John August: Hey, this is John. So this is Episode 272 of Scriptnotes. Now usually we go to the Austin Film Festival and we have a big live Scriptnotes show but this year was different because I wasn’t going to be there. So Craig was going to do some little interviews with some individual writers but kind of at the last minute, he got together a bunch of people and they got a big room and they got mics and so they did a big live drunken Scriptnotes show. So this was a secret show that wasn’t announced. People just showed up and it turned out really well. So thank you, Craig, and thank you to Austin Film Festival for letting this happen. The guests in this episode are Katie: Dippold, Phil Hay, Tess Morris and Malcolm Spellman. If you’ve listened to previous episodes with these guests and Craig and alcohol, you might guess, “I bet there is some strong language.” And you would be correct. So this is probably not the best episode to listen to in the car with your kids, but listen to it by yourself in your headphones and enjoy this live secret show from Austin. Thanks.
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 we are coming at you live, although if you’re hearing this, it’s not live but it’s live to us, from the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference where it is now 10:00 AM local time — sorry, 10:00 PM local time. We’ve been drinking a little bit so this will be spectacular. We are going to be a little free form tonight because of aforementioned drinking.
But first, I do want to thank, we have for those of you listening at home, we have a ballroom full of people who have all come to see this. So thank you, guys. Thank you, guys, for showing up. This was — we didn’t put this on the schedule. It’s kind of like a secret thing. We didn’t know if anyone was going to show up. You showed up, so thank you. And we, in return, have a fantastic show for you this evening. And when you hear the topic, I think you’ll be particularly pleased. But I would like to introduce my guests tonight and really maybe the best show we’re ever going to do. Sorry, John August, but it’s maybe the best show we’ve ever done. By the way, I also — John always says what number episode it is, I have no idea. It’s in the 200s, I believe. To my left, I have Tess Morris, screenwriter of Man Up.
Tess Morris: Hi.
Craig: Next, we have Phil Hay, screenwriter of Ride Along and Clash of the Titans. Do I need introduce the next person? Malcolm Spellman, writer of Empire. And then last but not the least, the great and mighty Katie: Dippold, Ghostbusters and The Heat. And we’re all pretty drunk. So in thinking about what we would talk about tonight, it occurred to me that every time I come here, there are, I don’t know, a hundred different topics that you can talk about. You all go to these seminars, they’re all very specific but I think, really, everyone is here mostly for one thing and no one ever talks to you about it, so I thought we would. And it is how the fuck do I get into Hollywood? So at last — oh yeah, for those of you listening at home, there may be adult language in this one. Okay. So, what we want to do tonight is just talk about this topic and I’m going to talk about it with my guests and then we will open up the floor to questions. By the way, questions about anything you want for anybody up here.
Tess Morris: Within reason.
Craig: No. It’s my show.
Tess: Oh yeah.
Craig: Anything you want. But what I want to do is start out by asking these simple questions that everyone has and they’re not easy to answer, which, to be fair, is why oftentimes we don’t really talk about it. But hopefully, in this conversation, we will get a little bit of wisdom that might be of value to all of you who are trying to break into this business as screenwriters. So I’m going to start by asking a question. Anyone, feel free. What do you think is the most important thing that anyone in this room can be doing, aside from like writing a great script, which we all know? Is there any one thing any of these people can be doing to improve their odds of breaking into this business?
Katie Dippold: I can start because my — well, my entrance in was I was at an improv theater, the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. So I was doing improv and sketch there and my first thing was I — we did a showcase to be a performer on Mad TV. And they liked — we had to write your own characters and I felt that I was brought out to test and it was clear that they liked the stuff I was saying but in no way how I was performing them.
And so I gave them a writing packet and that was my first job. But so, for me, my entrance was just doing like a, you know, UCB and doing an improv theater. I started taking improv classes. But the other thing that was important for me was I was also — I found a day job that — it was a temp job and they never asked me to do anything for three years to the point that I–
Craig: That’s a long temp job.
Katie: Very exactly.
Craig: It sort of stretches the boundaries of the word, temp.
Katie: Yeah, it really does. Well, I had this boss who — she would ask me to move like a text box in a PowerPoint slide like just — and I would do it and it would take like a second but I would look like a hero. And I would sometimes worry, was there some longer projects I was supposed to be doing but wasn’t paying attention when they told me? But what was great about the temp job was I could just — I read scripts all day and then just work on scripts. So, to them, I was working away because I was reading and writing, tapping away on the keyboard, you know.
Craig: There’s a lot of obvious effort going on.
Craig: But you weren’t actually doing anything for them?
Katie: Right. Exactly.
Craig: So there you go, that — just get that job. That’s easy. Now, Tess, you did this–
Tess Morris: Yes, Craig.
Craig: From across the ocean.
Tess: I know, all the way in the United Kingdom.
Craig: All the way. And I would venture to guess–
Tess: Craig, if you’re just going to do your British accent every time we talk, there’s going to be a problem.
Craig: No. No. No. No.
Tess: Are you sure?
Phil: It’s happening. It’s happening, Craig.
Tess: No, not no. No
Craig: No. I did promise you that we’re a little drunk.
Craig: Now, most of these people, I’m going to assume almost all of them do not live in Los Angeles. So you have an interesting perspective, you have a unique perspective on this. How did you do this from all the way over there?
Tess: Well, I mean, believe it or not, there are writers in England, at least–
Craig: What? What?
Tess: Are we just going to keep–
Tess: Okay. We’ve just been out to dinner with a lot of nuns just so you know as well.
Craig: There was a room full of nuns next to us.
Tess: There were 12 nuns next door to us just to share that with you all. We all were incredibly uncomfortable with that.
Craig: I wasn’t.
Tess: You were. I would say there’s no difference at all, really, in terms of what I think is like different things you can do, whether you live in the UK or Australia or America or wherever. I think the best thing you can do, and I’ve said this a few times today, sorry if you’ve heard me, is my favorite quote about writing was by and said by Philip Seymour Hoffman and he said that writers need to fill up. And I’ve always thought about that because I think often we can kind of run on empty and we don’t go and live our lives and we can start to think I don’t know what the fuck I’m writing about or what I’m doing. And I think sometimes the best thing you can do is actually step away and go and fill up a little and live your life and then come back and do some work. I mean, you can’t do that all the time obviously. It’s a bit of a luxury. But I think it’s an important thing for your mind and your brain. That’s quite a serious answer for me.
Craig: Yeah, I know. You’re kind of bringing us all down. So–
Craig: No, it’s okay. But it’s a really good answer because I think you’re absolutely right, that a lot of times, people, you know, Brian Koppelman, who, along with his partner, Levine. We’ll just call him Levine.
Phil: The Levine.
Craig: Did Rounders and they have Billions on Showtime right now. He had maybe the best advice I’ve ever heard for any writer was calculate less. Because I think a lot of people who are trying to break into the business are constantly calculating, what can I do, what contest should I enter, where should I go, how should I network, what should I write in my query letter, what should I not write in my query letter? I’m sure a lot of you have the stuff spinning around in your heads all the time and none of it actually is going to help you do the job. I think the idea of just living and reading and experiencing life will help you.
Tess: Yeah. Like relax.
Tess: From the most unrelaxed person you’ll ever meet in your life saying that.
Craig: She’s a little — yeah, she can be a little tense. Phil, what do you think?
Phil: I mean, this came up in some discussions I was having today. And I think what these guys are saying is exactly right. And what I could maybe add to it is to try to conquer fear as early as you can and don’t operate on calculation and fear and am I missing out, am I doing something wrong, am I making the right choices, because I think I can tell you from, you know, 18 years of experience that nothing has turned out exactly the way I thought it was. And what I’ve realized is that there’s no way to plan or concoct a scenario that — and then fulfill it if you’re doing this.
And I think what you can is to focus on what you can control, which is your life and enjoying your life and finding stuff to write about by living your life and understanding that in the end, I mean, I guess it’s good advice for life in general. But it’s hard to learn and it took me a long time to learn to try to divorce the process from the result. To try to divorce what you’re hoping to happen from the actual work that you’re doing in front of you. That, to me, I wish I had learned that earlier because you spend a lot of mental energy worrying about the outcome or trying to game the outcome or trying to make good smart choices and the only good smart choices you can make, I believe, are emotional choices of I know this is right for me, I have to do it no matter what other people are saying.
Tess: This is a therapy session, yeah?
Craig: It should be. God knows we all need it.
Phil: I have a quick question for Tess though that it was, you know, a technical question. Do you translate your scripts into American yourself or is there somebody who does that?
Tess: No, I get Craig to do it for me.
Phil: Okay. Good. Yeah.
Tess: And then when I need to be even like do the worst British accent in the world, I get Craig to do that as well.
Phil: Okay. Thank you.
Craig: Well, Malcolm, all these people have said what they think is the right answer, and now, you will tell us the actual right answer.
Malcolm Spellman: I thought Phil’s answer — all their answers were good. I would say.
Tess: Thank you.
Phil: But especially mine.
Malcolm: If I can get specific, because you took my answer by the way. I was going to say try and get better as quickly as you can. I think a common thing for novice writers is to react to feedback the wrong way and they slow down their progression on getting good and they also fuck up their ability to engage. One of the first things that’s going to happen out the gate is people are going to tell you what’s not working about your work. And the sooner you get to learn how to navigate that exchange, the more likely you are to have an ally who might move your shit around and pass it along to people.
The other thing I was going to say, which is it’s a difficult one because I’ve heard it, but I feel like we’ve heard this so many times in festivals and I don’t know if anyone has ever really said it because you’re scared of someone blowing up your life. I will say, if you are younger and do not have a family, you should move to Los Angeles. It is something everyone looks to hear they don’t have to do, that’s how you know you should do it. And in the group of writers we all hang out with, there’s two outliers here now with Kate and Tess.
Craig: The Kate. The Kate.
Malcolm: No, but–
Katie: That’s how I asked to be called.
Malcolm: Up until now, I’ve never been on a panel that didn’t have writers who moved to Los Angeles first. So when you’re dealing with something like the high 90th percentile, that’s one of the starting moves and you’re saying to yourself, well, can I do it without doing something that 90% of working screenwriters do, you’re fucking around in territory where you’re not going to win.
Craig: You got that?
Phil: We are going to give away some JetBlue miles in the night tonight.
Craig: The question that is probably asked most frequently behind how do I get started, how do I break in, is – it’s associated with that, how do I get a representative? How do I get an agent? How do I get a manager? I personally have no idea. I’m kind of fascinated to hear what you guys have to say, “How do people go about getting a manager or an agent?” And address, if you can, the Catch 22 that I know is on their mind. If I don’t have an agent, it’s hard to get an agent. Do you know what I mean?
Craig: So what do they do?
Katie: I will throw out there that I think it’s almost important to like think like them, like what would make you take on a client and I don’t mean in terms of writing the thing that will sell. Because I think, most importantly, you should write what you’re passionate about. The thing that I’ve written that got me the most like action, so–
Tess: I like that.
Katie: I feel bad about it immediately saying it that way.
Tess: No, it’s good. It’s good.
Katie: But like I wrote this pilot that was super weird but it was the thing I was most excited about wanting to see, you know. And that got me like on Parks and Rec. And then it also became like a sample in features for like general meetings and stuff. But where did I start?
Craig: Like where did you start with this answer?
Katie: Okay. So okay, yes.
Tess: You were having dinner with the nuns.
Katie: All right. So, okay.
Craig: You’re supposed to tell us how you get an agent.
Katie: Where are we?
Craig: This is Austin.
Craig: it’s a city in Texas.
Katie: Austin. Okay.
Craig: You’re not in Los Angeles now.
Katie: My God, there’s people here.
Craig: Katie:, this is real.
Katie: This is happening?
Craig: This is happening.
Katie: This is happening?
Craig: Yeah, this is real.
Katie: But, no. I think like it’s just because I have a lot of friends, you know, that are, you know, still trying to break in and I don’t — the thing I said to them like I can give your script to my agent but I guarantee they will only read you one time. So just like make it great, you know. So it’s like they just want to read something that they’re like, “Oh, this is someone that I can imagine is going to, you know, really go places, you know.” So I guess, yeah, just like make that thing great just in — also in terms of what you want to see because I think that’s, you know, what your passion about is the thing. Not just writing what you think will sell, because they see that kind of stuff all the time, you know.
Tess: I think as well don’t you think now in like in the modern world, as my mum might say, like you can now, like I was on a panel this morning where a writer was talking about, you know, he’s making webisodes and doing all that stuff that you don’t even need an agent or a manager for at this point. You know, like now you can actually get your stuff seen in a much easier fashion than when I was first starting out. So, actually physically making some stuff and then being able to send — I mean, you know, now, if I get sent — someone sends me a link now that’s longer than 30 seconds, I’m not watching it. My brain is not going to last that long on a link, you know.
Craig: I don’t know if that’s a great advice. I would say it’s okay to write things longer than 30 seconds.
Tess: No. But what I want to mean is, is that we’ll–
Phil: I’m going to give you some respectful push back on that.
Tess: No. What I mean is — what I mean is, is an agent more likely to watch something that’s a minute long or read something that’s like 20 pages long. And I think now you actually have at your dispense like you can go and make some stuff that they can click on. I mean, obviously, my attention span is not great as demonstrated, but I’m not an agent. But if someone sends me something to watch, I’m more likely to go — I imagine this agent, “Oh, here’s an interesting like minute long sketch. That’s a voice. That’s interesting.” Rather than having sent a half an hour script and they’ll be like, “Oh, I’ve got to read that again.” So I think there’s a brave new world in that sense.
Craig: Well, you know, reading — you’ve reminded me of something that is absolutely true and I think it all the time. I do not like reading scripts, I — which is a weird thing to say for somebody that only writes screenplays. But reading screenplays is hard. It’s a hard thing to do because it’s not what — it’s not an end form of something. It’s not a novel. A novel is meant to be read, that’s it. And a screenplay is meant to be turned into a movie. It’s this weird middle thing. It’s hard to read. It can be arduous. So part of what I sometimes say to people is you need to start realizing before you write anything that you’re in this weird hole with the person that’s going to read it. They’re already angry that they have to read a screenplay.
Phil: You’re trying to defuse their anger–
Phil: Long enough to inspire them.
Craig: Yeah. You have to almost delight them so quickly and they’ll be like, “Oh my God.” like getting a child to eat vegetables in a weird way. I mean, have you guys seen the Rick and Morty where he has to listen to the man’s tale? Have you seen that? And the look on his face, it’s so true. It’s like, “Oh no, not a screenplay.” But you are in a weird hole and you have to kind of acknowledge it and you have to grab it. And you’re right in that now, unlike when I think all of us started, you have the opportunity to actually make things easily with equipment that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars when I was starting out.
Tess: My first short film had a budget. This is like 1997. I had a budget of £30,000. You can make five movies for that now.
Craig: Right. Right. And, by the way, nowhere to put it.
Craig: That’s the other thing. You make the movie and you’re like, “I guess I have to enter it into festivals.”
Craig: Now, you can just, “Hey, world. Everyone in the world, you may now watch my movie.” which is a remarkable opportunity. Phil, what do you have to say about getting a manager–
Tess: How long is your attention span, Phil?
Phil: I’m just getting warmed up. I’m not even near taxing my attention span at the moment.
Craig: Phil is at 5% capacity.
Phil: I think that making something yourself is definitely the right thing. And I think I have one maybe practical thing to suggest in the category of making alliances, I think, is the most important thing when you’re starting out, whether that’s with other writers, whether that’s with people who are going to help you shoot a movie, whether it’s going to be, you know, just people who are kind of at the same area, in the same place you are. And I think, and again, forgive me if this is obvious, but I feel like who you really need to be finding are assistants to give your script to. You need to find assistants to agents, assistants to–
Craig: You didn’t mean you have to go hire assistants, I think–
Phil: No. No. You have to hire an assistant immediately.
Craig: Yeah. They’re like, “Whoa.”
Phil: Because in my wealth seminar, I say you show that you are successful and successful comes to you. Would you pass the packets out, please? Packets are coming out.
Craig: Phil is the Tom Vu of the Writer’s Guild. Yeah.
Katie: I think this is a really smart tip because actually my first agent was an assistant first, and so he was looking for material. And I feel like that’s the thing like–
Phil: Right. It’s somebody who can be helped by finding you.
Phil: Whereas an agent who is already established, they would love to find a great client. But they are not terribly motivated to do that. They already have a way to do that. They already have a list. But if you find an assistant, that’s someone who’s in the same position you are. They’re trying to make a move. They’re trying to break in. They’re trying to do something that’s going to standout. And so if you can give them something of quality, that is something that they will be extremely motivated to do their best to share with the people that they work for and–
Craig: Kind of like — it’s like matching hunger, right?
Phil: That’s right
Craig: The hunger to be a writer and there are people out there who have a hunger to represent writers or to find great screenplays. And it’s so frustrating because sometimes I think to myself, oh you know, somebody may say to me, “Hey, would you like to do this?” And I say, “Oh, I can’t. I’m doing this.” But they say, “Well, who do you think would be good for this?” And I think, “Oh my God, there are a million people who would probably be very angry at me right now because I don’t know their name but they would be good for this.” And so — but finding the people that are actively looking is actually a brilliant suggestion. Now, easier said than done, if you’re not in Los Angeles, again.
Phil: Los Angeles makes that so much easier.
Craig: What do you think about — Malcolm, I will ask you, what do you think about these services that are out there? Franklin Leonard has The Black List. There are pitch contests. There are — there’s a competition here. What do you think about those things? Is that a viable way in?
Malcolm: There seems to be, I say like we’ve joked about this sort of in our group a little bit like 95% of the people who can make it as screenwriters and now with the Internet and with all of these contests, with that system being built in place, that’s the 4% that there’s only 1% of people who could actually make it as a screenwriter that aren’t going to find a way in now. And so I think it’s a really good system.
I’m now encountering writers. I just had a sit down with a young dude who went through the, you know, all the legit contests. He placed high in all of those and that got the attention of probably assistants or whatever that wanted to help whatever and he found his way towards more and more legit people. Now, he’s out in Los Angeles and got into one of these programs or whatever. You know what I’m saying? So, yeah, I think that’s a very, very good way. And if you’re just doing blind submissions, I will say, I think agents are a terrible way to go. You go with managers because agencies don’t do what they used to do. When we was coming up, you know what I’m saying? That’s what managers do now.
Craig: No. That’s an interesting question about managers and I acknowledge that you’re right about this. I mean, look, I question the whole–
Tess: You just said that someone else is right. Yeah.
Malcolm: What did you say, Craig? You just heard that right?
Craig: I do that all the time but only with John August. I don’t do it with you guys, because he’s always right. Do you guys have managers? What do you think about this whole manager thing?
Tess: I only have — I have an agent in the UK and I have an agent in the US. But weirdly, the last few weeks, I’ve been like, “Do I need a manager?” Like a lot of people keep saying it to me. And then I’m like, you know, everyone says, “Oh, but then you’ve got to pay them more and all that like bollocks.” But like — I think like in the UK, our agents tend to do much more of a manager job than your agents here do. So my agent in the UK like manages my career and we talk and we have a schedule and we like, you know, like have a strategy. Whereas here, my agent is like, “Here’s the money. Here’s, like, here’s what you’re going to get.”
Craig: He actually sounds like a pretty good agent.
Craig: I mean, he’s saying, “Here is money,” which is–
Tess: Well, no, as in like there’s no like, you know, there’s not really like discussions–
Craig: Oh, yeah.
Tess: Of like should you do this job. It’s like you should do this job.
Craig: There’s money.
Tess: There’s money.
Craig: Do the job.
Tess: Yeah. And then I go, “I don’t think I want to do this.”
Craig: Do job.
Tess: Do job.
Craig: Do job.
Tess: Job, do.
Craig: Job, do.
Tess: Job, do. It’s good for my attention span. Okay. Do it. But, yeah. But I do think that I know lots of writers who prefer having a manager than an agent.
Craig: Because most of these folks out here, I think Malcolm is absolutely right, their first interaction is — out of curiosity, how many of you do have a manager? Quite a few.
Tess: That’s good.
Craig: Quite a few. I would say maybe — I would say 20% there. Agent? Less. Much less. Maybe 5% or less. So–
Katie: Can I ask?
Katie: How many people live in Austin and how many people live in LA?
Craig: Holy gajolie. This is — this podcast is a total waste of time. They are all from Los Angeles. What are we doing? Why are you here? What is happening?
Phil: I am taking the JetBlue miles and going to St. Croix.
Craig: JetBlue, off the table. All right. So most of you are from Los Angeles, what the hell? All right. Totally different topic then.
Tess: Anyway, moving on.
Phil: The managers, I would say, I think it has become much more, I mean, since I started with my partner, Matt, 18 years ago and I think it was actually very uncommon for writers to have managers, it was just not really done. And now, I think it’s more common than not it seems. And we had once for a small period, a couple of years we had a manager. We don’t now. For the majority of our career, we haven’t.
Tess: Did you sack him?
Phil: It was interesting, it was a company called AMG that was created. They were managers.
Craig: He fired him hard.
Tess: He fired their ass.
Craig: It was a hard firing.
Craig: Hard fire
Phil: Hard fire.
Craig: Hard fire.
Phil: No. But what was interesting was they were great, they did great work but they were basically an agency and they were constructed to be another agency, so it’s kind of having two different agents. And I think if you want to have a manager–
Craig: What the fuck?
Phil: There goes Malcolm.
Craig: Malcolm has left.
Phil: He’s jogging.
Craig: He’s literally jogging out. What the fuck?
Katie: Malcolm, bye.
Phil: What is he doing?
Katie: Okay. Malcolm turned to me and he was like, “I have to go to the bathroom. So I should just go, right?” And then I said, “Yeah. Yeah. Like I got you.”
Katie: And then it was immediately–
Craig: You thought that I got you, you would cover–
Katie: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what I thought I could do.
Craig: The incredibly obvious exit to the bathroom?
Katie: I thought I would make him invisible.
Tess: I mean, you really, really covered Malcolm there.
Phil: No. No. We both have an improv background. We could easily do a quick object transformation up here while he’s going to the bathroom, if he would have just given us a little more warning.
Craig: Katie:, you’re a terrible friend.
Craig: Just a bad friend.
Katie: I immediately threw him under the bus. I’m like here’s what happened.
Craig: I know. He wasn’t even out of the door and you’re like, “Okay, he’s going to the bathroom.”
Craig: All right. So we’ve lost Malcolm.
Phil: My incredible salient point was that if you have a manager–
Craig: Oh, you’re back to you? Oh, you think that you can still keep going like Malcolm didn’t go to the bathroom?
Phil: I can do this.
Craig: Okay. Fine.
Phil: I can pull this out. All right. I’m the Chuck Yeager of podcasts.
Craig: Let’s go, Phil. Push the envelope, man.
Craig: Face those demons.
Phil: If you are going to have a manager, make sure they do something different than the agent does.
Tess: I thought you were going to do a JetBlue joke again.
Phil: I was — believe me, I was constructing it. But it wasn’t A+. It was a B- and I wasn’t going to do it.
Craig: Never do a B-.
Phil: This is an A+ crowd.
Craig: It’s an A+ crowd.
Phil: And they’re not going to stand for it.
Craig: Most of them are from Los Angeles. They have high expectations.
Phil: That’s right. Yeah.
Craig: Look who’s back.
Phil: Malcolm is back.
Craig: So Malcolm Spellman has returned from the bathroom.
Katie: It’s fine. They didn’t notice.
Phil: This is what we call in the improv game, pulling focus.
Craig: We certainly had no idea what was going on and Katie: definitely did not tell us. And kind of an odd question for you guys. But, you know, something that John and I talk about quite a bit is, well, I don’t mean to be grim. But Malcolm is correct. The odds aren’t great. And for a lot of people, they have a dream, a desire, an ambition to be screenwriter and we just know that it won’t work out for everyone. Obviously, it will work out for you. You, meaning, you, not the idiot next to you, but you. But for those for whom it does not work out, I kind of want to encourage people or at least give them permission to say, “I don’t have to do this.” And just an interesting question for you guys because I’m kind of curious, if you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Phil: Regional airline pilot.
Craig: And you really do have the face for it.
Phil: I still might be.
Phil: I don’t want to be presumptuous. Just Spirit Air. I don’t need to be flying those big birds to Osaka.
Craig: Do you even need to know how to fly, to be a pilot with Spirit Air?
Craig: You just have to fit the uniform of the guy that died from a heart attack.
Phil: I just need to drop my voice an octave and just get everybody comfortable and–
Craig: All right folks, at the left side of the plane, you will see… – What about you, Tess? What would you be doing?
Phil: So that’s what I would do.
Tess: Interpretative dancer.
Craig: You know, this is not helping you guys. Those aren’t real things.
Tess: No. Well, no, Craig–
Tess: They are. Because it would be doing something that I love.
Craig: Interpretative dancer is not a job. You know that.
Tess: It is a job.
Craig: Where? Where?
Tess: In interpretative dance institutions around the world and–
Phil: See, Craig, in England, they have government funding of the arts.
Craig: They may actually have that–
Tess: Well, not anymore. Brexit fucked us.
Tess: No. What I would — no. My–
Craig: This is where it all breaks down.
Tess: The link is–
Craig: We’ll be getting to your questions very shortly. I promise.
Tess: Fine. No. The link is that I think I would be — okay, maybe it’s not a proper job. But it’s sort of I could make it a proper job because I would love it enough to do it and I think like–
Craig: Will you do it right now?
Tess: I would if you give me another three Shiners. Four?
Craig: That’s — I don’t–
Tess: But I’ve got a different panel to attend. No. No. Tomorrow morning.
Phil: This is an audio podcast.
Tess: I know.
Phil: That’s going to be–
Tess: Believe me, no, you will be able to hear the dancing.
Craig: I was going to — I was also going to take a video but–
Tess: No. But the point is that I — when I wrote the script — when I wrote Man Up, I was living at home at that time and I was like 33 and I was like I said to my mom and dad, “Oh if this doesn’t — this is my last chance saloon. And if I don’t sell this, then I’ll go and get a proper job.” And I honestly didn’t know what I meant by that, because I’d only ever been a writer. But I do know that I think, in terms of doing something else in my life, I would always want to do something creative.
And I think, also, it might be good for some of you to accept that you’re not necessarily writers, but maybe you’re a producer, or maybe you’re an editor, or maybe you’re a — you know, like, there are lots of writers I know that obviously have come to the conclusion that they might not make their money, everyday money from it, but there are certainly lots of other kind of avenues that you can go down that will still keep you in the filmmaking and television world. And then you can write for the sheer joy of it on the side.
Craig: Which — I mean, yeah.
Tess: Or interpretative dance on the side.
Craig: But all joking aside, there is a remarkable freedom to writing for the sheer joy of it.
Craig: And I sometimes think to myself, look, when I started writing screenplays, I was not being paid to write screenplays. I started as a temp. I didn’t have this incredible–
Tess: Three years.
Craig: Three-year temp job where you don’t do anything. I had a proper temp job where I had to do way too much for the small amount of time I had. And then I would write at night, but I understood, when I was writing at night, that I wasn’t writing for anyone. Just me. And, you know, it’s funny. I was talking to Alec Berg. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Alec Berg. He worked on Seinfeld and he ran Curb Your Enthusiasm, and now he’s the showrunner on Silicon Valley and he’s a brilliant guy.
He said, the other day, he was reading something that he had written years and years ago. And he said, “You know, it wasn’t great, but it was free.” And he said, “And I miss that. I miss being free. I can’t write anything. I have to write what I’m supposed to write, and there are these constraints that have nothing to do with what I want.” And there’s a remarkable freedom that you have that actually, we don’t. That is an advantage, in a weird way, that you have to surprise everybody, and we really can’t.
Tess: Well, I think it’s quite like — I don’t know about you lot, but, like — and I’ve been writing for, like, 17 years, and the best things that I think I’ve written have been things that I haven’t been paid for. [laughs]
Craig: Oh, 100%. Yeah.
Tess: Because, like, I don’t have the pressure and no one’s waiting on anything. Like, to do that alongside your paid work is the best thing you can do. If you are a working writer in this room, which I’m sure some of you are, then that’s another thing that you should always be doing. Like, do unpaid stuff for your own brain as well.
Craig: What about you, Katie:? Where would you be if you weren’t doing this gig?
Craig: Oh, you’d be an agent?
Katie: That was my other dream, and then I would think about — but I had applied and did not get in. So it was never a backup career in any way.
Tess: Did you really not get in? But you are actually in this — yeah.
Katie: No, I truly applied. But I–
Craig: You applied to be, like, at the mailroom at CAA?
Craig: Oh, CIA?
Katie: CIA, yeah.
Craig: I was like, why do you want to be an agent?
Malcolm: She’ll kill you, dude.
Craig: It’s the shittiest job. I honestly was hating you, and now I like you again. So you wanted to be in the CIA?
Katie: I applied for that and the FBI.
Katie: Both rejected.
Craig: Why did they reject you?
Katie: I feel like–
Craig: They don’t say, do they? [laughs]
Katie: No — well — okay. I think–
Phil: You didn’t want to take it down to the ATF? You drew the line at FBI?
Katie: It was honestly, like, the–
Phil: Federal agency, just like any other. Just as good.
Katie: Yeah. I think I was real excited about it, but I had nothing to offer. I had no skillset that would be–
Tess: But you had your temporary job on your resume.
Katie: I did, yeah. Exactly.
Craig: Weirdly, that did not–
Tess: So weird.
Katie: Yeah, really weird.
Craig: Make them think that you were vital to our nation’s security.
Phil: She’s been working in the office from Three Days of the Condor already.
Katie: Can I tell you something someone said to me once? And I don’t know if it’s controversial or very boring.
Craig: We’ll be the judge of that.
Katie: But it had a big impact on me. I was an intern at Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and the writers there were all very lovely and awesome. And there’s this writer, Kevin Dorff, and he was giving advice and he’s the best. Me and a couple of other interns were asking about — and I guess this is more about comedy, but we were asking, like, you know, like, “What do you think? How hard is it to break in and stuff?”
And tell me if you agree or disagree, but he said, “If you’re good, you’ll make it.” And, like I weirdly found that inspiring, you know, that — I don’t know. Because I feel like there’s a lot of bad people who make it, you know, but I feel like at least with comedy, if you get to a point where — I don’t know a lot of comedians who are, like, amazing that don’t eventually make it.
Craig: Well, I think that that’s true. I mean, Malcolm alluded to this and Phil alluded to it as well. There is this incredible hunger for quality in Hollywood, which may strike you as odd considering all the movies that they make. But they’re looking for really smart people to make the movies that they want to make. And they are short on people that they think are terrific writers. They’re always, always, always looking.
And terrific scripts do get noticed, there’s no question about that. I mean, in a weird way, when people say, like, “What are my odds of making it?” I just think 0% or 100%, in a weird way.
Craig: That’s it, you know?
Malcolm: Yeah. I think there’s more professional football players than there are working screenwriters.
Craig: Yeah. John and I have gone through the numbers. There are more NFL players than screenwriters.
Katie: I feel like we haven’t — like, I feel like, if we’re getting really into it, I feel like if I’m in this room–
Malcolm: The CIA talking.
Tess: You are in this room.
Craig: Yeah. Again, this is real.
Tess: You’re in.
Phil: This is happening, yup.
Katie: I feel like I would want to know — if you have this great spec, how do you get that? Like, what do you do with it if you don’t have any connections or you don’t know anyone? Like, my path was the improv theater, but if you’re not doing improv–
Katie: Like, I’m not sure what the answer is. If you don’t know anyone but you have this spec, what do you do?
Craig: Well, you know what? I told these guys, when Malcolm and Tim Talbott wrote a screenplay together and it was horrible and wonderful. It was the most disgusting, hysterical, terrible, great thing I’d ever read in my life. And they were asking, like, “What do we do?” And I said, you just put it on the Internet. It seemed perfect for the Internet. [laughs] Because I said, no one’s ever going to make this movie ever in a million years. I think Tim–
Malcolm: Fuck you, Craig.
Craig: No one’s ever going to make it and no one will ever make that movie. It is a crime against humanity.
But it’s wonderful and it so clearly indicates remarkable talent. And not surprisingly, these two guys who were writing under the pseudonym Robotard8000, one goes on to work on Empire, the other one wins the Waldo Salt Award at Sundance for his movie, the Stanford Prison Experiment.
But you can put anything on the Internet if you stop caring so much about, “People are going to steal my…” People are going to steal — stop it. Just never say that to me. Don’t worry about anyone stealing anything. Just put it out there. Put it out there. I think maybe somebody will notice it if it’s wonderful. Or no?
Tess: Also, do you think, like, if you were at a festival like this and – which you all are, hi – we’re all here still, yeah?
Tess: Okay, good.
Craig: This continues to be real.
Tess: Yeah. No, I just always have to check with her now, so–
Craig: Oh, yeah.
Tess: I feel like Katie: knows. No, but–
Katie: I just stared blankly.
Katie: I wasn’t sure where we were.
Tess: I feel like if you can tell me your film in one sentence and it sounds amazing, I would want to read it. And I’m not sure how many people can actually do that.
Craig: Well, everybody, go up to Tess after this and tell her–
Tess: No. Honestly–
Craig: Tell her your–
Tess: If you can tell me, like, a new idea — if you can say to me in 20 — obviously, my attention span coming into it again. [laughs] No. But if you can say to me it’s a film about boom, boom, boom, boom and I’d be like, “Wow, that sounds, like, really interesting.” And it’s quite rare to be able to do that. And that’s your job as a writer to get your idea into that one nice little neat sentence, that then someone who is an agent or manager here or whoever, might go, “That sounds really interesting.”
Katie: I think that’s really smart, because I also — it’s like what you were saying before too about having immediately climbed out of this hole, because I think when someone says, like, everyone in Hollywood is so self-absorbed, you know, so, like, the idea of someone coming up and saying, “Hey, can you read this thing?” You know, they’re going to be like, “Ugh,” you know?
So, like, what can be said? How do you get through that thing? What could possibly be said to you that you would be, like, “Oh, okay.” Or, you know, that’s almost like — it’s a weird thing. It’s, like, also coming up with how to not scare someone off.
Craig: Out of curiosity, just so we know if we could stop talking or not, how many of you have a question that you would like to ask of these people? Oh, barely anyone.
Tess: Don’t have any.
Craig: No. Please, sir.
Male Audience Member: I, personally, as a screenwriter, am a particularly anxious person. I imagine a lot of you can relate to that. You know, you often doubt yourself to a great extent. So I’m wondering, what was the point at which, in your career, you just sort of let go of doubt and realized, yes, I can do this? What did it take to convince yourself that you had what it took?
Malcolm: No. No. No, no, no. It is funny. I tweeted the other day, most of my career, before I got on and even when I got on and went cold, and got on, and went cold again, at no point did I ever think it was really going to work out. And this is probably the first time — I’ve been working professionally on and off for 15 years — this is the first time, like, the last couple years where I actually feel that I got something going on, so you got to have the ability to – like, you don’t even have to have faith that you’re going to make it. You got to have the ability to punch through that shit.
Phil: You’ve made it, Malcolm. You’re here.
Tess: But I’m the same as Malcolm. I don’t know about you guys, but, like, it’s only in the last few years, having been working for 17 of it, like, that I feel — like, last year, when I came here, I said to you the other night, like, I felt like an imposter last year.
Tess: No, but I really did.
Craig: No. She had a movie here, playing.
Tess: Yeah. And I felt like–
Craig: And she felt like an imposter.
Tess: Because I’m an idiot. But, like–
Craig: No, you’re human. I mean, this is the way we are.
Tess: No, no. But that’s okay because I just — you know, like, it’s — you have to just — you really can’t ever think that anything’s ever going to get made, because when it does, it’s a miracle. Not a religious miracle — maybe it’s a religious miracle, I don’t know. But you–
Craig: We should ask the nuns. They were there. We could have asked them.
Tess: They were right there.
Craig: They were right there.
Tess: All 12 of them.
Craig: There was 12 of them?
Tess: A murder of nuns.
Craig: A murder of nuns.
Tess: A murder of nuns.
Craig: A passel.
Tess: A what?
Craig: A passel. [laughs]
Tess: A passel.
Craig: A passel of nuns.
Tess: A pail of kittens.
Craig: Yeah. Oh, is that a thing?
Tess: That’s what it is. But yeah, I think you have to — I never think anything’s going to happen until it happens.
Craig: Phil, you seem like someone who’s actually bizarrely well-adjusted, probably because you’re not Jewish.
Phil: Tremendously confident.
Katie: Yeah, and just at dinner, you were saying, “I’ve got it all figured out.” Like I’m king of–
Phil: I was saying that.
Katie: King of Industry, I think, is what exactly you said.
Phil: Again, the packets are going to be distributed in a moment and… – No. When I hear you say that, I say, “Here’s somebody who’s probably on the right track,” because I think that doubt is a very good thing to have — I mean, the people that I worry about are people who have it all figured out, and think that they have it all figured out–
Malcolm: They got producers.
Phil: Yeah. I don’t think anybody that is on this stage, or any of our friends around that do this for a living–
Craig: It never ends.
Phil: Don’t. And if there’s a day when I feel no doubt, Matt Manfredi is there to give me doubt in myself.
Craig: He’s there to remind you that you’re stupid.
Phil: To remind me of my limitations.
Craig: Excellent question, sir. Yes, sir?
Male Audience Member: Although it’s not obvious, I’m no longer a promising young man. So, I’m wondering, I mean, does that make a difference? You know, even if a script gets me into a meeting, are they just going to go like, “Whoa, this guy’s way too old.”
Craig: Well, you know–
Male Audience Member: I mean, should I just start paddle tennis or –?
Tess: Do that anyway, because that’s fun.
Craig: Yeah. Definitely don’t not start paddle tennis. But I don’t think any of us can necessarily say for sure what it’s like to be — I mean, we are the age we are, okay? But that said, because screenplays — good screenplays are rare, I think that it is not a disqualifier in any way. I will tell you that Hollywood is as subjective, not more so, to all of the human foils and biases that exist in the world. And if you are older than normal, or you are not a — you’re less white than normal–
Male Audience Member: I got that.
Craig: Or less of a man than normal, or less straight than normal, or less able than normal, it’s a thing, right? You’re talking about a business that is routinely casting people to play types. They are only interested in presenting reality with the most beautiful people of all. That’s what they do. They are soaking in it.
But, a great script and a great interaction with somebody will always win. You just have to be aware that you may have to fight a little harder. That’s just reality, I think.
Katie: I think that’s a great point though to throw out there, is I think it is crazy rare for there to be a great script floating around. Like, most scripts are really bad.
Craig: Really, really, really.
Katie: I think that’s motivating. Like, you know what I mean?
Tess: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Craig: Not your script.
Katie: Maybe the person next to you. The person–
Craig: No, but the person next to you, their script is shitty. Your script, awesome. Next question.
Male Audience Member: Hi, my name’s Hunter. This is a question mostly for Katie:, but you guys can answer it, too, about the screenwriting process. So Ghostbusters and I think The Heat as well had a lot of improv in it, clearly. So what’s the process of, like, for writing a comedy for having a lot of improv–?
Craig: Yeah, what do you even do, Kate?
Craig: I mean, do you even write or — that’s my favorite question. So, like, do you just do blanks and then they just fill in?
Katie: I would say the goal is to write the best possible — like, so, for example, a scene. Just write the best possible scene you can and then when you — you know, if you get someone like Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig, you know, like, the goal is to shoot a version of the scene that you set with, that you know technically works. But then you hopefully cast these improv geniuses that are going to just add so much funny shit and make you feel really lucky when you’re sitting behind the monitors, like, thinking, like, “Oh my god, did that scene work in the first place?” [laughs] You know?
Or also, I would say, like, the best times or, like, if you write the scene the best version you can, and then you get someone like the Melissa and Kristens or whatever, you know, like they start bringing their own stuff, and sometimes what’s great is then you see what they’re doing and then you try to like, “Oh, that’s really funny.” So then you throw an alt back at them and then they’ll take that and do something funnier with it. [laughs]
Katie: You know, ideally, it’s like a collaboration still, you know.
Tess: I think, like, all the best improvisers will always give the writer credit because they can’t improvise off of nothing. They have to improvise off your scripts. And I had it with Simon Pegg who he is like one of — he’s an amazing improviser and he would always go to me, “Does that still track?” If I say — you know, like, so we do like what our director called a loosey-goosey.
So we’d shoot 10 versions of the scene and then he shouts, “Loosey-goosey,” and they would basically be able to do whatever they liked. And maybe 20% of those loosey-gooseys were great, 80% were not great. And then you see them in the outtakes and then you think, “Oh, they’ve all improvised it,” or whatever, but you’ve got to have something to start from in the first place.
Craig: That’s the essence of it. I mean, you want somebody like Melissa McCarthy.
Tess: Yeah, oh, my god.
Craig: Or Zach Galifianakis or Simon Pegg or Kevin Hart to be able to do what they do. But what they’re doing is related to the intention of the character, the situation the character is in. Whatever they’re doing ultimately has to arrive at a place you have predetermined.
They begin where you say, they end where you say. They are intending what you say. The actual words that they use for it, or those little funny moments and wonderful little things are amazing but must occur in the context of what you have provided. And you’re absolutely right. The good ones–
Tess: Always acknowledge.
Craig: Always acknowledge.
Phil: It’s a moment that requires extreme vigilance as a writer. It’s where you can be the most useful because in the moment as a comic actor, you have a killer instinct which is to kill, which is to do the funniest best thing that you can imagine. And that’s not necessarily going to serve the story.
And in fact, that may take you out of the relationship that is being developed. The laughter and the success in the moment on the set with all the grips laughing and everyone going, “Yeah,” may turn into a huge problem later because it’s violated something about the scene. And I will say specifically, as someone — I’ve been able to work with Kevin Hart a lot and he is someone who seems to improvise a lot but in fact does not.
Craig: I know.
Craig: He doesn’t.
Phil: And because that’s not his approach, he–
Craig: What Kevin is brilliant at is making scripted lines sound improv.
Craig: It’s incredible.
Phil: And which is a wonderful thing, and why Kevin is — everyone has their own process and all the people we’re talking about are really great actors who all have their specific way in, but it’s interesting because sometimes something you see that feels — the greatest thing as a writer, you hear something that feels very in the moment and feels very spontaneous. A lot of those things are actually scripted and that’s wonderful when it does turn out.
Tess: But your job as well, which is great, is that, like, I would watch Simon do like a brilliant piece of improv and then everyone would like laugh and they’d go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then I go over to my director and go, “Just so you know, we still have to get that beat just because it needs to make sense story-wise.”
Tess: And he’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve got it.”
Katie: I agree with what Craig — you need to have the intent of the scene there and I have to say like Melissa and Kristen Wiig, they also are so good at knowing, like they’re great writers, so they know the story. So, like, they’re really exceptional at improvising. Everything they improvise doesn’t have to be tossed out because sometimes like improv on set doesn’t just mean like saying all these crazy, funny things. Like they also know how to improvise in a way that’s still on story and on character that’s always usable, you know.
Craig: You know, Melissa McCarthy and Zach Galifianakis had a scene together in the third Hangover movie. And we had this bucket of lollipops. They were like props, it was like dressing, set dressing. And she just put it in his mouth and then she took it out and put it in her mouth.
And we were just watching it like, “Oh my god, this is the most amazing. Why would she do that?” It’s incredible, but it was absolutely in keeping with what was happening. They were falling in love but they were both wrong. There was something seriously wrong with both of them in their minds. They were off, terribly off. Like two horrible people are falling in love and that’s what they would do. They would share a lollipop together like freaks.
She’s amazing. Anyway–
Katie: If I give one more example of her?
Katie: In The Heat, there was a scene in the script that was literally nothing. It was that she was going to go in to see if her prisoner was in the cell and then he’s gone, and so she asked the guard, like — I can’t remember what was in the script, but she was like, “Where the hell did he go?” And the guard is like, “Oh, that agent took him away.”
And then she improvised this telling off and just tearing down this guard about what she was going to do to him for letting this guy go about how she was going to like, you know, rip her — put her fist down his throat. Like it was like the craziest thing I’d ever heard and I was like, “Oh my god, this woman is amazing.” And it was like exactly still everything, like with the scene, exactly what you wanted to get across in the scene but in a way that — I don’t know, I just think she’s magical.
Craig: She is. By the way, great advice, you know, Katie and I can absolutely assure you of this. Just work with Melissa McCarthy. It is just a win. A huge win.
By the way, Zach, also a huge win. Kevin, huge win. So that’s all we really like to do, that’s really the answer to that. I think we have time for maybe like two or three more. We’ll do two or three more. Yes, Ma’am?
Female Audience Member: Hi, my name is Tiffany. And I just wanted to mention that there is another coast that’s super cool. It’s a little town called New York City in case you haven’t heard of it.
Katie: That’s where I started.
Female Audience Member: And that’s where I know where I know my friend Kate is and I’ve also been to UCB, so I just want to say that that’s a really good place to get your start, too.
Craig: Yes. It’s my hometown. You know, I was born there.
Female Audience Member: Oh, well I didn’t.
Female Audience Member: Well, you should have mentioned it. Why didn’t you mention it?
Craig: Staten Island.
Female Audience Member: How come you asked everybody if they were from LA if you were from New York City?
Craig: Because I don’t like to break it out in front of all these other people.
Female Audience Member: Oh, okay.
Phil: Anybody here from the North Coast, Cleveland, Ohio?
Craig: Nobody. No.
Craig: There’s nothing there but bugs. Literally nothing but bugs. Please continue New York.
Female Audience Member: Yeah. Okay. So I–
Craig: Sorry for being interrupted by this fucking asshole.
Female Audience Member: I know, such an ass.
Phil: It’s my fault.
Female Audience Member: So my question is for Malcolm and Kate who are involved in TV. So I have a new series that’s getting some traction and I actually have a production company who’s shopping it, and I’m going out to LA for my first big agent meeting. And I just wondered if you had any advice.
They are looking for a showrunner for me to be attached to because I’m a new creator and I was just wondering if you had any advice on how to navigate that process. Once you get your meeting that everybody wants to get, then you finally get it, like nobody seems to sort of know how to prepare me for that.
Katie: I’ll be honest because I — if there is a great showrunner, they will always be working. You know what I mean? Like, the great ones are always busy, you know. Like I–
Malcolm: So your showrunner sucks.
Katie: I’m trying to think of like – yeah, because I think it’s good to know who’s new on the scene but at the same time, it’s hard to know. Like there’s a guy named Anthony King who is from UCB New York, who I always thought if I ever have a TV show, like I would want him to show-run it, you know. But I think he’s even — I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s a terrible answer but that’s literally like I thought of, like, this one person. [laughs]
Malcolm: I would say it’s a tricky dance. I did the showrunner’s training program and heard a bunch of like — they bring in like 30 showrunners. And you get to hear the stories of creators who brought on showrunners, and you’re going to have to be really, really honest of what’s your expectation.
If you’re timid about what you expect the process to be, it’s going to become something that by the time you figure out what it is and if you don’t like it, you’re fucked already. You know what I’m saying? And that doesn’t mean you should go on with your guard up at all, but you have to understand just the title, showrunner, says everything about what’s happening.
Someone is going to be handing over $50 million or $100 million dollars to somebody, and it’s going to be that showrunner. And at that point, and once you understand that, then you have to decide what’s your relationship with this person going to be, what’s your disposition. You know what I’m saying?
Like some people are — someone like me is just going to go bad. You know what I’m saying? Like it’s just it won’t work. No. But it won’t. Craig knows it. Like, just that wouldn’t work for me. You know what I’m saying? And–
Female Audience Member: Wait, you wouldn’t–
Craig: That is correct.
Female Audience Member: You wouldn’t work for yourself. Is that what you’re saying?
Malcolm: No, no. If your disposition — you can collaborate, but if you’re creating something, right, and you’re handing it to someone who’s going to run it, then you understand they are the showrunner, they run your show. And at that point, you’ve immediately put yourself in a secondary position and there’s nothing wrong with that but–
Katie: So I have to imagine you — because I have not done this experience, so I’m turning it to him. But I have to imagine you want someone who’s also going to — especially if you’re going to be involved and be there every day, I imagine you want someone that’s going to help you with your vision, right? Like, is that the goal when you find a showrunner?
Malcolm: If we’re going to be honest, you know what I’m saying, if someone’s going to take your show away from you, there is zero you can do to stop it because they get to do that because they know how to handle $50 million, right?
And that just happens when it happens. And we have some dear friends who that happened to and they’re major writers. The more frank and the more comfortable you are being honest, and if you have a sane disposition and you have real clarity, you can start having real conversations up front where you’re not being confrontational. You understand that no one can give you $50 million. You will fuck it up, you know what I’m saying?
Female Audience Member: Yes.
Malcolm: And so–
Craig: Just based on looking at you.
Female Audience Member: Clearly, I don’t know what to do with $50 million.
Katie: So do you think it’s important to be like strong on top? Like, I mean just really start up?
That sounded really weird. That sounded so weird. What I meant was–
Phil: This depends on the relationship.
Katie: What I mean is when you’re having sex with someone.
Malcolm: You cannot be defensive at all. You cannot be defensive at all. If you do not say what you think and what you expect it to be, it’s going to go bad and you need to get out of this person what they expect it to be. And that you do. Strong doesn’t mean you’re trying to control this person–
Malcolm: Because they know — they got it.
Malcolm: Their title is showrunner, so they got your shit already. Strong is, “Yo, this is how I move. This is what I expect. How do you move? What do you expect? Oh, I’m not going to like that, so let me just tell you right now I probably shouldn’t be in this situation because,” you know what I’m saying? Like that’s what strong means.
Female Audience Member: Got it.
Katie: Can I add one more thing?
Katie: And this is just from experience in features. I feel like whenever a situation is political and shitty, the thing I found helpful is just telling yourself to just focus on the work. As much as you can, take the ego out of it and just, like, what is the best way to make this the best possible thing. And I feel like that usually lends itself well to people wanting you to be involved and just having a better–
Tess: Taking the ego out, that’s the best bit of advice ever.
Craig: That is. It is spectacular advice. I was saying to Malcolm earlier, but the phrase I use is “Keep your eye on your own paper.” You have something that you can control which is what you do. Keep your eye on that as best as you can. But I think Malcolm’s advice is spot on and correct.
Male Audience Member: This is to all of you. But based on what Katie: was saying about, she says to her friends, “I can give my script to my manager, but he’s only going to read you one time,” how do you know the script is ready for that one shot?
Malcolm: You’ll know. The one thing that is true is when you write something that stands out, it creates energy. Everywhere it goes, people start saying, “Fuck. I’m going to give this to somebody.”
Craig: But he’s asking even before you give it to somebody, like the first person you give it to–
Malcolm: You have to — but that’s what you do. That’s how you know.
Craig: So you don’t know until you give it to them?
Malcolm: You give it to people and it starts to take on a life of its own.
Katie: But can you give it to people before he gives it to the agent? Do you know what I mean? Or are people, friends and family not really good judges maybe?
Craig: Probably not.
Katie: My mom says it’s great.
Tess: I think you should have like–
Craig: I always give my stuff to your mom, by the way, because she loves it.
Katie: She’s’ really — she’s smart.
Craig: She always says, “This is better than what Katie: does.”
Tess: Why don’t you give it to my mum?
Craig: No, no, your mom hates what I do.
Tess: Oh, okay.
Craig: Hates what I do.
Tess: I would say I have like three or four trusted people that I always give stuff to before I give it to anyone. Actually, sometimes you’re one of them, Craig.
Craig: Thank you.
Malcolm: Everyone gives their shit to Craig.
Tess: I know.
Malcolm: It’s an amazing thing that has happened.
Tess: When is he ever working?
Malcolm: Everybody gives their script to Craig now, except for me.
Tess: But Lindsey Doran said something great in your panel earlier. She said better is better, which I thought was brilliant. And you’re always going to be able to make something better, basically. But if three or four people are giving you the same no and the same thumbs up or the same thumbs down, that’s usually a good barometer that something is at least ready to go to the next stage, I think.
Phil: I think part of it, too, goes back to what we were talking about earlier, which is to try to get yourself on the right mindset. If you’re in the mindset of not being in a rush, then you’ll be more capable of judging your own work. Because if you are–
What just happened?
Craig: It’s just unbelievable. He’s selfie-ing while you’re talking. Malcolm decided to just selfie.
Tess: No. Stay on track. Stay on track.
Phil: I’m going to land this bird.
Tess: Come on.
Phil: I’m going to land this bird. Don’t worry. Don’t you bail out on me. Get the landing strip in the Azores.
Phil: My point was it’s not being in a rush. It’s not saying I got to get this out because I’m in a hurry, I got to get the process going. And it’s really hard to know. But I think, you know, for myself, Matt and I wrote — I think the third script that we wrote together was the one that we tried to go out with.
And I think we wanted to go out with the second one and we got good advice from someone who said, “Geez, you guys are really promising but I think you can do better than this.” And we were like, “But wait, but no, no, now. Like, it’s time.” And I think if you can look at it yourself and look at it through the lens of not — don’t give yourself any credit or any benefit of the doubt, and look at it kind of hard and say, “Is this the best that I can do?” And more importantly, “Does this speak for me? Does this say something about me?”
Because I think the other general advice that has come up, to put it in Tin Cup terms, to not lay up–
Tess: Tin Cup the movie?
Phil: The movie. The Kevin Costner movie.
Tess: Kevin Costner.
Craig: Don’t lay-up. Don’t lay-up.
Phil: Ron Shelton.
Tess: And Rene Russo?
Phil: Is, you can’t afford when you’re starting out to lay-up. To take, like, a good kind of reasonable shot–
Craig: A safe shot.
Phil: To get you close to the pin.
Phil: You have to try to hit a hole in one.
Phil: And so you have to say, “Okay, is this going to make noise? Is this something that’s going to be me, and it’s unique, and it’s going to make someone say, ‘Hey, who wrote this?’” It doesn’t have to be the most technically perfect script in the world. It doesn’t have to be a great example of how you construct the second act, da da da da da. It just has to be – da da da da. That’s my proprietary, da da da da.
Do you know what I mean? If you can look at it and say this is like something that — it’s like a shout. It’s like someone will say, “Oh, yeah. Okay, great.”
Tess: You know when you’ve written something and you can go, “Oh, it’s not shit.” Like–
Craig: Yes. That is true, but, also sometimes you don’t. You don’t really–
Tess: It takes a long time to know when something’s not shit.
Craig: Yeah. And remember that our business is an outlier business. It is not an averaging business. Even though some services like The Black List, for instance, will provide you with an average, your script is a 7.9. That’s quite wonderful, out of 10. But really, if you get all 1s and one 10, you’re better off than someone who gets all 8s. It is an outlier business. You don’t know necessarily. I wouldn’t get hung up so much on, “Is it ready?” The answer is no, it’s not. Show it anyway–
Tess: Get some feedback.
Craig: Get some feedback. It will be ready when it’s in theatres. God’s honest truth.
Unfortunately, we have time for one last question. I’m so sorry for the people standing in line, but we do have to — yeah, sorry.
Female Audience Member: All right, so I thought this might be a good question for this panel, but please don’t judge me. When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch comedies. So, do you have any suggestions for good comedies to watch before 2005?
Phil: Oh, wow.
Phil: That’s the greatest question possible.
Katie: My answer–
Phil: Tim Herlihy, where are you?
Craig: All of Tim Herlihy’s work.
Katie: I feel like my answer is boring because it’s recommended in, like, every screenplay class ever–
Craig: Groundhog Day.
Katie: But I just think it holds up – wait. Do you know what I’m going to suggest?
Craig: Groundhog Day.
Katie: No, Tootsie.
Craig: Oh, Tootsie’s amazing.
Tess: Oh, Tootsie is like the most–
Craig: The last comedy to win an Oscar, by the way.
Katie: Yeah. Yeah.
Tess: But also, Tootsie’s like structurally the most perfect film. Like, one of the most perfect films ever made.
Craig: Except for Groundhog Day.
Tess: No, no, I put Tootsie–
Craig: Well, you’re wrong.
Tess: Above Groundhog Day. Okay. Maybe not. On the level.
Craig: Fair enough.
Tess: But Tootsie is like — read the script for Tootsie, and then watch it.
Tess: And then you’ll go, “Go Tootsie, go.”
Craig: It’s incredible.
Phil: I would like to offer what I consider to be the funniest movie of all time for me. But the fact that it is to me, and to maybe other people too, still as funny as it was when it was created is This is Spinal Tap.
Phil: Which I think is incredible. That’s the one movie that I would put above all.
Craig: Lindsay Doran studio executive who shepherded This Is Spinal Tap all the way through.
Tess: I would like–
Phil: That’s why she’s Lindsay Doran.
Tess: Yeah. I would like to put forward a film that is 30 years old, but I re-watch it at least once a year, that still stands up, which is Beverly Hills Cop. Like, just–
Craig: Dan Petrie here.
Katie: Come out on stage.
Craig: He’s here in Austin. Would you like to meet him?
Phil: Turn around, Tess.
Craig: Okay. You will. And he comes in like the Kool Aid Man. He’s–
Tess: I’ve got an interpretive dance for him.
Craig: There’s a fair chance he’s down in the bar right now.
Tess: We’re going to find him afterwards.
Malcolm, what’s a comedy that you think is like a must-see? Let’s go ‘70s, ‘80s. Even a little bit of ‘90s. I’m out of gas.
Malcolm: I’m out of gas.
Craig: What the fuck? You’re on a show. This is a show. You have–
Tess: Was it a donut?
Craig: That was the last thing you had to say, and you’re out of gas?
Katie: No, no, no. It’s okay. Is that a comedy?
Craig: And by the way, the easiest question in the world. Just say Meatballs, and you’re done. It’s like the–
Not Meatballs? Meatballs?
Katie: I got your back. Don’t worry, they won’t notice.
Phil: Can I do one more before you go, because I think you’re going to have the best one, I’m sure.
Craig: Of course you can. Of course. Yeah, please, please, do it.
Phil: The Bad News Bears is another one that I think is — because it is a drama and a comedy and everything, and it’s one of the greatest movies ever made.
Craig: Amazing. You’ve seen Groundhog Day?
Malcolm: Slap Shot.
Tess: Yeah, nice.
Craig: Slap Shot.
Phil: Valid answer.
Craig: By the way, Slap Shot, amazing. Groundhog Day, for screenwriters, I would suggest is the most important comedy to watch, because it is the finest screenplay, I think. Just purely screen play for screenwriters. And it is profound, and beautiful, and amazing, and hysterical. That said, also Airplane.
Katie: Yeah, I feel like I’m missing — we’re missing a chunk of the ‘80s. Like that we’re — I just keep thinking of movies like Trading Places, and all those movies that–
Tess: That’s the Morris family Christmas movie, Trading Places.
Craig: I mean, we could be here all night just for citing comedies for the person that’s never seen one. But, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Well, with that, it is my duty to say, well that’s our show.
You guys were amazing. As always, since recently, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. it is edited Matthew Chilelli. There you go, you guys listen. Our outro this week comes from someone. If you have an outro for us that you would like to try, please send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 August loves comments.
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You can also find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com, and that’s where you’ll find the transcripts. We try and get them up about four days after the episode airs. You can find all the back episodes of the show at scriptnotes.net and also on the Scriptnotes USB Drive at store.johnaugust.com where revenue is generated that I do not get because John is stealing it from me.
I want to say a great thank you to Erin Halligan, and all of the wonderful people at the Austin Film Festival, Austin Screenwriting Conference. They’ve done an incredible job for us. And thank you for showing up to a secret thing at 10 at night. Hey, everyone, let’s go get drunk. Thank you.
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