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 319 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show, it’s a new round of the Three Page Challenge, where we take a look at samples sent in by our listeners to see what’s working and what’s not. Then we answer perhaps the most important question of all, is how do we number our files.
But first there’s exciting news. This past Monday, or actually a week ago now that the podcast comes out, I got elected to the WGA board.
Craig: You didn’t just get elected, John. You got more votes than anyone, which actually does matter. It means that when you go into the boardroom as a new board member everybody is going to know that you’re for real. You’re the real deal, buddy. And I couldn’t be happier. Obviously I voted for you and endorsed you wholeheartedly. We are in desperate need of you on our board of our union.
And so I wish you the greatest of luck.
John: Well thank you very much. I want to thank everybody who voted. These elections are always sort of low turnout because they end up being sort of low turnout, but I’m really grateful to everybody who did go out and vote. Also, the other candidates are terrific. And so most of them will be joining me on the board this next year, so I’m looking forward to that.
So, by the time this episode comes out I will have been through my first WGA board meeting. I will have gone through the gauntlet and all of the hazing rituals. And will hopefully have come out the other side.
Craig: Yeah. The hazing rituals is really a hazing ritual and it never stops. The nature of the ritual is to bore you to death. I’m telling you, man, those board meetings, the homophone is appropriate.
John: Mm-hmm. I will post a link to two things that I have written about the WGA experience. First is on the site johnaugust.com there is a link now for WGA. So, if you are a WGA member who has something you need to tell me about what’s going on, that is a link you can click. Also on the blog I just did a post sort of outlining general objectives for what I hope to be able to look at these next two years. The short version is that there’s a lot of stuff that’s affecting writers on a day-to-day basis, and I want to look and see what we can do on just an enforcement basis. That’s not a negotiation. That’s not a big fight, but it’s just sort of getting people to honor the contract we already have.
Secondly, I want to be able to spend these two years looking at what’s down the road. And making sure that we’re prepared for big changes in the industry and the impact they could have on writers like you and me and the brand new writers who are just now joining the guild.
Craig: Music to my ears. We are always in a state of looking forward these days. I think this is a problem that our generation has far more than the generations that preceded us. The business basically was the business for many decades, but with the advent of technology it’s been a little nuts. So, we do have to look forward constantly. But even more important I think is that E-word you mentioned — enforcement. Because we have been locked in a cycle for a long time now where we fight very, very hard and occasionally even strike to get terms in our contract. And then we don’t really seem to do a fantastic job of enforcing those terms when they are violated by the companies.
So, excellent news. You know what? I do not regret voting for you as of this point.
John: As of yet. So join us next week to see how I’ve disappointed Craig.
Craig: The regret will kick in. And just the fact that you’re the cohost of this podcast will not save you.
John: No. Not a bit. I will take the full wrath and umbrage of Craig Mazin for my role in the WGA.
Craig: Gonna be good.
John: Revisiting past umbrage and confusion, MoviePass was something we’ve talked about twice on the show before. The first time it was sort of a head scratch and a “huh,” like how could this possibly work. And then in the second bit of follow up we said like, oh, I guess I can see sort of a way that it could work. And now there’s more follow up. So, for people who forget what MoviePass is, this is a service you sign up for for now $9.95 a month. You can see unlimited movies in the US. And that seems impossible. Like theatrical movies, in the movie theater.
It turns out it’s actually a credit card you are getting. With that credit card, when you buy your tickets, the money is refunded to you. So, we have more information. This week an interview by Rob Cain for Forbes, in which he talks to the CEO of MoviePass about sort of what the actual plan is.
And, Craig, I don’t know about your experience with this, but I felt like, oh you know what, I could see a way this could actually work for MoviePass. What’s your take on this new information?
Craig: Yeah. Now that I look at it, I do think, “OK, there’s a possibility here.” I mean, first and foremost what Mr. Lowe says, this is — what’s his first name?
Craig: Mitch Lowe. What Mitch Lowe says is that he expects that in time most users of MoviePass will settle into what they believe is a fairly predictable rate of usage, which is essentially one movie a month, or I guess he says a pattern of just over a movie ticket per month. Because, you know, you could do digital fractions of things. But so, OK, if the average cost of a ticket is $9 and he’s charging about $10 a month for MoviePass, he’s breaking even on that. That’s his expectation over time.
So you’d say, OK, well, fine, you broke even. But how do you make money? And the way he’s making money it seems is that he’s creating essentially a targeted advertisement platform, as far as I can tell.
John: Yeah. That seems to be part of it. I guess originally our concern was how do you make money if people are going to three movies per month and it’s costing you all that money and they’re only paying $9 a month. And I have some increased belief that he actually knows what he’s talking about because he comes from Netflix, he comes from Redbox, so he does have a lot of background in sort of customer behavior when it comes to movies.
And the case that he makes in this interview with Cain, he says that, “We found that at $40 per month, subscribers would attend an average of 3.8 times per month. At a higher price they would attend more frequently. At a lower price, a lot less. So at $9.95 a month we expect the average subscriber to settle into a pattern of just over one movie ticket per month.”
So he’s targeting sort of the reluctant moviegoers. And he describes it as basically bad movie insurance. So the people who don’t go to movies all that often, people might go once or twice or three times a year, there’s a fear of loss, of what if I buy a ticket and I don’t like the movie. Well this sort of psychologically gets them out of that fear because the ticket was essentially free for them for that month.
John: I can see in some ways it could increase movie-going if the people who are actually subscribing to MoviePass are in that sort of reluctant filmgoer mindset.
Craig: Yeah. He’s also talking about perhaps capturing a small commission on concession sales. Not quite sure how that works and we’ll see if the large movie theater chains want to go along with it. But what is interesting about what he’s doing is he’s capturing information that nobody else is capturing. The point of sale other than MoviePass is of course the movie theater ticket box office. There are some other ticket purchasing outfits out there, you know, if you buy online through Fandango or something like that. But I think a lot of people they go up to the box office window and they say I want a ticket and they sell you a ticket. And the theater isn’t collecting any information on you.
And so here he is going to collect an enormous amount of information on the kinds of people who go to certain kinds of movies and how frequently they go. And he’ll be able to sell that information to studios and say, by the way, here’s a group of people that are going many, many times to the movies each month. Here is a kind of movie that gets a lot of repeat business. Here’s this. Here’s that.
So, you know, I can see how this could work. It really is all based essentially on the guess that people will not overeat at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
John: Yeah. This was the most intriguing part of the whole article to me. “When we get to ten million subscribers, we’ll be able to generate $7 million in additional box office for an independent film. At that point, it makes sense for us to get into the distribution business.” And so circling back to our conversation about how theatrical exhibition works, movie theaters like Loews, like AMC, they cannot make movies themselves. That is part of the consent decree. They cannot become movie producers.
But this guy, MoviePass, he can totally make movies if he wants to make movies. And at a certain point if this is successful enough, if it becomes like a Netflix, it will make sense for them to make movies because they’ll have tremendous information about who could buy their movies and could offer discounts on their movies. I could see it becoming a thing.
Will it become a thing? I don’t know. But I can see a way that it could evolve into something that is good, and new, and exciting.
Craig: Yeah. If he gets to his 10 million subscribers and he wants to go ahead and get into the distribution business, at that point he will almost certainly face a gauntlet of legal challenges that will either be initiated by the government or by large movie chains lobbying the government. That will be a fight. No question about it. They’re going to want to–
John: Why do you think there will be a fight? Because he’s not an exhibitor. He’s just a distributor the same way that a studio is a distributor.
Craig: I think there is an argument to be made that he is selling movie tickets, and therefore is directly selling movie tickets to people through MoviePass and therefore he is kind of an exhibitor.
You know, like Paramount Pictures can’t sell you movie tickets that you then go and bring to a theater. That’s kind of part and parcel with the whole split up of the producers and the exhibitors.
It’s not to say that what I’m saying is determinative or that he won’t get there. There’s no question that if he’s thinking about it, it means plenty of lawyers have said we can make the argument that this will work. But it’s going to be a fight. The AMCs of the world are not going to lay down and let this guy start basically playing by rules that — new rules or not having to play by the rules that they played by.
So, you know, let’s see what happens. It will be interesting.
John: It will be interesting. I agree. Last bit of follow up, listener Matt wrote in to say, “I was wondering if you could elaborate more on Episode 315 in which you touched on how the music industry was crippled by the digital age, but movies did not suffer the same fate. Being a former musician, I know this better than most, but I was wondering if you could go into more detail on how exactly film managed to survive. I know the midrange movies took a big hit as DVD sales declined, but what else happened, and why?”
So I threw this on the outline without doing any additional research, so this is just going to be speculation and opinion.
Craig: We’ll wing it.
John: We’re totally winging this. Some things which occur to me that are different about movies versus music. Theatrical I’ll say is sort of like our live performance. And so the same way that recording artists took a giant hit when their songs became downloads rather than CDs that were purchased, and they were then making their money sort of going out on tour, our movies in movie theaters are sort of like being out on tour. They are that public performance where everyone is going to buy a ticket and see the thing live in front of them on the big screen.
And that’s been surprisingly resilient, even in the face of new challenges, because it’s a chance to get out of your house. It’s a chance to go on a date, or hang out with your friends. It’s an excuse to get together with people. So I think that has helped the movie business buck up a bit.
I think a difference between movies and music, which was important at the time but is much less important now, is that the files are huge. And so it was easier to schlep around music files. It was much harder to schlep around giant movie files. And so torrents made that easier, but still they were much bigger files and as bandwidth increased it became easier to send around giant movie files. But they weren’t happening as much as early.
Once you have those files, it’s harder to get them onto your TV. Clever people can always find a way to do that, or they’ll be willing to watch them on their laptops, but it’s harder to get them on the screen. And if you’re watching these movies overseas and it’s a western movie in English and you want to watch it with your subtitles, solutions have sort of come up for like how to pirate movies and slap on the subtitles, but it’s not easy. It’s not simple to do that. And I think that’s another thing that has slowed down some piracy of movies or at least let movies sort of get some — it gave them some time to get ahead of piracy.
Craig: Well that all sounds accurate to me. I would add on a couple of other things. When Napster happened, and started to change the way that people were paying — or in this case not paying — for audio, and for music, the radio business continued as it continues. You know, the radio business plays music for free. I’m talking about not the satellite subscription, sort of terrestrial radio. You listen to music for free and then they pump ads at you. And that’s how they make their money.
Well that’s exactly how broadcast television and a lot of cable television works. Right? So the difference being that that was how you got the product in television, broadcast television, and cable television. It’s not like you were going to a store to buy this product before it was running on television. You had to go to the television to get it in the first place, which meant you were getting the ads on you right off the bat.
If I buy an album, if I buy a whole bunch of albums and music that I want to listen to, I don’t have to go listen to the radio station to hear that music because I own it. And in fact that directional issue is I think a lot of why music suffered and the movie business didn’t.
In general, like you said, movies are like concerts, right? And then the DVDs are like the albums. Well, notice that in movies and in television the performance comes first. That is the main product. And then the album equivalent comes after. That’s something that the fans then buy afterwards because they want to see it or experience it again.
Not the case with music. In music, you buy it first. If you like it, then you go to the concert. So, if the first option is free, that’s what people are going to want. And in movies, they’re not free. The first option is you’ve got to go to the theater. And television a lot of times the first option is free, or there’s a monthly subscription that they’ve already gotten used to, going to HBO and so on and so forth. And then if they liked it, yeah, you know, most people who go and see a movie and they love that movie and they want to see it again, they would go — they were used to renting it. They would go to Blockbuster and rent it. So they’re in the pattern of paying for that. No big deal.
The excitement of short-circuiting the entire thing and getting something new for free by stealing it was, I think, the problem with the music business. Because the free part, the change part, happened at the front of the experience. Not at the middle or end of the experience the way it did in television and in movies.
John: I think you are hitting on a key point here. And if you look back historically, the movie business existed long before there was home video. So for many, many years there really was no way to watch Gone with the Wind if it wasn’t playing at the theater down the street. And yet the movie business was completely viable.
And so as home video arose, that was a whole bunch of new money. And it was fantastic. And we made a lot more stuff and it benefitted writers tremendously because residuals became a more meaningful thing. So the rise of digital downloads, legal and illegal downloads, did hit home video in a really hard way. But there was still a way for movies to make money. And that’s I think why they were able to survive.
When you look at music, yes, there had been that tradition of live performance, but we’d had recorded music for so long. It had been so expected that you go out and buy an album and that was your primary way of consuming music. That when that got disrupted the whole business model did collapse.
Craig: Yeah. It is fascinating. The other aspect of music that’s so interesting to me is that there isn’t a work-for-hire in the music business the way that there is in movies and television. So, part of the problem with the music business was that all the album sales, the first part of the experience, almost all of that money went to the companies. And then the — I mean, some money went to the artist, but a lot of it went to the companies. And then the performance, going out and touring, that was all about the artist.
But then they would have to send back money if the company promoted it and stuff like that. Or the company fronted them money for videos and so on and so forth. And so when you chop that thing in half, then I think for a moment maybe artists thought this is good because that side of the business, the album sales side, I was always getting screwed on anyway. But, you know, the performance side is going to be great and I’m still going to sell t-shirts and make my money.
Except that they kind of forgot that no one goes to a concert for an act they don’t know. And that all the promotion was coming from the companies and the album sales. So there was a symbiotic relationship that got really disrupted there. And so you do have this strange thing now where we have these acts, the most successful touring acts, are old. With rare exception.
You know, The Rolling Stones still, you know. It’s hard to break new bands that then make a ton of money on tour. At this point now, a lot of them are I guess manufactured bands that are literally created for the purpose of this sort of thing. But when I look at the list of the highest grossing concerts, I’m like, oh my god, everyone is old.
John: Yeah. I do think it’s worth going through the thought experiment of like what if there had been more bandwidth earlier. If a few variables had changed, I do think we would be in bigger trouble. I do think if there had been tremendous bandwidth and it had been easier to get pirated movies onto your TV, I think home video would have collapsed more fully, more quickly. I think the economics would have changed. I still think the theatrical experience would remain. I think all the doomsdayers are saying like, oh, your TV at home is going to be so great and people are going to want to stay home rather than go out and suffer through the movie theater experience. Those are old people. Those are old people who don’t want to be around teenagers. Teenagers want to get out of the house and movies are a good excuse for doing that.
Craig: Yep. As long as kids want to make out in a dark room, there will be movies.
John: And there will be a MoviePass or something like that to try to get them to do more of it.
Craig: Naughty children. Well, that probably — that should get us to our Three Page Challenge, don’t you think?
John: We absolutely should tackle these three pages.
Craig: What should we start with here?
John: Let’s start with Steven Wood, a script called This is Absurd. Now, if you want to read along the three pages as we go through them, you can find them on the show notes. Just go to johnaugust.com and look for this episode. We’ll also have them up in Weekend Read so if you’re on Weekend Read you can read along with us.
So here’s a synopsis for this first one. A dapper middle-aged gentleman works the front desk at a motel. He stands perfectly still, with his hands clasped. A single room key hangs on a peg behind him. Joey enters, tired. He waits to be greeted by the manager. He rings the bell, but still no acknowledgment. Finally, Joey speaks, only to be cut off by the manager.
The answers do not quite feel stock, but the conversation is disjointed and unnatural. The manager accepts Joey’s payment without knowing the amount and sends him to his room. Joey and Dale, with whom Joey arrived, share a smoke outside their room. Joey mentions that the manager didn’t even count the money.
In the dingy motel room, Dale clicks the TV to a new station. Joey warns that “They’re going to find the car.” Dale is not worried. He wiped it down for prints. He goes to the bathroom just as the news anchor announces these two men as fugitives.
Craig, do you want to start us off?
Craig: Sure. So we talk a lot about confusion versus mystery. I think these three pages do a very good job of creating mystery as opposed to confusion. The manager and the nature of this motel are a mystery. You and I don’t know what it is, but if it turned out that the manager is the devil that would make sense to me. If it turned out the manager was an alien that would make sense to me. If it turned out the manager was a robot that would make sense to me. There’s all sorts of possibilities about what’s going on here.
The way it plays out and the scene craft is quite good, I think. The first scene here between Joey and the manager. Mostly good because I think the manager is created really interestingly. It’s a smart thing to have the manager say nothing until the bell rings. It makes us wonder what was it about the bell. See, they’re all like little hints.
I also like the way it was set up visually. And the part I liked was it says, “A leather-bound ledger is atop the counter along with a fingerprint-free brass bell.” That’s interesting. It’s almost as if this motel has been waiting. It’s like it popped up out of nowhere and is just waiting for these two guys like a Venus fly trap or something.
So, I liked that. And the fact that Joey has to sign his name and his room number felt very, I don’t know, hell-like to me. So, all that was good.
If I have any criticisms, it’s that the introduction of Joey is kind of a whiff. So, the manager gets MAN in all capitals, Joey doesn’t get anything. The description of Joey is as follows: Joey. That’s it. That’s all I get. Joey. I don’t know his age, I don’t know his height, his appearance. I don’t know anything. Until it says he, I didn’t even know if Joey was a man or a woman.
So, that’s not good. I want to know more about Joey. Similarly, when Joey does enter through the front door, it says tired. He slams his forearms on the counter. I don’t think anybody has ever done that. I don’t know what that means. How do you slam your forearms on a counter? That’s a very odd motion.
John: Yeah. So I think it’s throwing your weight down on the counter. So I got what he was going for, but I had read it twice or three times.
Craig: Yeah. I wasn’t quite sure about that. And then following that it says, “Dale waits outside.” Um, who? Dale? Oh, OK. I don’t know who Dale is either. And also how do I see him. Is there a window? Is the door–
Craig: Yeah. What’s going on here? So, the descriptions were really scant. Joey I don’t think is quite interacting with the manager the way I would expect somebody normal to. And it’s not that Joey has to be normal. But when you have a character in a scene who is so wildly abnormal, isn’t that the title of this? This is Abnormal?
John: Yeah. This is Absurd.
Craig: This is Absurd. So we have an absurd character in the manager, which means we in the audience sort of need to be anchored in a non-absurd character opposing him in this back and forth conflicted scene. And Joey doesn’t quite get there. I wasn’t really with him on this. But, you know, it wasn’t bad. The line that sort of stopped me was when Joey says, “I’m going to wait” — ”I’m gonna to wait,” so let’s fix those typos. “I’m gonna wait and let you finish with your little spiel so you can stop interrupting me.”
It didn’t really seem like the manager was, I don’t know, interrupting him that aggressively. They’ve done bad things, Joey and Dale, and now they’re in a deadly motel of some kind, where they will receive some sort of punishment. That’s my prediction. But overall good.
John: Yeah. I enjoyed it as well. So, I have exactly your same criticisms in the sense that the manager is so well described, the environment is so well described, and Joey is just nothing. He’s just a name. And so giving us some specificity on who he is so we can relate to him and relate to his experience interacting with this manager is crucial. So even if you don’t want to tip us off that Joey is a bad guy, just give us some sense of who he is so we can get a sense of what his voice is going to be as he starts talking.
I also agree with you that I felt — it’s not that the manager was too pushed, it’s just that Joey’s reaction to his being pushed didn’t seem reasonable. And I flagged the same moment at the end of page one that you did.
I think if I had a bigger concern is that I’ve seen The Twilight Zone. I’ve seen Tales from the Dark Side. I was thinking back to that sci-fi series, The Lost Room, that I liked a lot. The idea of a haunted motel is a bit stock. But it’s still delightful. And it harkens back to almost like an Edgar Allan Poe kind of sense of like “this is the place where your sins are going to be punished.“
I just needed — I wish I got a sense after these three pages that our screenwriter sort of knew the tropes and could push past the tropes, or could at least know that he had a plan for sort of going past those easy things. Because by the time I got to the end of page three I was like, “OK, yeah, they’re criminal on the run,” but I’m not confident that this is going to be the subversion of this kind of story I’ve seen a lot.
And an example of something of where I thought we were missing an opportunity is at the start of page three. We have our only exterior. So “EXT – MOTEL – OUTSIDE ROOM FIFTEEN — NIGHT. Dale and Joey take a few drags off a smoke before going inside.”
That action is great. So, that they’re sharing a cigarette is also great. But where are we? If we’re exterior someplace, we have to be someplace. And so is there a rain storm? Are we in a desert? Are we in the middle of a city? We’re nowhere. And I think it’s absolutely a valid choice to start in a place where you don’t have any sense of what’s outside this room, but once we are outside this room you’ve got to give us some environment. And that’s where I felt like, OK, we’re on a sound stage someplace in Toronto and it’s going to be one of those sort of incredibly teeny tiny budget things that doesn’t really add up to anything.
Craig: Unless these three pages are not the first three pages. You know, if — and I would imagine people would probably let us know, but if these aren’t the first three, because we’ve never said that people have to send the first three. If it were in the middle then, OK, I would understand why Joey isn’t described and why Dale isn’t described and why the general area isn’t described.
But, some other things to consider. And certainly if this is the first three, no question about what you’re saying. When they’re standing outside Dale and Joey take a few drags off a smoke before going inside. “He didn’t even count the money.” What’s Dale thinking? Does Dale even know what he’s talking about? I feel like I’m missing something there. It’s like Joey is presuming that Dale is watching the movie with us. He wasn’t in there. He didn’t even hear any of that.
So, what is Joey trying to impart to Dale there exactly?
John: There’s a sense of which this could be the end of a conversation. So if you wanted to signal that like this was the last part of a conversation you’d say like, “Yeah and it’s weird, he didn’t even count the money.” Crushes the cigarette. Goes in the room. Like the sense that this was the end of a longer thing. But I agree, it just hangs there in a weird way.
Craig: It’s sort of a naked line because there’s no action inspiring it. It’s unmotivated. So what you end up happening is — you have two actors and they’re out there and you say, “Action,” and they’re smoking, and then one says, “He didn’t even count the money.” And the other one looks at him. Shrugs. And then they both go inside. But then why did you say that? It will seem like an odd cut.
You can certainly do what you’re suggesting, which is you get there and they’re smoking and then Dale says, “Really?” And Joey says, “Yeah, he didn’t even count the money.” And then you go, OK, I get it. I’m at the end of a conversation.
Lastly, I want to point out that trope-wise the news anchor, the helpful expository news anchor working for Exposition News Nightly, needs to be driven from the planet, ejected into deep, deep space. The news anchor helpfully informs us, “The two men have been identified as Dale Shelton and Joseph Williams, both should be considered…”
You know what? No. First of all, news anchors, when was the last time you heard a local news anchor say, “Both should be considered armed and dangerous?” Oh please. So, anyway, there’s so many better ways of doing this. If this happens in the middle, then we don’t need to know. But if it doesn’t happen in the middle and I don’t think it does, I think these are the first three pages, then he says, OK, “You know they’re going to find the car, right?” “Who cares, I wiped it down.” Good. Not expository. Just intriguing. Fine.
And then show me casually one of them putting his clothing in the drawer and as he’s moving his underwear in there’s the gun. Or show me that he wipes his hair back and we see that there’s a blood stain. Show me something else that makes me go, OK, these guys are bad guys and they’ve done a bad thing. The news anchor has got to go.
John: It’s got to go. That to me is the new air vent. It’s just the convenient thing that’s there which would almost never happen in real life.
Craig: And also it’s amazing. Every time they turn on the news that’s what they’re always talking about.
John: Isn’t that great? Yeah.
Craig: How cool is that?
John: I’m sure there are shows that have hung a lantern on that idea of like that trope and so if people who are listening to the show can point me to things where they point out the absurdity of that, we will maybe run those on a future episode, because it has to be just called out.
Craig: Yeah. I think somewhere somebody must have done Exposition News Network, because… — All right. Well let’s see, which one should we do next?
John: Before we go on to the next one, there’s one last thing I want to signal. Five paragraphs in, “An awkward moment passes, no one speaks, Joey waits to be greeted by the Manager, who only stares, not making eye contact.”
So, that’s a lot of commas in a row. And there’s ways in which that could be great. It just wasn’t great for me there. So breaking that up into some sentences would help you out.
Craig: No question. And also they’re not used properly. “An awkward moment passes. Period. No one speaks. Period. Joey waits to be greeted by the manager, who only stares, not making eye contact.” Grammatically speaking, that’s how you would do that.
John: There’s no stylistic reason why those commas are helping him out there.
Craig: No. None at all. They just sort of mush up your sentence there.
John: Cool. Do you want to do the next one, Craig?
Craig: Sure. How to Make Friends by Elizabeth Boston. OK, so a beautifully lit garden party is filled with happy guests and Bon Voyage balloons. We follow a partygoer to the restroom. She knocks, but inside the restroom is Tula, 30, who politely calls back through the door and says, “It’s occupied.” After a second knock, she claims to be pooping but she is not.
She gets a text from her friend that says she’s running late, but that Tula should socialize. Instead, we see a quick montage of Tula killing time in the bathroom. Painting her toes. Plucking a stray hair. And then actually pooping.
We then cut to Pam and Katie, both 30, who are skipping arm-in-arm down the street a la the Laverne & Shirley opening, for those of you old enough to know what that is. And then we smash cut to reality. Oh, that’s not really what was happening. What’s really happening is Kate is super-duper drunk and attempting the Laverne & Shirley routine. She pukes. Then tells Pam that Pam will miss her when Katie is in New York.
Pam says they are late to her, meaning Pam’s, goodbye party. Katie kneels down near a sleeping homeless man to tie her shoelaces, but is actually doing it to steal money from his collection can.
And that is How to Make Friends. John, dig in.
John: I shall dig in. So, my guess after these three pages is that this is a story about the three women. So, it sort of looks like it’s a Tula story, but I believe that the weight is probably going to be shared between the three women, or at least Katie who is such a drunk in this thing, maybe she becomes more of a thing that is carried around through the course of the story. So maybe it’s more Katie and Tula.
I was frustrated because I was happy to see these women sort of having their individual moments, but it wasn’t adding up to a lot for me. And I didn’t feel like I was seeing anything remarkable that was intriguing me to read more down the road. And some of it was — I’m going to say that horrible word again — specificity. From the very start, “EXT. PHILADELPHIA STREET — NIGHT.” Night.
Then “EXT. BACKYARD PARTY — NIGHT.” So the Philadelphia Street gets no scene description at all. So it should just not be there if you’re not going to tell us anything about that Philadelphia Street, because a Philadelphia Street could be a giant boulevard. It could be a tiny back alley. It could be in a posh neighborhood. It could be somewhere else.
I just don’t know what this is. And so then we go to this backyard party. I still have no sense of where are we. Are we at some sort of row house? Are we at a mansion? You’ve got to anchor us in a place or anchor us with a character in those first shots so we can really see what’s happening.
Then we follow a partygoer toward the house. Well, partygoer, so I see the kind of shot we’re trying to describe here, which is where we’re sort of floating behind somebody who is leading us into the house to get to a place. But is that partygoer a man, a woman? Who are the people at this party? And without any of those details, I have a hard time getting into Tula’s point of view or any of these other women’s point of view, because I just don’t know what situation I’m in.
Craig: Mm. Yeah. I’m right there with you on this. I think that we appear to have a Girl’s Trip/Hangover-y sort of thing going on. This looks like three crazy characters who love to party. I know a little something about this. It’s not really breaking any ground. I want to talk a little bit about tone. We’ve got pooping on page one and we’ve got puking on page two. There is something that we call the cumulative effect in comedy. We know that certain transgressive things get big laughs. And sometimes pooping gets a big laugh. And sometimes puking gets a big laugh. But the more you do it, the more it sort of collects. And there is a cumulative effect.
It starts to make people angry. There’s a fine, fine line. And, granted, it’s different for different people. But to go one-two punch on page one and page two like that is signaling the wrong thing. I think it’s telling people you’re going to be in the toilet for a while.
John: Yeah. And I think it’s actually not a one-two punch, but it’s a two-three punch maybe? A number two and a number three punch?
Craig: Oh, wow.
John: What do you call — is vomit number three? Like in terms of bodily fluids being expelled?
Craig: Now this podcast has a cumulative effect.
John: It does. So, I think that’s a very important point that I never really sort of thought about before. But you look at Melissa McCarthy’s moment in Bridesmaids where she’s in the dress and she has diarrhea and uses the sink. I mean, it’s all those things on top of each other that make the diarrhea so funny. Because if she’s not in the big dress, if she’s not doing it in the sink, then it’s not funny. But it’s the specificity — I’m sorry, again — that makes it so funny. And it’s Melissa McCarthy and she’s amazing.
Anything that Melissa McCarthy does that involves a fluid is hysterical. Like her salad dressing sketch from Saturday Night Live is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
Craig: Amazing. It’s amazing. Well, that scene, you know, the other thing about that scene in Bridesmaids is it’s a set piece. So when we talk about comedic set pieces, what we’re talking about are extended sequences that are built around large comic actions. They are usually physical in nature. And they are motivated. So they’re carefully set up like little machines, like little Rube Goldberg machines, or like imagine one of those little Domino things. And then something flicks the Domino and then there is a cascade. And so it escalates into insanity.
The Hangover movies do this, of course. And most mainstream comedies will have the big set piece, or two, or three. That one is a good example. There really isn’t bathroom humor in that movie until you get to that point. So that set piece is motivated by Kristen Wiig’s character and her desire to one-up her competition to be the bride’s best friend. And who insists that everybody go to this Brazilian all-you-can-eat buffet. And they all get food poisoning. They are all now very, very sick. And we understand why. And it’s not like, oh, you’re very, very sick because you’re just kind of a pig that drinks too much. You’re very, very sick through no fault of your own and now it’s funny.
And then we watch it all kind of come apart. And what do they do? They’re brilliant. They put it in an all-white room. And everything is pristine. And then it all just goes to hell.
That’s a set piece. This is just casually I’m going to puke. And I’m going to poop. So it’s just, meh, look at me. I’m pooping. Ha-ha. And that’s — you know, you can do it. And you can do it once. Like if all that had happened here was, OK, she’s pooping, I’d go, oh, OK. I get it. It’s this kind of movie. But then one page later to have another thing like that right off the bat, it starts to make me think that this is just going to be dopey.
And unfortunately I’m kind of with you, nothing else really got me out of the dopey. What we’re dealing with aren’t really characters. We’re dealing with caricatures. So Tula is kind of just singing a little hip-hop to herself. Having some fun. Being sort of selfish. Not letting other people come into the bathroom.
And I’m not really sure frankly why she’s doing all this.
John: That was my frustration. If there’s a reason why she barricaded herself, because she just didn’t want to talk to these people because she was nervous around them, because she wanted to smoke a joint, because she just wanted some me time, I could get that. But I wasn’t getting that out of any of those reasons out of these scenes.
Craig: Yeah. She’s just sort of motivationlessly grooming herself. So, not really sure what the deal is there. I enjoyed the contrast between the kind of fantasy imagining of these two women, seeing themselves as Laverne and Shirley, and then, OK, here’s the reality, they’re not. Except I don’t know who they are. Also, whose dream is this? Because the two of them are in the dream. And then when we come out of the dream, not really the dream but the fantasy I guess, one of them is doing it and the other one isn’t.
So, that was sort of confusing to me. Also don’t know who they are. It takes a while for me to figure out that the party that Tula is at is supposed to be for Pam. And then you’ve got kind of a — Katie appears to be just, you know, train wreck. She is the train wreck. She is drunk. And she’s stealing money from homeless people. Wow.
John: So, the second half of these three pages, the stuff with Pam and Katie, it reminded me of Broad City, which I think is a phenomenal show. And it made me think more about sort of why Broad City works and sort of the central sort of premise of how those two characters work together. So you have Abbi and Ilana. Abbi is the wrecking ball who keeps knocking everything down and couldn’t care about offending anybody, but is completely obsessed with Ilana and sort of making Ilana happy. Ilana is mortified by everything and so she’s the one who like terrible things will always happen to. She’s the one who would have food poisoning and have to try to find a place to deal with it.
And you have to have those two competing interests — people who are aligned with each other, but are also going to push each other’s buttons. And maybe that can be — maybe Pam and Katie can have those similar dynamics, but we’re seeing them in a moment where we don’t have any sense of what their real relationship is, or sort of why they’re together.
And so stealing the money from the homeless man is like, “Oh, that’s shocking and transgressive,” but I don’t know anything about Katie or Pam to know why that moment should land or not land.
Craig: Well, right. And to confuse matters, Katie is really, really drunk. So like at the beginning of The Hangover, we see Bradley Cooper’s character, Phil, collecting money from his students. He’s a teacher and he’s collecting money for a class trip, which we then realize he’s just stealing to use in Vegas. He’s not drunk. He’s — we learn a lot about who is right there.
But she’s drunk here, so when she’s stealing the money from the homeless man’s tin can, I’m not even sure if she knows what she’s doing, so I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about it.
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Craig: I just want to be really clear for Elizabeth’s sake, I don’t have a problem with lowbrow humor. God knows I don’t. Just go ahead and check my IMDb page out. I love it. But there is a science to it. And I think we’ve all made all the mistakes that I think Elizabeth is making here. We’ve all made. But the problem is that she’s making all of them kind of in these three pages all at once.
We need clarity. We need specificity about who these characters are and what they want and what their problem is. And if we’re going to be transgressive, we have to set it up. We have to understand why. You have to let me know that I’m supposed to be learning something and I need to know what I’m learning. In a very annoying and craft-based way, comedy requires the most care and attention. Because it’s always a soufflé. Even the dumb ones are soufflés. In fact, the dumb ones are the most soufflé-ish of soufflés. The slightest little thing and it all just collapses. It’s science.
So you have to be scientific about it, and unfortunately these three pages, they have a lot of sloppiness in them. And so we’re not quite sure how to feel or think. And I agree with you, I think that they need to be reworked or people aren’t going to keep going.
John: Something I do want to highlight, “TULA ANDERS, Black, 30, with the outfit of a fifty year-old middle school teacher.” I like the outfit of a 50-year-old middle school teacher. Give me more like that. Let that inform what I’m going to see next, because I don’t have any action or dialogue from her that reinforces that idea of the good character description you gave me there.
So, reading that I think maybe she has tremendous social anxiety disorder. There’s something about her that would help explain why she’s barricaded herself in the bathroom. So I’d just say like maybe look for — find little details and build out from those to create your characters and you’ll maybe get to a good place.
Last little things I want to point out on the page. Let’s talk about the ellipsis, dot-dot-dot.
John: It’s just three periods. There’s no spaces between the periods. And so they’re used all the time in screenwriting to sense a trailing off or connecting two things. So don’t be afraid to use them, but it needs to just literally be dot-dot-dot. So, in this case we have extra spaces between them. It looks weird. Please don’t do that.
The other thing you have to watch out for, on the Macintosh, sometimes the Mac will try to substitute the ellipsis character — which is like three dots really close together — don’t use that either. You just literally want period-period-period.
Craig: Yeah. The biggest issue I think with the same way that Elizabeth is doing the dot-dot-dot is that it just eats up a lot of space. And so we try and limit that. Just a suggestion, Elizabeth, for you if you do want to re-approach these pages and think about a different way of getting into them, you have the partygoer, Anonymous Partygoer approaching closed door, knocking. Maybe you should start with Tula. And start with presenting us with somebody. And so here is this 30-year-old woman, she’s black but she’s British, so that’s an interesting combination for Americans. But she’s got this frumpy, old way of dressing. So we’re kind of getting this interesting sense of who she is. And then she excuses herself to go to the bathroom and then shows us a totally different person inside that bathroom. Maybe that’s just a way to kind of be intentional about all of this, because right now it just sort of feels haphazard.
John: There’s nothing more relatable I can imagine than showing up at a party for a friend and that friend isn’t there and sort of how mortifying it is. Like, I don’t have any anchor at this party. I don’t know any of these people. And then I completely understand the instinct to just barricade yourself in a bathroom. Like that is a start that — and it doesn’t have to be a lot. Like you could just start on her face and then — or one of those sort of locked off cameras where you’re just moving through this party with her and she’s like “There’s no one here I know.” And then stop, and cut to in the bathroom locking the door, and she’s just going to bunker down until her friends get here.
That is a completely relatable experience and that tells me a lot about Tula that helps me so much in the scene that you have there.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. You know, what’s interesting about that notion is that it’s actually short-circuited by the way Elizabeth has done this here. Because we start with Tula in the bathroom. She’s already decided not to come out. Then the phone says Pam, meaning Pam — this is the other thing. If Pam is sending the message, it’s weird to have the message say, Pam, be there in 10. Because now I’m thinking Tula’s name is Pam. But let’s put that aside.
Pam is telling her I’ll be there in ten minutes. Sorry. Got held up. So, she’d already decided to put herself in the bathroom. If she’s walking around this party, she clearly doesn’t know anybody, and then she gets a text, “Sorry, meant to be there. I’m running 30 minutes behind.” At that point I understand the panic and the “What do I do, what do I do.” So get out and socialize or go around and socialize. And Tula decides I know exactly what I’m going to do. The opposite of that. I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom.
Now I understand what’s going on. I just need motivations. Motivation.
John: Motivation is a crucial, crucial thing. All right, let’s get to our third and final Three Page Challenge. This is Shaker Heights by Dan Pavlik.
We start at a community pool, bustling with the excitement of a youth swim meet. RJ, 38, attempts to give his son, Hudson, 8, a pep talk as he gets ready for his race. RJ is not so good at pep talks and says things that would only make a kid more nervous. Rondell, the starter, who wears a sweet baby blue sweat suit, calls the swimmers to the pool. The other boys are wearing Speedos, besides Tyler, 8, who wears a full torso high tech suit. Hudson, meanwhile, wears trunks.
On the other side of the pool, RJ dismisses his son’s ability to Tyler’s dad, Stefan. It appears that they have placed bets on this race. The race begins. Tyler and Hudson are neck and neck, but Tyler barely pulls through for the win. RJ shouts in celebration. The pool goes silent seeing RJ celebrate his kid’s loss.
Hudson is disappointed. RJ tries to recover.
So, in reading this synopsis I would say I did not the first time reading through it know that they were betting on the race until quite late. Craig, what was your take on the betting or not betting?
Craig: I just found out that they were betting on the race from that summary. I didn’t see any — I mean, I didn’t understand the hustle line. But I also didn’t see any indication that these guys were betting. So I don’t get it.
John: All right. So, what did you get from these three pages?
Craig: Well, let’s start with some simple crafty, format-y stuff. And these pages are again by Dan Pavlik. So, Dan, I see you, and I see what you’re doing, which is expanding your dialogue lines to be way longer than a dialogue line should be. So there’s margins, right? Now, we can all fudge margins here and there. You know, if I’m writing dialogue and the whole thing spills over so that the fourth line of dialogue is the word “all” or “you,” OK, I’ll cheat the margins to pull that up. That’s no big deal. It’s not going to deform the script. It’s not going to make that paragraph look bizarre.
But here’s all one line: “Next up, event 32, boys 8 & under backstroke.” No. And to make it even worse, to shove that all in one line, you also used “8,” the number eight, for eight when generally the rule is ten and under you spell you out. And then you ampersanded the word “and.” What? We don’t do that.
Craig: Just don’t do it. You can put “&” in dialogue if the person is referring to the title of something that has an ampersand in it. Other than that, nope.
Craig: Just we don’t do it. So there’s some cheaty stuff going on here. And it carries throughout. I just saw a number of dialogue lines where I thought, “OK, these margins are way too loose.” But that aside, we start off — I can see the room, I can hear the room, which I like. And I have no problem with things like “A drone shot, high & wide shows a packed pool deck.” I’m fine, you know me. I think we’re allowed to direct things.
Craig: And then we have this pep talk between a dad and a son. And it’s cute. I mean, we get the idea which is, OK, I’m nervous and I’m going to use my nervousness by telling you not to be nervous. And that I really don’t care if you win or you lose, but obviously I do or else I wouldn’t keep talking about it. And the kid seems to be well onto his own father and just like “Leave me alone, I want to go swim.”
So that was all fine. I was good with that. By the way, we have a couple of issues with default whiteness I noticed in two of these, where we mention that someone is black but we don’t mention when people are white. You know, if you want to mention race, mention race, but then mention race.
Craig: We have — and maybe an indication of something, I wasn’t quite sure on page two. There’s certain bits of description that I think are important, but then they kind of fell in between the “Is this important or is it not important” zone, and I need to know.
So, it says, “At the far side of the pool, we see RONDELL RI’CHARD (48). Rondell is a black man, wearing a sweet, baby blue sweatsuit.” OK, he is the race starter. He calls for the race to begin. Hudson, along with five other boys, step up to the edge of the pool. Next to Hudson is Tyler Kim, a wirey” — spelled wrong, I believe.
John: I looked it up. Yeah, that is incorrect.
Craig: Yep. Korean kid. Now here’s the part where I got, huh. Four of the boys wear baby blue Speedos. Tyler wears a full torso, high tech baby blue suit. Hudson wears regular swim trunks. So, on the one hand I get what’s happening here, which is that these other kids are advanced swimmers who are geared up and ready to go. And Hudson is wearing the wrong kind of bathing suit, so he’s not. But baby blue Speedos. So, are they on like a team that the guy that’s the starter is the coach of? Because he’s got the baby blue sweat suit? Or is that just random?
John: I agree with you. I was confused as well. It felt like they’re all on a team and he’s the guy competing against them. But that doesn’t actually make sense. So if it’s a meet, they’re not all going to be on the same team. So, that was just weird. I just feel like “baby blue” trickled in in places where it did not need to be there. It would also just make more sense — the point is that most of the kids are in Speedos, this one kid has an amazing full body suit, and the joke is that Hudson is in just regular swim trunks. That’s the point. Not the colors.
Craig: Correct. Exactly. So you want to just be clear. You don’t want to muddy these things up, because now I’m just confused about what I’m supposed to be paying attention to here. When we get across the pool, so the race is about to begin, and we go across to where Dad is, RJ. And he’s standing with Stefan, “a tall, athletically built Korean-American man.”
So we’re going to presume, I guess, that he is Tyler Kim’s dad, because Tyler is a wirey Korean kid. Interestingly Tyler is from Korea, whereas his dad is Korean-American, so we got to figure out what’s going on here. But RJ says to Stefan, “He doesn’t stand a chance.” Who doesn’t stand a chance? Is he talking about his own kid? Probably. But then tell me that he’s nervous. Tell me that he’s embarrassed.
Obviously he knows Stefan, right, because you wouldn’t just start saying that to some guy you don’t know. But then Stefan says, “The board shorts don’t fool me. He’s got the eye of the tiger.”
John: Can I pitch a fix here?
John: This is what I would say. So, first off my daughter competed in swim team last year, so I actually learned a lot about swim team, and I would say most of the details here feel kind of correct. Except for the board shorts. That would just not happen. It’s not a thing. Like a kid who competes on swim team is not going to be in board shorts, unless — and this would be your opportunity — if RJ’s line of dialogue here is like, “Man, I can’t believe I packed his board shorts rather than his Speedos. What an idiot I am.”
If he were to say something like that, it would take the curse off of the board shorts and make us believe that he’s an incompetent father. And then the overall joke that basically he’d been rooting against his son would make more sense in the end. That he’s basically trying to sabotage his son so that his son wouldn’t win this race.
Craig: Well, we’ll get to that part, because I really got confused about that. But I think you’re right. We need to explain this one way or the other. Either the dad forgot and screwed up, or the kid forgot and screwed up, or they’ve never done this before and this is his first time. And so they didn’t know. And he’s embarrassed.
But either way, the problem is his relationship with Stefan implies that they know each other, so it’s weird to have Stefan making comments like this as if he’s never met Hudson, the kid, before. And then RJ says, “My boy doesn’t possess the intensity gene.” So he’s sort of apologizing for him. And then Stefan says, “Maybe so, but at least this isn’t his first backstroke event ever.”
OK, now, so OK, I guess he has been doing this for a while, so then he shouldn’t have the board shorts. Why would he have the board shorts if he has done it before? And Stefan seems to be implying that his son, Tyler, has never done the backstroke before. And then RJ says, “Did you just hustle me?” So they did bet on it? But if they bet on it, then why would RJ bet on it because he says that his kid doesn’t stand a chance and he doesn’t possess the intensity gene. And he doesn’t.
So, I don’t understand what’s going on I guess is my point. And at the end when he roots — he’s happy that his son loses. Is it because he bet on Tyler?
John: Yes. He bet on Tyler. He bet against his own son in the race. That I think is meant to be the overall point of this scene. Like here’s a dad who bet against his own son in a race. And was trying to sabotage his son in the race. So I think if you read through what’s there, I think it supports that thesis. I just don’t think that it does the best job of supporting that thesis.
Craig: OK, if that’s what’s going on, first of all, “Did you just hustle me?” when Stefan says, “At least this isn’t his first backstroke event ever,” why is Stefan talking down his kid if RJ has bet on Tyler? Hustling him would mean talking Tyler up.
So I don’t understand exactly what’s going on. But regardless of that, if you’re going to do something in a script that is as extreme, and frankly interesting, as a father betting against his own kid, I need to see it happen. That’s the interesting part. Not this other nonsense.
Sorry, I don’t mean to be a jerk and say nonsense.
John: Yeah, I get it.
Craig: You know what I mean? That’s the moment I want to see. So the scene is you have these two guys and one of them is like I’ll put $30 on Tyler. And he’s like, you sure? He’s never done this before. I’m putting $30 on him, don’t worry. And then he’s going to win. And you’re like, OK, this guy is betting on, I don’t know, what? Don’t know. Then they walk out of the locker room or parents’ area into this school thing and the kid — and this guy who has just bet on Tyler walks up to his kid and says, “Listen, you can do it, blah, blah, blah. Go get him, Hudson. Oh, hey Tyler.” And you’re like, oh my god, whoa.
Right? There’s a way to do this that is exciting and pays something off and makes people gasp. This isn’t it.
John: I agree. So, I think what you’re describing is the scene as written right now, there’s probably not a version of like this is all happening in one real time thing that could do the best job of it. The way I would pitch for it is if they get up to the starting block and you’re starting to see that these guys have the conversation. You could do the flash cut back to like their betting in the parking lot, or some moment beforehand where they said like my kid is worse than your kid. My kid is going to tank. No, no, my kid is the worst. That could have been the thing basically before this thing started, so you’re recontextualizing what just happened and then you start the race is another way you could do it.
But I agree, it’s going to be challenging to — the fact that you got confused in these three pages and being able to go through this a couple times on the page, it’s probably not going to work especially well even if you shot it just like this.
Craig: No. This one definitely is not in the mystery zone. It’s not trying to be a mystery. It’s confusion.
John: Great. Let’s talk about an interesting choice that Dan has made with bold face. So bold face is a thing that exists in computers and you will see bold faced in scripts. Dan is choosing interesting things to bold face, like Lane Markers. Starting Blocks. Goggles. Sort of some random things seem to be boldfaced. I don’t think it works in this. I think it’s fine to sort of experiment with the form and bold face things that would not normally be boldfaced, but the choices he’s making here don’t seem to merit that.
Usually you’ll find in screenplays when boldfaced is used it’s because you got to really call out something to make sure that someone who is skimming does not miss this thing. Goggles does not deserve bold-facing, in my opinion.
Craig: I’m with you. In general if there are key props, I might put them in all caps. Boldface in action is for — I think I would probably just reserve it for some enormous reveal. Something that’s supposed to shock people. In dialogue, boldface always looks better onscreen, and then you print it out and you’re like, oh god. It just, you know, if I really need to emphasize something in dialogue, I’ll use italics or an underline, but almost never boldface.
John: A few other things that are just confusing for the read. Rondell Ri’chard wears a “sweet, baby blue sweatsuit.” I think it’s a “sweet baby blue sweatsuit.” I think it’s all one thing. Because breaking off that sweet just confusing the read.
In American English we put commas inside quotes, which is just how we do it here. If you’re British, don’t have to do that. But we do that here. So I see that on page two.
We tend to do uppercase for things like “the crowd cheers.” We tend to do uppercase for when we introduce groups of people as well. So like “the crowd.” It’s not the end of the world if you don’t do that, but just to know that it’s a convention.
And reaching back to our first Three Page Challenge, one of the arguments for those were not the first three pages is that the manager got uppercased but the other two guys walking in did not get uppercased. And they wouldn’t be uppercased if it was not their first scene. So that could be an argument that they actually had a scene before the three pages you sent through.
John: I would use PA Announcer (OS) rather than (OC). OC is off-camera, OS is off-screen. I just don’t use OC really at all and I just don’t see it being used at all. Do you use OC?
Craig: No, I use OS.
John: OS. I think OC just has kind of gone away. I think OC would kind of make sense just in the sense of the character is just past the eye line. Like one character is talking to an off-camera character, but OS is general purpose and is better used here I think.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, it’s not–
John: Not a big deal.
Craig: Not a big deal. But yeah, generally speaking I don’t see OC.
John: Last bit of grammar thing I’m going to point out. Page three, “We hear victorious shouts; YES, YES!” No. That’s not a semicolon. That’s a colon.
Craig: Sure is.
John: It is. Any time you use a semicolon your first question should be like is this really supposed to be a semicolon? And I would say 75% of the time the answer is no.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, basically unless you are using it to separate a series of items that include commas within the items, semicolons should be completely interchangeable with periods.
John: That is correct. So it’s a way of joining together two sentences that could exist separately but by fusing them together with a semicolon they ascribe meaning to each other, I guess.
Craig: Yeah. The sentence, I guess second independent clause, is in some way explaining or illuminating the first.
John: Yeah. And just the nature of what screenplays are, we’re not going to use that a lot.
Craig: No. I don’t think I’ve ever used a semicolon in a screenplay.
John: I know I’ve used one or two, but it’s just for very random small things like that. All right, those are our Three Page Challenges. Thank you, guys, for sending them in. You guys are incredibly brave to share these with us. We pick them because they have valuable lessons for hopefully our listeners at home, so you guys are awesome for doing that.
If you have three pages you would like to send in to have us look at on the air, you can go to johnaugust.com/threepage, and there’s a little form. And you attach a PDF and you click a button and it gets whisked away to Megan’s special little inbox where she looks through all of the Three Page Challenges. She read like 40 yesterday to help pick these. She’ll be reading even more because we’re going to do a live Three Page Challenge in Austin. So if you have three pages you would like us to look at at the Austin Film Festival and you will actually be there, there is a special little checkbox to say I will be at the Austin Film Festival. And if we choose your three pages, we may invite you up to talk about your three pages so we can actually ask, “Hey, are these actually the first three pages” or “Hhat happens to these characters after page three?”
Craig: And we’re nice. We’re not mean. And we will also — by the time this episode airs, so you’re listening to this now, and the Austin Film Festival has put up their official schedule. So you will see on that official schedule that I am doing some events in addition to the Three Page Challenge, but most notably John and I will be doing another live show. This will be on Friday night at 9pm.
Last year we did it Friday night at 10pm which was amazing because everybody was kind of toasted and was a good, fun time. But this year they moved it up to nine because I guess, well, what they said was it’s overlapping with some parties. And I think we actually impacted the attendance of some parties because this was a very popular event. They put it in the big, big ballroom at the Driskill Hotel. It was a great time. So please do make that a part of your schedule.
We will show up slightly inebriated. It will be a fun time. Last year the format was stand up and ask us questions. Because that’s why you’re here. And we had a great, great group of people. We had Tess Morris. We had Malcolm Spellman. We had Katie Dippold. We had a great group of people. And I expect that this year we will have a similarly fantastic group of people. I think we’ll have Megan Amram and Scott Frank and Dana Fox, or somebody. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.
John: And you’ll have me. That will be a key change to the lineup, because I was not there last year. And there will probably be little bit more order. Just the nature of things.
Craig: There’s going to be an adult. It won’t be as much fun.
John: I’ll be the Ilana to your Abbi.
Craig: It will not be as much as last year, because dad will be there. But still it will be fun.
John: It should be a good time. All right, let’s get to one question here. This comes from Clive, which is apparently a fake name, in Los Angeles. He writes, “I have what is possibly the most boring question in the history of the show. What filing and or naming conventions do you use for your script files? And do you distinguish between drafts or major changes, polishes in your file names? I don’t mean for production revisions, but just for your own internal purposes. Also, how do you guys collate all your notes on a draft and file them so they make sense? I’ve been putting them in the same folder for whatever draft they were for, but it’s quickly become quite messy.”
Craig, I have known you for years, I have no idea how you number your files.
Craig: I’m pretty simple. The first draft is Draft 1. And then I work on that. And then when I send it in, I put the date in parenthesis along with the name, so then if there are some little notes before I’m sending in an official draft one, then it will Draft 1 with a new date. And then when the official one is designated, I’ll just say Official Draft 1. So, you know, I have multiple versions of it.
All the while, I’m generating PDFs, which I’m handing back and forth between myself and Jack Lesko, who is my editor. And so that’s roughly how I do it. And then I go to Draft 2. I don’t distinguish between drafts, polishes, rewrites. Everything is a draft. Draft 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Doesn’t matter to me. And in terms of notes, yeah, I mean, I don’t really write down a bunch of notes. I mean, they give you a bunch of notes, or in a meeting I’ll take notes of the notes. And then I just print it out and look at it.
But I don’t really collect the notes per se. I just do the thing. So I just have folders. You know, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. That kind of thing.
John: Yeah. So on Dropbox, I have everything on Dropbox. I’ll have a folder for a project. So I’ll have a folder for Aladdin. In that folder I’ll have — once I start assembling a script, I’ll just give it a date. So whatever date I’m turning in that script — so whatever date I’m putting on the title page, that will be the number at the end of it. So it will say Aladdin 2.28.17, because I like dots in my dates, because I’m that guy. And that will be the draft.
And so that will the draft for both my Highland file and also for my PDF. I’ll use that same convention for numbering, for putting the date on things. And then everything for me is just the date on it. So the file just shows what the date would be on the title page of that script. I don’t say first draft, second draft, whatever draft. It’s just that–
Craig: Just the date.
John: Just the date.
Craig: I had to figure out a slightly new system because Chernobyl was in episodes. I’ve never written anything in episodes before. But I just made folders. Each episode got a folder. Episode One. Episode Two. And it worked out just fine.
It’s a little annoying, actually, because in movies we’re on the draft we’re on. So I just know like, OK, I’m on the second draft. I can live in that folder for a while and not have to worry about going in between folders. But to keep things neat for Chernobyl, I did divide it up by episode or else it would have gotten out of control.
And the other thing I do is when a movie goes into production, then there are other folders that get made. And then I’ll make a production draft folder. And that’s when you do get into your revisions and I’ll have a folder for casting, and a folder for storyboards, and a folder for this, and a folder for that.
John: Once we get into color revisions, then I will sort of label the script, like Blue Revisions, and stuff like that. Which is natural for this.
The other thing I’ll say is that there are going to be times where you’re cutting stuff out of your script, like there’s a scene that you want to hold on to that’s not part of it. What I used to do was create a separate scratch file of things that got cut out of it, so I could go back to those things if I needed them. In the new Highland, there’s bins. So there’s a place you can just drag stuff over and it will just keep it there. And so I just tend to use the bins that are sort of part of the file itself. And so I don’t ever lose those little pieces.
Craig: That’s smart. Yeah. In Fade In there is a function where you can also bin large chunks of stuff within the file without it showing. But I still will — just as force of habit, I’ll just make it, you know, cut–
John: Cut and paste. Yeah.
Craig: Command N for a new file. Paste. Save it as, you know, and just write a description of it. Maybe three or four times every project there will be three or four of those that get shoved off to the side.
John: Cool. All right, one of the most important questions of the history of Scriptnotes has been answered today.
Craig: Thank god.
John: It’s time for our One Cool Things. I have two One Cool Things. I’m going to cheat. The first is a book I am reading right now called Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. It’s delightful and it’s one of those rare cases where I’m trying to read the book before everybody else in the world has read the book because I usually read things like a year or two late, and all the conversation has past. So, there’s going to be Slate Book Club stuff talking about this book and so I wanted to read it now.
It’s quite good. She’s an Irish author. It revolves around two college students in Dublin, Frances and Bobbi with an I. It’s their relationship with a married couple named Melissa and Nick. It’s good and it reminds me so much of my early 20s and how obsessed I was about studying very tiny interactions and my paranoia of what people were doing around me and my social status. It’s a very well observed thing.
And your early 20s are a fascinating time. I think this author really nails it, so I would recommend that. I’m only halfway through, though, so maybe it completely falls apart at the end and I’ll retract my observation.
Craig: That would be awesome.
John: A thing I have watched to the end is a short called Meet Cute. It is written by Ben Smith. It is directed by Ben Smith and Scriptnotes producer Megan McDonnell. And just this past week it went up online. It’s delightful. So I will send you to IndieWire where you can watch it. It stars Jon Bass and Juno Temple. And I don’t want to spoil what happens in it, but you think you know what’s going to happen and something very different happens. So it’s a quite well done little short film. So I recommend you guys take a look.
Craig: Well, you did two, so I don’t have to do any. Phew.
John: Craig escapes once again.
John: Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place you can send questions like the one we answered today.
On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We love to answer your little short questions on Twitter. So hit us up there. We are on Facebook. Just search for the Scriptnotes podcast. Megan actually kind of uses Facebook, so maybe she’ll answer questions there, too. Who knows?
You can find us Apple Podcasts at Scriptnotes. That’s also where you can leave a review for us. That’s always delightful. Helps people find the show.
Pretty soon we’re going to have actual information about who listens to episodes because they’re going to release all the download — beyond sort of downloads, they’ll have very specific granular information about who listens to shows all the way to the end. And we will know so much more about who tunes out halfway through the Three Page Challenges.
Craig: That’s going to be awesome. I love it. We can call them up and let them know we know.
John: That would be Mike. Mike does not listen to the Three Page Challenges.
Craig: I don’t think Melissa listens to any of these. You know what? Let’s find out. Let’s see if she does. Melissa, if you listen to the podcast, then I want you to say the word Umbrella to me really loudly and, if you do, I will do all of the laundry for a week.
John: That is a hell of a deal. That’s good. You’re betting on yourself, and that’s what I like.
Craig: I think I’m going to win.
John: You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the Three Page Challenges we just did. You’ll find transcripts. Within a week of the show airing we’ll have the transcripts up.
We have all the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net. We used to have USB drives and we ran out of USB drives. We actually had to refund some money to people who bought USB drives and we didn’t have, so sorry about that. We’ve ordered more, but it could be a couple weeks before we get more of the first 300 episodes on USB drives. We’ll let you know when those are back available. But there will always be back episodes at Scriptnotes.net.
And, just this last week I was at your party and I was talking to a young writer/director, a woman who has been a guest on the show before but I don’t want to spoil who she is at this moment, but she said that after being a guest on our show she paid for the premium subscription and has gone back and started listening to key episodes and she loves the back episodes.
John: So yet another person who is paying us $1.99 a month.
Craig: Paying you $1.99 a month.
John: Oh, me, us, it’s all the same.
Craig: No it’s not!
John: No it’s not.
Craig: I get nothing.
John: Craig, thanks for another fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
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