John August: Hey, this is John. So, today’s episode has some swearing in it, so if you’re in the car with your kids, maybe save it for later.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 280 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast we’ll be discussing post-scriptdom depression. That low feeling you sometimes get when finishing a screenplay. We’ll also be looking at some of the trends in the most recent Black List. And a protest over Boys Don’t Cry, which has me shaking my damn head. But, first, we have some news. Craig, tell us the news.
Craig: Well, very exciting. Our friend and friend of the podcast, so by extension your friend at home, Malcolm Spellman is developing a television series based on Foxy Brown, the 1974 cult classic film. Malcolm will be one of the executive producers, along with Ben Watkins, another guy we know, we I think created or show-runs Hand of God, which is an Amazon show.
Craig: And Malcolm and Ben are going to be writing the script and running the show, so that’s going to be on Hulu. And, you know, what a world, because if I had said that three years ago it would have been like, “Aw, that’s sad.”
John: Your little show on Hulu.
Craig: Yeah, like, aw. Wow, that’s awesome. That’s better than basically everything. So, what a crazy world. Anyway, congratulations to Malcolm Spellman. Foxy Brown, by the way, I love that movie. I love Foxy Brown. I actually think it’s a brilliant idea for a TV show because it’s so TV-able.
Craig: By the way, I don’t know anything about creatively. I haven’t talked to him about it yet. I don’t know creatively how they’re approaching it. But, man, I hope it’s period. I hope. Hard to do, because it’s expensive. But…
John: Yeah. I’m very excited to see it as well. And I think what you say about it being a TV idea is absolutely true, because it’s the characters. It’s centered around this character. And it’s not about the one journey the character is on. It’s about her adventures. It’s about sort of what she’s doing and the trouble that she is solving. And so that is going to be great. So, I’m so excited for Malcolm. It feels like a perfect match.
I’m going to have my tiny little rant about Hulu. So, I pay for Hulu because Hulu is how here in France we watch New Girl. It’s how we watch The Simpsons, South Park, and other great shows that we love. So, because we are paid members of Hulu, I feel like I should be able to watch Hulu while I’m here, and I cannot without a VPN. So, if you are a person who works at Hulu, can you make it so that if I’m a paid, logged in member of Hulu I don’t have to use a VPN to watch your program while I’m here? That would be awesome. Thanks.
Craig: That would be awesome.
John: So, the other weird thing is Hulu actually follows me on Twitter. Like I got the little notification on my phone, like Hulu is now following you. So, great. I will also tweet them to ask them to please turn this off. Because Netflix, notably, does not VPN block you. I guess because they have a Netflix France, and that’s what I’m watching.
Craig: Well, that’s what it comes down to, right? I mean, Hulu must have some sort of partner in France that they’re demanding your view instead, right?
John: I suppose so. I don’t know who the Hulu partner is. So, like, for my HBO shows I’m watching them through OCS. That is where I watched Westworld. But I don’t know who the Hulu equivalent is here. And I don’t know where I’m supposed to watch The Mindy Project, for example, which is only a Hulu show, if not through Hulu on the VPN.
Craig: Like at the very least, if you’re trying to access Hulu and you’re not in a territory that is Hulu-accessible, they should tell you go here instead. Right? They shouldn’t just give you some dumb thing like, “Sorry.” Because I assume that the deal is that Hulu charges some French company to deliver their content, therefore that French company is like, fine, but then you can’t deliver it, only we can if we’re paying you for it. That makes sense. But then just tell me where to go.
John: Yeah. I think there’s also some logic. Like as they’re cutting out their deals, like if someone is actually a paid member who is like paying you in the US for this thing, I feel like that should be carved out of the sort of like we have France kind of stuff.
I know it’s complicated. And most of the people listening to this show are either – they’re living in America and they don’t have to worry about it, or they’re living internationally and have been dealing with this their entire lives. So, to have me complain about it is a little bit pointless. But, anyway, that’s my little Hulu rant.
Craig: Oh John.
John: Let’s get to things we actually do know about – our t-shirts. So, our friends at Cotton Bureau have received so many requests for our Scriptnotes t-shirts, our last two Scriptnotes t-shirts, that they will be printing a new run in January.
John: So, hooray. So, if you are a person like Craig Mazin who ordered a women’s medium shirt, rather than a men’s medium shirt–
Craig: Huge disaster.
John: You can fix that. So, when they actually have the t-shirts up, I’ll tweet about it. Craig may even tweet about it. But if you want to make sure you don’t miss the deadline for them, you should go to Cotton Bureau right now and put your email address in there so that they will notify you the minute they become available, so you can get a t-shirt of your own. Either the Three Page Gold Standard, or the Classic Scriptnotes logo.
Craig: They’re both very, very good. Jennifer Simard, Broadway star, Tony nominee, very worked up over her failure to get a t-shirt. Tried to work the angle with me to get her t-shirt. No.
Craig: No. No, no. I don’t care how many Tony nominations you have. I do, actually. That’s the thing with me. Regardless, Jennifer, I know you listen. So you’re going to go to Cotton Bureau, like so many others of you, and pre-order your shirts so that John August can get richer.
John: Yes. So much richer. It’s nothing but money for me.
While we’re talking pure commerce, the thing I actually do make money off of that is not even sort of paying for the podcast is Writer Emergency Pack, which is the thing I Kickstarted, which is now sold on Amazon. If you’re looking for something to buy for the writer-friend in your life, or if you just want one because no one else got something cool for Christmas, they are available on Amazon and at WriterEmergency.com. So, that’s a thing you can buy if you want to support me and not Craig.
Craig: That’s right.
John: That’s a thing you can buy, too.
Craig: And you do. It is a good gift for your writer-friend or lover.
John: Mm, yes. Especially good for lovers. What’s also good for lovers is movies, especially movies in France.
Craig: Segue Man!
John: In the last episode we discussed how and why Moana is called Vaiana here in France, and some other countries. We also talked about how The Hangover was released here as A Very Bad Trip. So, we got an email in from somebody who actually knows the reason why Craig’s movie was not called Hangover here.
Craig: Yeah. So, Kristof in Paris writes, “According to industry friends, The Hangover had too little time to play off of it’s a hit in the United States, and no stars to push, so the title was translated to Very Bad Trip in order to recall Pete Berg’s Very Bad Things, which over-performed in France, and was deemed to be a not un-useful connection for moviegoers to make.”
That’s fascinating. It’s fascinating on so many levels. I mean, first of all, Very Bad Things, I’ve seen that movie. I don’t know if you have, John.
Craig: Not only not a hit, but almost invisible. Like an incredibly small movie here in the United States. And surprising that it would be that market meaningful in France. But, that makes sense. There had to be some reason, right? I mean, so, that makes sense.
John: It actually makes a lot of sense. And think about it, in the abstract, if you were like to squint and look at both movies you could say like, oh yeah, they seem like the same kind of movie. It’s both about like horrible people going on this trip. They both happen in Vegas, I think. Did the first movie happen in Vegas?
Craig: Yeah, but they’re so tonally different. I mean, Very Bad Things is sort of a nauseatingly dark thriller about men covering up the death of a stripper. And that is not at all – The Hangover is tonally wildly different. But it just, you know, I assume that The Hangover did very well in France, so strategy successful.
John: So successful. So, let’s continue this thread. We also got this great article sent to us that has a bunch of these American titles and the French titles for movies. And so a thing you’ll notice, and something I’ve noticed as I’ve walked around here, a lot of times you will see the movie released in France will have English words as the title, but they won’t be the same words we had in America. And so, I thought we would take a look at some of these movies. And I’ll read the American title and Craig, you can do the French title, and see if we notice any trends, okay?
John: So, No Strings Attached.
Craig: Sex Friends.
John: The Hangover.
Craig: Very Bad Trip, of course.
John: Euro Trip.
Craig: [laughs] This one is great. So, our friend Alec Berg makes his movie Euro Trip, and in Europe, France, they call it Sex Trip.
John: Mm-hmm. How about Wild Things.
Craig: Sex Crimes.
John: Not Another Teen Movie.
Craig: Sex Academy.
John: Out Cold.
Craig: Snow, Sex, and Sun.
John: Mozart and the Whale.
Craig: Crazy in Love. Well, that’s nice.
John: Yeah. Trainwreck.
Craig: Crazy Amy. [laughs]
John: Meet the Spartans.
Craig: Orgy Movie, which I have to say, is actually a title for that particular film.
John: Yep. The In Crowd.
Craig: Sex and Manipulations.
John: Step Up.
Craig: Sexy Dance.
John: Let’s go down to The To-Do List.
Craig: Sex List. [laughs]
John: A Short History of Decay.
Craig: What else could it be? Sexy Therapy.
John: Yeah, but that’s not the only one, because Thanks for Sharing is called…
Craig: Sex Therapy.
John: Yeah, so do we notice a trend here?
Craig: Yes, and I have to say that what a great double bill to go see, both films not widely seen–
Craig: But to go see Sexy Therapy and then Sex Therapy. Yeah, they seem to be, you know, separate from I guess what our natural suspicion would be about the French and their interest in subtlety, they seem to be even more blunt in their titling than Americans are.
John: Yeah. Maybe you could say like they don’t want their American comedies to be subtle. They want their American comedies to be loud and brash. And it certainly looks that way. So, I’ll put a link in the show notes to what we just read, but also a whole other Tumblr which is called Pardon My Titres, which is just a bunch of the French titles for movies.
But there’s one thing I thought was actually really interesting that I’ll single out which is this last link here, which was the same movie and a very different marketing strategy. And so this is the Australian version of it versus the American version. So, the American movie was called That Awkward Moment. And so it was a comedy that had Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller in it.
And so I remember the trailer. I never saw the movie, but I remember the trailer, and it felt like a buddy comedy with the three of them. And so they compare that to the Australian version which is like it’s Zac Efron and the girl. And they’re the two people on the cover. They’re the only names that you’re seeing. Rather than That Awkward Moment it’s called Are We Officially Dating. They’re like walking in the fall. It’s such a completely different way of marketing the movie.
Craig: Wild. Yeah, I have to say that looking at these movie posters and the retitlings, it’s not surprising that French people look down on Americans. I mean, I don’t know if they all know that we don’t call every movie Sex Blank. It’s so strange. Maybe it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They view us as sort of silly, and so they give our movies the silliest titles, and then French people think we’re silly and so on and so forth. But the most fascinating one on the site to me is this movie, I’d never even heard of this movie. It’s a movie called Bad Biology. That’s the American title. It appears to be some kind of dark horror romance. And so, of course, they retitled it Sex Addict. But the cover–
John: The poster.
Craig: The poster, they have – you know what? Let’s just put it in the show notes. [laughs] Let’s just put it in the show notes so you can see.
John: So, this week as I was looking through some of these posters, I found one that is like, wow, I wonder if he knows this. So Ryan Reynolds is a friend and so I just sent him this poster for this movie that he’s in. He’s the only person on the cover and it’s called Under Pressure. And he’s like, “Wait, what is this movie?” And the movie, in the US it’s called Mississippi Grind. It’s a gambling drama. But the poster for Under Pressure is completely different. And so there’s dice on it, kind of, but it’s not even – the image of him is not even him from this movie. It’s a completely different version of him on this poster. And he had no idea what it was.
And so you can imagine if you’re the actor who sees one of these posters, but if you’re like the filmmaker and you see like, oh, this is what my movie is sold as in other markets, it is bewildering.
Craig: It is. I know a lot of filmmakers get worked up over it. I tend to blank it all out. I don’t look at what the posters look like or the retitlings. I don’t know what they call these movies elsewhere. I just sort of give up. I’ve actually given up caring what they are like here as well.
Craig: I now just write them and then go away.
John: The key to Craig Mazin’s success is not caring.
Craig: Not caring. I care about the script and the movie and then the day my job is done, I stop. I have to.
John: All right. You have to.
Last bit of follow up. So we did it again. Back in Episode 267 we did a How Would this be a Movie in which we talked about Dr. James Barry, the 19th Century British doctor who was identified as a woman only after death. So, this week news comes out that Rachel Weisz is attached to play James Barry in a movie adaptation. The script is being written by Nick Yarborough, whose name you’ll hear again later on in the podcast. And it’s based on Rachel Holmes’s book The Secret Life of Dr. James Miranda Barry: Victorian England’s Most Eminent Surgeon.
So, it’s a different book than what we were looking at when we discussed it, but hey, we were right. That’s a movie.
Craig: We were right. I mean, that was so obviously a movie. And I’m kind of curious to see which of the methods they approach it. Because we had talked about all sorts of different ways to do it. I mean, one way is the kind of straight up way. One way was concentrating on her relationship with her partner/servant/confidante.
John: Also her mother was a great character.
Craig: The mother was a great character. So, you know, interesting to see what they do and how they choose to come at it.
John: Yeah. I think the one thing I feel confident about is because Rachel Weisz is a great actor, and everyone involved seems like really great people, so there’s no chance of any controversy whatsoever about the choices they’ve made in making that movie, because everyone is going to see like, well, that’s just obviously how you should do it.
Craig: No one gets worked up over the casting of any actor when it comes to [sighs] characters who are transgender, or gender-fluid. And so we arrive now at umbrage.
John: Yes. So, this is something that actually happened last month, but the news of it just sort of came out this last week. So, last month students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon started a protest over Kimberly Peirce’s movie Boys Don’t Cry. So, Kimberly Peirce is the very talented director who that was her breakout movie, a Sundance movie, that won the Oscar for Hilary Swank. So, there was a protest at Reed College while she was giving a Q&A basically sort of trying to take over the Q&A post-screening.
So, Kimberly Peirce had to leave for a while, and then rules were established. She came back in. They were criticizing her for making money off of a movie about trans people while not being trans herself. They attacked the casting of Hilary Swank, a straight woman to play a trans man. They put a sign on her podium that read Fuck This Cis White Bitch. Someone shouted, “Fuck you, you scared bitch.” And then the students walked out.
So, Kimberly Peirce, an openly lesbian director, did not have a great experience there at Reed College.
Craig: Where do you even begin? I mean, listen, there is a level of stupidity here that is so in your face because Kim Peirce is not only a lesbian but has described herself as gender-fluid or gender-queer. And Kim Peirce is one of the few well-known openly lesbian filmmakers making movies about these issues. She was as far as I know the first director period to make a really insightful movie about this particular case, which was based on a real thing. She broke ground. She is a brave person.
And she ought to be celebrated by the very people that care about these issues. So, of course, they rip her apart and in ripping her apart do so with racism, and with misogyny, because she’s not pure enough for their 2016 sensibilities. It is disgusting to me. I mean, nauseating. I hated this.
John: I hated this, too. So, before we enter into the period of great umbrage over this, I do want to sort of acknowledge that Reed College itself seemed to recognize what was going on and tried to – they tried to walk a fine line of like we want to have vigorous discussions on this campus, but this was not cool. So this is what the Dean of Faculty, Nigel Nicholson, which is a great name, this is what he wrote after the fact. “The actions that I saw were not animated by the spirit of inquiry or the desire to learn that usually animates Reed audiences. The students had already decided what they thought and came to a question-and-answer session to make their judgments known, not to listen and engage.
“Some brought posters bearing judgments and accusations. Others asked questions that, while grammatically questions, that is they ended with question marks, were not animated by a genuine desire to explore a question, but rather sought to indict the speaker. It felt like a courtroom, not a college.”
So, that’s a reasonable response from the academic point of view. But I think I want to stop being reasonable right now and just unload on this a little bit if we can.
Craig: Thank you. Go. Go, go, go.
John: What luxury fucking outrage this is. We live in a time where like the fundamental rights of LGBT people are under attack and really at this precarious moment. Like the gains that have been won are all up for grabs right now. And so you choose to aim your weapons at the openly gay director of a movie that came out 20 years ago? Really, how fucking dare you.
And what’s worse is like you’re ignoring the fundamental role of movies like this that got us to where we are. You don’t get visibility and understanding of trans people without a movie like Boys Don’t Cry. It makes me just so furious.
Craig: Well, first of all, congratulations on finally reaching umbrage level. That was umbrage. Took 200 and how many episodes? But–
John: That was 280, yes.
Craig: 280. Real umbrage there. And, of course, completely deserved. First of all, Nigel Nicholson, Dean of Faculty, I have some advice for you. Expel these assholes. How about that? It’s not enough to say, well, you know, they brought some – some brought posters bearing judgments and accusations. You put a placard on the podium where your invited guest, Kimberly Peirce is speaking, that says “Fuck this Cis White Bitch.” Expel them. It’s as simple as that. They don’t belong in any college. They are assholes. They are anti-intellectual. They are bullies. And they’re violating everything that they’re pretending to protect.
It is also nonsense. I mean, underneath all of it, it’s not like – we’re not saying, look, these students have arrived at a reasonable place but they’re missing the context of what things were like when Kim Peirce made her movie in 1999. No, at least I’m saying where they have arrived now is insane. What they’re suggesting is that you cannot make a movie with a transgender character if you do not hire a transgender actor to play that character. They are also suggesting that you cannot make any movie that profits off of anyone’s misery because that’s somehow morally wrong. And so with one broad stroke of their pen they have eliminated every movie about the Holocaust. Every movie about slavery.
Oh my god, look what happened, you have Steve McQueen making 12 Years a Slave. Profiting off of slavery. What a jerk. Can’t do that. Oh, Spielberg, profiting off of the Holocaust. You can’t possibly put anyone in these movies that portray somebody that they don’t – Daniel Day Lewis, you asshole, you were in My Left Foot. You don’t really have cerebral palsy. Boo.
This is nuts. Nuts.
John: Yep. It’s frustrating. And I think what I don’t understand and I doubt there is a reasonable explanation for it is what they were actually after. I mean, were they demanding a time machine to go back 20 years and unmake this movie? Were they asking her to apologize for making this movie? Basically, they didn’t want anything bad to happen to Brandon Teena, because that’s what it seems to be. Is that like I can understand the frustration of like not wanting to see people who look like you hurt in movies. I get that. And that sense of like if all you ever saw – if you were a Jewish person and all you ever saw were movies about the Holocaust, or a black person and all you ever saw were movies about slavery, yeah, I could see how that could be really, really frustrating. But the thing is that’s not the only movies that are out there for LGBT people. There’s thousands of film festivals across the country that highlight the broad diversity of experiences of these people.
So, rather than picking this one movie to harsh one, acknowledge that there’s other stories out there and start telling those stories, but don’t show up at this Q&A and not ask questions but rather attack the filmmaker who made this movie.
Craig: You know, you’re getting to something true here, which is that it’s not real to them because what happened to Brandon Teena happened before they were born. This movie came out before they were born.
Here’s a little advice, children. If something happened before you existed, consider that before you smirkily dismiss it as obviously wrong. Because you don’t know. You know who does know? Kimberly Peirce. You know who lived through that time and did not conform to gender standards and did not conform to sexuality standards in the mid-90s, in the early 90s? Kim Peirce.
So, fuck you, to start with. I’ll give you back your own poster. And I want to also say that I support the casting and employment of transgender actors. I do. I want to see that. I want to see it, by the way, not so that they’re only ghettoized into playing transgender parts either. I’m okay with – and more than okay, I’m hopeful that transgender people will become more visible in all aspects of life, as well they should be. But we have to address some math here.
The latest statistics tell us that 0.6% of the United States population is transgender. 0.6%. Okay? Now, very few people in the United States are crazy enough to want to be an actor. Of those very few crazy people, a very, very tiny amount of them actually train to be an actor. Of those tiny, tiny amount of people, very few of them are any good at it. And of those tiny people, very few of them are the right age or look for a part that is based on a person who actually lived. It is simply not realistic to say that you cannot make a movie about a specific person and only limit the portrayal of that person to somebody that fits characteristics that frankly are not essential to the humanity of that person.
Why I love the movie Boys Don’t Cry is because I empathize and feel for the humanity of somebody that is not like me. That’s the point. And that’s what actors do. They created the empathy of the separation between themselves and who they play.
John: That’s what actors do. That’s what directors do. That’s what filmmakers do. That’s what writers do. They create the experience of being in another person’s perspective. Another person’s life for two hours on a big screen. And that is a remarkable thing that takes tremendous talent up and down the call sheet.
Craig: Yeah. 100%. I mean, I love watching – part of the magic of Hamilton is watching people that don’t fit the racial characteristics or even the sexual characteristics of the people they’re portraying. And then you forget about it. Somebody like Christopher Jackson, who oftentimes – he’s not unsung, believe me, but maybe some bigger names get mentioned when people talk about Hamilton, but Christopher Jackson does an unbelievable job portraying George Washington. Christopher Jackson is African American. George Washington owned slaves. But you can tell when you watch Hamilton how much love Christopher Jackson has for Washington. What he’s doing is connecting with him through empathy across these divisions and that is a beautiful thing. That is what the art of performance is.
And these fucking children do not understand. They don’t understand how movies are made. I don’t even think they understand why movies are made. They are ridiculous and stupid. And I’m angry at them and I want to buy Kim Peirce a sandwich. Or something.
John: Yes. She likes a beer. Next time we’re all in LA together we can have a beer with her.
Craig: Beer it is.
John: She’s an awesome filmmaker. Going back to this idea of only blank can play blank, it fails logic on the sort of reductio ad absurdum level. You can always draw more specific characteristics that you’re going to say like, well, you have to be this, you have to be this, until the point that there’s no person – like the Venn diagram does not work. There’s no person who actually falls in there, especially if you’re trying to model after a real person.
So, you know, look at Black Swan. There was criticism of Natalie Portman because she’s not really a ballerina. Well, okay, do you want an actress or do you want a ballerina? You got to pick at some point.
Not everybody in the Godfather movies was Italian. You know what? Coppola thought that was okay. I think it’s okay, too.
Craig: James Caan. Not exactly an Italian name.
John: Not an Italian name. And the director and two of the main actors in 12 Years a Slave are British, so they don’t have the African American experience. How dare they be in that movie?
John: That’s the absurdity that you get to here. Also, when you do the only blank can play blank, you sort of encourage less specificity. You encourage filmmakers to be less specific about who those characters are, so they don’t get stuck in these traps. I worry that it’s these kind of protests and outrage that make people more nervous to make movies like the James Barry movie because they can anticipate, crap, this is going to happen if we do this.
Like what are the James Barry people supposed to do? Are they supposed to cast Rachel Weisz, a very talented actor, to play this? Or should they do this worldwide talent search to find the transgender person? I guess they can do that, too, but Rachel Weisz is producing the movie. So, there’s no great answer for this.
Craig: I think that in our desire to advance the cause of people that have been underrepresented in movies and film, to the point where they are almost invisible, we have to make it so that we advance their cause without requiring that some roles be cast with certain kinds of people, because what happens is those movies as you say simply will not get made.
I mean, nobody makes – first of all, the idea that Boys Don’t Cry was some huge cash grab by Kimberly Peirce is fucking insane. The movie cost $2 million. It is the epitome of a passion project where the expectation is no one is going to make a damn penny. And I don’t think anybody did make a damn penny off of that movie. It wasn’t Titanic. You know, it was Boys Don’t Cry. You know who saw it? People like you and me in LA and New York. I mean, come on.
So, these movies are already nobody wants to pay for them to be made. So, there’s a – you have to sometimes tradeoff visibility of individuals with visibility of stories. You and I both know this. It’s hard to get movies made if you don’t case certain kinds of people in them. And then you have people who are brilliant at it, and sometimes it works beautifully. You know, where you have a guy like Lee Daniels and you know my worship of Precious. Like I’m obsessed with Precious. He found somebody perfect, Gabourey Sidibe, to play Precious. But he also put in Monique. And he also put in Mariah Carey. He’s not stupid. Right?
And he got amazing performances out of both of them. He’s not dumb. Right? So there’s certain people – frankly, the bias that we don’t talk about enough is the beauty bias.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: You know, everybody has to be beautiful in movies. That’s the other problem. Everybody. They all have to be. Look at the supporting roles in Boys Don’t Cry. This is a story that takes place in rural Nebraska, and everyone is gorgeous. Chloe Sevigny does not run around randomly in Nebraska. That’s not how it goes. You know, movies make everything glowy and beautiful.
Movies are illusions of reality. They are. That’s just the way it is. And I don’t want to see these stories not get told because there are prescriptions about who can play what kind of actor. It kills me to think that My Left Foot would not exist in our culture and in our world if they said we have to cast somebody who actually has cerebral palsy. Because here’s the deal: there is no one on the earth better at acting than Daniel Day Lewis. No one. The end.
You cast a great performer, always. And while you’re doing that if you can also advance the visibility and the employment and presence of all kinds of people in movies, in all kinds of roles, then you are a good person doing good work.
But to train your laser on this is outrageous and ignorant.
John: I agree. So let’s look for some solutions here. Let’s look for a solution if you are an audience member who is showing up at this screening with these concerns. My suggestion would be to start your question, an actual question would be something like, “If you were to make this film now…” Like that’s fine. Then you can ask her, hey, this is the movie you made then, but if you were to make this film, what would that be? Because then you’re actually asking for an answer.
You’re saying, okay, what would you do differently now? Or are there things you’d do differently? You can bring up the issue of casting trans people in this movie that way, rather than slamming her for not having cast a trans person 20 years ago in this movie that was groundbreaking.
John: That’s my suggestion for an audience.
Craig: Absolutely. And another possible question would be to say here are some contemporary criticisms of Boys Don’t Cry. Dada, dada, dada. How do you respond to this? That’s a fair question. And then let the filmmaker answer. The point is don’t – how about this, don’t go to Q&A sessions with speakers if you are disgusted by them and believe they have nothing of value to say.
I’m not showing up to hear David Duke do a Q&A. I don’t have any questions for him. If I don’t have real questions for somebody, I don’t go somewhere. It’s just dumb. [sighs]
John: So let’s talk about as a filmmaker and sort of what the solutions are here. I think, you know, I’m calling for awareness. You got to be aware of both what you’re doing right now and sort of the environment in which it’s going to come out in. All of the audiences that are going to be effected by your movie. And make decisions based on that.
So, I think, clearly if you’re making this James Barry movie, you have to be very mindful of how it’s going to play everywhere. And as we talked about on the original episode, like you have to make fundamental decisions. Is James Barry a transgender person or is it a woman who is disguising herself as a man to do this job. And that’s a very different thing. And you’re going to have to make that call. But you’re going to make one narrative choice and the world is going to make a different choice, perhaps. And so it’s complicated.
But you’re going into complicated waters.
Craig: You are. I think unfortunately every filmmaker today has to presume that they’re going to upset people. No matter what you do. It doesn’t matter. In fact, weirdly and sadly and ironically the only movies that are immune to a kind of offended hypersensitive backlash are movies that are disgusting, or crude, or cruel, because they’re viewed as dismissible and therefore, you know, so if you make some dumb movie about three muscle-bound dudes shooting at each other in the woods, which actually doesn’t sound that dumb. Actually sounds kind of cool. But regardless, that movie – no one is going to expect that movie to deliver anything of any value. It’s not there to provoke any thought.
So, everyone will just ignore it. But if you dare make a movie that deals with any social issues whatsoever, then you just have to know I’m speaking to an audience. I believe that the audience will understand my intentions and my heart. I believe that this will do some good. I also understand that a percentage of people are going to be upset at anything I do here because of who I am, or because it’s not perfect.
Craig: And that’s that.
John: That is that.
Craig: And there’s nothing you can do. There’s literally nothing you can do. Just price it in. That’s the world.
John: Yep. And maybe don’t go to Reed College if they invite you to do a Q&A.
Craig: Expel them. I mean it. Ugh.
John: Let’s transition from outrage to sadness. You finished a script this week, but that’s not necessarily an entirely joyful thing. So, talk us through what you’re feeling right now, Craig Mazin.
Craig: Well, it’s interesting, so I call it Post-Scriptdom Depression. And before I thought this would be a good topic to talk about, I checked with you and just said is this just me or do have this? And you’re like, oh no, no, no, I do have it. So, I think–
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Maybe if you and I both have it, we’re probably not alone. And it’s this thing that happens when you finish a screenplay or you finish a novel, there’s a sadness that just sort of washes in. And I’ve been thinking about why. And I have some theories. They’re just theories. I don’t know if they’re true.
Well, for starters, there’s this exuberation that occurs when you’re making something, and that is the thrill of boundless possibilities. And when you get to the end of something, there are no more possibilities. It is this. And in part there is a sense of loss there. And in part, also, I think whatever dreams you had of transcending greatness are finally giving way to reality, which is – it’s a book. It’s a script. You know, no matter how wonderful of a job you do, it’s probably not Huckleberry Finn. It’s probably not Chinatown. But it’s, you know, there it is.
John: It was always that destination way in the distance, and you got closer, and closer, and you got the excitement, and then you’re there and you’re like, oh, I’m here. It’s no longer a dream. It’s actually a thing. And you stop having the dream. And it’s strange to wake up out of that dream.
Craig: It is strange to wake up out of that dream. It’s true. And when you do wake up out of it, you are also required to reenter the world around you. And with that, there is a sense of things that we may have turned away from as we were buried in this thing. It’s a bit of a strangeness as you readapt to your normal life. You also lose that sense of purpose that you had for a while there. Creative people don’t generally show up from 9 to 5 at an office and tick boxes. We have purpose when we’re creating. And when we finish, it’s gone.
John: Yeah. That sense of, you know, reentry into the world hit me really hard here, because so I showed up in Paris and I was midway through the book, so this Arlo Finch, the book I’m writing. And I really had to buckle down to finish this book. And so I’m newly arrived in Paris. I’m buckled down into the book. And the book though was at least familiar. So even though everything else around me was really unfamiliar, the book was familiar. So I could sort of just hide inside this book for a while.
And so for several hours a day I was just inside this book. And it was comfortable. It was familiar. But once the book was done, well, I don’t have the book anymore to sort of hide inside. And suddenly I’m looking around and like, oh, there’s all this city and it’s cold and my heat isn’t turned on. But the homesickness hit me really hard. So, people on Instagram sort of saw my homesickness phase, but it really struck me like, oh wow, I’m not actually home. I don’t have all my comfortable things around me. I can’t find a kale salad anywhere.
John: I think I naturally would have felt some homesickness, like it was about that sort of four-week, five-week time where homesickness tends to kick in for me, but also I didn’t have the book anymore, and it was all just falling away from me. And I got really sad. It was a rough kind of week, until the heat finally came on, and I found a kale salad, and things sort of slowly got better.
Craig: I think the French probably don’t have much in the way of kale salads because they appreciate things that taste good, in general. Sorry.
John: Kale is delicious.
John: And I miss my kale salad. Back in Los Angeles, we have a garden. And we grow kale. And so I have kale like three or four times a week. I just love kale. And I was really missing it here.
So, over Thanksgiving I actually found – we went to this restaurant and they had the sweet potatoes I described as being so delicious at Thanksgiving. It was actually a kale and sweet potato dish. And so you can’t do any better than that.
Craig: Well, there’s this other thing that writing gives us and that is an easy excuse to avoid things. So, in the case of you arriving in France, there’s a lot of things you could do to confront the uncomfortabilities. Like, okay, I don’t like this, but I’m going to go walk around. I’m going to go try and learn the language. I’m going to go and force myself to live out of my comfort zone, but not while I’m writing a book. I’ve got to finish my book first.
And then you finish it and you’re like, ugh, I have to do these things I don’t like. There’s also – when we’re writing, we have total control over the work. Especially – and maybe almost exclusively when we’re writing the first draft of the thing. It’s ours completely. When we arrive at the end, there is either a conscious or subconscious awareness that that is over. And that from this point forward the world is going to come crashing in on this. And that hurts a little bit, too.
John: Well, it’s also the anxiety, because I definitely want someone to read it, because I want someone to tell me that it’s really, really good, because I’ve known just for myself like, oh, this is really, really good for a long time. But now I have to send it out into the world. And I want them to tell me it’s really good, but there’s always the chance they’re not going to tell me it’s really good. And so the minute I am done, that’s closer to I have to send it out to somebody. And I have to address what they’re going to say.
And even if their notes are fantastic and they really like it, there’s still going to be a lot of work ahead. And so I’m going to have to dismantle this thing I just built to incorporate their better suggestions. And that’s horrible. You’re setting yourself up to be judged suddenly. And that’s the hard thing.
Craig: And it’s a kind of emotional whiplash, because the only way to finish a book or a screenplay is to believe in yourself completely. And to find your creative courage. And the courage of those creative convictions. And then when you’re done, and you have to send it out, you are required to turn on a dime and face the opposite direction, where you must have the courage of hearing opinions and reactions and allowing those to enter your mind as possibilities. And to consider that maybe you were wrong about things. Totally different.
I mean, it’s always hard to make any kind of turn like that. And yet here we are at the end of these processes required to do so.
John: So, I don’t want to get through this topic without saying, you know, it’s also normal to feel elation and joy. I don’t always feel depression when I get to the end of this thing. Sometimes it is just like I’m giddy. Sometimes I’m giddy because I’m finally done with this thing that’s been looming over me forever. Or, I’m so excited to write this next thing that I’m happy to move on. But the times where it hits me, it still always kind of surprises me a little bit. So, I think that’s why I wanted to call it out in this episode.
Everyone assumes like, oh, you must be so happy to be finished. I’m like, yeah, not necessarily. We’ll see sort of how it feels when I get there.
Craig: Yeah. I find that the more I personally care, the sadder I feel when it’s over. There are things that we do, of course, as jobs. And when those are over there is often a sense of relief. And, wow, I did it. Because the point was to finish. You know, you have a week to solve this third act. Go. Got it.
Well, it’s not my movie. I didn’t come up with any of this. Let me do Yeoman’s work here. And my week is over. And let’s go get an Old Fashioned here. But, when it’s ours and we care, I think the final bit of sadness that happens is we are saying goodbye in a weird way to characters that we lived and we were talking about actors and empathy – screenwriters when they write something that is original and they’re creating the voices for every person, and the choices, and the needs, and the wants, and the actions, we’re playing every part. We are the entire cast, schizophrenically, I use in the wrong way.
And we empathize with all of them. We feel all of it. It’s a lot of feeling. And then when it’s over you’re saying, okay, I’m not you anymore. You guys are you. And everybody is going to talk about you. That’s hard.
John: It’s hard.
Craig: It’s hard. Yeah.
John: At least with Arlo Finch I have two more books under contract to write, so I’ll be with these guys for a while.
Craig: Well there you go.
John: There you go. Another thing that happened this week was the Black List. So, this is the Black List, the annual list of the most-liked screenplays in Hollywood. The most-liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood that our pal Franklin Leonard puts out.
So, this year I was one of the people announcing a script. I announced it on the Champs-Elysees, and it was fun and random. I got to sort of hear all the other people announcing their scripts. I got to see the big list. And, Craig, how many of these scripts on the Black List have you read?
Craig: Zero, sir.
John: I have read zero. I don’t think I’ve ever read a script that’s on the Black List, which must be shocking to some people who are aspiring writers who want to read all these scripts. But I don’t want to read any script unless I have to. I mean, if you asked me, I would read your script. But like otherwise I’m not going to go out of my way to read someone else’s script.
John: But these were the scripts that people did go out of their way to read. These are the development executives in Hollywood. It’s their favorite scripts. And so they got to go and pick the screenplays that they most enjoyed out of the year. And so we haven’t read any of these scripts, but I thought we could actually talk through the log lines that were submitted and just see some patterns here, because they’re so different from the things I would maybe have expected them to be.
So, first one I’ll read is Voyagers by Zach Dean. It’s the cosmic love story of Carl Sagan and Annuities Druyan, his wife.
Craig: Hmm. Could be good. We have Letters From Rosemary Kennedy by Nick Yarborough. This is a movie “told through a series of letters to family members, the tragic true story of Rosemary Kennedy, a vibrant, passionate young woman and oldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy. Born with a severe learning disability, Rosemary so worried her father with her erratic behavior that he believed the stigma of mental illness in the family would ruin his plans to build a political dynasty. He hid her away in convents and sanitariums and ultimately had her lobotomized.” Yeesh.
John: So, screenwriter Nick Yarborough. He’s the guy who is doing the James Barry movie at the start of the podcast.
Craig: That, by the way, we talk about this all the time. These screenplays aren’t necessarily sold screenplays either. These are just ones that have been passed around and people like them. The only requirement, I think, is that they’re not produced. I don’t know if Letters From Rosemary Kennedy is set up somewhere. But what I do know is somebody read it and said, “This guy would be a great guy to write this movie we do want to make about James Barry.” So, that’s the name of the game right there, isn’t it?
John: Mm-hmm. Next up we have Linda and Monica by Flint Wainess. This is “the absolutely crazy true story of the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, the woman who nearly destroyed the Clinton presidency – and herself in the process.”
Craig: Free Guy by Matt Lieberman. “A bank teller stuck in his routine discovers he’s a background character in a realistic, open world action-adventure video game and he is the only one capable of saving the city.”
John: Yep. The Kings of Maine by Kathy Charles. “Living with his wife and child in a trailer while working as a janitor, Stephen King struggles with alcoholism and his own dark history as he attempts to complete Carrie.”
Craig: And the last one we’ll summarize here is Blond Ambition by Elyse Hollander. This one got the most votes. “In 1980s New York, Madonna struggles to get her first album released while navigating fame, romance, and a music industry that views women as disposable.”
John: All right. So, this is a little sampling of the much longer list, but I thought it was really fascinating, because I really did grab these kind of randomly, but you notice some trends here. First off, these don’t sound like, oh, it’s a medium idea, maybe it’s competently executed. No, these are sort of swing for the fences ideas. Based on these log lines you can see like, okay, they’re trying something very different. This isn’t like another romantic comedy. This isn’t another action thriller. This is either a super high concept thing like Free Guy was, or you’re basing things around real events and real people and telling the fictionalized or semi-fictionalized story with those real people in them.
Craig: Yeah. There is a predominance here, and I saw it carries through in the large list, the complete list, there’s a predominance of biopics. There’s a predominance of stories that are telling either a straight-ahead story about people that we know, but maybe we think, oh, wouldn’t normally get a biopic. Or, more frequently, sideways entries into biopics like you could do a straight-ahead story about Monica Lewinsky, but what about Linda Tripp? Well, you could do obviously a million stories about the Kennedys, but what about Rosemary Kennedy? What about Carl Sagan’s wife? What about Stephen King’s wife and his kid?
So you see this comes up over, and over, and over again. There’s a certain kind of movie that – I have to say, I’m a little concerned about the Black List right now. I’m a little worried.
John: All right. Tell me.
Craig: Well, you know, the sanctity of it is that people are voting on what they feel is the best script. A lot of the people are creative executives. I think maybe some assistants. I don’t know. But I’m concerned that we’re getting a lot of sameness and we’re getting a lot of things that feel like maybe they’re almost designed to be noticed by the Black List. I don’t know how else to put it.
Like, if you see that a certain kind of movie keeps getting picked by the Black List, if you write another one of those, obviously all of these scripts are written well. I’m just getting a little concerned that there’s a certain homogeneity that is starting to filter up here.
John: I can see that. But when we were starting out in the industry, it was the spec sale bonanza, so it was things like The Ticking Man, where it’s this guy, this robot man has a bomb in his chest that will blow up, and that was the big sale. So, it wasn’t the Black List, but it was that sense of there was a sameness in like it’s Die Hard but…or it’s Under Siege but on a tram. There was a sameness to that. And that move has passed.
There is a sameness to some of these things where like you’re taking a real-life person and either fictionalizing them or you’re telling a sort of special kind of biopic. But, Craig, I’ll take these over the sort of like ridiculously high concept things that we had sort of when we were starting out.
I think the difference here is these ideas could show really good writing. The big high concept action thriller, it kind of can never show really good writing. You can’t show what a person is capable of because it’s not going to have the time to do the character work, to do the clever humor. All the ones we described, I can imagine really good writing being very visible in them. And that’s what these things are good for. They’re useful for someone to see and say like, oh, I see how this person could write another thing for us really, really well.
Craig: I’ll give you a little pushback on that. I think that there are terrific scripts that are action-thrillers or action-adventures that do showcase terrific writing. And it’s not that these scripts aren’t terrifically written. It’s more that I’m just concerned about the Kudzu problem that – it’s the same thing that happens with the Oscars. I mean, we know for instance that certain kinds of Oscar movies are Oscar movies. That’s become a thing. It’s an Oscar movie. They made that to win an Oscar. And when we say they, we don’t mean the creators. The creators made it for love, but whoever put money into it – Harvey – you know, they’re trying to win Oscars. They know how to work that angle.
And we know that certain movies are wonderful but won’t win an Oscar. And movies that are beloved would never, ever win an Oscar, and yet some movie that we’ve sort of forgotten has. So, the only thing I worry about is that because there is this concentration of a certain kind of good writing, we are missing other kinds of good writing.
There is, of course, also – I’m just going to mention it – the Lax Mandis controversy. [laughs] It’s hard to ignore. One of the Black List scripts was titled Lax Mandis. I don’t know the full title.
John: I think it was Untitled Lax Mandis spec or something.
Craig: Yeah. It was apparently written by a creative executive. And the story is essentially a not even at all veiled swipe at screenwriter Max Landis. And in the screenplay the hero is a beleaguered creative executive trying to make wonderful movies in the world, and his enemy is Lax Mandis who just wants to make crap. Which is a really [laughs] – I mean, whatever you think of Max Landis, that is backwards in general. And I thought, wow, if you were trying to get on the Black List, a thing voted on by creative executives, what a brilliant little bit of pandering there. Wasn’t thrilled about that.
John: Yeah. But again, we haven’t read this. So maybe there actually – for all we know–
Craig: I read that.
John: There could be something ingenious about it. You read that?
Craig: Yeah, that one I read. Because I said I read none of them, but I read that one because I saw the controversy and I didn’t want to necessarily have an opinion if the thing was wonderfully written. I don’t talk about screenplays that I don’t like, so I’m not going to talk about that one.
John: That sounds very good. We actually had a Twitter exchange about that today.
So, there’s the Black List. There’s also a thing that Stuart sent called the Hit List, which I wasn’t aware of, but it’s a similar kind of list of things that people loved. On both of those lists notably you will find many familiar names from Scriptnotes. So, you’ll see people who wrote in for Three Page Challenges. You’ll see people who wrote in with questions. So, I’m not at all surprised that both the people who listen to the show are really good writers who are on these lists, and also the people who are writing these things that show up on a list are our listeners, too.
So, I think there’s a good overlap between these. I think what’s most fascinating, though, I think for our listeners is we answer so many questions, and the questions we didn’t even answer in this week’s episode were about like, oh, I’m basing it around this real person, but the life rights or whatever – like, who cares. Like, all of these things – they didn’t get Stephen King’s life rights to write The Kings of Maine. They just wrote it.
Craig: They just wrote it.
John: And so I appreciate the bravery of these things. They didn’t ask Max Landis for his permission either. In many cases, like these movies can’t be made, like Blond Ambition can’t be made unless you can get Madonna’s sort of sign off, or at least her musical rights. You can’t make that movie. But, you wrote a great script, so that’s great. And people like your script. So that’s a good thing, too.
I was heartened to see so many women on the list. I think that’s awesome as well. So, I’m pro-Black List in the sense of at least we’re talking about the screenwriters, we’re talking about the people who are trying to be the next generation of writers. So, that’s a good thing.
Craig: No question. I’m pro-Black List, too. I mean, specifically this Black List, the voted on/curated list. You know, and Max Landis said, “This is the Black List jumping the shark.” I don’t think so. I understand why he feels that way. I mean, this is a personal attack on him and I get that. I don’t know if it’s jumping the shark.
But Fonzie is definitely like looking at the water right now, like measuring. There is a warning sign here. There is a little bit of a red flag. I think Franklin is well aware. And so it’s something that I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what the solution is. You don’t want to fix what isn’t broken, but some danger signals here. So, hopefully, you know, things get better. But in general, big fan.
John: Yeah, I also want to say congratulations to everyone who is on the list, because it’s great that people are noticing the work you’re doing. So, I definitely applaud that.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing actually came up this week because we had to pay our rent. So, we – obviously we live in Los Angeles most of the time, but we’re living here in Paris, and so we had to pay our rent here in Paris. And to do so we normally have to transfer money from our Los Angeles account to our French account in order to be able to pay this rent. And whenever you transfer money overseas you get hit by currency exchanges. And it sucks up a lot of your money.
So, this time we did a different service. I’ll talk about the one we use. I think there’s other ones that do it, so I’m not specifically advocating this one. But we used a place called TransferWise. Essentially how it works is a system kind of Hawala, which is another sort of international transfer system where it’s kind of a trust-based thing where we’re transferring our money from a Los Angeles into a US-based account, other people are transferring into a French-based account, and an exchange happens where they don’t actually have to move the money back and forth. Basically, we’re using some of their money to pay our landlord–
Craig: Oh, that’s very smart. I see.
John: And so that way the money never actually has to be converted from one currency to the other currency.
Craig: Kind of brilliant. Brilliant.
John: And so it was invented by some very smart people out of Estonia. But it’s now I think based out of England. But it was really smart. And I was really appreciative that somebody figured out how to do this, because it saved us a lot of money in paying our rent.
Craig: That’s so smart. So, at its basic level, somebody in France is paying your rent in France, and you’re paying somebody’s rent in America?
John: Yeah, so it’s not specifically rent. So, basically the wire transfer that would have gone to our landlord’s bank account is actually coming from a French bank account to his account. And so therefore no money had to be exchanged for currency rates.
Craig: Great. Brilliant. Well, I have a similar One Cool Thing that is not at all surprising or unknown to anyone under the age of I’ll say 35. But I find it distressingly not known by people over 35, of which you and I are both. So, Venmo. Venmo. This is where everybody under 35, and a bunch of people over 35 go, “What? We already know about Venmo.”
Sorry, not talking to you. But if you don’t, get it now. It’s the greatest. Simplest thing in the world. It’s just an app that you link up to your bank account and you are able to send people any amount of money with your phone, real simple.
So, the horrible thing that happens at the end of some 12-person dinner, where one poor bastard is collecting people’s bits of money, and someone has a credit card, and someone has cash. Ugh. All done. Go away. Everybody Venmo this amount. Boom. You Venmo it to me. I pay the whole bill. We’re done.
Somebody buys tickets for you and you show up at the game. Venmo. Done.
Super easy. Super convenient. I use it all the time. Love it.
John: Love it. Yeah, I would not have necessarily known about it, except for Stuart Friedel, who is a millennial, who does use it for all that kind of stuff as well. And, yeah, it’s great for that.
The other thing which while we’re talking about money is I have to – I want one of our listeners to explain why when you pay the bill for the restaurant in the US they take your card away and they swipe it through the machine and you have to wait five minutes for your card to come back. Where everywhere else in Europe they come to your table with a little thing and they swipe your card there. Basically they put the card in there and they do it right at the table.
Craig: I think part of that is tip culture. Because in America you’re supposed to leave a tip, and they don’t want to stand there and watch you leave the tip.
John: Yeah, but here what they do is they give you the thing, because you have to punch in your pin code. I’m sure there’s a French term for it. The way they look away while you punch in the code. It’s the same thing like the Square Readers where you pop 10%, 20%, 30%, whatever. It would work in the US if someone just had the courage to actually use these machines, because they’re just so much better and so much faster.
Because then once you get the bill you can just do it and leave. It’s lovely.
Craig: I know. It’s great. I greatly prefer the European system for that. No question.
John: All right. We won’t fix all those issues this week, but we did as much as we could. So, our show, as always, was produced by Godwin Jabangwe. Edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our outro this week. It’s such a good outro. So, Matthew, please put the long version in. Don’t cut it short. Because it’s so good.
If you have an outro, you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also a place where you can send us longer questions. For short questions, you can hit us on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. And we might get back to you right away, like we did today.
We are on Facebook. Search for the Scriptnotes podcast. If you have opinions about our discussion of transgender issues, maybe Facebook would be a place you could talk to us about those.
Craig: No, I’m sure no one will have anything to say.
John: Not a bit. You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. That’s also where you’ll find the Scriptnotes app, which you can download for your iOS device. We’re also in the Android Store for Scriptnotes App. That connects into Scriptnotes.net, which is where you find all the back episodes going back to Episode 1.
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We will not be making any more of those until at least Episode 300. So, if you want one, get them now.
And that is our show for this week. Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John, See you next week.
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