John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Oh, my name is Sexy Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig: Interesting. Mm.
John: Today on the podcast, we will be looking at how and whether screenwriters should use social media and in addition to answering some listener questions we will be asking longtime listeners to tell us which episodes are worth pointing out to newcomers. So, Craig, I was trying to hedge you off with the Sexy Craig, but you went right to the Sexy Craig. You went right to your safe place.
Craig: You want to head off Sexy Craig? You can head off Sexy Craig.
John: I thought maybe Smooth John could talk us through some of these rough patches in life.
Craig: So smooth.
John: So smooth.
Craig: Yeah. That’s the problem. Sexy Craig, it’s really, it’s just impossible. He’s impossible.
John: He’s just the worst. Or the best. He’s superlative in many ways.
Craig: It’s really about how sexy you’re feeling at any given point.
John: Yeah. I’m not feeling sexy right now. Let’s do some follow up. We’ve got a lot of follow up, so let’s try to crank through this. Joe Bruckner tweeted at us. He said, “In Scriptnotes Episode 72, you say we’ll be giggling about UltraViolet in a few years. Four years later, what’s the verdict, Craig?”
Craig, how do you feel about UltraViolet?
Craig: I would be giggling even I even remembered what the hell it is, so I guess that sort of says it all, right? It was like that weird digital locker that we were all going to be using for 14 seconds or something?
John: Yeah. So I had to look back at the episode to make sure that really was what we were talking about. So, yes, it was the studio’s plan for basically you buy a DVD and you also get a digital copy that goes in your magic locker. And so I just sort of assumed it had gone away and that it had died, but then I looked it up. And so on January 6 of this year the DEG reported that UltraViolet accounts grew by almost 20% in 2015 to hit more than 25 million with 165 million movies and television shows in UltraViolet libraries.
So, it’s one of those weird sort of undead things where it’s like it’s not really dead, but no one is talking about it.
Craig: No. And I – I mean, I guess, yes, accounts grew. Who the? I don’t know anybody using this. It is not culturally important. The studios do not talk about it.
Craig: It is certainly not relevant. And, yes, it is giggle-worthy. We were correct.
John: We were correct. So, I was on a panel at CES in Las Vegas. It was an industry panel and they brought me as like the filmmaker/screenwriter to be with all these studio people. And they were so excited about UltraViolet and how it was going to change the industry. And I was the one person saying like, “I don’t really think it’s going to change the industry.” And everyone is like, “Shut up. Shut up.” And I don’t think it changed the industry.
But if you are a listener who has inside information that it actually has changed the industry and that Craig and I are just ignoring it somehow, do let us know. But I don’t think we’re wrong.
Craig: Yeah. We’re not. I’m just going to say we’re not wrong.
John: Ivan Munoz tweeted at us to point us to this article by Christopher Mele for New York Times, talking about filler words and discourse markers. So, we talked about the discourse markers on a previous episode and how they’re crucial bits of connecting material between lines of dialogue in real life and in film. But this article was really interesting because it was talking about the other use of those kind of words, which is just for fillers. It’s not just the uhs and the ums, but the likes in the middle of sentences. The sort of stall and pause and the ways of sort of – just what I just did right there – of putting a gap in your speech.
And so I thought it was a really interesting article. Did you have a chance to take a look at that?
Craig: I did. And this is something that I’ve thought about for a long time, because I remember very specifically, I think it was maybe when I was in my sophomore year of high school. When I just decided that saying “like” was stupid. And I forced myself to stop saying like. And I do not. I just don’t do it.
John: A piece of advice that’s in this article, which is absolutely true from my own experience, is that if you tape record yourself long enough you will stop doing some of these annoying behaviors. And so doing this podcast every week, the first 20 or 30 episodes I edited myself. And when you have to take out all of those annoying pause-discourse marker-filler words, that is a drag. So you learn to be much, much better about not sticking those things in there.
So, I feel like I’m a much smoother speaker after having done this podcast for nearly 300 episodes.
Craig: No question. I’m kind of curious, were there certain pause words like that that I repeatedly did?
John: You know, you probably have more than you think you have. Sometimes I’ll see Matthew’s actual edit and you’ll see sort of what gets dropped out. Sometimes they’re just actual pauses. They’re just open spaces while you’re sort of thinking of the next part of the sentence and he can tighten things together. But there are some uhs, some ums. There’s little things that sort of get stuff stuck together again.
Craig: I mean, I would say that there are things like um and uh, if they’re not, um, see, I just did it. If they’re not, um, routine, then I don’t think that in and of itself is a signifier of something. I mean, the danger of certain of these words is that they signify stupidity.
Craig: That’s the problem. There’s actually no reason for the word like to signify stupidity as opposed to the word um. They are doing the same thing. But because like is associated with youth, and particularly a kind of flight-full youth, then they are viewed as signifiers of stupidity. And they’re not, but that’s a problem.
I mean, it’s all optics, really. You know, I have a friend who says, “You know what I’m saying? You know what I’m saying?” That’s his like.
John: That’s his like.
Craig: He will use – it’s a very long like, you know what I’m saying. What does it actually mean? Nothing.
John: It means nothing.
Craig: It means nothing.
John: A listener tweeted at me this last week and I don’t have his name in front of me, so I’m sorry, but he pointed out that I say somewhat or sort of alike, and it’s a way of sort of taking the spin off of things. And I think I sort of try to undercut what I’m about to say by using somewhat or sort of to dial it down a little bit. And that’s something I was actually happy he pointed that out, because I will try to listen for myself doing that and not do that as much.
But I think Ivan Munoz was trying to point out when he sent us this article is how does this influence how we actually write dialogue for our characters. Should we script in those little filler words? And the answer is really no, unless it’s actually crucial to the scene. Because you got to let the actor actually put in those filler words if it’s actually important to how they’re performing that line.
But I would not generally script those things in, unless it’s actually crucial to understanding how the scene is working.
Craig: Yeah. Every now and then I might have a character throw in a like to – because I think it would be funny in that particular spot of dialogue. But, other than that, no.
John: A lot of times what we are really doing for that is the parenthetical within a block of dialogue to indicate that there’s a shift, that there’s something that’s happening in there. You sort of scripting an action or scripting a reaction within that block of dialogue. And they may end up using a filler word to sort of cover that change, but that’s not necessarily a thing you need to script in.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, if you’re writing a comedy, maybe it’s a dark comedy, and there’s a teenager. And someone is pointing a gun at them. That teenager can say, “Are you going to shoot me?” But if you script, if you actually write in, “Are you like going to like shoot me?” That’s funnier.
John: It’s much, much funnier.
Craig: It’s just funnier. So those are the only times I would ever do it is to call it out. You know, I’m saying to the actor you really should do it here, otherwise, you know.
John: Otherwise, I know.
John: Sort of. Kind of. Somewhat.
Several listeners pointed at this article. It’s actually a FDA announcement that these homeopathic teething tablets have been pulled off the market for concerns about them. So this comes directly from the FDA announcement. “Inconsistent amounts of belladonna, a toxic substance, in certain homeopathic teething tablets, sometimes far exceeding the amount claimed on the label. The agency is warning consumers that homeopathic teething tablets containing belladonna pose an unnecessary risk to infants and children and urges consumers not to use these products.”
Craig: You know, belladonna is nightshade. You know like – like witches, you use nightshade?
Craig: That’s belladonna. It’s deadly nightshade. That’s what it is. It’s actually got some great stuff in it, like have you ever used the – sorry to derail you here – but you ever used the patch for sea sickness?
John: I’ve not used the patch for sea sickness. Is that belladonna as well?
Craig: Well, it’s scopolamine which is one of the poisonous compounds in deadly nightshade/belladonna. And scopolamine is a very powerful drug. I mean, even when you use it for sea sickness, you – they make sure when you use that patch, it’s a very tiny, tiny amount. You have to wash your hands really thoroughly afterwards and do not put your hands anywhere near your eyes, because you will literally dilate your pupils and not be able to see very well.
And that’s a tiny, tiny amount. So, apparently these people went a little monkey with it. Go ahead.
John: So, what’s fascinating is like they’re saying like, “Oh, there was too much of this substance in there.” And when we talked about homeopathic treatments before, the problem is generally in homeopathic treatments there’s nothing in there. It’s just sugar. So this is just sugar and poison.
Craig: Right. So the fun part of this is it really exposes the stupidity of homeopathic “medicine,” because I presume that what they were trying to do was take deadly nightshade, belladonna, scopolamine, and a few other things that are in there, and then using their principle of nonsense, water those poisons down to less than could possibly exist. And then magically the water would have memory of it. And then help teething babies for some bananas reason.
So, there are really only two possible outcomes to the manufacture of a product like this. Outcome number one: they have manufactured a useless sugar pill that will do nothing for your infant or your child. Outcome number two: they’ll slip up and mistakenly put in an actual amount of poison, which will injure your infant or child. This is all you can get from homeopathic medicine. Just so people are clear. You will either get nothing or an unintended bad consequence. Congratulations homeopaths.
John: Here’s the embarrassing part. I’m pretty sure we actually used this brand of teething tablets when my daughter was an infant.
John: And so here’s how we used them, and I think we were even told this will do nothing, but it will make you feel better to use them. We sort of took the tablet and rubbed it right on the part that hurt. And you know why it probably helped?
Craig: You were rubbing.
John: Because you’re rubbing the part that hurt. And you’re giving the baby something sweet that made her feel better about the pain.
Craig: Yeah. That’s right.
John: That’s what it is. It was the sugar being rubbed into her gum.
Craig: Yeah. You were just rubbing sugar into her gum. You could have just dipped your finger in some Sprite and it would have done the same thing.
John: Yeah. Or Whiskey, which is my go-to, instead of homeopathy.
Craig: Yeah. By the way, yeah. And way better. I mean, god forbid that – there’s no reason to buy these things. They have to stop them. By the way, I would argue that a company like CVS for instance, which in this case was marketing two of the products containing too much, meaning any belladonna – CVS should stop selling these things. CVS, for instance, is a huge pharmaceuticals/sundries chain here in the United States. CVS should stop selling all of this. They stopped selling cigarettes.
Craig: Right. So, they don’t sell cigarettes, because cigarettes are bad for you. They should stop selling these products because they don’t work.
John: I mean, cigarettes or baby poison. I mean, you got to make some choices about the things you’re not going to sell.
Craig: Right. I also feel like if you are selling a proper array of medicines, whether they’re over-the-counter, or prescription, and you are advertising yourself as a place where people will come to make themselves better, you should not sell any substance as far as I’m concerned that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Craig: Not one. And it makes me nuts.
John: It does make me nuts, too. All right, let’s move on to our next thing which will make us less nuts. So last week’s episode we talked about – we sort of ripped into an article about avoid screenwriting traps. I argued this article was ridiculous to say that scripts from professional writers and scripts from new writers are fundamentally different. I argued that the things that Craig and I are writing are on the page identical to what an aspiring writer should be writing.
Listener Cody wrote in with a counter point. Do you want to read that?
Craig: Sure. Cody says, “With factors like the Black List, a rise of literary managers, and a new generation of young executives, I’ve watched as screenwriting styles have evolved in even just the 17 years since I’ve been writing in Los Angeles. Aspiring writers look for inventive ways to make their work stand out, writing in a stylized, edgier voice to make it a better read, despite that it has nothing to do with what we see on screen.
“It’s a trick that clearly worked to impress development executives, gain heat, and land on the Black List, which helps many new writers get noticed and find representation.”
What do you think about that?
John: I am ready to concede Cody’s point here. And I would be curious to have Franklin Leonard on the show, or somebody else who is reading a lot of newer writers, to see whether they find this true as well. Is that I can imagine just like the way that a lot of times spec scripts have these like crazy inventive titles that sort of get attention, even though you would never release the movie with that title, I do believe that sometimes writers are deliberately kind of not even over-writing, but sort of like super-stylized writing in order to sort of get attention.
I can imagine that happening and I don’t have evidence that it’s not happening.
Craig: Yeah. That seems plausible to me. I’m not sure, and here’s where Franklin would grimace, or will grimace when he hears this, I’m not sure that it’s relevant particularly whether you get on the official Black List. I don’t know how relevant that is. Because a lot of those scripts were good scripts that get on the Black List and also are going into production. There’s the whole correlation and causation thing.
And standing out and being noticed for a flashy, wild read happens. It, for instance, got the guy that wrote the Lax Mandis script, he sure got attention. It wasn’t the good kind. Getting attention is important. Getting attention doth not a career make. It doesn’t even make a sale. It just means attention.
So, I’m all for writing something that is stand out. You are always, I think, best advised to write something that stands out because your voice is unique and you have written something that is producible and should be a movie. Gimmicky stuff is gimmicky. So, I smell the rise of gimmickry. I do. I can see Cody’s point here that there’s a lot of that going on. I know that titles have become a playground for gimmickry.
John: What I do wonder if what Cody’s leaning towards is that in some ways some of these spec scripts are super voice-y, it’s like this crazy writer voice that’s coming through the script and it may not be the kind of thing that we’re necessarily being asked to write as we’re writing stuff for studios. So I can see that as being a possibility in the sense that my script Go, which sort of broke out, it is written a little differently than some of the other stuff I’ve written, but not crazily. And so I just don’t feel like in my career there was a huge shift from the scripts I’ve written for myself and the scripts that I’m writing for other studios. But this is a 20-year career. And I can imagine there might be more pressure for some new writers now doing that.
I still do not believe that the article that was the jumping off place for all this proved its point that writers need to be writing vastly different scripts for readers than they are for producers or going into production.
Craig: I completely agree. At some point you have to decide what is the hurdle you’re trying to jump. It’s not like the hurdles are lined up in linear fashion. It’s not as if you manage to get yourself a good rating to the regular Black List site, and then the next hurdle is to get a manager. And then the next hurdle is to get on the official Black List. And then the next one is to get an agent. And the next one is to sell your script. And the next one is that it gets made.
Not at all. The hurdles are all horizontal. None of those hurdles lead to another hurdle inexorably. So, the question is which hurdle are you trying to get over?
John: Get the movie made.
Craig: Yeah. Get the movie made. Some of them will kind of – they will help, to some extent. But the only hurdle worth getting over is sell a movie, get a made. That’s it.
John: Yeah. And get the next one set up.
John: Start a career.
Craig: Start a career.
John: So, next up, on a bunch of previous episodes I’ve threatened that we would read through some of the reviews that people leave for us on iTunes, because people leave such nice reviews on iTunes. And this week it’s actually relevant, so I thought we’d read three recent reviews on iTunes and talk through them and sort of what they mean about the future of the show. So, Craig, do you want to read this first one?
Craig: Sure. This first one is titled, “Best Dose of Reality Ever, Five Stars,” by S. Wright. This is from November 11, 2016. And S. Wright writes, “The reason I love this podcast is for all of the pain and suffering it saved me. After writing three scripts, and despite living in Maryland, not Los Angeles, my hubris buried the needle. Then I found this amazing and honest podcast. I quickly listened to all of the earlier episodes. And now I’m a loyal listener of over four years. They dashed my dream, but it felt so good. These are two of the smartest guys and I am truly thankful not to be pursuing a sale anymore. It remains my favorite podcast.”
John: Aw. Thank you, S. That’s very nice. So, a second review comes from T. Tippet. It says, “More Umbrage.” It’s five stars, from November 29, 2016. “Just started listening and actually went back to start from the beginning on their app. And John and Craig are awesome. It is great as a new/aspiring screenwriter to be able to learn the ins and outs of the business from two guys who are very ‘inneresting.’ I would and have recommended this podcast to anyone interested in screenwriting and things interesting to screenwriters. Keep up the great work, guys.”
Craig: All right. Well, that’s lovely to hear. We will. We will!
John: We will. We promise.
Craig: We have one more. And this is from Levy Ryan from December 23, 2016 entitled “Post-Partum Depression.” Uh-oh. “Started listening four months ago and just polished off the archives. Well, what now? Listen to Mr. Kasdan again? The way Episode 247 ends has you sitting in silence for an hour afterwards.”
John: Very nice, Ryan. So, I wanted to bring up those three because one of the things that’s really weird about our show as opposed to other podcasts is that that back catalog actually does get listened to a lot. And so on Twitter kind of every week somebody writes in saying like, “Oh, I just finished going through all the archives and I’ve been through now 289 episodes and now I’m caught up.” And that sense of being caught up on a podcast, you know, with Serial or something that’s shorter and contained, you can sort of see that. There’s a narrative. But some people actually have listened to the whole show.
And so this last week on Slack, Godwin our producer, suggested, “You should do a book of the Scriptnotes transcripts.” Because we have transcripts for every episode. And so Godwin’s suggestion was we could do a physically printed book so you could have on your shelf like the transcripts of the entire series. Just like how we sell the USB drives, it would be really cool to have a printed book for the whole show.
Craig: Ooh, like bound in Corinthian leather?
John: Corinthian leather, perhaps. And so Dustin, who works for me, a designer, I asked him to do up like one chapter which would basically be one episode, the transcript, to see sort of what it would like. And he did it and it looked really good. Craig, it’s in the folder if you want to take a look at sort of how it looks.
Craig: Ooh. I’m going to look at this while you’re talking. No one else can see it, but I can see it.
John: We’ll put a link to that in the show notes, too.
John: But what’s – so what’s fascinating, Craig, is I think that looks really nice. How big a book do you think the Scriptnotes transcripts would be? How many pages?
Craig: Well, first of all, I’m looking at this. It does look really nice. Oh my god, how many pages? Well, well, I guess I could do the math because these are so many pages for one episode. My goodness. Oh my god. [laughs] OK, so good lord, we talk a lot. So about 14 pages here. Quickly doing the math. We’re talking about 520-page book.
John: No, it’s actually between 3,000 and 4,500 pages. So when you actually do out all the math for all of the episodes.
Craig: Oh my god.
John: It gets really, really, really big.
Craig: Oh my god. How is that possible? Because we have to put in all of the Three Page Challenges and–
John: The other stuff. And so it gets to be quite big. So, there’s not going to be a printed copy of the entire Scriptnotes catalog. But, the process was really good because we could certainly do an e-book version of this. And so we’re talking about doing that. So, it’s something you could get on your Kindle or your iPad or your other device. Something you could get as a PDF. It would be the entire catalog, which would be great, so people could have that.
Craig: You’re going to get so rich.
John: So, so rich. But, one of the other suggestions that we sort of came to is if you are one of these people who is trying to catch up on the whole thing, you might not really want to listen to every episode. You might want to listen to certain episodes that are especially good or especially relevant or about a specific topic. And when we have them on the website, it would be great to have some sort of reference for that.
And so that’s where I thought we might be able to enlist our listeners, because some of our listeners really have listened to every episode. And so what I’m asking for is if you have recommendations for these are the episodes that you can’t miss, or that you should definitely try to single out if you’re listening through the catalog, right into us with those. And don’t just write into the Ask account I set up a special page for you to leave a review and a recommendation for this is a good episode because of these reasons.
So if you go to johnaugust.com/guide, there’s a little form you fill out. You put in the episode number, you tell us who it’s for, and then give us a little blurb about that episode. And if we get enough of these and good enough ones of these, we’ll try to put out some sort of e-book or even a printed book that people can sort of look through as sort of an index and a guide to Scriptnotes. Because we’re coming up on 300 episodes. It would be great to be able to point to people like, oh, if you’re curious about these things, this is the episode you should go to. Or, if you don’t really care about screenwriting, but you just want to hear the funny episodes, this is a way to do that. So, these reviews would really help us figure out which episodes to highlight.
Craig: That’s a great idea. I’ve decided it’s my idea. I had a terrific idea.
John: So tell us this great idea. Can you summarize in your own words what the idea is?
Craig: Yeah. We’re reaching out to our listeners and asking them what their favorite episodes are. And we’re going to even categorize their favorite episodes in such a way that new listeners can find our show and start with some of the most loved episodes. I am so smart.
John: You really are smart. And what is the URL people should go to if they want to tell us what the best episodes are?
Craig: They should go to craigmazin.com. [laughs] They should go to johnaugust.com/ – I love when they say forward slash in ads like we don’t even know. Forward slash guide.
John: Yep. So this all goes into a database. If it works out well and it’s interesting, we’ll try to do this thing. So, it’s all on your guys at this point. Thank you in advance the people who might want to leave some reviews. And, by the way, you can leave reviews on multiple episodes. So if you know like the ten best episodes, just leave ten separate reviews for those episodes and we’ll get them all.
Craig: Brilliant. Brilliant.
John: Brilliant. So, so much of what we talked about today was generated based on things people tweeted at us. And so you suggested that we do a segment on social media and how screenwriters should use social media.
Craig: Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it for a while because the truth is it’s not quite as casual as it used to be. They – they meaning the studios – they actually care about this stuff now. It’s remarkable. I’m still not sure that they should be caring about it, because I’m still not sure how directly impactful it is. But, it is to some extent. So, we know that when we’re talking about casting movies and we’re looking for very popular movie stars, the amount of followers they have is actually a topic of discussion in the room. It matters.
John: It’s not when they’re like casting, “Oh, should we cast Will Smith,” but it’s like when you’re casting that third or fourth person down. Sometimes you are kind of looking for the degree to which they are moving the needle.
Craig: That’s right. Or sometimes when they’re saying, “Hey, we want to make a movie starring this person that maybe you wouldn’t think of starring in a movie, but look at how many followers they have.” They will do things like that. They will also talk about how many times a trailer is retweeted or mentioned. And every showrunner is now being tasked directly with tweeting, live-tweeting, engaging with the audience.
For screenwriters, for feature writers, it’s a little less directly connected, but we’re starting to see more and more writers achieve a high profile on Twitter, and for some of them it translates into a real career. So, I thought we should talk about how that all works and maybe some advice on how to do it well. Because, you know–
Craig: I think you and I actually do it pretty well.
John: I think we do it pretty well, too. And it’s worth pointing out that Aline Brosh McKenna, who has been a longtime guest on the show, she’s finally on Twitter now. And she’s finally broken the seal and gotten on Twitter. And I think that’s partly because she is a showrunner now and there is that responsibility of being able to speak for your show and sort of engage with the fans of your show. I don’t feel it happening as much with screenwriters right now, but I think it’s also because we are much more loosely coupled to our films than TV writers are to their TV shows.
There’s less of a direct relationship to our movies. We’re not the spokespeople for our movies to the degree that a showrunner is for her show. And do we know what we’re talking about? We kind of know what we’re talking about. Craig, you have 94,000 followers on Twitter.
Craig: Yeah. That’s my army. And they really are my followers, just so you know. If I tell them to do something, they’re doing it.
John: They’ll absolutely do it.
John: But you did not have those last year. So, they were a growth. They’re largely due to things you talked about in a very honest way about your former roommate.
Craig: Yeah. I was somewhere around like, I don’t know, I was actually fairly new – I was late to Twitter. I wasn’t an early tweeting tweetie guy, and you know that because I’m saying things like I wasn’t an early tweetie guy. I had about, I don’t know, 12,000 followers or something like that. And then the Ted Cruz thing happened.
But, you know, I’ve held onto them.
John: You’ve definitely held on to them. And you’ve done a very good job sort of managing them. You engage with them in ways that I would not engage with them, but we can get to that when we talk about sort of how you deal with people.
Craig: It’s fun.
John: I have about 59,000 followers. And I was very early to Twitter, not surprisingly. I was on Twitter in 2007, before everyone was really saying Tweet. It was like a “Twitter post.” I was on Twitter before there was actually an App you could use.
John: So you were texting to a number. So I used it at Sundance when my movie, The Nines, was there. And it was great. But it’s so interesting to go back and look at your very early tweets, because it was just a very different medium at that time. It was before there was native retweeting. It was a really different world.
We talked about it’s important for actors, but I would say it was also a little bit important for me with Arlo Finch, because novelists are incredibly closely coupled to their work. And so when we were going out to sell Arlo Finch, this wasn’t a major factor, but I think they did take notice of like, oh wow, he has a bunch of Twitter followers. And they look at that and say like, “He sort of knows how to go out and promote things.” And that is probably useful to a publisher that wants to make money off this book.
Craig: Yeah. It’s absolutely true. The thing about screenwriters and Twitter is our movies come out very sporadically, and that’s for the best of us. You know, you have a movie come out once every two or three years, you are among the crème de la crème of screenwriters. So, there’s a sporadic nature to that.
So it’s not quite as vital, I think, for screenwriters in terms of the commerce. However, if in those in between times you do build up some goodwill and some notoriety, when you do have something that you want to promote, they’re there, which is helpful.
Craig: But no question if you are a novelist, and that is yours, I mean, so many of the writers that follow me, for instance, I’ve noticed, are novelists.
John: And some of them do a great job. So, let’s talk about sort of why it might matter for a screenwriter. And so I have four basic thoughts about why it might matter to be on Twitter and to sort of use Twitter well.
I think Twitter helps prove that you’re not a crazy person. And so one of the first things I do if like a new person’s name comes across my desk is I will Google them and I will see if they’re on Twitter, because then I can go through their timeline and see like is this a crazy person, is this is a crank? And that can be very helpful to know that, oh no, they’re actually a sane, rational person. Or, they are a crazy person and I won’t engage with them. So, Twitter is a very public way of sort of seeing whether somebody is somebody you want to engage with.
It can show if you’re funny, if you’re supposed to be funny. And Twitter doesn’t have to be funny. Twitter tends to be sort of funny. It tended to be funnier before the election. But it does sort of show who actually has a sense of what a joke is, and that can be really important if you’re looking for a funny person.
Twitter can potentially connect you with interesting people. And by this I mean it lets you be reachable by other interesting people, so like because I’m @johnaugust on Twitter, people can reach towards me and I can sort of engage with them if I choose to. It also lets me reach out to certain people. And if I don’t know somebody, I can tweet at them and sometimes they’ll respond.
We’re going to talk about sort of like best practices for that, but it’s a way to sort of get towards somebody that’s not crazy and stalkery.
John: And, finally, the most important thing I think is it allows you to publicly respond to things. Rarely are screenwriters sort of in the midst of controversy, but if there is a controversy, that Twitter handle is sort of your public face and it lets you sort of directly address something that’s going on in a very quick and sort of clearly your voice way.
Craig: That is an excellent summary of what you have there. And a couple of those things I hadn’t really considered. But, yeah, prove you’re not a crazy person. It is true. I mean, whether it’s rational or not, when we meet somebody for the first time and we don’t know much about them, and I’m saying this in the absence of Twitter, and someone else says, “Oh, they are extraordinarily popular and the following people just love them,” I think, OK. That’s relevant.
Well, Twitter sort of does that. If I meet somebody and I see who’s following them and I see who they’re following, then I get a sense that, OK, this person is at least acceptable enough that the following other people that I accept have accepted them. And that matters. There is a social currency to that.
John: And I find that there’s more of a social currency to Twitter for me than for Facebook, because if I see he’s friends with that person, it’s like I don’t really know what “friends” means, but if I see that other person has engaged with them on their timeline then it’s like, oh OK, there’s something there. They’re actually pals in some meaningful way.
Craig: Precisely. I mean, the problem with Facebook is some people just will – people say can I be your friend? So they’re asking you for something and then you have to agree. And many people just say, sure, you can be my friend, you can be my friend. So, sometimes somebody will ask to be my friend. And I try and keep Facebook for my actual friends.
John: So do I.
Craig: But they’ll say I want to be your friend and we have a mutual friend. And I’ll click on it and it’s Derek Haas every time. Because Derek – he’s cool. He’s like, you want to be my friend? You’re my friend.
On Twitter, people have to follow you. You know, it’s not like they’re asking do you want to be. So, people make a choice. I can’t stop. So, here would be something cool. It would be cool if Stephen King followed me on Twitter. I don’t think he does. But I follow him.
Stephen King has to make a choice to follow me. That’s kind of cool. You know?
John: It is kind of cool.
Craig: Because if he does, it’s awesome. I don’t he does. But he should.
John: He totally should.
Craig: He should. I’m wonderful.
John: So, Craig, can you give us some suggestions about best practices or what you should do if you’re new to Twitter or how to use your Twitter account?
Craig: Well, yeah. And these are – I’m going to tailor these for writers. And they’re best practices and they’re also worse practices. And to be honest with you, I see all of this. And as many times as I see people doing it right, like Megan Amram, who is just the queen of Twitter, I see people doing it wrong and I cringe. I cringe and I cringe and I triple cringe.
So, some easy positive things. If you can be funny, be funny. Being funny on Twitter is a tricky thing because it’s like you are doing a late night monologue and there are 14 billion other people doing a late night monologue right next to you. So, just a little advice, if it’s sort of the obvious joke, don’t do it. Because there’s so many other people doing the obvious joke. And if you’re not that funny, don’t worry about it. Just don’t push it. You know, it’s not that big of a deal.
John: What I will say is if I have the idea for like there’s a news event, something has just happened, and I have the idea for the joke, and it’s like five minutes after the event has happened, I will search for what I would sort of use in the joke term to see if someone else has made the joke. Because you just know it’s going to happen so quickly. So, you got to be quick with it, or just let it pass.
Craig: Yeah. And I think sometimes in lieu of being ha-ha funny, being clever is good. Because a lot of times I don’t – it’s a little bit like when I watch The Simpsons. When I watch The Simpsons, I don’t actually typically laugh out loud that much. I just appreciate how clever it is going through. It is entertaining me and it is comedic, but it’s a different kind of appreciation. There’s a wryness to it. And I think that that’s perfectly fine on Twitter. Being passionate is always a wonderful thing, especially if you’re positively passionate. Everybody likes somebody loving something. They do. It’s informative. And it’s attractive, honestly, to hear somebody talk about something they love.
Here’s some things to not do, and I see this all the time and it makes me cringe – when you are promoting something, promote. Fine. But do it sparingly and do it informationally. And avoid the walking billboard syndrome. There are some people that are just – they so obviously have gone on Twitter because someone has told them this is a wonderful way to promote your brand, and they just keep whacking that button over and over and over until nobody cares, because they get it. You’re just there to manipulate people into doing what you want, which is the worst way to get them to do what you want on Twitter. And I would suggest that you’ll never know, because losing followers is sort of old school. Getting muted is new school. That’s what you don’t want.
You don’t want people muting you.
John: Yeah, so essentially those people who are still following you, they’re just actually not seeing your tweets. And so you’re basically shouting and they’re not hearing you at all. And I find the awkward self-promotion tends to be from people who I don’t think are actually on Twitter that often. Basically they go on Twitter maybe two times a week and maybe scroll through it and then they tweet the thing they need to tweet. And then they get off Twitter. And so they don’t sort of understand the conversational nature of it. They don’t sort of read the room. And so they just go in, they promote something, and then they disappear. And that’s not a great choice.
Craig: No, it’s not. I mean, you really do have to think of yourself like a late night talk show host. And all of your tweets consist of the stuff you would do during your show. And then the commercials in between the show. Well, you got to limit your commercials, and they have to be varied, and the preponderance of the stuff you put out has to be show. So, there are some people who come on and they’re not even doing it frequently. They come on every couple of weeks and what they’ll do is either promote themselves or they’ll just retweet other people’s promotions, which I think is generally the worst.
Craig: So, basic rule of thumb, if somebody says something lovely to you, you give it a little heart. But you don’t retweet it. That’s just my rule.
John: I don’t retweet the praise. And so I will give the heart or I will give the reply thanks, or the actual acknowledgment of the specific thing they said, which is great and lovely. And it’s all good. And when you do that, by the way, when you actually reply to somebody, that also shows up in your timeline if people are actually looking at your tweets and replies, and it sort of shows like, oh, you’re engaging the person in a normal, human kind of way.
John: But honestly the heart, the little like, that’s generally enough. It’s the head nod to say like thank you for that, I get that, I see that. And it’s appreciated.
Craig: 100%. I mean, the worst of it is when somebody does the like and does the thank you, but puts the period in front of the name of the person they’re doing it to so everyone in the world can see. Automatically, look what I did. Look at what they said about me. It’s just so transparent.
You know, begging for approval on Twitter is a bad deal, because the good news is you’ll get it, and the bad news is you’ll get it. And so it doesn’t mean a damn thing. It really doesn’t. Just be secure. Yeah, just be secure about it.
John: Let’s talk about how you convey what you’re actually feeling or how you put into words the thing you want to say. Because that sense of authenticity is really tough when you have 140 characters. And so sometimes people do the sort of tweet storms, they’ll do the threaded comments. By the way, if people don’t know how to do threaded comments, let’s just have a little sidebar here, because it’s really helpful if you can sort of do threaded tweets so that it actually works right. You do the first tweet, then you reply to your tweet. You can delete off your name, but it will keep those things threaded together. The metadata will hold it all together. It lets people sort of see your tweets in a proper run, so they’re not just randomly spread out tweets.
If you have more to say than one tweet, maybe consider doing the multiple tweets, but don’t do that too often because you’ll annoy everybody.
Craig: Threaded tweeting. I think I’ve screwed that up twice. Or thrice.
John: It’s really easy to screw up. My best tip for you is to write the tweets in advance, like sort of figure out the tweets and make sure they’re the right length. And then you do the first tweet. You reply to that first tweet, paste in the second thing. You reply to the second one to the next thing. It’s not at all obvious or intuitive, but it’s a way to get it done.
Craig: So on the third one I’m replying to the second one?
Craig: Oh, then I’ve done it right, I think. I think. Well.
John: But it’s really easy to mess up.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t do – I’ve done only maybe in my Twitter career I think three rants. I’m not a big ranter. The things that I think tend to work well are honest expressions. You will inevitably upset people with some of the things you say, particularly if you’re talking about things that are aggressive in some way.
But if you are honest, and you are authentic, in the long run presuming that you aren’t professing honest and authentic opinions that everyone detests, you will be viewed positively. The worst of it is the lying. Humble-bragging is not bad because it’s bragging. It’s bad because it’s false. Because it’s manipulative. You know, when you see a writer go on and say something like, “OK, woke up, realized I have three scripts due, and tomorrow we start shooting one. And my agent keeps calling. And, argh, this is going to be a crazy day,” I just want to reach through the computer and punch them in the face. And punch through their face. Through. All the way out the back. And then do that thing where you twist your fist around a little bit. And then pull it back out, just to make sure I get all the bits.
Because that’s terrible.
John: Yeah. And so the person who did that didn’t mean for it to be read that way, but that’s exactly how we do read it. It’s like, oh, look at me, look at my luxury problems that I have three movies to write and another movie in production. You’re not doing yourself any favors by tweeting that. Don’t tweet that.
Craig: Yeah. There’s this weird counterpart that has risen somewhat recently that I call – I don’t know what to call it – because it’s kind of the negative counterpart to humble-bragging. So I call it bravery-complaining. And bravery-complaining goes a little bit something like, here – here’s the one I’ve written as a sample. “Some people clearly want me to believe I’m not capable of telling this story. But I am. I’m a writer. And I won’t be ignored.”
Craig: OK. I don’t know who those some people are. I don’t know what the story is. I don’t know if you are capable of telling it. I don’t know anything other than this: that tweet was designed for a whole bunch of people to say, “We are behind you. You are amazing. Don’t let anyone get you down.” Blah, blah, blah. It’s fake.
And, more importantly, that tweet exists to help no one but yourself.
John: Yeah, going back to both of these kind of tweets is the relatable version of that tweet actually has something that like everyone else can sort of nod to. It’s like, oh yeah, I’ve felt that same thing, too. So, they’re able to be very specific about sort of this situation, but everyone can sort of see like, oh yeah, I get that. In sort of the same way that standup jokes work is because, oh yeah, I recognize that situation and you’re making a good observation about it. The two examples you gave, the humblebrag and the bravery-complaining do none of those things. They’re just about look at me. They’re sort of narcissistic and unhelpful.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, you can proud-brag if you want. Proud-brag. And if people are like, “Jeez, it’s a little braggy,” you can say I know, I’m sorry, but I’m really proud of myself. That’s honest. And you can sad-complain. You know? And you can ask for advice if you really do need it. And if you’ve gone through something where people knocked you down and you got back up again, then maybe you can use it as an instructive example for others, so say look, if you’re in this position just know there is a better way. There is hope. That’s instructive and helpful to others.
In the end, we’re not coming to Twitter to help you. We’re coming to Twitter for you to help us. That’s why I follow people. I want information coming from them to me. I certainly don’t want them begging me to fill whatever emotional gap they have on that particular day.
John: Yeah. So, an example of authenticity, sort of earlier on as I was here in Paris, about two months in I got really homesick. And on Instagram I posted like the photo of the kale salad I found. And in the description I wrote how incredibly homesick I was and this was like the thing that actually sort of got me through it. And I got some really genuine responses to that because it feels so kind of embarrassing to admit that you’re homesick in a really pretty lovely place, but I was genuinely homesick. And people could sort of see it was truly how I was feeling and I was dealing with it. And people could sort of nod along with it.
And so that’s specific but also kind of universal and relatable. That’s fine. But it’s honestly a better Instagram post than a tweet because it literally wouldn’t have worked the same way on Twitter.
Craig: Well, it might. I mean, look, that’s a sad-complain. I mean, there’s this component, because the bravery complaint I wrote had this very important thing that bravery complaints have, which is the bravery part. Where they’ll say, “This is something that I think is wrong, but guess what? It won’t work.” OK. So are you asking me to empathize with you? Or are you telling me you are untouchable? Because what I’m hearing is somebody whose feelings have been hurt, insisting that their feelings haven’t been hurt, which is a very fourth grade boy way of dealing with the world.
John: 100%. So the other thing I notice a lot among writers on Twitter and sometimes frustratingly aspiring writers is that they are suddenly giving advice to the world about how to write. And some of these people are good people, and I’m not subtweeting anybody by saying this, but there are writers out there who I think are good writers but I think they should also really watch how much they are sort of offering advice out to the world about how to be a writer, or talk about their process in such exhausting detail.
Craig: Yeah. Look, you and I do this every week. We come on this show and we give a lot of advice. One of the things that I find, well, I’m just pleased by is that from the very start, from Episode 1, neither you nor I have taken on any kind of Yoda like persona. We are not cult leaders. We do not profess to stare into the great cosmic eye. I think we are fairly self-deprecating in a funny way. We both know our limitations. We both know we’re not perfect.
We give honest advice in the most honest way we can. There are some people on Twitter who are clearly dolling out advice as if they are sitting cross-legged on the top of a mountain in Tibet, having achieved some kind of nirvana. And they’re doing it in a way that I can’t help but think is about them. Is about crafting an image for themselves as a guru, as wiser than they are.
It is important for writers who are achieving at a certain level to pass on and – not to die – but to pass information on. It’s crucial. I’m actually really emboldened by what I see, because when you and I started nobody was telling us anything. And now there’s this wonderful culture.
All I would suggest is it’s a question of tone. When you are sharing your earned wisdom with others, do it in a way that is self-aware, that doesn’t have an air of infallibility, because you are not. And unless you’re Larry Kasdan, or Scott Frank, or Callie Khouri, maybe just dial the Yoda vibe down a notch. Just a notch. Because the more authentic you are, I honestly believe the more you will be listened to.
John: I would agree. So, some advice if you do have that sort of moment of insight is look at how Jane Espenson offers out advice. She will find something delightful and she will write about it and say like, “Isn’t this delightful?” As if it’s a little discovery she saw in somebody else’s work. That’s wonderful because she’s not claiming brilliance for herself. She’s saying like, oh, I found this thing, or like, oh, is this a clam that’s developing? A lot of times there’s a sense of a question, and so like you might say like, “Has this ever worked?” That can sound really negative. But has there ever been a good joke about blank? That’s a structure of a tweet that offers both advice but also invites a reply. That’s a great way to sort of approach those kinds of moments where you kind of have a Yoda thought but don’t phrase it as a Yoda thought.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a great point, John, and Jane is wonderful on Twitter. If you’re going to talk about some wonderful piece of writing, make it somebody else’s, for god’s sakes. You know, you and I on the show, we love talking about other people’s writing. We love talking about other writers. We have them on the show. And then occasionally, and we are long overdue for one of these, we do a big deep dive into a movie we love and we really talk about why we love it.
We’re not so much sitting here over and over saying, “When I had this brilliant idea for…” That’s not what we do. Because it’s weird. It’s weird. We’re all proud of the work that we’ve done, some of it at least. But it’s a strange thing to teach people with your own work. It’s so much more interesting to teach them with other people’s work. It immediately eliminates any whiff of self-promotion or a general sense that this so-called guru is actually desperately insecure and needs our worship.
John: Absolutely. And I think a general point to take out of this is like to talk about the things you love. And so talk about the writing you love. Talk about the things you see out in the world that are fantastic. So that means movies and TV shows. Don’t crap on people’s movies. And don’t crap on people’s TV shows. Because, you know what, they worked really hard on those movies. And you’re doing nobody a favor to say what a terrible movie that thing was. Rather than do that, find something really good somebody can watch and get them to watch it.
Or like a great movie is on HBO right now and you’re watching it, tweet about that and why you love this thing, rather than crapping on something.
Craig: Oh, yeah. Look, live by the sword, die by the sword. If you want to go on Twitter and you want to take shots at other people’s movies, they’re all coming back to you. All of them. Every last one of them. And god help you if you complain when they do. And generally speaking, the people that take swipes at other people’s movies and television shows do complain when it comes back to them. Which delegitimizes them even further. The last thing you want to become is a Twitter sideshow freak.
John: 100%. And what we say about don’t crap on people’s TV shows or movies, do not crap on other writers. And I see this every once and awhile and nothing drives me crazier. So, to publicly trash a writer is kind of unforgivable. But to do the subtweet where it’s clear you’re talking about a specific person, even if you’re not naming that person, is just – it’s not classy. It just shows your own insecurity and your own sort of desire to lash out at somebody, but your fear of lashing out at somebody. It’s not cool. It does no one any service.
Craig: No subtweeting does anyone any service at all, but you’re absolutely right. To subtweet writers or movies or shows is gross. I mean, we either are or are not a community that sticks together. And any writer that works on anything knows that it is hard. And there is no circumstance – none – in which I would go after a writer or their work on Twitter. Absolutely none.
John: Yep. So, Craig, let’s try to give some practical advice. Let’s say you’re on Twitter, you have put out some tweets that people are loving. You put out some things that people are not loving. What do you do with the trolls? Because you get a lot of trolls?
Craig: I do? [laughs]
John: You get some negative things headed your direction. So what’s some good advice for dealing with negative things headed in your direction?
Craig: OK. Well, it’s part of life on Twitter. The quickest thing to do is to mute them. I generally do not block people. The only people I block really on Twitter, anti-vaccination people. Because I just – I just – it’s fun. It’s just fun for me. But other than that, and there aren’t too many of those, at least I haven’t encountered too many. For the rest of it, I just mute them. They have no idea and it’s wonderful. And now I don’t know that they’re there. And so they’re gone.
John: And for people who don’t understand the difference between muting and blocking, muting just means that you don’t see their tweets anymore. And so they don’t know that you’ve done anything, but they’ve just disappeared. You’ve made them invisible. And it’s a delightful little feature that people should use much more frequently. Blocking is like sort of a public act and they can see that you’ve blocked them. There’s really very rarely a point to blocking somebody. Just make them mute and make them invisible.
Craig: Yeah. That’s all.
John: Now, you and I probably should have prefaced this whole conversation is that the trolls and the negativity that we deal with is nothing compared to what some people on Twitter deal with, especially women on Twitter. So, I do want to say that like – to acknowledge that we are in a place where, you know, we’re getting some haters, but we’re not getting the kind of haters that some women and people of color and other people–
John: Craig sometimes does.
Craig: You know, I’ve been threatened with death and told that I should be put in an oven. And I’ve been called a kike. And I’ve gotten some pretty heavy stuff. I think murder threats, that seems like about as bad as it gets, right?
John: It gets bad, yes. Murder is bad.
Craig: Murder is bad.
John: Murder is bad. I don’t want to sort of say like, oh, well the mute button will solve all your problems. It certainly won’t do that. And I think there’s definitely a call for better actions on Twitter’s side, but it’s not sort of within the power of this podcast.
But I want to offer some examples of people who we think do Twitter really well. We talked about Megan Amram, Jane Espenson. Adam Rose is a guy we both know. He’s an actor and a writer.
John: He’s great at it. He’s also great in other media, so Instagram and Snapchat. Derek Haas I think is great. So, we were making fun of him for his Facebook friending, but he does a great job as a showrunner. Every week does ten questions that people can write in about his shows. There’s no one better in the world at Twitter than Rob Delaney, so the creator of Catastrophe. He was a Twitter person before he was the creator of that show. He’s brilliant.
A guy who is not a big writer yet, but I thought was really good on Twitter and is how I first got to know him is Aaron Fullerton. He hosts the 3rd and Fairfax podcast, but he’s a staff writer.
Kumail Nanjiani, star of Silicon Valley, is great on Twitter. And so he’s the person who I don’t actually know, but just because of seeing him on Twitter I just really like him. And he’s so smart at being able to both be funny and political at the same time.
Craig: Kumail is the best. You have to follow Kumail. I’m saying it. You’re done. You’re following Kumail.
John: And then also Felicia Day, who is sort of early to Twitter, she’s sort of an Internet person, but she’s really good at it. And I didn’t appreciate how good she was at Twitter and the Internet and what a unique skillset that is, but she’s really good. And she built her career off of doing that and being able to marry the things she was making with the things she was presenting online. She’s really great. So, definitely another person to watch and model as you start to look at Twitter as a way to build your portfolio.
Craig: Brilliant. Brilliant.
John: Some general advice from me about interacting with people you don’t know on Twitter. So, if you are tweeting at somebody who does not follow you, that’s fine. But don’t multi-tweet. Like tweet them once and if they don’t reply back, let it go. And don’t try to reengage with them for a while. Just because there’s sort of nothing more frustrating than like when somebody keeps trying to get your attention and you don’t really want their attention.
If you’re going to reply to something they say, try to add to the conversation. Don’t just sort of say, “Hey, notice me.” That’s the “hey pretty lady” kind of thing. Don’t do that. Contribute to the conversation or just give a like. That’s plenty.
And if you’re asking a question, make it a good question, because people will reply to an interesting question or a new way of thinking about things. But look at sort of the other replies they’ve gotten and that they’re not answering the same question again and again. So if they’ve already answered your question, don’t ask the same question.
Craig: Hey, I have one for people that follow you and me. Don’t ask us to retweet your short films.
John: We won’t do it.
Craig: Because we can’t. Because if you’re asking, you can only imagine how many other people are asking. We just can’t do it. We can’t watch them and we can’t retweet them because we don’t have the time. And also that’s not why we’re there. We’re not there to advertise your work. It’s nothing personal. It’s just there’s too many people asking. And so the only real possible policy is to never do it.
So, we apologize. Really, we want to help everybody as we can, but you know the life boat will get swamped.
John: It will get swamped.
My last bit of advice is a utility I found really helpful, which I think I turned you onto, called Fruji. And it’s from Roman Mittermaier, who is a Scriptnotes listener. And it’s a really useful utility for figuring out who follows you. And so basically you log in with your Twitter handle and then it charts who is following you. And so it’s been really useful for me to figure out, oh, those are people I didn’t know who followed me who I actually really like, who I should follow. And it sort of creates relationships in ways that are really interesting. So, it’s a good way of sort of keeping track of connections you might not know you have in your Twitter timeline. So, an example would be Stephen Falk, who is the showrunner of You’re the Worst, I figured out followed me on Twitter and that was great. And I love his show and so we can have a conversation about his show, even though I’ve never met him in person.
Craig: I’m Fruji-ing right now.
John: I thought I sent you that when your Twitter population exploded.
Craig: I probably did it and then I just stopped doing it. And now I’m doing it again. I don’t know why.
John: Yeah. You should do it, because you’ll be fascinated. I mean, when Stephen King follows you, that will be how you figure out that he followed you.
Craig: Oh, that’s a good point. Maybe he’s following me already. No, he’s not.
John: So, anyway, our general advice for social media, honestly we’re Twitter people, so it’s mostly Twitter advice. But I think a lot of this applies for YouTube. YouTube is where Aline and Rachel first got to know each other, which is great. Facebook is useful for some people. It’s just not useful for me. But, sure, leave us a comment on our Facebook page.
Snapchat is great if you understand how Snapchat works. It’s just not for me.
Craig: It’s for my kids.
John: Some people are finding great stuff on Snapchat. And Instagram is really good as long as you’re doing something visual. And so I find, like there’s photographers who I got to know through Instagram. There’s a photographer who actually took my headshots who I got to know because of Instagram and he was great. And definitely I would say use social media. Just be smart about social media. Listen a lot before you start speaking. And sort of figure out what the culture is before you go in and start chatting up people.
John: Cool. Let’s answer a listener question. And so–
Craig: Should we?
John: We should. So, Space Jennings wrote in with a question about short films. Let’s take a listen to that.
Space Jennings: I wonder if you can answer a question related more to filmmaking/screenwriting. I’m trying to write my very first short film to direct, and I wonder if you can provide your opinion on what you think makes a truly great short. What do you think is too short or too long? What would you avoid in a short film? What makes you cringe watching a short film? And what’s absolutely essential to include and how to basically make it stand out? More importantly, I’d like to hear your opinion on what you think makes a really bad short film and what not to do. Thanks a lot. I love the podcast. Best thing I ever discovered. Keep it up.
John: So I love this question because this last week I went in and spoke to my daughter’s school here in Paris. And because they’re doing this short story competition, so basically everyone in the sixth grade has to write a short story. It’s part of this Parisian competition. And so they wanted to ask what makes a good short story. And I think the things that make a great story are the same things that make a great short film is that they are short. And by short they need to be simple in a way that it can be about one idea.
I think a great short story and a great short film, they sort of have the structure of a joke in that there’s things that set up and they lead to a punchline and then they’re over. Even if they’re not a funny short film, it leads up to a thing, a conclusion, a clear end, and then it’s done. And when I see bad short films and bad short stories, it feels like it’s trying to be the first chapter of something much longer. Or something that’s much, much longer and sort of got compressed and squeezed down.
It has to be a clear simple expression of one idea that follows sort of one story with a beginning, middle, and end, and really wants to be a short. Not just a movie that happens to be short.
Craig, what are your thoughts about short films?
Craig: First of all, Space Jennings, incredible name.
John: What a great name.
Craig: I wish my name were Space. It is not. For me, great short films employ full use of every second of the time they have. Because they’re short films, my understanding is – just this is the contract between me and the short film. I’m in the audience. You have five minutes, ten minutes, 20 minutes, I think beyond 20 minutes you’re running out of short film territory kind of. Maybe 30, right?
You don’t have a whole two hours to tell your story. You are telling this compact tight thing. That means it must be machined. Perfect. No wasted space. Every decision must be beautiful and purposeful. And so that requires like John said a certain narrowing of focus. It still needs thematics and still needs that beginning, middle, and end, but you have to really make use of everything. I want to feel like every choice you made was purposeful.
The last thing in the world I want to see in a short film is something that I think, oh, you could have cut that out.
Craig: If your short film can be shorter, it should be shorter, right? So efficiency and just a careful crafting of each moment.
Bad short films tend to wobble. The worst short films are moving towards a twist you see coming. The worst short films are moving towards a twist. You may not know what the twist is, but you’re like, ugh, it’s obviously something kooky is going to happen. It’s either this, or this, or this. You’re not actually in it. When you go and watch old Twilight Zones, and Space, you should, the most incredible thing about those shows, especially the best of them, is that you’re watching the Twilight Zone. You know what that means. It means that at some point there’s going to be this crazy twist ending. Oh my god. But so many of them are done so well that by the time you’re a minute into it you’ve forgotten that. You’re with people. And you’re just watching a story unfold. The way that when I went to go see Titanic, I actually forgot the boat was going to sink, because I was into the love story.
I mean, I didn’t forget-forget, but my mind was no longer on it. So, to me, avoiding that syndrome of, ugh, just get to the big stupid twist already. This is all filler. No. The joy of the joke and the punchline that you’re telling with a short film, whether it’s comedy or not, but that rhythm, is that all the lead up is and of itself delicious and meaningful and fascinating. It will make the ending so much more relevant.
So, watch old Twilight Zones and read short stories, because all of the DNA is in there. If you read The Lottery, if you read The Catbird Seat, you will see how to make a great short film.
John: Absolutely. I’m going to put a link in the show notes to one of my favorite little short films, which does the classic sort of joke format, but does it really, really well, called It’s Not About The Nail. I think it’s Jason Headley directed it.
Craig: Oh, so good.
John: So good.
Craig: Yeah. It’s wonderful.
John: It’s a great example of you have this idea and it’s clearly just a short film idea. And that’s what is so crucial to me is that it has to be an idea that wants to be expressed as a short film and it’s not just trying to be a short movie. It really is compact in that setting and it doesn’t need to be a second longer or a second shorter. So, I will put that in the show notes as well.
John: I think it’s time for One Cool Things. So, my One Cool Thing – actually I have two One Cool Things. I’m going to cheat. The first is archive.org. So this is founded back in 1996. The Internet archive is sort of this giant dump of all of the Internet from different ages. And so basically it crawls the entire Internet. It saves a copy of it. And so it has 150 billion web pages going back to 1996. And so the point is it’s trying to offer permanent access to parts of the web as pages get taken down or changed.
And so it’s so fun to go there and enter in the URL for a website that you go to, so like I go to johnaugust.com and you can see the original version of johnaugust.com and sort of all the changes along the way.
What’s so helpful, though, is also it finds when things have been changed. And so a week or two ago I saw this tweet saying like, oh, the Trump White House has changed the Bill of Rights page on the whitehouse.gov site. And they’ve changed people to citizens, so that the Bill of Rights only applies to citizens and not to people in the United States. And like that’s horrifying and shocking, I can’t believe that. Wait, I kind of don’t believe that. And so I could go to archive.org and look at that same page back through the years and find out that page was actually that way three years ago. So it wasn’t a new thing and I could tweet out and say like, hey, I know this feels true, but that was not actually true. And put the link to archive.org.
Incredibly useful. So many people don’t know about it, so definitely it’s a great sink hole to find yourself drifting through old versions of things.
John: My second thing is very relevant to these next two weeks, because the LA elections are soon. And so I had to fill out my ballot here in Paris to send back to LA. And Ballotpedia is just the best resource I have found for ballot measures that are coming up. And so it’s like Wikipedia, but it just goes through and like here is the ballot measure, here are the arguments for it, here are the arguments against it. Here is who is supporting and here is who is against it. Really useful. And very clear information about ballot measures which are I think designed to be completely perplexing.
Craig: Yeah. The people who write them generally write them to promote the opposite of what they actually intend. It’s remarkable. It’s all flimflam. If you see a ballot measure that’s called Fewer Taxes for You, it means more taxes. [laughs] And if there’s something called the Medical Freedom Act, it means they’re trying to take your medical freedom away. It’s amazing how pernicious this is.
John: So, definitely please vote on March 7, because there’s actually a lot happening in Los Angeles. Measure S is the one that’s getting the most attention. You should vote against Measure S. But you should go to Ballotpedia and figure out what all those initiatives are, because it’s really, really helpful.
Craig: I don’t live in Los Angeles, so I’m just with you in spirit.
John: There’s an LA County measure though that you do need to check out as well.
Craig: Yes. I will take a look at Measure H. Measure H.
John: Very good.
Craig: My One Cool Thing is a lot like my One Cool Thing last week, which as you recall was an app called Fran Bow, which is a creepy, creepy game, which I loved.
Well, this is another one. This one is even creepier.
Craig: This one is macabre and downright disturbing and yet brilliant and I love it. It’s called Rusty Lake: Roots. And it is very similar to Fran Bow in that it is a simple point and click game where you’re solving puzzles of various kinds. But, you are doing so as part of a family over the years who live in a house by a lake and terrible, terrible things are happening. And oh my god. It is done in the most bizarre way.
It is so worth playing. Rusty Lake: Roots. Available on iOS and possibly on Android, but I don’t care.
John: Is it a better iPhone game or an iPad game?
Craig: I think all games are better iPad games, like this, these kinds of puzzle-solving games, just because it’s not meant to be played casually. You’re meant to sit there and really work on it. So, I would definitely recommend iPad.
John: Very cool. I will check it out.
John: And that’s our show this week. So, our show as always is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Eric Pearson. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions, on Twitter, social media. Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. I’m also on Instagram @johnaugust if you want to see me there.
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John: And you get access to the whole back catalog. And you can also listen to them through your app of choice. Scriptnotes on iOS and on Android. And that is our show for this week. Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John. Talk to you soon. Bye.
- Stop Using Filler Words
- Homeopathic Teething Tablets
- Scriptnotes Listener Guide
- It’s Not About The Nail
- Rusty Lake: Roots
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