The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 316 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast, it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie. This time we’ll be looking at stories from Arkansas, to Copenhagen, to WWII Paris. Trying to figure out which ones might lend themselves to the big screen treatment.
Craig: Excellent, but first, before we get to any of that, little business, John.
John: All right. Do the business.
Craig: The business of democracy, my friend. Right now elections are going on for the Writers Guild of America West and presumably the Writers Guild of America East. Although as you know, I think there should just be one Writers Guild of America.
John: But that’s not a thing you can vote on in this election.
Craig: It’s not. But what you can vote on are the officers and board of directors for the Writers Guild of America West, if you are a member of said union. And one of the people running is my co-host today and always, John August. I personally have voted for you, John.
John: Oh, thank you very much.
Craig: I’ve already voted. I voted for you. And I think everyone should vote for you, personally. There are a couple different ways to vote. We have electronic voting and we have regular old paper ballot voting. Paper ballots should have arrived in your mailbox by now. Generally speaking, those of us who live up closer to Pasadena get them later, you know, maybe a day later than everybody else. So, they should be in everybody’s mailbox by now. And also you can vote online, which is super convenient.
A brief reminder. For those of you who are strategy-minded about how to vote. We elect eight candidates to the board in any given cycle. I believe in this cycle one of the current board members is also running for an officer position, which means that the ninth vote getter would then also be taken in and appointed to fill her seat for the remainder of her term. You don’t have to vote for eight people. So there’s, again, for those of you who are strategy-minded, there’s something called bulleting your vote. And the idea is basically let’s say I really want John August to be on the board, which is true. One thing I could do is I could vote for eight people and include him among them. Makes sense.
I could also just vote for him. And what bulleting does is it strengthens your vote for whom you want, because you are not voting for somebody that he is also running against. So, the downside for bulleting your vote is that, well, you’re choosing fewer people and you’re gaming the system a little bit.
So, I tend to vote for about four or five candidates. That’s usually my move. I feel like, OK, I’m doing a pretty decent job here. I’m being democratic. But, I’m also giving a little extra oomph to the people I really like. So, we’ve discussed who we like, don’t we?
John: I think we have. So, there are people who are running who are from various backgrounds. We are electing probably nine people of the 12 candidates running. In general, in past years, we’ve said we want a mix of different voices and different backgrounds to make sure we have feature writers and TV writers represented. There are certainly plenty of TV writers already on the board and folks who are running who are TV writers as well.
So, a mix would be great.
Craig: Yeah. For sure.
John: The other thing I’ll say is that you would have gotten a paper ballot in the mail by now, but you can also vote electronically. If you look through your spam filter, it sometimes gets caught in that, but it’s from Votenet.com is where the ballot for online voting would be found.
Craig: Yeah. That’s exactly right. So please do vote, and vote for John August. He’s not allowed to say that, I don’t think. But I am allowed to say it over and over and over. Because I am protected.
John: All right. And voting concludes September 18, which is a Monday, but there’s no reason to wait till September 18.
John: You should vote now.
John: Pause the podcast to vote now.
Craig: Just do it.
John: Do it. Other bit of news is my news. Big Fish in London is happening. And so it runs from November 1 through December 31. So, if you are in London or you will find yourself in London during that period, come see the show, because I think it will be really good. It’s a different version than we’ve done anywhere else. This version stars Kelsey Grammer. And there will be a link in the show notes to where you can buy tickets.
It’s selling really, really well, which is fantastic. So, if you’re thinking about getting tickets, maybe don’t think about it too long. Maybe just get some tickets because the page I’ll send you to shows the relative availability of different dates and many dates are not that available.
Craig: May I ask you a question, sir?
Craig: As an early viewer and fan of the first iteration, the Broadway iteration — well, not first iteration, but it’s the one that matters. In the version in London, does it include different or new songs?
John: It does include different and new songs. So, structurally it works a lot differently, but yes, it includes different songs, including a song that was in the Chicago version which was not in the Broadway version. It has one entirely new song. It has some songs that have been restructured. And actually I would say most songs have been restructured in some ways because things have moved because of the nature of what we’re doing in this version. And it’s spoiling nothing to say in this version the Edward character, who was played by Norbert Leo Butz fantastically on Broadway, that role is split between two people now, more like how the movie works.
John: So Kelsey Grammer is playing the real older Edward and a great actor named Jamie Muscato is playing the younger story version of Edward, more like the Ewan McGregor character. And so because of that, the songs work differently because different people are singing them. And it allows for some great possibilities.
Craig: That was the second question I was going to ask. And you have answered it in such a way as to satisfy my curiosity.
John: Fantastic. Let’s do some follow up. So, last week we talked about MoviePass and we were searching for explanations on how MoviePass actually works and we just couldn’t find them in time. But right after we recorded the episode I found out more information. So, I’m going to link to an article from Gizmodo by Rhett Jones that talks through more of the backstory behind. But a crucial thing which I did not understand as we recorded last week’s episode is that MoviePass actually functions as a MasterCard. And so the reason why they don’t have to have a specific relationship with a theater like AMC is it’s just a credit card. So you just buy it with that credit card and they can refund the whole amount to the user.
So, AMC still gets the full price that they paid on the credit card, but it’s the user who gets that money refunded to their account. So, that is how they get around having any specific relationship with an individual theater.
Craig: So, I go into AMC. A ticket costs let’s say $14. I hand them this card. They charge me $14. Then, because I have a $10 a month deal with the MoviePass people, MoviePass — and I’ve already spent my $10 — MoviePass just sends me back $14.
Craig: Then how does MoviePass make money? It seems like they’re losing money every time somebody goes to see a movie.
John: So that is more of what you can find out in this article. And other people who wrote in. So, specifically one of our listeners, Udhaya, wrote in saying, “There’s one reason the MoviePass idea might work. While it appears not to be a money-maker, the people funding this might work out some kind of special access leverage with buyers of the MoviePass which would allow them to target the market holders of the MoviePass by showing special products to them. Think about it. You have a millennial to Gen-X target audience who go to movies frequently.
“If these MoviePass guys could select custom products and services to them, it’s a fraction of their marketing budget to get out more MoviePass.”
So essentially she’s saying — I don’t know if Udhaya is a man or a woman — is saying that it’s the data that’s actually really helpful for MoviePass, because they get to target people who go to movies very frequently. And by collecting all this up, they can actually do something with it that might be useful.
So, and it turns out that the person who is now the CEO of MoviePass was a Netflix person, so it comes from that sort of data background. It made me a little more — a little bit less skeptical that there’s no way it could work.
Craig: I guess. I mean, I guess. Look, I don’t understand how they make money. $14 over and over and over — or $12, or $10 — whatever it is, if the average MoviePass person spends more than $10 in actual ticket prices per month, which I assume they do, and frankly the more they use it, the more expensive it becomes for the MoviePass people. That is the most extraordinary cost of data acquisition I can imagine. Especially because once you have their data, they’re just beating the crap out of you over and over, every time they go to see a movie.
So, I don’t know. I’m missing something clearly.
John: What I would say though is that same criticism could be leveled against the original Netflix model and the current Netflix model which is that the people who use it a lot are costing Netflix money. And so the people who were getting those discs, who are like watching one movie by mail every day, they were costing Netflix a lot of money. But it’s the people who, kind of like us, who would get the discs and sort of sit on them and not really get the maximum value out of it, those are the people they make money off of.
So I think they’re anticipating people will sign up for MoviePass, they’ll use it heavily for a while. It will taper down till they get back to sort of more normal movie-going habits. And it will sort itself out. I think that’s the hope.
Craig: Well, we’ll certainly find out.
John: We will certainly find out. So, it is filed away for a one-year follow up. We’ll see where MoviePass is one year from today.
John: All right, it’s time for our feature, How Would This Be a Movie. It’s a periodic look at stories in the news or stories we find other places and we examine them to look at how they could be adapted into movies. Usually we’re talking about big screen movies. Sometimes they’re more like made-for-cable movies. Occasionally we’ll decide that, oh, it’s actually more of a TV series idea, or it’s just a bad idea that should never have been put on the outline for us discuss.
But this week we’re going to actually try to do a bunch of them. Usually we do three. This time we might cram though as many as five. But we’ll be a little bit faster going through them and seeing what are the possibilities, what are the downfalls of this kind of movie.
John: So the first one is something I put on the list. This is a New York Times story by Sabrina Tavernise. It is also a great episode of The Daily. So she came on to talk through it on the New York Times podcast The Daily. And the stories are very complementary. You know, her written version of the story versus the audio version of the story, they are structured differently, but they tell the same story, which is that one year ago 20-year-old Abraham Davis and some friends in Western Arkansas graffitied a mosque in their town with racial slurs and swastikas.
Abraham Davis was eventually caught because of radio surveillance on the mosque. So while in jail, he was unable to make bail. He wrote this letter apologizing to the leaders of the mosque, who then became kind of his allies. They tried to get his felony charge reduced to misdemeanor, not wanting his life ruined for this one stupid thing he did.
So ultimately the New York Times story sort of frames Davis as both a villain and a victim in this situation that’s really more about — as much about class as race and sort of the consequences of some really bad spontaneous decisions.
John: Craig, what did you make of this story? As a story and as a potential movie?
Craig: Well, as a story it’s heartbreaking because you’re dealing with front line of failing America. There is a broken family with a deceased abusive father. And a mother who cannot make ends meet. They are living in poverty. And as is often the case, into that environment slips drinking and bad thinking. And blame. A search for blame.
And so on the one hand, this is a postmortem of let’s just call this almost a run of the mill kind of racist act. This isn’t the act of a coordinated group like those ding-a-lings in Charlottesville. This is more of the random guys get drunk on a Saturday night and go do something stupid. They act out. But they do so hatefully against the most vulnerable of people, namely outsiders. People that don’t fit into the status quo. And then we dissect why.
And underneath it we find that Abraham doesn’t really know why. And he comes off in his own way as sympathetic, because he feels terrible and he apologizes and he wants to make amends. And the people that he harmed, the members of this mosque, who seem like wonderful people, who have been trying very, very hard to live their lives in a place that is, well, inherently hostile to them, behave in, ironically enough, the most Christian way. And they forgive him and they try and help him.
All of that stuff feels very lovely. As a movie, the problem here is that this is too easy. There’s a wonderful moment in Mississippi Burning where Gene Hackman’s character is explaining how racism actually works to Willem Defoe’s character, because Willem Dafoe is a northern FBI guy. Gene Hackman is an FBI guy from the south.
And Gene Hackman’s own father, I believe, in the story does a terrible thing, a racist thing. And when Gene Hackman is done telling the story, the conclusion is he just couldn’t see — his father couldn’t see — that being poor was what was killing him. And that worked great as an object lesson inside of a movie that was about large historical events, people being murdered, and a courtroom drama. This does not have that, so it’s kind of operating on a simplistic Upworthy-like level.
John: Yeah. I can see that. And I think Upworthy is a good comparison to it, because I remember that site, and it would always have these sort of heartwarming stories of like, you know, you sort of won’t believe what happened next. And there’s a generosity of spirit that the leaders of the mosque show towards Abraham that is unexpected because it’s very easy to sympathize with their point of view is that they are sort of frightened to be in this town and suddenly have this spotlight on them because of this act that these guys took.
And the prosecutor in the small town decides to go after them for a felony, partly to make an example of them, to try to keep these things from happening again. And yet the leaders of the mosque really want to see this reduced down to a misdemeanor so this guy’s life isn’t destroyed.
I agree with you that I think what’s missing here is the bigger hook that sort of makes it a full story. This feels like a setup and right now it’s sort of like we’re kind of just floating in the second act. We don’t sort of see what his ultimate transformation is going to be. I’m assuming we’re looking at this from Abraham’s point of view, but we could look at it from other characters’ points of view. But what is the ultimate really outcome? What is the end of this journey? And I just feel like we’re still kind of in the middle of this journey right now.
The inciting incident was this decision to go graffiti this mosque. The surprise turn is that the mosque — not that it’s just that he’s caught, but that the mosque comes to his aid.
But we still don’t have anything to sort of push us towards that third act, much less a third act itself.
Craig: Yeah. Look, it is a wonderful story in that it does exemplify what is the best I think of human behavior. But when you tell a story like this, you are immediately in danger. You’re on somewhat thin ice because partly the whole thing feels a little bit like an apologia for a racist. And even if he is not as much a racist as a misguided, poor, impressionable young person, I don’t think too many people are that interested in investing their empathy and sympathy in him, because on the other side you have these poor people that are doing everything right, following all the rules, putting up with every day racism, and then somebody comes along and puts swastikas, oddly enough, on their mosque. It’s not exactly the most historically enlightened racists.
And so really they’re the ones who deserve all the empathy. There is an interesting dramatic debate there between the prosecutor and then the victims, the actual victims, in the mosque. But overall it’s not a movie.
John: Yeah. You look at other stories of southern racism and sort of like discovery. You look at To Kill a Mockingbird, and in To Kill a Mockingbird, you know, Harper Lee has made some very specific choices about whose eyes we’re going to see all of this through. And by putting it in Scout Finch’s eyes, we see the whole story. It allows for a kind of simplicity to sort of really take in the whole thing at once, which would be very difficult if we were just seeing it from her father’s point of view, or from any of the sort of damaged parties’ point of view.
So, I don’t think we have a Scout Finch in this story yet. And maybe that is actually the way in is to focus on Abraham’s brother or some other character that lets us sort of take a wider point of view on what’s really going on here.
Craig: Yeah. There is a character in here that appears briefly. And, of course, when we talk about these things we don’t mean to be insensitive. The whole point of this is to figure out how it’s a movie. This isn’t a character, it’s a human being, but, in the context of trying to figure out how it’s a movie, there is a character who is Abraham’s friend from high school who is Muslim. And his friend forgives him at the end, and that is certainly an interesting angle because, again, there is something a little sickly underneath all of this which is this weird desire to take the time to understand why this kid did this.
On the one hand, maybe that’s exactly what we need to do because that’s how we pull people away from this stuff. And on the other hand, is that the best use of our empathy right now? It’s a tough one?
John: So one last little bit that I want to make sure we didn’t elide from the story is the whole reason why Abraham Davis had to stay in jail is because he couldn’t make the bail. And so it does raise the real issue of sort of cash bail in the US legal system in that if he’d had any more money he wouldn’t have been in jail in the first place.
So, if you were to make this story or some version of this story, I think that’s an interesting detail to make sure you include in there. Because it speaks to the fundamental unfairness of the system as he’s seeing it.
Craig: Yeah. And just so people understand how poor Abraham and his family is, the bail was $1,580. And we presume that a bond would have cost a couple hundred bucks or something.
John: So in the audio version of the story you get into a little bit more of his family and his stepfather. And both of his parents are on disability. It’s really desperate times there. And so that I think is also part of the story if you’re trying to tell this story on some sort of screen.
John: Cool. Do you want to set up the next one?
Craig: Yeah. Sure. So the next one is sent to us — we were tipped off by Mark Harris. Mark Harris — he’s fancy.
John: Yeah. He’s a bona fide journalist there.
Craig: He’s a bona fide journalist. And husband of Tony Kushner. Is that right?
John: Yeah. That’s absolutely true.
Craig: Husband. Tony Kushner who I’m sure — by the way, Mark Harris is listening to this going, “Great, you know, I am my own person. You don’t have to mention the Tony Kushner thing. Do I always have to hear about the Tony Kushner thing?”
Yeah, you kind of do. He’s Tony Kushner. What are you going to do?
Anyway, fantastic story in the New York Times about a woman named Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, who was a spy in WWII. And the article was spurred by her death at the age of 98. So Jeannie de Clarens was an amateur spy. She spoke fluent German, flawless German, no accent. And during the war, I believe after the Nazis had already occupied France, she became an interpreter in Paris for an association of French businessmen representing their interests as they negotiated with the German occupiers.
And while she was doing that she used all the things that were true about being a woman in the 1940s to get information out of the Germans. Essentially she played dumb. There’s a wonderful line. She said, when she was talking to these Germans, for instance when they spoke of this astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances she would say, “I kept saying what you are telling me cannot be true. I must have said that a hundred times.” And it totally worked.
So she heard all of this stuff and passed it along to the British. And then she was caught. She was actually caught a couple of times, different times, and ended up in a concentration camp. And would not talk about her experience in the concentration camp after. She did however meet her husband, who had also been imprisoned in Buchenwald and Auschwitz. And she didn’t speak much about her wartime exploits.
But it is a remarkable thing that these stories of heroism can just be invisible to us for so long. And then we uncover them, and we just marvel at how everyone, the most unexpected people, suddenly stepped up and put their own lives at risk to do what was right.
And I thought it was fantastic.
John: One of the things I liked about it was during the time where she was working, you know, translating for the Germans, she seemed to be complicit with them. She seemed to be sort of on their side. She was certainly helping them to be able to negotiate the occupation of France. And so anybody looking at her — a French person looking at her at the time would see her as an enemy, or see her as a collaborator with the Germans, not knowing that she’s actually working with the secret French intelligence network, the Druids, which is the best name ever.
John: To provide information. And she’s providing incredibly detailed information, because she had a near photographic memory. So, she’s asking all these questions, but she’s ultimately convincing them to show her plans to, like, the VI and VIII rockets that could have leveled London. So ultimately it was the information that she passed along allowed for bombing raids that took out sort of key production factories along the way.
So, incredibly important intelligence she was providing, yet at the same time to anybody — any French person watching her would think that she was aiding the enemy, which is a crucial thing about spy life. You don’t know who you can trust and no one is trusting you, which is crucial and difficult.
There were also some really good cinematic moments. There was a moment where she’s just about to get out and she’s caught at the last minute. There were some good near escapes. And I could see it. There was a visual quality to it that I think is important.
Craig: And as a character she has all the things you want. Because she is not an ordinary person who just happens to overhear people and so in a sense becomes a hero by luck. She’s a genius. So as you already point out, she has a photographic memory. She performed, this is from the article, “brilliantly at the elite Sciences Po, graduating at the top of her class in 1939.”
This is a very, very smart woman. And yet what do they have her doing in the war? Well, translating for men. Right? And just being kind of secretarial in that regard. And she exploits that.
That is a huge Achilles heel. And in wartime when all of these men are doing everything they can at the highest, most cat and mouse levels, to steal information from each other, they’ve left this massive backdoor open because they don’t know that women are as smart, or smarter, than them.
So, she gathers, for instance, documents regarding the German rocket program into a report called the Wachtel Report. And when this report was looked at by intelligence — there’s an intelligence analyst in London named Reginald V. Jones, which is an incredibly British name. Reginald V. Jones. When Reginald V. Jones saw the Wachtel Report he called it a masterpiece in the history of intelligence gathering. And when he asked who sent the report he was told that the source as only known by the code name Amniarix and that she was one of the most remarkable young women of her generation.
And I think that that was absolutely true.
John: So let’s think about this as a movie. So one of the fundamental questions I come up to is what language do you shoot this in? You’re going to make this for an American audience, either French or German is going to be switched into English so that we don’t have to read subtitles the entire time. Would you agree?
John: So, French becomes English and German stays German?
Craig: No question.
John: All right. And so we’re doing that and so all of the French people are going to be speaking English. I basically get that. Who is our prototype for Jeannie herself? Who do we see in that role? Because it seems like a star role.
Craig: For sure. So, she was born in 1919. This is taking place around 1943. So we’re talking about a 24-year-old woman. And she was beautiful. That was part of the deal was that she was kind of notoriously beautiful. So, you know, here we are looking for a beautiful woman in her mid-20s who we also believe is brilliant. There’s that thing behind the eyes that some men and some women have, and some men and some women do not.
John: Yeah. That actress can be found. I’m not actually so worried about that, thinking about that age range. I mean, as you get older we have this generation of remarkable talents, the Cate Blanchetts, the Nicole Kidmans. But I think we have a new batch of those who are in their 20s who could do that. A Daisy Ridley. There’s some great British or American actress who I think could do that role brilliantly.
Craig: No question. I think that there are quite a few. And the other — you would want, I think, the thing that this article does not give you really is that key relationship. A relationship will emerge eventually. She does meet this man and they get married. But that’s after.
John: That’s the end.
Craig: Right. So you need that key relationship in the middle. It doesn’t have to be romantic, but it has to be valuable.
John: So the obvious choice for that would be her key handler. Whoever with the Druids she’s dealing with that she has to pass along the information to. That feels like a natural choice. But it could also be the main sort of German person she’s talking to who, you know, to the degree to which he’s an enemy but she has to continually manipulate him. And like how much does he know/how much does he not know? That’s always a great tension where like you’re not sure whether he’s on to her or not on to her. That’s always delightful.
Craig: I agree. You’d want to personify the enemy in a villain. You want one guy that represents that real threat. But you also need that other relationship to have significance that is beyond the details of the story. Even if it is her handler, there has to be something there between them that’s greasy.
And, again, I don’t think it’s romance. I think it’s guilt. I think it’s honor. I think it’s a question of what to do and what to not do. Cowardice and courage. But it’s got to be sticky. It’s got to be greasy. There has to be conflict between them to make that relationship mean something and in all likelihood when she ends up marrying this other guy, that other person, whoever it is, man or woman, has to be gone. It does seem like the war has to take things from you that matter, you know? And that means people.
John: Yeah. It’s delightful if that handler is married. And so every time that he’s off meeting with her it sort of seems like they’re having an affair. So even if there’s not a sexual relationship, there should still be the threat of a relationship there. There’s the possibility there that can never be explored because of the nature of how things are set up. That’s great. That’s the human drama behind the sort of spy drama we’re seeing.
Craig: Yeah. You would need to put that together. But I think that there is a possibility here. I think that — I would say if I were at a movie studio I would not do this as a straight biopic. I would —
John: No, no.
Craig: I would want to use it as inspiration for a fictional narrative.
John: Oh, I might use the real story but knowing that you’re going to be inventing some things because there’s just not documentation of certain things. But I think you could use the real story but just not market it as a biopic. Just market it as a great spy thriller that happens to be based on true story.
Craig: Yeah. I would go with inspired by. I would have some more license.
John: Sounds good. All right, our next one is a very different kind of thing. This is the Distracted Boyfriend meme. So, because we’re an audio podcast I will have to describe it, but once I describe it you’ll say like, oh, that thing I’ve been seeing all over Twitter and I’m really annoyed by.
So, the meme is an image. And the original image stars three people. There are two women and one young man. The young man is walking arm and arm with presumably his girlfriend, who looks over at him horrified because he’s looking back at an attractive woman who is slightly out of focus on the left side of the screen. So it has been dubbed the Distracted Boyfriend meme. And there are a bunch of articles I’ll put in the links of the show notes that talk about the meme and sort of where it came from and sort of how it was used.
Well, I should say that the original image is what I described. The meme became a thing once people started putting labels on the people, sort of identifying the people as ideas, or as types, or as goals. Basically you don’t want the thing that’s on your right arm. You want the thing that’s out of reach back over there. And so sometimes the faces get superimposed, but usually it’s labels.
And I think it was an effective meme that is now burning itself out quite quickly. But I put this on here because I’m curious what kinds of movies you could make out of this meme. So at first I was thinking this is straight ahead what happens when you are the stock photographer who has taken this shot in 2015 and now it has suddenly become a giant meme. Or you’re one of the actor/models in this thing who are suddenly identified with this worldwide phenomenon for something you did in an afternoon three years ago.
But there’s also I think the possibility of, like, what is it about the Distracted Boyfriend meme that feels kind of like all human drama? That you have the one thing, and you’re always looking for that next thing. I feel like so many of our stories that we try to tell on big screens, especially you know our two-hour sort of character dramas are about that guy or about one of those two women.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t think there’s a movie, but I do think that there is a good lesson here for screenwriters. And if you were somehow doubting that a picture is worth a thousand words, this one has generated far more than a thousand. And it’s because it’s incredibly extensible. I mean, you look at this and there are a million possible different analogous things that you could put on it, and people are.
And it is because there is a relationship and a conflict. The key to the Distracted Boyfriend meme is the distracted boyfriend’s girlfriend. So the girl that the distracted boyfriend is looking at is unaware. She’s — they’re behind her and she’s walking away. So, to me it’s all about the girlfriend looking at him like, “Ehh, what are you doing?” And that relationship of you’re looking at her because you want something you don’t have, and I’m looking at you because I’ve just realized that you’re gross.
Because there’s this incredible realization on her face that I think is the birth of a revelation. That is a wonderful little bomb that you can set off to make an entire movie out of. But, yeah, no, it’s not an actual movie.
John: Yeah. It strikes me that we’ve probably made a hundred times movies from each of those characters’ points of view. So from the girl who has no sense that she is a wrecking ball as she’s walking down the street, where she has such an attraction that everything around her sort of crumbles and she’s blissfully unaware of it. That’s a delightful character sometimes to see.
We make a lot of movies about that guy, the cad. That guy who keeps screwing up but you still love him for some reason. But we’ve definitely made the girlfriend’s movie a bunch of times, who gets betrayed by the guy who thinks that she loves or thinks that she likes. And so sometimes that moment happens on page 10. Sometimes it happens on page 30. Sometimes it’s the strategy of a whole journey and discovery. Sometimes the movie is — realize she originally was the girl in soft focus at the left side of the screen and she’s become the girl on the right side of the screen.
So, those three characters are kind of — I think part of the reasons why this became such a good meme is those characters are really archetypal. It’s an experience we all have seen a hundred times and experienced in our own life.
John: But it’s not a movie in and of itself.
John: It is worth clicking through — Martin Belam for The Guardian wrote up a piece about the original photographer. The picture was originally called “Disloyal Man Walking with his Girlfriend and Looking Amazed at Another Seductive Girl.”
Craig: That is accurate.
John: That’s fantastic. And so it was a stock photo image by a 45-year-old professional photographer, Antonio Guillem, from Barcelona. And he uses those same three models in a bunch of things, so it’s fun to see those same actors in just a bunch of different situations. So it’s fun to click through if you want to see more about that meme and its origins.
Craig: The craziest thing is these other things involving those stock photo actors and the craziest one is jealous girlfriend. There’s a sequence of four photos — jealous girlfriend and her husband — it doesn’t seem like the same guy — they’re happily looking at a pregnancy test. She’s pregnant. Then the next photo is she has a baby and she’s feeding it from a bottle. And then the next bottle is looking at a thermometer. The baby is not a baby anymore. She’s like two. And jealous girlfriend, now mother, is staring at a thermometer worried. The last photo is the jealous girlfriend sobbing as she stares at a toddler’s shoe. And it’s clear that the kid died. [laughs] It’s the craziest — I mean, actually this photographer has the ability to reduce narrative down in a way I’ve never experienced before.
I mean, it’s incredible.
John: Yep. The other four set of photos shows essentially the same — it’s a flipped version of the same couple looking at a girl who walks past. So, originally he sees the girl walking past, and then it’s like, oh hey, we know that girl. And so they’re friends. And then the two girls are having coffee. The guy is in the background. And then the two girls are kissing.
Craig: It’s getting better and better.
John: Yeah. So it can work many, many ways.
Craig: It can work many, many ways.
John: All right. Our next story comes from, there’s a bunch of different things I can send you to. I’ll link to a New York Post article about it. But ultimately a Daily Mail article which is sort of a more extensive follow up.
So what happens is Lisa Theris, she’s 25 years old, and she goes missing in the dense Alabama woods. Search parties with dogs go to look for her, but they never find her. Her family makes pleas for anyone with information.
Investigators then say that Lisa Theris was with two men who burglarized a hunting lodge in the woods. Eventually each man accuses the other one of killing her. Then a month later, almost 30 days later, Lisa Theris emerges from the woods, onto a highway, and is spotted by a motorist. She’s lost 50 pounds. She’s bedraggled. She says she was drinking water out of a brook and eating berries and mushrooms for all these weeks. She has bug bites and scratches. She looks horrible.
And originally the story is built like can you believe this woman somehow survived. It is a miracle. And then the story gets extra complicated. Do we want to jump to the spoiler right now, or do we want to talk about that initial part?
Craig: The spoiler is the only reason to do it, so we might as well talk about it, because otherwise it’s like whatever.
John: Right from the first time I saw this article and bookmarked it for like we’ve got to talk about this on a segment, there is something that doesn’t add up here. No young woman without any training is surviving for 30 days in the woods. And she wasn’t that far away from places either. So something else major was going on.
I initially suspected, OK, there’s some serious mental illness or something happening here. One of the initial stories said that she was legally blind. I didn’t see that in the follow up stories. But I thought like, you know what, there’s drugs here someplace. And it seems like there probably were some drugs here.
Craig: Yeah. Not just drugs. America’s favorite drug. Meth.
Craig: Meth. I went into meth forest and I had meth mushrooms. So, Lisa Theris was hanging around with these two guys who were no good. She doesn’t seem to be any good either, to be honest with you. And when I say no good, I mean trouble.
They were talking about robbing a place. They were, it appears, to be completely out of their mind on meth. And she goes wandering off because she’s out of her mind on meth. Here’s the best part. The cops pick up these two guys. And they say what happened. And eventually they confess that they shot her in the head, which they believe they did because they were on meth.
Craig: That’s where this story starts to go to the next level. I don’t think it’s a movie, but it could be an awesome episode of something. Or like even a plot device of something where two characters are absolutely convinced they’ve killed somebody and it turns out that, no, you were just on meth.
John: Yeah. So I really want Gillian Flynn to tackle this. Like Gillian Flynn who did Gone Girl. The same way that she was taking some real life events and sort of spinning them into her own fictional fantasy world for Gone Girl, I feel like this had the beginnings of an idea that needed to be further built out. And so you need some characters who actually had a little bit more agency here. Because one of the frustrations is like all three of the people involved here seem to just be idiots. And so you want somebody to be a little bit brighter and have a little bit more forethought.
But then it’s great when people do have some forethought and still get backed into a corner, which is what is so great about Gone Girl is that everyone ends up being sort of trapped by their own egos and their own devices. There’s something here that could be great, but it just needs a lot of extra stuff to sort of shape it and fill it out.
Craig: Yeah. It’s kind of silly. Because in the end no one dies. No one is hurt. No one even gets burglarized. It’s just three knuckleheads losing their minds on meth. For those of you who might be thinking about trying meth, we don’t think you should. You shouldn’t do it.
John: I would think we can come down pretty strongly on that actually. Because we don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I think we can say that meth is not good.
I don’t know a lot of tremendously successful people who are heavy meth users.
Craig: I actually don’t know any of them. We won’t tell you how to live your life, but we will tell you how not to not live your life. [laughs]
John: [laughs] We can only offer, like, cautionary tales of things. And this would be a cautionary tale.
Ultimately what I think is appealing about this story is the sudden twists. So like a girl goes missing. That’s heartbreaking, but we’ve seen that before. Oh, these guys confess to killing her, but they don’t know where the body is. Oh, that’s a good twist. Oh, she stumbles out of the woods. Well that’s great. And so then like well what happens. And what we’re lacking right now is a “What happened?”
So we’re somewhere in the second act and there’s nothing — it’s not clear that there’s enough machinery built up to carry us through a second and a third act.
John: Agreed. Let’s go on to Copenhagen. Do you want to try to set this one up?
Craig: Copenhagen. Oh boy. This is a weird one. So, in Denmark they found a woman’s torso, without a head, arms, or legs. In the water. What happened here?
Well, [laughs] it’s just too weird to be true, but it’s true. A famous Danish inventor by the name of Peter Madsen had built a homemade submarine. And he took a journalist out on a little submarine ride because she was, I believe, writing a story about his submarine. Her name was Kim Wall. She ends up dead. Initially when she went missing he said that there had been an accident on board, which had caused her death, and that he had gone ahead and just buried her at sea.
And that already was not good. But when the body turned up missing a head and arms and legs, it does seem like maybe he didn’t just bury her at sea. That maybe she didn’t just have an accident. And so right now we’re kind of in the middle of this crazy case where this third rate Elon Musk has apparently pulled some Silence of the Lambs crap on his own submarine.
What? John, help.
John: So here’s what we have. We have a fantastic setting. It’s Denmark and it’s a homemade submarine. And you have this guy who aspires to be Elon Musk, or a Richard Branson. And he’s convinced this journalist, or maybe she sought out this interview, to go on this homemade submarine with him. And she’s an accomplished journalist herself. She’s Swedish. That’s all really interesting.
And then she dies. What’s tough, though, is to figure out where do you start the story. Do you start the story before this murder happens? Do you start the story with the body washing up? And who are the principal characters other than this guy? And are we following it all from his point of view? Because there’s definitely a dark, dark movie where you’re basically with him this entire time, sort of watching things go awry. But there’s also probably a Fargo-ish version where we have multiple point of views and particularly some law enforcement person who is pushing into the crazy here, to just help — he is thrown into this.
Again, we don’t have enough beats here yet. There’s not enough story here yet. So we have a really compelling world. A compelling central character. We’re not sure we’d follow him as a dark protagonist or as the Hannibal Lecter of the story. But we don’t have really an engine.
Craig: I agree. I think that there are quite a few, maybe one could argue too many at this point, television series that center around a single murder, an unexpected murder in a quiet place. A number of these series, in fact, are Danish and Swedish. And you could see this being episode one of an eight-episode series, trying to figure out how someone ended up armless and headless and legless after taking a submarine ride. So there’s certainly the potential for a good mystery here.
But I don’t think it’s at all a movie. It does sort of inspire, though, an idea for a movie.
John: Tell me.
Craig: A serial killer on a submarine. Like a real submarine.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: It’s like a locked-room mystery. So people just keep turning up dead on a submarine and you’re the guy in charge of figuring out who did it. That’s kind of cool.
John: Oh, OK, great. I was hearing that a completely different way. So you’re describing that it’s Murder on the Orient Express but you’re on a submarine?
Craig: Exactly. Exactly.
John: That’s great.
Craig: But it keeps happening. Like Murder on the Orient Express, one person is murdered. So in this one — this is more like And Then There Were None on a submarine.
John: I originally thought you were describing a serial killer who like got into places on a submarine. Basically that’s why no one could ever detect him. Because he was coming in on a personal submarine.
Craig: That would be cool.
John: That would be kind of cool.
Craig: And weird.
John: And weird.
John: All right. Let’s get to our final one. This is a much kind of looser idea for a story. I guarantee you there’s not a movie about specifically this, but I thought it was an interesting framework for sort of a thing that feels old fashioned yet still apparently exists.
So, this is a story in Fast Company written by John Paul Titlow. And he follows Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer who are starting an online business. And they’re able to do everything great. Things are set up and working well, but what they find, or at least what they suspect, is that sometimes their vendors or other people they’re dealing with are dismissing them, and they think it’s because they’re women.
So they create a fake male cofounder and start using his name on the emails going out. And they find a very different reaction when the email comes from a man’s name rather than a woman’s name. So it basically tracks what it’s like to create a fictitious guy in the company that’s actually run by two women.
Craig: I actually think that there is a movie in this.
John: Tell me about it.
Craig: Well, there is a long tradition in comedies, and I think it would be a comedy with an edge and purpose, of characters creating a lie, losing control of the lie, having to face the consequences of the lie. Usually the point of that is you shouldn’t have lied. And in this one the point can be, oh, you shouldn’t have had to have lied. And there is a possibility of two women creating this man and suddenly encountering all this success and having to farcically keep up the man and his presence and send him into meetings and all the rest of it. It’s a bit like Cyrano de Bergerac but for business. And instead of trying to win over the heart of a woman, you’re trying win over the heart of a VC guy. So you’re sending in some dopey guy who — essentially you hire a bro.
You hire a tech bro to be the face of your company and the entire thing is essentially a satire on sexist Silicon Valley. And then it all comes crumbling down. I think there’s potential for a funny movie there.
John: I agree. So, part of what they’re describing here is essentially the premise of Remington Steele. So that was a great detective drama that I loved, or detective comedy that I loved, in the ë80s, starring Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan.
And so Stephanie Zimbalist’s character was a private investigator and no one would take her seriously so she created Remington Steele who would be the man runs the agency, but he was always off on business. Pierce Brosnan shows up as somebody asking for Remington Steele, basically realizes that there’s no real person, and basically fills that spot. And so the tension is between them and this guy who shows up. So that’s certainly a possibility.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend also had a plot line where Rebecca had basically created a fake boyfriend based on this guy on Facebook. But that guy turned out to be her own stalker. And so he shows up and hilarity ensues.
So, there’s definitely a great tradition of that where you’ve started a lie and the lie just keeps spinning out of control. And you’ve lost the ability to sort of manipulate it, but that’s part of the fun of that.
So, I agree some person occupying the spot of that guy ultimately is what’s going to have to happen.
Craig: It does seem like that. Who, by the way, is in the great pantheon of culture — who is your favorite fake boyfriend?
John: Do I have a favorite fake boyfriend?
Craig: Because there is an answer.
John: What is the greatest fake boyfriend?
Craig: George Glass.
John: What is George Glass from? Is that from Not Another Teen Movie?
Craig: No. He is from The Brady Bunch.
John: Oh my god. The Brady Bunch. Of course.
Craig: Jan invented George Glass because Marcia was making fun of her for not having a boyfriend. George Glass.
John: George Glass is great.
John: So I think there could be some movie there and, again, the casting of these two women is so fundamental because their basic chemistry is going to have to be driving a lot of this. And then you add the third element of whoever this guy is who fills that spot. And some good stuff could happen. You could have the tension between the two women. You have the tension between the two women and this guy. The outsiders. It’s a good way of sort of framing the craziness of Silicon Valley or VC culture. So I can see all of that stuff happening.
Craig: Yeah. I think somebody should do this.
John: All right. Maybe someone will do this. So, I want to thank Andrew Ellard who pointed us towards this article. And we also had a bunch of readers who pointed us to other articles that we talked about today. Like nine people pointed me to the submarine thing, so thank you for that. Again, you guys continue to be the best people.
Craig, of all the movies we talked through today, you think this one could be a movie and probably the spy story could be a movie?
Craig: That’s right. That’s where I’m coming down, John.
John: All right. I think those are good choices. But I would say I wouldn’t be surprised if people keep digging around about the meth story and even this New York Times story, which got a lot of attention, there’s something appealing about the worlds in which they’re set. There’s just not enough story here quite yet for either of those other two stories.
John: Agreed. Craig, it is time for our One Cool Things. Do you have a One Cool Thing?
Craig: I do. I do. Today’s One Cool Thing is something that was a cool thing in my life years ago and is about to become a slightly larger cool thing again. The Lego Company is putting out a new Millennium Falcon model. So, the last time, and this is the big one, right. So there was a big one back in the day that I built. It was 5,000 plus pieces. 5,195 pieces. And I built it, John. I built it. It was enormous. And it took me a long time as you can imagine.
John: Well, when you say a long time, it was weeks or days?
Craig: Weeks. Weeks.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, it had to. 5,195 pieces is more than you think it is. It’s so many and a lot of them are tiny, tiny, and you’ve got to find — and the instruction booklet is like a phonebook. So, I built it. I built it. And then over time I actually gave it away to one of my son’s friends, so he has it now.
But they’re reissuing — not reissuing — they’ve created a new one. The new ultimate collector series Millennium Falcon. It’s going to have 7,541 pieces. And it looks so good. And I’m going to buy it. And I’m going to build it. Yeah. I’m going to do it, John.
John: So, where will you put the Millennium Falcon when you’re done with it?
Craig: That’s a great question. I’ve been thinking about that. I think I’m going to put it in my office. But I’ve got to find a real good spot for it. It’s heavy. I want to build it where I’m going to be, because transporting it is a huge pain in the ass.
John: Yeah. So and will you hang it some way, or will it be a pedestal? I suspect there will be a whole aftermarket for like custom pedestals for the Millennium Falcon.
Craig: I’m just going to put it on top of something. I’m not going to — hanging it would be very difficult. It is heavy. I can’t remember what the actual weight was of the first one. But it was probably 30 pounds, 40 pounds. I mean, it was really heavy.
And this one, one of the cool things about this one, just to get super dorky, is that they’re giving you a choice. As you build it, you can build it to be a replica of the original Millennium Falcon, or you can build it to include some little tweakies that have since come aboard the version that is in 7, 8, and 9.
John: Nice. Cool.
Craig: So I can build the Rian Falcon or the non-Rian Falcon.
John: That’s awesome. And so one kit will be able to build both, or you have to buy the special kit?
Craig: No, one kit will build both. There aren’t that many differences, so they’re able to do that.
John: Really nice. Cool. Maybe you could get Rian Johnson to sign your Millennium Falcon.
Craig: Ooh, I’m gonna. What a great idea.
John: I have good ideas every once and a while. My One Cool Thing is a website called the Living New Deal. And it’s basically a giant Google Map that shows little pins for all of the New Deal projects built across the United States. So, for people who don’t know US history, during the Great Depression there was an act called The New Deal which was to build a bunch of things across the country to basically put people back to work. So, there were major engineering projects, bridges, dams. But also a lot of artistic projects, so like a lot of artisans were put to work building murals and other sort of works around.
And you look at this map and it looks like some horrible outbreak has happened in the US, but it’s all like cool stuff that was built. So you can zoom in, or you can even type in your zip code and see what’s around you that was built as part of the New Deal. And I lost a lot of time just clicking through and seeing stuff because it’s really an impressive achievement of what an organized spending plan can do to create cool things in the world and keep people working.
So, particularly our national parks. That’s one of the great achievements of the New Deal was really building the infrastructure for our national parks system which is still amazing.
Craig: Yeah. This is a great map. I know that some people feel like government doesn’t do anything, but when you look at this it is astonishing.
John: Yeah. And over a period of — the New Deal lasted eight years I would say, max. I don’t really know. I don’t know the outer boundaries of the New Deal.
Craig: Roughly. Yeah.
John: But it was making stuff. And it’s cool when people make stuff. And it’s cool that so much of that stuff is still around because you get to see it. And even in Los Angeles, you know, you kind of can’t go too far without encountering a grade school that has a mural from the New Deal, or our public libraries. So, check it out.
Craig: Yeah. There was a time when this country actually functioned.
John: Remember that? All right, that is our show for this week. So, final reminders. You should vote in the WGA elections because it’s important to vote and set a course for the next two years of the WGA. And buy Big Fish tickets in London if you are going to be in London because it will be a fun show and I’d love to see you.
Our show is produced by Carlton Mittagakus. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Jonathan Mann.
Craig: Oh, I like Jonathan Mann.
John: And Craig will especially like this one, because Craig is all over this outro.
Craig: Well, you know. I’m pretty useful for outros.
John: If you have an outro, you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you send longer questions, but short questions are great on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. On Facebook, look for us at Scriptnotes Podcast. And look for us on Apple Podcasts to subscribe. While you’re there, leave us a review. That’s always helpful. Thank you for people who do that.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts. Transcripts have been a little bit slower, so it’s about a week after the episode goes up that we have the full transcripts. But it’s nice. It’s searchable.
You can find the back episodes of this show at Scriptnotes.net or on the USB drive. Just go to store.johnaugust.com.
Craig, have a fun week.
Craig: You too. And I’ll see you soon.
- Cast your ballot in the WGAw Officers and Board of Directors election
- Get your tickets now for this November and December’s London run of Big Fish: The Musical
- Gizmodo on Why MoviePass’s Crazy Cheap Subscription Just Might Work
- Abraham Davis’s story on The Daily and in The New York Times
- William Grimes on Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens
- The Distracted Boyfriend Meme in Wired, The Guardian, Vox, Business Insider and the “movie trailer” from Vulture
- The New York Post on the woman lost in woods who survived on ‘berries and mushrooms’ for a month, and follow up from The Sacramento Bee and The Daily Mail
- Famed Inventor Says He Buried Reporter ‘At Sea’ After His Homemade Sub Sank on NPR
- Fast Company on Witchsy’s two female founders and their fake male cofounder
- The new 7,541-piece Lego Millennium Falcon is the biggest and most expensive set ever
- The Living New Deal map
- The Scriptnotes Listeners’ Guide!
- The USB drives!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Jonathan Mann (send us yours!)
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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