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 257 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at unforgettable villains, screenwriter billions, and something else that rhymes with illians/illions. Maybe we’ll find a good rhyme for illions.

Craig: Oh, it’s the Nathan Fillions. All the Fillions.

John: All the Nathan Fillions. Done.

Craig: Great.

John: Craig Mazin for the rescue. We’re also going to be answering a bunch of listener questions, so it’s going to be a packed episode, but sort of a hodgepodge. There’s no central unifying theme.

Craig: Good. Because as we know, that’s a terrible thing for drama.

John: It’s absolutely the worst. I think you should have a bunch of disparate elements that don’t really add up to anything. That’s the sign of a quality piece of entertainment that’s working at its very best.

Craig: Wouldn’t it be great if that were in fact the opening salvo of Aaron Sorkin’s thing online? Where he just suddenly goes for everything. His master plan is to ruin all screenwriting forever. [laughs] Because everybody will listen.

John: That would be fantastic. You have to throw in as many things as possible and don’t pay anything off.

Craig: Ever.

John: Ever. That’s the kind of advice I was giving this last week up at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. I was up on a mountain in Utah, talking with a bunch of writers, directors, and writer-directors about their projects. And it was really good. This was the 12th, or 13th, or 14th time I’ve done this. But there were really good projects this year, and a bunch of movies I’m excited to see get made.

So, the process for people who’ve never heard about the Sundance Labs, is a bunch of people apply to be part of it, or they’ve been sort of recruited by Sundance to come up there. And we spend a good week looking at their projects. We have individual meetings. Andrea Berloff from Scriptnotes fame was there with me.

And so you’re sitting down with them, talking about their projects, and sort of what they are trying to do and trying to help them get their scripts into the best possible shape. And it was so great because the kinds of projects that go through Sundance Labs are not big Hollywood studio features. They’re generally very specific, unique things that you couldn’t imagine existing anywhere else. So, it was a very good, fun time.

Craig: That sounds great. One of these days. One of these — I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I was supposed to go one year, but I ended up having to cancel because we were shooting. One of the Hangover movies. And then nobody ever called me again. [laughs]

It was like you don’t cancel on Sundance, Buck-O.

John: Yeah. So I actually spoke to Michele Satter, who runs the program, about you and about that. And so I think I’ve gotten you back on the list.

Craig: Was she like, “Yeah that’s right. He canceled on us. And you don’t cancel on — “

John: Dead to me.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. And I did before I was invited to go up, I did have lunch with her. She’s delightful.

John: She’s the best. So I think part of the pact of getting you back into the Sundance fold is that I did maybe promise that at some point we would do a live show benefit for the Sundance Institute. And so at some point in the years to come we will be held to do some sort of live show for them. Which could be great, because I feel like we don’t talk a lot about indie film. We’ve had some indie filmmakers on here, but I think a live show focusing on that could be fantastic.

Craig: Let’s do it tomorrow.

John: Done.

Craig: All right.

John: Everyone just write in, or just show up. Just show up wherever you want to show up. Just show up at Sundance and we’ll be there.

Craig: Exactly. We could do a very good show, even if we limited our guests to graduates of that program. Like Mari Heller came out of that program.

John: Oh my god, of course. Yeah. There are really fantastic writers, directors. Quentin Tarantino, to name somebody.

Craig: Yep.

John: Lena Dunham was up there with a project. That’s where I first got to really know her.

Craig: We should get Lena Dunham on the show.

John: She’s fantastic.

Craig: I say that like we never even thought about it. Obviously she would do it if we — like, hey, come on.

John: Come on. So, Lena Dunham will every once and a while email me back when I email her, but she’s kind of busy running a TV show, and writing a book, and a blog, and a newsletter. So, there’s a lot that he’s doing.

Craig: In my mind, that turned into you emailing her every day.

John: I do. [laughs] Lena, Lena, please email me back.

Craig: No, you don’t even acknowledge. Just every day you’re like, “Hi Lena, so here’s what’s going on. Here’s something funny that happened.” And then like, I don’t know, twice a year she writes back and she’s like, “Ha-ha.”

John: Yep. Totally delightful.

Craig: Or, “Funny!”

John: The reason why I know that is so specifically true for your experience, is because there’s going to be people in your life who are just that same way. And you can be frustrated by that, but you can also just acknowledge that like, hey, that’s an incredibly busy famous person. And that’s fine.

Craig: I’m trying to not email famous people.

John: I text famous people more than I email them.

Craig: You know, by the way, if you ever do want to get in touch with Melissa McCarthy, text her. I have tried calling. I have tried emailing. She will not — I mean, forget it.

John: She won’t email me back. But Ben Falcone will. And so like I will tweet to Ben Falcone, or email, or I’ll CC Ben on an email, and he’ll answer back sometimes.

Craig: Ben sometimes just is at my house when I wake up.

John: That’s really — that’s the best thing about him. Because it’s sort of like a jarring presence, when you first open your eyes.

Craig: Very.

John: But then, no, it’s fine. Because he has that improv background, so he can sense what you’re feeling, and he’ll just go with it.

Craig: He’s perched on me like that famous gothic painting, of the little demon. And when I wake up, and Ben Falcone is perched on me, and looking down at me with his mustache.

John: Well, Falcone/Falcon. It all makes sense. It all adds up. It’s an Edgar Allan Poe-y kind of thing. Let’s get to our follow-up.

Craig: All right.

John: Aaron Sorkin’s masterclass, you brought it up, but John from Quebec wrote in to say, “This is the best bang for your buck around, at least for writing — forget tennis and singing. I did the James Patterson masterclass and I can tell you it’s really polished and professional. And includes the A-Z of writing a novel in video segments, a course book, an outline of Patterson’s novels, a class forum, permanent access to the masterclass, and various feedback classes from the author where you can submit log lines, etc. And is all ongoing. Really complete and interactive.”

So, that’s John’s experience with James Patterson’s class. Or, is it James Patterson writing in to tell you how good his class is?

Craig: [laughs] It’s possible that James Patterson uses a sock puppet, John from Quebec. But I tend to think that this is true. How could it not be the best bang for your buck considering that they’re charging $90, and everything else anyone charges money for stinks?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, talked about damned by faint praise. But I do think that this is going to be a valuable — it seems like it’s going to work. It’s Aaron Sorkin, for god’s sakes.

John: So, John is the only person who wrote in about his experience with this program overall. And I guess not with Sorkin’s thing in specifics. If you are a listener who bites the bullet and tries the $90 once it’s available, let us know what you thought. Because, Craig is never going to do it.

Craig: No.

John: No.

Craig: No.

John: Craig doesn’t do anything.

Craig: No. [laughs]

John: Also on last week’s show, we talked about Anagnorisis. And Gabe in Southampton, England wrote in. Craig, what did he say?

Craig: He said, “Listening to your talk on Anagnorisis in Episode 256, I was quietly amazed that you hadn’t heard of it. My tutor,” hmm, “made a big deal of it. And used a great example in Greg Kinnear’s father character in Little Miss Sunshine when he dances alongside his daughter. Every film teacher I’ve had has made a bit of a deal about how American’s are great at story, and Brits are great at character. Which they also attributed to why US films sell across the world, whilst British films are more intricate.”

I am so getting so angry here.

“Do you think this is why you hadn’t really heard of Anagnorisis before? Is scriptwriting taught differently around the world?”

John, please, tell me your honest reaction to Gabe’s inquiry?

John: All right, I was a little bit offended at the end, but mostly I want to reassure him and our other listeners that no one is talking about Anagnorisis on a general basis. So, I was up at Sundance this last week and after a screening of — I think Tiger Williams showed a clip from Se7en. And at the end of Se7en as we all know there is a head in the box. And when Brad Pitt realizes what must be in the box, that is a moment of Anagnorisis. We realize that Kevin Spacey’s character has done this thing and that everything is different than you thought.

And so I said that like, oh, we actually just talked about that on the podcast and it’s called Anagnorisis. And no one there knew what that word meant. So, it’s great that Gabe’s tutor —

Craig: Tutor.

John: Uses that term.

Craig: [laughs]

John: But I would say that you should not feel that your screenwriting career was uninformed or that every screenwriter talks about Anagnorisis or that all the British screenwriters talk about Anagnorisis. I just think it’s a think that this one person brought up that other people don’t bring up.

Craig: Yeah. Maybe this is what happens when you have a tutor?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know. Or maybe this is being lost in translation. In America, a tutor is a privately hired one-on-one instructor that provides supplemental education on top of your normal education, typically because you’re falling behind in something. Gabe, I don’t know. I imagine now Gabe as being a Lord, and he has a tutor who obviously — here’s the thing to understand, Gabe. We all talk about Anagnorisis here, we just don’t call it Anagnorisis. We call it other things. We call it “that moment,” “that revelation.” Sometimes we’ll say, you know, the “eureka moment.”

But it’s the word that is unknown, not the concept of it. As far as the discussion about all of the film teachers you’ve had, and I can only presume now it’s quite a number, their theory is Americans are great at story and Brits are great at character. Those film teachers apparently haven’t been watching many movies.

I can tell you some wonderful films written by British screenwriters that are very much about a terrific story and the characters aren’t particularly what you would say intricate. And likewise, I could point to many films written by American screenwriters that are absolutely gorgeous. I mean, I don’t know, Paul Thomas Anderson, does he strike you as somebody that’s really great at story, but not so good at character?

It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that every film teacher you’ve had is a dope. And that, in fact, what of the things I love about British screenwriters is that they are really good at telling stories. They do like to entertain. Tess Morris.

John: Tess Morris. We love Tess Morris.

Craig: What a great storyteller.

John: Kelly Marcel I’m a fan of as well.

Craig: Great storyteller.

John: Great storyteller. I would argue that it’s very hard to differentiate story from character, at least in successful films. Is that I can think of very few things as like, oh, that’s a terrific story. Too bad about the characters. That’s not really a successful film, in my estimation.

Craig: Yeah. I completely agree. I mean, there are films where you look at — you’ll say, oh, it’s a character study. But inside that character study there is a story that’s occurring. It’s just that your film teachers, Gabe, weren’t smart enough to realize that both things were going on at the same time. And I’m trying not to be an offended proud American. Really what I’m saying is this is just dumb. Americans and British are really good at making movies, I think.

John: Yeah. And so are Iranians and so are Chinese.

Craig: Oh my god, by the way, I’m glad you actually singled out Iranians. Iranians are fantastic filmmakers.

John: There’s a tradition of just phenomenal filmmaking that combines really amazing character work with just fantastic storytelling.

Craig: Storytelling. Koreans, oh my god. Dude, Snowpiercer? Wow.

John: Wow.

Craig: So many across the world. I don’t think any one particular — I don’t know if writing or story are taught differently across the world. I do know this: that across the world, people are looking at big, famous, important movies, and they’re not always the same. But big, and important, and famous as touch stones for what they want to do. And that is the movies themselves that are the most important and powerful instructors of up and coming filmmakers, not film teachers.

John: Gabe may have had a moment of Anagnorisis right there with that education we provided him.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Aaron in Shanghai wrote in to say, “You briefly touched on the magical dad transformation story and said that there’s not a direct female equivalent. You’re right, but there is a close equivalent if you look at romantic comedies, which include a lot of magical ingénue transformations. In this trope, you see successful hardworking but romantically inept female lead discover that she’s worthy or capable of romantic love.”

And that’s absolutely true. So it’s the magical thing that is the problem. Is that by some supernatural means, the person is changed. In the romantically challenged equivalent, or the ingénue who doesn’t sort of see what’s important, it’s very rarely magic. It’s usually like a handsome man teaches her a lesson.

Craig: Or she just finally takes off her glasses.

John: Yeah. I love that trope. That’s a good one.

Craig: That’s amazing. I mean, clearly you have a magical story in Cinderella that is very much about someone waving a wand and turning her from this dirty whore wretch into this beautiful princess. Yeah, usually it seems like movies where females are transforming in clunky, silly, tropey ways, there isn’t magic involved.

I wonder if the implication is that, again, we instinctively understand that female characters have the psychological capability to change if they are confronted by certain things. Whereas men literally require supernatural intervention.

John: I think the other thing she’s bringing up is that someone intervenes and is like, “Oh no, you’re better than you think you are.” And in these magical dad transformation things, someone intervenes to say like, “No, no, you’re being terrible. You need to learn how to be better.” It’s basically like it’s like in the ingénue ones, it’s like they’re stripping off a coat a paint and revealing the beauty inside. Versus the dad ones are like, “No, no, no, you’re terrible. Let me fix your soul.”

Craig: Absolutely, yeah. And I understand that. I mean, there is something believable about the notion that for many women that there is an issue of self-image, or lack of confidence for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the patriarchy. And so, so yes, the idea is hey sister, you’re stronger than you think, and go get ’em.

And we inherently kind of buy into that narrative, as tropey as it is. And again, for men, we presume that they’re just dumb. They’re literally stupid. And, in fact, they’re so stupid, they need to be punished by god. Like in Liar Liar, he is so ridiculously dumb and impervious to good behavior that he needs to be punished by god until he finally breaks down and realizes what he must become.

John: So several listeners tweeted in to say like, oh, you were talking about Nine Lives. And that really was the genesis point for this. You’ve seen the trailer for this, Craig, right? This is Kevin Spacey is a dad who is transformed into a cat.

Craig: I’ve seen it and I — I mean, I never say bad things about movies. What’s going on there?

John: It looks like a parody of a movie that it is. And I think for that reason alone, it might just be fantastic.

Craig: I could be. I was just —

John: It may be leaning in so far to what it is that it’s just like brilliant.

Craig: And I believe in this movie he’s a dad who works too much, and so he must be punished by god and turned into a cat?

John: Yes, that is correct.

Craig: Huh.

John: And so he still has Kevin Spacey’s voice, so that makes it fantastic.

Craig: By the way, that actually kind of does make it fantastic. [laughs]

John: Zander in Portland wrote in to point out that the closest comparison for women is probably enforced motherhood, with the examples being Baby Boom and Overboard. And a few other people brought up those two movies. He says, “In both the enforced motherhood and the magical dad transformation comedies, the protagonists realize that she or he has been missing things in life, and thus becoming a better parent, a happier person, and a more moral creature.

“The key difference is the female had never been exposed to parenthood before, while the male was already a father. The male thus requires a magical awakening to see the true unrealized riches in his life. In this way, the male archetype is arguably more stunted than his female counterpart, because he requires supernatural intervention.

“On the other hand, mothers often take on a greater child-rearing burden than fathers do. One could argue that the male can call in his role more easily, so intervention is required.”

Craig: Yeah. This is great. I love this. Enforced motherhood. That’s exactly right. Baby Boom is a perfect example. Yeah, and Overboard, too. Actually, they’re both great examples. And actually, yes, there is something that speaks to this belief that all women are really supposed to be mothers, and they’ve just been avoiding being a mom because they’re afraid.

Now, that’s not true as it turns out. That a lot of women are not mothers because they don’t want to be. I know, it’s crazy, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: But it’s seductive, because plots that circle around people overcoming a basic fear are catnip for screenwriters, because a lot of the work is suddenly done.

John: Yep.

Craig: And so for a while there, you could do those movies because I think, still, there was this underlying presumption that, you know, if you just hit your head and woke up on a boat with a bunch of kids and you were told that these are your kids, you would by behaving like a mom suddenly realize, oh my god, this is what I wanted my whole life. That’s baloney.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s baloney. And that movie is basically about wrongful imprisonment. And —

John: It’s really troubling when you sort of add up all the things that happen in it. And it’s not troubling in the way it’s like a dark comedy about it. It’s actually a pretty light and bright comedy that just trades on some very dark themes.

Craig: Yeah. I know. There’s — someone should do one of those recuts. You know, when they take a movie and they recut the trailer to be different genre?

John: Absolutely. Where The Shining is a father comedy?

Craig: Right. Or Mary Poppins as a horror. And somebody should do this as like one of these serial killer/thriller movies.

John: Yeah. It’s like Saw with children.

Craig: Right. It would be so cool. Somebody do it.

John: We’ll do it. I won’t do it, but one of our listeners will do it, and it will be fantastic. That idea is out there in the world, so please someone do that.

Craig: Love it.

John: The other thing that happened last week was Brexit. So, Tim from England wrote in. Craig, take it.

Craig: Tim from England writes, “Rather than some backward look at an old England past, the leave campaign made clear this was a vote for the future. Unshackling the UK from a Soviet style European Union and freeing us to make bilateral trade deals with America, India, China, etc.

“What leavers did want to get back to was a pure European free trade agreement, which is what we were originally sold back in the ’70s, not propping up a bloated EU super state. To use a Star Wars analogy, you should be applauding the rebels and not the Empire.”

Oh, boy, he doesn’t know me at all, does he?

John: I included this because I knew it would anger you, but also I think it is really important that last line, which is like Star Wars and these kind of things are one of the situations where both sides can kind of claim the meme high ground. And I just thought it was a fascinating way to frame it. As like any terrorist group can say like, “Oh no, we’re the rebels of Star Wars.”

Craig: Right. Exactly. Prisoners starting a riot. “We’re the Rebels.” I always root for the Empire. I believe that only through the Dark Side can you bring order to the Galaxy. And from order shall follow peace.

Look, a lot of what Tim writes is dismissible simply as opinion. And there’s a lot of opinion to counter it. I mean, we could go into a long discussion of how his belief that this is going to lead to better trade deals for the United Kingdom is insane.

But, I’m going to pick on one thing that actually bothers me. And it’s when he says, “Soviet style European Union.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t care how bad the European Union is. I’ve been spending, because of this project I’ve been working, I’ve been spending a lot of time living with Soviet research and watching Soviet television recordings. And going through books and books and books that are centering around Soviet decisions. The European Union isn’t in the same universe as the Soviet Union. It is not Soviet Style. Soviet Style was a terror that literally led to the deaths of nearly 100 million people either through starvation, bad policies, or bungled military moves. And those are the people who died.

Forget about the people that were imprisoned or just lived in misery. So, let’s not say Soviet Style European Union.

John: So I think Soviet Style is one of those things which you have to be so careful when you bring it up, because it’s almost like a Godwin’s Law thing where like you mention Hitler and then you’re just done. Or saying like a Holocaust, or something. Like, when you bring that up, you’re actually dismissing the huge realities of what that thing is. And making it just impossible to have a discussion. So, you can say like the bureaucracy, all these things.

And we talked about last week, like kind of no one likes the European Union. It’s really messed up in a lot of ways. But it’s not the Soviet Union. And it’s not that situation whatsoever.

Craig: Every now and then somebody in the United States will compare something to slavery, and you can just hear — you can hear their credibility crashing to the floor.

The problem is we all know why people do these things. They compare stuff to the Soviet Union or the Holocaust, or Hitler, or slavery because they’re really trying to make their point. Eh, you know what, if you need that crutch to make your point, your point may not be so hot.

John: Yep. This email came in early in the week, and so I do feel like over the course of the week his arguments may have changed even from there, because it’s clear that they will not be able to make these amazingly better trade deals. Because they can’t. Because a smaller thing can rarely make better deals than a bigger thing.

Craig: They might not even leave the European Union. I mean, that’s the beauty of the whole thing is that there’s no one to actually do it. So, remarkable.

John: Well, one union we will never leave is the Writers Guild. See, that was the segue I was waiting for.

Craig: Because they won’t let us. [laughs]

John: They will never let us. Actually, the Writers Guild will let you leave kind of. You can always go FiCore, which means you are no longer a voting member and are not bound to certain things, but you’re still contributing your dues to the WGA.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah.

John: And just today as we were recording, the WGA sent out their financial report. So, this is a place where I can remind you that in the podcast we provide chapters. So, if WGA financials bores you silly, you can skip through to the next chapter where we talk about villains.

Craig: No one will skip this.

John: No one will skip this, because it will be fascinating. So, we will try to provide a link to this. When we got this this afternoon, it was only on paper, but there should be a link for this pretty soon. So, this one looks through basically what happened in 2015 and gives you the breakdown by people writing for screens, or writing for the movies, and people writing for TV. The bulk of the income for the WGA comes from TV. But I thought overall the picture was not so bad.

Craig, what was your first instinct on this?

Craig: Yeah. Basically seems like more of the same. You look at number of writers reporting earnings total, it’s essentially hovering in the same zone it’s been hovering in since 2013, which is around 5,000 or so. A little bit down from last year. A little bit up from ’13.

Total earnings, kind of down a touch, but not much.

John: Here’s the important thing to say. Whenever they report earnings for the previous year, they’re always a little bit depressed because they don’t have all the numbers coming in yet. So, they actually warn you in the stats that these numbers always creep up.

And so when you look at it year-to-year, the numbers are basically flat. So there’s about 5,200 writers, so feature and TV writers. Altogether, they’re earning about $1.2 billion, which is a lot of money.

Craig: It is.

John: That’s a serious amount. Except that if you think about the AMPTP, the people we’re working for, they made about $49 billion in profits over that same year. So, there’s a lot of money out there in the system.

Craig: Well, and that’s profit. So that already discounts —

John: Profit-profit, yes.

Craig: Yeah, the money they pay us.

John: So our money already came out of there. So like even after they paid us, they had $49 billion left over.

Craig: Yeah, they’re good. They’re going to be just fine. In terms of television employment, it does seem like actually even with the creep up it’s going to be down a bit from last year, but that was inevitable because last year you saw perhaps what was kind of a peak given the explosion of Netflix and Amazon. So, it was only inevitable it would come down a little bit, but it’s still up quite a bit. I mean, it’s up massively from five years ago. How about that?

I mean, you look at total earnings in 2010 for television writers – $570 million. Last year, and this was the non-creep up number, $800 million. With a nearly 900 more writers working in television.

So, television continues to be fairly healthy. In screen, some good news.

John: Yeah, some goodish news.

Craig: Ish.

John: So these numbers will still creep up a little bit more, but we had more writers employed last year in 2015 than the year before, so we are up 3.6%. Earnings were up to $362 million, versus $355 million. So, still an increase. And I would say that on the ground, it feels that the feature world is shrinking, and shrank last year. But in terms of actual dollars, it didn’t appear to.

Craig: Well, kind of.

John: All right.

Craig: Part of the problem is that every year from 2011, almost every year, from 2011 to 2015 you’ve had more screenwriters reporting earnings. So, for instance, in 2011 it was 1684. Last year, almost 1,800. However, we’re making about $13 million less overall as a group than we were in 2011.

So, we’re making less, and there’s more of us making it. So, the amount per —

John: The per-writer, per-capita.

Craig: It’s the amount individual screenwriters get on a — yes, on an average basis has gone down. And it gets really frightening when you look, going back to 2010, where our total earnings were $408 million. So, we are way — we’re still way, way — we’ve come up from the low point in 2013, but we’re still way off where we were in 2010. So, again, to compare to TV, TV is up essentially $230 million and we are down about $45 million. No Bueno.

So, that’s still — it’s good news only in that it didn’t get worse I guess is how I’d put it.

John: So, the how writers earn their money we talked about on the show many times. And so TV and film writers, they’re paid money for writing their screenplays, or for writing their scripts. That is the bulk of what a writer earns in a year. The other important caveat we should put on this is that TV writers, they do make money as writers, but they also make money as producers. And sometimes that producer money is vastly bigger than the writer money. That producer money does not show up in these figures at all. So, that is not covered by the WGA. That is a whole separate thing that they are paid.

So, it can be a little bit confusing because a TV writer might be bringing home a lot more, but they’re not being paid as writers for that extra income.

Craig: Correct. We also then have some numbers on residuals. And residuals overall continue to go up for television. And they are driven — that increase is driven essentially by the explosion of new media.

John: Yeah. So, again, sort of the quickest recap is whenever a TV show or a film is reused in different mediums, or not how it was originally broadcast or put on the big screen, writers get a tiny little fraction of that money that comes in. And the rates are different based on DVD, or VHS, or new media which includes things like streaming. It includes iTunes purchases. And there are different rates. And most of our WGA negotiations are about those rates, it turns out.

And the new media rates, which were a contentious thing a while back, are now a very significant portion of the residuals that both TV and feature writers receive.

Craig: Yeah. No question. There’s also a fairly large increase, a dramatic increase actually, in foreign free TV and basic cable residuals. So, our programs are now airing over across the world much more frequently than they used to. In 2010, we were looking at $29 million in residuals for that. And last year, $56 million.

John: Yeah. That mirrors sort of our experience in both first run in TV overseas as well. We talk about how increasingly TV shows are profitable from the moment they first air because they’ve made all those foreign deals. That also holds true for the explosion of foreign free TV for residuals. And so there are more places around the world showing our programs, and we get a little bit of money every time they do that.

Craig: Sadly, the theme of poor screenwriters continues. Not technically poor, but theatrical residuals down. And they will probably continue to tread water for a while. What’s nice to see, of course, is new media reuse which, let’s say from 2015 over 2010 it’s an increase of 1,043%. But, of course, in 2010, only $1.2 million came in from new media, which is amazing. But then you have to remember the iPhone didn’t even exist until 2007. 2015, closer to $14 million, which still seems low to me considering that I feel like everyone is — but maybe it’s the Netflix thing.

Paid TV, still the biggest driver: $54 million of our $138 million. Overall residuals, down. Forget about from last. Down from 2010. We are — we have not recovered. And I don’t think we’re going to recover from the double whammy of the loss of the DVD market and the strike. I think what happened in the days following 2008 —

John: The DVD money was never coming back. So, DVDs were the perfect way to watch movies for a while. And that was a huge source of income both for studios, and therefore for screenwriters in residuals. That sort of went away.

If there’s a positive trend here I can see is that you look at the new media reuse residuals, they are going up by $3 or $4 million most years. There’s a very steady increase. And so, that is going to surpass DVDs. And it’s going to surpass other things down the road. And that — luckily we actually have a better rate on those than we ever did on those other things.

Craig: Yeah, kind of. We do for rentals. For sales, we have a slightly better deal on sales than we do on DVDs, but that covers all the stuff that’s been produced and put in theaters since the strike. Everything before the strike, this is one of the big disputed items, and this is one of the areas where the Writers Guild dropped the ball in a way that, frankly, everyone should have fired, but that’s just me. The Writers Guild thought that they had also gotten that slightly better rate to extend to the library, which we consider back to ’71 or something like that.

And the companies said no you didn’t. And it turned out the companies were right. We didn’t.

Now, the companies’ positions, oh that, DVD rate, no matter if you buy anything from before 2008, DVD rate, whether you buy it on iTunes or not. We, I think, ultimately have to accept that.

John: Yeah. And there’s other factors, because like the purchase through iTunes tends to be a lower price point than a DVD. But maybe at that lower price point more people are buying that stuff. Streaming seems to be dominating everything anyway. And so certainly in music streaming has become so incredibly important. I have to believe it’s going to continue to be incredibly important for videos. So, we’ll see.

I’m a little optimistic that some of this down slope in feature residuals will perk back up.

Craig: Yeah, me too. I mean, one nice thing about new media is that the margin is so much better. They don’t have to print a thing on a disk, stick in a box, stick it in box, ship it in a box. You know, but then Apple takes a pretty decent cut, I’m sure.

John: Yeah. They do.

Craig: All right.

John: So, I think the summary for the numbers is that if you have to say bullet points for a friend who kind of cares is that the numbers were not terrible. And so these numbers are for writer earnings for 2015. It doesn’t get into our pension health. It doesn’t get into some of the other really crucial things that screenwriters and the WGA is looking at.

But it’s talking about sort of like how overall writers are doing this past year. It wasn’t terrible. And so there was no steep drop offs or declines or anything that would set off huge alarm bells for me.

Craig: Agreed.

John: Cool. Let’s get to a craft topic. So, way back, we’ll find the number of the episode, but we did an episode about villains. And it was actually one of my very favorite episodes we’ve done on the podcast. And so I wanted to write up a longer piece for it. And so I got this guy, Chris Csont, who is a screenwriter himself, to write up a long piece about villains and focusing on what I came up, sort of seven fundamental tips for unforgettable villains.

So, a lot of times in features, you’ll see — and TV as well — you’ll see sort of functional villains, like, well, that villain got the job done. Basically served as a good obstacle for your hero. Kept the plot moving. But a week later, I couldn’t tell you anything about who that villain was.

Craig: Right.

John: And so I wanted to look at sort of in the movies that I love and the movies that had villains that I loved, what were some of those characteristics of those villains that I loved. And so I boiled it down to seven things and then Chris wrote up a nice long blog post that sort of talked through in more detail and gave more examples of what those kind of villains were and how they functioned.

So I thought we’d take a few minutes to look at this list of unforgettable villains and sort of how you can implement them.

Craig: Great.

John: Cool. So, my first tip for unforgettable villains is something I’ve said a lot on the show, is that the best villains think that they’re the hero. They are the protagonist in their own stories. They have their own inner life. They have hopes, they have joys. They might seek revenge or power, but they believe they have a reason why they deserve. They can reframe all of the events of the story where they are the good guy in the story.

Craig: Yeah. Nobody does bad things just cause. Even when we have nihilistic villains, they’re trying to make a point. Like the Joker is trying to make a point, you know. There’s always a purpose. And so, yes, of course, they think they’re the hero. They have — you know that thing where you look at somebody on TV, maybe in the middle of a political season, and you think how is that guy so happy about all of these terrible things he’s saying?

Well, because he believes in part that he’s the right one, and that his purity is in fact why he’s the hero. Just as a character says I won’t kill is being pure. You know, Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi is being pure. “I’m not going to kill you. I’m not going to kill you because I’m a good guy.” Right? That’s my purity.

Well, on the other side, the villains are heroes with the same purity towards their goal. And other people are these wish-washy, mush-mouthy heroes in name only. They’re HINOs.

John: Yeah. So I think it’s absolutely crucial is that they are seeing all of the events of the story from their own point of view and they can defend the actions that they’re taking because they are heroes. Our favorite show, Game of Thrones, does that so well, where you see characters who are one hand despicable, but on the other hand are heroic because you see why they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. So, Daenerys can completely be the villain of that story. It’s very easy to frame her as the villain in that story, and yet we don’t because of how we’ve been introduced to her.

Craig: Yeah. And then look back to the very first episode. It’s maybe the last line of the first episode, I think. Jamie Lannister pushes Bran out the window, sends him theoretically to his death, although it turns out to just paralyze him. And then he turns back to his sister and he says, “The things we do for love.” And he’s doing it because he’s protecting her because they’re in love. Now I go, okay, I don’t like you, and I don’t like what you did, but I recognize a human motivation in you.

Now, some movies are really bad at shoving this in. You ever get to the end of a movie where you’re like, “Why the hell was this guy doing all this bananas stuff?” And then as he’s being arrested he goes, “Don’t you understand? Blah, blah, blah.”

John: Yeah. It’s like it’s already done. It’s already over. Or, that bit of explanation comes right before they’re about to, you know, “Before I kill you, let me tell you why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Craig: And it’s like a weird position paper. It’s not felt. Whereas at the end of — speaking of Sorkin — A Few Good Men, when Jack Nicholson says, “You’ve weakened a country,” I believe he believes that.

John: A hundred percent.

Craig: I believe that he instructed people to hurt other people because he’s doing the right thing. He’s pure, and they’re not.

John: So, let me get to my next point which is unforgettable villains, they take things way too far. So, whereas hopefully all villains see themselves as the hero, the ones who stick with you are the ones who just go just too far. Simple villains who have sort of simple aims, like I’m going to rob this bank, well you’re not going to remember that one. The one who is like, “I’m going to blow up the city block in order to get into this bank,” that’s the villain you remember.

And so you have to look for ways in which you can take your villain and push them just too far so that they cross, they transgress something that no one is ever supposed to transgress. And the ones that really stick, you know, the Hannibal Lecters, the Buffalo Bills, the Alan Rickman in Die Hard, they are just willing to go just as far as they need to go in order to get the job down. And actually too far to get the job done.

Craig: Correct. And in their demonstration of their willingness to go to any length to achieve their goal, you realize that if they get away with it, this will not be the last time they do it. This person actually needs to die, because they are a virus that has been released into the world. And if we don’t stop them, they’re going to keep doing it forever, until the world is consumed in their insanity.

And then you have this desire in the audience for your hero to stop the villain. We rarely root for a hero to stop the villain because we want the hero to feel good. We root for it because that person has to go, you know.

John: Absolutely. We don’t root for the hero as much if it’s like a mild villain. It has to be the villain who is absolutely hell bent on destruction. And doesn’t have to be destroying the world, but like destruction of what is important to us as the audience.

Craig: Yeah. It could be somebody who just wants to take your kid from you.

John: Yep. That’s a good one.

Craig: And then you’re like, argh, and you just realize — you won’t stop — you’ll ruin the rest of my kid’s life. And you might do this to somebody else’s kid. You just feel like you should be stopped in order to return the world to its proper state of being a just world, which as we know, realistically it’s not.

John: Never going to happen.

Craig: No.

John: Third point about unforgettable villains is that they live at the edges of society. So sometimes they are literally out in the forest, or the creepy old monster in the cave. But sometimes they’re at the edges of sort of moral society. So they place themselves outside the normal rules of law, or the normal rules of acceptable behavior.

And so even if they are the insiders, even if they are the mayor of the town, they don’t function within the prescribed boundaries of like what the mayor of the town can do.

So, you always have to look at them — they perceive themselves as outsiders, even if they are already in positions of power.

Craig: They certainly perceive themselves to be special.

John: Yes.

Craig: There were a lot of people, speaking of the Soviet Union, in the ’30s and ’40s, a lot of people who were Soviet officials who did terrible things. But, frequently they were tools, or sometimes Stalin would go so far as to call them “useful idiots.” Stalin was special. He considered himself special. And special people are different than people who do bad things.

So, when you’re thinking about your villain, you know, it may not be one of those movies where the villain actually has henchmen, per se. But, special people do have their own versions of henchmen. People who believe them at all costs. You know, the poor — the albino guy in The Da Vinci Code. You know, he’s a villain, kind of, but he’s not the villain. He’s a tool.

John: Yeah. So even if the villain has prophets or a society around him, he perceives himself as being outside that society as well.

Craig: He can go ahead and bend the rules, because he knows, once again, he knows what’s better. He is different and above everybody else. That’s we’re fascinated by a good one.

John: Also because they hold up a mirror to the reader. That’s my fourth point. Is that a good hero sort of represents what the audience aspires to be, what we hope we could be. The unforgettable villain is the one who you sort of fear you might be. It’s like sort of all your darkest impulses. It’s like what if I actually did that terrible thing. That’s that villain. It’s that person you worry deep down you really are.

Craig: Which goes to motivations. Universally recognizable motivations. And this is something that comes up constantly when you’re talking about villains. The first thing people will ask is, “What do they want?” Right? Just like a hero, because they are the hero of their story, what do they want? What are they motivated by? What’s driving them to do these crazy, crazy things?

And it’s never, oh, it’s just random, because again, that’s not — so for instance, you can look at Buffalo Bill, the character in Silence of the Lambs, as really more of like an animal. We can talk about his motivations, and they do, but those motivations are foreign to all of us. It’s a rare, rare person who is sociopathic and also violent and also attempting to convince himself that he will be better if he’s transgender, which he’s really not. That’s not any of us.

But, Hannibal Lecter is. Hannibal Lecter has these things in him that we recognize in ourselves. And in fact, it’s very easy to fantasize that you are Hannibal Lecter. It’s kind of sexy. It’s fascinating. A good villain is somebody that you kind of guiltily imagine being.

Who hasn’t imagined being Darth Vader? He’s the coolest.

John: Yeah. Imagine having that kind of power. The power to manipulate. The power to literally control things with your mind. That’s a seductive thing. And I think the best villains can tap into that part of the reader or the audience.

Also, I would say that the great villains, they let us know what they want. And we sort of hit on that earlier. Sometimes you’ll get to the end of the story and then the villain will reveal what the plan was all along. That’s never satisfying.

The really great villains that stick with you, you’re clear on what they’re going after from the start. And even if it’s Jaws. I mean, you understand what is driving them. And you understand at every moment what their next aim is. And they’re not just there to be an obstacle to the hero. They have their own agenda.

Craig: Yeah. A good movie villain will sometimes hide what they’re after, and you have to kind of figure it out, or tease it out. For instance, you mentioned Se7en. You don’t quite get what Kevin Spacey is up to. In fact, it seems just random. Like so a bad villain. Random acts of senseless violence. You know, kind of connected together by this interesting motif. Until the end when you realize, oh, there’s some sort of larger purpose here.

They often tell us what they want because they have clarity. Good heroes don’t have clarity. The protagonist shouldn’t have too much clarity, otherwise they’re boring as hell, right? They should be conflicted inside about what’s right and what’s wrong. They make choices.

Villains are not conflicted at all. So, of course, they’re going to be able to say, “What do I want?” I want this because of this. That’s it. I figured it out already. I don’t have any of your handwringing or sweating. I know what I’m going to do, and I know why, and I believe it’s correct. That’s it.

John: And they tell us what that is. And so they may not tell the hero what that is. Often they will. But we as the audience know what they’re actually going for, and that’s really crucial.

And ultimately whatever the villain is after, the hero is a crucial part of that plan. The great villains make it personal. And so we talked about Se7en. Like you can’t get much more personal than sort of what Kevin Spacey does to poor Brad Pitt’s wife in Se7en. It starts as a story that could be about some random killings, but it dials down to something very, very personal. And that’s why we are so drawn into how things end.

Craig: Well, what’s interesting is that in the real world, this is another area where narrative drifts so far apart from the real world. In the real world, most villains are defined by people that do bad things. And they’re repugnant. We like our movie villains to be charismatic. We love it. We like our movie villains to be seductive, and interesting, and charming. And part of that is watching them have a relationship with the hero.

We want the villain to have a relationship with the hero. It can be a brutal relationship, but a fascinating relationship. And the only way you can have a relationship is if the villain is interested in the hero. And inevitably they are.

Sometimes it’s the villain’s interest in the hero that becomes their undoing. Again, you go to the archetype of Darth Vader and Luke.

John: Yeah.

Craig: He wants to know his son. And so ultimately that’s what undoes him.

John: Yeah, you look at the Joker and Batman in Christopher Nolan’s version of it is that the Joker could not exist without Batman, fundamentally. They are both looking at the same city, the same situation, and without each other they both wouldn’t function really.

It’s like the Joker could create his chaos, he could sort of try to bring about these acts of chaos to make everyone look at sort of how they are and how the city functions. But, without Batman — if he can’t corrupt Batman, it’s not worth it for him.

Craig: Right. Batman is the thing he pushes against. And The Killing Joke, which is maybe the greatest graphic novel of all time, is entirely about that relationship. And there is something at the heart of the Joker/Batman dynamic that’s probably at the heart of most hero/ villain dynamics in movies, and that is that there is a lot of shared quality. There’s a similarity. It’s why you hear this terrible, terrible line so many times, “You and I, we are not different.”

Because it’s true.

John: Because it’s true. It doesn’t mean you should say it.

Craig: That’s right. Don’t say it.

John: But it is true. You can maybe find a way to visualize that or sort of let your story say that for you, but just don’t say that.

Craig: Just don’t say it. Or have them make fun of it.

John: Yeah. My final point was that flaws are features. And that in general the villains that you remember, there is something very, very distinctive about them. Either physically, or a vocal trait. There’s something that you can sort of hang them on so you can remember what they’re like because of that one specific tick, or look, or thing that they do.

And so, obviously, Craig is a big fan of hair and makeup and costuming. And I think all of those things are crucial. But you have to look at sort of what is it about your villain that a person is going to remember a month from now, a year from now, that they can remember — that they can picture them. They can hear their voice.

Hannibal Lecter is so effective because you can hear his voice. Buffalo Bill, we know what he looks like when he’s putting on that suit. Find those ways that you can distinguish your villain so that we can remember him a year from now.

Craig: It would be nice, I think, for screenwriters to always think about how their villain will first be perceived by the audience. Because you’re exactly right.

This is part of what goes to the notion that the villain is the hero of their story. That the villain is a special person. What you’re signifying to the audience is this is a person who is more important than everybody else in the movie, except our hero. Right? And just as I made a big deal about the hero, I have to make a big deal about this person, because they are special.

And if you look at the first time you see Hannibal Lecter, his hair — let’s first start with the hair — is perfect. It’s not great hair. He’s a balding man. But it’s perfectly combed back. And he’s wearing his, I guess, his asylum outfit, crisp, clean. And he’s standing with the most incredible posture. And his hands, the way his hands and his arms are, it’s as if he’s assembled himself into this perfected mannequin of a person. And he does not blink.

And that’s great. Just from the start. You know, we all get that little hair-raising feeling when somebody creepy comes by. Sometimes it’s the littlest thing like that.

John: And sometimes it’s a very big thing. So like Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter movies is one of my favorite arrivals of a villain in a story, because she’s wearing this pink dress that she’s in for the whole movie. And from the moment you see her, you know in a general sense what she is. But you just don’t know how far she’s going to push it. So she seems like this busybody, but then you realize she’s actually a monster. She’s a monster in a pink housecoat. And she is phenomenal.

And that’s a very distinctive choice of sort of the schoolmarm taken way too far. And you see it from the very start. And so I can’t — I could never see that kind of costuming again without thinking of her. That’s a sign of a really good design.

Craig: That’s a great reference. And it goes right back to J.K. Rowling’s book. That’s an example of taking something that’s amusingly innocuous and not villainous, like oh, a sweet old lady who loves cats and collects plates. And loves pink, and green, and pastel colors. And saying, that lady, now she’s a sadist. Ooh, blech. Great, you know, just great.

And then you get it. You walk into her office and you can smell that bad rose perfume, you know. Terrific.

John: Terrific. So, I have these seven tips, but also a very long, very detailed article by Chris Csont you can find, so that’s at There will be a link in the show notes, too.

But, Chris, thank you for writing up a great post. And we’re going to try to do a few more of these things, we’re we can sort of do a deep dive. I don’t have time to write these big long things, but Chris does. And he does a great job at them. So we’re going to try to have a few more of these up over the course of the year.

Craig: Great.

John: Cool. Let’s answer a question or two. Tom wrote in with a very simple question. “What are your thoughts on opening a script with a quote?”

Craig: Oh, I don’t mind it so much. I mean, it’s a little cliché. I always feel like when you open your script with a quote you’re basically borrowing somebody else’s genius and importance to create a mood that you have not earned yourself. So, I say if you can avoid it, probably try it without it.

John: Stuart got really frustrated by this question. We were talking about it at lunch. And he said, I think a very good point, is like, “The script is supposed to represent what the movie is going to feel like. And if the movie is going to feel like it’s going to open with a quote, use it. If it’s not, then don’t.” And I think that’s actually very good advice is that always remember the screenplay is meant to duplicate the experience of seeing the movie. And if that’s important for your movie, it’s important to set the expectation of what your movie is, use it. Otherwise, don’t. And I agree with that.

So, I think the only one of my scripts that started with — not even a quote but sort of a dedication page — was Big Fish. It was very important for Big Fish, because it had to set the tall tales expectation. So, I wanted you to stop on that page and understand what kind of movie you were about to get into.

One of the great scripts at Sundance this year had a similar kind of thing where it was very much setting up the tone, and I loved that. But I think it’s only the scripts that need it should use it.

Craig: Yeah. Just don’t throw it on there, you know. I mean, let’s put it this way, if you could conceive of your movie actually opening with this quote on the screen, then sure. You know, it’s got to feel like something that’s appropriate.

I’m not a purist about this. But I would say if you cannot, don’t. Right? Because it’ll just be, I don’t know, you’ll just impress people with your writing immediately, you know? As opposed to something wry from George Bernard Shaw.

John: Yeah. And I would say don’t use a quote that we’ve heard before.

Craig: Oh, yeah, don’t.

John: That doesn’t help. It’s just like, oh, this is a cliché.

Craig: Yeah. And you’re not an original person. You just went on

John: Craig, do you want to do this last question? It’s Jay in Los Angeles.

Craig: Sure. Jay in Los Angeles writes, “I’m a screenwriter who is finishing the deal to sell my spec script to a known production company. The deal should be announced in the next week or two.” Congrats.

“I have an agent from a top-four agency, as well as a lawyer handling the deal. A well-known actor is attached to the project. I was able to attract interest from a producer on my own and then hustled to find my reps after the fact.

“The agent on the deal, and I, never had a conversation on my becoming a client.” Is this my son writing this? Because he does that thing where “on my becoming,” and I’m like you got to stop writing that. Anyway.

“The agent on the deal, and I, had never had a conversation about me becoming a client. He never even asked to read the script. Am I already a de facto client? I want to be able to while the iron is hot, get a manager, and try to get in as many rooms as possible. I also have a pitch prepped for a new project. The question is: how does one approach that conversation with the agent? What can I do to prepare for the news of the deal to get out, aside from prepping a new pitched script?”

John: This is actually not an uncommon situation where you sort of got stuff started, you got stuff to a producer. This agent helps you make this deal. And then it’s sort of this vague situation like “am I client of this agency or not?”

The way to find out is to ask the person who you should ask. And ask, especially if you like this person. If you don’t like this person, you haven’t really signed with this agency, and maybe you can take some other meetings. This producer may help you meet some other folks. But you are right to be thinking about what your next steps are and to capitalize on the news of this getting out.

Craig: Yeah. I completely agree. It’s as simple as asking him the question, or asking her the question. I wouldn’t worry so much about the agent — oh, it’s a he — the fact that the agent didn’t ask to read the script. I don’t need my agents to read my scripts. I just need them to get me as much money as they can.

So, I’m not freaking out by that. Yeah. Ask them. Also ask yourself: what do you think about this person? I mean, so far so good, I guess, right?

John: I guess. I would say, you know, be honest with yourself about what you want to write next, what things you’re interested in doing. What else you have ready to kind of have pitched. And then have the conversation about sort of like what is the deal with this agency. Do you guys want to represent me on an ongoing basis? Is this a one-off thing?

They will say like, “Oh, no, we want to represent you on an ongoing basis,” but then they should probably bring you in for a meeting where they meet with you and with other agents there and they talk about the things you want to do. Before you have that meeting, you should actually be able to answer that question about the things you want to do.

So, I think you’re in a good place, but you’re also right to be asking these questions.

Craig: Yeah. You can try and prepare things like a new pitch or script, but don’t rush anything in there. Don’t feel like you need to have this shoebox full of stuff. Frankly, your concentration should be on writing the next draft of your spec script.

John: For sure.

Craig: That’s where you are now. But unless you haven’t sold it under a WGA deal, and I can’t imagine that’s the case, you are guaranteed the right to be the first rewriter of your script. So, you need to start now transitioning from being a spec guy to a professional writer.

John: A hundred percent agree. Cool. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing, Craig, did you already click on this link? Because it’s really good. You’re going to like it a lot.

Craig: I did. And I thought it was spectacular.

John: So, this is called The Mill Blackbird, so the Mill is a place that shoots a lot of film type stuff and special effects things. The Blackbird is this very cool car they’ve built. Essentially if you’re shooting a car commercial or anything on film that involves a car, it is a hassle because the client wants the car to look beautiful, you are trying to do things under different conditions. And sometimes cars change, or you want to change the color of the car afterwards. So what this thing does is basically it’s this skeleton of a car. The wheel base is adjustable. You can change out the actual wheels on it.

But essentially you are driving this thing around and then you are putting the car skin on top of it in post. And it sounds like, well, why would you do that? That’s ridiculous. But you would totally do this in a lot of situations because it lets you switch things out in really remarkable ways. The car itself, this Blackbird, also has cameras on it that are capturing everything around it, and so you can use that for VR applications, but also to get all of the data that you need so that you can have proper reflections on the car when you are putting the skin of the car on in CG.

It seems like just a very smart idea. I can imagine it’s going to be used a lot. Chris Morgan, doing the Fast & Furious movies, probably already has three of them on order.

Craig: Seriously.

John: It seemed very, very cool.

Craig: It is cool. You know, cars are something that they’re so good at making digitally. Like the car racing games are always the best looking games. Those are the ones that are the most close to, wait, is this real? There’s something about just the metal and the paint and the whole thing. It works so great.

And I had no idea, by the way. I’ve been fooled this whole time. I thought those were cars out there. Ah, what do I know?

John: What do you know? I would say like a lot of times you’ve seen so many fake cars in movies, and when people complain about like, oh, bad CG, people don’t realize that half the cars you’ve seen in movies are not actually there. So, when you see car racing and stuff in films, a lot of times that’s all done digitally.

Craig: Yeah. People complain about CG because they’re like, “I saw a thing.” Yeah, you didn’t see a thousand other things, did you? So, maybe you shouldn’t complain.

John: Maybe not.

Craig: Yeah. Maybe you should shut it. I’ll tell you what is my One Cool Thing. Strangely enough, helium. Did you know that we were running a little short on helium? [laughs]

John: I remember this being a thing from before. But they found more of it.

Craig: They found a whole lot more. So, helium is not only used for the party balloons, although if you had asked me, I would have said, “Balloons, right?” It’s kind of important. We actually, for instance, use it in every MRI scanner. There are over a million MRIs in the world, and we need helium for each one of them. We need helium for energy production. We need helium for all sorts of things.

And we were kind of starting to run low, because the deal is helium is an element. You don’t make it. Right? It’s just what we have is what we’ve got.

John: I presume once we get fusion really going, you can make helium. Is that correct? People will tell me if that’s not correct. I assume that we can actually make helium off of fusing hydrogen atoms, but I could be wrong.

Craig: I’m not going to say yes or no to that.

John: All right. We’ll let Wikipedia determine.

Craig: Smells a little wrong, but I don’t know. Sometimes the most right things smell a little wrong. But, and we, by the way, this is another thing I didn’t know. We have something called the Federal Helium Reserve. It’s in Texas. And it’s this massive thing. It’s got 242 billion cubic feet of helium, which is about 30% of all the helium in the world. Until they just found this whole big thing in Tanzania.

A massive helium gas field. Apparently, we’re going to be fine. And some Tanzanians hopefully will get rich off of the helium. How do you mine helium?

John: Carefully? I don’t know. I just worry it would all leak out.

Craig: Balloons. Just endless balloons.

John: Endless balloons. Poppers. It’s going to be good.

Craig: Poppers.

John: Swelling up so high. A lot of squeaky voice. I bet that’s how they found it. I bet like, “There’s something wrong here,” and —

Craig: Somebody goes into a mine looking for something, comes out like —

John: “Something’s really weird.”

Craig: “I didn’t find anything”

John: Craig, your helium voice was much better than mine.

Craig: All you have to do is like really shrink your voice.

John: Well done. I got to say. I would prefer that to almost any of your other characters. [laughs]

Craig: Helium Craig is official now. Helium Craig.

John: It really is. I looked it up as you were talking, and so yes, you can make helium off of a hydrogen fusion process. It’s probably a terrible, dangerous version of helium. It probably would kill everyone. But I bet it could make some balloons float up.

Craig: I don’t care. Listen, man, you were right about it. I think they should do it.

John: They should absolutely do it. Scriptnotes, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is a class Matthew Chilelli outro. But if you have a new one for us, you can always write in to That’s also the place where you send questions like the ones we answered on the program today.

You will find links to most of the things we talked about on the show notes, which are attached to this podcast, or you can find them at

If you want to read that whole villains piece, that’s

If you would like to tweet to Craig, he is @clmazin on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. If you are on iTunes for any reason, please leave us a review. We love those. We haven’t read those reviews aloud for a while. Maybe we’ll do that next week.

Craig: Okay.

John: And that’s all I got. Craig, thank you so much for a fun podcast.

Craig: Thanks John.

John: See ya.