John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 278 of Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we are looking at phrases that have been banned from comedy writing rooms.
John: And more generally why making a list of what you will never do could help you figure out what you actually should do. We’ll also be answering listener questions about character names, life rights, and sticking to a genre.
But first up, some follow up. Craig, did you get your Scriptnotes t-shirts?
Craig: I did. Apparently I made a mistake.
Craig: I ordered my – so Melissa wears medium.
John: Does she wear a woman’s medium?
Craig: There, you see, you’re already a better husband.
John: [laughs] I’m already a better husband.
Craig: She does not like the women’s cut. She likes the man’s cut. So, she put on the women’s – she’s like, oh my god, this is so small. So I’m like, “Put it on.” She put it on. It was so hot. John, it was hot. And she’s like, “I’m never—“
John: So it wasn’t a mistake. It was a win.
Craig: For me it was. But she’s like, “I’m never leaving the house with this.” I’m like, come one. “No.” So, yeah, those are useless to me. I don’t know if there’s any – there’s no more, right? I can’t get the medium regular?
John: So there is a possibility of more. So, the Scriptnotes t-shirts were so successful that Cotton Bureau says that if they get enough requests for t-shirts, they may start printing another batch. So, if you are interested in more Scriptnotes t-shirts, you can go to the same page where you order them. There’s a place where you can put your email address. If they print another batch, they will email you to see if you actually want one. So, Craig wants one for his wife.
John: If other listeners out there want them, they should put in their email addresses on that little form and tell Cotton Bureau that they want them. So there will be a link in the show notes for that.
But more crucially, if you got your Scriptnotes t-shirt and want to show us in your Scriptnotes t-shirt, please tweet us a photo, or send it to us on Instagram. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We would love to see you wearing your Scriptnotes t-shirts.
Craig: Yeah. Especially those, and I’m not going to even say it. [laughs]
John: Just stop.
Craig: Just stop. Why should I care? Especially the male XXL. That’s what I meant to say. I like men in burly shirts. That’s all I like.
John: Absolutely. Because we create large sizes because we have a diverse range of body types who listen to our podcast.
Craig: Yeah. But I assume that all the guys that listen to our podcast, if they’re wearing XXL it’s because they work out. They have just massive pecs.
John: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Craig: Huge, huge shoulders.
John: Because normal t-shirts, like their arms wouldn’t even fit through the holes.
Craig: No way.
John: No way.
Craig: No way.
John: So, long time listeners will know that Craig often mocks me for stealing all his money for all the millions of dollars we make–
Craig: It’s not mockery. It’s accurate.
John: It’s not really mockery. It’s basically – what is the proper verb for what you are doing about the money we make?
Craig: Exposing you. I’m exposing you.
John: Exposing, yeah. Really, accusing, because exposing would mean that you actually had some facts.
Craig: I do. I have facts. You’re selling t-shirts. What other facts do I need?
John: So, I thought we’d have a little transparency on the podcast right now and we’ll talk about how much money we made off the t-shirts.
John: Well, the podcast made. Because there’s you, and there’s me, and there’s also the guys who actually do the hard work of putting the show up on the Internet.
Craig: That’s true.
John: That’s true. So this was the profits that occurred. We did two t-shirts. The first one was the midnight blue t-shirt. We sold 511 of them.
John: We made $6 per shirt, and so that totaled $3,066.
Craig: All right.
John: So that’s great. That’s money in the bank. They literally PayPal’d that to us.
John: The other t-shirt, the gold standard, we sold 282 t-shirts. That was $1,692. So, that money also got PayPal’d to us. So altogether off t-shirts, because of you guys being awesome, we made $4,758.
Craig: I’m already spending my $2,380-something dollars.
John: That’s good. You absolutely should. Except that we also have to pay for the people we have to pay for. So–
John: Yeah, see? So, we have to pay for our editor, Matthew Chilelli. We have to pay for John Morgan, who does the transcripts. We have to pay for hosting, which isn’t a huge expense, but it’s some expense now. And we have to pay for Godwin Jabangwe, the producer of Scriptnotes, who puts all the stuff online and answers email questions, and does all that–
Craig: Wait, we’re paying Godwin. I thought he was just going to be a permanent intern.
John: Yeah, a permanent unpaid intern. That’s the way Hollywood works. Wouldn’t that be great?
Craig: It would be amazing.
John: It would be amazing. So the t-shirts are great. And so we mostly make the t-shirts because we love seeing people in the t-shirts. We make some money off that. Between that and the people who are the premium subscribers, the people who are paying $1.99 a month, we get $1 of that. Libsyn who hosts our podcast gets the other dollar of that. But we have 2,569 premium subscribers, and so those are really paying for the bulk of Matthew and Godwin and John Morgan, who does our transcripts. So, thank you everybody who is a premium subscriber. If you are interested in becoming one of those, it’s at Scriptnotes.net, and you get all the back episodes, plus the bonus episodes, the dirty episodes, all the special episodes we did along the way.
Craig: Yeah. And you know what, here’s the thing. If you’re listening to this and you’re not a premium subscriber for $2 a month, all right, just rest assured, and I don’t know how this couldn’t be clear to you now, I don’t get any of it. Okay? That’s the important thing. You’re not giving me money. I have not seen a dime. John does receive this money and then immediately disperses it to the people that help make this program. And we have no advertising. None. Give us an example of one other podcast that is at our level of popularity that doesn’t have you, or me, or people like us breaking into the middle of the content to talk about how delicious an iced tea is, or how wonderful Mail Chimp is?
We don’t do that. Right? So, just give us two bucks. Oh my god. I want my $2. I want my $2. Just do it. It’s $24 a year. What? I mean, compare that to – what does film school cost? Like $28 a year? We’re cheaper, right? What does it cost? I don’t even know.
John: Yeah, probably. On a minute per minute basis, I think we’re significantly cheaper than film school.
Craig: We’re significantly cheaper than film school. Come on, people. Come on. Come on. I promise you, this money will never end up in my pocket. Ever.
John: [laughs] Not a chance.
Last week’s episode we talked about Scorpion, which we were both – you were bewildered it was a TV show, and I had discovered it was a TV show because I saw it on a plane. Not only is Scorpion a TV show on CBS, there is a Twitter feed for the Scorpion writers’ room. And so we have listeners to our podcast who were surprised to hear we didn’t know about their show. So, this is a shout-out to Scorpion writers’ room. We’re really proud of you guys.
Craig: They were amazing, by the way. Because it was like, “We are honored, humbled and honored, to have been mentioned on Scriptnotes.” It was the most side-eye – I mean, it was actually the perfect tweet. Like, I read that and I was like, “Oh dear.” Look, it’s honestly not my fault. There are a lot of shows that I don’t know exist. I mean, theoretically, if somebody says Cheers to me, I might go, “Was that a show?” I’m the worst with that. But you have no excuse. You watch everything. So, shame on you. Shame on you, John.
John: I watch very few procedurals. Actually, I think I watch no procedurals. So that’s my excuse.
Craig: Is Scorpion a procedural?
John: It’s a procedural. It’s an investigative procedural. They are cyber sleuths. I’m going to get this so wrong and Scorpion writers’ room is going to be so upset with me.
Craig: I can’t wait.
John: My perception is, having watched an episode without the headphones in on a plane–
Craig: To which they totally roasted you on.
John: Which is great. My perception is that it is a team of specialists who do some computer stuff, does other technology stuff, some sort of game theory stuff, who get called in for very extreme situations where lives are on the line. That is my perception of what Scorpion is. And I get that because the actual title treatment for Scorpion is sort of like closed/slash Scorpion, like as if it’s the end comment on something.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: So it feels cyber-ish.
Craig: Very cyber-ish. Well, happily for the writers of Scorpion, A, apparently their show has massive ratings. B, your awareness of it, and certainly my awareness of it, completely irrelevant to the quality and success of a television show. We have proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt. So, thank you for – I mean, I’m sure that the Scorpion writers don’t listen to the show, but somebody was like, “Uh, you guys should listen to this.” Hey, well, you’re listening now I bet. I’m sorry. I mean, I didn’t know.
John: If Scriptnotes were the key to success of a television show, then Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would be the biggest show on television.
Craig: Oh, for sure. For sure. What do we know?
John: People watch what they want to watch. I want you to talk about how you were wrong about yams on last week’s episode.
Craig: Well, I mean, according to this guy I’m wrong about yams. I don’t know, is he writing from the Yam Board?
John: I was pretty sure last week you were wrong, but I didn’t want to call it out on the air, because we were going long as it was.
Craig: Oh, sure.
John: So, Craig, why don’t you tell us what Christopher wrote in to say.
Craig: Okay, well, Christopher writes, “Craig’s potato primer,” by the way, that’s how you pronounce that word, did you know that?
John: I say primer, as if you’re priming a car.
Craig: It’s primer. By the way, somebody next week will write in about how I’m wrong about that. “Craig’s potato primer was consistent with how most grocery stores label their products and therefore wrong. It’s extremely unlikely that most Americans will ever encounter a true yam, originating in Africa, unless they actively seek one out generally at a specialty store. True yams have a very thick, almost bark-like skin, and very firm white purple flesh. Both the orange and yellow tubers commonly encountered are varieties of sweet potato, originating in the Americas, although in America the term yam does colloquially refer to orange sweet potatoes. If you want to be pedantic, like me, you can call orange sweet potatoes ‘soft sweet potatoes,’ and yellow, ‘firm.’”
Christopher, I can’t make fun of you for this. I want to. But, this is the sort of thing I’m constantly saying to other people, so I can’t make—
So, here’s the situation. The mistake I made was I thought that the orange sweet potato was a yam and what we’d call the white or yellow sweet potato was the sweet potato. But apparently they’re both sweet potatoes and nobody has yams, ever.
John: Yup. No one has yams. So, I knew that yams were from Africa. I would say that I can understand the sense of just call them yams because everybody calls them yams, the way that words drift in meaning because culturally words drift in meaning. But I will say that the whole topic came up because I’ve always despised sweet potatoes, and for some reason now twice there’s two things I love potatoes now. I love sweet potato fries, and I loved the sweet potatoes I had at Thanksgiving this last time. So, I don’t think I have changed. I think the sweet potato has changed for the better. Somehow, whatever work the chefs of the world have done to the sweet potato to make it a delicious food, I salute you.
Craig: Well, thank you, Christopher, for writing in from the Yam Institute. Surely he has nothing else that he could add to our discussion – oh wait, he does. [laughs]
John: He does. So in that same email he went on to talk about CPR. So, let’s talk about CPR, because Christopher has a lot of information.
Craig: So, Christopher writes, again, “Anyway, my real motive, and consistent with my prior motive, was to write about clarifying about CPR. When Craig talks about success rate of CPR, I hope we can be clear that he’s addressing the overall survival rate of patients who receive CPR among other treatments. The purpose of CPR is not to get a person back up and walking after their heart stops. It’s to serve as a life support system until professional medical help can arrive. You are literally acting as the victim’s heart and lungs, pushing oxygen to their brain and other tissues to keep the body alive. Brain damage is not a consequence of CPR. It’s a consequence of oxygen deprivation to the brain, which proper CPR prevents. So, success is just doing proper CPR until a medical professional can take over.
“That said, it’s totally accurate that the victim will almost never wake up during CPR as they do in TV and movies. Even if you get their heart beating, there’s a good chance they’ll stay unconscious. It’s also important to note that modern CPR should only be administered until someone can retrieve an AED. And AEDs have been show to – that’s defibrillators – have been shown to increase survival rates as high as 40 to 70%.”
John: We should stop here to clarify that the AEDs, I think he’s also referring to a lot of places, a lot of restaurants now will have that sort of red box behind the counter which they can pull out to do stuff. That’s one of the kinds of AEDs he’s referring to.
Craig: Yes. “The American Heart Association found that when AED is applied within one minute, survival approaches 90%. This is why CPR trainers teach you that step one is to make sure someone calls 911. Step two is to send a bystander to go find an AED and bring it back.”
Yes. When I was talking about the overall success rate, I was saying do the people survive. That’s what that means. And generally speaking they don’t. That’s just the deal.
John: Yeah. So I think what Chris was trying to clarify was that all the different times where CPR is used, some of those situations are not the bystander who fell on the side of the road. And so my two friends who are both trainers, their experience of having saved a person who collapsed and then they gave them CPR, that actually can happen. But if you want to take all the different instances where CPR was administered, including in a hospital setting, the success rate is going to go down because some of those people were never going to make it.
Craig: Right. Exactly. I mean, some of the CPR statistics are impacted by the fact that they’re dead. They’re just dead-dead. And you’re doing CPR on a dead body. Obviously that’s factored in. I mean, that’s really part of the discussion. The point is that when you’re doing CPR, there’s a chance that nothing is going to change what’s going to happen. It’s just – that’s the myth. I hope no one was thinking I was saying, “CPR is stupid. Don’t study it and don’t do it.” I’m just saying that the success rate in movies and television is absurd.
John: Yes. I agree.
Craig: What else does Christopher have to complain about?
John: [laughs] I think we’re done with Christopher. But we had a lot of people write in this last episode because we were talking about the difference between fantasy and reality and what we see on screen versus what happens in reality. And Tim wrote in to say, “An example of how doing the research can improve a scene was shown to me recently when I was writing a moment where a wife has to identify her dead husband in the morgue. The body, however, has been switched,” in his story. “Having watched the moment in countless Hollywood films and TV shows, the coroner lifts the sheet, the grieving wife nods, et cetera. I thought it would actually be better off to visit a morgue. Here in Britain, at least, a family member is never allowed into the morgue. You briefly glimpse the body through a small window. And there are other touches as well. [Unintelligible] curtains in a crematorium whisked back. An ominous box of tissues on the table. All of which made her misidentifying her husband much more plausible.”
Craig: Well, I don’t know if that’s consistently true here in the United States, but it was certainly true in the morgue where I was an intern at the age of 16. Because, you know, I was going to be a doctor. So, I spent a summer assisting the Mammoth County Medical Examiner doing autopsies, which is how every 16-year-old boy should spend a summer.
But there was one time, and I had to wheel the body. So, there’s a big freezer room, and you wheel the body up to that little window. And they come to the little window. You definitely don’t want to walk through a morgue, because you’re going to see dozens of dead bodies stacked up in what looks like basically a large supermarket freezer. And then also other bodies in various state of disassembly on tables. So, you wheel them up to the window and then you pull the sheet back. That actually was the worst thing that happened to me that summer.
It wasn’t doing the autopsies, and I saw some gross stuff. It was watching a grown man cry looking at his brother.
Craig: Yeah. Through the little stupid window. It’s exactly right. And you can – by the way, yes, I remember little curtains. I don’t know if they were pink, but I remember little curtains. And I remember a box of tissues. And I remember also thinking that medical pathologists are not who you want doing your interior design. It’s just really bad. The curtains already were like, yeah, abandon all hope.
John: Yeah. Sorry. You’re already down in a morgue, so you’re probably not having a lot of hope.
Craig: They’re so – the people who work in a morgue are the least sentimental people in the world. Surprise. Whatever sentiment they had was beaten out of them after, I don’t know, their 1,000th dead body. So, now it’s just like, okay, here you go. And the tears come. Here’s your tissue. You walk that way. I close the curtain. Back to work.
John: Yup. All right, our next listener writes in because he’s on the other side of this. He’s talking about how screenwriters have made his job difficult. Do you want to try this, or should I try this?
Craig: I might as well. I’m on a role. So Kent writes, “Hollywood script writers have made my job very difficult. I develop robots for the US military. Unfortunately, Terminator and 100 other movies have made the specter of killing robots a powerful meme, obscuring the real issues. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching Terminator, but I know it’s fiction. The level of artificial intelligence in those robots is complete fantasy, something that’s not just decades away, but almost certainly centuries away.” I don’t know, Kent.
“The boring truth is that people in my field have struggled for years to get a robot to recognize the difference between a bush and a rock with only limited success. The widespread fear that we are secretly building Terminator-like autonomous killing machines is laughable. At least this idea should be laughable, except that screenwriters have successfully convinced the public that killer robots are indeed possible. Robot insurance. There is now a complete disconnect between what is really going on and what the general public knows about military robots. This disconnect makes it nearly impossible to have a meaningful conversation about the role of unmanned systems in combat.
“There are indeed serious issues that need to be faced with how robotic systems are used by the military. Unfortunately, these real issues bear little resemblance to the sensationalized fears that originated in a screenwriter’s keyboard.” Nothing originates in the keyboard, by the way, Kent.
Anyway, “Any policy level discussion about unmanned combat systems are warped by these misperceptions which make it very difficult to get to the real issues.”
John, does Kent have a point do you think? Or is it foofaraw?
John: I think Kent has a very, very good point. Is that by putting this one idea in our heads, it’s obscuring all of the other possible realities, and the true real world realities, because we’re only focused on this fiction.
Craig: Yeah. I – kind of. I’m going to challenge Kent a little bit here. I think that the American people, and frankly people everywhere all over the world, don’t really need our help to suspect the worst of government military organizations. That’s sort of baked into their minds. If Disney started making robots, nobody would think ill of it. And, in fact, Disney has. Right? They have their little animatronics and everybody thinks they’re adorable. And no one is suspecting that they’re actually, you know, going to go on a rampage. The problem is military. The problem is military. The problem is people assume that if you’re building something in the military, it’s to hurt other people. Now, that is a misconception. But that’s not a Hollywood misconception. That’s just a human misconception.
Military applications are enormous and there’s a sector of them that are obviously about inflicting injury and quite a few of them are not. They’re about gathering intelligence or helping save lives. So, I’ll take a little bit of blame, but I really don’t think anyone is walking around thinking, “Oh yeah, the government is going to be releasing a wave of Terminators on us.” I’ve never heard anybody think that.
Have you seen the videos, John, of the robot competitions where the whole point is just to get a robot to kick a soccer ball into a net?
John: Yeah. I love those. I also love robots trying to open a door and like failing miserably.
Craig: It’s amazing. And inevitably while you’re watching and laughing you think, oh, this won’t be so funny 20 years from now when the robot is my primary care physician. But, and you know, Kent sees it as a century away. Let’s split the difference. It’s not decades away. I don’t know if it’s centuries away. But in a hundred years, right? I don’t know. Thinking about what the world was like in 1916 is hardly recognizable to what it is now. So, I’m going to go halfway with Kent on that one.
John: So this afternoon I was at Shakespeare and Company which is a famous English language bookstore here in Paris. And I was eavesdropping on these two women who were having a conversation. And they were talking about this news report they watched. And the sensational lead is like, you know, Man Killed by Robot. And basically do we need to start worrying about Terminators and robots in our future? And it kicked back to the anchors, so I’m hearing this recap of these two women talking about it. And the anchors were like, “Well no. Actually there was a man operating the robot. The robot was controlled.” So like a person did it.
And so basically it was an accident that happened with a remote control robot. And so there was this pressure to sort of make it seem like the question being are robots going to kill us. No, it’s an industrial machine, and an accident happened, and it was remote controlled. And like the robot was not sentient in any meaningful way.
And so it was that pressure to build the narrative around like a robot killed a man, but it really wasn’t that at all. It was just a robotic arm and the guy got hit by the robotic arm and died. So, that’s said, but it’s not a robot uprising. It’s not Westworld.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, don’t blame screenwriters for the exogenous stupidity out there. I mean, it just is. There is stupidity out there. It’s not our fault. Dumb people will say things like, “A robot killed a guy.” Well, no, somebody pushed the wrong button and a dumb lever moved an arm that you think of as a robot because it’s an arm. But it’s really not. It’s just a bunch of metal. You know, I don’t know. Kent, I’m not going to take the blame here. In fact, I want more robot movies now. More.
John: Quickly going through the rest of the follow up, Colin wrote in with a link to a Wired article that looks at the impossible physics of tightropes in an episode of Gotham. And so–
Craig: Gotham is a show? That’s a show?
John: Gotham is a show. Craig, what is Gotham about? I’ll wait here while you tell me what Gotham is about.
Craig: Well, I’m going to just wing it here. Gotham is a show from the DC universe.
Craig: It is a show about the city of Gotham and the various superheroes and super villains that populate it. And sometimes–
John: Yes, what is the special thing about Gotham? What is the unique point of view of Gotham?
John: Well, it’s gritty.
Craig: Was I right?
John: Who was the biggest star in the first season of Gotham?
Craig: Well, the biggest name in Gotham City is Batman, of course.
John: Well, yes. So Bruce Wayne is a character in it, but Bruce Wayne is a child in this. And so it’s Commissioner Gordon’s point of view. So, what actress who is married to an even more famous actor was the primary villain in the first season? Or a primary villain in the first season?
Craig: Angelina Jolie. Oh no, they’re not married anymore. Oh, boy, that’s a tough one. Let’s see. Who’s married to William Macy again?
John: No, no. Felicity Huffman is great, but no.
Craig: It’s not Felicity Huffman? That’s it. I’m out.
John: Jada Pinkett Smith was the villain.
Craig: Oh, Jada Pinkett Smith.
John: She played Mad-Eye Mooney or something. And I have not seen the show either, but at least I know what the show is.
Our final bit of follow up comes from Jay Allan Zimmerman who writes, “I admit it, I’m a Scriptnotes addict. To be clear, I am deaf. So, technically I’m a Scriptnotes transcript addict. Meaning the Sexy Craig voice in my head could be too dirty old man-ish. And the Colorado John accent could be too Montana.”
I don’t know if I could hear a difference between a Colorado accent and a Montana accent. I’m sure there is one. But I couldn’t pick it.
“Anyway, it has been nearly a month since I had my drug and I’m having serious withdrawal issues. Especially since all meaning in the world suddenly ceased and a cloud of despair descended upon us here in New York City. And there has been a collective weeping and great gnashing of teeth. And yet every day I’m teased by the title This Feeling Will End.”
So, Jay is pointing out that our Scriptnotes transcripts got a month behind, but Godwin has done a hero’s work to get them all back up. So as you are listening to this episode we should be caught up. So, John Morgan has been doing the transcripts and Godwin has them all up now. So, sorry for people who are waiting for transcripts, but they are there.
And if you have not read the transcripts, basically if you’re looking at the episode on the blog, when there is a transcript at the very bottom of the post there will be an update that says here is a link to the transcript. So, if you’re a person who wants to read those transcripts, they will always be there for you.
Craig: Hey, I have a question for you.
Craig: Is it possible to have people subscribe in some way to an alert so when the transcript goes up they receive an alert?
John: That is theoretically possible. We will investigate this week a system for doing that. And if there is an answer, on next week’s episode I will let you know what that system will be.
Craig: Because I definitely sympathize with Jay’s predicament here. Because I’m not deaf, but I like reading the transcripts better than listening to the show. I love that we have transcripts.
John: Yeah. Transcripts are good.
Craig: Every podcast should have a transcript as far as I’m concerned.
John: Increasingly, more and more podcasts are having them. So, I definitely applaud the trend towards transcripts. We’ve had them since the very beginning.
Last little bit about Jay Allan Zimmerman. “If by chance you and/or Craig happen to be in New York City over the holidays, my concert is at Lincoln Center this year. And I would be very happy and honored to save seats for you.” So, Jay is a songwriter in addition to being a listener. And he’s a songwriter who is now deaf.
Craig: Perking up. Hold on. What’s this about?
John: So click through the link and you will see. So, there will be a link to his show in the transcripts, but also in the show notes for this week’s episode.
Craig: This is so cool. All right. Great.
John: Yeah, so that intersection of Scriptnotes and Broadway.
Craig: You kind of got me right there. Scriptnotes and Broadway. Makes me happy.
John: So our main topic this week is clams. So, back in Episode 52 we looked at clams, which are jokes and phrases that have been overused so much that they’re not only not funny, but they’re sort of anti-funny at this point. They’re painful to hear. But you still do hear them because writing is hard and sometimes writers are lazy. And those clams are sort of joke-oids that serve as placeholders for actual comedy that is meant to be written at some point.
So, this past week John Quaintance on Twitter published photos from two whiteboards in the Workaholics writers’ room. And so these were a list of phrases that were basically banned from their scripts. Like we are not allowed to use these in our scripts. And so those photos got widely circulated, but I asked Godwin to type up the list. And I thought we would take a read through this because it has been 220 episodes since we’ve done this list last time.
We will read these things aloud, and as we read them aloud one by one you will say like, “Oh you know what, you’re right. We should never put those in our scripts anymore.”
Craig: I agree. Let’s do it.
John: Let’s do it. So I’ll start.
___? More like ___.
Craig: Can You Not?
John: I Can Explain!
Craig: Let’s Not and Say We Did.
John: I Didn’t Not ___.
John: Wait For It…
Craig: Just Threw Up In My Mouth.
Craig: Good Talk.
John: And By ___ I Mean ___.
Craig: Check Please!
Craig: Shut The Front Door!
John: So, pause here. Do we all know where Shut the Front Door came from? So, it’s Shut the F Up. And so it was a common way of looping over Shut the F Up. So the looping was so funny that people started just using that as a line. But it’s not funny anymore.
Craig: No, it’s not funny.
John: Lady Boner.
John: I Think That Came Out Wrong.
Craig: Uh…Define ___.
John: No? Just Me.
Craig: Why Are We Whispering?
John: That Went Well…
Craig: Stay Classy.
John: I’m A Hot Mess!
Craig: That’s Not a Thing.
John: It’s Science.
Craig: Bacon Anything.
Craig: Real Talk.
John: Nailed It.
John: Awesome Sauce.
Craig: Thanks…I Guess.
John: Little Help?
Craig: Laughy McLaugherson.
John: ___ Dot Com.
Craig: Oh Helllll Naw!
John: Epic Fail
Craig: Did I Just Say That Out Loud?
John: Food Baby.
Craig: Douche (Nozzle). Douche anything.
John: Soooo, That Just Happened.
Craig: Squad Goals.
John: I Just Peed A Little.
Craig: Too Soon?
John: Spoiler Alert.
Craig: Um…In English Please.
John: Note to Self.
Craig: Life Hack.
John: Best. ___. Ever. Or Worst. ___. Ever.
Craig: It’s Giving Me All the Feels.
John: Garbage People.
Craig: Garbage people?
John: Yeah, like referring to people as like they’re garbage people.
That Happened One Time!
John: Well Played.
Craig: I’m Right Here!
John: Hard Pass.
Craig: Are You Having A Stroke?
John: Go Sports!
Craig: Zero Fucks Given.
John: We Have Fun.
Craig: Who Hurt You?
John: I Absorbed My Twin In The Womb.
Craig: I’ll take ___ for $500, Alex.
John: Thanks Obama.
Craig: That’s Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.
John: I Think We’re Done Here.
Craig: Wait, What?
John: Shots Fired.
John: You Assclown.
John: Bag of Dicks.
Craig: Hey, Don’t Help.
John: Debbie Downer.
Craig: I Can’t Unsee That.
John: That Just Happened.
Craig: I Could Tell You but I’d Have to Kill You.
John: See What I Did There?
Craig: I’ll Show Myself Out.
John: Here’s The Line, Here’s You.
Craig: ___ on Steroids/Crack.
John: Swipe Right.
Craig: White People Problems.
John: Oh man. That’s a god list of terrible things.
Craig: Seriously. A long, terrible list of terrible. Yeah.
John: And none of those things were bad the first time they were done. They were actually probably pretty clever the first time they were done. But now you just don’t want to hear those. And so why I wanted to talk through those is like not just those specific phrases, but in general why it’s a good idea sometimes to make that list of let’s not do these things. Because that general category of bad things, it’s not just necessarily dialogue, but it could also be ideas, or sort of script scenes, or script moments that are just so cliché and overdone. It hurts you because it takes a moment that could be specific to you as a writer or specific to your project and just makes it generic. It robs it of a specialty, of a moment that could be unique to you and makes it common to everything.
Craig: It’s so true. The price of the clam isn’t so much that people think, “Oh, the writer is lazy, or the writer is not funny.” Because people aren’t really thinking about that when they’re watching things. There’s a much quicker subconscious injury that occurs when we see or hear these things. And that is a sense that we’re now watching a thing. It has that classic, clichéd, bad move of taking you out of something. Because suddenly I realize, oh, that’s right, this isn’t real. I mean, I know it’s not real, but my little paper thin veneer of verisimilitude has been punctured because I’ve heard that so many damn times.
The use of these clams is – I always think of it as music. I think that people are, well, you know what we need here is we need something to kind of give us a little ramp in. Well, if you’re writing music, here’s what you wouldn’t do. Oh, I know, let’s start the song like this. [hums] But that’s what a clam is. It’s the comedy version of [hums]. It’s just so overdone as to be, oh my god, really? That – see, I just did it. Really?
John: Yeah. So, the reason why I think it’s good that they made this list for this writers’ room, and why I think writers can do this for themselves or for the group of the room that’s working on a project is it sort of forces you to step up your game. Say like these are obvious things that we could do that we’ve decided we’re not going to do. And that could be choices you’re making about what dialogue you’re using or not using, but also things your characters are allowed to do or not do.
Or, like you are not allowed to start a scene with like, “To recap…” You’re going to avoid those hacky things that make life easier for you because they are robbing you of moments you could have.
It also is a signal to your staff that you’re watching, that these things are important. And that your show, your movie, whatever you’re writing is not going to be like everybody else’s thing. So I really applaud them for keeping this list and also letting us see their list, because that was really, really helpful.
Craig: Yeah. You know, if you are hanging out with somebody and they start saying things like, “I can’t unsee that.” In fact, you’re not hanging out with this person. You’re at a coffee shop and you’re listening to two people having a conversation. You don’t know them. And they’re like, “Well played. Really? Are you having a stroke? Note to self…” you think, oh my god, these are the two worst people in the world. They’re so fake. Nobody talks like that. Well, why would you do that to your characters? Why would you turn them into the worst people in the world?
There’s a long tradition in television comedy for characters to have catchphrases, which sometimes are words, and sometimes they aren’t even words. Lucille Ball famously would do this. When she would get I trouble she would go, “Ewwww.” Right? Now, maybe that became a clam by other people copying her, but that’s real. Like I believed her when she would go, “Ewwww.” It was unique to her. Do that.
John: Do that. Let’s talk about how you kill these clams. So you detect one of these in a script and you feel yourself about to write one. What are the ways to get out of it?
So, some ideas I have for you is to really examine what is the purpose of this clam. So, let’s say you find one in the script. I would say really examine what that clam is trying to do in that moment. So, is it there so you can get a breath? Is it there to close a thought? Is it there to keep the character alive in the scene? Basically someone who hasn’t spoken, or doesn’t have a purpose to be there, and so they need to say something funny so they stay alive in the scene. Is it to keep the ball in the air? I just read A Woman of No Importance, the Oscar Wilde, and after that I went back and read The Importance of Being Earnest, and a lot of times characters in there are just keeping the ball up in the air. It’s like they’re playing badminton and they have to keep saying a funny line so the ball stays up in the air.
Sometimes that clam might be there to do that. And oftentimes I notice the clam is there really to pivot between two parts of a scene. Basically there’s the business of the first half of the scene, and there’s the business at the second half of the scene, and that clam is to work as a sort of closer and a transition point to flip you to the second part of the scene, so you can be done with the first bit of business and then on to the second bit of business.
So recognize what the function of that clam is. That’s why it’s there. And then find a better thing to put there so you don’t have to use that hack phrase.
Craig: Right. So, sometimes – and John knows – I’m having a sneezing fit, so if I start to sound really weird, or vaguely like I’m on the edge of an organism or something, it’s not Sexy Craig. It’s just Sneezy Craig.
John: But sneezes and orgasms are neurologically related, are they not?
Craig: I guess they’re involuntary spasms of your body. I much prefer the other kind than this, but–
John: [laughs] To each his own.
Craig: Yeah. Nose-gasming. I have multiple nose-gasms.
Sometimes in comedy, what the clam is really doing is serving as the landing point for a joke. We think sometimes that the clam is the joke. It’s not. The joke is whatever has happened before the clam and people tend to laugh on reactions to things. So a character does something funny, and in movies we do this all the time. Movies are less inclined towards clamminess because they are – it’s not to say that they’re immune. They’re not. But they’re less inclined because there’s no laugh track and there’s no sense of that laugh rhythm being required.
So, in a movie, somebody will do something funny and the editor will cut to another character just starting. And that cut is where you get the laugh from the audience. This is very, very – this is just a true thing. You don’t even realize when you watch movies. Watch what happens when people do funny things. You will immediately cut to somebody going, “Whoa.” So, the look of Whoa is kind of the – that’s the landing spot.
In television comedy, I feel like a lot of times what ends up happening is they can’t just keep cutting to people and reacting because there’s so many jokes and they’re so rapid that they need these little clammy lines to serve as landing places for the audience.
So when you look at clams like for instance, “I’m right here,” or, “Wait, what?” Or, “I can’t unsee that.” I can’t unsee that is obviously referring to a joke, right?
Craig: Something funny happened and that’s their attempt to land. You have to find other ways to land.
John: Yeah. So let’s talk through what you could do to replace that I Can’t Unsee that. So, if that showed up in your script and like you have to make this line better, I would say really look at what is it that you’re trying to say there and see if there’s a way you can say that idea without saying those words. Or at least use what was there to form a better joke, or better moment.
So, I Can’t Unsee That, does that mean I want to damage my eyes? Is that a way to sort of get at that moment? Is it I want to erase that memory? Is it saying like I am emotionally traumatized? Or are you saying I want to reverse time to a moment before that happened. So none of those are the actual line you would say, but they could do down any of those paths to sort of get you to, okay, there’s a good idea for a line down there.
And that’s really hard work. You have to do all the work of trying all those things and say what would actually work in this place. But, I really strongly suspect you will find a better line than, “I can’t unsee that.” And it will be original to your script and will fit the situation. And that’s the crucial thing. You want it to be specific to your script and this moment and those characters.
Craig: Yeah. Also, that’s the thing, it’s the characters. Right? It lets the characters be unique. Every time a character says a clam, you are reminded that they’re just fake. That there’s nothing really that special about that character, because they’re saying the same damn thing 4,000 other characters have said.
And I think that there’s a temptation to go towards clams because you’re worried that if they say something unique to them, it won’t be funny. But, again, remember, that’s not the part that’s funny anyway. It’s just where it’s landing. If I’m writing a sitcom script and I get to a place where something crazy happens and you could have a character say, “I can’t unsee that.” You could just as easily write in, “I hate that I was alive to see that happen.”
Craig: Anything. Now, that’s not great. I’m not saying that’s great. I’m saying just start writing other things that mean the same thing and add a little bit of a zjoosh to it and you’re going to get the same thing as, “I can’t unsee that.” There’s nothing wrong with the concept of it. It’s just the damn words.
John: It’s just the damn words.
Craig: It’s just the damn words.
John: Let’s take a look at “that’s not a thing.” So the sense of that could be, “You’re stupid.” Or you could be saying that mean like, “Stop trying to invent popular culture,” which is basically stop trying to make ____ happen, which was Cher’s line from Clueless. Which was great when Cher said it, but you can’t say that again.
John: Or it could be like, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Like basically I’m confused by this approach. Any of those could be good avenues for what the actual real line should be. But those lines are going to be better than, “That’s not a thing.”
Craig: Yeah, like “that’s not a thing,” somebody is saying something as if we all have a common experience with it when we don’t. So, somebody could say, “You’re deeply invested in something that does not exist.” You can come up with all sorts of ways of getting to the heart of what that is without saying, “That’s not a thing.” You know? And the shorter the better, of course.
John: Yeah. And finally, “Debbie Downer.” So Debbie Downer was a character on Saturday Night Live. And so it was played wonderfully by Rachel Dratch, but don’t just quote a character from a decade ago on Saturday Night Live. That’s not a great choice. So, what are you saying when you’re saying Debbie Downer? Are you saying you’re not fun to be around? You’re saying don’t kill my idea. You’re saying you’re making me feel shallow and superficial. Those are all valid approaches to this, but look at it from the character’s perspective of like what is it that the character could say in that moment that is unique to that specific character and that specific moment.
Craig: Yeah. I really hate this one because now you’re just saying you are a downer, but that’s not even helping the joke land. It would be much better if in any case like that the character could express how what this person has said makes them feel. Right? So you say you’re making me feel – you know, somebody says something and then you just get up and start walking away. “Where are you going?” “I have to get a prescription for every antidepressant.”
Do something that makes me understand what the joke land recipient is feeling rather than, “I have a name for you that we all have heard.” And by the way, Debbie Downer is the most ironic clam because Debbie Downer itself was a great example of Saturday Night Live catching lightning in a bottle and then stupidly trying to do it over and over. One sketch amazing. Second time you saw it, it was like oh no. Like, they’re smart, they’re never going to do David S. Pumpkins again. If they try, I’ll go down there and I will start cracking skulls.
John: That’s going to be a good idea. So, anyway, those are our new suggestions on clams. We went through this whole bit without even talking about the origin of clams. I don’t know where the first term came about. I first heard about it through Jane Espenson, who was a previous guest, who is so smart about writing about writing. But she has a big crusade against certain clams. And is very good about sort of spotting clams as they are about to be formed. She was a writer on Buffy, which again, doesn’t have a normal comedy structure in their scenes, but relied on a lot of comedy writing in order to get through a lot of difficult exposition stuff. So, you know, you got to be vigilant about this even if you’re not writing strictly comedy like Workaholics. You have to be mindful of those things that are going to have the feeling of a joke but are not going to be funny anymore.
Craig: Is there a word for a baby clam?
John: There should be a word for a baby clam.
Craig: Like a young clam.
John: A clam that’s going to come. A clam in development. Like how do clams even form? I don’t even know. I know nothing about clam biology.
Craig: I’m looking right now. I just learned that clams have an anus.
John: Well, yes. You got to poop somewhere. Everybody poops.
Craig: Well, I guess that’s true. I don’t know, I thought maybe clams just sort of, you know, just all sort of leaked out from everywhere.
It’s not like a calf, like a cow has a calf, and a sheep has a lamb. Clams have small clams.
John: Yeah. All right, next topic. We have a question from Kota Hoshino who asks, “I have a question about naming characters. How do you decide on a name that is good, unique, and not clichéd?”
Craig, what thoughts can you offer for Kota about naming your characters?
Craig: Well, this is an endless bane of screenwriters. We have to come up with names all the time. And you’re kind of stuck, because you don’t want to – I mean, look, here’s crime number one. Jim Patterson. Right? No one should ever be named Jim Patterson. Crime number two, and unfortunately this is committed frequently by movies that are successful, so hey, what do I know, but I cringe every time I hear any action hero named Cutter McGonagall, or Razor Edge. You know, and you hear it and you’re just, “What?”
John: You still hear it.
Craig: And then there’s these really purple prose names like, you know, Ecclesiastes Phosphorus. So, I don’t like names to smack me in the face with their pomposity, or their manliness, but I certainly don’t want these generic names. So, the first thing I do is I ask questions about my character. Where are they from? How old are they? Where were their parents from? Because remember, parents name children.
Every character to me, this is an opportunity to imply something about ethnicity. Apply something about class. Race. Geography. So, then what I do is I research. And I try and find interesting examples that land in that happy little space that is to the east of boring and done, and to the west of “oh beat it.” Right?
Now, sometimes you’re writing stories that are in fantasy world, so then your names have to feel like they’re part of a common language that you’ve invented. Even if that language is English, for instance, JK Rowling has a kind of language for the world of wizards, even though they live in our world, whether they are English wizards or French wizards, there’s a certain aesthetic to the name.
So, that’s – I kind of just start asking a lot of questions about the character. And then I think how can I be purposeful with the name I choose.
John: Absolutely. And character decisions for me are really fundamental. I generally will not start writing a character or write scenes unless I really do know the characters’ names, because it’s just so hard for me to think about that person without their name. And the situations where I’ve had to go through and rename a character after the fact, it always kills me because like, no, no, I wrote that character to be this person and if I change the name they’re no longer this person.
So, I really do need to know the characters’ names before I get started there. Other sort of good general suggestions – as much as you can avoid, don’t name two characters with the same first letter of their name, because people are going to be seeing that name and hearing that name and you just want them to have as much differentiation. So, if you have Adam, don’t also have an Aaron in your script, because that will just get confusing.
Now, sometimes it will just happen. Like Aladdin has both Jasmine and Jafar. But everyone knows who they are so it’s fine. That’s not going to be confusing. But if were to add another character, I wouldn’t give him a J, because that would just be a mess. And you’d subconsciously get them confused with the two characters.
Also look at sort of whether you’re using the full version of the name or the short version of the name. We talked about race and class, but there’s also sort of the intersection of education and status. And so in Big Fish we have Edward Bloom, and he’s always Edward. He’s never Ed. He’s never Eddie, except for Jenny Hill can call him Eddie. And it’s Will Bloom. It’s not William Bloom. If you have an Edward and a William, you will get them confused because they feel like the same kind of fanciness of names. But Edward and Will you won’t get confused. So, look at that. So varying the length of names can also help distinguish them on the page.
Craig: That’s a really good point about the name changing and how traumatic that can be. When you get to a place where you’re about to go into production on your screenplay, someone at the studio has the unenviable task of clearing the names. And there’s a whole science to clearing names, but basically the idea is they don’t want to get sued. They don’t want to get sued. They don’t want to have somebody out there say, “You named that character after me.” So, either there has to be no one named that, or a whole lot of people named. You get in trouble if like one or two people are named that. So occasionally what happens is they’ll clear a whole bunch of names but come back to you and say you can’t name this person this. You have to change their name. And it is traumatic.
Even, before that on the sheep movie, I was adapting a novel and one of the important characters in the novel, a sheep, was named Othello. And Lindsay and I, from the start, we were like we don’t want to do – we don’t want any kind of black sheep/white sheep racial metaphors in this. We want our sheep to be all different colors. We don’t think sheep have race problems, and we don’t want to imply that they do. They have other – they have like a whole other weird set of biases that are so specific to sheep that when we hear them we go, “That’s the strangest thing. Why would that be a problem for you?”
But, not color. And Othello is so, you know, literally is identified by race. So, we wrestled, and wrestled, and wrestled, and finally – dozens of names, and eventually landed on one that we were okay with. But it took months to stop calling him Othello. It was hard.
John: I totally get that. And I would also say from Big Fish, some of the characters I pulled from Daniel Wallace’s novel are actually completely different characters, but I loved the names so much. Like, Amos Calloway does not own a circus in Daniel Wallace’s novel. There’s no circus there. But Amos Calloway was exactly the perfect Big Fish name. And so there had to be an Amos Calloway in the movie, and so it became the Danny DeVito Amos Calloway circus owner.
So, those names have to fit within the world, and that fit very well within the world of fantastical south.
Craig: There you go.
John: All right, we have two more quick questions. The first one is about life rights. Let’s take a listen.
Questioner: I’m currently working on a documentary in which the idea has been tossed around to turn the story into a feature length film. A couple of the characters, however, are quite a bit older and the question has been asked what happens to their life rights if they pass away before we can attain them. Also, how do you attain someone’s life rights if they’ve already passed away?
John: So, Drew is asking about life rights. And life rights is complicated. Again, we always have to remind you we are not lawyers. What I would say in general about life rights is that you are getting a person’s life rights when you want to tell their story, and you’re telling a part of their story that is not part of the public record. Very specifically, you are Charles Sully Sullenberg and you are telling the story of Charles Sully Sullenberg. Or, you are important person in that story and you have sort of the right to publicity, you have the right to tell your own story. And so therefore I’m coming to as a person trying to tell your story on film, or in a TV series, and therefore I’m asking for your rights to tell this part of the story. So, basically, they’re giving up the opportunity to tell their story in another movie to let you tell their story in this movie.
In terms of the legalities of a person who has already died, well, my understanding is that like life rights in this sense do not carry over after your death. But, Craig, tell me that I’m wrong.
Craig: I can’t. I think that that’s true. But, you know, Drew, the thing is none of this is – there’s the law, and then there’s the practice. And in practice what ends up happening is if you want to tell the story of somebody who is dead, and recently so, a lot of times you’re going to want the cooperation of the estate. Even if the estate is as simple and small as a surviving spouse. Because that person will be able to help you. And they will have letters, and information, and all sorts of little bits of stuff that you can use. And, of course, even further down the line playing the larger game here, you don’t want to make a fictional movie about somebody and then have that person’s real life husband or wife start yapping in advance of your movie saying it’s a bunch of crap.
So, a lot of times what happens is people don’t get so stuck on the technicalities of the law and try and work with, well, what will make our lives easier creatively and financially. So, a lot of times people will just work out deals.
John: The other thing we should stress is that a lot of times while you’re getting some life rights is that there’s always the possibility of libel. So, a real life living person, if you say something that is provably, demonstrably untrue about that person, under American law and under international laws they can sue you for libel. And in the process of getting life rights, you may have contractual language in there that sort of protects you from libel lawsuits from that person, which can be useful, and helpful.
Dead people don’t have libel. Dead people cannot sue you for libel. And that is a useful thing that will hopefully continue under future administrations.
Craig: So then there’s a P.S. to the question. “What is the difference between posthumous and postmortem? I wasn’t sure which made the most sense in this context. And the all-knowing Internet was of no help.”
Well, I would think posthumous here would make sense. Postmortem is really specific to the moments immediately after death. So, a postmortem is what happened in the days or hours after somebody died, or describes any kind of examination or investigation related to a dead body, or dead thing. Posthumous is really more about events in the world that occur after the life of a person has ended as opposed to while they were alive.
John: Absolutely. So like a posthumous honor was bestowed upon this person. And so think about posthumous with a person. Postmortem is with a body, I think, is sort of a useful way of thinking about it.
And so after a certain point, postmortem doesn’t really make sense to be using as a term.
Our final question comes from the wonderfully named Telly Archer. Let’s listen to what she had to say.
Telly Archer: My question is about picking a genre. Do I need to? I’ve heard a lot of people say that you’re supposed to pick one genre and stick to it when you’re trying to break into the industry so that you can become somewhat of an expert or go-to person in that area. And then once you have a good reputation, then you break out into other genres. However, what makes more sense to me is the people who say just write wild. Let your voice be heard. Write the script that only you could write and not care about how similar it is to the next one you do. I made a list of the most me ideas that I have. There’s two comedies. One light. And one very dark. And then a horror, a thriller, and a rom-com.
So, I’m hoping you’ll say write wild and not pick a genre. Because I don’t know how I’d do that. But I do want to know the actual answer. So, any advice you can give would, of course, be appreciated. And thank you for all you do. Bye.
Craig: Bye…I love that. I also liked, sooooo. I do that myself.
Here’s my answer, Telly. I think you’ll be happy. Write wild. What is writing wild really mean? It means writing the way you’re insides are directing you to write.
Now, you can say, “Do I have to stick to one genre?” Well, first of all, what is your genre? You don’t know. You have genres that you want to write in, so let’s call those part of writing wild. You want to write a romance. You want to write fantasy. You want to write a thriller. You write it. Okay. That’s now a genre you’re interested in.
The business, if they discover a script of yours and love it, they may say, “Oh good, now give us another one of these.” And you can say, “Well, how about this? Do you also like this? If you had seen this first, maybe you would think you would want another one of these, right?” They may say to you, “Actually we just like the thriller that you write. Not so big on the romances. Love the thrillers.”
Okay, well, write one or don’t. And you can choose that when you get there. But, I believe you should write what you want to write as long as you’re not hopping around from subject to subject to distract yourself from the fact that you’re maybe lacking some discipline. If you feel disciplined and interested in a genre, write it.
John: Yeah. So, when we had our agent on the podcast, Peter Dodd, we talked a little bit about this. The sense of like do you want to have a writer who writes just one kind of thing, or writes a whole bunch of different kind of things. And my recollection was he was upfront about the fact that it’s easier to market you in the town as the person who does X, Y, or Z rather than sort of does everything. But, I guess don’t worry about being pigeonholed until somebody is actually interested in reading you. So, write the things that you think you can write best. And that means experimenting with some different things and seeing what it is that you love. But, obviously, write the script you’ll finish. Write the script that you’ll kick ass on. The one that gets you sitting down at the computer every day, because that’s the most crucial factor here.
Once you know you can do it and you know what it is you like to write, there may be situations where you kind of get pushed to writing one kind of thing. And if that’s paying you and you’re going to be paid to write, congratulations. You’re now a successful screenwriter. Down the road you could bend a little bit.
Previously on the podcast I’ve talked about how the first jobs I got were adapting kids’ books. And so I did How to Eat Fried Worms, A Wrinkle in Time, and I got pegged as being the guy who adapted kids’ books. So I got sent books about gnomes, elves, dwarves, and Christmas.
And I wrote Go largely to break out of that cycle. And so that was a lovely opportunity I could break out of that cycle and I had something new I could show people. But, I got to break out rather than sort of just trying to break in. So, write what you love. Let people respond to the things that are so uniquely you, the thing that you are clearly passionate about writing. And don’t worry about picking a genre right now.
Craig: Yeah, that’s a problem for later on down the line. If you have that problem, “Geez, I feel like I’m being pigeonholed by Hollywood. The keep sending me blah-blah-blah jobs.” Not such a bad situation. But we are the only creative job in Hollywood that can write ourselves out or into trouble. Actors have to wait for roles to come to them. Directors have to wait for scripts to come to them. Same with producers. Same with studios.
We can reinvent ourselves every single day if we choose. The key is to do so in a way that is impressive. Simple as that.
So, I wouldn’t worry about this one at all.
John: Yep. My One Cool Thing this week is The Good Place on NBC is which is, wow, talk about a show that is not worried about genre. It is writing itself into a very specific, unique thing. So, this is the show that stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson and a lot of other talented actors. Created by Michael Schur. The pilot was directed by Drew Goddard, who is fantastic, and a fantastic writer in his own right. Had episodes written by Alan Yang, Megan Amram, and a bunch of other Scriptnotes-adjacent people.
It is just phenomenal. And I would not have found out about it if it were not for Malcolm Spellman, one of our favorite Scriptnotes folks, who was talking about, “Hey, this show is really good.” And he’s right. It’s really good.
So for people who don’t know, it’s a half-hour serialized really strangely structured, brilliant written, just fantastic. So, we’re watching the season here on iTunes. I strongly recommend people check out The Good Place on NBC.
I’m delighted that it’s actually doing well in the ratings, because usually if we recommend a show, it doesn’t help it. But this one is doing great.
Craig: Usually a show is helped by the fat that we’ve never heard of it. [laughs]
John: That’s absolutely true. The thing is that I had not heard of this show until this last week, and now I heard about it, and I love it. So, I’m a late adopter, perhaps, on The Good Place. But if you are not watching it, or if you are one of our international listeners who would otherwise not know about the show, check it out, because man, it’s just really, really smartly done and very, very funny.
Craig: Megan Amram is the best. We got to get her on the show one day. She’s the greatest.
John: We absolutely do. I feel like she’s been a guest, but I don’t even know her. I just talk about her as if I know her.
Craig: No, she’s the greatest.
John: I have one other thing to plug. My very smart husband, Mike, was a guest on a podcast called Join Us in France this last week, where he talked about what it was like to do all the visa applications and apartment hunting and all of that stuff for this year that we are spending in Paris. And it was a really good podcast if you’re at all curious about the process of us moving to France. He sort of describes it all and really talks you through the kind of stuff you need to do if you’re planning to do what we did and come to Paris for a year.
Craig: And that’s in English?
John: That’s in English. It’s an English podcast, hosted by a French woman with great English. So, if you want to hear what my husband sounds like, he’s on that podcast. So, there will be a link in the show notes for that.
Craig: He sounds dreamy.
John: Oh, he’s dreamy.
Craig: Dreamy Craig is a whole other – we’ll get to him sooner or later. My One Cool Thing is the videogame Watch Dogs 2. But specifically the writing of the videogame Watch Dogs 2. I don’t know if you played Watch Dogs Uno.
John: I have not.
Craig: You know, it was good. It was a fine game. Really, the game – Watch Dogs was entertaining and fun to play because of the mechanic. Very simply you’re a hacker and your phone can essentially control everything around you and you’re breaking into things. It’s fun.
But the character and the story were quite heavy and somber. And Watch Dogs 2 has taken all the same mechanics, you know, jazzed them up a little bit the way they do for sequels, but the characters are so much more interesting because they’re young, and they’re vibrant, and they’re funny.
But here’s the part that’s kind of amazing to me. Now, Watch Dogs 2 is written – it says written by Lucien Soulban. The game was made at Ubisoft Montreal. I can only imagine that there are many writers, not just Lucien, because there’s so much in the show. Sorry, in the game.
But here’s what kind of amazed me. You meet these characters and there are some things that jumped out right off the bat. One, there’s a character named Josh. And, you know, I’ve played my way probably through half of the game. And about 20% of the way through I thought am I looking at the first legitimately autism spectrum disorder character I’ve ever seen in a videogame without it being like, “Look at me, I’m an autism spectrum…”
It’s like this guy, they’ve nailed it. They’ve nailed exactly what Asperger’s is. And around the middle of the game he just casually refers to himself as an Aspie. And I was like, oh my god, that’s incredible. So, that was awesome. The lead is a character named Marcus who is black and there’s another member of their little hacking crew who is black. And the two of them have discussions about race. And it’s fascinating because it’s a great example of code switching. One of them is working at the videogame’s version of Google. And the two of them have a whole conversation about what it’s like to work at that company, which is incredibly white, and he has to represent – he says at one point, “Every meeting, I have to represent all of Blackdom.”
And they have this fascinating conversation and then code switch when other people come by. And then they go back to being themselves. And there’s also a trans character that shows up. And none of it is like, look at me, I’m a trans character. Look at me, I’m black guy. Look at me, I’m Asperger’s. It’s all done kind of just in the most brilliantly casual way.
It’s kind of the ultimate wokeness. So, I’m loving that. I’m just loving the way that they’ve made the world – and it takes place in San Francisco, which kind of helps it a little bit, but they’ve made the world so realistic to actual people that are in the world that you don’t often see in videogames. And then not sort of sledgehammer you in the face with it. They’re just casual. It’s great.
John: Great. That sounds great.
Craig: Watch Dogs 2.
John: Watch Dogs 2. That is our show for this week. So, as always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Eric Pearson. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re actually kind of running low on outros, so come on, send in your outros.
That’s also the place where you can send in your questions like the ones we answered today. Short questions are great on Twitter. So, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
We are Facebook. I actually update the Facebook and put some stuff there, so please come talk to us on Facebook. You can search for Scriptnotes podcast there.
You can search for Scriptnotes on iTunes and leave us a review, a comment. That always helps people find our show. That’s also where you can download the Scriptnotes App that lets you get to all of those back episodes. You subscribe to those back episodes through Scriptnotes.net. And so as we talked about at the head of the show, it’s $2 a month. It gets you all the back episodes and the bonus episodes. It’s so good. So useful.
We also have a few of the USB drives left which have all of the back episodes, up to Episode 250. And the transcripts there, too. We try to get transcripts up on the site four days after the episodes aired. They fell behind, but I think we’ll be able to catch them back up.
That is our show. So, I should say, links to all the things we talked about on today’s episode you can find at johnaugust.com. They’re also probably below this episode if you scroll in your player of choice. And we’ll try to have links to many of the things we talked about including John Quaintance’s original tweet that started this whole clam discussion this week.
John: Craig, you got over your sneezes. Congratulations. Have a great week.
Craig: You too. Bye.
- Scriptnotes Midnight Blue T-shirt
- Scriptnotes Gold Standard T-shirt
- No, Gotham, That’s Not How Tightropes Work
- Jay Allan Zimmerman’s Broadway Concert
- John Quaintance’s Tweet
- The List of Clams
- The Good Place on NBC
- Mike on Join Us in France
- Watch Dogs 2 Trailer
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Get your 250 episode USB
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Eric Pearson (send us yours!)
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here.