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 258 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast, we will be looking at three new entries in the Three Page Challenge. We’ll also be answering listener questions about disabilities on screen and which WGA you should join.
Craig: Hmm. This is going to be a good episode already.
John: It’s going to be a great one. I think it’s also going to be short, because we are trying to wedge this in between my going to pick up my daughter at summer camp and you have a thousand things on your plate, some of which I know about, and some of which I don’t. So, it’s a busy time. Summer is supposed to be easy for us, but summer got really busy for both of us.
Craig: It’s the worst. Summer is the worst.
John: It’s just the worst. Here’s the thing: it’s the worst because it’s super busy and everyone is also gone. And so we’re recording this the week after July 4, but half of Hollywood seemed to say like, “Oh, we’ll take the whole week off.”
Craig: I know. People are like, “Hey, so are you going anywhere this summer?” And the question shocks me. Like what? No. I have too much to do. I’m not going anywhere.
John: But then there are some people who are like, “Oh yeah, we’re going to go to the East Coast for four weeks.”
John: In summer. Like landed gentry.
Craig: Right. I don’t have that. Apparently I’m forever bougie.
John: Yeah. That’s fine.
John: Last week, we had a discussion with Gabe from Southampton who was shocked we had not heard of Anagnorisis because his tutors had talked about it often.
Craig: Yeah. So I was very confused, and I think John you were as well, by the use of the word tutor. Apparently in the United Kingdom, tutor is the word they use for college professor, hence our confusion.
John: Our confusion. So, that was yet another word we did not know. We also got some feedback from other British folk. Tony Lee wrote in to say, “I’m a British screenwriter like Gabe. I don’t know any British screenwriters, professional ones at least, for a second think that Americans do the story and Brits do the characters. It’s an idiotic belief and one that any screenwriting teacher worth his salt would try to shy away from.”
And I think that is our message as well is that screenwriting professors around the world hopefully recognize that story and character are not two different things that are done best on two different continents.
Craig: Yeah. Quite a few of our British friends wrote on Twitter. They seemed completely stumped by Gabe’s professor’s point of view. It doesn’t seem like a shared opinion. And I was happy to see that.
John: Yeah. All around the world there are good writers listening to our program, so thank you very much for writing in.
Let’s get to some questions from this week. So, Brian in Chicago wrote in to ask, “Do you guys think there’s a ‘moment,’ for lack of a better term, going on with disabilities in film and television? I am myself physically disabled, and while far from an activist or a person terribly interested in ‘disability issues,’ it’s hard to miss the current visibility of physically disabled characters in film and television.
“Game of Thrones does such a good job with Tyrion because of how his malady occupies both the foreground and background of Tyrion’s character, but isn’t his total character. He’s many things. A dwarf is just one of them. It’s relevant when it needs to be, or makes sense to be, such as his relationship with his sister, the Battle of Blackwater, but it’s not so singular as often happens with other disabled characters.”
Craig, what do you think? Do you think there’s a moment happening?
Craig: I do. I think there’s a moment happening for physically disabled characters. I think there’s a moment happening for characters of color. There’s a moment happening for characters who are LGBTQ. And the reason why — and it’s the strangest thing — while on the one hand we have a very strong academic tendency towards identity studies, the interesting symptom of our concentration on identity is an ability to look past these identities as all-consuming things for our characters. Whereas a while ago you would say, “Well, describe this character.”
Oh, he’s a blind guy. That’s his character, right? Blind guy. No one does that anymore. Well, I’m sure people do, but most of us now our whole thing is, great, that’s an interesting aspect of a human being, and their experience, and we should now be curious and we should be authentic to that experience as best we can. But it does seem like there’s a moment in general where we are all as filmmakers growing up very rapidly about all of these things and underlying all of it is a general movement toward presenting full human beings whose “labels” are merely an aspect.
John: Agreed. I think there’s two facets I’d like to look at. First off is that it’s the recognition that the world is complex and beautiful and filled with many different kinds of people and many different kinds of situations and that it’s great if the stories that we’re telling reflect the diversity of persons and diversity of experiences that are out there in the world.
And so that means looking beyond the initial sort of stock presentations of a character or a character with a disability, to look at sort of what is the full range of that, and how would having a person with a given set of physical circumstances impact both how he or she is perceived in the world, but also how he or she perceives the world. Let that be a jumping off point, but don’t let it be the entire character.
I think Tyrion is a really interesting way of looking at that. At first I said like, well, that’s not actually a disability. He’s just a very small person. And yet it actually does track the way we think of characters with different abilities in stories. There are things he cannot do because of his small size, but there’s things he does differently and smarter because of his small size.
And not having read the books, my belief is that in the books don’t they make more of his small size? Like he’s like nimble and spry in ways that are important?
Craig: I think in the book, and I could be wrong about this, but I think he’s more — he’s more of a small person, whereas on the show they’ve cast Peter Dinklage who has dwarfism, which is a physical condition. It’s a congenital condition. It’s genetic.
And when we say physical disability, there is obviously an implied pejorative there. There are certain physical downside beyond size to having dwarfism. There are difficulties. And so it’s not merely about being small, but it’s about how joints work, and hips, and knees, and elbows, things. But in general, I think we’ve all gotten a bit braver, too, about not running away or shying away from these things. Nobody on Game of Thrones is afraid, either — either in front of the character, or in the writing room, behind the scenes. Nobody is afraid to talk about the “elephant in the room” to the extent that it’s not an elephant in the room.
Everyone is very blunt about everything. And so you begin to demystify and de-taboo-ify a lot of these things that we previously thought of as somehow dividing us.
John: So, a few weeks ago I was in on a meeting about remaking an older film. And there’s a character in it who can present as being very problematic in terms of a — I guess you’d call it a disability, but there’s sort of a supernatural reason for why the disability exists.
And I thought it was actually a really interesting moment to look at that story now in the current light about, well, what is the reality of living with that condition. And this is very much like a condition that a large percentage of the world population actually encounters. And so let’s not run away from it. Let’s actually sort of embrace that and sort of not let it be a curse that a character is under, but actually an opportunity to explore a world that had otherwise been shut off from that person.
And so I do think there is a moment happening here. If we are using the wrong terms for any of this stuff, if Craig and I on this podcast, or people out in Hollywood are using the wrong terms for things, apologies, but also know that we are — I think it’s more important to be discussing the opportunities here than to be running away from them. Or to not engage with them as characters who were sort of missing from film and TV.
Craig: I completely agree. I’m very — I’m actually very excited by the way things are going, and also how fast it’s gone. So, an excellent question from Brian. Thank you, Brian.
I guess we should get in this question from James.
John: Go for it.
Craig: And he’s from Brooklyn, so I have to read it, right? I won’t do the accent. Because also no one in Brooklyn has this accent anymore. It’s just all hipsters now.
James in Brooklyn writes, “I know you guys have occasionally mentioned differences between the WGA East and West. The West has more members and more lawyers, for example. But could you break down more of these differences, or at least go into a little more detail why an East Coast writer might be better off joining the West. I mean, why shouldn’t I join the WGAw, despite being based in New York City?”
John: Craig, I’m so glad you’re on this podcast, because I do not have a good answer here. So, an important thing to understand, which does not really make sense, but is just how things really are, is that there’s a Writers Guild West, which is mostly what Craig and I mean when we talk about the Writers Guild. That represents Hollywood. It represents most of the things you see and are familiar with.
There’s also a Writers Guild East, which is based in New York City. It represents the writers in New York City. The Mississippi River classically divides the East and the West of the United States, but I don’t have a good sense of why right now in 2016 a writer joins one versus the other. So, tell us, Professor Craig.
Craig: Well, I won’t go into the history of why it is the way it is, other than to say that when the guilds were founded New York was a much more important media center. It was the center of television, for instance. Whereas now essentially television — at least entertainment television- is centered in Los Angeles, just like screen.
It is the Mississippi River, that’s the dividing line. And the way it works is if you gain your first employment and your first qualifying employment to become a member of the union, if you are working east of the Mississippi you are funneled into the East. And if you’re working west, you’re funneled into the West.
Now, that actually does not prevent you from changing. You can change. There is a mechanism by which you are allowed to elect a change. The instructions of which are buried somewhere online. It’s not a common thing, but if you call up the Writers Guild East and ask how you should change to the West, after they attempt to stop you from doing it, I think they would — I have to tell you, it basically involves writing a letter to the executive directors of each union and then they have to process it.
Why would it be valuable to join the West, first of all, it’s not unless you are a screenwriter or you are working in entertainment television, or the kind of television that the West is the main operator on for contract. So, there are members in the East who work in news media. And they are almost certainly better off in the East, because that’s where the majority of news writers are. But, you know —
John: But, also, there are a lot of live — the late shows that are often writer WGA shows that are based in the East Coast. And so if you have a bunch of people who are making that same kind of thing on your side of the country, I guess it would make sense to stick around.
Craig: Kind of. Here’s the big advantage to being in the Writers Guild West, whether you work on late night television, or you work on a sitcom, or you work in movies. And it comes down to how we negotiate our big contract. The contract that does cover late night TV, and sitcoms, and movies, and all the stuff we think of as entertainment television. Without getting into too much of the boring details, the Writers Guild West takes point on that.
Essentially, the way it works is that there is a negotiating committee. The membership is proportional, which means the vast majority of members of the negotiating committee are from the West, so we have a larger voice in that committee. And then we take the lead. So, once the committee comes back with a proposal for a contract, the board in the West votes on it. If we vote to approve it, the East then — their council, which is their equivalent of the board, they vote, but they can only undo it if they vote against it by two-thirds.
So, they have this — there’s a barrier there for them. And even then, if they should vote by two-thirds to negate what the majority did in the West, it’s not over yet. Then, they add all the totals together of all the votes, and if there’s still a majority for approval, then it goes to the membership. So, if the WGAe votes unanimously to approve a contact, and there’s nothing the East Council can do to stop it from going to the membership.
So, basically the big benefit to being in the West is you have a vote for the people that are going to be probably making the determinative decision about what we get to vote on. The board members in the West, the members of the negotiating committee in the West.
Is it a huge benefit? No. It’s small, but it’s something.
John: So, another possible benefit, and you will tell me why I’m wrong to think this is the WGA West handles many, many, many more arbitrations than the East does. And so there are situations in which an arbitration is handled in the East because the writers were in the East, and they may not have the proficiency with the arbitrations. Is that fair? Is that accurate?
Craig: It is fair. If there’s a theatrical arbitration, and the writers are all members of the East, the East does handle the arbitration. It’s not that they are incompetent — I would never say such a thing. But to be fair, our credits department I think is larger than their entire staff in the East. And our credits department is jammed packed with attorneys whose legal specialty is credits. That’s it.
So, I tend to think that they are much more thorough and there’s just a larger wealth and breadth of experience there. If you end up with one of these difficult arbitrations, and boy, do we get them? So, I do think that that’s a benefit to being in the West.
John: Yeah. So it’s a situation where if you’re going in for heart surgery, you’d like to go to the place that does heart surgery all the time versus the place that does heart surgery a couple times a year.
And it’s not to say that you’re going to have a bad outcome at the smaller place, but if things go poorly, you want to be at the place that has done it a lot of times before and has seen all of the stuff that can happen.
Craig: Great analogy. Perfect.
John: Great. All right, let’s get to our Three Page Challenges. These things are so far away from being finished movies, but who knows, they could end up in arbitration themselves.
Craig: Segue Man.
John: Segue Man. Now, what I sometimes forget to do is to tell people where they can read along with us. So, if you are in your car, do not try to read these on your phone as you’re doing this, because it would be dangerous. But if you’re someplace safe, or if you can pull to the side, you’ll find links in the show notes to the three PDFs we’re talking about. So, just go to johnaugust.com/scriptnotes and you’ll see this episode and you’ll see the PDFs that we’re discussing.
So, these people were incredibly brave to write in and let us see the first three pages of their screenplays. Sometimes they are pilots, but in this case they all feel like features to us. And they have agreed to let us show these on the air and discuss them.
And Stuart goes through every single entry and he picks three that he thinks are interesting. And something Stuart would like me to remind you is that he doesn’t pick the best entries. He picks the ones he thinks are going to be most interesting to talk about on the air. And so these are ones that have interesting strengths or weaknesses or possibilities so that we can really dig into them.
So, it’s not meant to be a competition that you win. And Stuart sometimes gets frustrated when people think like, oh my god, I was featured on Three Page Challenge and now my career is going to be set. It’s not. It’s not going to be.
Craig: No, no.
John: Hopefully we will give you some good advice and other people can learn from the things we tell you. So, let’s get started.
Craig: All right.
John: Which one should go first, Craig?
Craig: Well, the first one in my hand is The Real Pearl. Shall I summarize?
John: Go for it.
Craig: Okay. The Real Pearl, written by Philip Lemon. What a great name. Philip Lemon.
John: I like it.
Craig: Okay, so we begin in a warehouse. We’re looking at Pearl who is a 25-year-old woman. She is in distress. And in fact a plastic bag is yanked over her head. We watch from her perspective as this large man beats her and then tosses her into the trunk of a car.
She wakes up, she comes back into conscious, in the trunk of the car, and she gets out of the plastic bag. She’s breathing. And she sees another woman in the trunk with her. This is a dead woman. She kisses the woman’s lips lovingly, closes her eyes, and then begins to look for a way to escape.
We cut to inside the car. And we see that it’s being driven by Ivan, a Russian. And he is driving at gun point. In the passenger seat, holding the gun, is the man who presumably was the one who was beating Pearl. Ivan realizes as they’re driving to some distant location that the trunk lid is rising. Pearl manages to escape. She leaps out of the trunk. The people in the car keep going. They don’t notice. She lands on the road and then she is just about to get run over by another car coming toward her when we smash cut to Pearl. And now she’s actually in a city street, bracing for impact, but there is no impact. In fact, now she’s dressed completely differently. She’s got makeup on. She looks terrific. She’s standing in the middle of a city street. And a cab driver just yells at her.
John: Yep. So, I feel like maybe I should have put a trigger warning at the start of this thing, because if you have any experience being taken or being kidnapped or being sort of restrained, this would make you feel very uncomfortable. I could see this provoking some bad feelings.
It provoked some bad feelings in me, too. I don’t know how to even dig into this, because a lot of the writing was fine. And yet I didn’t want to sort of keep in the world of this movie. Do you see what I’m seeing?
Craig: Well, I do. And I think that it’s important sometimes to discriminate between the writing and our taste. You know, so this may not be your kind of movie. And generally it’s not my kind of movie either, although I was fascinated by these pages.
Philip I thought did — putting the — let’s put the content aside for a second. I saw everything. I heard everything. I understood perspective perfectly. I always knew when I was with Pearl, which I thought was fascinating. There was a mystery without confusion, which I thought was great, particularly the mystery of the corpse in the trunk with her.
And I was very surprised by the way the pages ended where it seemed suddenly this might not have happened at all. This may have been in her head. That was fascinating to me. So, I thought these are actually wonderfully written. There are some spelling issues, and Philip included his phone number on the cover page, which obviously we don’t share with you guys. But I can tell you that he’s from Australia. So there’s no excuse for not being able to spell dilapidated or gorgeous.
But I thought that regardless of whether or not this is your genre that Philip did everything you’re supposed to do in three pages of a screenplay.
John: I’m mostly there with you in terms of his ability to visually create the world and to strongly ground us in a perspective. And we’re largely in the perspective of the woman who is being kidnapped and sort of her journey. So, having made a movie with a character locked in a car, trunk of a car, I sort of know what that feels like and I thought he did a good job feeling us through that with her.
I didn’t believe or buy the corpse or the woman in the back of the trunk with her. Sort of the intimacy and the kissing and the touching, it really pulled me out. I loved that her reaction to the corpse was not just an “oh my god, there’s a corpse in the back of the car,” that there clearly is a reaction. This is somebody she knows. At the same time, I didn’t believe the actions that were there.
I loved the introduction of the Russian who is driving the car and the man holding the gun on him. I thought it was very smart to sort of set an expectation like this is clearly going to be the bad guy driving the car, and then realize like, oh no, he’s actually also a captive in this situation. That was terrific.
John: As we got to the end there, I was reading this as a Stuart Special. I believe that we’re actually jumping back in time to a time before her makeup was messed up. And so I think there was going to be on that next page a “Six Weeks Earlier” or “Four Hours Earlier” that just sort of show us how it had gotten to that situation.
But, I don’t know. I think the alternate explanation that like this is all in her head, or that there is some other movement in time between the two is also possible.
Craig: Well, I would be disappointed if it were a Stuart Special, as I’m about to be disappointed by our other two Stuart Specials. But, again, for people that don’t know, a Stuart Special is when you open a movie with a scene and it’s, “Oh my god,” in media res, and then you go, okay, but six months earlier, and then you start the movie.
You’re right. That may actually be what’s going on. Philip, very quickly, you’ve got a typo in addition to some spelling errors. On page two, olive-skinned, you have olive-sinned.
John: I love olive-sinned people.
Craig: But, overall, I was interested. I thought, also, I’m going to — I mean, again, you know, if this makes you uncomfortable, just turn it down, but this is how it opens, and we talk a lot about how you describe characters, right. And you know my whole thing — hair and makeup. And maybe people are taking this to heart.
“INT. WAREHOUSE — DAY. A WOMAN’S TERRIFIED FACE,” that’s all in caps, “fills our vision. This is Pearl, 25, blonde, sweat smeared makeup, lips curled back, eyes bulging as she — “
Next line. “SCREAMS,” capital, “her lungs out, struggles desperately.”
This is very — I mean, I’m gripped. And what I thought was really interesting was there was no commentary about how she’s pretty, or how she is this sort of — there’s no unfilmmables, as we say. I’m in the moment and I can see it. So, I thought Philip did a really good job and, you know, on some material that isn’t always for everyone.
John: Agreed. So, let’s take a look at a few specifics that I wanted to single out here. About halfway through the first page, “We frantically snap bicycle KICKS up at him; he bats them aside.” I tripped on bicycle kicks. I had to read it a couple of times where I was like, oh, he means the kind of kicks where you’re doing that, like where you’re pedaling a bicycle. Bicycle didn’t help us there, so I’d just get rid of the word bicycle. It helps us out there.
Craig: I like bicycle kicks.
John: Fine to keep then. I would say capitalize bicycle, too.
Craig: Mm-hmm. I like that. Yep.
John: So it all stays together as one idea, because when you capitalize part of it, and you don’t capitalize the other part, they read as different ideas.
John: Let’s look at the first transition here. ” BRUTE cocks a meaty fist, SMASHES US INTO: INT. CAR TRUNK — DAY.” That was just a weird transition. We’re missing a word. So, brute cocks a meaty fist and smashed us into INT. CAR TRUNK. Just like the and would just help — let it read as continuous thought.
A general goal is if you’re going to do that kind of the dot-dot-dot transition even without the dot-dot-dot. Make it read like a complete thought, so they’re not just weird fragments out there. Let it read as one continuous line.
Same page. “PIN PRICKS OF LIGHT stab into the BLACKNESS transforming it to GLOOM.” I don’t know what gloom is. I don’t know how you transform into gloom.
Craig: Yeah. I think he means like low light or something like that. But, yes, gloom is not the right word.
John: No. “The plastic is RIPPED open and Pearl GASPS, collapses back.” The plastic rips open. Again, it’s a situation where keep it as present active tense as you possibly can. Passive voice can be lovely, but this was not a passive voice moment in any way.
We go to “crazed pit bull” twice. You know, it’s fine to describe somebody as a crazed pit bull, but don’t use that as the thing you’re going to hang that character description on later on. Same way he uses olive-skinned twice. Don’t repeat “crazed pit bull.” It’s a one-time description. Don’t ever use it again to — don’t use it as the noun. Use it as the archetypal phrase to describe who this person is this first time we see him. Don’t keep coming back to it.
Craig: I agree with that. I for sure agree with that. Anything else? I mean, I would also say one thing for readability on that first page, Philip, is after “Brute cocks a meaty fist, smashes us into,” and then you have “INT. CAR TRUNK — Day. Blackness.” That’s always tough. And it’s accurate, because it is day, and it is black. You might want to move blackness above. So, “Brute cocks a meaty fist and smashes us into — and then on the left side, “Blackness.” Then say “INT. CAR TRUNK — DAY — footsteps and muffled.” So we’ll know, okay, we’re in black. And then “Pin pricks of light stab into the blackness,” you know, or “Still black to just make sure people know.”
But blackness, if it’s ahead of that thing it might help you a little bit there.
John: It’s also a weird thing where “into” above an “INT,” you sort of read both things the same way. So, the simplest thing might be “Smashes us to — INT. CAR TRUNK — DAY.” It feels like it’s less of a repeat there. Just some way to make that feel like one continuous thought would help.
My last little bit is on page three, “Pearl, staring in disbelief, spots the BOX CUTTER.” Disbelief doesn’t feel like quite the right word for a woman who has just like rolled out of a moving car onto a highway. There’s something — disbelief feels like, “I can’t believe she said that.” Versus the shock that you’d actually feel, or the bewilderment, the overall kind of daze that she would be in.
Craig: I think that’s absolutely right. You don’t have time to be disbelieving there. You should be, you know, you get the feeling that she’s gone into animal mode there. Animals never disbelieve anything.
John: Yep. For sure.
Craig: All right.
John: Let’s get on to our next one. This is How I Unleashed Mayhem and Saved the Free World, by Lynn Esta Goldman.
Craig: Great title.
John: It’s a fun title.
Our story opens over black, a voice over from Max. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble. Or to kill anyone. And I don’t think that I did. At least, not intentionally.” We meet Max as he is running for his life. He is 24 years old. Max Klovis is wiry and thin. He is a sort of parkour expert. He’s running from four thugs who chase him through alleys, through a Chinese restaurant. Ultimately, they corner him. He’s holding a phone. And that’s apparently what they’re going after. Then, Stuart Special —
John: Eight Days Earlier. We are in an office where we see Max being interviewed for a job by Howard Cobb, who is pale, wire-rims, generic as the furniture. And they’re talking about this coding job he’s interviewing for.
Max explains he had top grades from Stanford, but he had to leave to take care of his father who had cancer. Trying to defend that Steve Jobs dropped out of college. But the interviewer, Cobb, is not having it. He says that, “We have other candidates who are much cheaper, much better, who didn’t hack into the Fox News website and put obscene comments up there.”
And so we leave the end of the three pages with Cobb saying, “We’ll keep your resume on file.”
Craig: Yeah. Well…
Craig: These are certainly competently written pages. There’s not so much an issue with the structure of them. I mean, there are a few little tweaky things that I’m going to point out. I think the larger issue is that I believe I’ve seen this foot chase a billion times.
Craig: This precise foot chase, in this precise way, including the run through a restaurant that should be called Foot Chase Restaurant, where you go through the Foot Chase Kitchen, and the Foot Chase Chefs go, “What?” And you go into a Foot Chase Alley.
John: I think they have whole sound libraries which is just for the “Whaaaa?” of like someone running through your kitchen.
Craig: The clattering pots. And somebody yelling at you in Chinese, or something. There you go, it’s a Chinese seafood restaurant. Of course it is.
So, these are very cliché. There’s nothing wrong with the concept of starting with somebody running for their life, but you have the burden of a thousand movies behind you. And you have to at least take a moment to say what can I do to surprise somebody here and not give them a foot chase that we’ve seen in Steven Seagal movies. Right?
So, that’s a primary objection. After we do the Stuart Special and we’re in the job interview, Lynn, first of all, you tee yourself up here. And this is a dangerous thing to do with a character. Max in his voice over leading into the Stuart Special says, “It all started with an iPhone, in a bar. Actually. It started with the job interview from hell.” Now, first of all, we can’t do that anymore. We can’t say anything from hell anymore. That is at least 15 years of corniness on it. But the bigger problem is you’ve told me now this is going to be one hell of a scene. This is going to be one hell of an interview. It’s the interview from hell. It is not.
It is not remotely the interview from hell. It’s mildly uncomfortable. That’s what I would call it. And the information that’s coming out — so this is not an inappropriate and inelegant way to do an info dump, and that’s what we’re doing here. We’re getting Max’s backstory. And what we learn about Max through the info dump job interview is that he’s a dropout because his dad had cancer, so he must be a good guy. He is a hacker who obviously was doing sort of, oh, kind of puckish little pranks that we can all get on board with like, you know, screwing with Fox News and so forth.
He’s got martial arts expertise. And he really, really, really wants a job. But no one is going to hire him because, you know, he doesn’t fit their — again —
John: Everything felt very shoe-horned into this interview. So my dad had cancer. I was at Stanford. I’m really into martial arts. It was — you could feel everything being crammed in there in ways that weren’t particularly rewarding. And if you’re going to show us the job interview scene, just like the foot chase scene, you are fighting a hundred scenes that were just like that we’ve seen in other movies. You’ve got to recognize that it can’t be just a version of that scene we’ve seen a hundred times before.
John: What I thought was interesting is like you I thought it was actually well done on the page versions of sort of these very stock familiar scenes. And like I could imagine if you were to watch that foot chase scene, and your assignment had been like, okay now having watched this, now write the script that goes with it. I thought she did a good job of actually charting what that could feel like on a page and actually making it feel good. A good representation of that thing that we’d already seen on the screen.
It just wasn’t exciting because it didn’t seem to acknowledge that this is the stock version of that scene, and therefore I’m going to spin it in a different way. I’m going to present something brand new that you haven’t seen before.
Craig: A hundred percent. It’s got craft. And that’s a great sign, Lynn, because you know a lot of people just can’t work in this format. And it’s not uncommon for writers, particularly if you’re starting out, to ape. And you may not even realize you’re aping. You may think you’re writing something original, but what you’re really doing is you’re aiming towards the familiar, because you’re trying to emulate something, instead of working in our own voice and being dangerous a little bit. You know, and especially when you’re talking about the kind of movie that I think this is setting up — a little bit of danger is terrific.
You know, the thing about Max in this job interview is the job interview is a terrific instrument to give us facts. But it is a terrible instrument to reveal character, because you’re not yourself in a job interview. In fact, it is one of the few times when you weirdly and formally force out information about yourself when people are usually a little less forthcoming about these things. You don’t just randomly tell somebody on the street that you took care of your dad because he had cancer. But in a job interview, suddenly you’re forcing it out there.
So, I actually learn nothing about Max’s character. I just learn about his circumstances. And those are two very different things. So, if you’re going to keep the job interview scene, one suggestion is to reimagine it from the point of view of what is the essence of this guy’s attitude and feeling about the world. The way he holds himself and how he communicates with other people. And how can I get that across in a job interview? Vastly more interesting than facts.
John: Absolutely. Look for what is the conflict in this scene as well. What is it that Max is trying not to reveal or trying to get the other person to see? Right now there is not conflict in the scene. It’s basically just a ping pong match back and forth. But there’s no real stakes there. And I don’t know what Max even wants.
And you’re teeing this up that it’s the job interview from hell, so I don’t understand why Max wants this job. So, you’re fighting a lot of things there.
The other thing I’ll say about job interviews, and I like your point about people are not themselves in job interviews. They’re this idealized version. That’s I think why job interviews are so good for comedies. Because you have a character who is trying not to reveal who they are really are. And the natural tension and sort of the little lies that they get caught up in over the course of their job interview can make for such great comedy moments.
But this doesn’t feel like this movie wants comedy here, at least not from what we see in these three pages.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I could see a version of this where Max is describing himself, and it sounds fantastic, and exactly what this guy wants. And this guy is like, “Boy, you really are everything we could ever want. Do I have any other questions? Oh yeah, here’s one: why did you get arrested for hacking?” You know, and like how did you find out about that is now the question.
So that Max was attempting to hide something, and now it’s a game of how much do you know? So should I keep lying or not? And of course you keep lying. And he keeps busting them on the lies until finally it all unravels.
Something like my dad had cancer is very private. And it’s very serious. And so that’s another thing that you may want to think about how or if it should be revealed.
So, good craft.
John: Yeah. A few little small things I want to point out on the page. Page one, we see his face. “Boyishly handsome. A bad-boy glint in the eyes.” You get one boy. Not two boys. You can’t be a boyishly handsome bad boy.
Craig: Yeah, also it’s very hard to — frankly I think, you know, we had talked about there was that run of really bad introductions to female characters. This kind of falls into the opposite version of that. This is your hero and you’re describing him as “boyishly handsome, bad-boy glint.” That’s a little bit like hot but doesn’t know it. It just feels very cliché and very vanilla pudding.
And, also, difficult to show realistically when in fact when we’re looking at his face he’s running in fear from thugs. So —
John: Exactly. So, you get that glint if you are hitting on a girl at the bar, but you don’t get that glint when you’re running for your life.
Craig: Nor do you look particularly boyishly handsome in that moment.
John: You don’t.
John: Bottom of page one. “The three Thugs advance toward him… his back’s against the brick wall, it’s the worst place to be.” It’s the worst place to be — it’s not interesting, good information for us. I would scratch that kind of stuff out. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Like, “Back against the wall.” We know what back against the wall means.
Craig: We know how brick walls work.
John: We have seen that.
Last little thing. Page two, Max has two blocks of dialogue in a row. So he says, “I left to take care of my father. He had cancer.” Action line is, “Cobb continues to glare at the resume.” “Steve Jobs dropped out of college. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg — “If a character is going to keep talking with an intermediary line of action in between, it’s a good idea to put the CONT’D, the continued after his name. It just reminds people this is a continuous block of dialogue.
It’s not a must. The world won’t come crashing to an end. But it’s useful. And you will often see in a table reading if you don’t have those things, characters get confused because they’re like, “I said my line. Someone else needs to talk now.”
Craig: Yeah. I’ve stopped doing those. But what I will do is if I’m going to do a split like this, I include something about Max as well. I don’t want to — because the problem is, for shooting purposes here, Max is continuing and he doesn’t seem to be reacting to what Cobb is doing. So, I would be okay with Max stopping if I understood that he was stopping.
“Cobb continues to glare at the resume. Max sweats. You know, juggles.” Whatever, you know, scrambles. Just something so that I know this is happening for Max and not just you’re just stopping him talking so that I can see this guy stare at something.
John: Yeah. So what I’ve done is I’ve turned off the automatic character CONT’Ds, but for when it’s just one line in between, I’ll usually use the CONT’Ds. The reason why I turned off the CONT’Ds overall is sometimes you’ll have like three paragraphs worth of action that takes place in the middle point. And then it’s ridiculous to actually Max Continued, like it’s not the same thought. A bunch of other stuff has happened in between.
But for these cases where it’s just a single line, I usually will use it. The world doesn’t end one way or the other.
John: Agreed. Our final entry, do you want to take care of this?
Craig: Yeah, because I really want to say this title. Baby Alligators.
John: I love Baby Alligators.
Craig: Couple of good titles here. Actually, all of the titles were good.
John: Well done, title makers.
Craig: Good job, guys. Baby Alligators by J.E. Alexander. So, we don’t know gender there. We’ll just go with J.E.
And here’s what we have for Baby Alligators. We being over black. A woman’s voice, low and ragged, saying something that’s not quite in English. Then we cut to a skyline and we see a vast industrial district with factories and blast furnaces. Heavy industry. The sounds of industry. We move in closer and closer and closer until suddenly it’s not that industrial district at all, but rather a model of it. And a big female hand coming into view. She’s building the model. This is Laura Hayes.
She is a perfectionist. We cut to she’s in a studio, I assume meaning like an art studio. We then go into the toilets, the bathroom, and she’s washing her hands. She hears a rattling coming from one of the cubicles.
J.E. must be from England because I think cubicles is like our stalls. Laura is curious about this — it’s a little eerie. What is that gurgling noise? And then she sees that it’s a water pipe that’s hanging from the ceiling. She leaves. She exits the studio, which is the Sparks Model Makers Ltd, lights a cigarette, puts on her headphones, and heads across a wasteland. And we see a canal and some train tracks. There’s a sense of decay. A car speeds by with a drunken man yelling at her. She gets to a residential, evening, gets off of a bus, and goes to her apartments.
She notices a disheveled hooded figure shuffling on the lawn of her apartment building. She waits until that person leaves and then she runs inside to her apartment building. Tries to lock it, but it doesn’t work, so she uses a fire extinguisher to barricade the door.
Heads to her flat, her apartment, asks for Kate. And we see that Kate is another woman who is sleeping in one of the rooms. She watches — Laura watches Kate sleep and then heads into the bathroom, turns on a bath, and begins combing her hair.
John: And that’s our three pages. I really like the tone of these three pages. I don’t know what’s happening in the story, and I’m not yet frustrated by my lack of understanding what’s happening in the story. But I like the world that J.E. has sort of framed for this.
I like the sense of like the industrial skyline and then pulling out that that’s a model. But then the actual real world outside is also kind of bleak and dark. I was intrigued by all that.
I don’t know much about our lead character at the end of these three pages other than she is nervous. And I can appreciate why she’s nervous because the world seems a little bit scary.
I was not concerned, but a little confused, like why is she the last person in this model building space. Has everyone already left? Is she the only person who works there? I think there were some opportunities to give me a little sign of why she’s leaving now, or why she’s staying late. Sort of what’s going on here, because I didn’t know if she was the only person, or if this was a larger space. So, I didn’t know if she was the boss or an employee. And that does kind of matter.
And I think we could have very easily gotten that information in these first few — even if we didn’t want to have any characters speaking, which I think is great, but just the sense that everyone else is packing up, or you see those other people leave and she has to be the last person to lock up could be great.
It felt like a horror movie set up kind of, in that you have this sense of dread. You have these noises. You have the ominous guy in front of the doorway. It was all well-handled. I didn’t know where it was taking me, but I would have read the next ten pages.
Craig: Yeah. I’m similar to you. I think I could have used a lot more funneling of me as I went through it, because it careens around in so many different ways between — you keep expecting, and it doesn’t do what you’re expecting, but nor does it particularly surprise you. So, you start to feel a distance. And I think it’s very — I think that J.E. has done a good job. This is a great of example of three pages that with some careful adjustment could be terrific.
First off, we begin with over black, “A woman’s voice. Low and ragged.” And the voice says, “Ajutati-ma…” Okay, that is some foreign language. That voice is not referenced again in the next three pages, which is challenging. It’s particularly challenging because as the reader, the first person I’m going to meet is someone named Laura Hayes. Well, she speaks English. And the second person I’m going to meet is Kate. Also speaks English.
So, the problem with starting with something that off the beaten path is that you need to at least acknowledge that it happened. Nothing acknowledges that that happened here. That’s tricky.
The transition from the skyline that appears to be real, and then we transition into the model, on the page is problematic. Because we’re seeing it for real, we believe it’s real. That means we’re shooting it for real, right? Then, we go INT. STUDIO — EVENING. “Suddenly, the very same scene becomes still and silent.” That’s not going to work. That’s not how the world works. It could dissolve into a model version of it, right?
John: Yeah. I was taking this that J.E. meant that literally you see this thing and you sort of assume, we hear the sounds of all this stuff, and then a hand comes in. And then we’re pulling out to see this. But that’s not how it’s described on the page. And I like my version better.
Craig: Well, yeah, I mean, look the problematic word then, if you’re correct, is churns, which I actually loved. I love that word, right, so I was so happy when I saw it. “A VAST INDUSTRIAL DISTRICT churns darkly against the sky.” So already in my mind I see smoke belching out and fires and something turning. And, you know, conveyor belts. That’s what churning is. There’s motion. But this model is — and it says, “We are no longer looking at the real skyline, but a MODEL version of it.” So, I do think I’m right, I just think that the transition isn’t correct.
So, you got to help us with that transition, because you can’t film it the way you’ve described it.
The bathroom scene, so I think, okay, this is science fiction. That’s what I feel like after a half a page. I’ve got fake language, and I’ve got a dystopian industrial district turning into a strange model with this woman building it. It seems science fiction-y.
Then she goes to the bathroom and has a Japanese horror movie scene. Which is a creepy noise in a bathroom and it turns out to be a misdirect. But, absolutely. At that point I’m like, oh no, no, no, this is a horror movie.
John: But I will say what I liked about the bathroom scene at the start, why I wanted more specificity and detail is that she shows her sort of like getting all the glue and paint off of her finger nails. I’m like, oh yeah, I can believe that, because that’s a thing that would happen. So it matches her to the job we just saw her doing. It feels connective.
But I agree with you that it doesn’t feel — the sounds that she’s hearing isn’t going to connect to the stuff we’re feeling later on in the story.
Craig: Precisely. And so here’s where a very simple thing like connecting a little piece from the prior scene to the bathroom scene will help me feel like it’s all one story, and not like we’ve begun a new movie, which is a horror movie. If the gurgling sound — she hears a gurgling sound for a moment while she’s making the model, and then it goes away. Huh. And then she’s in the bathroom. She’s washing her hands. And then the gurgling sound again.
Then I would think, okay, this is all part of the same movement. I also need to know, is this expected? Is it meaningful to her? Because right now she is staring at this gurgling sound intently. Now, either that means she’s scared by it, because it’s unfamiliar, or she’s concerned by it because it may be familiar. We don’t know. And she doesn’t tell us. Nor do you, J.E. And I kind of need to know. I kind of need to know.
When she heads outside, she now no longer seems concerned at all. She seems quite carefree. That’s what people are when they light cigarettes and put headphones on. And yet she is now walking through a wasteland. And then I thought, wasteland, do you mean actual wasteland? Or is that a figurative wasteland?
John: Yeah. And so, again, it’s one of those situations, like we don’t know whether we’re talking Mad Max, or we’re just talking like a bleak part of town.
Craig: Exactly. And so there’s an area where I need you to funnel me a little bit. Help me out. If it is, in fact, Mad Max, give me a little hint of Mad Max when she walks outside before she puts her headphones on. If it’s not, let me know that this is almost like a wasteland.
John: Yeah. I have a hunch that it’s not Mad Max, because Mad Max does not need model makers. There’s just not a job. Like what do you do? I build models in a Mad Max post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Craig: I agree.
John: So, wasteland is the bad word there. And so look for ways to describe bleak, but without sort of making it feel like there’s going to be crazed mad men running past.
Craig: Now, she’s heading home. She’s walking home now. Right? And she’s walking obviously where cars go, because a car speeds by and a drunken young man sticks his head out of the passenger window and snarls like an animal. Which makes me think, oh, maybe it is a little Mad Max-ish. She frowns. Hmm. Now, again, I’m not sure what is this world and what does she think of it?
Then we’re in a residential area and she’s getting off a bus. When did the bus happen? I thought she was walking home. See, this is all just — I’m getting discombobulated. She sees this disheveled hooded figure and she waits anxiously, clearly reluctant to engage with this person. Is that a monster? Is it a zombie? Is it a post-apocalyptic guy? Is it her boyfriend? Is it her dad?
John: It’s probably a creeper. Let’s go back to the road. So, you know, she’s walking along the road and then your concern is like now suddenly we’re on a bus. But if she walked to the bus stop. If we saw her at the bus stop and the guy goes past and does the face, and then she’s getting off a bus, then we’ve connected those two things.
John: Oh, I get it. She was walking to the bus stop. And now we’re here.
Craig: Exactly. All is forgiven. Yeah.
John: So, the general sort of macro note I want to give here, which goes all the way back to the very first “Ajutati-ma…” over black is you have this opportunity to build trust with your reader and with your audience. And that trust contract is basically if you give me your attention, I will make it worthwhile for you to have given me your attention. But you can only ask the audience to hold on to a certain number of things that aren’t being paid off until the audience goes like, “Okay, I give up. I don’t see how all of this is connecting. I’m backing away.”
And so being very mindful of the things you’re asking the audience to hold on to and not forget. And at the end of three pages, I’ve already forgotten about “Ajutati-ma…”
John: You have to make sure that you acknowledge that you’re asking the audience to hold onto that and you’re going to make it worthwhile for them. So, it means repeating it again, or finding some other way of rhyming back to that idea so that the audience knows like, oh that’s right, that’s a thing that I need to hold on to because it’s going to pay off.
Craig: Yeah. I guess my overriding note for J.E. is that the mysteries that you’ve built in here and the subtleties and the originalities are all potentially wonderful. And my advice is simply to recognize that we will identify very closely with Laura. And so we are — our comfort level will entirely be through her responses and reactions. Her responses and reactions don’t seem to calculate. They don’t feel consistent to me, or they’re not present. So, I don’t know how to feel, because I don’t know how she feels. So, it’s the circumstances and the weirdness of the world are less discombobulating to me than her lack of or inconsistent responses to it.
John: One hundred percent.
So, again, thank you to all three of these writers who were so brave to share their pages. If you have your own three pages you would like us to take a look at, the way to send them to us is go to johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out. And there is a form there that you sign a little thing and you click to attach a PDF. And it magically shows up in Stuart’s inbox so he can look at them and find your three pages for a future Three Page Challenge.
So, again, thank you to everybody who has sent them in, and especially to these three writers for letting us talk about them on the air.
Craig: Yeah. Thanks guys.
John: It is time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a simple infographic by David McCandless. It is on Information is Beautiful. And this is Common Mythconceptions. Like Myth — I’m not mispronouncing that. But they’re basically myths that are widely believed to be true and often spread by the Internet. Things like that dropped pennies will kill people.
Craig: I love that one. [laughs] This is great.
John: Salty water boils more quickly. Sugar is hyperactivity. Goldfish have a three-second memory. There are things that sometimes there’s a kernel of truth in there, but the general accepted truth to them is not actually true at all. And so you have to be mindful of these things. And some of them are completely unimportant, and some of them are actually sort of more important.
So, there is a list of about 40 of these and I thought it was a good thing worth sharing.
Craig: This is great. I’m really enjoying this. I’m just reading through these.
John: So, one example being we have five senses. And we think of the five senses, but of course we actually have a lot more. And we all know about proprioception which is the sense of where your limbs are in space. But you also have your balance. You have pain. You have hunger. You have thirst. And just because they’re not the same kinds of senses as sight or sound, they’re still incredibly important to us. So, getting past your preconceptions of what senses are is very important.
Craig: My One Cool Thing is Patrick Patterson. Who is Patrick Patterson, you ask — Patrick Patterson is a gentleman who let us know on Twitter, “Yesterday I donated my bone marrow and saved a life all because I heard about Be the Match from John August and Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes.”
John: Patrick Patterson, you are my favorite listener of the day.
Craig: I mean, of the day? Of my life.
John: That’s just remarkable.
Craig: We saved a life, theoretically. This podcast actually did something that I respect. [laughs]
John: I think it is remarkable. So, we’ve talked about Be the Match on several occasions. We have friends who have benefitted from its remarkable work. Bone marrow is one of those things that is so crucial to saving people’s lives and it’s not at all difficult to be tested for. Craig and I have both done it. We strongly encourage you to, also. So, we’ll have a link in the show notes for how you can sign up to Be the Match.
Craig: How great is that? Patrick, you’re awesome. And I don’t know if the person whose life you saved is aware that you are the one who saved it, but it would be great to hear from them, too. Just so that I could hear from the person whose life I saved. [laughs]
John: All the evil Craig has done in the world is wiped away by that one thing.
Craig: Sweet redemption!
John: By One Cool Thing.
John: Very nice. As always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Sam Comer. If you have an outro for us that you would like us to try, send it into email@example.com. Links are great. Or SoundCloud links. However you want to send it is fine.
That’s also a place where you can send questions like the ones we answered on the air today. On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. And while you’re there, leave us a comment. We meant to sort of read aloud some comments today, but we forgot. So, on a future episode we’ll read aloud some of your great reviews and comments. Thank you for doing that.
If you would like to send in three pages to the Three Page Challenge, there’s a link in the show notes for that. And we’ll be back next week.
Craig: See you later, guys.
John: Thanks much.