is this next one. This is an article by Terrence McCoy in the Washington Post about Debi Thomas who, if you are old enough to remember and followed figure skating as I did as a child, she was the first and best ever African-American figure skater. She was fantastic and she was also very smart. So unlike most Olympic athletes who don’t go to school and don’t go to college, she did both. She landed her triple axels and got her medical degree and was just tremendously driven and successful. This article finds her living in a trailer, bankrupt and —
Craig: Down by the river.
John: Literally down by the river with a sort of a no good fiancé and clearly some mental health issues. So it’s a really sobering, not cherry look at what can happen after the glow fades.
Craig: Yeah, I think actually this could be a movie. I don’t know if — I think that this could inspire a movie. I don’t necessarily know anybody wants to see a bio pic of Debi Thomas.
Craig: But I think that you could take from this an inspiration to make a movie about what happens to the perfectionist when the world refuses to accommodate them and they break. And it’s really interesting and obviously you’d want some sort of path back to hope because she is a fascinating individual, you know. I didn’t know this at the time. I remember her being a skater back in the Katarina Witt days, you know, the Reagan era.
Craig: And, I mean, I understood that she was driven the way that all of these Olympians seemed to be driven but then she had this whole other thing which is, you know, I’m also now going to be a doctor. I’m not just a doctor. I’m going to be a surgeon, right? She ended up being an orthopedic surgeon and was just remarkably driven in this sense. And then, you know, it’s hard to say, I mean, in this story it’s put out there that she was diagnosed — well, first of all, she claimed that she was going to hurt herself and she had a gun and so they committed her temporarily and then medical board records because she lost her license, they indicated that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which is one of the more over-diagnosed and misunderstood conditions.
And she’s saying, “I don’t have that.” And a lot of other people are like, “Yeah, it doesn’t seem like she has that. It seems like she has something else.” One doctor diagnosed her and said her erratic behavior was not a symptom of bipolar disorder — and this is where I kind of got interested in the character for a movie — but “Naïveté, overconfidence, and her expectation that if she works hard enough she can overcome any obstacle. Her experience as a world class figure skater reinforced this expectation and confidence.” It’s a little bit like what happens to Tracy Flick 20 years down the line.
John: Yeah, I can see that.
Craig: From Election. There’s this break that happens when your drive and will to power is thwarted by the world somehow but it’s clear that, I mean, just from — I mean, it sounds vaguely paranoid, it sounds a little schizophrenic something is seriously wrong with her. There’s no question.
John: Yeah, there definitely were delusions of grandeur — weird to say delusions of grandeur when she actually was sort of champion of the world at a certain point.
Craig: [laughs] I know, right.
John: So maybe she has reasons to believe that she could be grand. But, you know, in my own life when I have had to deal with people in my life who were going through similar kinds of things and could not connect the dots of their life and sort of believe that everything was going to change tomorrow, I recognized some of the same things coming out of her mouth as she was describing her own situation or sort of what was next, or to the blaming of sort of what happened before. I think she’s a fascinating character.
The question for the movie is at what point do you start the movie and at what point you end the movie because it doesn’t seem like it’s useful to do a bio pic from she first puts on skates to where we are now.
John: That’s not going to be a great journey. So are you meeting her at the river as this crazy, just sort of a crazy woman, and then going back to see how she got there? Are you just starting her there and like filling in the backstory just through dialogue of who she was before and moving her forward hopefully to a place where she progresses?
I’m assuming that she is an essential character of the movie but that’s not necessarily the case. She’s also a great ancillary character. If she had kids to be in the movie, they would be fascinating characters to follow through, too. Like if you were her kid what would you do and that’s an interesting dilemma.
Craig: Yeah. I think you’re right to the point of kid although I wouldn’t make it her kid. I think that if I were going to write a movie here I would use the idea of this. I would create a character inspired by this one and I would create a kid who was trying to achieve something most likely what she did. Let’s say it’s ice skating. It doesn’t have to be. We can make it anything. Let’s say it’s ice skating and she knows that — and this is her idol. She herself is this young girl who’s maybe 14, incredibly driven, trying her hardest, and idolizes this woman who was maybe the greatest in the world and then is just gone and nobody knows where she is. But she believes that she lives like in the town over and so she goes to see her and finds and then you create.
I’m always fascinated by these kind of dual redemptions stories where they kind of save each other but in the end there has to be some tragedy here for the older — like that character doesn’t — it doesn’t go well for that character. That character I think dies.
John: So it’s Katarina Witt’s daughter who comes to track down Debi Thomas who defeated her mother back all these years ago and that’s the story you’re building.
Craig: Well, I wouldn’t do the defeat thing. I would probably make it just more like —
John: Well, Craig, I’m pitching that it’s Creed basically.
Craig: Oh, you want to do that. Yeah, no, listen, we can’t do that because that guy is going to sue us.
John: If you want to file off the serial numbers of the Creed you just make it ice skating instead of boxing —
Craig: Make it ice skating, exactly.
John: And make them women instead of men. Done.
Craig: Right, done. No one will ever know.
John: It’s so simple.
Craig: Change white to black, black to white, you’re done.
Craig: There’s something beautiful about, I think, about characters who have failed but in their failure there’s one last thing they do before they go away forever and that’s help somebody else avoid what they did and then that person kind of can blossom and succeed without ending up in a van down by river.
John: Well, what you’re hoping for the older character is a moment of insight because they’ve probably been lacking insight. They’ve been lacking the ability to understand what it is they’re doing and why they’re doing it and sort of why it’s not working. And perhaps the presence of a younger character can actually make them understand the truth of their own life in ways that they never could before that point and get to a happier place. So not everything has to be resolved, but sort of get them back on a track is sort of the goal of that interaction.
Craig: Yeah. It also allows you, I think you want to identify with somebody that is discovering slowly that this person is a mess —
Craig: And we start to see the layers of mess. There’s that great moment in Karate Kid where it’s like, okay, we got like this kind of cartoony Mentor with a capital M and this kid and he’s teaching him how to wax on and wax off. And then one night he shows up and the guy is drunk and he’s crying about his dead wife and you’re like, wow. When you see the broken nature of your heroes, it’s very touching, it’s very dramatic and it’s also a sign post of a coming of age movie because that’s a coming of age kind of thing.
Craig: So I think that that’s probably where I would go and that’s actually like I feel honestly like that could be a movie people would — you could write a good movie like this.
John: Yeah, okay. You’ve got me mostly convinced and I think the good version of that movie introduces a character I think like we’re describing who can be a conduit into meeting this older character and through that process you fill in the backstory, so it’s not —
John: Yeah, you’re not limited to just being in the perspective of that first person. It’s also about, you know, she’s a fascinating character because she is so driven and she clearly was so driven and the thing that drives her ultimately becomes her undoing. I mean, it’s the same — I don’t know — I find that with a lot of directors is like the really good directors are kind of crazy because there’s something that’s a little bit broken in their brains and so they just won’t stop. Where other people would’ve stopped, they just will not stop. And as long as they keep directing movies, everything is happy and good and great. But if anything gets in their way, they can be very challenging people to be around. And that seems like it is with her that she was so driven to, “No, no, I’m going to do it all and just watch me do it all,” and when she can’t do it all she sort of turns on herself.
Craig: Yeah, and underneath here there is this beam I think where you go right at the nature of the desperate and terrible nature of perfectionism that in your desire to be perfect you will then cause the thing that will make you imperfect or even less than you could have been because the desperate need to be perfect is what unwinds you and destroys you. And this girl in the beginning seeks her out because she wants to be perfect because she saw, like, in my mind in the scene it’s like no one’s ever gotten a perfect score, it’s like she’s Nadia Comāneci kind of thing. No one’s ever gotten a perfect, perfect score except this one time. This one championship she did it. She was perfect.
I need to find her so I can be better and win. And she finds her and finds this broken woman. And ultimately what she learns is if you try and be perfect that’s what happens. It’s a bit like Whiplash has that kind of same vibe to it, you know.
John: Absolutely. Yeah, so Whiplash is a really good comparison for this, too. You have somebody who is a really dysfunctional person — actually you have two really dysfunctional people who feed off of each other in a very unhealthy way and yet are able to sort of make something amazing because of it.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so you see like for those of you playing along with the home game, you know, these articles and these stories, you don’t have to necessarily just make the straight line. You know, you’re allowed to kind of fictionalize it and embellish it. Just find something at the core that inspires you and who knows, you know. I mean there’s probably 12 different ways you could be inspired to make totally fictional movies from this sad story.
John: At the Austin Film Festival, one of the How Would this be a Movies we brought up, there was a woman in the audience who said like, “I tried to get the rights to that story and I couldn’t get it.” It was about, I think, a hoarder who had died. And she’s like, “Well, I can’t get the rights to that story.” And I kept saying like, “No, no, no, you don’t need that story. Just take whatever that story means to you and like build a new story. She’s like, “No, I can’t do without that story.”
I was like, “Well, I’m sorry but I think you’re being too stuck on the specific details of what this one thing was that happened and not what the emotional narrative is for you.” And I think it’s the example here. I don’t think you need the Debi Thomas story. I think you need to make the story about probably these two women and what that journey is.
Craig: Yeah, I remember that and I remember thinking that whether that woman knew it or not who asked that question, she was limiting the appeal of the story itself.
Craig: Because we are less interested in the very specific than we are in the stories that kind of touch us all. I mean, even like the Eddie the Eagle movie that just came out is such an everyman kind of story that it was okay that it was specifically about this one person and it kind of had to be because it was unbelievable, you know, so we needed that bit of truth in there. But a lot of times if you make it really specific about what you read in that article it just seems small or like homework.
John: Yeah, or it feels like a Lifetime movie.
John: It’s very much like it’s written about like this one thing taken from the headlines and you are going to hit all these beats and you can read the Wikipedia article about it and sort of get the same information out of it. And so we’re certainly not arguing against specificity, you know, that’s our favorite thing in the entire world, but it needs to be specificity in relation to these characters and this setting and the exact story that you’re telling, not specificity related to that thing that actually happened in real life.
Craig: It’s funny, you know, fictionalizing actually gives you more of an opportunity for specificity because you can specify everything exactly the way you want. What shouldn’t be specific is the appeal. That should be as general as possible I guess is how I put it.
John: Agreed. Our final How This Would be a Movie question is about ghost passengers. This comes from an article in a Japanese news site. It was also replicated in The Mirror in UK and a couple other sites. It’s about the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Specifically, these taxi drivers who have been picking up fares who will ask them to drive to a place that was basically decimated by the flooding and then the passenger disappears, so they are ghost passengers. And these taxi drivers have multiple reports of like picking up these ghost passengers who are not scary per se, but are just sad and like wanting to go back to a place.
So this all stems from a woman named Yuka Kudo who’s 22 and she went to that region every week in her junior year to interview taxi drivers waiting for fares. She asked them, did you have any unusual experiences after the disaster? She asked the question to more than 100 drivers. Many ignored her, some became angry. However, seven drivers recanted their mysterious experiences to her. So, Craig, what is the Japanese taxi ghost movie?
Craig: Oh, boy. I mean, first of all, I don’t believe her.
John: I don’t believe her at all.
Craig: I’m just going to say like she’s made this up completely, because they’re not even good stories, not even good ghost stories. The problem here is that it’s so narrow. This would be a very cool scene in a movie. I think that you would want to sort of — my instinct would be if you’re writing a horror movie and it feels like it has to be a horror movie, I don’t see any other kind of movie involving this sort of thing, that you would maybe say there are ghosts left over from a flood and what do we do and it’s a great opening scene, like it’s a great way to open a movie. Somebody takes a fare. This person says they want to go somewhere.
I love this one line. She said this is one story that a taxi driver definitely did not tell her but she claims he did, [laughs], at least in my opinion. The taxi driver says a woman who was wearing a coat climbed in his cab near Ishinomaki Station. The woman directed him, “Please go to the Minamihama District.” The driver, in his 50s, asked her, “That area is almost empty. Is it okay?” And the woman said in a shivering voice, “Have I died?” Surprised at the question, the driver looked back at the rear seat. No one was there.
That’s goosebumpy. That’s a great way to start a movie. I’m intrigued. There are ghosts. But that’s it. I definitely don’t want to see that happen like three more times with three different cab drivers. [laughs] That would just start to get funny.
John: Yeah. It would be tedious. So I think the question for me is that is it a bunch of people who are trying to do this or is it one specific person because if the bunch of different people that to me it suggests that, well, maybe it’s a TV show, maybe it’s like a limited series where you’re following these different threads and like there are these ghosts who need to get places and you’re piecing together what is actually happening. There’s a reason why these things are happening. Or it’s actually kind of funny where it’s like you’re essentially the ghost taxi like when ghosts need to get some place, they’re basically signaling you and like you’re the person who like always is picking up the ghosts.
Craig: [laughs] Ghost taxi. It’s just so dumb. We got stuff we got to do.
John: Stuff we got to do.
Craig: And we have places to go. We can’t walk.
John: No, we can’t walk.
Craig: Well, I can walk to a taxi.
John: Well, as you saw in the movie Ghost when we did our Ghost episode, like the ghosts ride the subway. So ghosts presumably take taxis as well. It’s natural, it’s New York City.
Craig: Yeah, it’s natural. And it’s a great way to take it. I mean, you take cab and you never have to pay.
Craig: I think you could do a horror movie, sort of a Grudge-like movie where the character is Yuka Kudo, 22, senior at Tohoku Gakuin University, and she’s invented out of whole cloth this graduation thesis that has impressed people and become a news story and she just made it up. And she starts getting visited by the ghosts of flood victims who want their revenge because she’s trading in on their sorrow. That’s definitely not what Yuka Kudo was hoping from our podcast. That’s maybe —
John: Yeah, but I think there probably is a horror movie version where sort of take that same Yuka Kudo character and so she’s heard this one story and she goes to investigate and turns out like she’s finding these other people and then she’s obsessed like actually meeting one of these ghosts. And so it’s one thing to hear about these stories, so she’s interviewing these people, but then, like, she’s determined she’s going to find one of these ghosts. And in trying to find one of these ghosts she uncovers dot-dot-dot. So like that’s the initial sort of, you know, initial setup, it’s like a lot of these people have this experience and by the end of the first act she’s actually found one of these ghosts and gotten herself into really serious trouble and that is essentially just a premise. It’s a starting place, but like what those ghosts are trying to do. Is she there to help the ghosts? Are the ghosts ultimately malevolent? What is the psychological feeling of people who have drowned in this flood?
There’s something potentially interesting there. It might be a little bit more like the French series, The Returned. There’s also an American version of The Returned. Where like these dead people keep coming back and like why are they coming back?
Craig: Yeah, and you could, I suppose, give her a personal interest. Her father died in the flood.
Craig: And then she hears that a taxi driver picked up a ghost and the thought that maybe that’s all real means that maybe she could talk to him again, you know. You could do something like that. I’m not big on horror movies. I got to be honest. Like it’s hard for me with these because I feel like it just comes down to ghosts.
John: Yeah, it does come down to ghosts. So I would say like there definitely is a clear trajectory for like what the horror version of this would be. If there’s a romantic version or if there’s some other, you know, way to bend it, I think that could be very interesting, too. Sort of like once you understand like why she’s doing what she’s doing and what her motivation is. So like her father is a great one but I think it’s her fiancé that she’s looking for, that’s fascinating too.
Craig: Yeah, there’s a romantic comedy ghost tradition. There’s Blithe Spirit and Jeff Lowell made a movie called Over Her Dead Body or Over My Dead Body and, you know, I could see that she’s a cab driver and she picks up some guy and then they have like this really interesting connection and this great conversation. And then they get to this place and then he’s gone.
John: It could be kind of a While You Were Sleeping Forever kind of a movie.
Craig: Right, exactly. While You Were Dead.
John: While You Were Drowning.
Craig: [laughs] Why are we laughing about this? It’s just terrible.
John: Yeah, it’s gallows humor, quite literally.
Craig: Meanwhile I think honestly now somebody is pitching this stupid thing.
John: I’m sure someone is absolutely pitching — the minute this thing was — the minute we publish up someone is making this. So let’s predict which of these movies will become movies. I think there will be some inexpensive version of ghost taxi in the next couple of years.
Craig: Yeah, I think ghost taxi might be the one. It just seems like the most digestible bite size thing. There is an interesting Oscary kind of vibey movie to be made of that’s inspired by the Debi Thomas kind of story.
John: I agree.
Craig: And missing scientist, no.
John: No, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
John: It’s not even real.
John: It’s time for One Cool Things. I’m going to cheat and do two One Cool Things.
John: The first is by Ingrid Sundberg and she has this thing called The Color Thesaurus, which is actually a very smart idea. When you’re describing colors in screenplays and writing in general you can sort of get stuck on like, “oh, what’s the word for that kind of color?” And she basically just designed this website, and I think there’s also a poster available that just like shows kind of all the colors and like provides words for all those colors and you sort of realize, like oh wow, there are actually a lot of different words that mean different kinds of white for example.
So it’s a useful website when you’re sort of thinking about a color and it’s like, wait, what am I calling that color? And it’s sort of more in the literary sense because there’s always those colors that you can sort of get at a paint store. They have like random like, you know, vibrant dandelion, but these are sort of more useful color names, so I thought that was a great little site.
Craig: It’s cool. I’m looking at it right now. I think she’s misspelled fuchsia.
John: Yeah, that happens.
Craig: But still, this is really cool.
John: Yeah. My second thing is the Walk of Life Project. His hypothesis behind this site is that the Walk of Life by Dire Straits is the perfect song to end any movie. And so what he’s done, he’s taken endings of a whole bunch of movies ranging from The Matrix to 400 Blows to all sorts of different movies and he’s replaced the ending music with the Walk of Life.
Craig: Oh my god.
John: It’s actually kind of fascinating because surprisingly it does work for a lot of movies. I think the reason why it works is because the last shots of movies tend to be sort of about what’s going to happen next, it’s that uplift about sort of the thing that’s going to happen, and Walk of Life just kind of perfectly fits that. The last shots of movies also have like a sort of tendency towards tracking shots, towards sort of like sweeping shots that go out over things and Walk of Life fits very well for that. So, I would recommend you waste some time at the Walk of Life Project, it’s wallproject.com.
Craig: That’s amazing. Now if I remember correctly, the Walk of Life also begins with this very cool organy intro like —
Craig: Yeah. So I think maybe also it’s like it kind of — yeah, it seems like, yeah, I’m going to watch all of these.
John: Yeah, there’s sort of churchy/spiritual quality to the initial organ of it all. And then it gets sort of upbeat.
Craig: Yeah, that’s what I mean. Exactly.
John: So he does it from everything from The Matrix to Friends to, you know, Chinatown probably. Everything is there.
Craig: [hums] Oh, yeah. I’m going to check these out. That’s awesome. My One Cool Thing is also kind of a trailery sort of thing but it is a trailer for one movie and probably a lot of you have seen it already. It’s called Hardcore Henry and this is a movie that I think actually has been in the world for a bit maybe like a year but it’s getting its proper release here in the United States. On my birthday. April 8.
John: Oh, how nice.
Craig: And it is this action movie that it shot entirely in first-person perspective like, you know, first-person shooter style. Remember like in RoboCop there were those scenes where after he dies and he’s been turned into robot, his eyes open and people are looking down at him, you know, saying, “Oh, are you in there?” It’s that but that’s the whole movie, everything. So it’s him running and shooting. And the trailer is incredibly fun. I don’t know if I need to see the movie now that I’ve seen the trailer. I feel like, yeah, that was fun. Like, I don’t know if I need 90 minutes of it. Two and a half minutes was awesome.
So we will include a link to the trailer in the show notes. It’s fun. It’s obviously going to be a very violent movie. So if you don’t like violence, weirdly enough it also doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would make me puke, you know.
John: Yeah. I remember seeing Jackass, the first Jackass and feeling very, very nauseous thereafter because a lot of the hand-held stuff, but you control it carefully, maybe it’s going to work.
Craig: Well, because the thing is the camera feels pretty rigid, like GoPro videos don’t necessarily make me feel pukey because they don’t have that weird shake that is moving in a way that my eyes wouldn’t move. They’re actually moving in a way my eyes do move. So it didn’t make me puke at least not there, maybe on the big screen it would but cool trailer to watch and some people — and the movie, I should add, is written by Ilya Naishuller and then additional writing by Will Stewart, which means it doesn’t sound like a guild credit. It must have been done overseas. But some people have been asking, is this the future of action movies? Are we going to be now doing first person the way that 3D kind of came back and became this disruptive thing?
Eh, I don’t think so. But this one looks pretty good.
John: It does look cool.
John: Also in the show notes, I will throw link to The Bronze which is an upcoming movie. Actually it came out at Sundance last year, so I think it’s still coming out which is about an Olympic gymnast who has to go back and train somebody which I thought of as we were discussing Debi Thomas.
Craig: Oh, well there you go.
John: But it’s a comedy. And that’s our show for this week. You can find our show notes at johnaugust.com where you’ll find links to many of the things we talked about including these trailers and many of the articles we discussed. You can also find us in iTunes, just go and search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there you can also find the Scriptnotes app which gives you access to all the back episodes, all 240 episodes that exist before this.
Scriptnotes.net is where you sign up for all the back archive stuff and it is $2 a month, so thank you if you want to get all those back episodes. They’re also available, the first 200 episodes at least, are available on the Scriptnotes USB drive and so those are at the store. There’s a link in the show notes for how you get those.
Our show as always is edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: It is produced by Stuart Friedel.
John: Our Outro this week comes from Sam Tahhan. If you have an outro you’d like us to play, send us a link at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also a great place to send questions and longer follow-up pieces. Otherwise you can just reach us on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. And that is our show this week. Thanks, Craig.
Craig: Thank you, John.
- EW’s Oliver Gettell on the Creed lawsuit
- Grosso v. Miramax on Wikipedia
- Business Insider on Fifty Shades of Grey’s origin as fan fiction
- Cassandra Clare on fan fiction
- Snopes on the fake missing scientist news
- The Washington Post on Debi Thomas
- Ghost passengers in The Asahi Shimbun and Mirror Online
- Ingrid Sundberg’s The Color Thesaurus
- The Walk of Life Project
- Hardcore Henry trailer
- The Bronze trailer
- Outro by Sam Tahhan (send us yours!)