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 324 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today, it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie, where we take a look at stories in the news and figure out how to make them into feature films.
John: Exciting. We’re back doing our normal show. I like our live shows, but it’s good to be back on Skype with you, not in the room.
Craig: Yeah. This is sort of like coming home to your own bed, right?
John: It is.
Craig: Sleep in our little jammies, and we get to be in our own bed. But it is fun to stray away and do those. And that live show, I have to say, was outstanding. If for no other reason than Jason Fuchs’ story about Star Wars and Battleship.
John: It was a fantastic episode. And if people have not listened to it yet and would like to download and listen to it now, we’ve actually put an updated version in the feed because there were some weird clips in it that basically somehow some of the cross fades got turned into blunt cuts. And so Matthew fixed it. So, Matthew, thank you for doing that. But it sounds delightful.
Craig: It was a really good one. And rather than list them all by name, we’ll just say thanks to the – how many – 12 people that were on the panel with us?
John: There were a lot of people. It was great. It was a good show. Just shows what some planning can do. Some planning. Some organization.
Craig: Well, you know, I don’t want to be a jerk, and as you know–
John: You don’t want to be a jerk.
Craig: Of course, I do actually both am and also want to be a jerk. Three people came up to me and said, “Love the show. Last year’s was better.”
John: Oh, OK. I heard the same thing from other people, so–
Craig: Listen, you know what? Some people like chaos. Some people like planning.
John: Absolutely. I mean, that’s why you have the grid of all the alignments and all the different possibilities.
Craig: Yes. All of my fans are chaotic neutral.
John: That makes sense. I got the lawful good.
Craig: No doubt.
John: Sewn up. Before we get into show today, Craig, you wanted to talk about predators, and not the Arnold Schwarzenegger-defeated kind.
Craig: No, no. and I guess this will – we’ll file this under chaotic evil. You know, we’ve all been absorbing an enormous amount of news about Hollywood, people that are inside of it. People that want to be inside of it. And also people that are outside of it and are just casual observers. And what we’re seeing is a cascade of people being accused very believably of terrible behavior, both sexual harassment, sexual assault. And it seems like every day brings a fresh delivery of some kind of predator.
Some of these people are people that we know and we’re shocked by. Some of them, I think, the folks that maybe get a little bit less coverage outside are people that maybe those of you at home don’t know and nonetheless have terrible things.
I was reading an account of a manager, for instance, who was recently accused by multiple people of rape, Cosby-style, drugging of drinks and then rape, and then threats afterwards to keep it quiet. So naturally I think a lot of people may be terrified of our business right now, and with good reason.
So I wanted to talk a little bit about some realities here. First of all, I believe that the great majority of people in the entertainment business are not violent, evil, manipulative human beings. What we’re seeing right now is an exposure of the many who are. And there are many. And I’m glad for it.
So, on the one hand, I don’t want people to be scared away. I specifically don’t want good people to be scared away. We need more good people. We need to increase our percentage of decent human beings in this business. On the other hand, I do think it’s important that we talk a little bit about what to be on the lookout for. Everybody has a sense, I think, of how to protect themselves against a predator. And yet, I think, some of these people are really sophisticated. So I wanted to just talk a little bit about what to look out for and how to protect yourself.
John: That sounds good. Because I think all of us have some training in sort of safety and awareness. You’re outside, you’re walking on the street. These are things to be watched for. But it’s a strange thing when you get invited into what seems like it should be a safe place to make sure that you’re actually safe.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a moment in the – I may have even mentioned it on the show already – a moment in the American remake, the Fincher remake of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where Stellan Skarsgard’s character says, “It’s amazing how people are more afraid of being impolite than they are of being in pain.” And I think that’s sort of at the heart of a lot of this and that is what a lot of predators are relying on.
So, for starters, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like things are going wrong, or heading towards a dangerous place, and the only thing that’s keeping you from extracting yourself from it or expressing that this is not at all the way you want things to go for yourself, the only thing in between that and what’s happening is a concern that you might be impolite, dispense with that concern. I don’t think anybody is going to get in trouble for expressing their need to feel safe.
So, right off the bat don’t worry so much about offending or being impolite. If you say something that is neutral and firm and dispassionate like, “I’m sorry, but this is uncomfortable for me and I don’t like the way this is proceeding. Can we please stop doing this, or this, or this?” The one thing you don’t have to worry about is offending someone. The only people that will be offended by that are people that were planning on doing something bad.
John: I agree with you. So that could be about the situation you’re in in terms of physically or sort of that there are not other people around, that you’re being pressured in some uncomfortable way. Extricate yourself from that situation and don’t be afraid to and don’t feel bad about it. You have the right to your own safety.
Craig: Absolutely. And you may find yourself in a situation where it’s not that someone is doing something that you are outwardly concerned about as much as you have a feeling about somebody. In that case, there’s actually no risk of being impolite because there’s nothing to actually say overtly. However, trust your instinct about this person. It’s not that you are always going to be right. You may, in fact, not be right, which is why – obviously you don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re constantly getting up in the middle of a meeting or interrupting in a phone call to say this feels like harassment, or there’s something about you and you sound rapey to me. That obviously won’t go very well.
But if you have a sense inside, listen to it really carefully. Let that guide you about how you’re going to interact with that other person in terms of being alone with them, etc. And most importantly talk to people and let them know this is how you feel. And ask them if there’s anything to support that concern. Because, look, there are some people that are just odd. We are a creative business. Some of us are odd. And we can sometimes misinterpret people as being creepy when maybe they’re on the spectrum, for instance. Right? But heed your concerns, that inner voice. Don’t push it away and definitely don’t start engaging in one-side bargaining with yourself that this is sort of what you have to deal with in order to get ahead. You actually don’t.
Nobody has to actually deal with this stuff to get ahead. That’s just the lie they put out there.
John: Absolutely agree with you. I think one thing that’s also important to remember is that some of the situations that come up could be prevented if we just had some better rules and structures and codes of conduct in place, not to sort of stop the predator, but to help the person who is vulnerable to it from getting into that situation. I think about things like a rule like “no meetings in hotel rooms.” Or rules about whether PAs are allowed to be in trailers or not allowed to be in trailers.
If you have a system where you set up some rules about what can happen and what can’t happen, those could protect people because it gives them a reason for saying why they’re not doing certain things. So I look at some of these things that have happened, you know, the recent incidents. If there were some structures in place there, I bet the people involved would feel more empowered not to have gone into those situations.
Craig: I completely agree. And it may sound odd to say that we need the kind of rules that govern, for instance, the way doctors deal with patients. But we have to acknowledge that there’s something about our business, film and television, particularly for people that want to be performers in front of the camera, but I think just as vitally for people that want to write or want to direct, there are so few jobs. The business is so glamorous. It is – well, it’s the dream of a lot of people.
And what this means is there is an enormous amount of desperation. There is a desperation to get a job and succeed in this business in a way that there is in almost no other business at all. And that desperation is the most fertile possible ground for predators to flourish in and to do what they do.
So, for instance, if you have a male doctor and he’s going to be doing some sort of physical exam on a 13-year-old girl, then there needs to be a female medical professional like a nurse in the room with him, or even another doctor if possible, so that there is no question or concern. It is for everyone’s protection. And I do feel like our business needs to acknowledge the amount of desperation. Acknowledge how vulnerable everybody is.
By the way, if you’re following along in the news, men and women – this is not just about women. We’ve seen an enormous amount of reports now from men who have been preyed upon. So, everybody is potentially a victim here. And if the business codified itself in such a way as to acknowledge that there is fertile ground for bad behavior, I think you’re right. We could actually avoid quite a bit of it.
John: I agree.
So, I also want to talk about – there’s kind of a spectrum of terrible things that are happening. And so right now we are talking about the predators who are doing these criminal acts – rape, and sexual assault, attempted rape. But at the other end of the range there’s just kind of boorish behavior in rooms. And people behaving stupidly. And that’s kind of more what we talked about with Daley and Dara when they were on the show was what do you do when it’s not, you know, a physical thing, but it’s kind of a constant small little cuts of things. They’re both big things, and they’re both important, and we need to be talking about all of it, because I worry about by only focusing on these big spotlight predators committing identifiable crimes we’re going to overlook I think a more pernicious problem that’s really out there which is this problem of sexual harassment, problem of gendered bullying that’s going on.
And I worry that that kind of stuff that’s going on could end up really costing us a generation of women and minority writers who sort of eventually they check out. They ask themselves, “Is it worth it? Am I actually any good at this? Maybe I should just leave, because everyone is sort of telling me that I’m good enough at this. Maybe they’re right.”
I’m worried that if we only focus on these big spotlight things, the things that have criminal charges and lawsuits, that we’re not going to be focusing on the stuff that I think is really more addressable by all of us. By writers.
Craig: I couldn’t agree more. I mean, the one thing you don’t want to do in the middle of a murder epidemic is ignore the stabbing epidemic, right? And you have people in the room now who perhaps would be subject to a statement like the following: “What? I’m not Harvey Weinstein. I’m not raping anybody. I’m just repeatedly saying things that demean you all the time.”
So, from our side of things, let’s say we’re talking about decent folks who are in these rooms, for starters if you feel like your work environment is demeaning to you, then you need to listen to that. There is a general – we’ve talked about this on the show before – a general motivation by the industry to demean writers in particular. All writers. Of any race, color, age, gender. Because it is I think, well, it’s good for them. It’s good for their power dynamic. They like keeping us down. Particularly in features.
So, when it’s happening, particularly if you’re a writer, since we’re a show for writers, one thing you need to be aware of is it may not always even be gendered. It may be vocational. But regardless of why it’s happening, when it’s happening I think it’s important to start reaching out to people that might also be feeling like you. Not everyone is the same. Some people are OK with some kinds of jokes, and some people aren’t. Some people go to a show where a comedian is sort of famous for being really dark and really on the edge of things and really transgressive and they love it. People of all walks of life.
And then there are people who would never go anywhere near that, because it just makes them feel bad, right? So you may not find that everybody is in agreement. You may be the person that thinks this is not good for me. That’s enough. And then you got to kind of figure out how to get yourself out of there and get to something else.
And I don’t mean to sound glib about that. I know that people are desperate for work. They’re desperate for jobs. But we have one trip around. And if you put yourself in a position where every day you feel terrible, I can assure you that two things are going to happen. One, you will not succeed at that job. It is not possible to succeed in a job where you feel emotionally devalued. And, two, it is going to have long-term effects on your desire to keep working anywhere. That whole business and craft will start to become tainted to you. Even I, as the straight white male, going through my Bob Weinstein experience, coming out the other end, felt about as demotivated and disinterested in writing as I have felt in my life. And for good reason. And I had to dig myself out of that with tremendous effort.
So, I should have stopped much, much, much, much earlier. And I guess that’s my advice to you. In the short term, it may seem like a grave cost. I believe in the long term it will have benefits. But, seek out allies. Even two. Even two people. That’s more serious than one. Two people saying we’ve got to change this culture is good.
John: Well, let’s talk about allies, because sometimes you’re not the person who is the focus of this bullying or whatever you want to call it. Sexual harassment. But if you see something, say something. And that may be saying to the person who is being harassed, like, “Hey, I saw that happen and that wasn’t cool. What can I do? Do you want to do anything?”
Don’t assume that there’s a logical next step. But just being there and sort of acknowledging that this is a thing that happened, that’s good. That’s helpful. And that lets that person know that not everybody around you is doing that same kind of stuff or supports that kind of stuff.
Write it down. If you see these things that happen, write it down, just so you have a contemporaneous record of what happened. And, also, I’m really curious. I’ve talked to some writers in rooms who have codes of conduct for their writing room. Basically, everyone agrees that these are the rules of the room. And sometimes it’s about “You can say anything, but don’t direct it towards a person. Like you can talk about a kind of person, but you can’t talk about that one person in the room.”
But if you are a writer on a show, and you have some sort of code of conduct or writer’s room rules, I’d love to see those. So if you feel like sending them into email@example.com, we’d love to talk through them on a future episode.
Craig: That would be great. And I also – one last bit of advice. If you are contemplating joining any kind of joint writing situation, typically a television room, I think a smart question to ask is what kind of culture is in the room. And ask it without any implied judgment. Just say, “Look, I’m a certain kind of person. I tend to do better in a culture like this as opposed to a culture like this. What sort of culture is in your room?”
If you are somebody that needs a certain kind of culture and, well, they say, “Listen, we are really free-wheeling in here. We let it all out. We have no boundaries whatsoever,” then you may not want to work there. And if you do, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be a big shock to you when you start to feel bad. They didn’t make a mistake. Nor did you. It was just a misfit.
John: Yes. I think that’s absolutely good advice. I will say that show that is so free-wheeling and anything goes, they may be making a mistake because there could be great writers who they are not getting because of their culture.
Craig: It’s true. It’s in comedy, really. We’re not talking about drama. There are comedies that live and die on their outrageousness. And what I don’t want to end up happening is ignoring the many women who are brilliant at being outrageous actually. I don’t want those outrageous shows to say, “You know what the easiest thing is let’s skip women and just stick with the dudes and we’ll be fine. And we can talk about whatever we want.” There are a lot of women that flourish in those situations. And what’s frustrating is I think that there can be a situation where things are outrageous and also not demeaning towards individuals in the room.
Craig: It’s doable. The one thing I will never make an excuse for is a free-wheeling room that starts to break down and demean individuals inside of that room. So I think that goes back to your code of conduct. And it’s really important.
John: Yeah. Put some guardrails on that.
John: All right. Let’s get to our big feature topic, which is How Would This Be a Movie. So, for people who have been listening to the show for a while, every once and a while we take a look at stories that are in the news and try to figure out like “Is there a movie there? And if there is a movie, how would you do the movie?”
So, some recent examples, some follow up on previous thing. We talked about this Danish submarine adventure.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: And so the journalist he was with–
Craig: This guy needed some – what did you call them? Guardrails? He needed a lot of guardrails.
John: His name was Peter Madsen. He’s accused of murdering journalist Kim Wall on his privately built submarine. He continues to deny killing her, but he now says, yes, he did dismember her.
John: He says she died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Craig: I’m sorry for laughing. It’s just this guy sounds like – he just sounds like Dr. Evil working his way through this really tortured confession where eventually he’s like, “OK, I ate a little bit of the head, but listen, hold on everyone. Don’t judge me.”
John: And so carbon monoxide poisoning, well, it’s his submarine. He did kill her. I mean, I guess he’s saying he didn’t intend to kill her. It was an accidental death, or like negligent homicide rather than just capital H Homicide.
Craig: I mean, look, when you are in a small enclosed space, and there is a carbon monoxide level high enough to kill one person, it’s fair to say it will also kill the other person, or that person will show some indications of carbon monoxide poisoning. But more importantly, John, if somebody were to suffer from some kind of carbon monoxide poisoning incident in your home, I presume your first instinct would not be to call 911. It would be to dismember that person and then bury them somewhere in the ocean.
John: Well, yeah. But to be fair, I’m not Danish. So it’s hard to say.
Craig: Great point.
John: Another international story we talked about was the French train bros. So these were three US service men who were on a train in France and stopped a terrorist from doing despicable things on this train. So, we talked about this. We knew that, I think last time we talked about this Clint Eastwood was attached to direct it. He did direct it. The movie is called The 15:17 to Paris. It’s written by Dorothy Blyskyl and you and I just coincidentally met her this week.
Craig: Yeah. There was a little WGA screenwriting outreach, which you were kind enough to run as a new board member, and you were brilliant at it. Thank you. And we met the very excellent Ms. Blyskyl, who is really new and maybe this will frustrate some of you out there. I think this is pretty much the first thing she ever wrote. And it’s like, great, now it’s a movie and Clint Eastwood is directing it. I personally love those stories. I always feel like those people – you know, when you have enough right at the jump to write something that people want to act in and produce and spend money on and direct, I think you’ve got the goods. So I’m really excited to see where Dorothy goes as she begins her journey here.
I’m pretty sure that you and I both agreed that that should be a movie, right?
John: Yeah. We agreed it should be a movie and it now is a movie. So that’s kind of awesome.
Craig: Exciting. And coming out, I believe, in February, right?
John: Yeah. So Dorothy is so new she hadn’t even been through the new member training. So this was her very first WGA meeting. And she got to hear all about the future of screenwriting. So that was good.
Craig: It was good. Sort of a happy thing. She also just mentioned that she felt at least that she was treated very well on that project. And I’ve heard that Clint Eastwood is very respectful to writers. So that’s good to see.
John: Good to see. All right, some new stuff. And so these are all pitches that came in from our listeners, except for the last one which you actually pitched this morning. So, the first story is about female inmates who battle wildfires in California. Essentially there are these conservation camps that are run by the Department of Corrections which inmates are on call 24/7 to fight fires. So, a fascinating fact is that inmates make up 14% of firefighters in California. And three of these 42 camps are for women. So this all comes from an NBC News video made by Matt Toder. Let’s take a listen.
Reporter: California’s fire season has been particularly fierce this year. One solution is to use inmates to fight fires. Nestled in the posh hills of Malibu, California is Camp 13.
Female Voice: Camp 13 is an inmate firefighter camp where we are on call up to seven days a week. We can be called out at any time, day or night.
Female Voice: You get to save people’s houses and you get to help people. It’s really gratifying and empowering when you’re driving by and people are holding up signs saying thank you firefighters and they’re crying because you just saved their homes.
Reporter: Camp 13 is one of 42 conservation camps run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Inmates must volunteer for the program. And must pass physical evaluations. To be eligible, they also must have a record of good behavior and have been convicted of a nonviolent crime.
Female Voice: It’s definitely a challenge. When I saw actual live fire I got scared. I was like, “Oh my god, we’re actually in the fire.”
Female Voice: We’re the ones that carry the hose out. We’re the line of defense.
John: Craig, what do you think of this as a movie topic?
Craig: I believe that by the time this episode airs this will have already been optioned to be developed into a movie. It’s the most movie-ish movie I can think of, frankly. I mean, particularly because you have a fascinating collision of something that is very current, a bunch of current things, and then something that is classically good in cinema.
So you have topics of incarceration, imprisonment, women inside the prison system. You have a discussion about nonviolent offenders. They must all be nonviolent offenders. I suspect that this connects also to things like drug policy and whether or not these people should be in prison at all. And you have just the general topic of humans who have struggled. My guess is almost all of them are lower or middle class people who have struggled. And now they have this chance at redemption, but maybe they shouldn’t have even had to been there in the first place. Maybe some of them do deserve to be there and what will this do for them and their character?
And all of that gets imposed on something incredibly movie-friendly which is fighting fires. Because your structure, your plot, you know it. You don’t have to reinvent that wheel. You know that they’re going to go through training. They’re going to go into prison. They’re going to meet each other. They’re going to have some trouble in prison. They’re going to be selected for this program. They’re going to go through training. There’s going to be a fire. It’s not going to go well for them. And they’re going to be questioning whether or not they should still be a part of this. And maybe one of them recommits a crime, whatever it is.
And then the third act there is a massive fire and they have to go. And they do brilliantly and maybe one of them dies. I mean, it’s got everything you need. All of it. It’s sort of like a make-your-own movie kit. I mean, surely somebody will make this into a movie.
John: I would be surprised if no one makes this into a movie. I want to focus on sort of the women that Matt talks to in this video, because it’s almost all done sort of first person, just people telling their own stories. And they’re really good. I liked all of those women so much. And they were so different. And they had sort of an emotional honesty which was really cool. And they’d actually been at this camp for a while, so you can imagine that there was an arc that they sort of went through where they’re mistrusting and sort of getting up to speed, but then they had a real pride in their work. And that was fantastic to see.
It reminds me a little bit of some of the stuff around WWII where you see like Swing Shift or where women are going into traditionally men’s things and finding a sense of empowerment by being trusted to do these incredibly important jobs. And maybe these women hadn’t been trusted enough and that’s what led them to this point. But I really – I got goosebumps listening to them.
Craig: I did, too. And I love their faces. They all had these great, great faces. And the general directive from studios is if you’re making movies now about groups of people you want to try and be as diverse as possible. Well, you don’t have to force it here. I mean, kind of in a weird way it almost felt like the prison system had cast these women. I mean, they were interviewing women from a particular firefighting, a DOC firefighting camp. So it’s not like they chose them for this report.
You had white women. You had black women. You had Asian women. You had Latina women. And you got the sense that what was uniting them, it was all separate – even gender wasn’t really uniting them. It certainly wasn’t race. It was their circumstance. And I think that that is beautiful. That you could tell that there was a sisterhood there of circumstance. And you have such a great opportunity to invent some amazing characters and some of them are mothers and they’re talking about their children and what this means for them when they get out.
One of them, her own mother was a firefighter. It’s just remarkable. Like that’s a great story right there. Your mom is a firefighter. You maybe felt like you were forced to follow in her footsteps. You rebelled. You had a difficult childhood. You got into trouble. You ended up in prison. And now what are you doing? Fighting fires and suddenly discovering that you’re good at it on your own terms.
Again, it’s sort of like the kit is right there. I think some movie studio would be nuts to not just immediately put this into development and make it, because it just feels so ready to go. And, by the way, this is one of those movies where when I see them I don’t mind predictable. I want predictable. The plot should be as predictable as possible. The characters should be surprising. Their circumstances should be surprising. I love that part.
John: I agree. And to me I think this is a mid-budget. Hidden Figures is really the template for how you make this movie. You cast people – some people you recognize. Some people who are unknowns. You make it with a good but interesting director. And from the trailer you probably have a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen in the movie and you’re really happy that the movie sort of follows that path. And I also like that it’s present day. It doesn’t have to have that shine of history and nostalgia. No, this is happening right now.
I think, you know, it’s a PG-13 movie and I think it works.
Craig: 100% somebody should make this immediatement.
John: All right. Second story we’re going to take a look at is a story by Beth Mole writing for Ars Technica. And so some dead bodies donated to research in the US end up in warehouses of horror.
John: Neat. So here’s what happens is that people donate their bodies or their loved one’s bodies to science. And sometimes there’s a discount on funerals down the road, or they have the expectation that it’s going to be used for medical training for medical students. But this new study found that the whole business of human corpses and cadavers is really kind of messed up. And so a lot of times these bodies are used in ways that families never anticipated. Like they’re used to test impacts of different things on the body.
Craig: So great.
John: They’re cut up with chainsaws or they’re sold piece by piece, because sometimes bodies are worth more in pieces than they are as whole cadavers.
John: But a lot of times they’re also just kind of forgotten or left over and they’re stuck in piles in a warehouse. But the thing is it’s basically legal, so there’s not like law enforcement is going to come in and do something. Craig, what do we do with these dead bodies?
Craig: I don’t know. I mean, well, first of all just from a personal point of view, I would be the worst person to hire to write this movie because I have no problem with it. Because I don’t believe in God or the soul. So, I think that when you’re dead, the one person for sure in the world who does not care about what happens to that body is the person that used to live in it. They’re dead. So I kind of don’t care. I’ve actually never really, because I’m such a weirdo about that I guess, I don’t understand why people spend all this money on fancy funerals and cemeteries and burial plots. There’s this – I don’t know – thing, and people get really worked up about what happens to people’s bodies and stuff.
And I just remember when I was in high school and I was planning on being a doctor and I did a summer internship at the Mammoth County Medical Examiner’s Office, and I would – I’m 16 and I’m there helping out on autopsies. I wasn’t doing anything important, but of course, if you screw up on a dead body, well, not so bad.
Nothing, I think, teaches you more about what a useless chunk of meat we are when we’re dead than watching some autopsies. So, putting my weirdness aside, for anybody the problem with this movie is there are literally zero stakes.
Craig: Stakes are the things that movie studios are primarily concerned with. If our hero fails, what happens? Obviously they keep pushing it towards the universe explodes, like that’s their ultimate – they love the universe exploding. They’ll settle for galaxies. Used to be the planet was fine. And way, way back when one person dying was a big deal.
But let’s say it never changes. What’s really at stake?
John: There’s really nothing at stake. And so what I find so interesting is it’s a really macabre setting. And so like you could envision some really gross stuff happening. So it’s a backdrop or it’s a place you go to in the course of another story. But I don’t think it’s really a story in and of itself.
I share your same sort of frustration with people’s fixation over bodies and funerals and all that stuff. It really is frustrating when you’re buying this really expensive casket to bury in the ground inside the concrete memorial. It’s like, oh my god, it’s just so much wasted time and money and energy. Especially families that really could use that money to do something else but–
Craig: I know.
John: That’s off-topic. Craig, well, a little on-topic. Craig, are you going to be cremated? What’s your plan?
Craig: Yeah. Whatever’s cheapest. Honestly. I’ve often thought about donating my body, so it really depends. I don’t think I have a specific donate my body thing, although my wife knows me well enough where it’s up to her. I’m assuming that I croak first. You know, she can do whatever she wants with the meat. I don’t really care. Literally. Anything.
I mean, she knows that if she wanted to she could just lacquer it, stick it on a pole, put it out in front for Halloween. I don’t care. Because I won’t be there. It’s not my problem. My watch is over at that point. But, yeah, cremate. Whatever’s cheapest, honestly. A nice home cremation.
John: A nice artisanal cremation?
Craig: Or just bury me in the backyard. I don’t care.
John: I’ve always been pro-cremation, but apparently it actually is a tremendous energy cost to do them.
Craig: Yeah, you know, there’s this wonderful – there’s like a strange sect of – not that strange to me – sect of Buddhism, I believe. And I think it’s Japanese. Where when – and very traditional – when people die, they’re asked to be – their bodies are just left in a field and they’re eaten by whatever animals come along.
John: Yep. Sounds good to me.
Craig: Yeah. The other one that I love is there’s a body farm. Did we ever talk about the body farm?
John: Oh, I don’t remember the body farm. Tell me about the body farm.
Craig: Body farm is – there are a bunch of them. Most of them are under the – I think all of them are under the auspices of some sort of law enforcement agency, like say the FBI. And they’re there to teach forensic investigators about dead bodies.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: And the states of them. Because a lot of times what’s happening is they’re digging up corpses from murderers. And they’re trying to figure out, OK, how long has this person been dead? How did they die? And, you know, there are all sorts of things that you can learn, like at what stage are the larva that are feeding on the body. And what color is the body? And can you tell if a body was dismembered or was torn apart by animals?
So, yeah, I think that would be fun. [laughs] I think it would be fun if that were my purpose after I were gone.
John: Absolutely. For the study of maggots and their lifecycle.
Craig: Yeah, man. Whatever. Honestly, I would be OK if people ate me. I really don’t care. I really don’t.
John: I don’t care either.
All right, our final story is one that you found this morning and, Craig, talk us through what’s happening at Reed College.
Craig: Well, you know, you and I have been talking a bit about some of the things that have been going on on campuses across the country, and most notably we talked about what happened – was it at Evergreen or was it at Reed? Was it at Reed?
John: I think it might have been at Reed.
Craig: At Reed. Where Kim Peirce, the filmmaker who made Boys Don’t Cry, among other movies, was subject to horrendous treatment by students at Reed, not because they were homophobic/extreme right-wingers who were disgusted by her gender neutrality or her pro-trans work, but rather the opposite. They were far left and they didn’t think she was, I guess, far left enough. And they were terrible to her and insulting and crude and eventually she just left.
Well, one of the things that’s been going on at Reed College apparently is that there is a group of students, I think they’re called RAR, Reedies Against Racism, which seems like, yeah sure, you know. I’m against racism.
John: I don’t want to meet any pro-racists.
Craig: Yeah, like I’ll join that. That sounds good. Except what they do, because by the way, I can’t imagine there are too many racists at Reed. Like Reed which is known for being the most liberal college/university in the nation.
But what they’ve been doing is just occupying classrooms regularly, like maybe a dozen of them, and they just stand around the professor holding up signs in silent protest about whatever it is that they’re protesting about, which I think sometimes has to do with what’s going on in the class, and sometimes doesn’t. And it is a bit shocking. And what happened is they took over a classroom, a freshman year humanities classroom, and the teacher just stopped teaching because it was just overwhelming. And the protestors began talking to the students about why they were there and why they were doing what they were doing. And the freshman fought back. And it was quite invigorating.
Because what it really came down to was they were saying, “We’re here to learn. Can you please just let us learn? That’s why we came to college. We’re paying money so that this teacher can teach us. Get out. This isn’t your time. This is our time.”
And it was really fascinating to watch. There is some kind of war on campus thing to be done, the problem I see with it – and I’m curious to hear how you would address it is – how to tell a story like this without feeling like you’re just picking up some very clumsy left-wing or right-wing club and hitting people over the head with it.
John: I think it’s really tough to do this, but I read a script, a Sundance script, called Social Justice Warrior that Brett Weiner and Emma Fletcher did which is great and super, super funny and exactly sort of on point with this. And I remember thinking a lot about that sort of as this last year has happened and sort of as the world went crazy. Because it was such a great mocking of PC culture gone too far, which felt sort of weirdly irrelevant after Trump. Like, you know, the world was on fire in a different way, so why are you – it felt out of date already.
And so this reminded of like, oh that’s right, this thing still does happen. What I found the most fascinating about this article, so the one we’re talking about is by Chris Bodenner writing for The Atlantic, is that sense that RAR started probably with really good intentions. But good intentions, plus a charismatic leader, plus continued success can lead to some really weird places.
John: I recently reread Animal Farm and this reminded me of that where like, you know, we’re going to have a revolution and we’re going to take over the farm and it’s going to be better and it’s going be better for everybody and this is what we’re going to do. And inevitably it sort of becomes this weirdly oppressive, bullying system. Where, you know, they started going after the people who weren’t speaking up with them about racism. It’s like, well if you’re not speaking up with us then you’re against us.
Well, no, maybe I’m not speaking because I think you’re kind of idiots. But I’m too terrified to actually say that out loud.
So, I think that is the really interesting thing to approach. It might more be a play than a movie. There might be reasons why it works better in a situation where you can kind of close it in like on a stage rather than sort of breaking it out to a movie. But I thought there was a fascinating chart of you follow the person who has this idea and goes down this path and sort of leads this charge and kind of becomes the thing he or she was fighting against at the start.
Craig: Yeah. I think that’s great – and I love the fact that it was a comedy. I think comedy is a great tool for something like this because if you do it – I’m just speaking craft-wise. If you do it as drama, it is really hard to not be hitting people on the nose scenes and plot. So I agree with you. I think Animal Farm is a perfect analogy. By the way, it’s a book that for sure that the RAR folks would hate because it’s part of the white man canon.
There is an interesting thing about how the people on the right have routinely failed to acknowledge what happens if their position extends out too far. We see that in this country now where a number of people have taken their position out too far. And now there are Nazis marching around Charlottesville and elsewhere. And the people on what we’ll call the regular right just don’t seem to want to deal with it. And I think it’s really important for people on the left to be aware of what happens when they go too far to the left. Anything in those directions, you find that we’re all on a circle and the circle meets. And over on the far left and over on the far right, in the end what is the difference between Hitler and Stalin? Uh, not much.
John: They both become totalitarians.
John: I think I don’t want to make the comedy because I want Brett and Emma to be able to make their comedy. So I want to give them space to make theirs. I hope they do.
John: I think I might go for the Sorkin-y kind of drama. I feel like there’s a way in which you can – you have really hyper-intelligent people who can talk in hyper-intelligent ways about why they’re doing the things they’re doing.
John: I think that’s really fascinating. And I wonder if there’s a way to sort of do Social Network of digging into what’s motivating these people and the degree to which they recognize what they’ve become as it is happening. And how little small things can snowball sort of beyond their control.
Craig: Yeah. It could be a very interesting 2017 version of The Paper Chase. Do you remember watching that show, which came from a movie? Where you do, you know, an eight or ten-episode season. And you’re following students as they move through. So you’re seeing different groups as they collide and people changing their opinions and changing sides. And you’re dealing with professors and it’s quite an extraordinary time. I mean, you have – in the article I believe there was a reference to a professor who at this point is just petrified. She’s petrified. And she’s black, or she’s mixed race. And she is gay. And she’s petrified about talking about any of the things that she wants to talk about like women and race and gender and politics because she’s afraid that she’s just going to step on some sort of landmine that people have buried there. Or, what a lot of professors are perceiving is the entire debate has been rigged for them to fail no matter what they do.
But that’s kind of the point is that they’re wrong. And they’re not good enough. And the do better – the favorite slogan, the one that you see on the signs over and over is Do Better. Meaning no matter what you’re doing now, you’re no good because you could do better. It is a fascinating time. And as somebody who is preparing to send his first child off to college fairly soon, I am extremely aware of it and concerned about that.
John: I think what’s also about making this kind of movie in 2017 is that generational shift and the sense that this generation is going to college approaches it much more like a consumer than like I’m just so lucky to have gotten in. They have an expectation of customer service that’s different than when you and I went to school. And so if things aren’t going the way they want them to go, they’re not sort of fighting necessarily the institution. They’re fighting for the things they want because they think they should get what they want.
That sounds sort of simplistic because of course there’s always been student protesting and I think student protesting often leads to some of the big protests throughout the United States. But it feels like a slightly different thing. A slightly more narcissistic than we had when we were in school or even in the ‘70s. So, I think it’s a different movie now and I think you could talk about some different things.
Craig: Yeah. There was an article I read about, John McWhorter, who I think is brilliant, linked to this article that another professor had written about some protests that happened at an event at Rutgers. And the entire panel was made up of academics and thinkers who are on the left. It was meant to be a panel about how to approach progressive policies as we move forward as a country. They were also protested terribly. It’s just like they weren’t left enough.
And one of the things that really I just kind of loved, but I was also really startled by, was one of the older people on the panel was a professor who had been really active as a student activist in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And he was listening to these protestors and he told them – and his whole thesis is what I want to do is win. What I want is for these progressive policies to be enacted. That’s the most important thing to me. And what he said to them was you are doing this and he said, “I have seen this movie before. I know how it ends. And how it ends is you achieve nothing.” And that was chilling and I think very accurate.
All right, so let’s talk about these three potential movies. Of them, I think we have a clear winner of which one could and should get made. It’s the firefighter movie.
Craig: No question.
John: Second up is – do you think it’s Reed?
John: I think it’s Reed.
Craig: Because I think Reed could be maybe a TV show. I think it would be a really interesting TV show.
John: Yeah. And I don’t think we’re making the corpse movie, although like your body farm, I would take your body farm over that. Body Farm is a great title.
Craig: Well it’s a great title. I’m sure Joel Silver has that registered already.
Craig: Among his many registered titles. I think that the dead body thing could be an interesting place to go if you needed a bizarre thing for some side characters to be doing. It’s a very Coen Brothers-y thing to imagine that you meet a couple of people and their day job is dealing with the corpse exchange business and it’s all business. That’s sort of fascinating and funny in a side trip way.
John: Oh yeah. That’s a way we didn’t get into. That’s just the backdrop of sort of a comedy or something else – a business comedy that the business is dead bodies.
Craig: Exactly. But it couldn’t be the main part of the story. It has to be a side thing. It’s just too gross.
John: I agree. Thank you to listeners who sent in these stories. So people have just been writing in to firstname.lastname@example.org and saying, “Hey, how about this?” Or they’ll tweet at us and say, “Hey, how about this.?” I like that we’re getting people out there thinking like How Would This Be a Movie. So, let’s keep asking that question.
And now we’ll get to some actual listener questions.
Craig: All right.
John: First off we have Ben in the UK. He writes, “I’m from the UK, so I write in British English, but I’m wondering if there are moments where American English would be more widely understood. Specifically, I’ve written, ‘A trainer smashes the puddle into pieces.’ But I think trainer to describe a sports shoe is very British. It might mean something else to readers from say the US. I’ve tried sneaker, but it sounds false in context and too American. The setting is particularly English. I thought about getting more specific. ‘A battered Reebok Classic smashes the puddle apart.’ Which would kind of work fine here.
“But what about instances where I don’t want that kind of specificity?” So, Craig, let’s talk some British vs. American English and things he should be looking for.
Craig: I’m dealing with this right now, actually, because Chernobyl — I’m American obviously. And Chernobyl is going to be largely a cast of UK actors, with some Scandinavian actors as well. The story, of course, is a European story. So, the nice thing is because our production is based in London and one of my fellow EPs is British, they can kind of go, “OK, here’s some things that you don’t do.”
For instance, one that I had no idea of – saying, “I’m done.” If an American goes, “I’m done,” that means I’m finished. In England they don’t really say that that way for I am completed with something, or I’m out, or I’m not interested anymore. That’s almost more like I’m dead. So, we have to go through and kind of police some of that stuff.
If you’re British and you’re writing a movie about British things, then I think you’re fine to be British. And in action it’s OK. You can also do a version of your script for the readers. So if you know you’re going to be sending your screenplay to both British and American readers, I think it’s perfectly fine to change something like trainer to sneaker for the American readers. It may seem out of place to you, but I guarantee you very few Americans know that in the UK these kinds of shoes are not called sneakers. They’re called trainers. So I think it would be OK to kind of do two versions there. But also people are generally forgiving.
They kind of get it. The most important thing is that you’re not throwing stuff in there that’s super idiomatic. Or there’s just going to be no chance of people understanding it. But, I think people get – I mean, you and I, we’ve read Three Page Challenges that we’re like, oh, this person must be English. And we don’t freak out.
John: No, it’s absolutely fine. I ran into the same situation just this past week. So we are in previews – actually as people are listening to this, Big Fish will have just opened in London. And there’s a few words which we had to actually change to make sure that British audiences could understand. So, the word panhandler, like Craig what is a panhandler?
Craig: That’s a beggar.
John: Yeah. And that is a word that is common in the US and so the production had written to ask like, “Hey, is it OK if we substitute a different word for panhandler? Because we don’t know what that word means.” And so I asked on Twitter, like hey British friends, do you know what panhandler means? And they said that if they did it was only because they had watched it on American television. It just wasn’t a word that existed in their language.
John: And so beggar didn’t really work in context. It’s a line of dialogue, so it has to make sense. It’s part of a joke, so it has to make sense in context. So I went with homeless guy, which is just – everyone gets what that is and it doesn’t sort of jump out. But it does matter. So I would caution that like it matters in dialogue. If what Ben is describing is just an action line, he can say sneaker, he can say trainer, it doesn’t really matter. But I would change trainer to sneaker in a line of dialogue because that would be false for a British character.
Craig: Right. And that’s the thing. That’s what matters the most, because that’s what people are going to see. So, in Britain for instance the word “punter” means customer. If you have “punter” in your action description like, you know, “The bartender is busy filling drinks for the chatty punters,” that’s perfectly fine. But if you had an American referring to fellow bar patrons as punters, no. That’s right out.
John: That would not work at all.
John: All right, let’s do one more question. This is an audio question, so we don’t even have to read it. Let’s listen.
Joe: I’m writing a crime thriller based in the ‘80s and ‘90s and I recently found a very old New York Times article on the topic. I emailed the author and we had a great Skype conversation, but I realize that I’m talking to a guy with over 30 years of journalism experience. My interview skills are just not as sharp as his. He’s recommended that I speak to three other stringer journalists, all with incredible resumes in global field work.
When I pitch them to have that first conversation, how can I best lure them in? To those people outside of the film industry, I’m just some guy who says he’s a screenwriter. I don’t even have an IMDb page. Can I offer them an executive producer credit if it ever becomes a movie? What exactly can I do to best appeal to them to have that first call? And any best practices once I have the call. Thanks.
John: Craig, can he offer them an executive producer credit?
Craig: [laughs] No. So, I was listening, Joe, I’m listening to your question and I’m like, this is a great question, totally reasonable, I have my answer. I’m feeling good about this. Then you got to the part where you’re like should I offer them an executive producer credit. And I literally jumped in my chair like it was a horror movie. Like a monster showed up.
For god’s sake, no, Joe. Here’s the situation. First of all, those aren’t your credits to offer anyway. You’re writing a screenplay, ideally you’re going to want to sell that screenplay to a movie studio, some kind of financing entity. And executive producer credits in feature films are typically reserved for people that are either running the kind of mini-major or who are part of the financing scheme of things. So, it’s not really yours to hand out.
But more importantly, it doesn’t matter if you have an IMDb page or not. Generally speaking, if you are coming to somebody and saying, “Listen, I’m writing a screenplay about blank. I am trying to do a good job. I hear that you did some great work and I would love to take 10 or 15 minutes of your time and talk to you,” people will be, generally speaking, happy to talk to you.
If they’re not, it means they didn’t want to talk to any screenwriter. They weren’t going to talk to John, they weren’t going to talk to me, they’re not going to talk to you. But there is actually no difference between you, Joe, or me or John, when it comes to just asking somebody if you can get 15 minutes to ask them questions about something they spent work on.
It’s flattering to people. They want you to get the story right. You can certainly say, “Listen,” and I have said this before, “I’m not necessarily in charge of the credits, but I will certainly advocate that you get a Special Thanks To, you know, in the credits somewhere. That’s the most of it.
John: 100% agree. So, I think what’s crucial about what Craig is talking about is that you’re asking for like 15, 20 minutes, like put that in the initial email. But I would also lead with the fact like, “Hey, I just got off the phone with whoever that first guy was you talked with who was so helpful giving me information about this. He recommended that I talk with you because you have so much more insight into how this one thing works.”
That provides context. It says like you’re not a crazy person. He can check back with that other person to confirm that you’re not a crazy person.
John: You’re only asking for 15 minutes. I think you’re going to get some yeses out of this. And hopefully get some good information.
Now, in terms of your interview skills, I would just stress like go in there with questions. Go in with things you’re curious to know, but then let it be a conversation. Because most of the really good stuff you get out of these is hearing people talk about their lives. Hearing them sort of lead the discussion in terms of what’s interesting and what’s fascinating.
Because that’s how you get beyond the 15 minutes because they like talking about themselves.
So, Joe, good luck. Get those interviews. Write your script.
Craig: Yeah, for sure.
John: All right. Let’s get to our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is an interactive piece by Joel Eastwood and Erik Hinton for the Wall Street Journal, looking at the rhyme schemes in Hamilton.
So, Craig, we all love Hamilton. But what I loved about this page is they do a very great job of looking at sections of songs and figuring out how the rhyme schemes work inside that. Because it’s derived from a lot of modern hip hop and really sort of the last 20 years of hip hop, but really sort of systematically breaks down how the rhymes are working, the internal rhymes, the near rhymes.
It’s really great. And it sort of shows how sophisticated and how clever it is. And there’s a real logic to it. There’s a reason why those lines fit so nicely together. And it goes in and sort of looks at the Velcro that makes it all work.
So, I thought it was a really great piece about a show I already love.
Craig: Yeah, it’s wonderful. And the emergence of internal rhyming, you have to just tip your hat to hip hop. I mean, they elevated internal rhyming to a true art form. And what Lin-Manuel Miranda does in Hamilton is sort of the Holy Grail of it because it is both entertaining and it’s smart. It’s just really, really smart. It just feels so educated and so informed. He’s making references to history that you’d think like, geez, it would be really hard to do internal rhyming here, and he does it. And he moves the rhyming pattern around in unpredictable ways. It’s just fantastic. So, very, very cool article.
John: One nice thing I learned about internal rhymes from doing Big Fish is when they’re set up well they can also help you not only remember the lyric, but to hear when something goes wrong in the lyric. There’s a line in the first act where “He’ll be with me until he’s dead,” and that be-with-me-until-he’s-dead, the actress had flopped it in her head, so like “I’ll be with him until I’m dead or we’re dead.” And like, no, no, he’ll be with me. That internal rhyme helps the line stick. So, they’re very useful tools.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. I was extremely influenced by Miranda when I was working on my songs with Jeanine Tesori. And I was also influenced by Sondheim. I mean, he also gets credit. He definitely engaged in some remarkable internal rhyming. You listen to, in particular the songs from Into the Woods, sort of recently I was listening to this, I’m like, god, there’s so much going on in these lines internally that’s pretty complicated. And I love that.
Craig: All right, well my One Cool Thing, is it cool? It’s like One Diverting Thing. This is one of those things where you’re bored, you’re sitting waiting. It’s an app called Tens. It’s a simple dice game. And the idea is you’ve got a grid. I think it’s a five-by-five grid. And you get random configurations of dice. Sometimes it’s a single die. Sometimes it’s three that are connected in an L-shape. And your job is to place them on the grid and in either a horizontal or vertical line have them add up to ten. And when they add up to ten, whoop, then those are gone.
And the goal is to hit a certain score before your grid is so cluttered that you can’t fit your new dice that are coming in into the grid. And it gets more and more complicated as you go. There are blocked out spaces you can’t put any dice onto. There are spaces that shift the die when they land on that space, all the way to the right, or all the way up. There are some spaces that destroy the die. So there is some strategy involved. But really it is just the prototypical sort of mindless time-waster that makes standing in line at the post office a little less horrifying.
John: So, Craig, the link you put in the show notes is to an article that says, “Tens, Sudoku-like Game has soft launched on iOS in the Philippines.” Do you know why that happens?
Craig: No. I don’t.
John: I do. I actually have the answer for you.
Craig: Why is that?
John: So as an app developer, I’ll tell you that when you submit things to the Mac or the iOS App Store, you can choose what territories you want to release in. And often a strategy has been you release in Australia or the Philippines or Brazil, Argentina, because they are markets that are big enough that you can actually see what’s working, but you can not sort of launch everywhere and especially not launch in the US or in Europe before the game is really ready.
So it passed the beta test, but you’re seeing what’s working. And if there’s in-app purchases, it’s a great place to test like what will people actually buy. How do I get them to go through it? So, sometimes you need it out there in the market to test it. And so you test it in places where it’s not as crucial.
Craig: Makes total sense. You’re looking for a place with a large population base, lots of smartphones, but culturally aren’t going to destroy you if maybe you stumble a little bit out of the gate.
John: It’s a way to test what your advertising strategy is going to be. Like what ads are you buying? What ads are going to be successful in getting people to click through and actually install the app. So that’s why you soft launch out in those markets.
Craig: I included this link only because typically when you find a link for an app like Tens, what you get – obviously that article is from a few months ago. It is now here. It’s everywhere. But you get the iTunes link which just hurdles you over to the iTunes app on your computer or on your phone. Then you don’t get any information about it really without launching another app.
John: I appreciate your thoroughness.
Craig: I knew you would.
John: All right. That is our show for this week. So our show is produced by Megan McDonnell, edited by Matthew Chilelli. Outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth.
Craig: Oh. By the way, can we – at some point does Rajesh Naroth just become our official composer?
John: Well, here’s the thing. So Matthew did the bulk of our original stuff, but now he’s in Japan and he’s not writing as many outros. Rajesh has stepped up. And Rajesh I think actually lives here in Southern California, so he’s local. He’s our local composer.
But if you have an outro you’d like us to play, send it in. We haven’t gotten any new outros for a while. So send it in to email@example.com. Send us a link. That’s also the place to send questions like the ones we answered. We love it when people include voice memos that have their questions so that Megan doesn’t have to email you to say like, hey, would you mind recording that. Just record it the first time through.
On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Look for us there.
You can actually look for me in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, so the day this comes out and the next day, because I’ll be there for the opening of Big Fish. So if you want to see me, I’ll be there. I’ll be in front of the theater, nervous.
You can find us on Apple Podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review. That helps.
We have a Facebook page. We kind of update it every once and a while. Megan does post all of the episodes.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. You’ll also find the transcripts. They go up about a week after the episode airs. And all the back episodes are available at Scriptnotes.net. The first 300 episodes are also available on the USB drives at store.johnaugust.com.
Craig: So thorough.
John: Craig, it’s good to be back on Skype with you.
Craig: Good to be back on Skype. And the good news is you go to London, and then I go to London, again. So, let’s see how screwed up it gets. But, for now, ahhh.
John: For now, ahhh, so good. Take care.
Craig: Thanks man.
- Last chance for Scriptnotes T-shirts! We’ve got Classic (in light and dark mode), the Umbrage Strikes Back, and Umbrage & Reason.
- Peter Madsen admits to dismembering, but not killing, Kim Wall. This is a follow-up to past How Would This Be a Movie article, Famed Inventor Says He Buried Reporter ‘At Sea’ After His Homemade Sub Sank on NPR
- The 15:17 to Paris, written by Dorothy Blyskyl and directed by Clint Eastwood, is a former How Would This Be a Movie come to life.
- On the Line: The Female Inmates Who Battle California’s Deadly Wildfires by Matt Toder for NBC News.
- Some dead bodies donated to research in US end up in warehouses of horrors by Beth Mole for Ars Technica.
- The Surprising Revolt at the Most Liberal College in the Country by Chris Bodenner for The Atlantic
- An interactive piece by Joel Eastwood and Erik Hinton for the Wall Street Journal looking at the rhyme schemes in Hamilton
- Tens dice game app.
- Big Fish in London!
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