John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 283 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. We are starting off the New Year with a new round of the Three Page Challenge, where we take a look at three samples from listeners and offer our honest feedback. We will also be discussing the DGA deal and its impact on writers.
John: But first, really important follow-up. Craig, the t-shirts are back. People can order the Scriptnotes 2016 shirts for about one more week. So, they’re doing a second printing because people wanted them.
Craig: People wanted them.
John: If you want to get a replacement shirt for Melissa, this is your chance.
Craig: You know what? I probably should get a replacement shirt for Melissa. You’re right. Because I messed up that one. That’s a great point. Ah, I just got to remember now what she wanted.
John: Yes. I think she wanted a shirt that fits properly.
Craig: Yes, of course. And I like ones that are tighter. Okay.
John: Yeah. But, anyway, we’ll stop the podcast right now so everyone can order their shirts.
Craig: Yep. Good job everyone. You did it.
John: You did it. Some more follow-up. A few episodes we talked about reality and fiction and fact and our responsibilities. Will from Albany, New York wrote in to say, “One thing which drives my fiancé and I insane: empty coffee cups. It feels like on every television show and movie scene where a character has a takeaway coffee cup, the cup is so obviously empty that it’s painful to watch them pretend to drink from it.”
Craig, this annoyed you as well. I thought it had. And it turns out this was one of your previous One Cool Things.
Craig: Yes. So there’s an entire award for – Empty Cup Awards. And strangely enough I was watching television last night with Melissa, and that’s strange because I just don’t watch television, but she said, “Oh, the Menendez brothers. They’re doing a follow-up show on the Menendez brothers.” So I was like, all right, I’ll watch the Menendez brothers. Because I did in fact go to school with Lyle briefly before he got kicked out for plagiarism.
John: You went to school with everybody. It’s crazy.
Craig: Yeah, yeah. He was at Princeton. And then he got kicked out a second time for murdering his parents. Regardless, in betwixt the segments on the Menendez brothers, there was an ad for McDonald’s coffee. It was a very bad ad, I might say, because the premise was ridiculous.
There’s some sort of hip company and they’ve sent out their new intern on a coffee run. And he comes back with coffee from McDonald’s. And they’re all like, “Wow, this coffee is great and you saved us money.” No, in the world what would happen is if an intern comes back to the office with a bunch of coffees from McDonald’s, they throw them in his face and burn him.
John: [laughs] And then there’s a lawsuit, but yes.
John: Because the coffee was too hot. Yeah.
Craig: But the coffee cups were the most empty of all coffee cups I’ve ever seen. And Melissa said, “You know what else? Watch luggage commercials. Or just anything. Shows where people are picking up suitcases. Always empty.” Always. So, you’re not alone, Will. You’re not alone.
John: You’re not alone. Two episodes ago we talked about homeopathy and Jonathan Hall wrote in to say, “I was a little bothered by the way in which a distinction was drawn between science and other forms of knowledge. In particularly, religion and narrative. You explicitly linked homeopathy and religion, which I thought was problematic, as homeopathy makes pseudo-scientific claims about the physical world, claims which you – as you rightly pointed out – are scientifically falsifiable. But the key claims of religion are precisely not claims about empirical reality that can be falsified with physical evidence. Religious ways of knowing are rigorously distinct from scientific ways of knowing. So they shouldn’t necessarily be lumped together with pseudo-science.”
Craig: Uh…what? I mean, look, if you are a religious person and you believe, you believe. You should not be concerned about my lack of belief. It doesn’t impact you at all. But I think it’s crazy to suggest that religion does not make claims about the physical world, or what you would call pseudo-scientific claims. Religion, in fact, claims how the world was created. It claims that the world is overseen by this presence of a god. There are an enormous amount of people in this country who believe that man and dinosaurs walked around at the same time and they were all on Noah’s Ark.
Of course, I mean, what? In Catholicism, they have an entire branch of just investigating whether miracles have occurred. The whole point of a miracle occurring is that something has happened in the physical world that is miraculous, and therefore not scientifically provable.
I’m sorry, Jonathan. I disagree.
John: I think my frustration is that when you ask people to take something on faith, they can take more things on faith and it just keeps snowballing. So, while I agree with you that people’s religious beliefs and religious faiths can be wonderful things, I think so often that same muscles that they’re using to have religious faith, they are trying to apply the things that can’t be scientifically tested, and that is my frustration with homeopathy.
Craig: Correct. I’m not really sure what a religious way of knowing is, so I don’t know how you can make it rigorously distinct from scientific ways of knowing. I know what scientific ways of knowing are, because science spells them out very clearly in steps. These are the steps you follow to pursue truth and knowledge. Religion has no such thing. I think you’re supposed to pray or look inwards, or imagine stuff. Sometimes people hear the voice of God talking to them. Sometimes they see God talking to them. Sometimes those people are highly respected, and sometimes they’re wandering around the street yelling at their own hand.
What is this religious way of knowing that’s so rigorously distinct? I don’t know what it is. That may just be my deficiency.
John: I believe there are scientists who are very, very good scientists who are also deeply religious. And they have found a way to sort of keep these worlds separate in ways that are meaningful.
John: Fantastic. That’s awesome. I hope that they are not practicing homeopathy, because that would make me question their scientific rigor.
Craig: Deeply. And speaking of which, we got another letter in. Letter. I’m old fashioned, aren’t I? Something else came over the transom. From Jennifer Fisher. And she writes, “If there’s an archetype for the cynic/skeptic/devil’s advocate” – three different things – “that’s me. But I think you may be wrong about homeopathy.” John, are you ready?
John: I think I might be ready. I might be wrong. So prove me wrong.
Craig: This is Jennifer now. “I’ve taken certain homeopathic potions without knowing what the side effect symptoms are or even that symptoms were to be expected. And experienced specific textbook symptoms. I’ve also had great success with Oscillococcinum, both before I knew anything about homeopathy and afterwards. Its effects then and now are exactly the same. You will probably put that down to the placebo effect.” Correct. “Which I also strongly believe in.” Not really. Sorry, I’m editorializing as I read the question.
“But when I first started taking Oscillococcinum, I highly doubted it would work. Call me an idiot, as I expect you will.” We’re almost there. “But I was surprised that as two creative beings you were so condescendingly dismissive of other folk’s beliefs and practices.” John?
John: Yeah, so I didn’t want to edit that down, because other folk’s beliefs and practices, that’s the religious aspect of it all.
John: Yeah, come on, you’re stepping on my beliefs. It’s like, well, you know what? Science–
Craig: You’re beliefs are stupid. [laughs]
John: There’s science. And so let’s unpack some stuff in here. Placebo effect, yes, it’s meaningful. Oscillococcinum, like oh it worked for me. Well, what did it actually do? Did it cure your cold? The cold that was going to go away anyway? That is, you know, sugar pills can do that. They can do exactly nothing and that nothing will actually work because you were going to get over that cold anyway.
Craig: What do you do with this person?
John: I don’t know. I mean, here’s the frustration. She’s very bright. She’s articulate. She’s able to explain her case to a point. But at the same point I can’t do anything with this. Basically you’re saying like I know it may be a placebo, but it works for me. Well, you know what? Maker’s Mark whiskey works for me, too, but I’m not claiming it has any scientific validity. I’m just saying it’s helpful.
Craig: Well, Jennifer kind of gives it away at the end when she says, “I was surprised that as two creative beings,” and somehow being creative we should, I guess, we divorce ourselves from reason. “You were so condescendingly dismissive of other folk’s beliefs and practices.” And there it is. She felt that we were condescending to what she felt was true. This is her belief and practice.
Jennifer, you do not have a right to a belief and a practice without also somebody looking at it and saying, “That’s stupid,” if, in fact, the belief and practice is stupid. If you tell me that you strongly believe in ghosts, I’m going to tell you that is stupid. I’m not saying you’re stupid. I’m saying that is stupid. Because it is. Because there aren’t any ghosts. Nor are there Oscillococcinum shimmering microbes. Nor is there anything in an Oscillococcinum pill other than lactose and glucose.
You believe something that’s dumb. And so, yes, I am condescendingly dismissive of it because it deserves condescending dismission. Which is not a word.
John: But it should be a word, because we all know what that word means.
Craig: It should be a word. Exactly. So, first of all, you say that you’re an archetype for the cynic/skeptic/devil’s advocate. Those are three different things. Cynicism is not skepticism. Skepticism is not devil’s advocacy. You seem like a devil’s advocate, kind of, but mostly you seem like somebody who believes what you want to believe and you don’t want other people making fun of it. But we can make fun of it because it’s stupid and wrong. We’re allowed to. That’s part of our gig as reasonable people. Just as you point at other people who believe absolute nonsense and say, “That’s stupid and wrong.”
You say you’ve taken certain homeopathic potions. The use of potion is remarkable to me. Without knowing what the side effect symptoms are, or even that symptoms were to be expected. I don’t believe you. Why would you take something without knowing what it does or why it does it? Why would you do that? You just randomly drink stuff? I don’t believe you. You’re not running double-blind experiments on yourself. That’s ridiculous.
You’ve had great success with Oscillococcinum. I don’t know what that means. You can’t define it. [sighs]
John: Yeah, she’s random study out of a group of one person. Yes.
Craig: And then here’s the deal. Exactly. You are literally doing the thing that science is designed to prevent. Right? If you take a – imagine, Jennifer, a 1000-sided die. That’s a big die. Two dice. But let’s take one die. One thousand-sided die. And you roll that thousand-sided die and it comes up 1,000. And then you roll it again and it comes up 1,000 again. The odds of that happening twice in a row is a million. One in a million. It’s going to happen. Do you understand?
Science is there to aggregate an enormous amount of things to rule out these little blips and blobs. Your individual experience with homeopathy is meaningless. The fact that you think it’s meaningful is not my problem. It’s your problem. So, if you thought I was condescendingly dismissive in your beliefs and practices before, I’m sure at this point now you are ready to delete us from your podcast list.
But since we don’t get paid, it’s all right.
John: Yep. The last point I would like to make is that if a person individually chooses to take homeopathy, I think that’s really dumb. But whatever. They’re making their own choice. My frustration is sort of the whole back half of that episode which is that like there’s actually a cost to those choices. And there’s a societal and an economic cost, billions of dollars cost, to this. And it’s precluding other valid treatments from the funding and the awareness that they should be getting. And that is my real frustration with her reply here is that I’m dismissive of her beliefs. Well, I’m actually concerned that by taking homeopathy seriously, it’s like selling ghost insurance. You know what? Some people really believe in ghosts, so do we need to have ghost police out there? Because some people really genuinely believe in ghosts, so maybe the police need to start responding to ghost emergencies. I don’t think they should.
Craig: You’re being condescendingly dismissive. [laughs]
John: Yes. And so, yes, I’m being condescendingly dismissive by comparing it to ghost emergencies, but I think they’re equally real and valid.
Craig: That’s right. That’s right. Literally, there is as much chance of Oscillococcinum being an effective medicine as there is ghosts.
John: We’re going to get so many ghost emails after this.
Craig: Good. Good. By the way, let’s weed you all out. I don’t care.
Look, you know who ends up losing money on this gig? John August. Because he’s the one making all the money. We know that. This whole t-shirt thing. [sighs]
John: All right. Let’s get to happier news. Back on Episode 238, Dana Fox was our guest. And she was amazing. And so she talked about how she planned on segueing from being a writer-producer to being a writer-director. And this past week she did just that. She directed an episode of New Girl which aired this last week. And it was fantastic. So I’m just so happy and so proud of Dana Fox.
But it’s also a great segue to the other bit of news that happened this last week which was the DGA deal. So, the Directors Guild of America negotiated a new deal with the AMPTP, which is the group that represents the studios, which “more than triples residuals for members working on original content in the highest subscriber tier, among many other adjustments.” So, it’s basically how much the members are going to get paid for different things for the next three-year contract.
John: Why this matters to our listeners is the DGA deal tends to set the parameters for what the WGA deal is going to be. And that’s heading into negotiation right now.
Craig: Yeah. Well, it doesn’t tend to set it. It sets it. This is the deal. The way the AMPTP, that’s the consortium that represents the studios, they put together a package. There are all these terms in the package. Your minimum earnings. That number will raise a little bit. And how we pay out residuals. We’ll raise that a little bit. Here they’re saying instead of all these residuals getting pushed into a big pie and then split up equally among say Netflix shows, if your show gets really, really subscribed to you get more.
But all of that payment is one big number that they’re saying over the next three years, because these contracts are three-year contracts, we’re going to pay out this much money. That’s the number. Now, when the WGA sits down, it can figure out a different way to divide that number up. But that’s basically the number. You know, makes sense, because it’s not like the DGA is going to do this and then the WGA is going to get a better number, because the DGA will turn around and go, “What? What? No. Why would you give you them more?” So, that’s the number.
John: If the numbers are the numbers, what ends up being sort of fascinating about these deals are the things that aren’t about the numbers, which are about sort of specific concerns that an individual guild raises. And this is the one that sort of set off some alarm bells this last week. So, this is also from the DGA press release. “Another focus of the DGA was to address the lack of opportunities for those who aspire to become career directors by seeking to curb the practice of gifting limited first time directing experiences to individuals who are not serious about a career in directing.”
So, this is a new provision that’s in the contract that all first-time television directors in drama, who do not have prior directing experience, or who have not completed and enrolled in a studio-sponsored television director development program, or attend an orientation program provided by the DGA before their employment begins. Basically you have to be in one of these sessions in order to be a first-time drama TV director.
John: So, Craig, you and I don’t work in TV, but a lot of our friends do. And a lot of them were really pissed off at this.
Craig: Yeah. Well, so this is absolutely a thumb in the eye of showrunners and to a lesser extent staff writers. The DGA resents, I think, systematically the fact that writers are in charge in television. And writers hire directors, specifically the showrunners, who are this hybrid of writer-producer. So, writer and employer. They hire directors. They determine who gets a directing job. And they will often give first timers a shot, whether they are writers on staff, who they say, okay, we’re giving you an episode to direct, or sometimes the actors. They’ll say we’re giving you an episode to direct. Sometimes those actors turn out to be fantastic directors.
Jonathan Frakes, you know, who made one of the best Star Trek movies. He started by getting episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to direct. They don’t like this so much because they feel like writers are now gifting – they’re saying – gifting these gigs. And they’re putting this in as this weird kind of roadblock. It’s a somewhat impotent roadblock. I think that there’s some nervousness about how frequently this orientation day is going to be offered. If they offer it every single day, it’s not much of a roadblock. If they offer it once a month, it’s a huge roadblock. Because they’re saying, okay, we offer this on the first of the month. If you decide on March 2 that you want your writer to direct the episode two weeks from now, they can’t until they come here and do our orientation program. And god forbid you’re shooting in Louisiana. They got to fly them to New York or LA.
So, it’s an anti-writer, anti-showrunner thing. A lot of people are concerned that it is going to basically limit the opportunities of people that could be new directors. A lot of those people are women, are people of color. It’s going to keep a lot of the jobs in the same old pool of the standard DGA director who tends to be a 55-year-old white male. We, I believe, unfortunately can do nothing about this right now. It’s done, as far as I can tell.
John: So let’s talk about a little bit more of the problem, and then we’ll talk about the remedy. So, the reason I’m bringing this up in relation to Dana Fox is like Dana Fox was a first-time director of a television show. It’s a comedy, but if the same sort of basic rules apply. She knocked it out of the park. She did a fantastic job. But she and Aline Brosh McKenna theoretically would have had to have gone through an orientation to be allowed to direct an episode of the show. In the case of Aline, to direct an episode of the own show that she has created.
So she has been supervising directors all this time, but to direct the episode she’s supposed to get clearance from the DGA and go through this orientation to do it. That’s kind of crazy.
John: So, I tweeted about sort of my frustrations over all this and Paris Barclay, who is the head of the DGA, tweeted back at me saying like with a link to this is the sort of the backstory of why we’re doing this. And it was this diversity report the DGA did. I didn’t really buy it. They’re basically trying to claim that like, oh, because first-time directing deals are so important we need to make sure that it comes from a pool of diverse candidates. And it looked very much like a solution in search of a problem. It was a way of sort of defending what I think is ultimately going to result in fewer first-time directors being hired for these projects because it’s not just that I need to pick a director to direct that episode next week. Directors for TV series are slotted out months, and months, and months in advance. And are you going to be able to say to this first timer, like, can I guarantee that you’ll actually have had that orientation session when I’m hiring you for something that’s six months away. Maybe you can’t. And so therefore you have to go pick somebody safer. And I worry that it’s going to actually preclude opportunities rather than opening opportunities.
Craig: It certainly seems like it to me. I can’t imagine how they can argue with a straight face that this is in order to promote diversity. They’re saying we don’t want new people. We want to just use the people we have. We prefer to have the people we already have. The people you already have are not as diverse as the population of the United States. That’s a fact.
So, on its face that is just wrong. It’s a wrong claim. And there’s no possible way that this is somehow going to – I mean, they’re saying we want to make sure that the pool – what does that mean? I don’t even know what that means.
First of all, to be clear, they can’t tell the companies who they can and can’t hire. It’s not like you show up at this orientation and they go, “You’re not the right kind of person. You can’t do this.” You’re doing it. You just literally have to sit there. You can play Candy Crush on your phone all day during this thing. There’s no grade. They can’t flunk you. They’re not allowed by federal labor law to prevent you from working if you pay your dues and you sign a contract.
In fact, if they really impose this and it becomes a huge problem, I think what you’re going to see is a lot of first-time directors becoming Fi-Core non-members of the DGA. And then you don’t have to do this damn thing at all. Yes, you still need a DGA-covered contract, and you’ll have to pay a slightly reduced rate in dues. You’ll still get residuals. You’ll still be covered by the DGA contract. But you won’t have to do this other stuff. Because it’s stupid.
Sometimes unions, man, they just – argh.
John: Yeah, it is frustrating. So, let’s talk about what the remedies are here. So, because writers are the most frustrated by this development, you could imagine becoming a point of discussion in the WGA negotiations, but it’s not really part – it’s not part of our contract. So, it doesn’t seem like a useful thing to sort of try to argue with the AMPTP while we’re doing our own negotiations. If it manifests in a way that it feels like it is precluding who studios can actually hire, then that is an actionable thing. And that feels like it’s a whole separate lawsuit situation. That’s like a labor practices kind of thing.
But it’s not a negotiation you go into a room and talk it out.
Craig: No, we don’t really have standing to argue about this in negotiation. First of all, the people that are most aggrieved are the showrunners, but they’re aggrieved in their capacity as producers. A union doesn’t represent employers. It represents employees.
Now, we can certainly say on behalf of our employees, on behalf of writers who want to be first-time directors that this seems onerous. And the companies can say, “Well, sorry. We’ve done it. That’s it.” They’re not going to get involved in some sort of tit-for-tat war. They’re not going to give the WGA some sort of return clause that allows them to mess around with the directors. Frankly, the AMPTP likes the directors far more than they like us. That’s why they make the deal with them first. And these are the little kinds of rewards they get. You know?
They’re going to keep chipping away at these things. And the only way to prevent, honestly, is for the WGA and the DGA to make amends and achieve some sort of detente. I cannot emphasize how apart the two unions are right now in terms of their leadership and philosophy. So, believe me, I don’t say this lightly. I’m not saying, oh, and it could happen next week. No. No. It won’t.
John: If the same kind of thing were presented but it was the WGA rather than the DGA, there would have been fire in the streets. Like basically that any writer who is going to be hired to do something has to go through an orientation program ahead of time, no one would have put up with it. And it’s so strange that we look at directors as a different class of things. This was a thing that the DGA could do that the WGA could never do.
Craig: Well, they have been flexing their muscle about this TV director thing for a bit now. In the last negotiation they were getting terms about scripts. That the director needed a chance to have the script with enough time to prepare. They know that in features the director is treated like royalty and in episodic television, which is – as we all know – that’s where all the employment is right now, the director is not. And so they are clearly pivoting to fight on behalf of the television directors. It’s interesting how both unions are becoming more television-oriented. That is why I think you’re going to start seeing more and more of this.
The DGA does not like the fact that writers are in charge in television.
John: Yeah. So, one of our very favorite features on Scriptnotes podcast is the Three Page Challenge, where we invite our listeners to send in the first three pages of their screenplay, or their pilot, and we take a look at them and offer our honest opinions. You can read along with us if you’d like to because all of the scripts we’re going to be talking about, the PDFS can be found in the show notes links. Just keep scrolling or go to johnaugust.com. You can see these pages.
So all three of these writers or writer teams sent in these things asking for our honest feedback, so we are going to be very honest as we do it.
Now, oftentimes it’s just me and Craig talking, but it’s always much more fun when we have a very special guest on. And so I’m so excited for our very, very special guest. One of our favorite people in the world, Kelly Marcel, welcome back to the podcast.
Kelly Marcel: Thank you. Hello everybody.
John: So, Kelly Marcel, you are the writer of many movies, but the one that we sort of like all fell in love with you for was Saving Mr. Banks. What have you been working on? I hear you’re working on a project with a certain fella.
Kelly: With which certain fella?
John: A certain fella who you have romantic feelings for? A certain former Scriptnotes guest, Steve Zissis. I hear you’re working on a project with him. Is that accurate? Fair to say?
Craig: Yeah, you guys have been cooking something up?
Kelly: We’ve been working on a project together. We’ve actually been working on two projects together. So, we just finished – workwise we just finished Cruella for Disney. And in real-life we’ve been working on making a miniature Marcel-Zissis.
Craig: Oh. Mini-Ziss.
John: The product of this things is about to hit the air, and we’re so excited for you.
Craig: To extend the analogy, we are going to have some notes. Congratulations on your new baby. It’s a great start. However, we have some concerns. Is that the penis? Is that what it’s going to be? Or–?
Kelly: He’s terrible Greek-looking.
Craig: Already. But he’s not born, you know. You know what? We like the Greek. It’s just too much Greek.
Kelly: Yes, can we tone the Greek back a little bit?
John: I think really the audience testing is showing us, like the top two boxes are strong, but there’s definitely areas we can work on. We can tighten some things up.
Craig: Yeah. We love, I mean, the feet we love. So let’s not even talk about those. Those are great.
John: Oh, god. Baby feet are the best.
Kelly: Feet good. Snout good.
Craig: The snout is terrific. Tests very, very well. It’s just…it’s the Greek. So, we’ll – we have work to do. [laughs]
Kelly: I’ll let Steve know.
Craig: I hope he has Steve’s eyes. That’s really the only important thing. Honestly, you know, the blimp face eyes. I mean, for those of you who remember back in podcast whatever it was when we it was our live show in Austin and we came up with a pitch for a lonely blimp that had floated away. I think it was the best movie idea we’ve ever come up with on the fly in one of these shows.
Kelly: I still think we have to write that movie.
Craig: We probably should. And Steve did this face of the blimp. And his poor – like his puppy dog eyes. He’s blimpy dog eyes. Well, congratulations. That’s very exciting.
Kelly: Thank you.
John: We’re all very excited.
Kelly: Thank you.
John: All right. Let’s get to our work. We have listeners who have written in with some three pages for us to take a look at. Let’s start with No Man’s Land by Julian von Nagel and Gathering Marbet.
Craig: We have some amazing names today. Everyone. I think all three of them we have awesome names. I don’t know if Godwin is like, look, my name is Godwin Jabangwe, so I need people to kind of match with that. Like Julian von Nagel and Gathering Marbet.
John: So good. I went with the Marbet. But Marbet is another fair guess for that name.
Craig: It depends on how Frenchie they want to be about it.
John: Yeah. So everything is French to me now. Let me read the synopsis for this script for people who do not have it in front of them. So, we open inside a hospital room in an alternate universe with ‘80s cyber-punk feel. Rusted tubes pump a murky liquid into the back of a middle-aged woman’s head. She lies motionless, slack-mouthed, and covered in sores.
The window opens. Eli, in his 20s, enters, a satchel slung over his shoulder. He pulls a makeshift device out of the satchel, switches it on, and shows it to the woman who we learn is his mother. He mentions he is pretty damn close, thanks to the poor rats. Eli proceeds to apply medicine to his mother’s sores. He tells her how security around the hospital has tightened up, but nothing can keep him out.
He promises to get her out of the hospital soon, before slipping out a window as a nurse enters the room.
We pull back to reveal Quo has been watching Eli all along. He instructs the security officer not to block Eli’s access to the hospital. On his way up to the hospital rooftop, Quo debriefs an unseen voice on Eli’s progress with the device. The voice asks about Eli’s father. Quo assures him that Eli’s father is dead. Quo watches Eli disappear into the streets below, vowing to pick him up. And that’s the bottom of our three pages for No Man’s Land.
John: Who wants to start? Craig, do you want to get us going here?
Craig: Happy to. Happy to. We have some issues, Julian and Gathering. I got a little tripped up right from the very first line. Alternate universe, ‘80s cyber-punk aesthetic. You don’t necessarily want to announce to me that it’s an alternate universe with an ‘80s cyber-punk aesthetic. What you want to do is put me in the middle of a movie. And I will sense from your description that I am in an alternate universe and that I’m experiencing some kind of aesthetic. Many readers will not know what ‘80s cyber-punk aesthetic is. I would like to say I am one of them. I’m pretty familiar with cyber-punk. And I’m familiar with the ‘80s. But I don’t know the specific sub-genre of ‘80s cyber punk. So, I’m not quite sure what that’s about.
So, I got a little hurky-jerky from the start there. There is this hospital room is not hospital room the way we think of them. So, that’s probably how you would get that across. You know, you’d let the reader intuit this. The window bulged, which I didn’t understand. Because that sounded sort of metaphysically weird to me. Then this kid comes in and starts doing stuff that I think is supposed to be mystery. We’ve talked a lot about mystery versus confusion. I was mostly confused here. But I understood that a lot of it was mystery. I don’t know what the device is. I don’t know what it means that it turns on, but that’s okay, I’m sure I’ll find out.
I don’t know what the deal is with the poor rats. I’m sure I’ll find out. What I do know is this. This is his mother. Okay? And she is very, very sick. And she is in a lot of pain. And this dude is chattering in a way that did not feel appropriate for that. He’s giving us a little bit of an info dump. “You never kept me out of anything. How many times did you have to look up the lighter fluid before you gave up and got me gloves and a face shield?” It’s almost bad comedy about his recklessness and how he used to be a kid. And she groans. His mother groans, still motionless. She wants to tell him something. He just keeps yapping over her. “Hey, don’t worry about me. I’m not going to blow up myself.”
Eli, shut up. Right? Your mom is very much in pain and trying to tell you something. I got very, very – the relationships were not functioning for me. I mean, it was like, okay, here’s Quo. He’s watching. But Quo is apparently going to talk to somebody on a roof. Who is on the roof? Who hangs out on a roof? So, I had many issues here.
John: Kelly Marcel, how did you read this?
Kelly: I’m in agreement with most of what Craig said. And apart from Craig said I know this is his mum, I actually didn’t know it was his mum until we were well into him talking about the lighter fluid and all of that kind of stuff.
I felt like when he came through the window, I couldn’t really discern whether he was talking to the device that he had just switched on, or whether he was talking to the mum on the bed. So that threw me completely. I didn’t know who he was talking to. And also the description of him – resilient in spite of himself, the cautious gene just isn’t there – kind of took me off the page for a bit, because I had to sit there and think about what that actually looks like. Like what is that? How do you act that? How do you play that? I’m not quite sure how that’s telling me who this character is immediately.
And then tonally, and I think Craig was just saying this, I couldn’t tell whether it was supposed to be funny or whether it was supposed to be serious because of things like the conversation about the lighter fluid and his mum trying to talk, who is clearly in an enormous amount of pain and him not allowing her to talk. So, on page two I kind of don’t know tonally where I’m at.
That said, all in all I was kind of intrigued by it and I would have continued reading, because I did want to see where it was going to go.
John: I agree with you. I was actually intrigued enough that I would have read a few more pages. I had the same issues that you guys did, especially with looking at sort of the words on the page. I wasn’t actually so bothered by alternate universe/’80s cyber-punk aesthetic, because I had a vague sense of what it was. But by highlighting that at the very start, I stated reading the things in here and reading them with this like, okay, it’s like a cyber-punky kind of feel. And it was a useful shorthand for me. I don’t think I would do this personally, but it didn’t bug me so much to call it out as cyber-punk from the very start.
What did bug me was that a lot of the descriptions – there were just a lot of extra words thrown in that I thought hurt you sentence by sentence. So, looking at this first paragraph, “The uppermost screen, ducted to the ceiling, casts a SICKLY GLOW while emitting a RELUCTANT BEEPING.” I don’t know what ducted actually means. Like attached to the ceiling? Attached to the ducts of the ceiling? Is it duct-taped? And then what is a reluctant beeping?
Craig: You know, like beep. Beep.
John: That’s what it is.
John: It’s Steve Zissis’s not really wanting to beep but kind of has to beep.
“Rusted tubes hang.” Well, pipes rust, but do tubes rust? I think of tubes being plastic. So, word-by-word I kind of got knocked off of the track. And I think if I would ask for anything it’s just to clean up a lot of this stuff in this first bit so we can get to the business which is that this guy is coming in and he’s talking to his mother. It’s not a terrible version of like monologue-ing to somebody in the bed, but it’s not acknowledging that she’s in pain or like sort of what he’s trying to do.
John: If he’s trying to keep the one-sided conversation going to sort of not acknowledge that she’s in a lot of pain, I get that, but I wasn’t feeling that dynamic here on the page.
Craig: Yeah. I circled reluctant beeping as well because that’s nonsense. And I think a lot of times people do this. They get a little purple with these things. They forget how they read things. You know, so, you have the first paragraph, “…a tall, bulky machine with CLUSTERS OF KNOBS, switches, and several monitors precariously stacked on top of each other.” Or, there’s a large medical machine. The uppermost screen casts a sickly glow while emitting a beep – or while beeping. You know, we don’t really need – the tubes with murky liquid. Oh, each tube administers – this is – see, I really got tripped up on this stuff. Each tube administers a specific drug through needles that puncture the back of a middle-aged woman’s head. Ooh, okay, well that’s creepy. Except she’s lying motionless on a heavy-framed hospital bed. So how do we see needles going into the back of her head?
Craig: And, you know, people might think, oh, it doesn’t matter. No, this is exactly the kind of conversation that people have all the time. And the conversation is entitled how do we shoot this. And believe it or not, every time you do these things and you’re not clear about them, it stops people. Even if they don’t know why they’re being stopped. Although, I have to admit, I realized I made a mistake. Quo – there is no one on the roof. Someone is talking in his ear in an ear piece. But I think Voice (O.S.) is the wrong thing. That should be Voice and then in parenthesis it should say (earpiece). O.S. means off-screen but present, to me.
John: That is a fair assessment. So, let’s talk about Quo here at the end, because we get to the surveillance footage and then we’re seeing his perspective on all this which in general can work. So, you established your main character and you establish the people watching the main character. But Quo’s first dialogue here frustrated me. He says, “However he’s getting in, don’t block it. I don’t have room for oversights.”
John: I have no idea what that sentence could mean.
Craig: It’s contradictory.
Kelly: Well, also we just saw how he got in. He’s watching him.
Craig: [laughs] And then there’s that. So, there’s like, wow, there’s many, many sins in this one bit of dialogue. Kelly is absolutely right. This guy is watching. He knows how he’s getting in. And if he’s saying, “I’m glad he’s getting in, don’t block the window.” Then it’s not – I don’t have room for oversights. That would mean… – He should say, “It’s an oversight, but I’m OK with it.” Right?
John: Yeah. I was thinking oversights as like a different word. Like you’re assigning an oversight. It’s just weird. It didn’t feel like a good English sentence. And then Quo says, “It turns on.” “And?” “And nothing. He’s experimenting with rats. I’ll get eyes on that.” So, it turns on is the device, but like it was a weird thing. I wanted to single out that they’re really interested in the device and not the kid from the start. It tripped me up there.
Craig: John, don’t you find it a little odd that we get an enormous amount of description of the medical equipment surrounding this middle-aged woman, but this device, which is apparently important, it gets the following description: makeshift device.
Craig: I think we could do better than that, right?
John: I think we could, too.
Kelly: And also it actually turns out they are – I mean, yes, they’re interested in the device, but then it turns out that after that they’re not interested in the kid, the device, or what he’s doing. They’re interested in his dad.
Craig: And then there’s that.
Kelly: There’s a lot of misdirect in three pages in terms of what are these people actually interested in.
Craig: Well, and that, you know, this is the thing. So we’ve done an entire episode about balancing mystery and confusion. And I think that Julian and Gathering, they clearly get the difference, and they have put in a lot of mysteries without necessarily being confusing. I think they could say, look, we’ve clearly indicated that these are supposed to be mysteries, but at some point you have so many mysteries, you don’t know which one to pay attention to. And they all just mush into equal value.
John: All right. So, should we move onto our next Three Page Challenge?
John: Craig, do you want to do the description on this one?
Craig: All right. This is All the Ghosts are Girls by Christine Trageser. I told you, all of our names, what do you think?
Kelly: Trageser, I reckon.
Craig: Trageser. I’m going to go with that, because she reckons. All the Ghosts are Girls by Christine Trageser. Nina Ocasion, twenty-something Filipino doll designer, presenters her Marty styling head doll to the company executives. She tries to show off the doll’s functions, but the demo fails. She blames the batteries.
Nina’s boss, Val, is tired of the excuses and questions Nina’s dedication to the brand. Karen, Nina’s coworker, defends her stating how Nina was at work all through the night repainting the model. Val is not convinced, even as Nina claims to have played with her Marty dolls until the seventh grade. Nina snaps, firing back at Val, and making out with the Marty doll to prove her love for her job. Val storms out in disgust.
Back in her factory loft, Nina confides in Susan, telling her how nothing ever seems to work out for her. Susan tries to console Nina, who maintains her innocence for the demo failure. A little girl appears next to Nina, Susan perhaps, who may or may not be there, and pats her shoulder as we reach the bottom of page three.
All the Ghosts are Girls. Who wants to take a shot at this?
John: Kelly Marcel, do you want to start us off?
Kelly: Sure. I actually really like the title of this movie, for a start. And l liked that Christine started the movie with conflict. That we’re immediately into a scene where two people are having a disagreement with each other over something. And it’s big.
It was really hard for me, because we got to the bottom of page one and I got a bit umbrage-y about something and it was hard for me to move on from that. And I will tell you what it is.
Craig: Oh, goodie.
Kelly: She describes everybody – I actually really like the descriptions of all the characters. It gave me a really good visual of like who I’m seeing and what I’m looking at. So we get a good description of Nina, the petite lumberjack, and Val who is waspy. And everybody that we meet. And then we come to a character called Karen and her character description is “African American.”
Craig: That’s enough. Right? [laughs] What else do you need to say?
Kelly: And so I just wanted to talk about that for a little bit. Actually, Craig and I had a text conversation about a script recently that he had read that also had the same character description in it. And that’s not a character description. That’s the color of somebody’s skin. And it really threw me on page one and stuck in my head and made the further two pages really difficult for me to read. So, I just wanted to talk about that for a bit, because I’ve seen it a lot. And it annoys me.
John: I think it’s a great thing to talk about. So, I’ll take the defense position here, just so we can actually have a full discussion. I would say that there are certainly characters in scripts who are sort of not crucial or important. Like Karen may not show up ever again. And so often you just do Karen, 40s, and you wouldn’t put anything more for her. We’ve all done that. There’s just a character who’s only in a scene and you really don’t fully describe them out.
Craig: Sure. Bank manager. Yeah.
John: The question becomes if you do then specify a race, it makes it sound like you’re not going to give a full character description, you’re just calling her African American. I just can see the logic of like we always tell people to be specific and to sort of like not let everything be default white. Not let everything be sort of default lowest common denominator.
John: So, in this case, Christine is saying like, no, Karen is not white. But it bugged you because it felt like you didn’t get the rest of your character description there. And you felt like it was a shortcut. Is that right?
Kelly: I did. And I totally agree with everything you said, but Karen then goes on to have quite a lot to say. So, she does need a character description.
John: You want something to give us a sense of her personality and who she is in this world other than just African American.
Kelly: Absolutely. Because she says as much as anybody else, and all those other people got a character description. And they didn’t get, I mean, apart from Nina who is Filipina, I don’t know what color Val is. I don’t know what color John is.
Craig: Well, Val is white.
John: Val is white. She’s waspy.
Kelly: Oh, okay. OK. All right. I’ll let that go.
Craig: You know, I like to think about wardrobe, hair, and makeup. That’s my first go-to when I’m introducing a character. What are they wearing? What’s their hair like? What’s their makeup like? Do they have scars? Do they have a weird eye?
You can’t – John’s right, and we all know there are sometimes when you have a character that you’re passing by and like, “Cop, black, yells at him, ‘Slow down.’” But, no, Karen clearly is a character and, yeah, she deserves more description than, you know, black. That’s not enough.
How is she dressed? Is she important? Is she thin? Is she sturdy? Is she blinged up? Does she have on like a watch with the Marty thing because she’s like a real corporate follower? We need something – especially when we have Nina as the petite lumberjack with giant glasses. I mean, that’s such an interesting way of describing somebody.
Kelly: Everybody else is really interestingly described. And I think, as well, it’s really important that, I mean, even if you just say that Karen is really good friends with Nina, because she clearly is. She totally stands up for her over the next two pages and tries to protect her from Val, who is pissed off with Nina. So, even that, you know, is important to know.
But other than that, I sort of loved it. It spoke to me about my childhood. I used to have those dolls that you’d put makeup on and stuff, so I really loved it. I was like, oh, I love those.
And then I did get very confused at the very end when Nina is in her apartment and she’s drinking and then there’s this disembodied voice talking to her. And her hair rises into the air and then falls again. So, she’s clearly talking to a ghost, which I can determine from the title of the film. But it wasn’t clear enough for me. Like, it says a girl with braids in a plain cotton dress. An apron appears next to Nina and pats her shoulder. Where does she appear from? Does she appear from thin air? Did she come from another room? Is this the voice of the person we’ve just been hearing? I got a bit confused about that. And if that’s our first introduction to these ghosts that are mentioned in the title, then I need it to be kind of a bigger moment or a clearer moment at least.
And I just, also as an addition, I didn’t really know where we were. Like what time period we were in. What year we were in. Because it seemed, the doll seemed quite modern, so I just wanted to get a sense of where I was in the world.
Craig: John, what do you think?
John: I really liked a petite lumberjack with giant glasses, but I felt like the opening sentence was really awkward. So, let me read it aloud for people here. “NINA OCASION, 20s Filipina doll designer, a petite lumberjack with giant glasses sets up her prototypes on a table at the front of a presentation theater for executive review.” That’s one hell of a sentence. It’s a long sentence. So, the problem here is that there’s two clauses and she’s basically trying to describe Nina twice, both as 20s Filipina doll designer, and a petite lumberjack with giant glasses. Break those into two sentences and make those two different ideas, because it was just one mushy thing for me. I couldn’t parse all that. And they’re both good ideas, but give us a description and then tell us what she’s actually doing.
I think like Kelly I was happy that it was starting on conflict. I didn’t believe all of Val’s lines. Val felt like she had been dialed in from a slightly harsher movie than everybody else, or a little bit more arch movie than everybody else. So, I didn’t necessarily believe Val, but I did like that there was a conflict at the center of this and that Nina was trying to stick up for herself. And once it was set up that Nina had been up all night doing this presentation, I could more believe that she would go off on her. Because we’ve all been in that situation where you’ve been shooting all night and something finally snaps and you do yell at people in front of the crew.
It felt like that kind of moment to me.
The ghost at the end. It’s in the title, so I get it. I had a hard time connecting storylines though. Like the Nina from the first part doesn’t feel like the Nina from the second part. The last thing I sort of expected in the second scene was like, oh, and now there’s a little ghost.
Craig, tell us?
Craig: Well, I think commas would be a great help here. Commas are wonderful little things and they can smooth out these issues. So, Christine is dropping some commas where she needs them. For instance, your problem, a petite lumberjack with giant glasses, if there’s a comma after glasses it helps an enormous amount. Because right now it says, “A petite lumberjack with giant glasses sets up her prototypes,” so is the lumberjack setting up the – no, no, she’s setting them up. She is a petite lumberjack.
Similarly, “VAL JEFFRIES, super WASPy 40s, queen bee marketing VP glances up from her phone.” No. Queen bee marketing VP, glances up from her phone.
So, commas will help you kind of break apart your little bits of pieces here. I had to go back and forth a bunch of times on some of the names, because we have a lot. We have a lot and we have them quickly. And they are all roughly the same length and style. We have Val, Nina, Karen, John, Susan. I think that’s all of them.
So they’re all like sort of — — — — and Karen, this is the real symptom of what happens when you under-describe somebody that’s important. So, Kelly has pointed out “Karen, 40s African American.” By the way, 40s, African American. Not 40s African American. Means you’re an African American from the 1940s. So, again, commas.
John: That would make a great character.
Craig: [laughs] 40s African American. Like where did she come from?
John: I mean, it’s impressive that Karen has become a boss of this toy company in the 1940s. So that alone is a distinction.
Craig: I mean—
Kelly: You have to say with “John, 50s, engineer” as well.
Craig: There you go. Exactly. The symptom of this is that when I got to Karen, who has her first line in the middle of page three. I had no idea who she was. I was like, who’s Karen? Who’s Karen? Karen, to the back of Val.
Kelly: Page two. Top of page two, Craig.
Craig: I’m sorry, top of page two. Oh, there it is. Sorry. Even then, “Why don’t we move on to the salon?” I kept reading and I kind of confused Karen with Nina at that point because Nina’s having a back and forth with Val. That’s what happened. And there’s this Karen. And then I got to Val. “It’s always China, China.” I’m like wait, oh, who’s Karen? And I had to look back. I couldn’t find her for a while until, oh, at the very bottom of the page, there she is, with nothing else. And, oh, she’s the boss. Okay. So, there was some confusion there.
But, my biggest issue, honestly, jibes with what John said. I don’t believe a single – it’s worse, Christine, I’m afraid. I don’t believe a single word of what anyone is saying here. Not one word. No one is speaking like an actual person in an actual situation, to me.
I don’t understand the way – why Val is overreacting. They’re at a toy company. Occasionally something fails. I mean, they all work for the same company. Things sometimes don’t work. They’re acting like the big boss has flown in from the company to make layoffs. And if you’re thing doesn’t work right, you’re fired on the spot. Everyone just seems really super keyed up over this thing because the servos aren’t working. And a lot of what Val is feeding back feels expositional. “I’m sick of product development’s excuses. You know, Nina, I thought moving you to this brand would be great for the team, but now I’m questioning your dedication.”
Okay, so I’ve learned some information and also that’s not a realistic thing to say. Why would you question her dedication? Because a servo isn’t moving? That doesn’t make any sense.
And then Nina says, “Sometimes China gets the face paint wrong.” What does that have to do with what happened here? And then Val, “Do I have to go on yet another factory trip to justify your screw-ups?”
This is crazy. You should have fired her weeks ago if this is who you feel about her. But the response is where I really started to lose touch with who this character is and the tone of this piece. Because Nina says, “I played with my Marty dolls till seventh grade. I love being on this brand.”
John: The line isn’t set up at all.
John: And so the line that could get to Nina’s line is something like, you know, “Do you even understand what Marty is?” That’s the line that could feed the response.
John: I marked the same thing. There’s no connection between these two ideas.
Craig: None. None. And then Nina’s response back is also nonsensical. Val says, “Yeah. Well I’m not seeing it.” And Nina says, “Why? Because I don’t walk around in hot pink suits and stupid heels like you?” That’s just a flat out non-sequitur. Well, A, fired. B, I would fire – if someone said that to me, and I were Val, I would fire them not for being insulting about my look. I would fire them for trotting out a non-sequitur in the middle of a business meeting.
It does not follow. It doesn’t follow. And then she says, “And I’m totally dedicated to this line. I’ll show you love.”
“Nina grabs the styling head prototype by the hair and makes out with Marty who suddenly begins to speak.” We need another comma there. And suddenly begins to speak. Who would do that? That’s insane. That’s not the kind of love you’re saying you’re supposed to have for a doll. “I played with my Marty dolls till seventh grade.” Little girls don’t make out with their Marty dolls. That’s not the connection they have to them. This is just bizarre.
John: Kelly, do little girls make out with their makeup dolls?
Kelly: I didn’t make out with mine. But I can’t speak for everybody.
Craig: There may be some girls that made out with their makeup dolls. [laughs]
Kelly: There may be some.
John: Some girls may do this.
Kelly: But then I also read this, just to go on the defense of her a little bit, I did read this as she’s totally mad, but that was the lead up to – that we were seeing that’s she’s mad. And that was leading us up to, oh, she’s seeing things. She’s seeing ghosts as well. And this is her like – she was having a mental break.
Craig: Okay, I did not see that. What I saw was this is a standard kind of working person’s movie where they’re being put down by the man. And then they go home and the twist is they share their apartment with the ghosts. And the ghosts are going to help her do her job, or something like that. But that the ghosts are real and that she’s not crazy. But the problem is she’s acting in a way that actually is crazy. Which is – see, to me, the setup here is like… – This is what I would do. I’m a doll designer. I make this doll. I’m super proud of it. It works great, but it’s kind of old fashioned. And Val is like this is boring. You don’t really know, like girls don’t like this.
And you’re saying, no, no, no, they do. I was one of them. And she’s like trust me when I tell you, your stuff is old and it’s lame. Catch up with the rest of this crew and get into the corporate mentality, or you’re going to go. It’s that simple.
And then she goes home and there’s this little girl who is like, “I love this doll.” And she’s like, “I know you do.” She’s like, “It reminds me of the doll I had when I was growing up.” And Val is like, “Yeah. But you grew up in 1883. That’s kind of my problem.”
And then you’re like, oh my god. That’s a ghost girl.
Okay, so getting back to Kelly’s point about how you introduce – you have two choices of how to introduce this ghost. Either it’s a shocking oh my god there’s a dead girl in the apartment, except that our main character isn’t shocked. Or, there’s a normal girl in the apartment and then, oh my god, she’s a ghost. You have to pick some sort of fascinating way to introduce this concept.
Anyway, that was a lot.
Kelly: I think what’s so interesting there as well is that Craig and I read this in such different ways, which is ultimately the overall problem of these three pages. You know, we’re reading two totally different movies. And that’s no good. That can’t work. We need to know what the film is.
John: This didn’t land as one film. So, all right, let’s get to our final entry in the Three Page Challenge. This is Escapism by Pascoe Foxell.
Craig: Pascoe Foxell. I mean, this is awesome.
Kelly: None of these people are real.
John: I think these people have figured out the secret to getting Godwin to pick their scripts.
John: Is an amazing name.
Craig: Pascoe Foxell.
John: So, I’ll quickly summarize this. A businessman sprints down the street pursued by a man in a tracksuit. A young woman, who we will soon know to be Zoe, watches from her apartment window, high above the action. As tracksuit guy catches up, the businessman hops onto a bus. Tracksuit guy rushes on by, not even glancing at the businessman.
Up in her apartment, Zoe takes it all in, and she brushes her teeth by the window. She goes back to her bedroom. Searches for clothes to wear. At the Rex, a rundown cinema, Zoe returns from her smoke break to witness a child mid-tantrum after dropping his ice cream. She acknowledges Callum, her coworker, as he walks through an employee-only door.
Zoe goofs off in the box office, playing with piles of brown sugar and lit matches. Her boss, Arjun, admonishes her for laziness and sends her downstairs to check on the toilets as we hit the end of page three.
Craig: Is Godwin writing these summaries?
John: Godwin is writing these summaries. And so I felt like we missed some crucial things in the summary.
Craig: So Godwin, the honeymoon with Godwin is over. Now he goes right into the way we used to talk about Stuart. [laughs] Godwin, you kind of missed the point here, buddy. The point of the pages here is that we’re in a Walter Mitty kind of thing where Zoe is seeing things that are astonishing and fantastic. And then the movie reveals actually, no, they’re quite mundane. So, for instance, at the Rex, a rundown cinema, Zoe returns from her smoke break not to witness a child mid-tantrum, but rather a child being devoured by a monster, which is then revealed to just be a child mid-tantrum after dropping his ice cream.
So, Godwin! [laughs]
John: Godwin! And we should note that this is listed as being episode one, so it’s meant to be a pilot. That doesn’t necessarily change what we read on the page, but it may change what we think about in terms of this is setting up a world for a TV show apparently.
Kelly: [clears throat]
Craig: Oh, that sounds like – that’s the Kelly Marcel throat-clearing of doom.
Kelly: Actually it’s not. I loved – I liked this. But – but – I did. I loved it. I thought it was really beautiful if it’s a movie. I think three pages is an enormous amount of real estate to give to a lot of vignettes when you’re setting up a TV show. It’s not – you need a teaser. It needs to open with a bang. And I need to kind of know what this is about and where we’re going. You know, I need to have a cold open for a pilot. And this didn’t – this felt like a lot of pages for that.
John: Yeah. We get three of these like sort of vignettes back, to back, to back, and we still haven’t really gotten into what’s going on. Who is she?
Kelly: Is she mentally ill?
John: Yes. What is the framework around why we’re seeing what she’s seeing? So, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that has these sort of Walter Mitty-esque breaks, where it goes into musical numbers, but it’s really clearly set up like how they function in this universe.
John: We have three of them in the first three pages here. And I don’t understand sort of how they’re going to be driving the show, or to what degree I need to be thinking of the real world in the show being the real world.
Kelly: They’re beautifully done. They’re really – I thought they were lovely and really beautifully done. And they kept me reading them, but I also by the end of page three was like, ugh, I don’t know what this – I really have no idea what this is, what it’s about, and I felt like am I about to just watch a pilot that’s all this?
Craig: Yeah. Yep. Yep. That is a very reasonable objection. There are too many – so the Zoe looks at the mundane world around her and then per the title Escapism she imagines something much more fantastic. And the imagination here is actually quite impressive. I thought the scene of the monster eating the kid was actually scary. And I was so relieved when it turned out that it was just a kid crying because of his ice cream. And it was a little dog slurping in his ice cream. That was wonderful.
Craig: And I really enjoyed the bit with the sugar, where she is lighting sugar on fire, and it was like some incredible fantastical sand planet. But there were three such sequences in three pages. And in addition to making each one successfully less special in a row with the procession of them, we’re also starting to get concerned that Zoe is doing this 24/7. That it never stops. That would be exhausting. I mean, you’d put a bullet in your head. Especially because I think the point here is that it’s volitional. That she’s choosing to do this.
Walter Mitty, you know, makes his choices occasionally when it is well-earned. And he’s super-duper bored. The one that did not work for me annoyingly enough was the first one, which is the one you want to have work the best. In the first one, here’s what we see. “A businessman sprints down the street, panicked, ragged breaths. Head whipping back to look over his shoulder. He forces himself to speed up.
“From somewhere up above a striking, noirish 25-year-old woman, all in black, looks down on him.” Now, I’d love to know where from above, but I guess, you know, because it’s her fantasy she could be perched on a gargoyle, the edge of a roof, something, but I want to know where.
“She’s keeping track of every movement. Excited. Her gaze flicks behind the businessman where a tracksuit-wearing man is coming fast. He’s gaining with ease, a wide grin stretched across his face. The tracksuit gets closer. Closer again. The businessman pushes hard. No good though. Closer again.”
And then it’s revealed he’s just running to get on a bus, and the tracksuit guy is just jogging. Now, here’s why I was annoyed. Because it’s the first one, you’re telling me what the rules are essentially. Now, here’s some bits that she’s imagined as far as I can tell. She’s imagined the businessman looking back over his shoulder, because in reality the businessman wouldn’t do that. And she’s imagining the tracksuit guy smiling with a big, wide grin as he pursues this businessman, because there’s no reason the tracksuit guy would be smiling like a dope for no reason. Right?
So, she’s put that in there. But the real thing is they are actually running. So, I’m already confused about what I just saw. And I feel like it cheated me. I would have rathered if the guy was running, and the guy was chasing him, and then we reveal that the part that she cheated was herself. And they really are running, but for a different reason. The cheating bothered me.
The cheating doesn’t bother when I see an alien that turns out to be a kid, because obviously that’s all invented. But the opening here put me off a bit.
John: Yeah. I had the same issue with the opening. I thought the other two were much stronger. I think my biggest concern was that she is not really part of the action at all. She’s just standing at a window, brushing her teeth. And it was a really not helpful perspective on what that is. Like, I could imagine a version of this where she’s ultimately on the bus and watching the guy get on the bus. And the other guy goes running past. That I could see. This is her daily life. This is the way she sort of zones out. And she’s closer and part of the action.
But watching from a window didn’t feel like it was letting me know anything about her or her life.
Kelly: Yeah, I agree. And it is the weakest of the three. I would love if we started the pilot with the little boy on the ground, because that’s a really shocking image. And it’s really well-done the way she does it. And then because these come one after the other, I wonder if the fix is that we then build story in between these – if she thinks up a new one for the running guys, or just makes that clearer, we build story in between these three vignettes that would happen over an entire pilot.
Because those three seem enough for a pilot, to me.
Craig: Well, if they recur somehow, I mean, generally speaking, if somebody is having these flights of fancy, it needs to be either disrupting their real life, or helping their real life, or commenting on their real life. These are not. But I would absolutely open this thing with a woman, Zoe, she’s walking into a foyer. And it’s kind of creepy. And she stops and she hears a noise. And we just think we’re in a normal horror movie. And she looks around the corner and she sees this thing and she’s absolutely terrified. And she’s about to scream when someone pushes by her and goes, “Oh, morning Zoe.” And she’s like, “Oh, morning.”
And then she looks back and now we see it’s just a kid crying, and a dog, and a thing. And we go, oh, I get her.
Kelly: Yeah. And then you introduce the boss guy and you see how these fantasies that she’s having are actually affecting her work life. Because that does happen on page three. Her boss comes in. She’s been burning sugar on her desk. And he talks to her about it. But I think you bring that right up front as well and then immediately you have story and conflict and this weird thing that’s happening.
John: Yeah. I really love burning the sugar because it’s such a specific character choice. It’s a thing you see her doing, so it’s not just she’s having a fantasy. She’s lighting sugar on fire on her desk, but it tells you something about who she is and sort of how seriously she takes her job. And so that’s a nice thing to move up earlier in these three pages.
Craig: Yeah. Just as good imagination here. You know, the way that these things work best is when what we’re seeing, especially when we know that it’s not real, is surprising to us when the truth is revealed. We go, oh, that’s the that. That’s cool. So I know after I see the kid and the fake alien that when I’m in an undulating, expansive, brownish yellow dunes, and a bright fiery orb of light searing in, I know it’s not real. But I don’t know what it really is. And then when she shows me that she’s holding a lit match over piles of brown sugar, this is just really inventive and it’s satisfying. So, I guess what we’re saying, Pascoe, is that this needs to be better tied into character. And we need to see more about why she’s doing these. Why she makes the choice to slip into fancy. What choosing to slip into fancy does to the rest of her life, for better or for worse, and we need a much better way in.
John: Agreed. So, as always, we want to thank everybody, all these writers, for letting us take a look at their three pages. They’re so helpful. So Godwin reads everything that comes in to the account. If you have three pages you want him to take a look at, you go to johnaugust.com/threepage, and there’s a form you fill out. You attach a PDF.
He picks scripts that he thinks are most interesting for us to talk about. So, I want to stress that he’s not picking necessarily the best things he reads, but the things he thinks will be interesting for us to talk about on the air. So, if you have something you want us to read, send it in to that link and we will take a look at it.
It has come time for our One Cool Things. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing?
Craig: My One Cool Thing today is an article, eh, it’s sort of an article in the New Yorker, but it refers to another website. It’s an article about the Glossary of Happiness. So, there’s a gentleman named Tim Lomas. He is a professor at, or a lecturer, at the University of East London. Kelly, is that a good school?
Kelly: It is.
Craig: Oh, fantastic. Not like those pikers at the University of West London.
John: West London is the worst.
Kelly: Pikeys, Craig. Pikeys. Get it right.
Craig: Pikeys. Sorry. A bunch of pikeys. Anyway, Lomas has launched something called the Positive Lexicography Project, which is essentially an online glossary of untranslatable words into English. These are these compound words that describe positive feelings about things, or sometimes negative feelings about things. But, for instance, here’s a word from Yagan. I don’t know who speaks Yagan. But the word is Mamihlapinatapei, which means a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire. It’s that great? Mamihlapinatapei.
And then there’s like these words from Dutch. Queesting, which means to allow a lover access to one’s bed for chit-chat. So, there’s just all these great, great words that describe these fascinating things. And some of them are incredibly specific, like Utepils, which is Norwegian for a beer that is enjoyed outside, particularly on the first hot day of the year. [laughs]
John: I am looking forward to that beer. That’s certainly a good thing.
Craig: Exactly. So, tons of these words. Describe things in one word that we don’t have one word for. So, check out The Glossary of Happiness. We’ll put a link in the show notes.
John: Fantastic. My One Cool Thing is Search Party, a show on TBS, which I devoured and loved. It is a half-hour comedy created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter. Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers also directed most of the episodes. It stars Alia Shawkat, from Arrested Development. It is just terrific. So, it’s a half-hour, which really means 23 minutes if you’re watching it on iTunes, but it follows a mystery. So, it’s she and her incredibly self-obsessed friends are kind of halfway investigating the disappearance of a college acquaintance.
And it’s really just terrifically well done. And very specific and odd. And I think what I admired most is that it manages to be really funny but also does the mystery stuff really well. Like I was genuinely fascinated to see what was going to happen in the next episode as I was watching it.
Now, if you do take a look at it, really do watch the first two episodes. I almost bailed after the first episode because I hated the characters so much. And you will love them by the end of the second episode. So you have to sort of get past their uncomfortable edges, and then you will fall in love with it.
So, highly recommend it. Search Party on TBS.
Kelly: Totally agree with that. I think TBS are killing it right now, by the way. I think they’re doing some really interesting stuff over there.
John: Hooray. Kelly, what’s your One Cool Thing?
Kelly: My other half just told me about this amazing thing, which is that Sony are coming out with smart contact lenses. And basically they can record every moment of your life, which means you can relive memories through them.
Craig: Wait, like the Mission: Impossible contact lens things? They’re making those?
Kelly: Sony are making them. Yeah.
Craig: Oh, boy, the potential for abuse here is astonishing. I mean, how are they going to…? You could relive every morning of your life, and I could also relive every moment of your life. That’s terrifying.
John: Just think about the sex tapes that will be made now with this technology.
Kelly: Oh, yes, let’s think about those. Yeah, no, I know, that is really terrifying, but also completely fascinating. I mean, I imagine that you could probably record stuff with those Google Glasses that came out, so it’s not–
Craig: Yeah, but I know you’re wearing the Google Glasses, because I can slap those goofy things off your face. But I don’t know if you’re wearing contact lenses. So at any point anyone can be recording you surreptitiously and you won’t know.
Kelly: And that’s illegal, no? Isn’t that illegal?
John: It’s illegal, but it still happens. I would say that from now on you’re going to have to start blindfolding yourself and blindfolding your romantic partners just to make sure that they’re not recording you. That’s going to change everything.
Craig: Oh my god.
John: Now, Kelly, you wrote a movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. This could be a plot point in that, could it not?
Kelly: I mean, they have missed a trick. I’m telling you. Erika needs to write a fifth book, because, you know.
John: Yes. Definitely.
Craig: Wait, there’s four of those.
Kelly: Well, there’s Fifty Shades, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed, and then she also wrote a book from Christian Grey’s point of view. So–
Craig: And what was that one called?
Kelly: Uh…Grey? I think it’s called Grey.
Kelly: Yeah. But now she could write the contact lens book.
Craig: Oh my god. This is absolutely terrifying. I’m seriously terrified and I hope that he just had a dream and thought that this happened.
John: [laughs] I think he was watching Black Mirror and he thought it was a documentary.
Craig: He thought it was 20/20?
Kelly: I think it’s not fair, because what about those of us that don’t need contact lenses?
Craig: Well, you still can get – I mean, you can wear the contact–
John: You can still wear them.
Craig: Kelly, my god. [laughs] Oh my god.
Kelly: But I don’t want to just stick things in my eyes for, you know, no reason.
Craig: Well, of course, nobody likes to. No, but you can have a reason like I’m going to, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to go sit down. I’m going to have a very good open chat with somebody where they kind of spill their secrets about something to me. I’m their friend and they’re confiding in me. But I’m recording it the whole time. And then I’m going to upload that to YouTube so the whole world can see it.
This is crazy. Oh my god, I think we just caught a glimpse of how it all ends.
John: Maybe so.
John: Well that’s how this show ends. Our show, as always, is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Adam Pasulka. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also a place where you can send longer questions. But for short ones, ask us on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Kelly, are you on Twitter? I forget?
Kelly: I am @MissMarcel.
John: Fantastic. We are also on Facebook. You can search for Scriptnotes podcast. You can find us on iTunes. Just look for Scriptnotes. That’s also where you can download the Scriptnotes app. Or there’s an Android app as well.
If you want to find transcripts, they are at johnaugust.com. They go up about four days after the episode airs. You can also find the show notes there.
If you want the back episodes, where we had Kelly Marcel on several times before, you can go to Scriptnotes.net and see what she talked about. There’s also a few last remaining USB drives at the store – store.johnaugust.com.
But for me, John August, for Craig Mazin, and for Kelly Marcel, guys, thank you so much. It was so nice to talk to you guys again.
Craig: Likewise. Come home soon, John.
Kelly: We miss you, John.
John: Oh, I miss you guys very much. And congratulations, Kelly Marcel.
Kelly: Thank you so much. Thank you. Bye.
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