The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode of Scriptnotes has a few bad words. So if you’re driving in the car with your kids, this is the warning.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are…
Crowd: Interesting to screenwriters.
John: You’re so good.
Craig: So good. Yeah. You guys remembered three words. Congratulations.
John: Craig sometimes doesn’t.
Craig: That’s absolutely true. Look who we have back, by the way. After a year. You know, you’d think you wouldn’t miss him, but you do. You do. It was really great to get you back.
John: Well thank you very much. You guys did two live shows without me. You did the Austin show and you did the LA show. They both worked. But I’ll be honest…
Craig: Well, I think they were two of our best shows ever.
John: All right. I will tell you that honestly there was an aspect of me that wanted them to be successful, but not especially successful. I wanted there to be some crisis like, oh, like John is irreplaceable.
Craig: I get that. But it didn’t happen. They were actually amazing without you.
Craig: Completely without you.
Craig: You had nothing to do with them.
John: Yeah, so that was a little sad.
Craig: Well, we’ll see how this goes.
John: Yeah, this could be fine. I was involved in more of the planning for this one, so you might notice things are a little bit more —
John: Yeah. So a couple things about today’s show. We have three amazing guests. We’re so excited to bring them up. But we also have some audience participation stuff. We’re trying something brand, brand new. So as you came into the theater tonight, you were handed a ticket. That ticket will become important later on. So don’t lose that ticket. I love that everyone is pulling it out right now. That’s so awesome.
Craig: I just found out about the ticket thing. I literally saw tickets in the front and I’m like, oh, are you guys raffling something? And they said, “You’re doing a thing.”
John: Yeah, we’re going to do a thing.
Craig: And I didn’t know.
John: So at some point there will be a bowl and people will be drawing things out of the bowl. It’s going to be very, very exciting. But one of the things I love about live shows with guests is a chance for me to learn something about things that I don’t really know. Craig, you’re doing a TV show now. You’re starting that process. I’ve done some TV shows in the past. But we’re not TV people.
John: We have TV people with us tonight.
Craig: Three of the best. Three of the best.
John: Let’s just get to it. Let’s bring these people out. Our guests tonight. First off, Wikipedia says Megan Amram is an American comedian and writer. She became well known after 2010 through her Twitter account, where she posts one-liners that make use of subtle word play, absurdism, and dark humor. She was a staff writer for the Disney Channel sitcom Ant Farm, NBC’s Parks and Recreation, and Children’s Hospital. Someone needs to update her Wikipedia profile. So you guys can do this in the audience tonight. To include that she’s also written on Silicon Valley, and The Good Place, plus, most crucially —
Craig: Oh, we’re going to save what that is.
John: All right. There’s a secret connection here. Let’s welcome Megan Amram.
Craig: Megan Amram. Should we invite up — just get everybody all at once? Merriam-Webster defines — no, Wikipedia says Thomas Schnauz is an American television producer and television writer. They forgot he’s also an excellent director. His credits include The X-Files, The Lone Gunman.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Not as popular. Night Stalker. Even less popular. Reaper. Watch this now. Breaking Bad. And Better Call Saul. Tom Schnauz.
John: So, finally, I think this Wikipedia entry was actually updated this afternoon, because it changed from when I first emailed it to him. Wikipedia says Matthew (Matt) Selman is an American writer and producer. After two years of failed spec scripts, he was hired to write an episode of Seinfeld in 1996. Selman then joined the writing staff of The Simpsons where he has remained, rising to the position of executive producer. He has also co-written The Simpsons’ movie, The Simpsons’ ride. Simpsons’ videogames. And the names of many of the entrees at the Universal Studios Springfield Food Court.
Most importantly, he was also the host of the single episode of Duly Noted, the Scriptnotes after show. Matt Selman, come on up.
Craig: Short lived. Welcome, Matt.
Well, I’m exhausted after that.
John: It was a lot of chatting. So, we are mostly feature folks. And so we’ve done some TV over the years, but neither of us have really worked in rooms. And a lot of the stuff that you guys are doing is in rooms. So I wanted to start tonight by talking about rooms and sort of how rooms work in television. So, Megan, can we start with you? For a show like The Good Place, what was the process of figuring out this is how we’re going to do this series for TV? Like when do you come in and when was the room put together?
Megan Amram: The thing that’s amazing about TV is that it’s like little movies. It’s a really fun way to think about it. Just like a 30 to 60-minute movie might be helpful.
John: I like that you’re keeping it really basic for us. That’s nice.
Megan: I am not a television writer. I just am a fraud who came here.
So, I started on season one of The Good Place, which we just finished writing and shooting our second season, and which will air in the fall. And I have only really been in 30-minute comedy rooms, so add that to my Wikipedia please when you update it.
John: Someone in the audience, get on that right now.
Megan: I’ll Venmo $10 to whoever updates my Wikipedia right now. But we — I can speak for my shows. We start for what might be one to two months with very broad strokes where we just want to figure out where the season begins and ends.
Craig: And how many are we talking about in the room?
Megan: Anywhere from six to ten people. We might start with a smaller — we started with four people this year and just sort of sketched out what we were doing. But my show, if you haven’t seen it, is sort of a science-fiction comedy show, which is very specific in tone and we really unlike a comedy show where maybe you just want to do different refillable comedy episodes every time you tune in, we wanted it to really have an overarching story that had a beginning, and a middle, and an end. So, we wanted to figure that all out before we started breaking specific episodes.
Craig: Over how many episodes?
Megan: 13. So both seasons we knew the beginning, and the end, which our season that just aired had a big twist in it that we all — all the writers knew and were really trying to lay in to every episode.
So, yeah, so we start very broad and then work into what are 13 ways to split this up in comedic episodes. And then we get into the actual like what are scenes, what are people saying in it.
Craig: And your show is — Good Place is 30 minutes. It’s a half-hour comedy. In my mind, I think that when I consider the room for that, or I consider the room that Matt runs for The Simpsons, and then I think about what Tom does, that maybe it’s not that different. Am I wrong? I mean, you have an hour-long show. It’s not a comedy. I mean, there are comedic elements to both Breaking Band and Better Call Saul, but is it a similar process regardless of genre?
Thomas Schnauz: It’s actually very similar, except for the fact that we do start off, we talk big picture for a month or two about what’s going to happen in the series, but we don’t stick to that. We put up ideas on the board. We have a corkboard and we have index cards and we write all these ideas and we post them up. But then we go episode by episode and we don’t stick to that plan because our characters drive us through what happens next. And we will veer off wildly from that initial two-month planning if something interesting happens.
I mean, the one I always note is in Breaking Bad we had this big train heist and we had all these for Jesse Pinkman was going to be the big drug king pin. And then somebody came up with the idea that this character Todd shoots a kid on a motorbike, which changed everything. So, the thing is —
Craig: What, Jesse could have been a huge drug kingpin?
Thomas: That was something we talked about.
Craig: He never got a break. Ever.
Thomas: I know. That was something we talked about. And it just — once you come up with a different idea, a better idea, you just go with that. So we don’t stick to any game plan. Wherever the characters take us, that’s where we go.
John: Now, Matt Selman, you’re running really a brand new, fresh show that has like no history. There’s no set idea about a Simpsons episode could or should be. So it’s just, the same, it’s a whiteboard. Anything can happen. Arcs from episode to episode. Huge changes.
Matt Selman: I mean, you’re super right in that unlike your shows there’s very little continuity on The Simpsons. And to me the show is like Groundhog Day where you reset to the beginning. It’s a normal kind of blue color family. They’re troubled but love each other. And then you take them on an as crazy an adventure as you can get away with over that 20 minutes and 40 seconds you have. So, we don’t do a lot of season arc planning or —
Craig: Or planning.
Matt: Or whiteboard using. But, you know, like the thing that all these shows have in common is the most important thing is the breaking of the story. And, you know, you have X amount of time to do it. You have these creative people to do it with. How can you get the job done and have it be a satisfying story and then not down the line think of some awesome thing where a kid kills someone on a bike and it could have been so much better.
Craig: Right. You don’t have that issue.
Matt: You want to do it, but then you don’t want to think of something — you don’t want to miss out on an awesome other idea, which is always lurking. Oh, what if there was some better way to do it?
Craig: And you guys do 20 — ?
Matt: We do 22.
Craig: And so you do 13? Breaking Bad is, I’m sorry, Better Call Saul is — ?
Thomas: Better Call Saul is down to 10 episodes a season.
Craig: So 13 was like, oh god, I can’t even handle.
Thomas: Pretty much.
Craig: And you’re still cranking out 22. How big is your room?
Matt: 22-episode payments every year.
Craig: That’s true. That’s pretty sweet. That’s hundreds of dollars a year.
Thomas: We’re not about the money. We’re about the art.
Craig: Yes. Of course. Of course. Yes. But how many people are in your room to handle that workload?
Matt: We have two rooms. I run a room. And our real showrunner, this guy Al Jean, the iconic Al Jean, runs another room.
Craig: So if someone is in your room, are they being punished?
Matt: Well, there’s different schools of thought for that. Let’s just say we’re here now. We both have our, well, you guys tell me what you think. I’ve worked on one room for one show for my entire life, but I’ve worked with different room runners, myself included, and I’ve found that every room runner — when you run a room, you’re sort of like a screenwriter by yourself and everyone else has to be part of your brain and your process, however functional or dysfunctional, is kind of projected out onto the creative collaborators. And so that can be good or bad.
So when I run the room, I feel like the rewriting has my problems, which is that I just want to get it done with and get a version and, oh, we’ve just got to get something down and then we have to go back and realize it wasn’t awesome and have to do it again. Like that’s how I write by myself and that’s how I force my room to do it. And I wish I could improve but I can’t.
But, and I’ve seen other showrunner, room runner guys who are super tortured and, you know, progress is slow. And then his or her torture becomes everyone’s torture. I mean, do you guys feel that is accurate?
Megan: Yeah. The psychological petri dish that is a writer’s room is very fascinating. About how someone’s neuroses can just infect a ton of people at once.
I’ve worked for a bunch of a different showrunners. My showrunner on The Good Place is Mike Schur who is incredibly good at his job.
Matt: He’s kind of like the best in the biz, right?
Megan: Yeah. He’s pretty much the best, if you’re listening, Mike. But he —
Craig: If you’re listening, man that employs me. You’re the best.
Megan: Yeah, you’re really good.
Craig: You’re amazing.
Megan: But he’s very even-keeled. But what Tom was saying about how you sort of have to look at every type of idea and then you pick a path and you just do, and the thing about television, unlike movies, is that you also just have to finish it really fast, usually, and then it has to be on TV. And you just can’t change it. So, I think something that Mike is really good at and I’ve seen other showrunners who are both good and not as good at is just being like, “This is the idea we’re doing. And maybe we’re going to think of something really good in like six months, right before it airs, and you can’t feel bad about it. You just got to let it go. That’s what it is.”
And so I think it is a very interesting skill that’s not necessarily writing exactly. But it’s listening to all of your collaborators and making a uniform product. But then also just being like, you know, we’re doing our best and that’s what it’s going to be.
John: Tom, what’s your experience with showrunner’s processes and sort of how that makes the room work? And I don’t know how big the room is on Better Call Saul.
Thomas: We have seven writers, I believe, and then Vince is sort of coming in and out right now because he’s working on another project. But Peter Gould is running the room. Best guy in the business. I know he’s listening. He takes so much credit for your success, also.
Craig: So we’ve got a genius Al Jean, we’ve got the amazing Mike Schur. We have the wonderful Peter Gould.
John: Peter Gould, a former Scriptnotes guest. You weren’t there for that show.
John: Yeah. An Austin show you weren’t there for.
Craig: Oh. Well I didn’t even know.
John: You didn’t listen, so. You would never know.
Craig: No. I don’t listen to podcasts.
John: So Peter is running this room. And so — ?
Thomas: We, I feel gross, because you’re talking about how much pressure it is to get the show. You have to just pick an idea. We spend so much time. I mean, like three weeks an episode. We will break seven episodes before we start filming. So if we make a mistake somewhere along the lines we’re like, oh, we can go back and fix that and change things. So AMC affords us a ton of time and we’re very lucky. Unlike a lot of other shows where it’s you got to do something. We’re in the room, get it on the air. We’re very lucky that way.
Megan: Yeah. We’re just like, “Fuck it. Just get it out there.”
Craig: That’s the Megan I know. You guys did 13 a year on Breaking Bad?
Thomas: Breaking Bad, there was the strike year they did only seven or eight.
Craig: That was the shorter one.
Thomas: And then 13 up until the last two seasons. We did eight and eight.
Craig: Interesting. Because this is a new thing, right? So Matt is still working in the old way of doing things, and there aren’t that many shows left even now it seems that put out 22 episodes a year. And it does seem like it has transformed everything. And so John and I, we don’t have the experience of the room. But what we’ve been watching is as the time that it’s required to make a season of television shrinks, essentially, and the desire of studios to want to pool writers together more and more to write movies, there is a weird kind of —
Matt: Well, movies are turning into TV and TV is turning into movies. In that your show is essentially a giant movie that they make every year that they show in 10 chunks. And you right them, you shoot them, you edit it, and that’s a giant movie. And, you know, there’s I’d say a little lot of cinematic universe out there from the Harvey Universe, that a bunch of writers are breaking those —
Craig: I would love that.
Matt: Little Lot of Dot Hot Stuff. They’re breaking those stories.
Craig: Lots of Casper, the Friendly Ghost.
Matt: And they’re writing those movies to be giant TV shows that come out every two years. So, there’s a crazy —
Craig: They hate us. You can feel it from them.
John: Absolutely. There’s a true antipathy. People listening at home may not be able to see, but the audience here can clearly see.
Craig: The TV people hate us.
Thomas: I mainly hate Craig.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Then mission accomplished.
John: Let’s talk about this shift to shorter seasons and what it means for reality of like working in this business. We just did an incredibly wonky episode that just aired as we’re recording this today which was about the WGA deal.
Matt: I listened to it.
John: Yeah. God bless you.
Matt: In the car. [Crosstalk]
John: It was super, super wonky episode. But so if you’re doing 10 episodes or 13 episodes, what is the rest of your year like? Because, Megan, are you doing other stuff when that show is not on the air?
Megan: Yeah. I have been writing during — it’s an interesting thing where a show might write for half the year now, so you can sort of write for two different TV shows. So, I wrote for The Good Place season one and then on my break I wrote for Transparent, which is coming —
John: I’ve heard of that show.
Megan: It’s hilarious. It was a very different type of show than I’d ever written for before.
Matt: Right. A different showrunner’s psyche extrapolated on a group of people.
Megan: I mean, I do feel super lucky, because I’ve written for Transparent, and Silicon Valley, and Parks and Rec, which I would all call those as far away from each other as you possibly could be in a comedy room. But —
Matt: She’s working for Ballers next season, by the way.
Craig: That would actually —
Megan: Yeah. They don’t know that yet. I’m just going to show up and be like —
Craig: I think that would be welcome change for ballers. I really do. By the way, I don’t think we’ve told people about our thing. We should probably tell them. Should we tell them about our thing?
Megan: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s going to add a lot of rich, layered irony into this conversation.
Craig: So you know how Jewish I am? I’m so Jewish, you guys. So, I did the 23 and Me thing. Have you guys done 23 and Me? Yeah, OK. Nobody is as Jewish as I am. I’ll tell you that right now. 98.5% Jewish, or something like this.
So, I was out one night with a group of people, including Megan, and I was boasting about how Jewish I was. And she’s like, no, I’m more Jewish. And —
Megan: No, I’m more Jewish.
Craig: Yeah, that’s my impression of you. So, she said well let’s share your thing with me so we can see if we’re related, ha, ha, ha. And I said, OK. And so I did it and then I went up to go to the bathroom. And when I came back she was looking at me like this. Because we’re related.
Megan: Yeah. 23 and Me, I’m only 28% Jewish, so I —
Craig: Not even, 128% Jewish.
Megan: Yeah, it’s crazy. But 23 and Me told us that we were distant cousins. And we could have guessed that.
Craig: Made so much sense. It made so much sense.
Megan: Genetics are amazing. And Jews run Hollywood. Is that cool to say? Oh yeah, let’s get applause for that.
Craig: Not really a secret.
Megan: Now this feels funny and scary at the same time.
Craig: I know. It’s turning into a Boys Scout rally. Jew-S-U. Jew-S-U.
John: So, Tom and Matt, all three of us —
Craig: Here comes the adult. [laughs]
Megan: Really good segue.
John: All three of us are bald. So, I mean, there could be, yeah, balding. Matt has the most hair of the three of us.
Matt: Yeah, but it’s not good.
John: No. It’s not good. To steer us back away from genetics to television showrunning, my question for Tom is if you’re only running 10 episodes of this show per year, what is this writing staff doing the rest of the year? Because you want them to come back ideally for the next season, but they could be off on another show? What are the decisions about that?
Thomas: I mean, because we spend so much time on every episode, it takes up a pretty good hunk. But then when we get into production the writers will go to set and be in Albuquerque for the episode and some of us get to direct, which is awesome. And then we’re involved in postproduction. So it really fills up a lot of the year. But then people have other projects that they work on.
Craig: You know, in speaking of other projects, I’m kind of curious because so much of your careers, really I think exclusively for all three of you, you have been working in television. Is that accurate? So not to try and drag you over to the feature side, but have you ever thought about writing a movie? I mean, on the one hand everything that bothers you about being a room goes away. There’s no other people. There’s nobody else telling you what to do or what to say. On the other hand, you’re alone. And on the other side of it, even in success, you don’t have the kind of power that you do in television.
Thomas: I got into writing because I just didn’t want to be around people.
Thomas: And I started writing features. And I got into the Guild because I had a feature option back in the ë90s for Mark Johnson and Paramount Pictures. And that sort of got me out of my regular job and into writing. And then when I ran out of money living on the east coast, I thought I’d try television. And luckily it kind of worked for me.
Matt: Luckily Charles in Charge was hiring.
Craig: Great show.
Thomas: And one of the things I did during this break, I wrote a feature for Disney. So, we’ll see what happens.
Craig: All right, so you you’ve done it.
Craig: Now, OK, let me drill a little bit deeper. What did you think? I mean, just honest impression?
Thomas: It was a project that Vince Gilligan and I did together.
Craig: So you weren’t completely alone.
Thomas: Wasn’t completely alone. No. So we wrote it. And it’s been hands-off. And it’s just sort of going through the — they give us a few notes and we did them. So, it’s been pretty painless so far. They’ve been great.
Megan: I hope Disney is making like a super hardcore drug movie with you and Vince Gilligan. That would be amazing. Like a kid dies on a bike. [laughs]
Thomas: Goofy is the way he is for a reason.
John: I like that Goofy backstory. That’s really crucial.
Craig: Like the totally normal dog-man.
Megan: The gritty reboot of Goofy.
Craig: Like he was perfectly fine.
John: We are mostly feature writers, but a lot of people that we talk to they say, oh, should I write features, should I write for TV. We always say write both. Write whatever you most want to do, whatever you most want to see. But there’s a lot more jobs in TV than there are in features.
So, if someone is lucky enough to get into the room to be on one of your shows, what is a good interview and sort of if they get hired what is it like being the new person in the room on a TV writing staff? What are some tips you would have for getting in that room and also staying in that room?
Matt: The first thing is like hide your fear. Because you’re super scared you’re going to suck and be fired and everyone is going to think you’re dumb. But, hide it. Because your neurotic, primo, first-timer energy is sucking me down. And I speak for all showrunners when I say that.
Craig: Why did we have him on the show? So brutal.
Matt: I don’t want to get your energy, worried that you didn’t have a good day where you got a joke in. I’ve got a show to make, guys. Which is not really how I feel, but there’s a —
Craig: That is how you feel.
Matt: But there’s a giant kernel of truth to that in that you are just there to be super positive and be super helpful and not be a butt kisser, but really it’s not your job to save the day or be the hero. It is your job to just be a little bit of what John and I were talking about earlier, gravy. As a staff writer, you are just delicious gravy. And if you can make the show a little bit better and not suck it down with like needy first time energy, which I know is probably now accelerating the likelihood of you showing that. I mean, have a glass of wine before like Craig does. Or take a pill, that’s fine.
That’s my main first-timer’s note. You’re just there to be super positive. You’re just there to help. And don’t make it about you, because no one is thinking about you. They’re thinking about, oh god, please let this be a little bit good.
John: Megan, some thoughts, because you’ve been on numerous — ?
Megan: Yeah. I’m now rethinking my entire career and every experience I’ve had in a writer’s room. But I do agree, which is like the thing I was going to say is pretty much the same thing which is like —
Matt: But meaner.
Megan: But way meaner. I think that you just have to have the right attitude and what Matt said about you’re not there to save the day is true. It’s like you’re also there to learn and to understand the show you’re making. To understand the dynamics in the room that already exist. And therefore that you’re not shooting down the pitch of the boss. But also there to be, I think, like there’s a difference between a staff writer who gets up before work every day and writes 30 jokes before they get in and then a staff writer who is late every day and doesn’t seem like they want to be there.
You can really tell when someone wants to be there, aside from their innate skill in the room. And I think like on the shows I’ve been on, you can be pretty forgiving of their comedic prowess if someone is just there with the right attitude and is trying to learn as much as they can and is really trying to show up.
John: Did you actually write 30 jokes before you would come in?
Megan: I know that sounded, well, yes. I did. I’m like, well —
Craig: Well, I feel like you have the comedic prowess, so you can just be a dick.
Megan: Thank you so much.
Craig: You’re welcome.
Megan: But, no, no, no. I’m like a nerd. The people on the podcast cannot hear my hair flip, but it was very funny.
Craig: We’ll put in some indication.
Megan: Thank you.
John: Matthew, add a swoosh effect for that. That would be —
Megan: I mean, like when I got hired on Parks and Rec I was very young and was extremely nervous I was going to get fired all the time.
Matt: Hide it.
Megan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I hid it, obviously, and I just cried a few times after work. But I kept it together great while I was there. Everyone was so nice there. I just was very nervous all the time.
Craig: This is really just very damaging advice. I mean, you’re hurting people.
Megan: I love to cry. Just cry in the right places. That’s really the advice I have for you.
John: If you close the bathroom stall, make sure no one can peek inside and see you crying.
Craig: Just remember, some of your legitimate feelings are ugly.
Megan: Get a really nice car to just let loose in.
Craig: Get a crying car.
Megan: Yeah. Get a crying car. It could even be a second car.
Craig: Tom, do you cry a lot at work, in the car after?
Thomas: No, I don’t. I’m a man, Craig.
Craig: You seem incredibly well-adjusted.
Megan: Oh, that sounds awesome. Good for you.
Craig: So basically the people that do the dark and disturbing shows are actually incredibly well-actualized. And the funny ones are sick.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I feel incredibly lucky. I mean, we laugh every day. We’re probably not that funny. We’re just sitting around laughing like idiots. But, you know, everybody has a great attitude. And I think the most important thing, if you get in a room, being positive is not shoot down other people’s ideas. Because there will be bad ideas. I will pitch horrible ideas. The boss will pitch horrible ideas. You have to have a safe room. You have to be able to have the freedom to say something so stupid that it might lead to something good. And it happens all the time. So I think don’t ever when somebody pitches something say, “Boy that sucks. That’s never going to work.” Be positive. Find a way to find another idea.
John: A question about the credit for an idea. So, when I’ve been in rooms, so I’ve been in rewrite rooms where we’re taking a script, and someone will suggest something that’s not quite right, and then somebody adds something to it that actually feels like a better idea. But then it gets weird. Like whose idea was that really? How does that manifest in a room that you’re going to every day?
Matt: That’s the skill is to like — maybe it’s Zen or maybe it’s Judaism, but you let it go. You just let it go. Once you’ve been doing it long enough, you only care that it’s good. And you project that energy. I only care if this is good. It’s not about me. At all.
Craig: That is definitely Zen. It is not Judaism. But I agree with it.
Craig: No. It’s just Zen-Zen. Yeah.
Matt: And it’s like a little bit of — maybe a good experiment would be like on every staff writer’s first day be like make them run the room. Like you’re in charge. Here’s the pressure. And all of a sudden it’s not like did I get a joke in or did people know that I said the thing that turned into the thing that turned into the thing. Oh, they don’t know I said it! It’s like, that’s Judaism.
Craig: That’s Judaism. Right. [laughs] It’s so true.
Matt: It’s just the freedom of how can we make this excellent.
John: Now, at some point, you will have discussed the idea, you will have broken the story, and somebody has to go out and actually write that. So, any advice for the person who gets assigned now go off and write that episode? What is that like both on a half hour and on an hour show?
Megan: I think this goes for probably any show, but like on the shows I’ve worked for once you get to the stage that you actually would go out to write, you have like a very specific outline that everyone on the room has worked on for weeks usually. And I have seen it before where someone has gone out and just changed the whole thing and that’s not a good thing to do. It’s like we worked on this so that you could go and have fun with it and put your own dialogue and spice to it.
Matt: Yeah. Your own funny serials in the background.
Megan: Yeah. But it is — I think — just one more. I also think one more thing to add off of the “don’t shoot down other people’s stuff” as I’m thinking about it. It’s like I guess I thought this was intuitive and for most writers in a room I think it is. But there’s a way that you can offer up criticism in a constructive way where you pitch a replacement. And it might not be the right thing, but it at least is like you are sort of only allowed to shoot down someone’s thing if you do it with a pitch in its place. And I do think that that maybe is helpful to keep in your mind. You might have a problem with something, but it’s sort of not very polite to just be like, “That’s bad.”
Craig: Well, instead of saying no, you’re saying, “Or…” And it follows from —
Megan: That’s beautiful, Craig.
Craig: Thank you.
Megan: That’s poetry.
Craig: We deal with, we don’t have these other writers that we have to have that conversation with, but we have to have that conversation with producers and with studio executives. And I think sometimes writers think, well, if I’m just talking about it with studio executives or producers, I can just tell them no or argue, because we’re not in a creative partnership. But I’ve always felt like whatever skill you’re using to improve things in the room with human beings that are writers, it’ll work with producers and executives as well.
I mean, nobody wants to —
John: No, that’s not really true though. Because the difference is like there are writers in the room. And so the writers all understand like that you have to be able to do the work to do it. These producers and these studio executives, they don’t really understand sort of why those things are there.
Craig: No, no, I understand that. But my point is that the same manipulation that Megan is talking about applies to all stripes of humans. And really what it comes down to is Matt’s admonition to leave your ego out of it, which is the hardest thing because — I understand like, Matt, one of these folks is going to go on and be the — they’re going to have their first day in a television room. God help them if it’s yours. But hopefully it’s —
Matt: No, no, I’m super nice. I feel bad for everybody.
Craig: There’s no chance of that. But they’re going to have their first day —
Matt: I once let this guy go for two years before we all had to tell him we hated him.
Craig: That’s Christ-like.
Matt: And he’s now more successful than anyone on this panel.
Craig: That’s what I was hoping for.
Craig: You know, you’re Buddha-like. They’re going to have that first day and they are going to feel like if I don’t let them know that I was here, then I wasn’t even here. And it’s totally normal. But if you work on leaving your ego behind, it works on everybody, I think. Honestly it does. Unless, well, maybe not Tom. It might not work on Tom.
John: So, Tom, do you have any new writers on Better Call Saul? Or are they all veterans of — ?
Thomas: We have one new writer this year.
John: So, when he or she came in, is there a way to get that writer up to speed or get that writer comfortable?
Thomas: No. She just kind of jumped in feet first. And we just started talking story. You know, Peter interviewed her beforehand and sort of probably gave her an idea of what to expect. We didn’t do anything special for her. We just started the room as always.
Craig: Remarkably well-adjusted.
John: Far too well-adjusted.
Craig: It’s like disturbing how well-adjusted. Like, Matt, do you even recognize that sort of thinking?
Matt: Our show is like the crazy outpost that everyone kind of forgot about. And we have long beards and palm fronds and rattan everything. Like the crazy Roman outpost that — so new writers show up with their shiny armor, like let’s make this Roman army great. And we’re like, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s how you do it.
John: Matt, one final question for you on The Simpsons. One of the challenges of a show that’s been on for 900 seasons is that so many things have been done. So, how often in the room someone is like, “Well what if we did this,” and that thing has already been done on the show? Is that a limiting factor?
Matt: Well, the ship has sailed a long time ago about not repeating ourselves. Like emotionally, we’ll do the same stories they did in season one every season. There aren’t that many combinations of father-son/mother-daughter/brother-sister/husband-wife/disappointment-jealousy-guilt-revenge, you know, alienation, etc. etc.
There just aren’t that many combinations. You just have to put a fresh coat of paint on it that you’re excited about and maybe you have fresh insights that you’ve had in your life that you can insert along the way. Like now that I’m an old married guy, like I’ve given Homer a lot of my husbandly observations I’ve put in his mouth. And I wouldn’t have been able to do that when I first started. But now — so Homer actually got a little wiser, as did I. [laughs]
But, so yeah, it’s a weird challenge. But Springfield just holds up a mirror of goofiness to America as it like finishes dying. And like so we don’t really run out of stuff. Like I always get excited about new stories. And it’s always fun. And that’s always the best part is the beginning of the first day of breaking the story when you’re excited about it. And then you have to make it work, and that’s hard. But to me like the first two hours of a story breaking where you’re just kind of burning off all the hot ideas that everyone has is like the best part of any show breaking experience.
John: Excellent. That’s a great transition to the first new segment I want to try on you guys. So, often on the show we’ll do How Would This Be a Movie, where we take stories in the news and figure out how could make these into a movie. So this variant I want to call How Could This Be Funny. So we’ll take things that are terrible kind of in the world and look at it like if this came into the room like how would we massage the idea so it could fit into a comedy that we want to make, or something funny, or in the case of Better Call Saul comedic-like moments.
Matt: Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have high comedy moments, by the way.
John: They’re funny folks.
Craig: Legitimately funny.
John: All right. Our first topic. So, a few weeks ago a sheet of ice the size of Delaware broke off from Antarctica.
Craig: That’s funny.
John: Yeah. So, that’s thrown out there. Who wants to jump on that ball? Let’s make that funny.
Thomas: Like a funny TV show?
John: It doesn’t have to be the premise of the whole thing. It could be the premise of an episode. How do you do this as a plot point?
Thomas: Like if the sheet is played by Kevin James or somebody?
John: Exactly. Yeah.
Thomas: Gets a hot wife.
Craig: We’re off and running.
Thomas: I think this writes itself. This is an easy one.
Megan: Yeah, I instantly went to like kids’ movie place where the ice sheet is trying to find its way home. And it’s just very cute.
Megan: It’s not funny.
Craig: No, that’s sad.
Megan: It’s sad.
Craig: And I assume as it finally does make its way home and it sees its parent ice shelf it begins to melt and die.
Megan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Craig: Or maybe its parent melts in front of it.
Megan: And then it farts. And then you win them back.
Craig: I think we nailed it.
Thomas: This was actually the Disney movie that Vince and I are writing.
John: Yeah, sorry.
Matt: It’s called Unfrozen.
John: Next topic.
Matt: But like, no, I think that’s a good — sometimes the way you make something funny, as you guys well know, is what is the emotion behind. And the emotion is funny. And drama, and sadness, and rejection, and failure are funny. So if it were a Simpsons’ thing we would think what if this thing were heading for Springfield and Lisa wants to get it back because she cares about global warming. And this sounds like bad spec script. But Mr. Burns wants to harness it for his own personal super ice box. And cover it with sawdust and make like old timey thing.
So you just think like what are the characters’ unfunny, true, heart-full feelings and then the comedy comes, well flow, ice flow, much more naturally.
Matt: I said that to him.
John: To me, I was wondering if there was a sense of like that chunk of ice is sort of its own country sort of floating out there in the world. It’s a new land. So there’s some sense of people go there to claim we are in a new place because we claimed this ice for ourselves. There’s a universe where you could set a show on that ice drift.
Matt: Great. That’s awesome. But that’s shrinking, so they know there’s a finite time that you get to live in a fresh society.
Craig: Right. And then who gets to control the ice.
Megan: I feel like Gwyneth Paltrow gets to. Like she starts a Goop offshoot where people go and like cleanse their skin on the pure ice, or something. Yeah. And it’s just her on one tiny little ice flow as it’s melting.
John: I like it.
Craig: I’d watch that. I would watch that.
John: Our next How Could This Be Funny. Donald Trump, Jr. Just Donald Trump, Jr. You have him as a character. You can do anything you want.
Craig: Or Hitler. Pick one or the other.
John: That character. Introduce him or that type of person into a story. Like what does he give you as a character?
Matt: Well we have a joke coming up on a show about a guy named Kenny Hitler, which we wrote before the election, and we’re just like this Kenny Hitler guy doesn’t seem so bad. What are his views?
Craig: Kenny Hitler.
Matt: But everyone, I don’t know, you guys — I don’t want to hog it. You guys are funny.
Craig: Well, I mean, there is kind of an interesting show about the son of a tyrant. I mean, extrapolating slightly here, but the dimwitted son of a very powerful sociopathic man, trying to please his evil father. Like he’s just inherently sweet and nice and keeps screwing up because of that.
Megan: Well the way people keep talking about this 40-year-old man as a boy.
Craig: I know!
Megan: Is like the funniest thing to me. It’s so absurd.
Craig: But don’t you also think —
Matt: If we live.
Craig: Kind of true? Like normally I would say like, OK, why are we making this ridiculous excuse, except I kind of feel he is child-like. That picture of him sitting on that true. So sweet.
Megan: Yeah. I mean, he’s like Billy Madison.
Megan: Which is a hilarious TV show.
Craig: Like if Billy Madison was like lopping off the heads of giraffes and stuff.
Megan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Craig: I’d killed a giraffe. Made a lot of money.
Matt: Yeah, you did that. They killed a real giraffe for that movie.
Craig: Four giraffes. It was four takes.
John: It strikes me that he’s almost like an anti-Leslie Knope character. Like he’s trying to please somebody who’s completely unpleasable. But he’s just doing it in all the wrong ways. And there’s something really kind of sickly endearing about that kind of guy.
Megan: He’s like a very earnest super villain, I guess, is like what the opposite of Leslie Knope is. He only understands very few things about the world, but he wants them all to be like the worst versions of them.
But it’s very hard to make this funny, because it just is the news. It’s like you’re just watching.
Craig: It’s funny already.
Megan: Man-boy with all of the animal heads is, I don’t know, the Vice-President or something. He like gets to be something big.
John: From NBC News, a large-scale scientific review has found a 40-year plunge in sperm count, specifically in men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. And the reason may be associated with common factors in our daily lives. So, sperm count drop.
Megan: I’m hearing a lot of cucks. You’re talking about cucks abound.
Craig: That’s a pretty good title for a show.
Megan: I can 100% guarantee that’s a show already in development.
Craig: Cucks, for sure.
John: Sperm count drop. Matt Selman? Is it low T? What are we talking about?
Thomas: Let me just say that this is actually true. One of my NYU projects was about the Nazis — Vince acted in my NYU short. I have the tape somewhere where he was the only person who didn’t drink the water supply and was the only one who had enough sperm to populate the town. And he was the milk man and he would go around visiting people.
So, I’ll have to put this tape online.
Craig: He was the milk man?
Thomas: He was the milk man.
Craig: When did you go to college?
Thomas: This was the ë80s.
Craig: What century was that?
Megan: Was that a double entendre?
Thomas: Yes. I have memories of milkmen in my life.
Megan: Just wanted to make sure.
Matt: I mean, all sperm is pretty much comedy gold, as is masturbating. You know, all that stuff is pretty funny. But like isn’t there already a comedy version of that called Children of Men? That was pretty funny, right?
Megan: I think about Children of Men all the time. And I also think about the suicide kids in Children of Men, which were very funny to me. Just watch that movie and laugh. You should all go watch it again. It’s very funny.
Craig: I think that all of these infertile people is kind of sad. I don’t think it’s funny.
Megan: No, I think it’s what Tom is saying is only like the stupidest guys, like Donald Trump, Jr. types, have the sperm count, and then they have to repopulate the world.
Craig: That’s getting funnier.
John: We’re getting closer to Idiocracy there. That sense of like —
Matt: Idiocracy not funny anymore.
Matt: Children of Men, super funny.
Megan: It’s a great time.
John: Let’s go out on a risky one. OJ Simpson will be paroled soon. How is that funny? Go. OJ Simpson himself or a person in his situation, who was in jail for a long time who is now released.
Thomas: If he tripped and fell into an industrial-sized juicer and was just ground up into juice.
Craig: It’s ironic.
Matt: Well, what’s weird is now thanks to people like Megan, everyone is a professional comedy writer in the great egalitarian world of Twitter.
Craig: What the fuck?
Megan: I deserve that.
Craig: No you don’t.
Megan: This is our dynamic.
Matt: What, I called her a people, that’s what she is, right?
Craig: Is there anyone left in this room you will not abuse?
Matt: No. I mean, what’s weird is like The Simpsons will try to do takes on modern — we’ll kill our animators to do some like Donald Trump in the news Simpsons-y thing. Comes out like six days after the dumb thing happened and it’s already been done 50-hundred times the day of.
Craig: Right. There’s no more topical humor that’s possible.
Matt: So all the OJ-ish stuff, everyone in the world is like amateurishly and professionally writing goofy like OJ Does Find the Real Killer. Right? He’s innocent. He found him. Or her. That’s a take, guys.
Megan: Nothing is funny —
Craig: Well, we’re trying to not do the bad idea. Like, yes, there could be something in that.
John: Yes. Or —
Craig: See how useful it is? It is poetry, Megan.
Matt: I deserve to be “No, or.”
Craig: No. Or…
John: Another way to approach that would be to look at sort of like what’s changed in the time that he’s been in jail. And so he comes out into a world in which things are just different.
Megan: He never saw Avatar. He gets out and he’s just like, wow, the effects. Gorgeous. [laughs] And then you just watch all of Avatar.
John: Yeah. He’s just sitting at home in his 3D glasses.
Craig: That’s the best way to rewatch Avatar is to watch OJ Simpson watching Avatar.
Megan: This is the movie. He gets out. You get ten minutes. He gets home. Cracks his knuckles. He’s like what’s on TV? It’s Avatar. And then you just watch the four-hour cut of Avatar.
Matt: No, but it’s like when you’re a parent you can’t enjoy things, but you can enjoy seeing your kids enjoy things for the first time.
Matt: So we would just take OJ around and show him new stuff. Like does he know that Caesar salads have chicken now? He probably does.
Craig: Makes me feel so young again, to bring OJ to these things.
Megan: I bet Brentwood has really changed. There’s like a Yogurt Land there.
John: It’s like you drive by the house, it’s like, wow, the house has a whole new number. They repainted the house. Isn’t that so crazy. It’s so weird. I was just here and now it’s changed.
Megan: He can watch the OJ show.
John: That’s got to be weird.
Matt: Watch OJ watching the OJ show. Swimming pools are controlled by apps now? Check it out, OJ. West side humor.
John: All right, we’re going to try one other brand new segment. All right, so on a recent of Scriptnotes, there was a listener question about is it OK to use an actor’s name in a character description. So the thing was an Aubrey Plaza type. And Craig is it OK to say an Aubrey Plaza type?
Craig: I don’t think it is OK.
John: I think it’s wrong to say an Aubrey Plaza type, because that’s unfair to Aubrey Plaza. You know Aubrey Plaza.
Megan: Yeah. She would hate that. No, I don’t know.
Craig: But an Aubrey Plaza type would hate it. I mean, the problem with the Aubrey Plaza type is that you should just write a part that Aubrey Plaza would want to play if you want to write an Aubrey Plaza type.
John: Absolutely. So I thought let’s not just have it be a piece of advice. Let’s make a game out of it. So this is a game we’re going to play called An Aubrey Plaza Type. So this all modeled on a show called The $25,000 Pyramid. Show of hands, who has seen Pyramid? Who knows how Pyramid works? Oh, that’s more than I would have guessed. So, on $25,000 Pyramid they would have these celebrities and these normal people who are partnered together —
Craig: Normal people.
John: Normal people.
Matt: Normal people?
John: We would have these great Americans and these terrible celebrities paired together and they would have to get the other person to name this list of words. And so in this case this is going to be a list of famous people. And so we’re going to do sort of the thing where you’re trying to get someone to think Aubrey Plaza without saying Aubrey Plaza. This is going to make more sense if Craig and I just try this. So let’s just try this.
Craig: Oh man, all right.
John: Oh man. So here’s what it’s going to be. Craig, you stand there.
Craig: I can do that.
John: And I’m going to stand here. And we’re going to put a name up on the board and I’m going to have make you think of who I’m going to describe.
Craig: Using screenplay description?
John: Only screenplay description. So something you would see after the character’s name. So you can say an age, you can say male or female, because obviously the name would have it.
Craig: Hot but doesn’t know it.
John: Hot but doesn’t know it. It’s OK to give the character a name if it suggests something about the character that’s helpful. Craig would like you to not use a character’s race.
Craig: Yeah, no race.
John: No race.
Craig: And I kind of almost want no gender, but it’s hard because pronouns will get in there. What about age? Should we allow age?
John: Oh yeah, age is fine?
Craig: And can you say Interior or Exterior, please? I’d like to know where they are.
John: Yeah, if you really want to you could do that.
John: OK. Let’s give this a shot.
Craig: I worked really hard at putting this all together, John.
John: Yeah, so let’s give this a shot. So let’s do our first demo here. So, Craig has no idea what’s on the board.
Craig: That’s right. Interior?
John: I’m not giving that. I’m just giving you sort of what’s in the parenthetical afterwards. 40s, glasses, a woman, tired of all your librarian stereotypes. Smarter than everyone else around her. But too kind to point it out. She’s surrounded by dummies.
So, see here’s the problem. Craig doesn’t watch anything, so I’m really at a disadvantage here.
Craig: Keep going.
John: Let’s see.
Craig: Is this INT. Library?
John: No, let’s say INT. Newsroom.
John: INT. Newsroom. Amanda —
John: No. But you’re on the right track. Amanda Jenkins, glasses, tied of the librarian stereotypes.
Craig: Right, doesn’t like them.
John: You’re not going to get this one. So there’s also the option of pass. You can say pass.
John: So, now you try and do one for me and see how this goes.
Craig: Great. OK, she’s a woman, 40. No.
John: The answer to that one was Tina Fey, by the way, for people at home. That’s going to be confusing to people. What would you have said? How would you have gotten him to say Tina Fey?
Megan: That was great. Like a wry smile.
Craig: Oh, a wry smile would have helped me.
Megan: She’s the only person who wears glasses. How did you not get that?
Craig: I was going to say, that’s just a piece of wardrobe we can put on anyone. All right, John, EXT. FIELD. DAY. Spaceship. Pursuing a man. 40s. Very athletic for his age. Running hard. Spaceship shooting lasers at him. He dodges left and right. Incredible. And just before they get him, he turns around, fires, blows up the spaceship and he’s like, “Whoa.”
John: That would be Will Smith.
Craig: Yes. That’s how you do it. We would have also accepted Tom Cruise.
John: Yes. So you’re going to see there’s some of these people who like you have two choices. Either one of those are acceptable. So, Craig was doing a little bit more scene work, which I think is awesome. I was thinking more just the inside of the parenthetical after.
Craig: EXT/INT. I’m all about it. Oh, you mean like a really long parenthetical. Like the name and then blah, blah, blah.
John: Yeah. Either one works. Whatever you guys want to do is fine because we’re done with this. Now it’s your turn to do this. So, what is your name?
Steven Fingleton: My name is Steven Fingleton.
John: Steven Fingleton, are you up for this?
Steven: I am well up for this.
John: All right, Steven Fingleton is well up for this. One crucial thing here is that Craig and I are going to be the judges if someone is cheating. You’re going to have 60 seconds on the clock to see how many you can get through. One might be great based on how we’re doing. Whoever gets the most is going to win a special prize. We’ll announce the special prize afterwards. Steven, would you rather give or receive? That’s how they say it on the show. Would you rather give clues or receive?
Matt: Now it needs the E for Explicit warning at the beginning.
Steven: I’m going to against my usual preferences and I’m going to give.
John: All right. Great. This is awesome.
Craig: I like this guy.
John: He’s a good guy.
Craig: He’s cool with who he is.
John: Ticker time, and on your mark, get set, go.
Steven: Exterior. Beach. Running. An Adonis of a man. Perfect.
Megan: Craig. David Craig.
Steven: He jumps into a sports car.
Megan: Michael Cera. Tom Cruise, he was already up there. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Craig: Keep going.
Steven: And he’s on his way to run for president because there’s nothing he can’t do. He looks impeccable in a tailor cut suit.
Megan: The Rock.
Megan: Yes! Nice.
Steven: She’s an incredibly adorable, funny woman.
Megan: Emma Stone.
Steven: Who —
Megan: Me! OK, keep going.
Steven: Who does not fit the classical stereotypes of what a woman should look like —
Megan: Tilda Swinton.
Steven: And she’s totally cool with that.
John: We’re extending to two minutes just based on reality.
Megan: Like what age? What age are we talking about?
Steven: I would say 30s, 40s.
Megan: Claire Danes.
Steven: Very short. Absolutely not —
Megan: Oh, the woman from Poltergeist. Zelda Rubinstein.
Steven: Pass. Let’s pass.
Megan: Very short. Pass. Sorry.
Steven: OK. He’s a funny looking guy. The sort of guy who would play himself in a movie if he was an actor-type comedian.
Megan: Danny DeVito. Funny-looking guy.
Steven: And he’s always hanging with his group of friends —
Megan: Seth Rogan. Yes! OK.
Steven: Interior. Mall. Day.
Megan: Oh god.
Steven: A mall cop is looking for trouble.
Megan: Oh, Kevin James.
John: No, wrong Kevin.
Megan: Kevin Hart.
John: All right. We’ll give it to you. Yes. All right. Well done. Congratulations. Very good.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Thank you.
Craig: The woman from Poltergeist is the best possible answer.
Megan: The only short person.
Craig: She’s the greatest.
Megan: Yes, she was amazing.
Craig: She was amazing. Was. All right.
John: Can we help her with the one she missed. So I was going to say like a human cannonball. She’s —
Megan: This is a woman? A short woman?
Matt: Everyone is afraid to say a certain thing. I mean.
John: A heavyset woman.
Matt: I mean, we’re all friends. We’re everyone’s friends.
Megan: Melissa McCarthy.
John: Melissa McCarthy, yes.
Craig: I watched him sweat his way in avoidance. She knows she’s a bigger girl. She knows that. There’s no big deal with that.
Matt: Great personality. The best. Her personality is so good.
Craig: You’re a bad person.
John: So I counted three successful ones there. Is that correct, audience. You guys were keeping track. Three? Tom Schnauz, so he is going to guess. Tom is going to give. I’m going to put two minutes back on the clock.
Thomas: This is going to be horrible. OK.
John: And go.
Thomas: Very handsome super hero type.
Male Voice: Oh, I already saw this. Chris Evans, Chris Pine, or Chris Hemsworth.
Craig: How did you see this?
John: How did you see this?
Male Voice: It flashed up real quick.
John: All right. Skip. Go ahead. Reset.
Thomas: Older — can I say Quentin Tarantino type?
Thomas: Older Quentin Tarantino type, very wise.
Male Voice: Hank Azaria.
Thomas: You don’t want to win this, do you?
Male Voice: They look kind of similar.
Craig: Hank Azaria in all of the none of Quentin Tarantino movies.
Male Voice: Samuel L. Jackson.
Thomas: Older guitar-playing hippy, pot-smoking, laid back dude.
Male Voice: Willie Nelson?
Thomas: Actor type. Laid back dude. Dude.
Male Voice: Oh, Jeff Bridges.
Craig: There we go.
Thomas: Older action hero.
Male Voice: Michael Keaton.
Thomas: May be capable of doing his own stunts.
Male Voice: Jackie Chan. Your hints are too good.
Craig: But no one is saying Interior or Exterior.
Thomas: Interior, no, Exterior, Heaven.
Thomas: God type. Actor. Very wise. Will do voiceover work.
Male Voice: Morgan Freeman.
John: All right. One more.
Thomas: Deep voice. Sexy. Conqueror of planets. I don’t know — I’ve never seen his movies.
Craig: That’s clear.
Thomas: Pass. Journeyman actor type. I don’t know, super hero.
Craig: You’re not getting the Iron Man job.
Thomas: Just gave it away.
Male Voice: Downey.
Craig: Exterior. Robert Downey. I’m trying to spice this up.
Thomas: This is the longest two minutes of my life, by the way.
John: This is challenging. So I counted at least four solid ones there, including some skips. Well done, sir.
Male Voice: What was the skip?
John: We skipped over Vin Diesel. Thank you.
Craig: Now the fun begins, as America’s darkest writer faces off.
Matt: No, I’m not dark.
Craig: I’m not dark.
John: He’s not dark. Let’s see who gets partnered with our Simpson’s executive producer.
Matt: I have kids. I’m a good man.
John: Hello and welcome. What is your name?
Christie: My name is Christie.
John: Would you like to give or receive these clues?
Christie: I will give.
Craig: All right. I’ll take this.
Matt: This is going to be bad.
Craig: I’ll give this to you.
Matt: Hi, Matt. Nice to meet you.
Christie: I’m not a writer.
Matt: That’s all right. I’m barely one. I’m not either.
John: All right. And start.
Matt: Adam West.
Christie: Woman. Pretty. Older actress.
Matt: My wife. Meryl Streep. Glenn Close.
Christie: Drives a bus.
Matt: Sandra Bullock.
Christie: Yes. OK. Attractive man.
Christie: Yes, super hero, again.
Matt: Christopher Reeve, before the accident.
Christie: Funny superhero.
Matt: Funny Superhero. The Hulk guy? The guy who plays the Hulk?
Christie: No. Completely covered in a mask but still sounds good.
Matt: Man, I’m bad at this. Pass.
Christie: OK. We’ll pass. He will cut you. Makes great sequels.
Matt: The guy who plays Wolverine.
Christie: Oh, she’s amazing. Perfect actress —
Craig: Let’s see if he could get it just from that.
Christie: Another superhero. Beautiful.
Matt: Ben Affleck.
Matt: Oh, a woman.
Christie: Young. Blockbuster.
Matt: Gal Gadot.
Matt: Israeli. Dismissive in that Israeli way.
Christie: OK. Trump impersonator. SNL.
John: I’m going to rule this out. This is actually just becoming celebrity.
Craig: This was always going to become celebrity. You know that, right?
John: So try to give a character description that will make you think about this person.
Craig: Like you’re writing a script.
Christie: OK, good-looking when he was younger, not so much now. Funny.
Matt: Say it again?
Christie: Good-looking when he was younger.
Craig: That’s accurate.
Matt: Michael Douglas.
John: Is that still accurate? True to the character.
Christie: Is still very active.
Matt: Robert Redford.
Christie: Good impersonations.
Craig: Your character does good impersonations.
Christie: Funny. He’s a funny guy.
John: And stop.
Matt: I fail.
John: Thank you so much.
Craig: Alec Baldwin.
Matt: Commanding. Commanding businessman.
John: How would we have gotten to that last one?
Matt: Most confident man in the room. I still wouldn’t have gotten it.
Craig: Alec Baldwin: Well, actually, I thought that you were on to something there. Because, you know, this was a guy who was once incredibly good-looking, but he’s older now and he’s settled into his frame. There’s a wit and a charm in his eyes.
Megan: Interior. His frame. Settled right in.
Craig: Already working. It’s what cousins get.
John: So there was supposed to be actually an educational point to this. It’s not easy to come up with these descriptions that in one sentence make you think of, oh, that actor, without saying that actor. Or to cite these other credits. But if you sort of search for it you can find like bearish would be good for Alec Baldwin, or sort of that most confident man in the room.
Matt: I believe, I’m dating myself. The pilot for the show Just Shoot Me had little character slugs, the beginning, and the one for the main lady was think Janeane Garofalo. You know, Laura San Giacomo, she took the money.
Craig: Just the last thing she was expecting on her drive to wherever she was going was to hear some guy take a shot at her over —
Matt: That’s not a shot.
Craig: She’s like listening to a podcast someone told her about. Hey Laura, check this out.
Matt: Here’s the only good piece of advice you’re ever going to get tonight. Take the money. Anyone ever gives you the opportunity, take the money as opposed to like the creative thing where you express yourself.
Craig: I don’t think these folks were not going to take the money.
Matt: The money. Always the money. I’ve had opportunities to take risks, and I always pick the money.
John: One show your entire career. Yeah. All right, we actually have some business to wrap up. We have to figure out who actually won that thing which we just did. I think our second person.
Matt: Second guy.
John: Second guy had the most.
Thomas: What did I win?
John: Oh yes, what did you win? You have a choice. You can have me and Craig read a script you’ve written, or you can get an automatic pass into the Three Page Challenge. So, afterwards find us, tell us which one you want. And we will give you either of those things.
Craig: Well wouldn’t the script one be better automatically because it’s all the pages.
John: It’s all the pages, but maybe he doesn’t have the whole script.
Craig: Oh, and maybe he stopped at three.
John: Yeah. Maybe it’s short.
Craig: I hope it’s that one.
John: But thank you to all three of our people for being brave enough to actually come up here. That’s awesome.
Craig: Thank you guys.
John: I think if we ever do this again, stronger judging. I think we need to buzz people on —
Craig: Well you can’t have me judge anything. I’m a child. You know that.
John: But like Taboo, where you press the little buzzers and it scares people. Oh yeah, you said those words. Yeah.
Thomas: Wait, after this you’re going to keep doing this game?
John: In hell we’re going to keep doing this game again and again.
Craig: There’s literally no chance.
Matt: I think it’s a great game. I think it would be good. You’re always doing projects, John. Why don’t you put together an app or a home version and Kickstart it.
Craig: There’s going to be a discussion about the game, obviously. There’ll be a post mortem over the game. I won’t be a part of it, obviously.
John: That is our show for this week. So, as always, we are so lucky to have a great listening audience, but to have them in front of us is an extra special treat and it’s so nice to be back and seeing your faces. And I recognize a lot of faces, too, which is crazy.
Craig: We should say who we are supporting, right?
John: So we’re here because of the Writers Guild Foundation, which does great work on behalf of writers, and not just writers who are currently in the guild, but writers who are aspiring to become —
John: Well, yes, it makes it sound like people who are aspiring to become veterans.
Craig: No, they are veterans now.
John: They are genuinely veterans. Or children. Programs for kids.
Craig: Oh great.
John: Yeah. They do all sorts of stuff. We help the organization. We don’t really know much about them. But we do know that Chris Kartje and the volunteers who helped put it together tonight are the best, so thank you so, so much as well.
We need to thank the people here at the Writers Guild Theater. This was a last minute substitution, so thank you guys so much for letting us be here. We want to thank our amazing guests. You guys are phenomenal.
Craig: Yes. Amram, Schnauz, and Selman. What a law firm.
John: Our show, as always, is being cut by Matthew Chilelli, but he’s cutting it from Japan. So he’s moved to Japan, but he’s like cutting it overseas now, which is awesome. So thank you for that. And our amazing intro came from John Spurney. So, standard things. If you have an outro, we have a whole bunch of Rajesh Naroth ones, which are fantastic, but we need more awesome outros. So, write us an outro and we’ll put it on the show.
Guys, you were fantastic. Thank you so much. Have a great night.
Craig: Thanks you guys.
- Megan Amram on Wikipedia, IMDb and Twitter
- Thomas Schnauz on Wikipedia, IMDb and Twitter
- Matt Selman on Wikipedia, IMDb and Twitter, and as host of Duly Noted: The Scriptnotes Aftershow
- Massive Iceberg Breaks Off from Antarctica
- Donald Trump Jr.
- Sperm Count Dropping in Western World
- O.J. Simpson Wins Parole, Claiming He Has Led a ‘Conflict-Free Life’
- Thanks to the Writers Guild Foundation for hosting us
- The Scriptnotes Listeners’ Guide!
- The USB drives!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)
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You can download the episode here.