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 267 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today is going to be a very good episode, because Craig you know how sometimes it feels like we’re crushing people’s dreams and hopes?
Craig: I know. It’s so much fun.
John: I know. But today is all about possibilities. Today is about saying yes. Are you ready to say yes?
John: So, we’re going to be looking at four stories in the news and asking How Would this be a Movie. We’ll also be answering two listener questions about structure and adverbs, but first we got some answers from listeners.
Last week we asked you guys if any of you had managed to build a writing career while living outside of Los Angeles, New York, or London. And quite a few of you responded.
John: Yeah, so it was good.
Craig: It’s encouraging, actually. Perhaps these are the outliers, but then again as I like to say, we’re all outliers if we’re actually working as writers, right?
John: Exactly. On last week’s episode you said, you know, you don’t want to have a business plan where your plan is to be the exception to the rule. And we couldn’t think of a lot of writers who had started outside of Los Angeles. Who had like really gotten their careers going while they weren’t living in Los Angeles, or New York, or London.
Although the minute we wrapped the episode I thought back Ryan Knighton, who actually came in and met with us, and we had a whole episode about building a career while you’re not living in Los Angeles. He is a Vancouver writer. So, there certainly are cases where people have done that, and they do feel exceptional, but now we have I think four more people who have written in to say like how they got started outside of Los Angeles.
Craig: It’s interesting. Ryan Knighton is from Vancouver. Diablo Cody, who we mentioned in that episode, is I want to say Pacific North-westerner. Yeah? Is that right?
John: That sounds right. Sounds right.
Craig: So, at least they’re in the time zone, right. But here we have some people writing in who are not at all in our time zone.
John: Absolutely. So, let’s start with Angela Harvey from Atlanta. She wrote in and let’s hear what she had to say.
Angela Harvey: I heard you guys this week asking about people who became screenwriters from cities other than New York, London, or LA. And I got staffed as a TV writer out of Atlanta, so I thought I’d give you guys my story.
I was assisting a film producer in Atlanta and he ended up becoming the UPM on Season One of MTV’s Teen Wolf. So working the long hours on set in Atlanta, I got to know the showrunner pretty well. And my boss knew I wanted to be a writer, so he told the showrunner and slipped him a sample of my work. Then during Season Two, I came out to LA to be the writer’s assistant. And then later that year, the network wanted to do this online game where fans could log in and chat with the show characters. And that was a lot of non-union work, and none of the show writers wanted to take it on, so I did.
I spend my hiatus cranking out about 30 pages a week, mostly dialogue, but still was a lot of pages. Then, starting the next season, Season Three, I got staffed staff writer on that show. And now we’re writing 6V, which is going to be Teen Wolf’s last season. Now I’m co-producer level.
I got to LA in 2012 to start writing and signed with my agent and manager here about a year after that. And that’s my story. I think it was a perfect storm of being in the right place at the right time and working with the right people. And then also just working my ass off. And it was a long shot by all measures, but it happened for me in Atlanta. Thanks guys. Bye.
John: Well, congratulations, Angela. I am glad you are staffed as a writer and that you got started, but when I listened to her story I heard so many things that sounded so familiar to me. Which was that she was able to get a writer’s assistant job, and then move up to a staff writer. That she sort of made that one contact and sort of impressed the hell of them with how hard she worked in a slightly different job. And they said like you seem great, I’ll happily read something that you wrote.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s an interesting thing that she’s from Atlanta, because I suppose at this point we could almost put Atlanta in that boat with Vancouver for instance, where there’s a ton of production, because Georgia is one of the states that offers a top-notch tax rebate for film production. Film and television production. I think it’s pretty much the best deal in the Union at this point. Although, I know that some Georgians don’t like to consider themselves part of the Union. But, tough. North won the war.
Anyway, there is a ton of production in Georgia. And a lot of people down there are working quite regularly. Frankly, more regularly than below the line folks here in Los Angeles. So, that’s not surprising to me. And I agree with you that this story is often the same. People like someone. They like their work ethic. They like their attitude. They just like them. And they start to think, okay, well, what is it that you want to do? How can we make more out of you? Instead of you twisting their arm, they start pulling you because, frankly, good help is hard to find, as they say.
John: So, a couple months ago I interviewed Drew Goddard for the Writers Guild. And so you can find the bonus episode in the bonus feed. And talked about how he got started. And it was very much the same story as Angela. He was living in New Mexico. There was a production in New Mexico for like a TV movie. He got on the TV movie to just be a runner, a PA. And he just worked his ass off and impressed the people enough that they remembered him and they were able to get him more work down in the future.
So, his path was a lot longer than Angela’s in terms of getting paid to write, but it was really the same path.
And what Angela describes here could have easily happened in Los Angeles. She could have come out here, been a PA on a TV show or a movie, and just worked really hard. And someone said like, “Oh, I think you’re probably a smart, talented person. Yes, I’ll read your script.” And that could have been her first start.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, the benefit of a place like Atlanta is that it is a smaller pond, so there are fewer people to choose from. So, there’s a larger chance that you’re going to stand out. I mean, working for a line producer, you know, people may not know that a line producer isn’t really a creative producer, per se. A line producer is more of the physical production manager. They’re the person that’s handling budget, scheduling, payments. So, it’s not necessarily the way in for creative work, but what line producers can do is recognize that someone is creative and valuable and like the case here with Angela, help promote them.
So, excellent job, Angela. We’re glad to have you from Atlanta. We win. We take from Atlanta, yet again. Victory.
John: Yeah. So while Angela was happy to sort of leave Atlanta and come to Los Angeles where she wanted to work, our next caller did not do that. So this is Kirby Atkins. Right now he’s living in New Zealand. But this is what he had to say.
Kirby Atkins: Hi guys. I’ve had a strange screenwriting career and I’ve never lived in Los Angeles. I began as an animator at Lyca and moved on to a studio in Dallas. I directed the Jimmy Neutron show for Nickelodeon for a while. And during this time I sold a few specs to 20th Century Fox and Miramax, back when specs were still selling in the early 2000s.
After that, I had a pretty good career living in small town in Tennessee, in a house I bought for about $130,000. And writing. And I actually pulled that off for a few years. I even sold a thing to Robert De Niro’s production company. I did have to travel every now and then for meetings, but it was no big deal.
That career did run out after a bit, as the spec market dried up. And now I’m directing something I wrote, an animated feature with the Weinsteins being produced in New Zealand. So, we did sell the house in that little town in Tennessee and now we’re currently living in New Zealand making this movie.
But, I have never lived in Los Angeles. But I love the show. And thanks for getting in contact with me. Bye-bye.
John: Great. So that’s Kirby’s situation. Kirby is now shooting a movie in New Zealand. It feels like he has a specialty. Like he’s in the animation world, and a lot of animation is done outside of Los Angeles, New York, or London. There are places that specialize in doing a certain kind of animation, like Lyca, and that’s where he got started. And it seems like he’s not had to come to Los Angeles to do the stuff that he’s doing.
Craig: Well, it is true that there’s a ton of animation production overseas in Eastern Europe and in India and in China. And in Korea. But, when it comes to the writing of English language animation, that’s actually not that common overseas. It typically does start here in the United States. The big animation companies are here. Or sometimes a production company here in the United States will develop a screenplay and then go overseas to have it produced in France, or Canada, or India, or China.
But, this is interesting. I mean, oh, he’s working with the Weinsteins, so that’s cool. [laughs] good luck there in New Zealand.
John: Yeah, so Kirby’s start with Lyca reminds me of people who start at Pixar. And there are people who just start working as a tech at Pixar. They start working in a very specific area within Pixar and sometimes they have a good enough story sense that they are elevated to being writers or to being on the creative team. So that’s certainly a place you could start. But, you’re already at Pixar, so it’s not quite a fair comparison as starting from nothing. You’re starting at Pixar which is a very high place to begin.
We also got a letter from Jamie Nash in Maryland. He writes, “I’m a fulltime WGA APA-repped screenwriter who lives in Maryland and has never lived in LA. My credits aren’t exactly August/Mazin level, but I’ve been produced and able to make a living since 2008. I made my first dollars around 2005. I currently have a film about to be greenlit by Blumhouse and do a lot of work for Nickelodeon.”
So, here’s a guy who’s gotten some movies made. He’s working. He lives in Maryland. What we haven’t heard from Jamie is how often he’s coming to Los Angeles, how important are those in-person meetings. My hunch is he’s been out here a bunch to do that specific kind of work.
Craig: Yeah. This is rare. This is very specifically the rare circumstance. So you had Angela who was somewhere else and moved here. You have Kirby who is working in animation, which is scattered across the world. But this is traditional screenwriting. And this is rare.
And I’m thrilled that he’s making a living. And been doing so for quite some time now. Eight years at it, which is – for us in screenwriting years, that’s like 100 years. So, that’s terrific. And Blumhouse is a real company. They do big horror movies. Well, they’re small horror movies, but they make lots of money.
John: Very profitable horror movies.
Craig: Incredibly profitable. And he says that he does a bit of work for Nickelodeon, which is obviously a legitimate channel. Now, with Nickelodeon, that’s kind of a curious one, because it’s all television, and Nickelodeon jobs I think are exclusively episodic television gigs. So, I’m kind of curious how that works. And I’m also curious why he’s still there.
John: Yeah. We want more information from Jamie.
Craig: He doesn’t say. Yeah. I mean, it may be that Jamie has a family and they don’t want to leave, and he doesn’t want to leave, and I get that. I can’t help but feel that if you are working steadily for eight years, you could be working more steadily here. Just a gut feeling.
John: That may be true. Why don’t you read this next one? This is from Chris Sparling who now lives in Rhode Island.
Craig: Chris Sparling. That’s from Rhode Island. So, Chris Sparling writes, “Though I did live in Los Angeles for two years, it was way back while I was making a go as an actor. I had left college to do so, and ended up moving back to my home state of Rhode Island to finish school. It was also around this time that I started focusing more on writing than acting.
“Long story short, I stayed in Rhode Island, continued writing scripts, made a few no-budget projects, and then years later I finally found success with the script I wrote for Buried. Now, about eight years later, maintaining a career outside of LA has proven to be far easier than breaking in, thankfully. But it’s admittedly not without its drawbacks. For one, many of my pitches are done by phone or Skype, which makes for a lesser experience than physically being in the room.
“Secondly, there are very few if any people here who do what I do for a living, or work in the film/TV industry in any capacity for that matter, so I don’t have that watercooler coworker experience that LA-based writers and filmmakers have. The latter might seem somewhat trivial, but believe me when I say it does matter.”
John: Great. So, here’s Chris. He’s working pretty steadily. He’s living on the East Coast, so it’s definitely possible. I loved Buried. I thought it was a great movie. And he has a new movie that’s out right now called The Sea of Trees with Gus Van Sant, so this is a guy who is maintaining a career.
John: It feels that he’s honest about the challenges that it presents. He’s having to come out to do some stuff. He’s having to do Skype things. I’ve been on panels with him, so he is coming out here sometimes to do that kind of panel stuff, or maybe it was coincidental to when he’s out here. But that’s also part of the job of being a screenwriter is just being there in person sometimes.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, so here’s a very legitimate screenwriter, not working in television, which I think is a help, obviously, because you and I are primarily feature writers. We may live in LA – well, you’re in France now – but normally we’re both living in LA. But 90% of the time we’re living in LA we’re alone. We could be anywhere. We could be on the moon, right.
Television, not so simple. So, Chris, at least the angle that Chris is taking on – and has taken so far with great success in the movie business allows him to be on his own in Rhode Island. But, I really took notice of his point and felt for him when he talked about that lack of the watercooler coworker experience. The funny thing is, years ago when you and I were starting out, even if we were all in the same town, there still wasn’t that much of coworker/watercooler experience. Because, again, we would just go back to our corners and write as feature writers.
But, as the Internet came about, we became far more connected as a group. And I’m happy to say I have dozens of friends who do the job that you and I do. And it matters. It does matter. It matters to be able to show them work and to ask them for advice. And to just go and have a drink with them. Or play Dungeons & Dragons. And feel like you are part of a community, even though you do spend most of your time alone. So, I feel for him. And open invitation to Chris Sparling, whenever he’s in from Rhode Island – Providence, or wherever – to come hang with us. Have a glass of wine and chill out.
John: And, Craig, I think you deserve some credit for how many screenwriters I know and how many screenwriters other screenwriters know, because you’ve been very good at sort of connecting us together. I had my site, you had your site, but we also just sort of got together a lot more. And I remember during the strike, the 2008 strike, that was the first time I really put faces with names for a lot of these people.
Like the strike overall I thought was a pretty big boondoggle, but one of the things I really got out of it was the chance to meet a bunch of writers. Like Jane Espenson, who I saw her name, I saw her on Twitter, but I never actually met her. Then you meet her and like, well, she’s delightful. And every day out on the picket lines I was meeting all these people and really getting a chance to connect with them. So when I would see them later on, or I’d see them at the grocery story, or I’d see them on panels, I really knew who they were.
The other thing which has been so helpful for me was the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, is that as an adviser there I’m getting to meet some of these other really great writers. And a chance to talk with them about the actual craft. And that’s what Chris is missing right now in Rhode Island.
Craig: Rhode Island.
John: All right. Let’s do one from not the US. This is Pete Bridges who wrote in from Brisbane, Australia. And here’s what he had to say.
Pete Bridges: I wanted to let you know that it is possible to work for Hollywood without living in Hollywood. Late last year, I optioned my first spec script to Broken Road Productions which landed me a great manager at Madhouse and two great agents at Verve, as well as a spot on the 2015 Black List with a video introduction by the great John August himself. And this past July we have also just sold and set up another spec at DreamWorks, so so far it hasn’t impacted job opportunities and I get sent a lot of materials and invitations to pitch on different projects.
To make it all work, I fly over to LA every few months to do a week of meetings and the in-between periods are all handled over email and phone. I do the occasional general meeting over the phone if it’s important, but most people seem happy to wait until I’m in town to sit down and talk properly.
If I’m pitching on an assignment, I will usually submit my take by email and then we setup a call and discuss it later. The time difference is the biggest hassle and I sometimes have to set an alarm for 3AM to take a call. But mostly the assistants are pretty great about lining up a time that suits everybody.
Ultimately, I’m looking to move my family to LA as soon as possible, but it is a lot more difficult for us than loading up a truck and driving across a few states to California. My advice for others in my situation: you do not need to live in LA to break into the business, but you need to work much harder to do it and at least have the willingness to move there once you do.
If you’re going to cold query, don’t mention where you live. Setup your email program to send out your queries during LA business hours. Let you work stand on its own until they like it and then break the bad news to them. Be prepared to fly to LA every two or three months to do general meetings and build up your relationships. Calls and emails are great, but nothing beats sitting down with the people who may be looking to hire you on something. In between trips, always be generating spec material that your reps can send out to keep your name and work in people’s minds when you’re not there.
And if you can move to LA, move to LA. Until then, be prepared to work much harder, sleep way less, and travel further than everyone else.
John: Great. So, here’s a situation where he is thinking like he’s happy to be working, but he’s also thinking I need to move to Los Angeles. That’s what his next step is for him.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, there’s no doubt. Look, it’s hard to fly from Australia to Los Angeles and vice versa. Having done a similar flight from LA to Bangkok a couple of times, four times, it’s no good. It’s no good. It’s not something you want to do frequently. He’s doing this every three or four months. Three to four times a year. Not only do you have the stress and expense of flying, and all the jetlag and the rest of it, but then you’ve got to do this thing where you jam everything in. And so everything is high stakes.
It’s just a mess. And I love that he was able to get started from Australia, which does have its own very significant film and television base. But, yeah, I mean, look, he sold a spec recently to Amblin. He’s gotten a spot on the Black List. He – it’s time. It’s time.
John: Yeah. It’s time.
Craig: Listen, here’s the thing. Pete, the hard words, you know, when I listened to what you’re saying, the hard words are relocate my family. And I think we all get how difficult that is. You and I are friends with Chris Miller and Phil Lord. And Chris has a wife and kids and Phil and Chris are off in England now making the Han Solo movie. And that’s a relocate, you know, just like you’ve done it. And I’m sure you can say as well as anybody it’s tough to relocate your family.
John: One way to think about it though is what if you got picked to be a NASA astronaut? Well, you’d move to Florida and you’d just do that. And that would be like of course you would do that. And I think if you have the opportunity to pursue screenwriting, and that’s your ambition, and you have the chance to move to Los Angeles, there’s probably good reasons to do that.
And it’s sort of the career you sign on for. So I can see why a lot of people would want to do it. But I can also see why it’s challenging to be thinking about that at the very start of your career.
On Twitter this last week, a couple people wrote in sort of challenging us on what do you really mean by establish a writing career. Do you mean getting your first sale? Do you mean working continuously? What do we mean?
And I think you and I both came to the point of like being able to make a living as screenwriter or television writer.
John: Previous episodes we’ve talked about the myth of breaking in, as if there’s this giant wall and once you scale over the wall, then you’re inside the inner circle. That’s not really true. It’s the ability to work continuously is sort of the goal of a screenwriting career. And that’s a much more challenging thing to do outside of Los Angeles than inside Los Angeles. And I think the people who wrote in so far have really said that to be true. That there’s additional challenges that you wouldn’t think of when you’re trying to get all this happening while you’re not living in town.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a rough one. I mean, part of being a steadily working writer is not only being able to support yourself, or the people that rely on you, but having a reasonable expectation that you will be able to continue to do so for at least quite some time. And I love your NASA analogy in the sense that the odds are similar, right, of becoming an astronaut or becoming a screenwriter.
The big difference I suppose, other than the fact that astronauts are cooler and go into space, is that it’s rare for an astronaut to be accepted into the astronaut program, move to Florida, go through the training, and then have someone say, “Oh, you know what? Yeah, we’re actually not going to space. But thank you.” Which happens all the time in writing.
John: Yeah. We decided not to build that rocket, which is basically a screenwriter’s career.
Craig: Oh, sorry. You know what? We went with a more experienced astronaut this time. Yeah. Sorry.
John: So, if you are a listener to this program and you have your own story of how you got your career started, and are hopefully maintaining a career in writing film or television outside of Los Angeles, keep writing in. So, keep writing in to email@example.com. And if there’s some interesting stories to share, I’ll just post them on johnaugust.com. So, we can see your text there and we won’t have everyone read aloud. But thank you everyone who wrote in. And thank you for continuing to write in and telling us how you are doing it.
So, let’s get to some questions. People can ask us stuff. And so we have two questions today. Both of them have audio. The first one is from Nicholas Salazar who wrote in with a question about adverbs. Let’s take a listen.
Nicholas Salazar: In the last episode, Episode 265, Craig used, “Oddly, John doesn’t react,” in giving an example of an action line. It’s been drilled into my head by both English professors and screenwriting professors that adverbs are lazy writing and the work of the devil and must be eliminated from anything I write. How do you guys feel about adverbs? Thanks?
John: Craig, how do you feel about adverbs?
Craig: Well, you might think that I would rear up in high dungeon and extreme umbrage at this, but I don’t. Look, it’s unfortunate that some pedants take this too far and say things like, “Adverbs are lazy writing and the work of the devil and must be eliminated from anything you write.” That is not true. However, adverbs should be used with restraint. So, in a case like, “Oddly, John doesn’t react,” I’m okay with that. I like a nice introductory adverbial clause. That’s fine.
It’s when you start throwing them in junkily, when they could easily be removed. If I remove the word oddly from that sentence, it’s no good. It doesn’t work. The whole point is that it’s odd that you’re not reacting. But, yeah, it’s not a bad idea to go on adverb patrol, particularly L-Y adverbs. Because generally speaking they are a little junky.
John: Yeah. I’m on your side here. I think the reason why professors and screenwriting teachers tell you to avoid adverbs is that they’ve seen so many bad uses of adverbs. The high school English teacher probably read a bunch of essays where it was just jam-packed with adverbs to sort of pad it out. Or, adverbs are used as a lazy way of modifying an adjective around it, rather than just actually picking a better adjective. So, you know, “He felt very bad.” Like you know, there’s so many more specific choices you could have instead of just modifying bad with a very.
So, I get where it’s coming from, but I think a blanket prohibition on adverbs is really taking it too far. If you’re using an adverb, I would say take a look at it and see if this is really the best choice of how I should be expressing this idea, how I should be emphasizing this idea. And see if you can find a better one. But sometimes, I think in the case of “Oddly, John doesn’t react,” that’s just the right way to do it. And anymore words you try to throw at that are not going to be helpful to you.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s a really easy test, too, to just say, okay, if I take the adverb out, does this still work? The typical junky adverb use you’ll see is someone saying, “Jim ran quickly to the bus stop. Panting heavily, he got on the bus.” We don’t need quickly and we don’t need heavily. “He ran to the bus stop. Panting, he got on the bus.” That tells us everything.
So, a lot of times it’s just a repetitive or redundant sense of things. And especially when you have L-Ys directly modifying action verbs, like right next them. That’s where it feels sort of middle school. You know? I don’t how else to put it.
Of course, the other problem with these people is that they’ll say things like, “Don’t use adverbs,” but there are all sorts of words that we don’t know are adverbs.
Craig: You know. Like how. So I don’t know if–
John: Or, like the well in well done. So many things are sort of invisible. We only think of the L-Y adverbs and there are so many more that are important.
Craig: Yeah. So the blanket prohibition on adverbs completely does not work. I mean, journalism would stop. But, yeah, I get it, Nicholas. Don’t go crazy with this. But, yeah, reasonable concern.
John: Great. Our last question is from Daniel Lewis who is writing in about structure. Let’s take a listen.
Daniel Lewis: Hi guys. I really love Craig’s explanation of screenwriting guru books. I think it’s in the vein of these are demolition experts telling you how to build a house. But I can never seem to shake the tendency of following prescribed beats when mapping out a story. For instance, X happens on page 20. Y happens on page 45, etc.
In the beginning of a screenplay and eventual movie, how much time do I have to grab the audience’s attention? The knock on the door beat that supposedly happens around page five, how accurate is that benchmark?
If my writing is strong and engaging, can I push it until page 10 or 15 for the first sign of a big plot catalyst? I assume the answer is yes, but wanted to get your opinions on audience attention span in general. Thanks.
John: So, Craig, I think I’ve heard this term “knock on the door,” but it feels so screenwriter bookie to me.
Craig: I know. And, look, it’s not like these things are wrong, right? It’s not like heroes aren’t called to action. It’s not like there aren’t knocks on the door occasionally. They are using the most reductive forms of these things. And I think what Daniel is getting at is the issue underneath them, which is a great thing, by the way, Daniel. I mean, you’re asking the right question, which isn’t should I be doing these paint-by-numbers things, rather why is everyone saying that? Okay, if they’re demolition experts, at least they’ve noticed that this is how buildings were built why they were building them up. Why is that way? And how much time do I have to grab the audience’s attention?
And my response to you, Daniel, is I don’t know. Because I think you never have any time to grab the audience’s attention. You should be always grabbing their attention. They will begin to squirm at some point if they feel like things aren’t going anywhere, but along the way until that thing happens, whatever that thing is, you should be engaging them and interesting them.
I don’t know when the door knock comes in The Godfather in terms of elapsed time, but I doubt it’s five minutes in. I know that movie pretty well. That’s a long wedding.
John: So, I would say my frustration sometimes about this like, oh, we have to get stuff started faster is it’s absolutely true that you want to get the audience engaged. The audience needs to be leaning forward, really looking forward to seeing what’s happening next. You need to get them like hooked on sort of what the world of your movie is. But that’s not necessarily the same thing as like starting all the engines of your plot.
And so often I’ll see in the development process there’s this pressure to like, “Oh, we got to get the story started faster,” by people who know where the story is going. They’re saying like, oh, well let’s get rid of this first stuff and get the actual A-plot going faster. And that’s often a mistake.
The most crucial thing is that we are onboard with your characters and the world that they’re in. And so if they don’t know the specific thing about the actual A-plot yet, that can be fine. So, going to your Godfather, you know, the actual A-plot of that story may not be kicking in right at the very start, but we’re completely fascinated and intrigued by all of the world and the characters we’re meeting in those first 10 minutes. And that’s what’s really crucial.
We know the kind of movie that we’re getting in that first 10 minutes, even if we don’t know the specific plot that we’re going to be seeing.
Craig: For sure. That is the joy of a movie that is operating on its own terms, with confidence. And if you don’t like it, and it’s boring to you, beat it. But The Godfather, the door knocking is Sollozzo showing up to ask about getting the Corleone family to help him sell drugs. That doesn’t happen until after the whole wedding sequence and after the bit where what’s his face, Tom, has to go out to Los Angeles to meet with Waltz and try and get Johnny Fontaine the movie, and the horse head. All of that stuff happens before the “door knocks.”
So, I’m with you. Look, I have said this so many times and it doesn’t matter, because it’s not changing anything. But I’ll keep saying it. They’ve got it – they meaning the people that make you speed up in the beginning – they’ve got it totally backwards.
When I go to see a movie, and I believe most people are like this, we are open and engaged and full of faith in the start. Okay, I’m going to go on a ride with you. I’m here, hoping it’s good. So I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt for a while. I’m with you now. I’m patient. It’s the beginning.
Where I think things tend to go on and on, and I wish they would speed up, is in the end. When the modern studio method often is speed up in the beginning, get it going so we barely know who people are, and then drag the third out to be 14 set pieces all piled on top of each other. It’s so boring.
So, maybe I’m the wrong person to ask this, but I think take your time, don’t worry about hitting some number. If you’re in it, and you’re engaged, and you’re fascinated, some movies have legitimate prologues to them. They do. And it’s totally fine. Totally.
John: I agree. Cool. All right, let’s get to our main feature for today, which is How Would this be a Movie. So this is the segment which we were supposed to do last week, but we ran out of time. So, we’ve had more time to look at these four stories that were in the news. All of these were submitted by listeners. And so I think actually one of them is by Craig, but Craig sometimes listens to the podcast.
John: Let’s start out with Florence Nightingale and the Woman in Disguise. So this is the true story of Dr. James Barry, pioneering Army doctor who made many crucial reforms. Told off Florence Nightingale. Performed the first successful Cesarean Section. And was secretly a woman in disguise.
Craig: Great. So great.
John: Craig, what kind of movie would this be?
Craig: Well, this feels like it has to be the mood, right. There’s no way to do some side movie about this. You want to just go at it and do it as the movie. You want to do it as an examination of what it’s like to be a woman in the 19th Century, working in a field that is barely – barely civilized at this point. I mean, we’re talking like they had just figured out to wash before chopping legs off. And she is better than everyone and isn’t allowed to practice. And so she becomes a man.
And obviously there’s – it’s a modern story because we are only now really wrapping our minds around the fluidity of gender. And there’s this also like a really interesting twist to this story where Dr. Barry, whose real name was Margaret Ann Bulkley, Dr. Barry spent almost all of his life living with a black man who was her – I guess her assistant, her servant. Not her slave. Man-servant. Wasn’t a slave.
And this guy lived with her for 50 years and there’s this beautiful detail where every morning he would lay out six small towels which she would use to hide her curves and broaden her shoulders. So he was part of her thing completely. And there’s this wonderful combination of two characters who are living lives that are repressed and tightened down by the outside world, helping each other in the strangest way. But she had no – it did not appear to be a romantic relationship. In fact, Dr. Barry had a reputation as a ladies man. Not sure if she was gay, or if this was just a cover. It’s hard to tell. But, I think overall what I found so fascinating about this beyond the – I guess you’d call it the more prurient aspects – is that Dr. James Barry seemed like a real hard-ass.
Like, you know, I love – I think this is the greatest bit in a weird way, is that Florence Nightingale, the symbol of women in medicine, he was just disgusted by her. [laughs] Told her to beat it. Just like everything we know about grouchy jerk doctors. Yeah, you know what? Margaret Ann Bulkley, AKA Dr. James Barry, she got to be as jerky as she wanted. She did the first Cesarean ever. So, I would just tell this one straight up. And I would probably concentrate on her relationship with her servant, John.
John: The other relationship I thought was fascinating was her mother. And so her mother was around during at least the starting part of this, her going to medical school, and was clearly complicit in this whole act about this was not her daughter, but the son. That is a fascinating dynamic, too. So, what is going through the mom’s head as her daughter is doing all this stuff?
You’re also right to point out that even though this is a biopic set in a specific time, it’s a modern movie. And you cannot make this movie without addressing the modern dynamics of what we think about what she’s doing in this time.
So, if you made this movie 20 years ago, it could be sort of a crossdressing thing. But I think you couldn’t do this movie now without looking at like what are the real gender identity issues here. And we have to sort of put a modern label on whatever she’s doing. And you’re going to have to make the decision as a screenwriter how you’re going to portray that. Because you can’t just be ambiguous. You have to really make a decision about like does she perceive herself as a woman or as a man.
Does she perceive herself as something else? What is really driving her? And we have all these fascinating details, but it’s going to be the writer’s job to figure out why are those details there. Like what is actually going on inside her head that is making her make these choices?
Craig: Yeah. I agree. And I think that there’s something – hopefully you find, okay, the circumstances that connect you to now, to audiences now, and I think in this case it’s pretty clear what those are. But then there are the other things you’re looking for, which are the circumstances that connect you to a general human condition that has always been true. Something universal over all times, for all people.
And in this case, the thing that I read in this article that I thought might have been a hint to that, and I sort of touched on it earlier, is Florence Nightingale’s description of Dr. Barry as “the most hardened creature I ever met throughout the Army.” And there is something about the cost of hardening yourself so that you are not revealed.
And that is really interesting to me. And I would love to see what that cost might have been for Dr. Barry. And why she got so hard. And I think that’s an interesting – you know, there are people who refuse to let the world beat them. She certainly seemed like that person. I’m not going to let the world beat me. I’m going to become Dr. James Barry. I am a male doctor and I will not be pushed around. And no one is going to get in my way.
But then there is a cost. And so that’s fascinating to me. So, this actually is a movie. I think somebody should and could do this. There is a new biography of her called, or him, depending, Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time, written by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield. And it is available for £18.99. And I would be surprised if somebody didn’t – if somebody hasn’t already optioned the rights to this.
John: Yeah. There’s an actress chopping at the bit to play that part.
John: So, we’ll have a link to this in the show notes. This article we read was by Joseph Curtis who is writing for Mail Online.
Our next story is called The Perfect Mom. It was submitted by Brett Thomas in Sacramento. It tells the story of Gypsy, a girl with a litany of debilitating diseases, who grows up loved and cared for by her devoted mother, Dee Dee. Their relationship is admired by all their neighbors until one night a mysterious Facebook post unravels a tale of murder and deceit. The mother and daughter faked the girl’s illnesses for 20 years. The mother seemed to be imposing symptoms of muscular dystrophy and other diseases on the child.
Gypsy’s only escape was to contact her online boyfriend and convince him to help her murder her mother and disappear into rural Wisconsin. The two are eventually captured and tried for murder in the first degree. And, man, this story has everything.
Craig: [laughs] It’s got everything. Yeah. It’s got everything except the thing that I kind of want the most, where I was struggling to find the right way in here. I was struggling to find that thing that would illuminate something else.
This is a real thing, obviously Munchausen by proxy. And it’s a tragic thing. And the woman who was doing this to her daughter was a bad person. She didn’t deserve to be murdered, but she was bad. She was doing a terrible thing. Her daughter clearly was abused mentally and emotionally and perhaps her mental health was significantly impaired. She hooks up with this guy. He seems like a real winner, too. He commits this murder.
And that’s how it ends. And no one is really – who do I root for here? And what do I want to happen? I don’t even feel a sense of justice, frankly, that they’re caught and go to jail. I feel nothing except a general nihilistic – this is a true crime and it could be a great episode of a series in that sense, but as a movie it feels too nihilistic, I guess.
John: I agree with you. So, the challenge of a movie is that you want to have a main character you can follow. And so would either one of these be the main character you follow? Oh, that’s tough. Because if you follow it from Gypsy’s point of view, then you’re in on the ruse, so you sort of know that she’s not actually as sick as she thinks. Unless you were really changing things and she really believes she’s as sick as her mother makes her sort of state. And maybe over the course of the story you’re discovering with her that she’s actually not so sick.
You could do it from Dee Dee’s point of view, but that’s sort of an odd thing, too. Like, when you have your central character being this very dark force, it’s a challenging thing. Talented Mr. Ripley does that. And it’s great. So, maybe it’s the maternal Talented Mr. Ripley, in a way. But it’s a very challenging way into a story.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, Ripley, there’s a reason that that first Ripley novel has been made twice now, and I think they’re contemplating making it a third time, whereas many of the subsequent Ripley novels haven’t because there is something about a sociopath discovering his sociopathy and beginning on a journey that ends in tears and drama that’s interesting. This is not that.
This is basically the deal. This has been going on forever. There’s no other way to do it. You can’t start with a little kid. And just, yeah, I feel like it is a cool side show episode for something, but…
John: Yeah. So I think there is a Lifetime movie to be made about this. And I think the way you get into the Lifetime movie is like it’s one of the neighbors who starts to suspect something and sort of starts to unravel this. And so it’s Dee Dee versus this neighbor who is starting to pull the threads and have everything come apart. That’s a way in. But that’s not really a feature movie. That very much feels like a seven-act Lifetime made-for-television movie.
And there’s nothing wrong with those, but that’s not sort of the big marquee movie we’re dealing with here.
Craig: Yeah. And even in the Lifetime version, the neighbor would be the hero, you know.
John: Completely. And so the other option you have is if it is just an episode of a standard TV show, then it’s a little bit more straightforward because then you have – your heroes are already established. They are the heroes of every episode. And they’re coming in to investigate this thing. So, if it is the equivalent of a Law & Order or a Chicago P.D., they’re coming into this thing with one set of assumptions and there are new things being revealed each time that you go through it.
John: That’s much more straightforward.
Craig: Yeah. And that’s fun. Because – I mean, fun in a sick way. You begin to suspect, you know, around right before the second commercial break, or however they divide these things up, that wait a second, she’s not sick at all. Dum, dum, dum, commercials. And so that works, because you know you’re going to be able to wrap it up, send the bad person to jail, or figure out that she was the one that murdered her own mother. And you wrap it up and then two lawyers sit in a room going, “Wow. Life’s crazy, right?” [laughs] And that’s kind of how those shows work, right? Basically, right?
That’s how those shows work. So, yes, good fodder for a procedural, not a feature.
John: So, we’ll put a link to think story. It’s written by Michelle Dean for BuzzFeed.
All right, our next one comes from Rachael Speal, who wrote in with a story of an amateur sleuth. Craig, why don’t you talk us through this?
Craig: So, like a real life Nancy Drew case here. It’s kind of great. There’s this 12-year-old girl named Jessica Maple, which I must say is a great movie name. Jessica Maple.
John: It’s a great movie name.
Craig: So Jessica Maple, also a denizen of Atlanta, she went to a camp called Junior District Attorney Camp, sponsored by the Fulton County DA Office. And at that camp she learned how to be a detective. You know, and you can imagine how cute that is. You know, it’s like a camp for middle schoolers to learn basic detective stuff.
And then lo and behold, someone broke in and ransacked her great-grandmother’s home. And the police, you know, did a little swing by and said, “Well, whoever robbed the home must have entered with a key because large items were stolen and there’s no sign of forced entry.”
But, our junior sleuth, Jessica Maple, 12 years old, knew something wasn’t right, because the only people that had keys were her parents, and they wouldn’t rip off her great-grandmother. So, she investigated the scene and found in fact that on the side of the house of the garage the windows were broken, fingerprints by the glass. And lo and behold she went to the pawn shop down the street, as she had learned to do at camp, and found all of her grandmother’s stuff at the pawn shop.
And that’s how they actually found the guys that did it. So, Jessica Maple, Sleuth.
John: She is a preteen sleuth. You got about ten pages of movie there. You got like a premise. So, here’s the thing: she’s an interesting character, and an interesting sort of setup in a world, but there’s nothing else around that. That can’t sustain a movie just by itself. There’s not a through line there. There’s not a big thing to have happen.
So, if she is a center piece character in this, it feels that this is a thing that’s happening by page 15, or through all this, and then she’s on to some sort of like really grizzly murder. Or something goes way beyond, because you have to be able to sort of push beyond the like, oh, she found her grandmother’s stuff. That’s not enough.
Craig: [laughs] High stakes. Because, you know, great-grandmother needs her TV for the remaining four months of her life. You know, the biggest problem I think here is that we have seen the teen sleuth or the child sleuth in every permutation possible, once a month, for the last 40 years, minimum. It’s just a standard. Take a kid and turn them into a cop or a detective. It’s been done a billion times.
And usually they’ll throw some other twist on to it, just to make it a little more interesting. You know, oh, now he’s a spy or whatever. There’s no oil left in this ground. It is a dry well, I’m afraid.
John: Yeah. Craig, at any point did you pitch on Encyclopedia Brown? Did that ever enter your world?
Craig: It did. And I’ll tell you how. And it was the coolest and yet worst thing. It’s actually a great and sad story about my life.
So, one day Scott Frank calls me up and he says, and this is many years ago, Harold Ramis was still alive. And he said, “I was talking to Harold Ramis about you and he got very excited because he has something that he thinks you would be great for and he wants to talk to you about it.” And I just levitated. I mean, Harold Ramis, for god’s sakes. You know, I mean, just the greatest thing.
And Harold Ramis called me. And I spoke with him on the phone. And he said, “How would you like to write Encyclopedia Brown?” And I didn’t.
John: You didn’t?
Craig: I didn’t. I did not want to write it. And the thing is if he had said, “I’m going to be directing Encyclopedia Brown,” I would have said I’m in. But he’s like, “Yeah, I’m producing it. But we’re going to find a director somehow.” And I could tell it was like, oh yeah, I got this thing in my pile of stuff. Encyclopedia Brown. And I just thought, no.
Craig: And I was an Encyclopedia Brown fan and everything, but it’s just, you know, well, you know, obviously, I mean, look at the last thing I just wrote with these sheep. I’m an Agatha Christie kind of a guy. I’m less of a Hardy Boys/ Encyclopedia Brown guy.
John: So, what is Encyclopedia Brown’s real first name?
John: It is Leroy. And so that was always my premise for the pitch is that he’s Detective Leroy Brown. Detective Leroy Brown does not sound like a 12-year-old white kid in Florida. It sounds like Sam Jackson. And so my pitch for it was always that it was a sort of mistaken identity thing where they thought they were hiring Sam Jackson detective, but they got the little boy detective. And so like the Sam Jackson character and he have to team up to solve this thing. Which I thought would have been fun.
Craig: Yeah. That would have been – but, I’d like to note, you are running away as fast as you can from what Encyclopedia Brown actually is.
John: I think you have to do all the normal stuff with Bugs Meany, and Sally, and all that stuff. That has to be playing in one thing, but also it gets incredibly Michael Mann level of car chases and violence simultaneously.
Craig: But then like inevitably Bugs Meany goes to prison because, you know, he said that he was in the treehouse eating cherries all afternoon.
John: Yes. But where were the pits?
Craig: Where were the pits? Bugs Meany needed a lawyer desperately, because any time he got busted all he would have to say is, “You know, I talked to my attorney. I don’t really think the Where Are the Pits is going to hold up in court, Pal.”
John: Yeah. Probably not. But then again, like, Encyclopedia Brown was being paid a quarter, so the dollar stakes were not especially high.
Craig: [laughs] And how embarrassing for his dad. Embarrassing bordering on humiliating. His father was the Chief of Police.
Craig: Routinely could not solve even the simplest of crimes, but Encyclopedia Brown would always solve it before dessert.
John: Is there an equivalent term for like cuckolding there? Which is basically like humiliating your father? [laughs]
Craig: Yeah. It’s kid-culking. Cuck-kilding. Cuck-kidding. It’s Cuck-kidding.
John: All right. So, back to Jessica Maple. We’ll have a link in the show notes for this story. This was from ABC News. It’s really just the slightest little whiff. So, there’s an idea about a character here, but there’s nothing to buy. There’s nothing to make obviously.
Craig: I mean, but good for the real Jessica Maple, though.
John: Great name. You can take the name Jessica Maple. It’s fine.
John: All right. Our last one, oh, is a doozy.
Craig: Now, I have to say, the little preface here. I was talking to my television agent today. She mentioned this thing. She didn’t know that we were doing this. I believe that she is one of the agents at CAA that is representing this currently. So, they’re going out to the town with this one. And she actually said, you know, would you—
And I’m like, no. But, it’s tempting. [laughs] It’s tempting.
John: So, what we’re talking about which is so good is by Christopher Goffard. It’s a six-part series in the LA Times spaced out over the course of a couple weeks of this story. But it very much felt like to me like a big Vanity Fair piece, because it very much had that sort of like peeling back layers.
It’s the story of this Kelli Peters, a mom in Irvine, California. She’s the PTA president. She gets arrested for drug possession. She denies the charge, claimed she got framed. But who could have done this to her? It turns out it was Kent and Jill Easter. They blamed Peters for an incident involving their son at school. And the couple continued to connive. They tried to get her fired. They planted the drugs. They covered things up. And it was just kind of amazing.
So, the story tracks the trial basically and the investigation onto why the Easters did this and sort of how they did this. And, Craig, how would this be a movie?
Craig: Oh, boy. I mean, so, it’s not a movie. It’s a television show, I think. I think it has to be a series, just like this article is a series. Because the unfolding is where the deliciousness is. The resolution itself is forgone. So, the only – you know, once you realize, once the police realize this lady is the first lady in history who is actually telling the truth when she says people planted – those aren’t my drugs – she’s the first one who told the truth in history. And once they realize that, you have to know already that these other two are involved.
In fact, you want to know. You want the audience to see them squirming and conniving. You want to be part of their squirming and conniving, because that’s where the fun is. For instance, the Mrs. Easter – god, what great names, by the way. They’re just like giving us great names. Mrs. Easter is having an affair, so I want to see that, too. Not only is she getting her husband to plant drugs in this woman’s car and fake calls to 911 using like a weird Indian accent, kind of, but she’s also berating her side piece for not being supportive enough of her when the police come after her. She’s incredible.
So, you want to be involved in all of that. You can’t wait for it to just all fall apart in the third act. It’s got to be like a six-parter, right?
John: I think so. One of the things I enjoyed so much about this piece as presented on the Times website is they have the actual audio of a lot of stuff, so they have like the police interviewing him and other little small calls. And so you actually – it’s one thing to see the transcript, but to actually hear it in their voices. Like, oh man, these people are just not making good choices. Bad choices all around.
So, I agree with you that we have to be able to see sort of behind the curtain and see what the Easters are doing. And they are the fascinating characters. You’re like, Kelli Peters, she’s great. I have nothing bad to say about Kelli Peters, but the fascinating thing is Kent and Jill and sort of what their real dynamic is.
And even at the end of this six-part series we don’t really know what was kind of happening in those conversations about when they were deciding to plant the drugs. We don’t know why he stayed. We don’t know if he was really behind things. If she was behind the things. The most fascinating dynamic to me, though, is that they’re both lawyers and the investigation was so hampered by their both being lawyers, because they had attorney-client privilege, which made it very hard to go through all their emails to find stuff.
John: They had spousal privilege about testifying against each other. So, it became this whole game about sort of how you get them to testify. So, there were a lot of really great things, but I feel like they are series things, rather than movie things.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. There is a difficult thing at the center here that would have to really be thought through carefully. And it’s not evident in this article yet. And maybe it’s the most fascinating thing, I suppose, that Jill Easter – and it seems like it was her problem initially – Jill Easter, the thing that makes her so upset, and it wasn’t like there was a history of a problem with this other woman, Kelly. It’s just one day her kid wasn’t out in front from the tennis court where he was getting a tennis afterschool lesson or something. And then the Kelli lady went and got the kid. Oh, yeah, like for three minutes he was kind of unattended on the tennis court. Which is just not that big of a deal.
And just so people understand, this whole story takes place in Irvine. So, when my son was playing–
John: The setting is so crucial.
Craig: It’s crucial. So, my son was playing tournament baseball for a while, and every Memorial Day we’d have to go to Irvine for this massive baseball tournament. Irvine is the most – I don’t know how you describe. It’s like a computer made a nice city. You know? Right?
I mean, the streets are impossibly wide in Irvine. It’s like every street is 12 lanes wide, and there’s no dirt anywhere. So, your kid being alone for three minutes on a tennis court is not the end of the world, and even if it were like you’d talk it out and she’d apologize and that’s that.
But this little thing sends this woman and then by extension her husband into a mania that is just unwarranted even by the merits of crazy people. And that’s the part that really concerns me about the adaptation of this story. I don’t mind villains doing crazy things as long as I understand the little sane kernel behind it. Like, you know, Holly Hunter did that wonderful movie about the true story of the murderous Texas cheerleading mom.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: But I get it. It’s like, okay, the hyper-competitiveness and the need to promote your child. I get that there’s a kernel of sanity that spirals out of control. There’s not even that here. It actually doesn’t make sense.
John: I think it does make sense. And here’s where I think the – this is the universal truth that’s underneath all of this. I think it’s equivalent of like the hygiene hypothesis. You know how like because we are so obsessed with keeping our hands clean and stuff like that we have horrible allergies now that we didn’t use to have.
I think in some ways Irvine and sort of our modern culture, everything is – there’s so little crime, there’s so little danger anywhere that we keep looking for it. And we sort of overreact to things that shouldn’t be things that we react to at all.
And so in her overreaction to this not really big deal, she goes like cavewoman crazy about how to defend her kid. And that, I think, it’s all about overreactions. And I think that is the universal thing you can get to underneath all of this. And that’s why I think the setup for this is also brilliant, because the author does a great job of really just describing how pristine this place is, but also how remarkably competent the police are.
As you were reading through this, weren’t you just struck by like, wait, they can actually trace all of those calls down to a specific payphone and actually find the video surveillance. Compared to like Serial where we couldn’t, like did [unintelligible] even have a payphone? We don’t know. Here they know everything. They know exactly where the cellphones worked for times. They have all these special pinging things. They knew everything kind of from the start. It was remarkable to me sort of how competent the police were.
They have like 20 detectives on this tiny little case. And, again, that feels like an overreaction to something that shouldn’t kind of be that big of a deal. No one got killed. So, it’s strange. The other thing I will say is I felt some sympathy for the Easter’s kids who are very carefully kind of left out of the story, but in a movie you’re going to see them there and you’re going to think like, oh man, something bad is going to happen to those kids because their parents are going to be in jail.
Craig: Yeah. And they are ruined. I mean, at the end of this, what was a very comfortable seems like upper-class lifestyle has been dashed to bits. The marriage is broken. All because of this insane thing. In a weird way, I wasn’t surprised by the Irvine police force’s ability to do this, because I don’t know what else they do. I mean, I’m not denigrating them. I know there is crime in Irvine, but my guess is that they have the time and resources to dedicate to this because it is a pretty safe city.
And I loved the conversation that is recorded, the real conversation you can hear in this article between the cop when he’s interviewing Kent. Because Kent is a lawyer and this guy is just asking him questions like where were you and what did you do and did you hear about this, and blah, blah, blah. And at some point he goes, “You know, I’ve been asking you questions now for a while. I think you know that there’s something probably going on here, right? I mean, you’re a lawyer. You know that cops just don’t chat you up for a while just ‘cause. So why don’t we just get to the point here, right?”
And then Kent was like, “Yeah, yeah.” It’s great. It’s great. That character was terrific. That conversation was terrific. It could be a terrific – yeah, it feels like a series to me, like a mini.
John: I think there probably is – there’s a way we’re not thinking about it that you could do as a movie. Because people say Gone Girl and it’s like Gone Girl could have totally been a series, too, but Gillian Flynn was so smart at sort of finding the way to tell that is a two-hour movie.
And I think there’s something about breaking it half where you actually crossover into the Easter’s point of view on things and really see what they’re doing. And that becomes fascinating. So, you’re going to see it. The universal truth behind all of this as well is like never go for revenge. Like the classic saying is when you seek revenge, first dig two graves. One for your enemy and one for you. And it’s so fascinating to watch how it boomerangs back at the Easters. They’re trying to destroy this woman’s life and in the course of maybe, I don’t know, 20 minutes of stupidity they destroy their own lives and their families. It’s remarkable how completely they’re able to ruin everything around them.
Craig: Yeah. And you get to listen to the actual call that Kent made where he posed as a man with an Indian last name but who did not have an accent until he sort of did. It is a – they should teach it in lying school, because it’s so clearly not valid. You can just smell it. You can smell that it’s a lie. It’s remarkable. There’s a lot of good stuff here.
And, yeah, I think you’re right. There’s a way to do it as a feature, but if you’re going to do it as a feature I think you are going to need license to stray. Quite a bit actually. To get to something at the end that feels like an end. That matters, you know.
John: I agree. So, we’ll have a link to all of these articles in the show notes so you can click through and see how you would make them into a movie, or not into a movie. But that’s it for that.
So, it’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is potentially depressing, but also really well done, so worth reading for that. It’s an article in the New York Times by Naomi Rosenberg, a Philadelphia ER doctor, called How to Tell a Mother Her Child is Dead.
Craig: Oh god. I’m sure this could be potentially depressing.
John: But I think it’s actually fascinating for screenwriters, because I’m always obsessed with procedure. Like what is the actual procedure when you have to do this thing. When there’s a certain kind of investigation. Well, this is the procedure you go through if you have to go into the room and tell a parent that their child has been killed.
And Rosenberg is incredibly thoughtful about what the experience is going to be like for the physician, what the experience is going to be like for the parent, and how you bridge the two of them. So, I’ll give you a taste here.
“When you get inside the room you will know who the mother is. Yes, I’m very sure. Shake her hand and tell her who you are. If there is time you shake everyone’s hand. Yes, you will know if there is time. You never stand. If there are no seats left, the couches have arms on them.”
John: So, it’s incredibly well-written. It’s just really thoughtful and smart about what that process is like. Even getting into the you’re not allowed to say that they were murdered. You’re not allowed to say they were killed. You say very specific things. They’re not allowed to see the body because there could be an investigation. It does everything just right. So, I really recommend all screenwriters take a look at it.
Craig: You know what would be a cool scene is if somebody knew this, they knew that when the doctor comes in and sits, even on the edge of the couch, it means the kid is dead. And then they have to go in. And the doctor comes in and site. Ugh. Blech. This is the problem with being a writer. You just think about bad things all day long.
Well, here’s a good thing. Maybe. This is a potentially cool thing, because I haven’t played it yet, and I’ll explain why. Obduction. Not Abduction. Obduction. O-B-duction is a new mistype game from Cyan. The Miller Brothers, who were the creators of Mist. So, it looks like kind of a Mist for 2016. And I’m sure you played Mist.
John: I loved Mist.
Craig: Right. It’s the greatest. So, I am super excited to play it. Ah, but I can’t. And why? Well, it is available for PC and Mac. Apparently the Mac version is having a little bit of problems. But my problem is that the only way to play it is to download it from Steam. And I maybe somewhat imprudently decided to just jump on the Sierra beta bandwagon. So, I’m running Sierra and I think the problem is Steam is like, oh no no, this game isn’t supported on your platform because they don’t recognize my OS version number. So, it’s like a weird thing like you need to hit a number, and if you’re too low you’re no good. And if you’re above the highest number that they recognize, you’re also no good.
So, hopefully that’s what the problem is. And when the official Sierra release happens, maybe Steam updates and then I can play this damn thing. Because I paid for it.
John: That’s good. I should say, Sierra is a challenge on a lot of different levels. So, both Highland and Bronson Watermarker, two apps that we make, they are going to have updates for Sierra because of like one specific thing that changed in Sierra, which we went back and forth with Apple a bunch of times on and they did not get fixed in the build master.
So, if you are using Highland or Bronson Watermarker on Sierra, there will be a new version out in the App Store hopefully by the time it ships on the 20th so that you will be able to keep using those apps.
John: But it’s challenging. I agree.
All right. That is our show for this week. As always, we are produced by Godwin Jabangwe. Edited by Matthew Chilelli.
Our outro this week is by Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can write into firstname.lastname@example.org and send us a link for that. Also a place for the longer questions like the ones we answered.
On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. I’m also on Instagram. I use Instagram stories a lot for sort of all my time in Paris. And so if you want to see a bunch of photos of like kids carrying baguettes and little dogs in restaurants–
Craig: [laughs] I don’t.
John: That’s where you can find all of those photos.
John: You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com.
That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts. Godwin usually has them up about four days after the episode airs.
All the back episodes of the show are at Scriptnotes.net. And on the Scriptnotes USB drives which are I think now just back in the store. We sold out of them, but we had a couple hundred more made. So, if you’d like to buy one of those, you can buy those.
We’re on iTunes, of course, so if you could leave us a review that helps. It helps people find our show. And that’s it for this week. Craig, thank you again.
Craig: Thank you. And adieu.
John: Adieu. Bye.
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