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 246 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today, we welcome writer-director Lorene Scafaria, whose new movie The Meddler comes out in the US this coming week. We are going to be talking about movie touchstones, gender in film, and a new round of How Would This Be a Movie. But before we introduce Lorene, we have some follow-up.
Craig, start us off.
Craig: Well, right now for all of you who are WGA West members, which is I believe something like 7,000 of you out there, right now in your mailbox or in your email box you have an invitation to vote on some amendments to our union constitution. And you and I have discussed these amendments, and there are three of them. Both you and I are in agreement on these on 2 and 3, which are basically minor adjustments to how we nominate people who can run for office and the board. They seem fine.
But you and I both have a problem with Amendment number 1, which basically says that they’re changing the terms so that people are no longer elected for two-year terms. Now they’re going to be elected for three-year terms.
And you have a nice piece on your website, johnaugust.com, and it quotes something that I’ve written and sent out to some other people. But we — both of us — think fairly strongly that people should be voting no on Amendment 1. It doesn’t seem to make member’s lives easier. If anything, I think it’s designed to make the staff’s life easier.
John: My big objection with Amendment 1 is that by increasing the term from two years to three years, if you have stupid people put in positions of power, it becomes much harder to get them out. And that’s not a good system. So, while voting every two years means we have to vote more often, I think it’s a useful cost for a better system in the WGA.
Craig: I agree. And just to point out to people, these have been cavalierly tossed out there, and the arguments for seem to be, “Well, most of the board voted for it.” Well, yeah, generally speaking I can see why incumbents would like to expand the amount of time they spend there. But, we have been doing it this way, two-year terms, since the inception of the union. It’s not something that you just throw away casually, 70 years of a stable election mechanic. So, I really don’t know why they’ve even proposed it. And I think we should say no.
John: Okay. My bit of follow-up. I asked on Twitter saying, hey, would someone like to make a Wikipedia page for Scriptnotes, because it felt like there should be a Wikipedia page for Scriptnotes. And our listeners are the best, and they made a great page for Scriptnotes. So, if you look that up in Wikipedia, we are there. It’s a pretty good article so far, but it could always be better. So, if you feel like editing the Scriptnotes’ Wikipedia page, just go for it. That’s what Wikipedia is for. If there are things you want to add, things you want to focus on, I would just say make sure it reads like a Wikipedia page. Try to keep it professional and neutral. Don’t make it sound like a bunch of Scriptnotes fans wrote it.
And on the whole, people have done a really good job. So just thank you to everyone who contributed to it, because it’s a really good page, and in three days people did a great job.
Craig: Do you feel like Wikipedia defies your understanding of human nature to some extent? It’s remarkable to me that so many people voluntarily do this, and they don’t — there is no reward for them.
John: I got an email from somebody who said like, “You know, I tried to do a Wikipedia page a long time ago, and it got rejected for not being relevant.” Or like not being important enough. And he was frustrated and down on the system. But, I guess maybe enough people working together, it got through the approval process. So, I’m up on Wikipedia pages.
Craig: Yeah. It’s pretty amazing. I don’t understand how it exists. I still think like I should just have my Multi-Volume World Book.
John: Yeah. I remember those. Little gold leaf on the edges.
Craig: Yeah. And they smelled like dust.
John: Oh yeah. Pages were a little too thin, and they cut your fingers.
Craig: That’s right. Yep.
John: Yep. Next up, Craig, talk to us about our fifth anniversary.
Craig: Well, you were the one that alerted me. Actually, Mike alerted you, and you alerted me. So, you know, I’m not necessarily the guy whose always running out there saying let’s have live shows, but fifth year. Five anniversary. I mean, that’s a big deal. So, I think that we should have some sort of big fifth anniversary celebration of some kind.
John: So, we don’t know where that should be, or quite when it should be. Our fifth anniversary will be at the end of August. And so sometime in August, if we were to do a live show, that would be our fifth anniversary. If people have suggestions for where we should do it, probably in Los Angeles, but like what venue, and who we should have as guests, we would love to hear those. So you can reach us on Twitter, or go to the Facebook page and just tell us where and who should be part of our fifth anniversary celebration.
Craig: You know, I also wonder, maybe we should — maybe that one should be on the road.
John: Ooh, that could be a good road show. It could also be a good live-streaming thing. There’s a lot of stuff happening in live-streaming now. There’s the Facebook Live stuff. So maybe there’s a way we could do like a worldwide event.
Craig: Ooh, worldwide.
Now, on the topic of worldwide, this episode that you’re listening to right now will cross us over six million downloads of Scriptnotes in its history, which is kind of nuts.
Craig: Six million, huh?
John: Six million.
Craig: Never forget. Six million. Sorry, it’s my Hebrew school. I hear that number and I immediately just —
John: Absolutely. That’s a tragic thing. But it’s a very happy thing that we have crossed six million. So thank you to everyone who has listened. I should tell you that we are changing some stuff on the server, and hopefully everything will go completely smoothly. But if next week’s episode doesn’t show up in your feed the way it should show up, just go to iTunes and re-add it, because there could be something that got glitched.
And so we will have a normal episode next week. If it does not show up for you, just go to iTunes and re-subscribe. We will do everything we possibly can, so no one gets dropped, but in case that happens, just add us again. That’s why we’re free.
Craig: So freaking free. We’re the freest.
John: We are the freest. Now, it’s time for our special guest, Lorene Scafaria. She is the writer and director whose credits include Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and the 2012 film, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Her new movie is The Meddler, starring Susan Sarandon as a New York widow who moves to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter, played by Rose Byrne. Let’s listen to a clip where Susan Sarandon is going to see her daughter’s therapist.
Lorene Scafaria, welcome to the show.
Lorene Scafaria: Thanks so much for having me.
John: So, I’ve seen the movie. Craig has not seen it yet. I went to the premiere at the Grove last night, and I was so confused originally like why it was at the Grove, until I saw the movie, and the move is set in Los Angeles, and actually a large part of it takes place at the Grove.
Lorene: Yes. It’s a bit of a love letter to the Grove, actually. It’s my mother’s favorite place on earth. [laughs] She likens it to Disneyworld. So, she moved to the Palazzo right —
Craig: Oh my god, that’s great.
Lorene: Behind the Grove. Yeah.
Craig: It’s like the Grove apartments.
Lorene: Of course. Yeah. And a lot of other moms moved there after my mother did. She was starting a sort of trend. They had like a dorm life at the Palazzo for a little while. Right when she moved there, and she was certainly alone at that point, she, gosh, went across the street to the Grove, went to the Apple Store, got a cell phone, and then many texts and voicemails later, I started to write the script, which actually was right away.
I mean, I started writing the script basically a month after she started to fall in love with the Grove.
John: So, all of these events that you’re describing are basically fictionalized in the film. So, we see Susan Sarandon going to the Apple Store, making friends with an Apple tech, and sort of just becoming over-involved in both her daughter’s life and in everyone around hers life.
So, this film, and obviously the Rose Byrne character is a screenwriter, you’re a writer, so obviously there’s autobiographical quality to it. And it’s very specific. I mean, that’s the thing that Craig and I always love to focus on when we look at sort of great writing and great filmmaking is it feels like one person’s experience lived in this — there’s nothing kind of generic about the thing. It was very specific to these characters in this situation.
So, after you started writing this thing, when did it become clear like, okay, this is the next movie I’m going to make?
Lorene: Well, I started writing that before I made Seeking a Friend, so at that point I hadn’t really realized if it would amount to anything, or if I was just working through something therapeutic or what it was going to be.
But, once I had enough of it, a little while after Seeking a Friend came out, and didn’t do well, and I was sort of trying to — and that felt very personal to me, even though it was high concept. I was wondering how personal I should get with the next one. So, even though I had the story, I had the setup of my mom, and I had this character, and our situation, our lives together, I didn’t know what it was going to be.
I didn’t know if I was going to write a noir film. I didn’t know if she was going to solve crimes. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted her to do. I just always had that intro. That intro was always the same of her walking around the Grove and leaving a voicemail for her daughter and what it is that she says. And all the references.
And then sort of — I think as a bit of a rebellion against what I kind of felt Seeking a Friend — you know, like how people reacted to it where it felt like, “Oh, god, I should never tell anything personal ever again,” I then just decided, you know what, I’m going to tell the most personal thing I can. And see where that gets me.
Craig: I like that you went further, you know?
Lorene: Yeah. [laughs]
Craig: Don’t pull back. Don’t let anyone let you pull back. First of all, I have to say, you’re from Homedale, is that correct? Homedale, New Jersey?
Lorene: Yes, New Jersey, yes.
Craig: Marlborough, Freehold.
Lorene: Hey, are you kidding?
John: And my dad worked at AT&T at Homedale.
Lorene: Are you kidding? Then you should have gone to high school there, right? Because everybody —
John: But we moved out to Colorado before then.
Lorene: Oh, okay. Okay. Oh my god. But you were in the system then? You were in the Homedale system?
John: Oh, very much.
Lorene: You’re on grid.
Craig: [laughs] I — sadly no one took me to Colorado. I was there.
Lorene: You were there? You suffered through. When did you get out of Jersey?
Craig: Well, I went to college in New Jersey, so I didn’t leave until 1992. So, but yeah, I know that area well. And actually good people from that area. And I can see how a nice Jersey mom wandering around the Grove would be like, “This is great.”
Lorene: Oh yeah.
Craig: I have a list of people that I would love to write a movie about, but I have to wait until they die.
Craig: Because I don’t want to deal with it. How do you deal with that with your own mother? I mean, I assume that she’s had things to say about this?
Lorene: You know, I mean, yeah. It’s been a — there have been a series of realizations on her part, because I read her the script over the phone, I think the first time that I was sharing it with her. I certainly was telling her, you know, you’re inspiring to me. I’m writing about this.
I think a couple of things. One, you know, I really was impressed with what she did. It was just really very brave that she sold a house in Jersey that she lived in her whole life and moved 3,000 miles to this big scary city. And it’s lonely. And her friends aren’t around. And I’m the only person who is the source of entertainment. And I was going through my own grieving process, which was very different from hers. And she just sort of met her grief with such optimism and I like to think of it as part denial and part acceptance at the same time. And I was kind of just angry and depressed, of course.
But, you know, it came from — my intent came from a good place, the same as sort of everything that she does comes from a good place. We mean well. You know, she means well, and I mean well when I wanted to tell her story.
So, I think she appreciated that I was as honest as I could be about myself as I was about her. That, of course, she could be annoying, but of course I could be mean. Of course I could take her for granted. And, you know, you are your worst self around the person who has to love you unconditionally, hopefully. [laughs]
Craig: I hope that’s true. Because, you know, when my kids behave a certain way I think, oh god, I hope that I’m seeing the worst of you. Please tell me this is the worst.
Lorene: I think so. I think so. [laughs] And, yeah, I think certainly in grief I was my worst self. And then, of course, in front of my mother. And the movie doesn’t really allow you to get rest from her. You stay with her. That was a big thing that I fought when people weren’t making it very easy for me to get this made.
John: So, looking at the trailer, it makes it seem like it’s a two-hander between Rose Byrne and Susan Sarandon, but when you actually watch the movie it’s almost a monologue of Susan Sarandon. It’s only from her point of view. And so I think part of the success of it is she is so great and so compelling. And where she’s annoying to everyone else around her, and yet she’s so sympathetic. You can completely see it from her perspective. And breaking it into a two-hander, I think she might seem like a monster.
John: You would lose your sympathy for her.
Lorene: If you leave her and you go see Lori and you’re on the other side of the phone ringing constantly and — I didn’t want that. I didn’t really want sympathy for my own character at all. I really thought I wanted to change what the word meddler meant. So, even though it’s a pretty negative title in a way, and a negative thing to call somebody, and usually we reserve it for moms and some dads, too, but I kind of wanted to change what it meant.
And part of that was sitting with her and seeing how lonely it is. And seeing what it’s like when your kid isn’t calling you back and you don’t really have those touchstones anymore. And you have a lot of love to give, and you’re not sure what to do with it. And that was the reason I never wanted to make it a two-hander, even though — I mean, my gosh, that was the biggest complaint from people that read it and people who represented me at the time. They wanted me to change it into a traditional mother/daughter story. And I just really wasn’t interested in that.
I feel like we’ve kind of seen that. But also for this exact reason. I wanted you to peel back and see someone pretty annoying up front and then realize where it all comes from. And never leave her side really.
Craig: So that’s where you run into this frustration where you’ve made a movie that thematically is about a sense of isolation —
Lorene: Right. Right.
Craig: And people will casually say, “Yeah, yeah. Great. Now, can it be a road trip with another person?”
Lorene: [laughs] Right. Exactly.
Lorene: It’s missing the point. Exactly.
Craig: I feel like they get the point. They just don’t care.
Lorene: Yeah. No, they certainly didn’t care. Not when they were like, “We want to help you get this made, of course, but no one is going to finance a movie about a woman of a certain age.” I mean, really, and I mean now it seems like there’s a trend of it, and I’m wondering what took place that changed all of this. Movies like Grandma and I’ll See You in my Dreams and Hello, My Name is Doris, I mean, are finally getting attention. And, of course, those are all great actresses.
But, it was so strange at the time that absolutely no one was interested in doing it until — unless, of course, the Lori character, someone who get more money, you know, mean more as they say. And I just wasn’t interested in doing that.
John: You’re a really good director.
John: You’re really good like director of actors, but you’re also a really good visualist. And so watching the movie last night, I was — I got to see it on the big screen — and I got to see like, oh wow, you’re really thinking about your frames. And you’re thinking about sort of how to portray isolation for a character in ways I’ve never — I don’t commonly see.
And so when she’s occupying the screen by herself, she’s compelling, and yet there’s always a sense of she’s boxed in. She’s stuck in her car. She’s occupying a section of the frame, and her life is really empty.
When you were writing it, is that visual aspect already informing it? Because you knew that you had to direct this. Like, no one else is going to go off and direct this movie. Or, was there a thought that somebody else could direct this movie?
Lorene: No, no, no. At no point was I going to hand my mom’s story off to someone else. Maybe her. She could handle it. But, yeah, I mean, I like to think that I write as a director, meaning not necessarily all the shots are written down or anything, but just I’m seeing pictures in my head, so I’m trying to create those pictures on the page for other people.
But, my DP and I talked about how the edge of frame, since the whole movie is about boundaries and crossing boundaries, we liked to play with boundaries the whole time. And whether that was this woman in a picture frame and in a tiny car, or you have to find her in a crowd of people, that was something that we discussed.
But I also — I shot the first five minutes of the movie with my mom, who is not an actress at all, at the Grove without permission. I think I can say it now that I’ve had the premiere there and everything. But a DP friend of mine and I, we were tucked away.
It was basically for me to show them, you know, I don’t think we need to shut down the Grove to even film there. I was trying to just prove that I think we can do this crazy ambitious Los Angeles sprawling story with less money than you think. And that was because I had the idea that I wanted to find her in the crowd. I wanted to sort of land on a person on in a story that wouldn’t normally be the lead of their own movie. You know, wouldn’t be so compelling.
And, yet, actually is. And so the first few minutes of the movie with Susan is almost shot for shot what I did with my mother, because we liked the sort of voyeuristic long lens idea of just finding this woman and following her through the sort of mundane life. And, yet, hopefully interestingly. But I’m so glad you saw that, because you make a low budget film and a lot of it just feels like medium shots and away and away, and yet we were — I was certainly going for that.
John: And there’s a very filmic quality to — especially in the middle section where you actually get to visit — not big spoilers here — but when you get to visit the thing that the daughter is filming, which is this pilot, and the meta quality comes through. Susan Sarandon is watching another actress playing her. Laura San Giacomo potentially playing her, which is, of course, the meta thing of you’re making this film about your mother. And your mother is part of the process of seeing you make this film.
Did your come to visit set while you were shooting?
Lorene: No, we wouldn’t let her. And she thinks it was her idea, which I think is really sweet. She’s like, “You know, I just didn’t want to make Susan feel uncomfortable.” I’m like, yeah, that was very gracious of you to come to that decision.
Craig: After it was delivered to you in a legal letter.
Lorene: [laughs] Yes. Exactly. No, she was on set of Seeking a Friend every single day. She brought two chairs in case anybody else needed one.
Lorene: And she sat at Video Village the whole time, which I find to be a wonderful tactic for first time filmmakers. I highly recommend that your mom sit in Video Village, because the producers have to walk away to talk crap about you.
John: Oh great.
Lorene: So that was exciting. That was a fun little thing I learned. But, no, we kept her away as much as we could. I’d call her every day to let her know about it. You know, how the day went and everything. But the reason that I was excited to write about that was because, you know, I was always trying to figure this out. It was very meaningful to me to try to figure out what to do with this pain and loss of my father and having my mother around and all of that.
I mean, I sort of felt like I had to tell their story. So, I liked the idea that Lori had this pressure on her to give her father this afterlife or the idea that maybe she was writing this version of her life where her father still lived and her parents were now in her guest house or something.
And so the true story was that my dad had retired in March of 2009. And then went downhill in June. So, there were only a few months of them retired and they were out here — and oh my god, they would come like over and bring breakfast and just be so crazy together and so adorable. And it was a fantasy for me, because my father worked for his whole life, so to even just see him in the daytime was weird. So that was really what the TV show was about that Lori was putting together.
And there’s the moment earlier in the film when Marnie check’s Lori’s search history on her computer and you could see the script for the pilot in the background, actually the same stuff is there. But, yeah, I just liked the idea that if her father had lived, this is sort of this alternate universe for even her. And so then, of course, Marnie visits the set and it’s like her husband is embodied by someone who has come back to life in this way. And Harry Hamlin, of course, nailed it.
But I also liked the idea of — you see so many stories about writers. Everybody is writing about being a writer. And I guess I wasn’t interested in that at all. But I was so interested in my mom’s perspective of it. Because, I don’t know about you guys, but my mom thinks everything is cool. You know, like she thinks like, “Oh my god, you got a meeting at Warner Bros? Can I keep your ticket stub?” I’m like, it’s not what it’s called. But —
John: That’s awesome. That’s great.
Craig: That’s so great.
Lorene: So I just thought like, oh, I should just see her excited to visit a set.
John: The other reference, and I haven’t read a lot of the press about your movie, so I don’t know if other people are catching this, but the Pedro Almodovar movies, which are always about sort of these giant mothers, and they’re always set against the backdrop of the film industry or TV producers. Like, it felt like the American version of sort of what an Almodovar movie is.
Lorene: That’s a high compliment. Thank you.
John: And not as sexed up as the Almodovar movies are.
Lorene: Yeah. Of course.
John: But it’s that relationship between challenging characters at times, but characters you ultimately want to embrace. And you sort of see why they’re doing the crazy things they’re doing.
Lorene: Yeah. Exactly. And we didn’t want to sexualize it too much. I mean, certainly I wasn’t — it’s funny, because that was at some point something that Susan and I had even talked about. Is it missing a scene between her and Zipper? And for me it was like, oh my god, no, it’s not really about — it’s not about a woman who has been repressed her whole life or fresh out of a divorce of someone she hated and needs a sexual awakening. It was so much more about just this woman is so open-hearted with absolutely everybody, except when it comes to the idea of romantic love.
And so, you know, it’s like a reluctant love story in a way for her.
John: Very nice. When will people get to see it?
Lorene: It opens in New York and LA April 22nd. And then expands after that. We’re going to DC and Chicago. We’re going to San Francisco, doing press. So, I assume bigger cities first, and then hopefully wider and wider if people like it and tell people about it.
John: I think people will like it. We had the folks from The Invitation on recently, and so they were bragging about their Rotten Tomatoes scores, but you’re in the 90s as well as we’re recording this. So, people seem to be enjoying it.
Lorene: Yeah. So far so good. You know how you get those reactions from critics? And so far all of those have been very positive. But I remember them being pretty positive for my last film, and then you see the reviews and it’s just different people doing the reviews.
John: Yeah. Isn’t that funny?
Lorene: I’m like, oh, that’s cool. So you had the person who hated it write it up, not the person who liked it. That’s fine.
John: A platform release is a strange one, because at least when you go wide it’s like the Band-Aid gets ripped off all at once. But when the platform is week after week after week, it’s a challenge.
Lorene: Yeah. I’ve been nervous for the last few weeks. And now I’m like, oh, it’s not going to change. I’m going to be nervous for five, six more weeks. It’s not that fun. But, I mean, I’m happy to do a platform release on this instead of — I mean, going wide would have been a mistake. But last time going wide was a mistake, too.
You know, what’s nice is that the people I work with see these movies as commercial, and to me they’re so weird and little and about sad things, too. So, it’s a mixed bag when they see it as commercial and have dollar signs in their eyes, because then they’re like, “Ooh, you know, we can put this out in the summer.” And I’m like, oh please don’t. Please don’t.
Craig: Yeah. No. I think the platform release strategy is correct. And these movies, they live in different ways now anyway. I mean, it used to be that they would platform out into theaters and people would either see them in theaters or they wouldn’t, and that was it. Movie is dead, forever, you know.
But now I feel like with day-and-date and all the rest of it — so when is it available on iTunes and all the rest of that?
Lorene: I don’t know. I’m kind of happy it’s not VoD at the same time, just because I think for the crowd that, you know, older women saying being the demographic at least they think this is for, those people go to the movies, which is nice. And they don’t tweet I’ve heard.
Craig: They don’t tweet.
Lorene: From absolutely single screening.
Craig: They don’t know how to use iTunes. So this is great. Yeah.
Lorene: They haven’t mastered that stuff yet. But, no, it’s — you know, even Netflix. Seeking a Friend had this very nice afterlife on Netflix, where people discover it for years later without watching the trailer right before hand. And that was certainly nice.
But, yeah, I don’t know when this will start. I mean, I think they’re hoping that it’s the kind of thing that’s a slow burn and stays around for a while. But, oh my god, let’s see. We’ll see.
I mean, my mom is going to see it a lot. That will be a lot of ticket sales.
Craig: Right. And she will keep those ticket stubs.
John: She buys three tickets.
Lorene: She buys three tickets. Craig, you haven’t seen the film, but it’s —
Craig: Well, I saw that in the clip.
Lorene: Oh, that was in the clip. Okay, yeah.
Craig: She will continue to buy three tickets at a time.
Lorene: She absolutely will. Though she prefers action films usually.
Craig: Wouldn’t it be great if she goes to see this and she’s like, “Eh…I don’t know.”
Lorene: [laughs] I’ve been telling people it’s my mom’s favorite movie. It’s her favorite movie.
Craig: Well, let me see. It’s a movie about her and Susan Sarandon plays her. So, yeah.
Lorene: Oh my god. When she found out Susan was playing her, she was like, “Oh my god. Daddy would have been so excited to have been married to Susan Sarandon.” [laughs] She got the biggest kick out of it. She was like we all should be so lucky.
Craig: That’s great.
John: All right. Well, let’s distract you from your upcoming release with talking about other movies that are not even movies. They’re just ideas. So it’s a segment we call How Would this be a Movie. And so we take a couple things that are in the news, that our listeners send to us, and we discuss like, well, if that got thrown to you, how would you make that into a movie.
Lorene: Oh god. Okay.
John: All right. So the first one is called The Hum. And so we’re going to link to an article by Colin Dickey, who is writing for The New Republic. But it’s talking about this low frequency hum that people are hearing around the world, mostly at night, mostly in rural areas. And they’ve been studying trying to figure out what it actually is, if it even is a thing, or if it’s just in people’s heads. If it’s just tinnitus. So, this article goes through and talks about this guy named Glen MacPherson who has developed a special box that he wants to test to see whether it will actually stop people from hearing the hum.
Lorene: Oh, amazing. Wait, this sounds too good.
John: It sounds great. So, I thought of you for this, because you’re also an actress. And so I saw you —
Lorene: Barely. Barely, but.
John: I’ve seen you as an actress in two things. First off, you’re in The Nines.
Lorene: I am.
John: Talking about meta movies. You play essentially yourself in The Nines. You play celebrity here at my house where we are recording this podcast right now.
Lorene: That was so fun, by the way.
John: That was a very fun night.
Lorene: Oh my god.
John: But you’re also in the movie Coherence, which is a big sci-fi paranoid thing, and this felt like this wanted to be a sci-fi paranoid thing, The Hum.
Lorene: It does. It feels like — I also just saw The Witch, which scared the — the bejesus are out of me now. They’re gone. That was the scariest thing I’ve seen in a while. And the Babadook it kind of reminds me of.
John: Oh my gosh, The Babadook.
Lorene: Which I thought was brilliant, and much more watchable. You know, it wasn’t as terrifying, but it scared me, too. I like this idea. I like the idea — there’s also a great feeling of when your main character, you’re not sure if they’re going mad or if they’re sane or not. I mean, I don’t know if it’s going to be the guy. I feel like this might just be an ordinary person who hears this hum and is trying to figure out if they’re going crazy or not.
Maybe they start to build the machine for it. Yeah, that feels great. Like Close Encounters. But the hum should be real, right? I mean, that should be…hmm.
John: Craig, talk us through this.
Lorene: Alien? I mean.
Craig: They don’t know. There’s interesting — there’s historic evidence, so even back in the 1800s people were describing the hum, which kind of discounts, frankly, a lot of the more paranoid theories. I mean, naturally people go to conspiracy and paranoia. The government is putting signals out there. There’s some reason to think that maybe it’s related to military equipment, because military equipment does use very low frequency sounds and maybe people — some people just have the ability to pick that up and it disturbs them.
But, the fact that this has been going on for so long probably speaks to something else. Either it is early onset tinnitus or it’s a mental problem. And a mental problem doesn’t mean crazy. It just means that your brain may be processing auditory information differently. And so this may be not exogenous. It’s coming from inside your head. It doesn’t mean you’re nuts. It just means there’s something off with your hearing.
So, this guy has built this box, and the whole point of the box is it should theoretically physically block out all sound of all wave lengths. So, the idea is he wants to put people who hear the hum in the box and say, “Do you still hear it? Because if you do, it ain’t from outside.”
But so far apparently he hasn’t put anybody in it. I’m fascinated by the —
Lorene: What’s he waiting for? [laughs]
Craig: I don’t know.
John: The article we’ll link to, it’s like it’s really unclear quite what he’s waiting for. But I think it essentially becomes one of those philosophical problems, like if he’d actually test it, then all of the other possibilities go away. So I read this, and tell me what you took out of this, I think he’s been in the box and he still heard it. And he doesn’t want to admit that he actually still heard it.
Lorene: Oh, I like that.
John: Craig, what did you think?
Craig: Yeah. I think that there’s a strong possibility there. And this is where — I mean, my instincts go, yes, for sure, you absolutely could do a very good genre science-fiction paranoia thriller about this. What fascinates me also, though, is this community, this bananas community, and now, uh-huh, we’ll get some calls, but they are rabid in their defense of the hum and the range of their conspiracy beliefs. And I kind of think that there’s part of the thriller, because this doesn’t feel like a comedy or anything like that. But part of the thriller is getting involved in this community and starting to realize something is wrong with this community itself. I don’t want to call them hummers, but I do. [laughs]
Lorene: [laughs] Or is it like the dress. Like the people who saw it as —
John: The Dress is a great example of it, too, because it’s true both ways. You can see either way, and it is absolutely true. And the hum may be one of those situations as well, where it’s like it’s equally valid to hear or not to hear it, but just because other people can hear it or don’t hear it doesn’t mean they are the crazy ones. It’s just how your brain is processing information that’s out there.
Lorene: And it’s not necessarily, I mean, not to just be so basic. It’s not necessarily these people have incredible hearing and they’re hearing something that no one else, I mean, like X-Men style hearing for these people.
John: Well, it’s interesting because people tend to hear it only in rural places. And so the theory might be that you don’t hear it in cities because cities are noisy enough that it drowns it out. So, it’s sort of the absence of sound sort of creates this situation. People are hearing it at night because it’s quieter at night and therefore they hear it.
I remember I was driving to Drake University, so from Boulder to Drake in Des Moines, Iowa, and I stopped midway through at a friend’s house in Nebraska and stayed overnight. And it was so quiet there that I couldn’t sleep. And like Boulder is not a noisy place, but it was just dead quiet. And it was scary like how still and silent it was. And so to some degree, the hum could be the absence of sound is what’s creating that.
Lorene: I’ve heard this clock ticking since I turned 35. What do you think that is?
Craig: We do cover female reproductive health on a number of our episodes.
Lorene: Oh, you have?
John: I’ve had several discussions about freezing eggs in just the last week.
Craig: That is the thing right now, man.
Lorene: Oh, no, we don’t have to go there.
Craig: I feel like I don’t know any woman right now who isn’t — and forget married or not married — any woman right now who doesn’t have kids, right now, I feel like they’re all freezing their eggs. We’re at the age now where egg freezing is like there’s parties for egg freezing.
Lorene: I feel like I’ve been trying to approach it really casually, and I’m going to be punished for it. [laughs] Because I’ve been trying to — you know, I always thought like, oh, the people who grip, those are the people who have problems.
Lorene: So I’m just like, oh, if I’m real laid back about it, then everything is going to — then I’m going to defeat age.
Craig: Laying back is definitely part of it. But, you’re going to have to put a little effort. There’s a little effort required.
Craig: Just the tiniest bit.
Lorene: All right. All right.
John: Tiniest bit. I want to jump back to your movie for one second, because you have the absolute best joke about the guy you’re dating on the set. And so — again, not a big spoiler, but Billy Magnussen plays a second camera operator and he has the single best line for sort of like his status as a second camera operator. So, anybody who works in the film industry will love his claim to fame as being like he’s the second camera operator, the guy you go to when the first one is not available.
Lorene: Like Don McAlpine will use him to be a camera operator. Yeah. Yeah, that was — oh my god, Billy is so funny. I wanted him so bad for the part, too. It was one of those things where I flew him out myself, because he lives in New York, and we couldn’t afford any more outside hires than Rose and Susan. But I was like this guy is going to crush it. I just know it. And, oh my god, you know, for one scene, it’s just such a great cameo.
John: So, back to The Hum. So, I think all of us are perceiving this as being some kind of thriller probably?
Lorene: Yeah. Unless you make a comedy out of it. I remember, like, I mean, one of those disaster movies for — like Sharknado or something.
John: Yeah, sure.
Lorene: I remember, was it Dana Fox who was talking about The Hole, you know, which is just like a horror movie about just a hole that people keep falling into. [laughs]
Craig: I would so see that.
Lorene: So, it could be that.
Craig: The Hole. I just love that. It’s like a movie predicated on the notion that people just keep not seeing it.
Lorene: They just fall into it.
Craig: They just keep falling into it. That’s great. Like you’re running, you think it’s ahead of you, so you start running away and you realize, oh, the hole has fooled me again. It was behind me. I’ve run into the hole.
Lorene: But I don’t think we’re off about The Hum being a little, you know, it has to be a bit of a metaphor, right, sort of like the Babadook is about motherhood.
Craig: Yeah. There’s something like, there’s something maybe at the center of it that is essentially stating that there is something about this — I don’t know what the percentage was, what do they say, like 1% or something? That 1% of us maybe aren’t like us. You know? Or maybe they’re not from here. And that’s one hell of a way to find out you’re not from here.
Lorene: I like that. I like that idea.
John: Our second How Would this be a Movie is about the Denver Airport. So, I fly into the Denver Airport all the time, and ever since it opened, there have been conspiracy theories about the Denver Airport. That there’s actually whole sinister motivations behind what the Denver Airport actually is, or sort of why it was built, or the special things there.
So, I will link to an article by Kate Erbland who is writing for Mental Floss. There’s also another post on Rational Wiki that sort of goes through all the conspiracy theories about the Denver Airport. But very quickly, the runways are laid out in a shape that looks exactly like a Swastika.
Lorene: I saw that from above.
Craig: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. [laughs]
John: There are these weird markings on the floor. There’s this strange plaque placed by the New World Airport Commission. It has like a freemason symbol on it. There are the tunnels underneath it, which are partially related to the weird baggage handling, but also something else. There are these buried buildings. And this last one is actually true. The big blue Mustang which is out in front of the airport, this sort of bizarre sculpture, it’s this giant horse, has these red eyes. It actually killed the sculptor. Like it fell on the sculptor and it killed him before it was installed.
Lorene: Stop it.
John: It did.
Lorene: No it didn’t.
John: Its leg broke off and the sculptor who built it died.
Craig: And also, you got to mention, this mural. So there are these two murals. One is called Children of the World Dream of Peace. And the other one is called In Peace and Harmony with Nature. And so in one of them, [laughs] death-masked soldiers stalk children with guns. Animals are dead and kept under glass. And the entire world looks to have been destroyed. That’s in the airport. And he’s not like, this death-masked soldier is dressed sort of like in Nazi fetish gear. He’s holding what appears to be an AK-47. And a massive scimitar. It’s insane.
Lorene: Wow. I mean, they are like the main hub of America, right? I mean, that airport is like — ?
John: Yeah. United hubs through there.
Craig: It’s a big one. And it just makes no — I mean, I understand why people have — you know, this is a classic thing. So you get a lot of information that just seems off. It’s just wrong. And you want to make it right. So you try and figure out the puzzle. What puzzle explains the following totally insane things? I don’t think there is one.
Which is a challenge for us as the writer, right?
Lorene: But there’s like a National Treasure movie in there, somewhere, right? Is that the tone?
John: The easy thing is a National Treasure. Which is basically like, you know, oh, there’s a mystery behind this, and you have to assemble these things in time. I don’t know what the ticking clock is for it though.
Lorene: My ticking clock.
Craig: I got to get this treasure before —
John: Impending motherhood.
Craig: Before I can have babies.
Lorene: I mean, Nic Cage is definitely in it, though, so that’s obvious.
John: Yeah. He can be a paranoid, conspiracy theorist. Yeah. He’s in it somehow.
Lorene: It’s like Con-Air meets…
John: He was also in the Left Behind movie, right? And so he was a pilot in that. So maybe he lands his plane from the Left Behind movie and that’s where it all sort of comes together. It can a spinoff of that.
Lorene: I love a whole film in an airport, though. I do like that idea.
John: I do. The Die Hard 2 aspect of it. Airplane, of course. Or Airport ’77. I think there’s something really interesting about, I mean, I don’t know that it’s a movie necessarily, but stuff that’s based around a space I think is really fascinating. And so it might be better for like a VR kind of experience or for something like Sleep No More. The big sort of performance thing in New York City where the space itself becomes very important to the story.
Because when you just see characters wandering around in a space, it’s not as interesting as kind of being there yourself.
Lorene: Right. Right. I mean, the Denver Airport — definitely a cast of characters are coming through there. Could be an ensemble story.
Craig: Doesn’t it feel like maybe this is just a stop off on a larger movie where — like a family movie where kids are following a treasure map or clues or something. Okay, this is explains that. You know? But then we’re out of here.
Lorene: Yeah. Illuminati. Obviously.
Craig: We’re only in the Denver Airport for like two scenes, and then we got to get the hell out.
Lorene: [laughs] Yeah, no, I love — you know, how you sell it obviously is that the airport is a character in itself. People love to hear things like that, you know. New York City is the character.
Craig: [laughs] They do. They love to say that. Like, I really feel like the city should be more of a character.
John: Well, the Grove is a character in your movie.
Lorene: The Grove is a character. I feel like her phone is a character almost. But, yeah, no, but the Denver Airport feels like a solid character. A racist character at that. An anti-Semite.
Craig: Yeah. A racist, crazy character. Who has got like a horse fetish.
Craig: I mean this thing, like this death soldier, he’s about to stab a dove, but the craziest thing in this thing with the death soldier, and his gun, and his scimitar, and the dove, and the scared children, and the dying people is this rainbow shooting out of his gun, but backwards, like flying backwards out of his gun. So, it’s like a crazy gay flag AK-47 Nazi soldier scimitar bird killer. It’s actually — I want it. I want it in my house, because I feel like this mural is me. It’s who I am. [laughs]
Lorene: It’s reminding me of Foxcatcher, which is one of my favorite films of — what year was that? What year is it? But that year. It was one of my favorite films. But, you know, the details and just like — maybe there’s a guy, like Joe Denver.
Craig: [laughs] Joe Denver.
Lorene: Who is like really wrestling which his own, you know, where he comes from.
John: Well, like Childrens Hospital. Like named after Mr. Childrens rather than —
Lorene: Right. Rather than being a Children’s Hospital.
John: And you actually wrote an episode of Childrens Hospital if I remember correctly.
Lorene: I co-wrote it with the rest of the Fempire.
John: It was the Fempire, yeah.
Lorene: My stuff was probably the most offensive stuff in it.
Craig: Well done.
John: Good stuff was yours.
Lorene: Yeah. My stuff was like the best funniest stuff. No, I mean, I’m saying my part of it, because we all kind of divided and conquered, and my part had to do with the child going through it. There was a child going through a sex change operation and his parents were fighting over whether he was going to be a boy or a girl.
So, yeah, like real cool stuff like that. [laughs]
John: It was handled with all the subtlety and nuance that you would expect out of a Childrens Hospital episode?
Lorene: Yes. Exactly. We love Rob Corddry, so we will do anything. We will be terrible people for him any time.
John: That’s good. Craig, talk us through the last of our How Would this be a Movie.
Craig: Oh boy, how could this not be a movie? So, the craziest story. This is out of Canada. And 80-year-old woman, Melissa Ann Shepard, was arrested again Monday after allegedly breaching the conditions of her peace bond, which I assume in Canada means — their peace bond means parole. So what did she do?
Well, she was using a computer. She was a using a computer in the library. That breaks the rules of her parole. She’s not allowed to use a computer because she is known as the Internet Black Widow.
Now, again, 80-year-old woman. Apparently the deal was that she was — she kept meeting guys through the Internet and then killing them. Now, here’s the crazy part. This is the part where I’m like, either I’m misunderstanding this article, or Canada is out of their minds. So, okay, first of all, she gained notoriety for killing and poisoning men who were her intimate partners. And has a history of offenses dating back to the early ’90s. Again, that’s her notoriety. Killing and poisoning not man, men. Okay? A number of them.
She was released recently though, having served a full sentence just under three years for spiking newlywed husband Fred Weeks’s coffee with tranquilizers in 2002. I’m sorry, 2012. He survived. That’s nice. But here’s who didn’t: her former husband, Robert Friedrich, and her second husband, Gordon Stewart. Stewart died after he was drugged and run over twice with a car.
She was convicted of manslaughter in 1992. She was also handed a five-year prison sentence on seven counts of theft from a man in Florida who she met online. But, you know, go ahead. You’ve only killed three people so far. So just — we’ll give you three years. Just stay off the computer.
Now, I love this. I just love this lady. And the picture of her, honestly, is the most grandma like happy, sweet grandma face in history. What do you do with this lady, guy?
Lorene: Their big punishment was you can’t use the Internet anymore, right? It was like you can —
Craig: They gave her three years for almost killing someone, after she killed two other people, including running them over with a car twice. No, they gave her a full three years, and she served it. [laughs] Stay off the Internet, Melissa Ann Shepard. Well, she doesn’t. And this is how she got re-arrested. An officer happened to be wandering through the Halifax Central Library and noticed her. And was like, oh, Melissa, how many times?
Lorene: Wow. Wow. Halifax is great, by the way. Of course it should stay there.
John: So let’s talk about this character. I’m thinking about your movie in contest with this. So, unlike Susan Sarandon’s character, who is so helpful, this woman is a sociopath. And she’s probably a fairly charming sociopath, who seems like a kind grandmother, but is just not. And so whereas Susan Sarandon goes into the Apple Store and learns how to show up to a baby shower she wasn’t invited to, this older woman finds a way to meet these guys and then kill them.
Lorene: Right, so if The Meddler is any kind of success, we pitch it as the Anti-Meddler, obviously.
Lorene: And right when you were talking about it that way, then suddenly I was like, oh, is there like a Gone Girl element where, you know, the neighbors and everyone, all the suspicions. You kind of have like the gossip of the town being involved in that. And then you sort of see that we’re all kind of like her, you know what I mean? How we all sort of abuse the Internet and maybe meet people through it in dark mysterious ways, right? We can like peel back our own — that’s always what I’m interested in. Like how are we all like Melissa, you know?
Craig: I feel like she’s clearly a sociopath. I mean, it says here prior to her recent release, a parole board report said Shepard tended — tended, mind you — tended to fabricate and deny events and is unable to link consequences to actions. Yeah.
So, yeah, don’t you know. All right, but let her out. [laughs]
Craig: So, there is one aspect of this is you tell the story from the point of view of the one sane law enforcement person in Halifax who is like, “What are we doing?” And everyone is like, “Well, you know, she’s all right. She’s just — look at her, she’s so sweet. She’s kind.” And then this one person is like, “What is going on? Why — how have we broken down as a society now that we’re allowing the sociopath to just walk around?”
John: I think it would also be fascinating like let’s say she moves to a new community, and like that person tracks her down. Or the person who is suspicious of her. That’s even sort of more — she seems like that kind old lady who moved in the apartment across the way.
John: Well, she seemed so kind. And the one person who is suspicious of her, like, well, you’re an asshole if you think you’re suspicious of that nice woman.
Lorene: Like The Burbs. That was always a great film. We like to reference that in rooms, right? It was like is Tom Hanks crazy for thinking that these people are, right, and then you sort of slowly discover what’s going on in the basement.
Craig: Right. Exactly.
John: So that’s actually a great segue for us to talk about touchstones and sort of references you make as you’re talking about the things you want to work on and existing movies. So you’re referencing The Burbs. What other kinds of movies are mentioned all the time —
Craig: Hold on a second. No one has ever, ever mentioned The Burbs.
Lorene: Really? Ever?
Craig: I don’t think so. I think that was it. I think we just had the first reference of The Burbs.
Lorene: I love it. That’s like not a touchstone for anyone. But I’ve probably said it three times —
Craig: I mean, I honestly believe.
John: So tell us the context of when you would use The Burbs. What were you talking about when you used it?
Lorene: I’m trying to think. I think it was like, oh god, I’m so embarrassed, because it’s a really old script that I was working on when I had a writing partner, so this would have been forever ago. And it was called — I’m a Teenage Alien. And it was about a kid, it was like Teen Wolf, but the kid is an alien. And it was sort of about the town kind of figuring him out a little bit, or a certain neighbor who thinks he’s a certain way.
I might have used it as that. I’m trying to think. My god, I’m embarrassed, because who uses The Burbs?
Craig: No one. I mean, I honestly think that if you came in and you were pitching a sequel to The Burbs, you still wouldn’t use The Burbs.
Lorene: [laughs] It’s like the least known Tom Hanks movie of all time.
Craig: It’s the least touched touchstone.
Lorene: I could quote it. I could quote it right now.
Craig: I actually love that movie. And I know what you mean. It’s the kind of — it’s Stepford Wives is really, I think, it’s that.
Lorene: There you go. Stepford Wives was a good call.
Craig: That’s a touchstone. I hear that. I hear The Burbs less.
Lorene: This is why I don’t sell pitches very often.
John: [laughs] It’s all The Burbs references bring it down.
Craig: This is the concept —
Lorene: I remember doing that in TV. I was always like it’s Twin Peaks meets Northern Exposure. And they were like, “Um, say something else.”
Craig: Give us another one. I like the idea that you were in there, you were pitching, and everyone is like, “Oh my god, this is going so well. Just finish your pitch so we can say yes.” And the last thing you say is, “And obviously, this is all really just The Burbs.” And then, no.
John: So this topic comes to us courtesy of Rawson Thurber who wanted to bring up sort of the movies that he’s constantly sort of referencing or using as touchstones when he’s talking about things. And so I thought we’d sort of build a list, but also talk about sort of why use them.
So, he says, Raiders, Star Wars, When Harry Met Sally, Bourne, Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run. He says increasingly things like Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool, like the Deadpool version of. Or the something-something Deadpool.
So, it’s referencing probably I guess the iconic example of a genre, or something that was a huge success within that space. And people can understand it because you’re referencing something that everyone has seen, unlike The Burbs.
Lorene: Unlike The Burbs. I mean, Rawson makes bigger films than I do, so he’s in rooms talking about giant, giant blockbusters. Yeah, I mean, Devil Wears Prada kind of became one.
John: For sure.
Craig: Yep. Bridesmaids for sure.
Lorene: I get sent a lot of female-driven movies. Apparently female empowerment is a new genre as of the last six months, but everyone loves talking about Mean Girls, Bridesmaids, just to bring it to like female centric stuff. Those are kind of the touchstones of the last —
And, I mean, John Hughes movies, you can almost name any of them, and they become a sort of touchstone for people.
Craig: Well, there’s this thing where — we tend to use them to imply some kind of tone, or spirit of the story we want to tell. On the other side of the table, they tend to use them like, “So that just made money, you know. So is your thing like the thing that made money?”
Lorene: Yeah. You know, even for The Meddler, as much as it feels like, oh, there’s been so many movies like this, you actually go, wait, what are they? You actually stop and go, like, what? So, I would say About Schmidt. And they would go like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t say that.” And so you’d be like, okay, uh, I don’t know.
John: I saw the movie last night with Tess Morris. And she said like, “Oh, like About Schmidt.” But that’s not a reference that’s useful for anybody.
Lorene: It’s not, but for me it was like the reason that I thought we should be making this movie. Because About Schmidt was a movie. What are we talking about? Like ten years later, you’re not allowed to use certain references, too.
So, of course, there are things like Star Wars, which you can say forever. By the way, my first job in town, I sold this children’s adventure, and I remember being in the room with the people who were trying to get us to rewrite the hell out of it. And the guy said, and we wrote down this quote just because, and he was like, “I’ll deny I ever said it, but rip off Star Wars.” And we were like, yeah, you don’t have to deny you ever said it. Like everybody is trying to rip off Star Wars. So don’t worry.
Craig: What a shocking thing for you to say. So we should rip off the biggest movie ever? Okay. I mean, if you want to put your head on the chopping block like that, then go for it.
Lorene: Feel free.
Craig: It’s funny, I actually don’t use these that much, because — and I’m frustrated when people ask because I thought the whole point was that this movie is kind of supposed to be its own thing. You know, when they Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool, I kind of want to say, or The Hangover. I want to be able to point to all those and go, what was the movie like that one before that one?
Lorene: City Slickers.
Craig: What’s that? [laughs] The Burbs. It was obviously The Burbs. So, you’re like, where — you know, show me how your template systems gets you to the new templates. It doesn’t. So, the only one, sometimes I will reference Jerry Maguire because there’s this thing about Jerry Maguire that I love so, so much, and it’s applicable to any movie. It’s not incorporated into story of Jerry Maguire, but the notion that a character articulates who they are supposed to be in their best sense. But they’re not that person. And then they spend the movie trying to become that person.
I really like that. Sometimes I’ll talk about that. But, I don’t know, I mean, do you guys do this? I mostly don’t.
John: I recently had to do it for a project, the thing I’m writing right now. And it was incredibly helpful because I could reference one specific movie and say, “We’re doing the blank version of this idea.” And that centered people’s expectation about what I was about to pitch them. And I could pitch them — we’re specifically doing this thing, and these are the kinds of ways we’re handling this. And it was a very specific way of approaching this material.
So, it was IP that already existed, but this was a way we were going to handle this IP. It was like this other movie that had made a bold choice that was the right choice. And it really helped people feel centered into why I was describing the story this way.
And so that was incredibly helpful. But I find myself doing much less “it’s this meets that” as time goes on, because you have to ultimately be able to talk about what is specific to this one trip, this one journey.
Where I do find myself using the touchstone shorthand is when I’m talking about other people’s movies. And so I will say, “You know, it’s kind of Bourne Identity-ish.” Or, to help distinguish is it more Bourne Identity or is it more Die Hard? Is it more an ordinary everyman who is up against these incredible odds, or is he a specially trained assassin guy? Because they’re both kind of solo man things, but they’re very different feels to them.
So, it’s useful for that.
Lorene: That makes sense. I definitely find that I use it when I’m trying to get a job. So, when someone has a sentence of an idea, and you’re trying to at least let them know that I know what you’re going for here. This is like Big. Or, something that lets them know that you’re on the right track tonally. That you see it the same way.
And sometimes it just helps to let them know you’ve seen some movies in your life. That you have some references. So, it’s a little bit of showing your taste and knowledge a little bit.
Craig: It’s so true.
Lorene: When I’m like trying to pitch, I mean, I don’t want to really want to pitch my own ideas any more. I’ve sort of learned that, I feel like, the hard way with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, because I sold that as a pitch with myself attached to direct. And, I mean, it’s so funny that you bring up Jerry Maguire, because I remember giving them the first draft of it and then getting it back and they were like, “We thought this was going to be like Jerry Maguire.” And I was like, why? Why did you think it was going to be like Jerry Maguire? So, I thought, god, did I say that because it was about a man and his job and losing his job and what it all is? Or how did they get there?
And so I sometimes find that, I mean, I certainly find that pitching, but sometimes even just summarizing what your idea is just by “it’s this meets this” just sets people’s expectations up in such a weird way that you’re kind of already digging yourself out of their expectations with your first draft.
Lorene: And so if it’s something I care about, I try not to pitch it anymore. I don’t know.
Craig: I’m with you.
John: Let’s talk about what you’re doing next. So now you have this movie coming out. It’s really good. People are going to like it. So, are you in a stage now where people send you scripts saying like, “Hey, direct this script. Hey, direct this pilot?” Are you turning stuff away or are you chasing stuff? Or you trying to make your own things?
Lorene: Both. Both. I mean, I’m getting offered probably a lot of — not offered. Not offered, you know, but I’m getting sent things that I’m not as excited about. And then, you know, chasing other things that I’m more excited about. I feel like, I don’t know yet. I mean, I really don’t. I’ve been trying to write my own things to get ahead of it so that I’m not too influenced by whatever happens.
You know, again, like last time, I’m trying not to just rebel against whatever people thought of The Meddler. I don’t know how to get more personal, so I imagine I’ll be swinging the pendulum the other way. Again, like I said, it’s all female empowerment stuff in one way or another, which for me is a mixed bag.
I like those movies, but you know what I mean. I mean, after like the tenth email about a type of story that is sort of the only thing I’m being offered —
Craig: Well, Lorene, you know that you are the solution to the problem. So, you —
Lorene: I’m a female, right?
Craig: That’s it. Right. So you’re a female director, therefore you have to direct all of these female movies until forever because that’s what it means to be a woman. Just keep directing woman movies. That’s it.
Lorene: That’s it. Yes. Exactly.
Craig: That’s the most important thing. And then, on the other side, the guys will just keep directing men and woman movies.
Lorene: Right. They get to have it all. [laughs]
Craig: Yeah. They can choose, but that’s okay, because they’re men. You really have a responsibility.
Lorene: No, they understand the human experience. I only understand the female experience. So, how could I possibly know?
Craig: Right. That’s right. And that’s only for the next year while it’s still hot. Obviously, it’s going to stop.
Lorene: Well, you know, we’ve had a year of women every other year. I just did a panel down in Miami, brought the film down there. And screened it for a sea of my mother. It was so wonderful.
Craig: A sea of your mother.
Lorene: It was my mom, just a thousand of my mom. Chico’s tops. It was wonderful. But I did this panel with Rebecca Miller, who is really cool, and really intense. The opposite of me. My exact opposite. But, oh my god, and my mother was with her going, “Oh, you’re husband’s Irish? Oh, that’s fun.” I was like telling her later, it’s Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s Irish. She’s like, “Oh, I could kill myself.”
But, yeah, no, Rebecca Miller — it was going on like fine, we were all talking about what it’s like to be a woman in the business and everything. And at some point she was just like, “Ugh, I’m just so tired of this. These panels don’t mean anything. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve been doing these panels for 20 years.”
And so, of course, it’s really, really nice that people are paying attention to the problem. The larger problem to me is women’s stories, movies about women, characters that are given full lives. Yeah, those are to me the larger, larger problems with how women are represented in movies.
Of course, I think the numbers are really scary of how many female directors there are. But, you know, it was really scary. They asked me like why wouldn’t you do a superhero movie. And I was like, “It’s just not my thing.” And the place went crazy as if I had this larger responsibility to all of us who, you know, if you’re given the shot you have to take it. And I’m like, I know, but I like to write, too. So the idea that I can’t make anything else until 2019 is really scary for me.
Craig: This is the weirdest thing. I understand there is, on the one hand, you can say, “Well, it is not fair for female directors to not be considered for certain kinds of movies, like superhero movies.” On the other hand, it’s also not fair to demand that all women therefore make themselves available for superhero movies. I don’t want to write superhero movies. Nobody is giving me crap, you know?
Lorene: No. I know. And I’m just like, well, I mean, I’d love more money to make the movie I’d like to make. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t mind a higher budget. Or there are comedies out there that I would probably feel like, oh, I could tackle that, or I’d be interested in that. But, yeah, it’s a mixed bag. It’s also like it’s not how I how to get a job.
I know that’s strange because, of course, I like being offered jobs. And I certainly like that people are paying more attention to, you know, we need to make writer’s rooms more diverse and hire more women and hire more people of color and all that. But then on an individual level, when I get the phone call, like, hey, they were asking about you. And I was like, oh yeah? And they’re like, yeah, they need a female director. And I was like, well, yeah. Then, all right.
So, it’s me, and Lake Bell, and who else are they calling up? I feel really lucky to be doing this because I’m from Jersey and you just feel like a piece of garbage if you’re from Jersey. [laughs] You get it, Craig. You know, like you have to fight against.
Craig: You’re not just from Jersey. You’re from Monmouth County.
Lorene: From Monmouth County. It’s like you have a great deal of pride, which I have in spades, and I also think I’m a piece of garbage.
Craig: That’s me. [laughs]
Lorene: But as a woman, you’re also not allowed to think of yourself as a piece of garbage. And I’m like, okay —
John: Which takes priority? The New Jersey part of you or the female part of you?
Lorene: I mean, when it comes to feeling like garbage, probably Jersey.
Craig: Yeah, Jersey. Yeah.
Lorene: But you know, all the same reasons that it’s like all the questions about being a female director are all sort of funny. It’s like, well, it’s a mixed bag the same way life is a mixed bag. That walking around being a woman sucks. Being cat-called sucks. And then as my mom calls it, “The day the whistling stops,” also kind of sucks.
Craig: [laughs] The Day — that’s a good title for a movie.
Lorene: I know. We said that was going to be her other movie.
Craig: The Day the Whistling Stopped.
Lorene: I don’t know. It’s hard. Of course, I want people to be more open to the idea of it, but we should just be making all of our lives easier. We should be setting people up to succeed more than anything else. And I do think there’s just systemic misogyny and sexism. It’s just everywhere.
So, I just want a conversation. I want like feminism to be a great conversation that we’re all having. And obviously we all need to start from a place where we feel like men and women are equal and deserve things like equal pay and all that, but I think past that, we should really discuss what’s really going on here.
Because I think something larger is at work than just, you know, oh Hollywood, oh studio heads, oh this and that.
Craig: No question. No question. It’s one of the reasons that John and I like having people like you on the show, because we always look — every year we look at the numbers that come out of the WGA and the DGA numbers are even worse. And every year they’re the same. And every year they spend money on the study again to make themselves feel “good,” while sharing the same bad news.
And we like having success stories on, because I always feel like it’s the positive that is going to inspire more than the negative.
Lorene: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Craig: Like we can say, look, here’s Lorene. This is what she does. This is what she did. Obviously is it doable and can be done. The things she’s thinking about are the things you’re thinking about. You know, I just worry sometimes that it becomes, like you said, the conversation becomes so jammed up that it almost seems like unresolvable, you know?
Lorene: Right. Yeah, because it’s either people making speeches, and then people applauding. Or, it’s people clamming up because it’s a scary time to be quoted or misquoted or paraphrased. And it feels like it’s not that much of a conversation.
I mean, there have been so many articles about these hundred female filmmakers and people I know were interviewed for some of those things and quoted as saying certain things. And their quotes were left out because they didn’t line up with the story that people are going for. And that I think is more disgusting than anything, and kind of just the sin of journalism altogether is like you’re not actually going for the truth. You’re going for like the story that you want to tell.
And you’re going to interview people and quote people that sell that story. And so for me, like of course I’ve faced sexual harassment, like from 13 on. I mean, of course, it’s absolutely disgusting. And, yeah, I’m sure things have worked in my favor sometimes because someone thought I was cute, the same way that it wouldn’t have worked in my favor because someone thought I was cute.
I mean, truly, I think it kind of has all been a mixed bag. And I’m just so proud of female friends. I mean, they’re all just super impressive and none of us I like to think are walking around with a certain chip on our shoulder. I mean, we’re really all lucky that we all have had some amount of success to hang our hats on.
But, you know, I don’t like walk around like a woman all day. You know what I’m saying? I’m not like constantly identifying as that. So, I just feel like myself and, you know, some people say like, oh, you laugh too much on set, or you’re too — you’re too nice or something like that, as if that means that I’m not playing the part and everything.
And, I mean, I just don’t think leadership skills have to come with a certain —
Craig: They don’t have to fit a narrative of what you’re supposed to be like. I mean, this is the danger of kind of the crafting of the identity. That this is what they see us as. Therefore, don’t be that. Except, you know, sometimes the things that people see me as, I am.
Lorene: Yeah, right.
Craig: I mean, my identify is me. And, again, this is an area where men don’t have to worry about this. It’s like, if I don’t fit your mold of what it is to be a man, for a while, by the way, it’s terrible. I always like to say, I don’t know what percentage of women have been physically assaulted by men, but 100% of men have been physically assaulted by men.
So, for a while, it’s not fun to not fit into whatever the role model is. For whatever reason, either you’re gay, or you’re a nerd, or you’re just, I don’t know, you’re bad at sports.
Lorene: Yeah. I mean, I’ve said just being short for me is a problem in a way. You know, I’m 5’3″ and I’m not wearing heels on set. And just, you know, I’m saying like sometimes I almost think being short holds me back as much as anything else.
Craig: But it’s not something that — maybe Martin Scorsese worries about being short on some level, you know. But, as men, we do eventually get to just go, eh, screw it. I’m me. So my identity is me.
Craig: And I don’t have to worry about also then how my identity fits into the narrative of what a man should be in Hollywood. Whereas women are now soaking in this stuff. And —
Lorene: And we’re yelling at each other about you should be like that, you shouldn’t be like that. You know, I mean, that’s when I get scared, because I’m like we’re all trying to be on the same side here, too. And I mean, I certainly don’t want to be on — I’m not confrontational in general. So, for me, I’m just like, I will just tend to clam up and let everybody fight each other in a way. But, no, it’s like you said, you just walk around like yourself. And, yes, I’ve had teamsters taking pictures of me, and that’s weird.
Craig: That can’t be any good.
John: That’s weird.
Lorene: That’s weird.
John: And so here’s what’s weird about that. You’re the person in charge. And so to feel that they are kind of — for them not to understand that you are actually the person that —
Craig: Wait, the teamsters on your movie were doing this?
Lorene: Yeah, on Seeking a Friend. Yeah. [laughs] Yeah.
John: It’s crazy for any woman to have that situation happen, but for the person in charge —
Lorene: Well, of course, yeah.
John: It’s just an extra level of crazy. And just a disrespect of not just a person, but also roles and —
Lorene: Yeah, the hierarchy I guess on the set.
Lorene: And the truth is, I in general felt so respected by everybody on Seeking a Friend, and The Meddler. I’ve gone off to Toronto to shoot a pilot and you feel like you have to win everyone over every single time. I don’t know if everybody faces that or not. But that would be the only time where I’m like, ugh.
Like I feel like a woman the first two/three days of something.
Lorene: And I feel like everybody is waiting for me to either rise to the occasion or be what they think I’m going to be, or something. And so the first few days, I mean, that’s when it’s like, oh, I have to — I have to yell at this line producer and say like don’t talk to me like that. And do things that I would — you know what I’m saying.
John: You have to act out — you physically have to create a situation so that you can express this thing.
Lorene: Right. But then I’m like I want to be able to — I want to establish it so that then it’s like, oh, everyone respects me and knows that I kind of know what I’m doing. And then I can be myself. And then I can just not have that hanging over me every single day. But, it does feel like those are the times when I feel it. The first few days, when you’re just sort of looking around at a mostly male crew, which that just unfortunately is what a lot of crews are like. And you’re sort of like, oh, I have to convince all of these people that I am the leader of this.
And, yeah, I mean, moments like the teamsters and things like that, I mean, it doesn’t happen all the time. And it certainly doesn’t feel like as something progresses and people realize like, oh, she is in charge of this set and I no longer have to, I don’t know what, look at her strangely or take photos of her. But, yeah, something else takes over and at least then I can relax.
John: All right. Well, we hope you have many better sets in the future. And many more movies in the future.
Lorene: Oh, thank you.
John: It’s exciting to see this one come out. This is not this weekend but next weekend.
Lorene: That’s right.
John: For most people in LA and New York, and then more cities to come.
Lorene: Tell your moms, please. It’s not just for moms, but that is at least the —
John: The special connection.
Lorene: I like to think that.
John: So, watching the movie last night, we’re going to skip over this — a bunch of people sent in this thing about this big study they did of film dialogue in 2,000 movies. And it was really a fascinating study. We’ll have a link to it in the show notes. But they looked at 2,000 screenplays, broke them down by gender and age, and sort of which characters are talking. And one of the most interesting things I saw in this was that men have more lines of dialogue even in films where the woman is the main character. Which I thought was strange.
So, I looked at your movie last night, and as we were driving back I’m like, wow, does that even pass the reverse Bechdel Test?
Lorene: I was going to say, we almost fail it.
John: But you pass because the cops have a conversation at the diner.
Lorene: The cops. Exactly.
Craig: Do they have names? The cops have names?
John: Oh, maybe not.
Craig: If they don’t have names, it doesn’t pass.
Lorene: You know what? We had to name them, because they’re all like pretty established actors.
Craig: But does the audience know their names?
Lorene: No, not at all.
Craig: Then you fail.
John: Oh, fail.
Lorene: Shoot. Is there another moment?
John: I’m trying to think. Are there any moments where — because Billy Magnussen doesn’t talk to any other guys. Does Jason Ritter talk to any other guys?
Craig: I love Jason Ritter.
Lorene: Oh the brothers. That was it. The Italian brothers. I know there’s a scene.
John: Oh, but I don’t know all their names.
Lorene: Well, they had names. They did have names. And they called each other names. But, you know, it’s funny. Most of them are talking about a man. [laughs]
Craig: Well, I think on the reverse it’s okay.
John: I think you’re allowed to skate by on the reverse.
Lorene: Right. But it almost fails the reverse Bechdel Test.
Craig: Well, you almost damaged the frailty of the American male ego. So.
Lorene: I couldn’t be happier.
John: It’s like putting another woman in a Star Wars movie, like as the hero there. Like how dare you do that?
Lorene: It was so easy to do. I can’t even tell you. I mean, like, of course the main character is a very talkative woman. And the single lead is another woman. But then all of the daughter’s friends are women. There’s — she certainly makes friends with the guy at the Apple Store. And Michael McKean is in it. And —
John: Oh, actually the two guys in the car. The two brothers in the car. They both have names and they talk to each other.
Lorene: Oh, they do have names. Yes, they do.
John: We got you out of that.
Lorene: Okay good. Phew. Sorry, men. I’m really sorry.
Craig: Thank god.
Lorene: No, but it wasn’t on purpose. I wasn’t really trying to tell a woman’s story, even though of course what she is is a mother and widow and almost identifies exclusively through her relationships with other people. But, yeah, that was fun — it was fun to realize later that if you just sort of treat female characters as people and allow them to have the human condition that, yeah, you can actually tell a story where women talk to each other.
John: Very cool. At the end of every show we do a One Cool Thing. So, if you have a One Cool Thing, something you would like to recommend to people. You can think while Craig and I do ours. If there’s something you want to recommend to folks.
My One Cool Thing is a blog post by Jeff Atwood. There will be a link in the show notes. But the post is titled Thanks for Ruining Another Game Forever, Computers. And he’s looking at sort of how most of the advances in AI, like the kinds of advances that have made it possible to sort of make chess unbeatable for a computer and now Go unbeatable for a computer, are really advances because of graphic processing units, the GPUs that are powering your Play Station 4. Those are where we have all the sort of new power. And if it wasn’t for those, we would sort of be falling behind.
But the same things that we design to put more polygons on the screen are now sort of the big breakthrough in computing. So, it’s a very good article looking at how far we’ve come and how much the costs have fallen.
In 1961, the equivalent processing speed would be $8 billion. Now, in 2015, it’s $0.08. So, from $8 billion to $0.08 is the progress we’ve made.
Craig: That’s pretty cool. I think that’s awesome. I don’t know what this guy is complaining about. I don’t care if a computer can beat some guy at Go. I like my video games to look awesome. I’m angry.
So, well my One Cool Thing was going to be the thing you mentioned, so I’ll just mention it really quickly. It’s this polygraph film dialogue thing where they breakdown the dialogue. So, it’s by Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels. I think you and I probably will discuss it in depth next week. But one thing about it that I loved just beyond — forget the content. We’re going to get into the content and what all of it means, but I love their website. I love the way they did their graphics. So cool.
Craig: I don’t understand how it worked. It was really neat. So, if you like web design —
John: Some people don’t love that system where things are sliding back and forth. It gives people sort of motion sickness.
Craig: Oh, I like it.
John: But I think it’s cool.
Craig: Yeah, I think it’s cool, too. So, that’s my One Cool Thing.
John: Lorene, did you think of something cool to share?
Lorene: Yeah, my One Cool Thing are these escape rooms. Have you been to them?
Craig: Have I been to these?
John: Craig has been to a bunch of them.
Craig: Are you kidding?
Lorene: Craig, come on.
Craig: I got a crew. Me and — do you know Megan Amram?
Lorene: Yeah. She’s great.
Craig: Megan is the queen of these. She’s done I think literally every single one of them. But me and Megan and David Kwong and Chris Miller of Lord & Miller and a whole bunch of people, we’ve done a bunch of these. And I love them so much.
Lorene: I love them. The only reason I’m here is because I’ve escaped out of one of these rooms.
Craig: Which one did you escape from?
Lorene: My boyfriend and I are kind of addicted to them right now. And we go with different groups. Or, we went to one by ourselves.
Craig: Oh my god, just the two of you?
Lorene: We did not get out. It was the first one that we didn’t get out, and we went alone. And we said that we had to break up if we didn’t get out, so I don’t know if we’re still together. But, no, they’re so exciting. For people who don’t know what they are, they’re sort of these living mind puzzles where you show up to a very strange building. Am I right, Craig? They’re all in like the weirdest —
Craig: Yeah, downtown, sort of like on the corner of Scummy and Uh-Oh.
Lorene: [laughs] And Garbage. Yeah. And they’re run by these fantastic creative people, who sometimes they play characters and sometimes they don’t. They give you a scenario and they let you into a room that you have to escape in 60 minutes, usually, by piecing together clues that are all throughout the room. So, one that was my favorite —
Craig: Which one? Tell me.
Lorene: The one that was my favorite was apartment, I don’t know, there was a number. Apartment something.
Craig: Haven’t done that one. Got to do that one.
Lorene: And the guy has died, and by the end you have to deactivate a bomb. And I actually clipped a wire with like seconds to spare. I mean, it was just too exciting for words.
Craig: Did you do the detective?
Lorene: No, is that the one downtown?
Craig: Yep. Did you do The Alchemist?
Lorene: Yes. I did The Alchemist.
Craig: Yeah, we escaped The Alchemist with literally one second left.
Lorene: That was exciting.
Craig: It was insane.
Lorene: Yeah, we had 45 seconds. And it was so good that we went with a larger group. Because sometimes they say you need a certain number of people. And it’s like, oh, do you really? And it’s like, no, you really do or you would not get out in that amount of time.
Craig: Like six to eight. Alan Yang is another guy that does it with us. We try and stock it with as many Ivy League people as we can. [laughs] Like let’s be really smart. But as it turns out, that’s a total red herring. It’s not — there’s a different kind of intelligence going on. It’s like the —
Lorene: Right. And I don’t know what I have, because I certainly may sip on a little something before I go. [laughs] So I get in there and just get all heady and start looking at — I look too closely into photographs trying to figure out the human story. And there’s no human story here.
John: Forget the narrative. Just get out of the room.
Lorene: Just try to find the symbols and get out of the room.
Craig: So the next time we put a group together, you and your boyfriend are going to be in our group. As long as it’s one that you haven’t done. And we’re going to —
Lorene: Yes, please. Please tell me.
John: Last weekend I got to participate in a special sort of puzzle — sort of an escape room, except an escape room from a Bar Mitzvah. I went to a Bar Mitzvah that Aline Brosh McKenna threw. And it was fantastic. So I got to do the sort of complicated puzzle, but one of my partners was Rachel Bloom, who was fantastic.
Lorene: Oh, she’s great.
John: And she was great. And we killed it. We were like by far the champions.
Lorene: You crushed the 13-year-old boys?
John: We did. We really did.
John: We beat David Kwong. And so I felt really good about —
Craig: I don’t understand. What was the puzzle?
John: It was all up at Yamashiro, the great Japanese restaurant on the Hills, and it was a series of puzzles, very Kwongian kind of puzzles. He didn’t put this one together. But it was really fun and well done. And we pieced together all the clues. And listened to the songs and figured out it was a state theme. It was good.
Lorene: That is so fun. I mean, The Alchemist had like — you had to test smells.
Craig: Oh yes. That was a hard one. The smells were tough.
Lorene: You sort of realize very quickly like, wow, I know nothing. [laughs] I don’t know wintergreen from —
Craig: I know wintergreen, because that’s Pepto-Bismol. But then it was like lavender. Lavender is a color. And I can’t even tell what that color is. I know it’s like purple, you know.
Lorene: Oh, it’s so fun. Really fun. For anyone who gets a little tired of going to dinner and movies all the time, which is kind of all I do.
Craig: It’s great.
John: That is our show for this week. So, as always, we are produced by Stuart Friedel. We are edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our outro this week. If you have something to ask me or Craig, you can find us on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Lorene, you’re on Twitter, yes?
Lorene: Oh yeah. @lorenescafaria, if you can spell it.
John: That’s fine. There will be links in the show notes with all of our Twitter handles and also a place where if you want to ask us a question, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are on iTunes, so leave us a review. That’s always helpful. If for some reason we do not show up in next week’s feed, just re-subscribe in iTunes, because we must have messed something up as we switched over servers.
Reminder, if you’d like to sign up for the Scriptnotes mailing list, there is a link in the show notes, probably at the top of the show notes. We’ll just be using that for announcements about live shows and stuff like that. If you have suggestions for our live show, tell us where we should do it and who we should invite to be a guest on that.
Lorene: [clears throat]
John: Who should we have? Lorene, tell us?
Lorene: I could show up. I mean, yeah.
John: Lorene is volunteering.
Craig: Yeah, you know, we’ve already had the one woman on this year. It’s enough already.
Lorene: This is it. Yeah.
John: Exactly. We have to have one woman on a list. Hey, we looked at women.
Lorene: You need a token, yeah.
Craig: How many times — I mean, I don’t understand. We’re going to keep putting a woman on? I don’t even understand. [laughs]
Lorene: We’re so shrill.
Craig: What percentage of the world is even women anyway? [laughs]
John: So, tell us who our guests should be and where we should have that live show. Lorene Scafaria, thank you so much for joining us on the show.
Craig: Thanks Lorene.
Lorene: Thank you so much. This was so fun. And just to say, of course, The Meddler comes out. But I wanted to just say we have these t-shirts, Omaze, they’re like this great company that sort of — my god, they did that “You Can Sit with Us” campaign, anti-bullying. And they’re putting out these shirts that just say “Call Your Mother.” And if you go omaze.com/meddler, you’ll see they’re really great. And all proceeds go to charity. It’s a great charity. So, Call Your Mother. Call Your Mother. If you’re lucky enough to have your mother, call your mother.
John: Talk us out with just a little bit of your mother talking to us. I love your mother’s voice.
Lorene: Oh, John, I just love your films so much. Ah, Go, uh, all night long, just like, what are they on drugs? What are they, crazy? It was just so fabulous.
John: Thanks mom.
- Subscribe to the Scriptnotes mailing list and stay up to date on live shows, bonus episodes and more!
- John’s blog post on why he’s voting no on WGA Amendment 1
- The Scriptnotes Wikipedia page is ready for your edits
- Lorene Scafaria on IMDb, Wikipedia and Twitter
- The Meddler on Wikipedia and Rotten Tomatoes
- New Republic on The Hum, and 12 hours of the Taos Hum
- mental_floss on the Denver Airport, and RationalWiki’s Denver Airport conspiracies page
- The Star on the Internet Black Widow, and her Wikipedia page
- Film Dialogue from 2,000 screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age, A Polygraph Joint
- Thanks For Ruining Another Game Forever, Computers, by Jeff Atwood
- Los Angeles Times on Escape Rooms, and Escape Room LA
- Omaze and The Meddler’s Call Your Mother shirt, benefitting Hope North
- Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)