Craig Mazin: Hello, and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin, and this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. And yes, I am unfettered today. No fetters on me, whatever a fetter is, as John August continues his world travels somewhere in France. But as I am a creature of habit, and I fear change, I went and found myself another John to do today’s show with.

So, today on the show I’ll be talking with, and answering some listener questions with writer/director, all-around tall drink of water, and a man I’m proud to call friend, John Lee Hancock. Yes, the actual John Lee Hancock, writer of A Perfect World, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Snow White and The Huntsman, the inferior prequel to Winter’s War, director of The Rookie and Saving Mr. Banks, and writer/director of The Alamo and The Blindside.

Oh, and was that not enough? Also director of the upcoming movie The Founder, which is the story of Ray Kroc, and the founding of McDonald’s that stars Michael Keaton. Eh, not bad. And John, not to make you nervous but last week this show got about 85,000 downloads. That’s how many people listen to this, so don’t screw this up. Welcome, John Lee Hancock.

John Lee Hancock: Thank you. Nice to be here, I should leave now. I don’t want to bring the numbers down.

Craig: Yeah, they’re plummeting as you talk. And I should mention that you and I share an office building. You are two floors below me.

John: Yes.

Craig: So, the fact that we haven’t done this before is frankly insulting to you. [laughs]

John: I’ve been waiting.

Craig: [laughs]

John: For a long, long time.

Craig: Just sitting there in your office wondering, “When will I get the call?” It’s happened John Lee Hancock. So, I’m going to start by — and I’ll say that, you know, these interviews that John and I do, we try and not do the standard thing because the people that listen to this show are interested mostly in screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters, but we like to ask maybe questions that you don’t normally get. So forgive me if some of these seem sort of left field-ish, but probably won’t.

Let’s begin with this. We recently did a show about starting out, or breaking into Hollywood from places other than Los Angeles. And I actually thought of you when we were discussing that, because you grew up in Longview, Texas, which is possibly an ironic name, I don’t know. And you went to Baylor University, undergrad, then Baylor Law, which would make an awesome TV show. And then you practiced law for four years, and you were practicing in Texas, correct?

John: Yes, in Houston.

Craig: In Houston. So that’s about as far afield from LA and screenwriting and Hollywood as it gets, just in terms of location, in terms of what you were doing.

John: Right.

Craig: Did you start writing at that time in Texas?

John: I did. I was born in Longview, but when I was in 2nd grade we moved to Texas City, Texas which is where I went through school all the way through high school. And I always had an interest in writing, and just would — just scribbled little short stories, usually sports-related. I guess they were almost kind of like, they’d be the title of the short story might be Cowboys 6 Packers 3.

Craig: That’s a great story.

John: And you know what? What this is is–

Craig: It’s not a realistic story? [laughs]

John: It’s a character movie.

Craig: Okay, I see.

John: Because there’s not a lot of points scored.

Craig: Oh.

John: No monsters.

Craig: Right.

John: This is about the grit that happens in the small plays. Or the one little fumble. Then you might do one that’s, you know, Oilers 57 Chiefs 35. Well, that’s like an action movie.

Craig: Right. [laughs]

John: You know, you have lots of stuff happening. So I would write one of these almost every day. And then, I had the good fortune when I was in high school of having several great English teachers who kind of threw the rulebooks out, and broke it into quarters instead of semesters, and exposed us to lots of different great writing and encouraged us to write. And I consider myself incredibly lucky to have come across these three women.

Craig: And so you are in Texas—

John: Yeah.

Craig: Practicing law. By the way, what kind of law?

John: General civil practice. I mean, I have an English degree from Baylor, and I didn’t know what to do with that necessarily, and I had been accepted at law school so I thought that’s a good way to buy time.

Craig: Right.

John: You know my parents are paying through the nose for it.

Craig: Right.

John: My parents are public school teachers. They’re paying through the nose for it. But it did buy me some time, and I could continue to write. And I enjoyed law school, and then I thought, “Now I’m going to do something.” And I knew that short fiction wasn’t necessarily a great livelihood, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach English or teach in any way, so I went ahead and went to law school, and then after I got out of law school, everybody says, “Well, you should practice for at least three years, because who knows? You might love it.”

Craig: Right. You might end up being, you know–

John: Yeah.

Craig: Some sort of king of Texas civil law.

John: It was — that was always in question. But I took a job with a firm, and it was actually another good piece of fortune for me. It was a firm in Houston. It was a small firm. I probably had 15 attorneys, or something, and it was a general civil practice, which meant that I was exposed to tons and tons of different kinds of cases. And the most interesting cases are always just great stories.

Craig: Right.

John: And you know you’re trying to tell a story for your client, your client’s version of the story.

Craig: Yeah, we talk about the world being cast through narrative all the time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But, there you are. Your sense of narrative is being applied, whatever you supply to your 6/3 short stories.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’re applying to law. But you’re thinking, oh, maybe I should just actually do a narrative for narrative’s sake. And not in service of something else.

John: I did. I continued to write. I really fell in love with movies. Not when I was a kid, but when I was in college and I would go to movies a lot. And so I started thinking hard about kind of movie stories, and how they looked on the page, and — this was back in the days before you could walk into a bookstore and get, like, 17,000 books on how to write a screenplay.

Craig: Right.

John: They didn’t exist. I mean, and you were lucky, you could — there was no online at that time. No Internet, so you know there was a place in Hollywood that you could send, and they would send you back a hard copy of a script.

Craig: Right. Was it, like, Samuel French, or something?

John: No, it was a place in the Valley in Burbank, that’s obviously long since gone, but–

Craig: Oh I can’t imagine why. [laughs]

John: Yeah [laughs]. But it was kind of a cool place. They would send you a list of all the different scripts they had, and sometimes it would be Lethal Weapon, 1st draft, 2nd draft — do you want the 4th draft or the 8th draft?

Craig: Wow.

John: It was that kind of thing. So anyway, I, you know, I got my hands on a few scripts and tried to teach myself format, and wrote my first script while I was practicing law in Texas, and it was awful. Of course.

Craig: Right.

John: And it was, you know–

Craig: Wait, what was it? This first one.

John: It was — I think most — I won’t say everyone. But I’ll say most writers write their first script, and it’s autobiographical whether they know it or not.

Craig: Right. And how was this–

John: And when you’re in your 20s and angst-ridden, and not sure what you’re going to do with your life–

Craig: Yeah.

John: Why not write a story about a guy in his 20s in Houston, Texas who’s angst-ridden and doesn’t know what to do with his life?

Craig: Isn’t that amazing that when you’re in your 20s you don’t understand that your life couldn’t possibly be worth a movie. I don’t care even if you were born on Mars.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Landed here as an alien, fought a war at the age of 15, and, I don’t know, invented the cure to a disease by 22 — not enough Live some more. There’s no — but yet, we always want to write that terrible, truncated autobiography.

John: Yeah. Yeah. And it was — you know, I mean, I — the guy had a different name, but he was going through some of the same struggles.

Craig: Fohn Lee Fancock?

John: Yeah, exactly. But anyways, so I wrote it, and I thought, “Well gee, what do I do with this?” And I thought it’d be great to be able to do this for a living. And Sundance Institute at the time had a — they were starting a satellite program. And they were looking — because Texas, and especially Austin, has always been a hotbed for independent film, going back into the ‘70s even.

Craig: Right.

John: And before. And so, they wanted to — they wanted to have one of the satellite programs be a weekend, or a week-long workshop, I can’t remember, in Austin, and they were going to branch out, reach out, spread the brand of Sundance, and they had the festival, but it was very small. And, you know, not like it is now.

So they were coming to Austin, and I read something about it in a film magazine, and they said that there’s going to be a three-day seminar with John Sayles, and Bill Wittliff, and all these different people speaking. I thought, well, that will be interesting because I’d never even met anybody who writes screenplays. To hear somebody talk would be kind of cool. And I signed up, and it also had a thing that said you could — they were going to select, I think, eight screenwriters to go through an intensive four-day worship with Frank Daniel. Frantisek Daniel, who had been the head of Columbia Film School, USC, I think he was, like, Roman Polanski’s Polish film teacher, or something.

Craig: Wow. Okay.

John: And, you know — you know, a big shot.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And, so anyway, the first thing it was, they said send us one page description of your screenplay. And so, I had this screenplay, this autobiographical screenplay [laughs]. And sent in a description of it. And then I got something back, and it said the next stage of this will be send in any ten consecutive pages.

Craig: Interesting. I like that.

John: And I went, “Oh, wow. Okay.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I thought about that, and I sent that in, and then they called me and they said, “You’ve passed through the next level. Would you send the entire script? But make sure that you’ve signed up for the seminar which is taking place concurrently. Because we would hate for you to go down this road, and miss out because we are — there aren’t that many tickets left. And even if you don’t get this, you’d still want to hear John Sayles.” I said absolutely.

So I signed up for that, and they said, “And we’ll reimburse you if you get into this.”

Craig: All right.

John: Lo and behold, I got in. So, I’m there–

Craig: Wait, let’s stop for a second. You are in Texas.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’re a lawyer.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’ve written what you have deemed a terrible screenplay.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And yet representatives of Sundance — and I can only imagine how many screenplays they received. They said, “Actually, this is one of the eight best ones we’ve gotten.” And I’m stopping you here and saying this because, I — it’s so important for people to understand that even when you are far-flung and remote, that there is a chance, somehow or another, to be noticed if you’ve written something that you think is terrible, and other people still think is good. To me, that’s the sign of somebody who’s actually on their way.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Because you still say, by the way, that it’s terrible. It couldn’t have been actually absolutely terrible.

John: I think at the time it was like pre-mumblecore. But there was a lot of that kind of stuff going on.

Craig: Pre-mumble.

John: You know, it was–

Craig: Prumblecore.

John: Prumblecore. I like that. [laughs] But there was a lot of the angst of the 20-year-old stuff in movies going around. And I think so that probably appealed a little bit. And when they got the 10 pages, I mean, I think you have an ear for dialogue and script construction, story construction, or you don’t. Not that you can’t get better at them, but I think, especially an ear for dialogue–

Craig: Right.

John: It’s kind of — most of it is there. You can make it better. You can certainly make it better, but you either have that musical kind of thing in your head, or you don’t. And so I think, you know, probably the dialogue was readable. And I’m not sure how many people, you know, sent in their scripts. I mean, this being the ‘80s in Texas. But nonetheless, I was — and the thing is, and when we’d gotten into the room, I realized I was the only one that hadn’t actually been paid to write. Everybody there either had a little independent movie made, or was making an independent movie, or had been hired, you know, there were no big movers and shakers, but.

Craig: Right.

John: But nonetheless, these were people that had far more experience than I did.

Craig: Well, that says a lot right there as well. So, this kind of leads to the break, I presume. And you found your way through essentially a contest.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: We had Peter Dodd on. He’s an agent at UTA, and he was saying that these days, contests don’t really work. And part of the problem, I imagine, is that unlike back then, where there were a few, and this was Sundance, there are about a thousand of them now.

John: Right.

Craig: And so one thing that bums me out is that somewhere along the line, people realize, “Oh, I can get people to give me $10 to submit their screenplay. We should run a contest, and collect lots of $10.”

John: Right.

Craig: And then other people went, “Whoa, look at that? Let’s also do contest.” And people are now, like, “Great!’ Every week, I can…” It’s like playing scratchers now.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, contests have become that. But you also at the time, had this other thing going on, which was maybe being an actor.

John: Yeah to a degree. I mean, I just liked — I just like stories. I like scene study. I took classes when I was in Houston, acting classes. Because I enjoyed getting into a character and behind a character, and under a character, and inside a character. And, I also loved to see how actors approached work. And, you know, and for these classes I have to say, you know, there were — there were some good actors. There was a teacher in Houston, a woman whose son I have cast, he is older than I am, who I’ve cast in three movies in Texas. A fantastic actor. And she had been a working actor in Los Angeles.

Craig: Right.

John: So I got better than I deserved in terms of that class, but I thought she was very good in terms of breaking down a character, looking at dialogue, finding your boxes, or whatever inside the dialogue, all the little stuff like that.

Craig: Right.

John: And I also figured out pretty quickly that I could — that I liked to write monologues. I like to write little scenes and things like that.

Craig: Right.

John: And I figured out quickly that I could write something, for — either for myself, or for another actor. It was a great way to meet cute girls, too. You’d go, “I’d love to write a scene for you.” And they’d go, “Really? Would you do that?”

Craig: Wow.

John: And of course that doesn’t work until you put your first scene up.

Craig: Right.

John: And then, you know, there’s two actors that did it, and I wrote a scene for them, these two brats, I can’t even remember, these two brothers, kind of, in a True West fashion, or — you know.

Craig: Yes, of course.

John: Kind of thing.

Craig: Once you say two brothers and scene, it’s True West isn’t it?

John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it was something, you know, entirely different, but I wrote it, and she had comments. And she said, “But I’ve never — I’ve never heard this piece before.” Because everybody’s doing the old chestnut pieces.

Craig: Right. Of course.

John: And they said, “Oh, well John wrote it.” And she went, “Really? Well done.” And so from that point on, actors would come, they’d go, “Hey dude, you’ve got anything for me?”

Craig: “Can you write something for me?”

John: Yeah, so I did that, and it’s fun. Because you had instant gratification, you would write something, you would hand it over, they would learn it and do it, and then you’d be done with it.

Craig: There’s a commonality here in this story that I pick up all the time when I talk to writers. That they are writing, and other people are saying essentially the — I guess the magic audience’s version of how’d you do that? Right, that there’s a certain, natural how’d-you-do-that-ness to writing, and here you are, somebody who could continue your career in law. Or you maybe could pursue acting. I mean, you’re good looking enough to be an actor. Like an actor that people want to look at.

John: I’m not talented enough to be an actor.

Craig: I didn’t say you were.

John: Unfortunately. [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] Like I said, you were good looking enough to be an actor, and speaking of your acting talent by the way, we’ll include this link in the show notes, but we do have evidence of your acting ability. It is a wonderful commercial you did with the great Gene Hackman.

John: Oh lord.

Craig: It’s a Japanese beer commercial.

John: Help me.

Craig: For Kirin, I believe.

John: Yes. Yes.

Craig: Your character is tall lawyer who pretends to be saying things to Gene Hackman.

John: Yes. That’s kind of it.

Craig: I have to tell you, watching that commercial it’s almost as if the cameraman was instructed to keep the camera away from you.

John: Yeah.

Craig: As much as he could. Every time there’s like a brief image of you, and then the cameraman is like, oh, god, no.

John: That commercial is still–I’ve had a lot of great experiences and moments like, you know, a lot of us have where it’s like I can’t believe I’m here. I’m witnessing this. That’s my best story of Hollywood. That’s far and away my best.

Craig: You and Gene Hackman?

John: No, no it goes — you don’t have the time for this? But all of this was unexpected. From going in and auditioning, to them — it was a Japanese commercial so they didn’t approach it the same way. There was no call back, and there were like 500 of us there in suits for this audition. A woman with broken English told us to do improv, “You in elevator.” And there were like six of us standing there. And I’m going, this is the biggest lank of all time.

So I just pretended to keep pushing the button, while everybody else is talking over each other. Trying to put themselves forward. And so I got the gig.

Craig: You’re the only one not peacocking.

John: I guess. I don’t know. I was just ready to get out of there.

Craig: You thought that you could actually get out of the elevator if you hit button enough.

John: That’s a good acting move. I believed I was in the elevator.

Craig: They believed it, too.

John: And my agent called me, and said — I mean, I had kind of a writing agent and kind of an acting agent at the time. And he called me and said, “You booked the gig.” And back then you could make a lot of money in commercials. But this was foreign, so it was a buyout, but they’re going to pay $5,000 and man.

Craig: Ka-Ching.

John: Ka-Ching. Are you kidding? I was working PA work and doing everything, living in a shitty apartment in Hollywood.

Then he said, “So you show up Thursday.” There was no callback, there’s no fitting? No, they liked the suit you were wearing. So it’s possible that I just got the role because I had a good suit.

Craig: Right.

John: From being a lawyer.

Craig: And I love that they put you through that much of an intensive audition experience. To not be in the commercial, it’s like, you’re somebody that’s sort of near Gene Hackman? At times. God, commercials are amazing. But I’m glad.

John: Some other time, I’ll tell you about how this involves unexpectedly, having my own trailer, sharing it with Playmate of the Year, Shannon Tweed, and my relationship with Gene Hackman.

Craig: I think a lot of people are right now are going to be very upset with me that I’m not having you tell this story. Because I kind of want to. But–

John: Move on.

Craig: Should I?

John: Yeah. Move on.

Craig: All right. I really want to – all right, I’ll move on. I’ll talk — maybe if we have time. So I’m glad that you left the subpar acting behind. And what I can only presume to be the horrendous law practice behind. God only knows what wreckage you left behind you.

John: Yeah. You know what? As jobs go, it wasn’t bad.

Craig: No, no, not for you. I mean your clients. [laughs] God only knows. They’re still trying to put their lives back together.

John: No. I think, I probably left them in better hands. They’re shifting their files to other desks. [laughs].

Craig: Exactly. But instead, well, I could say, well, instead, you become this great screenwriter. I could say, well, instead you become this great director. But the interesting thing about you is, I was just thinking about this, I don’t know, and you can tell me if you do, anybody else working on your level who is so routinely a writer of screenplays that other people direct, and routinely a director of screenplays that other people write, and routinely, a director of screenplays you right yourself.

You kind of do all of that. Am I crazy in saying you’re pretty much the only person that routinely does all three of those?

John: I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it much. But I think, I mean, you know, storytelling is storytelling. And I think you wear a different hat when you’re a writer, and when you’re a director, and even when I’m directing stuff that I have written, I try my best to put on that different hat so that if I need to, I can come to the set that day and say who wrote this shit?

Craig: Right.

John: You know, because you need to, because there is the script, and then there is exacting it on film. And you have to be able to interpret because I think every step of the way is an interpretation. I mean, I count on my editor, when he is putting an assemblage together, I want him to interpret the footage. I don’t want to tell him, “Start with take 3 of this, and go to take 4 of this, and then cut here.” I want to see what he comes up with, I want him to interpret the existing footage, just as I’m interpreting the existing script.

Craig: Right. And so the decision process there of how to approach these things, it really just comes down to — in other words, there’s no calculation. I really want to just write something, I’m not going to direct. Or I really want to direct something, I’m going to write. It’s all about the material, as it strikes you in the moment?

John: Yeah. It is. I mean, I do adult dramas. They don’t make a lot of those anymore. So I wish that I could say I was in complete control. Okay, next, I’m doing a movie that I am going to script and direct. It doesn’t work that way, you know, sometimes you will have something you’re writing, and then another script comes across your desk, and you read it. For me, the question is, do I wish that I’d written it?

Craig: Ah, that’s interesting.

John: And do I want to spend a year and a half on it? That’s the first two questions.

Craig: Right. That’s the huge difference between directing and writing. Writing, you know, maybe –sometimes only weeks, sometimes oh, it’s six months. But year and a half — I mean, and it’s not an easy year and a half directing a movie.

John: No it’s not. I remember when I was writing before I was directing. I would — we would go out to – you’d have a script go out to a director, and you would hear back from them a few weeks later. And you’re went, what took them so long? And they finally get back. And they go, it’s really good, but I just — I don’t know, I can’t live in that world for this long, or something like that. And I thought that is the biggest BS excuse I’ve ever heard. Now, I completely get it.

Craig: Right.

John: I mean, are you going to continue to be fascinated by this to the degree necessary to wake up at 4am and do the job?

Craig: Right. You have to essentially say before you really get a chance to co-habitate with another person, I’m going to marry you, and we can’t get divorced for a while.

John: Yes, it’s like a Hollywood marriage. It’s a year and a half. [laughs].

Craig: It’s a year and a half. [laughs] But those are tough.

John: Yes.

Craig: So you have been doing this for like 20 plus years. John and I have been doing it for, you know, almost the same length of time. And there’s something that happened, somewhere in the mid-2000s, this new kind of screenwriter came about, I call it screenwriter-plus. This is a writer who’s not a producer, or director on any particular given project, but they’re clearly doing more than the job of screenwriter.

They become essentially a co-share of authority with a lot of people, and trying to get actors, and directors, and producers, to all kind of come together around a vision. And I think that you are kind of the epitome of that sort of figure. Do you share that same point of view, that the job of screenwriting has changed in that regard over time?

John: Yeah. I’m not sure that role necessarily existed. I think, kind of before I came out here, you would hear about script doctors, people that would come in — but those were just people coming in and doing rewrites on an existing script, but it was a great cottage industry whether you were John Sayles or whoever, to be able to do that. And then in the next stage, I think was, when you had bigger movies, with more moving parts, sometimes it might be necessary to have someone to come in and help.

Perhaps, it hadn’t gone in to production yet, and you’re writing scenes, but you’re also someone who can sit down with the line producer, and feel their pain. And sit down with the actor, sit down with the director, and try to bring everybody under the same tent so you can move forward. And sometimes, it’s in prep, and sometimes, it’s in the middle of production, if there are difficulties, and sometimes it’s in post, whether you’re doing reshoots or not.

Craig: I wonder sometimes if the limitation on the number of screenwriters that serve this role is a function of the fact that fewer movies are made now. Because in order to play that part, you need to have an intimate understanding of how movies work, you need to have had more than one discussion with the line producer before. You need to know what it feels like in their shoes in order to act like you know, you know, what it feels like in their shoes.

Sometimes I think that Hollywood is running out of these screenwriters plusses, because they keep coming back to the same ones. But I also understand why they keep coming back to the same ones. I mean, you and I both know that at some point, when things get scary, they need to turn to somebody who comforts them.

John: Well, I think part of it is fresh eyes because they become so kind of – they’ve really fallen so deep with the project and have been through, and they know where all the bodies are buried, and so sometimes they’re not clear-headed enough, and they would admit this, it’s nice to have someone come in with fresh eyes, and sometimes they’ve got lots of different people to look at it with fresh eyes. I think it goes beyond just being a writer that knows how to problem solve and story-tell.

I think, that there are a few writers that have directed or produced as well. And I think, those are skills that are necessary in helping keep the train on the track moving forward, whether it’s in prep or whether it’s in post and you’re doing reshoots, just trying to — let’s get this home to the station.

Craig: Well, there’s an attitude there that your job as the writer is to try and write a movie. And I say this a lot that — I think a lot of writers fall into the trap of saying my job is to write a script, but then that separates you from the job that literally everyone else is doing, because everybody else is trying to make a movie. And when you try and help them make a movie, ironically, you end up probably doing a better job defending your own writing than you would have if you just concentrated on the script.

John: I think that’s true, I think it’s true. Sometimes it’s a little bit of — I enjoy the fact that some of these rewrites, production rewrites, and post production rewrites become math problems. When someone says we’re going to tie one hand behind your back, and see if you can do this. It’s kind of like, okay, we need a scene between these two people , and here’s their schedule, and so can we shoot this many pages in a half day, and oh, by the way, the set has to be this.

Craig: Right.

John: You go, oh, okay. Let me see what I can come up with.

Craig: It’s kind of fun, isn’t it?

John: It’s kind of fun.

Craig: Yeah. I did one recently where they said, okay well, we want to change this character’s job. So she has a title, but in order to change her job — you can shoot the scene, but we can’t reshoot everything where her job is mentioned. So at that point, not only am I writing new things, but I’m now editing on page, and I’ll put in sort of like loop lines to cover up the edit that we have to make for the title change. It really does become like a little logic problem, and you do have to have — I mean, I think maybe the most important kind of non-writing experience a screenwriter can get is editing experience. Because if you have watched a movie be edited, then you understand, I think, how to write in such a way that you are — you are writing in a way that is editable in a good way.

John: Yeah. Because everything you’re wanting to do, especially when you come into a production situation, we want everything to be additive, you know, and the things is, a lot of times a weight is put on the scene where they say, here are the problems that we have with an existing movie, or an existing script, can we get rid of these three things, have one scene that accomplishes all three tasks.

Craig: Precisely. And you can, sometimes.

John: It’s tricky. It’s tricky. It becomes a test for yourself to see how good your sleight of hand is.

Craig: Right, it does. That is a very challenging — but it’s a fun thing. I think Billy Ray said that — after he does one of those, he feels like by the time it’s over, the week is over, he feels like he doesn’t know how to write anymore, and he needs a week to sleep. Because you do kind of lose yourself in this very rapid and intense environment.

John: It’s absolutely true. And you’re writing to such a specific purpose that when you have to go, and you go, oh, gosh now I got an original idea, and the world can be anything, you have to, you know, adjust your mindset a little bit. That’s why I think you have to be careful with doing too many of these jobs in a row. I mean, the pay is really is good, and you do meet some wonderful people, and it’s actually really fun to be thrown into a movie that’s already had a lot of it done. You don’t have to direct it, you don’t have to deal with it.

Craig: Right.

John: It is fun. But I think it could also be as Doc O’Connor, my old agent, used to call it, the velvet rut.

Craig: No, it’s 100% true. I mean, these kinds — for those who are unfamiliar with this concept, production rewrites are when a movie is either about to be shot, or it’s been shot, and they’re contemplating additional photography. And at that point, they will typically hire an A-list screenwriter to come in and they will work on a weekly basis, typically. And that week, the money they get paid that week is the best money per week that they‘re going to ever get, for anything.

And so the jobs are somewhat sought after or considered, you know, good to get, but they are a little dangerous. I think Doc was exactly right, because when you do a couple in a row, you start to become aware of — I always become aware of this: I’m putting myself in a situation that is medium risk, high reward. It’s not high risk/high reward, it’s medium risk/high reward. I like those odds, right? We know what the reward is, and the medium risk is, I feel like I can help, I told them how I can help. They’re agreeing with that already. They want me to succeed because they need someone to succeed. And also, my job is to get it better, right?

But medium risk doesn’t mean no risk. And I always think, sooner or later, you’re going to trip and fall on your face with one of these, and then I feel like it’s bad. And then I feel like they never — and it hasn’t happened to me yet, but probably because I do manage, like I don’t do every single one that I could, I suppose.

John: And do you find that you — I think when you’ve done it long enough, you realize kind of the strengths you bring to the table, and then some areas where you go, I’m okay at this, but I’m better at this. And so you recognize in a script, if somebody comes to me and they say I look at a movie and they’re doing reshoots or something like that, and they say, well, we need some basic story logic. Well, I’m decent at that, I’m good at that. If they need something, you know, the dialogue between these two brothers needs to be better, or can we add some emotion and heart or character moments. I mean those are things I’m very good at.

So I go, no, I won’t fail you on that.

Craig: Right.

John: If you’re looking for someone to really reimagine, you know, action set pieces or something like that, there are people that are far better than I am at that.

Craig: Yeah, and I guess in a way the business does regulate this for us because they don’t really ask. It’s funny. They’re not going to ask you or me to come in and pump up the volume on car chases. They’re not, you know. Chris Morgan, yes.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because he’s the master, right? But they’re not going to ask us to do that. So it is true like I guess the risk is even lower because they’re kind of asking you because they figure–

John: Yeah, they’ve already scratched us off a list.

Craig: Right.

John: We never get the call, but we were on the list and then we got scratched off. For good reason.

Craig: Yes or somebody wrote the word why next to our names. I want to talk about rewriting a little bit more here. And this is a very specific question because I think a lot of people listening would love to know.

You get a lot of scripts to read. You get scripts to read for you to direct. You get scripts to read for you to rewrite.

I wonder when you’re reading these scripts for either reason, what turns you on and what turns you off? What are writers doing right and generally speaking what are they doing wrong? And how can these people avoid that?

John: It seems like most of the stuff I get now if they want to rewrite, they’re trying to also attach a director. So they’re saying, “This thing needs to be rewritten.”

Craig: So it’s both.

John: It’s both.

Craig: Okay.

John: I kind of rarely get the script that says, “We’re looking for a rewrite, you know, we don’t have a director yet or we have a director but we need a rewrite.” So I don’t take that many of those or don’t get offered those as much I used to. But, gosh, I don’t know, I just want to be surprised and I don’t mean like, you know, in a way that’s not logical.

I want to feel like I’m in good hands in terms of the storytelling. And, yeah, and the dialogue works and you’re involved in the characters. And it’s just being surprised. I just want to be surprised.

I mean, I remember I was sent the script for Saving Mr. Banks by Kelly Marcel, and I was told it’s a terrific script and I knew that it had its bona fide good and all those kind of things. But I just go, “Look, I don’t like musicals. I’m not a huge Mary Poppins fan.”

Craig: Right.

John: I haven’t seen the movie since probably since I was a kid, you know, I don’t know. So why would I do that? And it sat on the desk and got a call from my agent, Scott Greenberg, who said, “You know, here’s the thing. Disney — they’re meeting with several directors and they really want to meet with you on this. So you don’t have to meet with them but I think you should read it because it’s a really good script. And I think you would like it and it’s a quick read, honestly it is, I promise.”

And so I went, “Oh, damn, okay.” So that afternoon, I put my feet up on my desk and rolled out — printed out the script and read it like that because it always feels better to me with the pages. And I read it and couldn’t put it down.

And it wasn’t like there’s some great mystery. There was a great mystery but it was just so specific and you just peel that onion over and over again. And I just I loved it. I got to the end and I thought, one I wish I had written it, two, I never would have thought of it.

Craig: Right.

John: Three, I really want to do this.

Craig: Right.

John: So how do I get the gig?

Craig: Yeah. I mean that’s the thing. The rarer question I suppose isn’t so much like what’s wrong with the screenplay, the rare question is what’s right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because the bar isn’t to write well. The bar isn’t to write satisfactorily. The bar isn’t to write without making the so-called The 20 Worst Mistakes a Screenwriter Makes. The bar is to write something that blows people away, which is the opposite.

It’s an aggressive — to me it’s an aggressive act to write a screenplay that demands you must continue reading.

John: Right.

Craig: I think so much of the advice people get is defensive advice.

John: Oh you’re right.

Craig: You know.

John: I think you’re right.

Craig: Right? So that they don’t not like you. Not liking you isn’t good enough.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Right? You know, so Kelly writes the script and you read it and it blows you away.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And now — okay, so let’s talk about–

John: But one another thing, you know what? I just thought of this, I mean a lot of times when you’re reading characters, you’re enjoying reading the character whether they’re a good guy, bad guy, complicated guy or whatever, there’s something in there when you know a character’s tale.

I think characters expose themselves through the lies they tell.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And when you read something that you know is a lie, even if it’s a white lie, that’s a complication I always like.

Craig: Yeah. It’s funny we just — our episode last week was about Mystery versus Confusion. And when we read, you know, people send in their Three Pages, which is our shorter version of the ten pages you had to send in, and I just noticed that we were constantly going in between like, “Oh, I like the fact that they’ve set up a little mystery here. Why is this person doing this?”

But then many times, you’re like, “I don’t know why this person is doing it.” And it’s bad, it’s confusing. It’s not a mystery, right? And one of the keys to good mystery is lying. And us knowing someone’s lying and not knowing why they’re lying.

You know, because you’re right, because characters are liars because humans are liars. We’re lying all the time. It’s amazing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And you know the other thing that — along that line, certainly didn’t come up with this and lots of people have talked about it but I really ascribe to it, the idea that you have to be careful with the screenplay, how far ahead of an audience or reader you are, how far behind and you want it to be a little like a Slinky. Sometimes, you know, if you’re behind — I don’t mind being behind — not having everything figured out if I feel like I’m in the hands of a good storyteller.

Craig: Right.

John: Because all will be revealed. Other times, you take great joy in being ahead of the characters in the movie. But if you’re ahead of them too long, you go, “This is dumb. I’ve already figured it out.” But we congratulate ourselves as an audience or a reader when we think we’re ahead.

And then a really good storyteller will then suddenly put you behind again. So it’s that back and forth kind of accordion effect.

Craig: Right.

John: That I think really makes a script sing.

Craig: Well it’s interesting that you say that because in its own weird meta way, you kind of got ahead of us. I’m going to play this. This is a question from Matthew Kane. So here’s what Matthew Kane had to ask.

Matthew Kane: I’m rewriting my original screenplay now and I’ve changed the setup. So now the audience is in a superior position until the end of the first act. I’ve heard that it’s easier to get the audience to identify with the protagonist when they don’t know any more than the protagonist does especially at the outset. And it’s easier to screw that up when you begin in an audience superior position. Can you share some of the pitfalls of the audience superior position and suggest some strategies to use it effectively. Thanks.

Craig: So it seems like you kind of already answered that question without knowing that that question was going to be asked. So now I’m a little freaked out just by you and you’re weird psychic ability to do that.

John: But I think to the specifics of his question about with your main character being ahead of them from the start of the movie through the first act. I mean I think it depends. It could be a bad thing in that the audience is going, “We already know what’s going to happen. I’m so far ahead.”

It could end up being a great thing if you pulled a rug out from under them.

Craig: Right.

John: You know, or if at least you come to the point where the audience now knows just as much, pulls the rug out from under and knows just as much as your protagonist.

Craig: Yeah. I was thinking about his question and trying to ask myself was there — could I think of an example of a movie where I was ahead of — intentionally ahead of the main character for say whatever you call the first act.

John: Right.

Craig: The first 30 minutes of the movie.

John: Right.

Craig: And I was struggling to come up with an answer there. I think one of the pitfalls is just being bored. We’re not going to get much out of the character discovering the truth. I mean there’s that moment of discovery that can be so exciting in a movie.

I can’t imagine it would be very exciting if they’re just discovering something I already knew unless it was, you know, filtered through another character’s, you know, experience of their discovery of it. But then really, they are not the main character. You know, like it’s an interesting question. I could not think of an example.

John: I can’t. I can’t think of one either, personally. But I think — you know, I’m not saying it can’t be done because every time you say something can’t be done then you’ll read a script and you go, I’ll damned it, they did it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But it is precarious I think.

Craig: Yeah I would imagine that one of the pitfalls would be also that you run the danger of making your hero seem dumb. Well either they’re dumb because they’re not seeing something that you’ve picked up on that the filmmaker has kind of left in plain view of you and them or it’s not that they’re dumb it’s just that the filmmakers told you something and hasn’t told them. But now the movie feels rigged to keep them from–

John: Right.

Craig: Something which is also never a good feeling.

John: Right.

Craig: You start to feel the artifice of the story there. I don’t know, tricky little thing.

John: It is.

Craig: All right. Well we’ll get back. We have a couple other questions but I want to ask you one last thing about you and it’s what’s coming up. So you’ve directed — this is another one where you’ve directed from somebody else’s script.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’ve directed a movie called The Founder written by Robert Siegel and the cast of mostly unknowns includes Michael Keaton and Patrick Wilson and Nick Offerman, the great John Carroll Lynch – who by the way everyone should be worshipping — Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, and perhaps most importantly friend of the Scriptnotes podcast, B.J. Novak.

Now here’s what sort of — and I’ve seen this movie and it’s fantastic.

John: Thank you.

Craig: Here’s what interests me. You are a big shot director. You make the Blind Side, Sandy Bullock wins an Oscar for it. You make Saving Mr. Banks, it’s a big Disney Film, nominations, Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Oscar nominations.

And then you say, “All right now, I’m going to go independent and small.” Why?

John: To be completely honest, it’s just, you know, why do you rob banks? That’s where the money is.

It’s kind of like, you know, you find a script and you go. And it’s important with producers to go who’s the producer and will they help me make this movie — the version of this movie that I want to see made.

And so the script was sent to me and Robert Siegel is a very good writer and it was a very good script. He wrote The Wrestler and Big Fan which he also directed. So I really enjoyed the script and I thought it was different than any script that I had ever read.

This kind of goes back to the earlier, what grabs you. This was one where I found myself rooting hard for my protagonist along the way. And then somewhere around the halfway point, I kind of was neutral and then toward the end I was actively rooting against him which made me somehow feel complicit in his rise–

Craig: Right.

John: And dirty and a little guilty.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I thought that was a really a clever thing that Rob accomplished on the page because I never read a script where I was actively pulling for someone and then against them. And, you know, I thought it was Death of a Salesman with a very different last act which I just thought was great.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I said, “Oh, I know how to do this movie. I know how to do this movie.” It speaks to me in a very nugget kind of way. I mean, you’re always looking for that touchdown theme or idea or thought that will get you through the day.

Craig: Right.

John: Where if you understand a movie at an elemental level, every director makes multiple mistakes every day.

Craig: Right.

John: The greatest director in the world makes a bunch of mistakes every day. If you have that elemental understanding of the script and the story, none of them will be fatal.

Craig: Right.

John: It won’t matter.

Craig: Because they are–

John: Because you’re making a thousand decisions a day.

Craig: Right. But they are at least aligned with one vision.

John: Thematically, they are all headed the right direction. They may be a little off here or there but it doesn’t matter.

Craig: But they’re not backwards. They’re not pulling you.

John: No. No, no, no. And I think from a tone standpoint, you need that idea too. So yeah, so then I met with the guys at FilmNation and Aaron Ryder, who’s terrific, and they seemed– and I think they’d met several directors and they met with me and we were in line with what we wanted the movie to be. And at first actually I turned it down.

I read it and I thought, well they seem to want to make this movie and I don’t think — the third act isn’t figured out yet. So it’s going someplace great but it’s not figured out but they think it’s figured out so that tells me maybe they want to make a different movie.

When I met with them, they said, “No, no, no, no, no. Here’s our thinking. This is Rob’s first draft.” I went, “Wow, it’s really terrific.” He said, “Yeah we think so, too. We wanted to get a director involved to help us go forward with this.”

And I thought, well, that’s really smart actually if you can get the right person.

Craig: Sure.

John: And so then I was able to work with Rob and he delivered beautifully and we were off and running. And from a budget standpoint, I made it for 20. So it’s less than the movie — the budgets of the movies I’ve done before but not that much less.

Craig: Right.

John: So–

Craig: And budgets are sort of elastic to the content anyway.

John: Exactly. So, you know, when you got, you know, Alcon did the Blind Side but they had an output deal with Warner Bros, so it ended up being one those kind of things.

Craig: Right.

John: But the budget was sufficient to the task. And you just — here’s the box — here’s the sized box and the question is, can I put it in that box and will the movie be as good as I need it to be.

Craig: Right.

John: To make it fulfilling and spend a year a half?

Craig: Well, I think you hit the mark again and it seems to me that in looking at the movies that you have directed, particularly the movies you’ve directed because you’re writing and I consider both your credited writing and what I know of your un-credited writing. Your writing spreads all genres or spans all genres, I should say, but when you look at the movies that you’ve directed, there seems to be a John Lee Hancock movie in a way that there was a Frank Capra movie.

And almost exclusively what you’re doing is directing movies about America or some aspect of American life. It’s often about a smaller American life that explodes into either the American dream or the American nightmare. Even Saving Mr. Banks in so many ways is about a British woman’s encounter with the most American of institutions and the epitome of the small/big American dreamer Walt Disney.

What do you think is it about that recurring theme that continues to draw you to that commitment of a year and a half or two years of your life? What are you exploring there?

John: That’s a good question. I don’t think you know why you make a movie sometimes until you finish making it. And then you go, “Oh, now I get it. Now I know why I wanted to invest that much time in this.”

And it wasn’t just because I thought the movie would be good because it better personally challenge you and some of your thoughts or you’re going to get bored.

Craig: Right.

John: Knowing how to make a movie and make it good is not enough to do the movie. So I don’t know. I mean, you think about it after the fact and you go with, you know, A Perfect World, I didn’t direct but wrote, you know, it was an original so that kind of goes in to the same basket I think.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Just, you know, an examination of fathers and sons, and a changing landscape, you know, the Kennedy assassination and then all those kinds of things, especially as regarding Texas where I was from. And then, you know, and then all of a sudden you find yourself doing The Rookie and I felt very strongly that it was about fathers and sons. It was about Brian Cox and what he passed along to Dennis Quaid and what he didn’t pass along and what Dennis is passing along to his son, and what he’s not giving him and those kind of things. I was just interested and fascinated in that idea.

And then, you know, The Blind Side is mothers and sons, and it really is. That was the unique perspective of that book was that I felt that my take on it was, this is a short story about mothers and sons and the protective mother bear and all those things. And so, you know, after the fact, I realized that’s probably why I did it.

With The Founder, I think, I mean, it’s a very American story, and I agree. People have said that before, it’s like, “You’re a very American filmmaker,” and I said, “For good and for bad, I think that’s true.” You know, anybody mentions my name around Capra that, I’ll take association.

Craig: As well you should. Yeah.

John: But, and I’m not, but nonetheless we all try. But, no. I’m drawn to, I mean, I think America is just, it’s a fascinating place and it’s kind of a brand new country in many ways and we’re still figuring things out, and I don’t know. It just fascinates me. And so the idea of a guy that, you know, Ray Kroc who is the epitome of everything that I admire. A hard working guy. The guy, you know, who like America in the ‘50s is shouldering the burden of everything and needs to make it. Just like America.

Craig: Right.

John: You know, just like America. And then, just like America, you know, things change and you go, “Oh, maybe I can cut this corner,” or “Maybe I’ll do this differently” or the thing you can never take away from Kroc is what a hard, hard worker he was.

Craig: Well, yeah. I mean, the movie is, I mean, I don’t want to give anything away that isn’t common knowledge but it’s very much a study of ambition and the two edges of that sword. And certainly brings to mind one of our presidential candidates in more ways than one.

I want to get to a couple more listener questions before we wrap things up with John Lee. So, this next one, I don’t think you’re going to care to answer John Lee, it’s about copyright. Do you feel like, I mean, you are a lawyer. Nope, you’re just pointing at me.

John: You know more about it than I do.

Craig: Again, Baylor Law. So, here is a question from Gary.

Gary: Hi, John and Craig. I have a hypothetical scenario that I’d love to hear you talk about. Let’s say every once and a while I like to go on random forums and read random comments and recently a particular commenter, let’s call him Jim2000, spewed an angry umbrage stuffed rant about his wife’s cooking. Let’s say that I love this rant and I want to use his exact words and inject it into my script, it’s just that good. So if I blatantly stole his words and his story, would that violate copyright law? I would never do this but I’m curious what your take is on anonymity in relation to copyright. Jim2000 clearly wrote this with no intention of it being tied to his real name, but could he sue me? Does he have ownership over an anonymous rant about his wife’s cooking?

Craig: It’s a good question. Although you probably shouldn’t be doing that but you already know that. So the answer depends. I think, I’m pretty sure that if you go on the Internet and you write a comment, that’s yours, and it is essentially copyrighted, but I want to point out that it’s very, very common and perhaps common to the point of obligatory that on most sites that are relying on comments. You’re waiving your rights whether you know it or not to have effective copyright.

So I want to read you this, this is from Reddit, this is part of their terms of service. What it says is, you, meaning the commenter, retain the rights to your copyrighted content or information that you submit to Reddit. Hmm, not bad. Except as described below. You ready, Gary?

By submitting user content to Reddit, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform, or publicly display your user content in any medium and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and you ready, Gary? Here’s the best part of all. And to authorize others to do so. So essentially, Reddit is saying, we can use your stuff even if it’s copyrighted and we can authorize all of our people to use it. So, pretty loosey goosey there. I mean, you know, you shouldn’t just lift people’s stuff that they put online, but people who do put comments online, please be aware that you’ve probably signed your life away to be on that.

All right. We have our last question is coming in from Jack.

Jack: So my question involves collaboration. Have you ever discussed or explored the notion of teaming up to work on a project together or producing a spec script, something along those lines? And my second item is a suggestion for One Cool Thing. So oftentimes when I’m writing, I’m always looking for good background music or music to kind of inspire me and I think I found just the site for those special instances when you just really want to kind of block things out. So the site is called and this is an application by Gabriel Martin. And the cool thing about it is it’s set up as kind of a mixing panel look and feel.

So for example, John might really enjoy just a simple coffee shop chatter with crickets in the background. Like Craig may be a little bit more adventurous and want to mix in some thunder, wind, and maybe even some bird sounds. Again, the site is called and I think you’re really going to like it.

Craig: Okay, Jack, the answer to your question. Well, first of all, let me talk about So John Lee, you know, there are these websites where you can pull up ambient sounds like thunder and rain and lightning to help you write like, “Oh, I’m writing a scene that’s in thunder.” I don’t find them particularly useful because they don’t change. I will write to music sometimes but I don’t — I wouldn’t want to write to just artificial rainfall.

John: I mean, everybody’s different. I mean, for the most part when I’m writing, I like complete silence. I mean, what I’ll do if I’m writing something whether if it’s a period piece or something while I’m riding around in the car, I might play music of that era just to inspire me and kind of keep my brain going, but I don’t know, when I write, I like it pretty quiet.

Craig: Yeah, I’m the same way. I’m the same way. And every now and then, if I’m writing action, which can sometimes exhaust me, I’ll put on, you know, like some Hans Zimmer, [unintelligible] you know, just to kind of–

John: Yeah.

Craig: But the other question that Jack wonders about far more disturbing. Should John August and I write a movie together? No. Because we could not — I was going to say, we’d pull each other’s hair out, but that’s a short fight given our situation. But, no, I think that solo artists are solo for a reason. It’s funny you mentioned silence, I like silence. You know, all the time that we spend doing what we do, we don’t, we become incredibly used to our rhythms and our process and we get stuck in our ways. My god, it’s hard enough to do what you do without crutches, so please don’t take my crutch away and one of my crutches is that it’s freaking quiet and I’m alone.

The only times I’ve been able to write effectively with other people is when there was a clear hierarchy in place. So when I was working with Todd Phillips, like, he’s going to direct this movie, he’s brought me on. He’s in-charge. I’m writing this with him, he listened to everything, I listen to everything, there was never a need to pull rank because it was understood that there was a hierarchy of a kind. But have you ever tried writing something with someone where you were on even footing with them?

John: Once way back when, when I was first starting out, I had a — he’s an actor-writer friend of mine and we had an idea that we kept riffing on. It was, you know, well, that’s interesting. Oh what if they did this. And you go, “This is writing itself,” but it takes both of us because we’re bouncing it back and forth, and we sat down and we tried for about a week and it was obvious that it just wasn’t, because the thing is I was too nice and maybe he was too nice as well, but I was too nice in that he would write something, and I’d go, “It’s really good.” And instead of going, “No, I want to change this.” But then if I changed it, he’d go back and go, “But didn’t this,” and you’d go, let’s be friends and not write together.

Craig: Right. Exactly. And not write together.

John: I got a question for you. Do you find, I mean, I’ve just gone through this recently but it happens all the time when you’re directing movies, especially, I mean, if you’ve written them especially, and sometimes if you’ve written them, I mean, if you haven’t written them and the writer’s not on the set, you’ll have this doesn’t work anymore because of the conditions or the construct of whether it’s the set of this or this and we need to rewrite this line, and I think I know the answer for you because you’re really quick at that. For me, actors will look at me like I’m crazy when I’ll go, “Yeah, let me fix it but I need to walk away.” And sometimes it’s only two minutes but I’ll walk away and put a piece of paper down on the hood of a car and then just get in that zone and then I’ll come back.

Craig: No, I’m exactly like you, in fact. And it’s because I have a rhythm and there’s a certain position I get in to do what I do. And you, oh, all the time, you know, a couple of times I directed, I would do that constantly or just like, let me walk around and don’t — no one – just let me be alone behind the freaking honey wagon for a minute and then I’ll come back and we’ll be fine, right?

Same thing when I’m not directing but I’m on set, you know, someone I was working with — so then in that case Todd and I would sometimes walk away. Because the thing is, what you don’t want is somebody listening to your drafts as you’re doing them because it’s going to skew the process.

John: You’re right.

Craig: You know, and then you see it in their faces like, “No, no, I’m not there. The trick is not over.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: So go away, right? And you can’t send them away so you walk away.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, that’s exactly right. All right. Well, I think it’s time for our One Cool Things. John Lee, do you have a One Cool Thing?

John: Boy, did you ask the wrong guy.

Craig: Do you have a one like, for you, Cool Thing

John: Considering the fact that I come to your office to get things scanned.

Craig: I know.

John: Considering the fact that I have a fax machine but no scanner.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It kind of answers itself.

Craig: I mean, that’s cool. It’s now so lame it’s cool.

John: It’s so lame, it’s cool. It’s appreciating once again. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah, every day.

John: Yeah. No, I mean, I’m still — I still jump for joy that I can copy paste and delete as opposed to typing on an electric typewriter.

Craig: Wow.

John: I mean, back in those days, when I first started out, and you’d write a draft to a script and you’re really happy and you’d give it to friends to read and they come back with good notes, and you’d go, “You’re right I’m going to change this.” It’s like you would make all the changes by hand and then you sit down and go, “Okay. The next two days are typing the script.”

Craig: Right.

John: Again and again, and again. 120 pages.

Craig: So this segment should be called One Old Thing with John Lee Hancock.

John: One Old Thing, yeah. Copy, paste, and delete are gifts.

Craig: All right. Well, we’ll excuse you.

John: Thank you.

Craig: The truth is I’m a terrible at it, too. John always has one, a lot of times I don’t. But today I do or this week I do for you at home and this came through from one of our listeners on Twitter and it’s fantastic. This is a bit of science news, and it’s a little premature to, you know, jump for joy, but one of the biggest problems that we have, and I think a lot of people know this, is antibiotic resistant bacteria. So we’ve been throwing antibiotics at each other for decades now and they are amazing things and people today don’t quite understand what the world was like before we had penicillin and albeit the subsequent antibiotics and people would constantly just die because they got infections and you couldn’t stop it. But through overuse and just general bacteria being bacteria, a lot of them have evolved to be resistant to these antibiotics, and some of them seem to be resistant to all of our antibiotics super, duper bad.

A 25-year-old student in I believe Australia. Yes, University of Melbourne. Her name is Shu Lam. And what Shu Lam has done is come up with a way to fight drug resistant bacteria without antibiotics at all. And it sounds so cool that I kind of wish I could watch it happening but I can’t because it’s so tiny. But what she’s done is basically, she’s come up with this thing that’s basically, it’s a polymer which is I guess kind of a plastic, yeah?

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s star shaped. And it goes into the body and they don’t hurt regular cells.

John: But it shreds bacteria?

Craig: Because they’re too big to hurt cells but it shreds the bacteria.

John: That’s awesome.

Craig: Yeah, it’s like Mad Max now instead of like, “Oh, it’s chemistry and duh-duh,” no. It’s like Bam! So it’s a much more violent attack on it, but the bigger issue and this is the big, you know, thing that people are going crazy about. They can’t become resistant to that. There is no resistance to being shredded up physically, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not like the antibiotics that are chemically kind of going inside and poisoning the bacteria and all to help these cells are around them as well. So anyway, Shu Lam might have just solved a huge problem there, and if she has, not only did she save millions and millions, and millions of lives but she also came up with something awesome: Star shaped polymer bacterial death.

John: And as a bonus if you’re writing the Incredible Journey remake and you need a third act twist.

Craig: Here they come.

John: Shit came.

Craig: Boing, boing, boing.

John: And they shrink.

Craig: Because you see them boinging, right? I think they’re working on there right now. Of course they are. All right. Well, that’s our show. As always since recently, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. And our outro this week. Oh my god. Okay, so John, every week we have an outro that a listener sends in. This week, super-duper special. I’m glad you’re here for it. Our outro this week comes from Tim Gurth who’s 11 years old. And here’s what his dad says.

His dad says, “I’m an avid listener. My son is 11 and just starting 6th grade, he loves to tell stories. Every night before bed we have a running story, he improvs with me. I’ve shared the podcast with him in the past and storytelling tips from almost every episode. He’s learning to play the cello.” Learning. By the way, is important because you know, you could tell he’s learning, but he’s way better at it than I am. That’s me talking. Back to his dad.

“When I told him about the outros, he wanted to enter the contest. I told him there was no prize other than being on that one podcast forever. He was still up for it, his teacher did her best to identify the five notes and he took it from there. He wanted this improvised song to reflect both John and Craig. I think he captured them.” He did.

He absolutely captured us. Tim, we love your job on the cello here. We love that you’re 11 and you have the courage to do this and of course I say to the rest of you, if 11-year-old Tim Gurth can do it, so can you. So if you have an outro for us that you would like us to try, please send it into That’s also a place where you can send longer questions. For shorter questions on Twitter, I am @clmazin and John August is @johnaugust. You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes and while you’re there leave us a comment and I’ll tell you why, John Lee Hancock. John August loves comments. He loves them. He reads them.

John: Wow.

Craig: And he thinks about them and he keeps threatening to read them on the air, so people really should comment just to make John August happy, right? That’s why we’re here. You can also find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at, that’s where you’ll find the transcripts. We try to get them up about four days after the episode airs. You can find all of the back episodes of the show at and also on the Scriptnotes USB drive at

John Lee, that’s the store that gives me no money because John’s stealing all the money. John Lee, thank you so much for being here. Everyone, check out The Founder when it hits theaters and fear not John, not Lee will be back next week. We’ll see you then.


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