The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode contains some explicit language. You might want to listen on headphones. Thanks.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: Craig, you have reindeer ears. This is our live holiday Scriptnotes show. Thank you guys all so much for coming. It’s the end of 2017. Thank you for braving fires for being here. You’re awesome. Craig, what a year. It’s been just a huge year. So much has happened.
John: Something that on Twitter this producer pointed out that the movie Kong Skull Island, that came out in March. That movie is from this year. This has been the most endless year of all years.
Craig: I want this stop. Perfect miserable discordant.
John: Absolutely. But that’s actually sort of the meme of this moment because as you guys all know as we’re recording this it looks like Disney and Fox, well, Disney is going to buy Fox. That’s a huge change. So we talked about that on the–
John: Yes. They will call it Dox. Bart Simpson and Mickey Mouse together.
Craig: Ooh. Wow.
John: Something there.
Craig: Yeah, no, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. It is fascinating to see how they are – I mean, it’s not done-done, but they are doing this very careful carving up of Fox. So they’re taking Fox Television. That’s the part that produces the TV shows, but they’re leaving the network because you can’t own two networks, because Disney owns ABC. And they’re taking the movies. They’re taking the movie library. They’re taking the television library.
Nobody knows what they’re going to do with the animation studio. Blue Sky?
John: Blue Sky, yeah.
Craig: Fox News, not taking Fox News with them. Crafty Disney. Very crafty. And also they’re leaving the sports behind because they have ESPN. So it’s very strange. And I don’t know what’s going to happen to the lot. Do you know what’s going to happen to the lot?
John: I have no idea. So you have these two giant powerhouse companies. You have Disney and 21st Century Fox combining and something you said on the last podcast is like, you know, other companies are going to need to figure out what their plan is to do because you don’t want to be the last person without a partner.
Craig: Correct. Otherwise you’re in a competitive disadvantage.
John: So, Craig, what I want to talk about tonight is we need to be thinking about the future of our media empire and what we’re going to do because consolidation is sort of inevitable, so we need to figure out–
Craig: I don’t want to lose the money I’m not getting.
John: Yeah, so it’s crucial. We need to find ourselves–
Craig: We have to protect.
John: We need a podnership is what we need. And so I want to talk through some options. I put together a little small deck to talk through some of the options. If we need to merge up with somebody else–
Craig: Is that a small deck?
John: This is a small deck.
Craig: Got it.
John: So it’s only about eight slides that can talk you through my vision for what can happen down the road.
Craig: I’m super ready.
John: So we can survive.
Craig: Thank you, by the way, for consulting me.
John: Yeah. You’re welcome. First let’s talk through goals. What are the goals of this merger?
John: And what do we want to get out of this?
John: Well, yeah, we want to maximize shareholder value.
John: That’s crucial. So–
Craig: Do I have shares?
John: Well, you have a lot of emotional investment in this show, right? You have fans. You have people. People like Craig. You can’t buy love, Craig.
Craig: But you can’t eat applause either, right?
John: You also – we want to make sure we can exploit our library of valuable characters. And that’s where you kind of come in. Because you think about – a lot of the characters on this podcast, they’re Craig characters.
Craig: All of them.
John: A lot of them are.
Craig: There’s Robot, that’s you. You’ve got that.
John: I’ve got Robot, yeah.
Craig: But I got Sexy Craig.
John: Yeah, Sexy Craig problematic in this era. I just want to point that out.
Craig: Sexy Craig, actually there may be an article dropping. I don’t want to freak anybody out, but there may be an article dropping.
John: But there’s Whole Foods Craig.
Craig: Whole Foods Craig.
John: A lot of good synergies with Whole Foods Craig.
Craig: And Umbrage Craig.
John: But that’s just Craig.
John: Finally, I want to position us to be able to compete with Netflix, because that’s really the goal, because it’s clear that Netflix is going to become giant. And so we need to make sure that we’re ready when they do become giant.
Craig: What do we do?
John: Well, we need to look for another podcast we could merge with and sort of synergize with.
Craig: Oh, mega podcast.
John: And so maybe even sell ourselves out to somebody bigger so we can actually survive.
Craig: I just have to think of another podcast.
John: How about Pod Save America. So, Craig was actually a guest on Pod Save America and you were fantastic, Craig.
Craig: Oh, thank you. Thank you. I wasn’t really quite sure what it was until after I did it, which infuriated John by the way. Made him crazy. I love that part of it. That was a fun show. I actually did Lovett or Leave it which is the–
John: It’s part of the whole empire.
Craig: It’s part of the Pod Save America empire.
John: So maybe we can join their empire.
John: And I think what would be good about it is you share a hatred of Ted Cruz. So that’s good.
Craig: I think that everyone qualifies on–
John: That’s true. They have really fun live shows.
John: We have live shows, they have live shows. They do it every week. But we could do more live shows.
Craig: Yeah, no, we’ll step it up.
John: All right. Down sides.
Craig: Apparently they don’t want to be here every week.
John: There are too many Johns. So their show has Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, there’s me. So something has to go.
Craig: I’m honestly OK with it.
John: Finally, America may be done. So, that may be – the brand may be – I don’t know what the value is – what is the future of Pod Save America after America–?
Craig: You’re talking about the brand? You’re not talking about, like, just because Armageddon in general should be a negative for all of these.
John: Yeah. I don’t know that America has enough future to support a podcast called Pod Save America.
Craig: Right. The runway is starting to get a little short for us, isn’t it?
Craig: Yeah, shorter and shorter.
John: So we might need to go to like a narrative podcast.
Craig: Oh, great idea. Is it Stone?
John: No, it’s S Town, or Shit Town is the other thing you can call it.
Craig: Well, that’s just outrageous.
John: So Craig does not listen to podcasts. This is a thing. By applause, who has listened to S Town?
John: So, S Town follows this reporter who goes to visit this guy. It’s a real thing. You would love this show because here’s some things you would love about this show. It talks about a grumpy loner with opinions on everything.
Craig: Oh, I remember hearing about this. And making a decision to not listen to it. Yep. Yep.
John: And he’s really fascinating. And there would be so many opportunities for How Would This Be a Movie. Because like pretty much everything he touches. He has a maze on his property.
Craig: Do you think that How Would This Be a Movie deserves its own acronym, really?
John: Totally does.
Craig: It’s not like Return of the Jedi.
John: In the outlines it’s actually called How Would This Be a Movie. Yeah, if you read the outlines?
Craig: But it gets a HWTBAM?
Craig: HWTBAM. Okay.
John: Some downsides. Can you think of any downsides for this?
Craig: Yeah. I don’t listen to this show.
John: Yeah. And also it’s too acclaimed. Craig, that might scare you aware.
Craig: I don’t like the tinsel. I don’t truck in awards.
John: And the show is also about whether this main character John was hiding gold on his property and that’s a little familiar for us.
John: Yeah. There’s gold hidden here.
Craig: He’s so rich because of this.
John: Dirty John. Who listened to Dirty John? So not as popular. It’s a coproduction with LA Times. Really fascinating. You know about this?
Craig: I read it.
John: So you know the history of this. So tell us a little bit about Dirty John.
Craig: I watched the podcast with my eyes.
John: So tell us about what it’s like to read a podcast.
Craig: It’s amazing. It’s just like you remember reading things, and that.
Craig: Dirty John, great long story of a horrendous, sociopathic, manipulative man and a woman that he cons. One of many women that he had conned in his life. And it’s about her and her family learning the truth of him and trying to get free of him. And it ends in the most spectacularly violent way. It’s remarkable.
John: Yeah. It was a really enjoyable listen or read. So I feel like this is a natural brand extension.
John: Easy. Dirty John & Craig. Just you add an ampersand. We add you to the mix.
Craig: Dirty John & Craig. That’s like a great ‘70s band.
John: Absolutely. So, the main character, the main bad guy in the show, what was his profession? Do you remember?
Craig: Well, he claimed to be a nurse, right?
John: He claimed to be a medical professional, sort of like you.
John: So like he had a medical background, so that fits in really well with you. So those are good synergies.
Craig: Great point. I do know a lot.
John: You know a lot.
Craig: I know a lot.
John: Yeah. Some downsides of this? What do you think?
Craig: Somebody give me something.
John: I would say it’s in Orange County. We got to go to Orange County.
Craig: I forgot that it was in Orange County.
John: And if you listened to the podcast you’d hear the Orange County accents. It would drive you crazy.
Craig: What is the Orange County accent?
John: Listen to it and you’ll just claw your ears out.
Craig: Is anyone here from?
John: You agree with me guys, right?
Craig: Oh, there we go. Man.
John: That was tough.
Craig: You’re not going to do it?
Audience Member: What do you want me to say?
Craig: That was it?
John: That was it, yeah. Sort of curious but indignant.
Craig: Actually sounded like she was from London. What do you want me to say?
John: The last thing I’ll say is you don’t listen to podcasts but there’s these Hunt a Killer subscription boxes that were so creepy and I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want subscription boxes on our show.
Craig: That one just didn’t work for me.
John: Because you didn’t see the show.
Craig: Oh, no, no, the Hunt a Killer thing. I got the box.
John: Oh, you got the box. Great. Did you find the killer?
Craig: I didn’t go past the first month.
John: I’m sorry. Yeah. Sorry.
Craig: Didn’t work.
John: Didn’t work for you. So you’d be a bad advertiser for that because you didn’t enjoy hunting the killer.
Craig: Yeah, we probably should stay ad-free just because of my–
John: Yeah. So finally Missing Richard Simmons. Did you listen to Missing Richard Simmons?
John: No. It was a very popular podcast. Who listened to Missing Richard Simmons?
John: Because they like podcasts. They like our podcast.
Craig: I also don’t understand that.
John: So here’s what possibly could work about Missing Richard Simmons. Screenwriters as a whole are not necessarily the fittest bunch.
John: So there’s opportunity for fitness.
John: Screenwriters not so healthy. He gets them–
Craig: He cries with us. We cry with him.
John: So here’s the other thing I need to tell you about this. Aline Brosh McKenna is obsessed with this show. She loved this show. So that’s a plus.
Craig: That’s a downside as far as I’m concerned.
John: It’s also a downside, too. A plus and a minus.
Craig: Nailed it.
John: And Richard Simmons, he also just wants to be left alone. That’s ultimately what you come out of the show learning.
Craig: Is that literally the big secret of Missing Richard Simmons is that he just wants people to F off?
John: Kind of yeah.
John: That’s really Craig’s secret. He basically just wants to be left alone.
Craig: That’s not a secret.
John: So let’s take a look at the numbers so we can run through and figure out what we’re worth. We have about 50,000 listeners, a solid 50,000 a week.
Craig: That’s pretty good.
John: That’s pretty good. We’ll take that. People here in the room. We make money selling t-shirts and so t-shirts we sold $1,429 is how much we made on t-shirts off of this last thing. So thank you everyone who bought a t-shirt. Thank you very much for that. Yeah, absolutely. We’re rolling in cash.
Craig: My share of that is?
John: Is what you’ve always gotten.
Craig: Gotten. Gotten. God.
John: And we have monetized through advertising, which was zero dollars in advertising. Now, the Disney/Fox deal is about $60 billion is what I heard with the Disney/Fox deal, so I’m thinking maybe – keep it a little simple – maybe $59 billion.
Craig: To be fair, we bought about–
John: We will take Apple Pay, so.
Craig: We bought about 100,000 bitcoin about 12 years ago.
John: Yes. So we’re doing this for kicks and giggles.
Craig: That’s really what we’re selling. We’re just selling the bitcoin.
John: So if anybody wants to make a bid for $59 billion for us, Megan is here. She has her Square c ash reader, too. So anyway you want to pay, Megan is here in front. But let’s get on with the show.
John: We have three amazing guests for you tonight. Our first guest is Julie Plec. Julie Plec is the co-creator and showrunner of Vampire Diaries, its spinoff The Originals. Also Containment. She developed Tomorrow People. And has written for Kyle XY. Julie Plec, welcome.
Julie Plec: Oh hi.
John: And so we need to tell everybody that Julie Plec is actually taking a red eye after this show. That’s how much she is devoted to the–
Craig: She showed up with luggage.
Julie: I did. I walked in with my suitcase. My parka.
John: Nice. Next we have Michael Green. He is the co-creator and showrunner of American Gods and Kings. He’s also the screenwriter of every movie you saw this year. Murder on the Orient Express, Blade Runner 2049, and Logan. Michael Green, welcome.
Michael Green: Hello. Good to be here.
John: Justin Marks who wrote the live action Jungle Book and its sequel. His TV series Counterpart debuts January 21 on Starz. Welcome the three of you. Thank you guys very much for coming here.
Craig: What a bunch of losers!
John: Oh, they’re fantastic. We know very little about TV, even though Craig is about to do a TV show, so I thought we’d—
Michael: Oh, why?
Craig: Well, it’s a miniseries. So I think of it as just a long movie.
Craig: No, because it ends. Isn’t that the problem with TV is that it keeps going and going and going? Justin, isn’t that the problem?
Justin Marks: Yes.
Craig: It just won’t stop.
Justin: Yes. That is definitely the problem with TV. It just will never leave your life.
Michael: In success you run till you die.
Craig: Till you die.
John: Julie Plec, your shows have run for a very long time. You’ve been on incredibly successful shows that run a long time. Originals is just about to end. I think that’s actually where you’re headed is to go to the wrap party for this. What is it like coming back season after season on a show? Is it great? Is it bad? Should Craig run away from it? Should he run towards it? What do is it like having a —
Julie: It’s sort of like to each their own, right? I’ve worked with writers who get two years in and they’re like, “Get me out. I can’t.” Their brain, their mind, just atrophies and they feel like nothing they do is fresh and nothing that they do has any value, et cetera, et cetera. Basic self-loathing stuff.
For me I get so much personal and emotional value out of building the community. When you make a movie you’re, you know, a few months in, six months, whatever. In and out. And you might never see any of those people again. And in television you can – year after year after year you’re working in success with the same people and you’re watching them grow from the bottom of their position all the way up the ladder till you’re partners. And there’s just something so emotionally fulfilling about that that above and beyond the storytelling it’s really – it’s a very full life. So even when it’s hard you still feel really satisfied by it.
John: Julie, you’re doing a traditional show where you are writing and shooting the show and editing the show all at the same time, but you guys had a more – the new wave experience where you guys – on both American Gods and on Counterpart didn’t you write everything before you started shooting? Is that correct? Justin, why don’t you start?
Justin: Yeah. We wrote the entire first season before we started the first season. And it has its advantages and it definitely has its disadvantages, too. But the hard thing is that you can’t, you know, you write these roles and it’s great – in TV you’re supposed to be able to see the actors and how they gel with it and how it works. And then you have these things and there are just a number of opportunities where you look at a role that you’ve written for ten episodes and then you see someone there and you’re like, oh my god, this person is in the show for the next nine episodes. And the other way around, too, sometimes people come on for two episodes and you’re like, oh my god, this person is great and you’re stuck with it. I mean, you’ve shot – everything is planned out and everything is done. So that ten-hour movie thing has, you know, some strengths. Some strengths.
Craig: Ten-hours is a lot.
John: Michael, so American Gods–
Michael: We were somewhere between the two for the first season of American Gods. And I should point out, so I’m the recently disgraced showrunner of American Gods.
Craig: What happened?
Michael: My partner and I on the show were let go last week. It’s in Deadline.
Craig: Why are we bringing this up in this show?
Michael: But I loved the experience. I’m very proud of it and happy to talk about it.
Michael: I’ll answer the now boring question. We wrote about two-thirds of the season and made sure to leave the ending so that we could course correct and rewrote the hell out of the middle of it. Because it’s the best of both worlds. We were able to put in a bunch and know where we wanted to go but also say, you know what, we see the actor who we want to lean in to and can craft towards them and do the things that television does really well.
John: One of the things that TV did a lot of in 2017 was not just sort of like do shows that were like previous shows, but they literally just did the same show again. So we had Will and Grace come back. We have Roseanne coming back. Dynasty is back. As you guys, and Julie especially you’re writing for network, is there a pressure to just like come into them with a thing that is like exactly either – is literally the same thing they’ve done before? Do you get approached about like why don’t you reboot this series that already existed?
Julie: No. You know, weirdly I’ve managed to avoid the “just take that thing and make it different and preferably better” pitfalls. I think it’s because ultimately I’ve been locked in my own franchise for the last eight years, so I just keep making those again and again.
I was talking to somebody the other day and they said something like 80% of the stuff in development at the network is IP, whether it’s remake or whatever.
Craig: Welcome to movies. And so the golden age of television died.
John: Well, but there’s also just so much more TV being made. So you’re saying 80% at network, but it feels like where you guys are doing it, so on Starz or on Netflix—
Michael: Well, I worked on something that was IP. It was based on a book. But you had an original.
Justin: Yeah, it was original.
Julie: Hey, how was that?
John: That’s true. American Gods is based on a book. That’s right. I forget.
Craig: But it was based on a book, but there is a sense that in television now they’re starting to do this thing that they’ve been doing in movies forever where they take something that honestly really should have just been left alone, like—
Michael: Slinky the show.
Craig: Or Battleship, the movie. And Battleship. Still the best story ever told. And where is Earth? And they make a movie out of it and now they’re going and digging up these shows. Like for instance, a few years ago – you guys probably all got this call to write a Dynasty movie. I think it was at Fox. And now they’re like, ah, you know what, that’s a dumb idea. We’re not doing that anymore. For a while we were doing that. Now let’s just make the Dynasty show again.
Julie: But the thing that I don’t get is that like, I mean, I’m 45 and I watched Dynasty in high school. It was one of my favorite shows. But I’m not tuning in to watch younger Dynasty necessarily. Like I just–
Craig: You want those Dynasty people.
Michael: I would watch Dynasty reruns. I mean, I’m older than you. I loved – watched the shit out of it. And the more ridiculous it was, the more we loved it. Someone needs to have that experience.
Craig: Yeah, but like Melrose Place. I don’t need to see Melrose Place again. Like a new Melrose Place.
Justin: I really have to say as the resident person here, I have no idea what Dynasty is.
Julie: What?! Young child.
Justin: And I don’t know if that goes to your argument.
Michael: So there’s Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Colby. Look it up.
Craig: Dynasty was the show that came about because Dallas was popular. Have you ever heard of Dallas? Who shot JR and all of that?
Justin: Yeah. I know it’s in Texas.
Craig: Yes. Correct. So then Dynasty was like the Pepsi to Dallas’s Coke. It was not great.
Julie: Yeah, I mean, my point is like if you’re marketing – and by the way, all my Vampire Diaries crew ended up going to work on Dynasty. So yay Dynasty. And I hope it survives forever. But you’re building off of a franchise name or a brand or whatever, but it’s like so old that the people that remember it as being a popular viable brand are so far out of your demo that like what are you doing. That’s my question.
John: I will say, this is a very mild defense, but as a father of a 12-year-old daughter, there’s things – she won’t watch things that were shot before a certain time. Like she won’t watch things that are shot square, in like 4-3 format. She can just tell like, oh, this is old school, old style. And so like I tried to get her to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is brilliant, and she won’t because it looks old to her. It looks old-fashioned to her.
Michael: It’s like we wouldn’t watch the black and white Gilligan’s Island?
Michael: Those are the old episodes.
Craig: I would watch those. I was that kind of guy.
John: Justin, a question for you though, because Jungle Book is an example of taking an existing property and making it in a whole new way because you have new technology to do it.
Justin: But that’s what I don’t understand. I mean, not to pick, I don’t understand the – you know, parents who grew up on a movie like Jungle Book or something like that, it’s bring your kids. Is anyone really saying like, “I watched Dynasty, I’m going to tune in with my kids?”
Craig: Not a person.
Justin: Anyway, I interrupted the–
John: No, but I wanted to go back to sort of your sense of when you were doing Jungle Book, the degree to which how much are you trying to reinvent the story of Jungle Book or how much are you trying to do it with the same story with a new technology? Because I faced that with Aladdin, which was the pressure of are we trying to reinvent the whole thing and rethink everything, or are we trying to Beauty and Beast it and literally just do the cartoon? And you must have faced that same pressure?
Justin: I think it’s harder the better the original movie gets in that sense and the more complete the story is. In the case of Jungle Book, you know, it’s from a certain era and there’s a sort of episodic nature to it. And we just had a list of here are the things that you remember without being aided, you know, from the original movie. And you just sort of live with that. And then everything else in between you evaluate and you interrogate and you say is this as good as it could be, or can we make this better? Can we make this richer and more, you know, a little deeper, motivate the villain a little better? Anything like that.
But, you know, there was definitely a list of like half a dozen moments/images/ideas that absolutely had to be in the movie because I feel like no matter what you feel about the original you would want to see it again. That’s how you associate it.
Craig: And are you – this is a question for both of you guys, because you both move between movies and television. How is the balance? I mean, how do you work that out? Is it something that you are kind of edging one way or the other, or are you perfectly divided up here?
Justin: I think I’d like to know from the person who wrote four movies this year.
Julie: Four movies. Four credited movies. God knows what else you did.
John: It was really the year before was a lot of that, but still.
Michael: I can’t say there’s any balance at all. It’s like any project or when you’re balancing two or more things. It’s whatever bullet is coming at you, dodge that. Look for the next bullet. Dodge that. You know, and just get through it. I mean, look, four movies in a year is the product of five years of development, just all sort of like “fuck you it’s happening.”
Craig: Yeah, I think sometimes people think that you just went, like here’s a mountain of coke, and whaaa….
Michael: But there was definitely the weird summer last year when I was hopping between three sets. And I don’t recommend it. It’s not the way to do your best work. You know, if you have a family and you like them, or even better love them, you know, that’s not a good thing to do.
But it was mostly about, if I made any conscious decision it was television is getting so strange and volatile and new and unrecognizable, and features the same. So, I thought why don’t I just try to do two careers at once and maybe one will win out or be dominant at that point. And that means there are some times where you’re not doing shit in either. And then there are time when both suddenly the tinder lights.
Craig: And there’s neither one medium nor the other holds a greater personal or creative satisfaction for you?
Michael: No, I think like everything else whatever I’m doing I wish it was the other.
Craig: Ah. That is a Jewish Christmas.
John: Michael, I want to get back to the question that Justin tackled which was there’s an existing piece of thing out there that people are familiar with and then you’re going back and you’re tweaking it, you’re redoing it. So Murder on the Orient Express, there’s a book, everyone has read the book. Everyone – lots of people have seen the movie. Lots of people come into it knowing the twist. So how do you approach – like what were your first conversations about this property as you sat down to tackle it? What was your way in?
Michael: It was a bizarrely wonderful experience, because I went in to the studio. I had already worked with the producers on it. And it was the, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And the answer was yeah. And they said, “Well what would you do?” And I said, well, let’s do the book. Like let’s not fuck with what’s great. I don’t want to out Agatha Christie Agatha Christie. Yes, there’s an ending. I’m pretty sure Americans don’t remember it. If they do, then it’s like Bare Necessities in your – you know, these are the things we want to get to. And then they’ll look for how did you present it, can you make it emotionally resonant, can you add to it so that you do, “Yes, and?” But also like I’m just not going to try to beat out that, nor am I going to blow up the train. Nor am I going to set it in space.
But if you’re OK with that, let’s write the movie. And it was with Fox. And they were like, “That sounds great. That sounds like what we want to do.” And gave them a script and it was one of those things where everyone wanted to do the same thing. The planets aligned, so the gravitational pull was to the same direction, down to when you’re lucky enough to get Ken Branagh to direct it, and say he wants to star in it. Ok, now we know that it’s going to feel like the kind of movie we’ve been talking about.
So, it was the lucky thing of never having a moment where someone was trying to turn it into something weird or other. But that said, it’s IP. It is familiar. It’s British civil religion. They certainly remember the ending there, but they don’t mind that. They want the security of the Americans aren’t going to fuck it up. And we told them we wouldn’t by hiring–
John: Kenneth Branagh.
Michael: Their best guy.
John: Hire the Shakespeare guy to do it.
Michael: The most British man there is.
John: Basically they’re giant British fans for the original Agatha Christie, so they will know all that stuff.
Michael: Yeah, they’re rabid. That’s their baseball as I understand it.
John: Now, Julie, you have rabid fans from what I understand.
Julie: I do. Yes.
John: So, Nima who works for us is a rabid fan. He’s seen every episode of Vampire Diaries. And so he wrote a question which I’m going to now paraphrase for you. And you don’t even have to answer the question, but I want to sort of answer the meta question of this kind of question.
Julie: OK. OK.
John: So his question is on Vampire Diaries vampires have the ability to compel humans to obey their will. Could a vampire compel a human to not obey another vampire’s compulsion, or compelling?
John: See, yeah. Nima is excited that you said whoa on that.
Julie: Yeah. Maybe. Shoot, eight years, we never went down that road.
Craig: Probably because it’s the nerdiest road ever.
Julie: Should have gone nine.
Craig: Just saying.
John: So, my meta question is about that kind of question, because you must get that stuff all the time which is like someone who is a huge, huge fan of what you’re doing but wants to needle or poke or just ask things that either you don’t have an answer for or, you know, it just kind of doesn’t matter. How do you deal with that?
Julie: Most of my fan engagement and interaction has been on Twitter. And for the first four or five years I was very, very heavily involved in and invested in Twitter. And I would read all my mentions. And I would spend hours and hours. And that particular group of fans that I was engaging with heavily weren’t concerned with that kind of shit. Like literally they were like very worried about who Elena was going to end up in bed with. And it was very important. And when it didn’t go their way they were very mean.
Like if somebody had tweeted me that I would have been like, “Let’s talk man. This is great. I’m so excited.”
Craig: Finally something to discuss dispassionately.
John: Nima is here. He’s very excited to meet you. There’s Nima.
Julie: Oh hi!
Craig: But there is a certain kind of interaction now between television producers, particularly shows like yours which do have a very visceral connection for an audience. And I think a lot of the shows that I see, generally speaking sci-fi shows, horror shows, superhero shows, there’s a certain kind of fandom that gets really intense. And I watch it from the side and I will sometimes see these reactions happening on Twitter and I will get frightened just standing near it for the people that are making the show.
Julie: Yeah, well, you know, it got ugly. And it got sad and ugly because then I had to stop reading my mentions and I had to not engage on Twitter in that way. And for the last couple years I mean at best scroll through every now and then, just wanting to find that one person who is like asking, “Hey, how did you get into writing,” so at least to reward the good behavior, you know?
I mean, we could have a symposium on this. And I’m only really focusing right now on the negative side of it because obviously there’s a tremendous amount of positives. But the negative side of it is just this entitlement that is so toxic. Like just you are ruining the thing that I love, therefore you are terrible. And yet I’m like, but I wrote the thing that you love. You know, and it’s like, I mean, you love that. It just becomes so personal and it becomes not just about, “Oh, I’m not happy with the way this storyline is going,” it becomes about, “You’re fat. And you’re ugly. And no one is ever going to marry you. Thank god you don’t have children because they’d be ugly.”
I mean, like it’s all that stuff.
Craig: I should not have said any of that. I just—
Julie: And it’s just extraordinary. And it’s a high level, in a weird way because I noticed it all happening over the first couple years and I thought, hmm, like the world is going to a dark place and I’m seeing it happen through the sort of Twitter fandom. And then the world went to a dark place and now everybody talks to each other like that. And I saw it first.
Craig: It is frightening. I just wanted to say that I think that a lot of the people – I think anybody that falls in love with any television show or any movie, when we say we like it or we love it, what we’re really describing is a relationship that we have with it. That’s why people change their minds about things, right? We have changing relationships. As we grow older our attitudes towards things change. We revisit. I think people sometimes can have a very bad relationship with a show. It means something to them you did not intend. It is providing a function or serving a function for them. And then when you don’t do what they want or you kill the wrong person, because as we know sometimes that person is just wah-wah-wah, and so they’ve got to go. Right?
Julie: Yeah. [laughs]
Craig: These people lose their minds because you are disrupting this thing that they have an unhealthy relationship with.
Julie: Yeah, and I remember in early seasons them saying like, “You don’t understand this relationship.” Two and half seasons I have painstakingly laid in every little nuance and detail of the time their hands just sort of brushed, and the way that she looks at his lips before she looks in his eyes when they’re staring at each other. I like gave you that relationship that you love detail by detail. And now you’re, you know, you’re coming at me in such an aggressive way.
Craig: Geez Louise.
Michael: I liked when you touched my hand.
Julie: That was nice.
Michael: By the way, wait, to go back to your first question because Julie, who has had a brilliant career that I admire and tell everyone about because she’s one of the heroes, has gotten to work on her shows for long enough for people to have that relationship.
Michael: That is not a miniseries relationship.
Julie: That’s true.
Michael: And so the exchange rate for having – to be able to steep, to be able to play that long game, to be able to have your own emotional investment be reflected back in your audience’s emotional investment, the exchange for that is your life and health in like 15 years.
Craig: Well, you know, Dan and Dave, we had Dan and Dave on our show – Dan Weiss and David Benioff who do Game of Thrones – and those guys don’t look at anything. They have never looked at anything. And it has been fascinating, because every now and then I’ll be like, “Hey, how you are guys – oh, yeah, you don’t even know. Never mind. You don’t know about the firestorm that just occurred because of the episode in which blah-blah-blah happened.” Nor do they know when people are like, “Oh my god…” They are just completely isolated.
And, now it works for them because they are – well, they’re weird.
Michael: But do you read reviews?
Craig: I stopped. I have stopped.
John: So I, generally I stopped–
Craig: I have good reason to stop.
John: But this last time with Big Fish opening in London I was not going to read reviews, and so I was putting my phone away and someone tweeted at me, “Shame about the London reviews.”
Craig: Oh that, ugh.
John: Why are you doing this? And so I had an early flight, so I had already taken a Xanax so I could fall asleep. So like, you know what? Fuck it. I’m going to read all the reviews. And so I was already pre-medicated and I read all of them. And in a weird way it was good. I’m glad I did it because there were like two-star and five-star reviews, so it was a real range. And it was actually really good to actually know what it was, because there are times where I haven’t read reviews and I’m just kind of wandering around in a fog like I don’t know what’s out there. And so for me it was good to know–
Craig: I suppose in the limited circumstance where I can pill myself up and be on a plane, I’ll go ahead and read a few reviews.
John: Justin Marks, will you read reviews of your show when it comes out, Counterpart?
Justin: You know, it’s really hard because with the show especially you’re much more accountable to those reviews than you are on a movie where it’s done. I mean, there’s nothing else, what can I do? Can I go back and change the movie? No. So I’m curious for the people who do television, because I’ve never been through this process before. I think I kind of have to. I think I kind of have to know what’s working and what’s not working if there’s a collective consensus about something.
Michael: You don’t have to. You work for Starz, so here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to get an email every day with the headline of whatever review came in and a parenthetical that says, “Positive, negative, mixed.”
Justin: And so you just look through it like that?
Michael: That was more than I needed.
Julie: I will say like I’m personally one of the writers who in television believes that there’s a social contract between a storyteller and the viewer. And I could introduce you to 50 writers who completely disagree with that and say I’m telling my story the way I want to tell the story and the viewer either likes it or they don’t. I like the fluidity of understanding what people are connecting to. And then trying to absorb why, you know.
And conversely, you know, I learned a lot about even just racial representation on my show through social media. Things that I had never considered, ever considered being a problem, and then sort of confronted with that. And that was so illuminating. I mean, I was mortified. And learned a lot in a way that nobody would have stopped me on the street and been like, “Do you realize that that person of color had two lines?” You know, that kind of stuff.
And so I wouldn’t ever want to like tune out from that relationship because it is a sort of focus group feedback that I think is really valuable.
Michael: There was one – we did an interview with this podcast Fan Bros and it’s a black audience for genre stuff. And they were great. And they kind of took us to task and said, “Well, we really love the show, but your black lead you’re doing a terrible job.” And we’re like tell us about that. And it was very helpful and our response was we hired them. We put them on staff. Because had we not heard that – they weren’t allowed to write reviews about the show anymore.
Craig: That’s how you get a job is you start a podcast—
Michael: Tell the showrunner it stinks.
Craig: Tell white people they’re fucking up.
Craig: I could do that.
John: All right, so while we’re talking about reviews I thought we might play a little game. So, let’s move on. We’ve had some good reviews, some bad reviews, but this is Christmas, or the holidays, let’s have only five-star reviews. So underneath your seat you have some five-star reviews.
Julie: Oh my gosh.
John: So we are properly set up here.
Craig: So excited.
John: So these all come from iTunes. And so we went on iTunes and we found reviews of different projects we worked on. And we’re going to read them now and we’re going to have to figure out – titles of these things are not on here so we’re going to have to figure out among us what they are talking about in these five-star reviews.
Craig: And the ones that we have in our hands, could these be any of our movies?
John: Any of our movies.
John: All right, so I’m going to start us off. So this comes from Skip Hunt.
Craig: That’s not real. That’s like Mike Hunt.
John: So, “Not sure how I found this podcast. I think I was searching for info about the fountain.io markup stuff.” A nerd. “Anyway, I’m hooked and I’ve added this podcast to my regular playlist. I have not interfaced with Mark Mazin, but John August has been very generous and helpful with his time. Thanks for putting this podcast out. I’ve found most of it very helpful. Smiley Face.”
Craig: Now we’re supposed to guess what that’s for?
John: Yeah, I think we can figure that one out. That’s a pretty easy one.
Craig: Fucking Mark Mazin. I’ll tell you. That guy–
John: So that was Scriptnotes. Craig, read us another five-star review.
Craig: All right. This one is titled “Impressed,” by MJ Gingsham. “Very nice directing and editing. Actors are very decent and acceptable. The music is very cool aswell. 5 stars!” Huh? Music is very cool, as well.
John: As well. As well. This is punctuated exactly the way it was there.
Craig: Hmm, what do you guys think?
John: What do you think? What could that be?
Craig: I’m kind of leaning towards—
Julie: Are these all movies?
Craig: No, it could be a TV show, right?
John: It could be a movie or a TV show.
Julie: Oh, oh, oh.
Craig: Is it the Vamp? Is it Vamp Di?
Julie: I feel like if it’s just generally across the board a mediocre five-star review, that’s probably mine.
John: Julie Plec, you’re correct. Julie Plec, read us a review.
Julie: OK, from I Am Romanov 2, “This movie was much better than the Passion of Christ.”
Craig: The Passion of Christ. Oof.
Craig: It feels like Jungle Book to me.
John: It could be Jungle Book. Lots of choices here.
Craig: Well, has anybody dabbled in a Christ movie other than Passion? No? No. No. Well, maybe Corpse Bride.
John: Could be Corpse Bride.
Craig: Because Christ.
John: Christ. Death. Resurrection. Yeah.
Michael: Frankenweenie. Same thing.
Julie: Who did Frankenweenie? Nice.
John: The answer is Michael Green for Green Lantern.
Craig: Why would you compare Green Lantern to Passion of Christ?
Michael: I don’t know. They were both hard to get through. They both hurt my soul for different reasons.
Craig: And the heroes did have super powers, so.
Michael: Also the CG suits.
Craig: CG suits. CG suits.
John: Yep. Nudity. Michael Green, read us a five-star review.
Craig: I would have never thought of that one. Your turn. You can read it right there.
Michael: OK, “Best movie of the year — This film did better than do the original justice. It’s a masterpiece!Ryan Reynolds stole the show and all the other actors did well too. Not to mention Hans Zimmers score completely fit and mixed in with this awesome epic of a film“
Julie: Is this the same movie?
Craig: That feels like Green Lantern again.
Justin: But Ryan Reynolds was great in–
Michael: Hans Zimmer did not do the score. So I’m thinking this is a Ryan flub.
John: So, what are you predicting?
Michael: Blade Runner.
John: Blade Runner 2049.
Michael: And you’re not fat.
Craig: Fooled me.
John: Justin Marks?
Justin: “I love this one by Ishiro Honda would be proud.”
Craig: How is that a name?
Justin: “This is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year and I’ve only seen 2 good movies this year. Amazing special effects, great characters and I felt like a kid again watching this movie. See it if you haven’t already.”
Craig: Jungle Book, right? It feels like Jungle Book.
Michael: Jungle Book.
John: It’s Jungle Book. All right. Next up, Miss Shorty Rocks says, “loved it — if u ppl have nothing good to say than don’t say nothing at all cause this move was good i liked it was really good i would watch it again again why dnt u all do me a fav n put the shut to up that means shut up.”
Craig: That has to be one of my fans. I mean, for a bunch of reasons not the least of which is she’s clearly arguing with the majority of people who are upset. So I got to – that’s got to be one of my people.
John: You’d be wrong.
John: That is for Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. Justin Marks.
Justin: Yeah, my mom does write under that Miss Shorty Rocks.
Craig: Wasn’t Ishiro Honda in Street Fighter? Wasn’t he one of the characters?
Justin: Was that a character? Don’t ask the writer of Street Fighter.
John: Craig Mazin?
Craig: Oh, I’ve got one here. “Wow,” by Edward Elrick Fan. “I wish I was bloating like the girl.i always wanted to bloat like that girl in the movie I wish I was her SERIOUSLY!”
OK, this has to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
John: It’s a movie about bloating. I love that he’s a bloat fetishist who is like you know what, I’ve got some time, I’ll leave five stars for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Michael: Violet, you’re carrying water, Violet.
Julie: That’s amazing.
Craig: I was most just concerned with the lack of the subjective mood here.
John: Yes, that really is the biggest cue of that.
Craig: Edward, you wish you were bloating like her.
Craig: Were Edward.
John: Julie Plec.
Julie: Sponge Bob Girl 101 says, “You have your options in what movies you like. People say it was horrible and some people say it was good just give it a chance if ur not interested in cussing and comedy i recommend that u do not watch this movie. I enjoyed this movie a lot it was so funny. And i didn’t watch the trailer thats probably why i didn’t hate it”
Craig: Again, that feels like one of my people.
John: Yeah. Which movie though?
Craig: Notice fighting off others. Any one of them, honestly.
Craig: Not Winter’s War.
Craig: I’ll go with Identity Thief.
John: Identity Thief it is. And Michael Green, I think you have the last one.
Michael: Mine is not a five-star review.
Craig: It’s a two.
Julie: Ouch. That’s mine.
John: Go for it.
Michael: OK. I think things are going to get mean. “Box of Bisquick,” by Woody Wood 123. Because there were 122 other Woody Woods. “Am I the only one who deleted this podcast after three episodes because, while the information was useful,” at least you’re using that well, “I just couldn’t get past John August’s manner of speaking like he just swallowed a box of Bisquick.”
John: Just swallowed Bisquick. I love that.
Michael: “Sometimes he’s barely intelligible. Good this he’s a writer.” Good this he’s a writer should be like. Oh. “A shame. I would have liked to be a follower.”
Craig: I would have liked to have be a follower. We would have liked for him to have be a fan. Just, this person was hearing the best of you, by the way. I just want to point out.
John: Absolutely. That’s after Matthew’s edited me carefully. So.
Craig: I don’t think it’s Bisquick.
John: What would you say I have in my mouth?
John: Oh yeah. Something quick that fixes.
Craig: Some sort of marble and cement product.
John: Yes. I want to ask a practical question of our TV folks here in the room which is you guys are all not just writers but you are hiring writers to work on your TV programs. If someone is – as you’re reading through scripts and trying to put together a staff, what are you looking for in writers that you’re trying to hire onto your shows?
Julie: For me, just a voice. You know, like a distinct voice. Somebody that can write a funny line. Something that makes me laugh, even if it’s in a drama. Has a personality. Has some kind of cool twang to it. Because I don’t have time as I’m reading material to really dissect like, oh, structurally that was really excellent and I would have slid act two later. Like I’m reading it for my own enjoyment and if it grabs me, the voice grabs me if it’s got sparkle, I tend to read the whole thing. And if there’s no sparkle, even if it’s a great script, I just put it aside.
John: So how many pages will you read before you detect if there’s a sparkle.
Julie: About ten.
John: Ten. OK. Michael Green, what are you looking for as you read scripts?
Michael: Very similar. I’m looking for someone who I see something that will make my show better and different. I remember a showrunner I worked for back in the “22 episodes a year I don’t know how we did it days,” and I don’t know how you do it. But he said when he was hiring, and this stuck with me as a bad idea, he was looking for ten little hims. And I thought that’s terrible because you can already write like you. You know, and I can write like me all the time. I can’t stop. It’s awful. So I want people who can do what I can’t do. And then I suddenly realize reading that voice that if that voice was in my show, my show would be better. So that please.
Specificity in ten pages. Sadly, that does bear out. Showrunners read about ten pages because if it isn’t excellent in ten pages it’s never better by 20. It just doesn’t. And so polish the shit out of the first ten, please.
John: Justin Marks. What are you looking for?
Justin: I really try to look for writers who make me jealous. I think that’s really the thing that I feel like if there’s something – because I completely agree. That idea, and we’ve talked about this in the room a lot, like I can do me. I can do me pretty well. Like I feel like I know me and I can write for me and understand that. But if I am reading someone who really writes from a place, a voice that I’ve never really been able to bring out of myself then that’s exactly what I want to do.
And I will also say, I mean, yes, the question is about reading. So it’s leading in that sense. But I do think from a place, for me at least, the meeting is everything. We’re not having the meeting unless that spark has happened on the script. But I find that the best collaboration with writers in the room are people who – it also brings the best part of me out when we’re having this conversation and we’re talking about our favorite movies, or our favorite TV show, or our favorite book. You know, that’s the dynamic in the writer’s room every single day.
You know, you can bring a lot of diverse voices together, but if you don’t like the same stuff and want to do the same stuff I feel like that’s where you run afoul. So, yeah, I think it’s a combination of the two. And in some ways, depending on I guess the way everyone writes their show, I think it’s that meeting. What do we bring out of each other? That’s a hugely important thing.
Craig: Did you ever have any problems with control issues having come from a place of, look, I write by myself. I write. This is mine. And now I have to let you do it?
Justin: So badly for me. I mean, like so badly. I was so bad at it at the beginning. And fortunately the writers are really good when it comes to knowing that I was a first-time showrunner. But my thing was really like I just kept using this phrase, “I have to wrap my head around this.” And the only way I can wrap my head around it is to sort of just run through it and see it and keep doing it and keep doing it. And I realized I was making so much more work for myself. Like so much more work for myself to such diminishing returns as you’re doing it. Because it’s really like maybe it seems big to you as you’re sort of going through each page and each scene and each line of dialogue, but like you’ve hired brilliant people who can write this stuff. And, I mean, you’ve all worked it through together in the room and unless something has really just run sideways on the page, like there’s no reason to do it.
So, I had a hard time with that at the very beginning. And really like the first season was a tough journey to realizing like there are people around you. Ask them for help. That was a really tough thing. I wish I had learned that. I wish I had worked on a show. They should only, only let people run shows who have worked on shows. They should not have hired me.
Michael: The best day on your first season show isn’t when you get picked up for the second season. It’s when one of your writers gives you a draft that you don’t have to touch. Because it means you can now have a weekend, or now you just tell that person, “I’m sorry, you’re fucked. You’re going to write a lot.” Because otherwise you’re going to have to do every page and that’s not – there’d be dragons.
John: We’re going to have time for about four questions. I want to ask you guys about, you’re not just reading, and you’re not meeting with folks, but you’re also managing folks. And it feels like the management of a writing staff has become a – Harvey Weinstein was two months ago. It feels like it was six months ago, but it’s only two months ago. Has anything changed in the sense of how you guys are approaching life in the room? How you guys are approaching your shows in the wake of the sexual harassment stuff that’s come up?
Julie: I was just talking about this today. We had our little holiday lunch and I said – I said what is it going to be like for us moving forward in a writer’s room? And I was at a table full of women, so it was a very easy conversation to have. But I said, you know, we have to be as respectful of everybody’s space as we’re asking men to be of ours. And we can’t sit around and talk about like bras and periods all day long either, you know.
Julie: I know. I know. There has to be a sense of mutual respect for everybody in the room. But on the other hand, I mean, when you go back to what they teach you at Warner Bros. in the sexual harassment training that I’m sure will be wholly revamped before next year is about the Friends lawsuit. And the Friends lawsuit back in the day was a woman who was in the writer’s room as a writer’s assistant, I think, who basically was just like the things discussed in the room, the words used in the room, the ideas discussed in the room were unacceptable to me and made me uncomfortable. And the defense, which turned out to be a winning defense, was but we’re in a creative space in which we are supposed to be allowed to be free to express ourselves without filter and without judgment.
And I really do believe that. And I think it’s just a difference between if someone is expressing themselves freely without filter but are also an asshole, then there are lines that have to be drawn. And a woman that I was talking to said, “If we could just get more comfortable saying, ‘Oh, that’s too far for me, or that’s too much.’” Or even better, if we don’t have to say it at all, she said, “I would love nothing more than to never be the woman in the room that says, ‘You know, hold on.’ But if some guy would tap his buddy and be like, dude.” And just move on. Say that’s a little too much. Hey bro, back off. And let it go. And don’t make a woman or a man or whoever is feeling objectified, or persecuted, or just offended have to be the one to sort of raise the Debbie Downer flag and be like, come on guys.
Although we did have a bell in my last room where like a writer brought in a bell and every time somebody swore inappropriately she’d be like, “Ding.” And then we’d laugh and we’d move on.
Craig: That’s not a bad idea. I mean, systems that are based on the male observational power generally are doomed. But if you have a situation where someone, like OK, you know that there’s a guy. Like let’s say I’m in your room and you can look at me and be like, and I’m like, OK, got it. Dude. Right? And then we just have a thing and then I know because I do need to be told. I think a lot of men need to be told. Because we’re just a little duh.
John: Let’s go to a question. Sir, your question.
Male Audience Member: So this is a bit of a champagne problem, but I hope there’s some general advice in here. So, it’s taken me ten years to get to this moment. And I have a spec script that’s going around town. And I got an agent. We had to move very quickly with that. And I’m at this lovely moment where every manager in town wants to meet with me, take me to lovely lunches. And I don’t quite know what’s the right way to pick a person to work with, hopefully for the long term. Like what is the trait to optimize. There are bigger places. There are smaller places. There are people that function like agents. There are people that develop.
You guys have experience. I will never have the opportunity to ask people like you this again. So I’m curious–
Craig: Correct. We all disappear after this.
Julie: What do you need in your creative process? Like if you had a perfect creative relationship with someone else that was on your team, would it be sit in a room with me for eight hours and help me break this story? Would it be I need really great comprehensive notes on my material? Or would it be like I wrote this, shut up and sell it? Where in that is what you would wish for?
Male Audience Member: I think frankly my agent team can take the shut up and sell it side of stuff. I’d like someone that I could kind of work with almost like a producer. I can call, I can game plan. I can be a little bit closer with. I don’t necessarily need day-to-day notes. I don’t need – I’m a grownup. I don’t need hand-holding. I don’t want to be told what to write. But I’d love someone to read stuff and give some feedback.
John: Some general advice I give to anybody who is looking for new representation is pick somebody who you won’t dread getting a phone call from. Because sometimes people will be like, “Oh, he’s a shark but he’s great. He’s on my side.” But if you don’t want to answer the phone, if you don’t want to talk to him, that’s not the person for you.
Julie’s question is very smart about just in terms of like knowing what you’re actually looking for. So are you looking for a bad cop? Are you looking for a good guy? Figure out what it is you’re going after. And Justin Marks, you and I have had a lot of discussions about managers because I was down on managers for a long time and you were like, “No, no, John, you don’t understand what’s actually going on.” Talk to us about managers.
Justin: Yeah. I think – and it’s interesting because I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as you get on a show and you’re just doing one job this whole time. And so my manager’s role in my life has changed significantly from the beginning. But in the beginning when I was just starting out I really think, and it’s only because I can count on less than one hand the number times a month I’ll speak to agents now. And my manager is the person who I’m always in the trenches with. He knows what I’m writing on a given day. He knows, you know, are you moving on to this? Are you getting this done? They’re calling about this. You have to get that finished. Whatever it may be, he’s the person who is really like a partner.
And I’ve had my manager since I was in college from the very beginning. We’ve been together and I have a very comfortable rapport. He’s the only person in my life who can tell me when something is truly terrible. He’s the person who calls to deliver bad news. And can do it fairly and without spin which is really important to me.
So, I feel like in this – and this is where our discussion was originally is I don’t think agents do anymore what they used to do.
John: I think everyone agrees with you there.
Justin: And maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because managers have come about. But I think it’s a very important thing especially because this is not true of all agents but I’ll just say it, I think the attention spans are very short. And if you have a good manager that’s not what it’s about. They have a very long attention span.
But you only get one shot of giving a piece of material to even your agent in that sense. You don’t want to damage that relationship. So to have a manager who you can really vet your material with and to do multiple iterations on it with I think is a really important thing.
Now my relationship with my manager is very different. I mean, he’s like my therapist more than anything. Or he’ll come to set and just sit around for a little while, and then we’ll go for walks where we just go for walks like in movies where someone is really down and going for a walk. That’s what we do.
So I guess it’s worth 10%. Right?
Julie: Well, I mean, I’ve always been down on managers, too, because working in television I always tell people don’t get a fucking manager, for god’s sake. That’s 10% of your income. You want to buy a house. You want to raise a child. You want to put him in college. You want to keep your money. Like for the love of god, don’t get a manager who is just going to put you on a show and then cash a paycheck for nine months out of the year.
But, what you get for that 10% is a fulfilling relationship if that’s what you need. You know? Whether it’s breaking every story with you beat for beat, or just walking around the block with you. If that’s how you want to spend your money to have that relationship, then just make sure it’s someone who is going to give it to you. Because there are way too many managers in this town who just operate like agents who will stay on the phone with you longer. And I think it’s total bullshit.
Craig: I agree with her 100%. And I will say you don’t have to sweat this decision. Pick one of them. And if you don’t like him or you don’t like her, fire their ass and pick another one. Because there’s a thousand of them.
John: Yeah. Great. And just in case you are a Michael Green in a couple of years and you have four movies in a year, what’s your name?
Male Audience Member: Jeremy Cohen.
Julie: Good luck, Jeremy.
John: Jeremy Cohen. There’s probably a few other Jeremy Cohen’s on IMDb, I think, but–
Craig: You can only have one Michael Green or one Jeremy Cohen. You can’t have Michael Green and Jeremy Cohen. We’ll have to figure this out.
John: All right, on this side. A question.
Female Audience Member: So Craig is always talking about how he doesn’t make any money from the podcast. So what is going on there?
Craig: Thank you! Oh my god! Like all this time I’ve been waiting for somebody to ask the obvious question. What is going on?
John: So, I can actually honestly answer you. So that number about the t-shirts, that is true.
Craig: Oh god. This is going to be bad.
John: So, a bunch of you are premium subscribers. Yes, some people in the audience here. So people who get all those back episodes, that’s $2 a month. We get a dollar of that back from Libsyn. So that ends up being – we have almost 3,000 of those, so that’s $3,000 a month that’s coming in. So that’s good.
That helps pay for Megan’s salary. It pays for Matthew. And our transcripts. And so that’s kind of what it covers. There are podcasts that make good money, like those Pod Save America podcasts, they’re making bank. And it’s a whole different world. But we just decided we didn’t want to sell Casper Mattresses.
Julie: They do it so well. I mean, that’s part of the novelty of Pod Save America is they–
John: They do a great job of that.
Julie: The way they do their advertising is so funny and enjoyable.
Craig: I’m sorry. We would crush it.
Julie: You guys would crush it. It would be amazing.
Craig: We’re professional writers.
Julie: I want to hear you talk about–
Craig: By the way, you know who we should advertise?
John: Bisquick. Yeah. Bisquick would be a fantastic thing. And so I can tell you guys here tonight, I think for the first time, that I am going to be doing another podcast in the New Year and that one will have ads in it. And so that will be a very different world for me. And it’s been an incredibly different experience learning how all of that works, because it’s not just two guys talking–
Craig: That’s not going to last a long time though is it?
John: No. It’s a miniseries just like yours.
Craig: Oh, OK.
John: Yeah, it’s fine.
Craig: No, you go and you have your thing.
John: Yeah. It’s fine. We can each do our own little thing.
Craig: Yeah. You love someone, set them free.
John: Thank you.
Craig: The truth is I do love talking about it because it’s hysterical to me, but John really does all of the work. That’s the other thing I often repeat. And between Megan and Matthew who edits and then the hosting costs and all of the other stuff, it is – we break even.
John: Yeah. I should say Craig used to have to write me a check every month for the hosting and stuff. Craig used to write money out of his pocket. So that doesn’t happen anymore.
Craig: So like that’s how I get paid now is by not having to pay money. But if we did advertise, how much money do you think we could make?
John: We could make good money. We’ve gotten approached a couple times. Because you guys are obviously incredibly upwardly mobile people and–
Craig: That one guy is.
John: Yeah, that guy.
Julie: Jeremy Cohen.
John: We could advertise only to Jeremy Cohen.
Michael: You could advertise him.
John: Yeah. Absolutely. Be that guy.
Craig: Stuff that Jeremy likes.
John: Cool. Great, thanks. Another question.
Male Audience Member: As you guys have sort of underscored throughout the evening, it’s been quite a year. And I’m wondering how the sort of world climate/political climate, the darkness of the moment has influenced the creative decisions you’re making, both on a day to day level in terms of scene work, character work on the page, but also the projects you’re taking or the stories you’re interested in telling.
Craig: That’s a great question. Great question.
John: Yeah, it’s hard whenever you have a villain to sort of not go into a place where it’s like, oh, is it this kind of villain or is it this kind of darkness. It’s hard to write dystopian story now that doesn’t feel like, oh, you see outside your window.
So I’ve definitely been mindful of that stuff. But I would say that I was in France during a lot of this and then I was also writing my book for 10 to 12 year olds. So that was great to sort of have that escape hatch and not be sort of in the thick of it all the time creatively. How about you guys?
You wrote Chernobyl.
Craig: Well, yeah. Actually great timing. Here’s a story about Russian lies. And what’s been happening over the last year has been actually very influential.
I started working on Chernobyl about four years ago. And just a week ago I rewrote the very first lines of the show. There was a time when the show was at its foundation about a thing. I mean, obviously it’s about Chernobyl but what human point is there to all of this. And as I started writing through the episodes by the time I got to the end I realized it had become something else and it’s something that is far more relevant to what is happening now in the world around me.
I think in general as a writer I have become vastly more concerned about representation of characters. It is on the forefront of my mind. I am constantly asking myself questions like just checking the pitfalls. The pitfall of default white. The pitfall of this character doesn’t deserve a name. You know, all of these things. And just constantly running that tape in my head. Whereas before, honestly, nobody ever asked you to do that. Nobody expected you to do it. And if you did, they would ask you why.
Like I remember years and years ago, my gosh, it was for the Weinsteins. There was a script and there was a discussion that a character had with a guy who was just like at a reception desk for a hospital. And the guy at the reception desk I just happened to make Southeast Asian. And they were befuddled. Why did you do that? And I’m like because there are a lot of them. And they’re people in the world. Now it’s the opposite. And that’s wonderful.
I think actually in a great way the response to the fucked-up-ness has been really good for me as a writer. I think it’s been great for our business in general, not just in terms of weeding out terrible people, but also just in the day to day business of how we approach storytelling and how we approach each other as human beings. There is a strange optimism. It’s just every time I start to feel good then some other asshole comes along. So anyway.
Julie: Yeah. I’ve had a two-pronged experience which has been sort of fascinating and concerning, but also really great. So the fascinating/concerning part was I write, you know, Vampire Diaries was – it’s gothic romance. And all of the origins of that kind of like the bad boy, the murderous bad boy, and the love triangle, and vampires in general, vampires throughout literature are very sexual beings. And so I use a lot of bodice-ripper kind of influence and all the Harlequin romance novels that I read growing up, and soap operas.
And I remember hitting like Season Seven and I’m pitching, “OK, and then this happens, and she doesn’t want to go. And she’s refusing to go, and so he breaks her neck, throws her in the back of the car, and she wakes up and she’s in a hotel room against her will.” And the whole room went, “You can’t do that.” And I was like, “Why? You know, she’s a vampire. She would do it to him.” And they were like, “Because that’s rapey. It’s like rape culture shit.” And I was like, oh, god, you guys. And I’m being very glib right now to make my point. But I said “This is the show. Like the gothic romance. I’m a feminist. I’m a strong woman. I’m not advocating abuse here. I’m just – there is a quality of sort of titillating fun to this that has built the empire of the show. And now if I can’t dip into that well then what the hell are we going to do, you know?”
And I was filled with despair and it actually launched into this great conversation in which we agreed to disagree and ultimately modified the beat so she had more agency, which I outlawed that word for a year in my writer’s room. I’m like the buzz words.
Craig: The buzz words. Because executives have stolen them.
Julie: But, you know, and then you realize, OK, but there are now limits to what you really should feel comfortable representing. And so that was my sort of growing experience. And the sort of wonderful experience was after the election and our despair and coming back to the writer’s room of The Originals this year we were like, OK, what stories are we going to tell? And someone was like, “Well what if there’s this faction of vampires who think that only a certain kind of vampires are cool. And like they want to get rid of all the other kind of vampires. And they certainly hate werewolves. And they really hate witches. And they were like kind of vampire purists.”
And so just basically made our whole season about like–
Craig: Alt-Right Vampires.
Julie: Trump supporters, you know. And it has been the most liberating, wonderful, it’s just amazing. And it’s so on the nose you guys, and I’m going to apologize in advance. I was watching a playback today and I’m like, ooh, that’s really on the nose. But it felt so good all year. And we loved it. Loved it.
Michael: Sometimes you got to punch right on the nose.
John: Michael Green, how has it changed your process?
Michael: Largely a lot of angry writing. A lot of just channeling that. Actually I should say it’s a pendulum swing between escapist bullshit and really, really angry writing. So, Season Two of American Gods, like Season One we wrote in a progressive administration, assuming we were going into a progressive administration, before America decided to shit the bed. And it’s not funny, but we had written a lot of things about immigration, very culturally diverse. But it was kind of accidental that we were doing it. We were just writing what we thought would be positive and suddenly it became a sparkplug. Up until last week we were leaning into that with a lot more ferocity. And part of the reason we parted ways was we wanted to defend that stuff when circumstances would have prevailed that we might have had to not do it.
On the other hand, escapist bullshit. Like I was on the set of Murder on the Orient Express, or I went the next day after the election. And I was never so glad, like I walked across fake snow to a fake train. And I’m like 1930s! And all of a sudden I realized that 1930s Europe suddenly felt idealistic.
John: Justin, how has it changed you?
Justin: I will say, I’m sure it’s the same for all rooms, but so much of our time is taken up talking about this stuff now, just every single day of how bad everything has gotten. But what’s really interesting, we have a show about identity. That’s sort of the idea. It’s two worlds and it becomes a show about who would you be under a different set of circumstances and all these things. And so very often in the first season we’re exploring ideas of gender identity, of sexual identity. And then we come to this season and the conversation feels very different now.
And we have a very diverse room. It’s a very important part of what makes this show what it is. But at no point had we really had the conversation about racial identity and what that means. And it was suddenly like we’re having this conversation. It was a really interesting day when we started to talk about it because, you know, we take place in sort of Berlin and then an alternate Berlin in another world. And there’s all these kind of throwback themes to espionage in it. You know, this conversation started like, well, do we always have to have this conversation as it relates to it? And someone said, and it was the best thing, and it was just like a glass of cold water to the face for the whole room of, “We’re already having this conversation whether we want to be or not. It’s time we actually start engaging with it.”
And that changed everything for us. It suddenly became this, and you know, we tried to create I think a better way of also just talking to each other. It may be a sexual remark, but it may also be a racial remark or something like that. To sort of get a form of discourse where people are comfortable, not just criticizing but also being criticized, and not taking it personally. You know, especially I think the white male point of view immediately goes to a place of, well, hold on, but I voted for Obama. It’s like one of the good guys thing.
And it’s like, no, you really have to take a step back and listen to yourself and hear yourself in that way and feel – and ask aloud to a diverse room around you, “Is this OK? I mean, how does this make everyone feel if I say this. It’s different if I say this than if you say this, right? Is that what it is? Or, no, what is it?”
And it becomes a really interesting thing. And I’ve got to say, I can’t believe that it has taken this long for these kinds of conversations to happen so comfortably and so much in the open. So in that sense it is – I do share that feeling of optimism. I do share that feeling of – I mean, what else do we have? It’s like the stories, you read that Sebastian Younger book about a tribe where no one was happier than when they were in London during the blitz being bombed every day because at least they had a community. Like that’s kind of how I feel now with it is like—
Julie: Well, yeah, it goes to what we were saying about making something comfortable in the room. So, I am a very energetic room personality. And when we’re in a flow and we’re talking story and when I get onto an idea and I’m pitching a thread, I’m like oh and this, and boom, and that. And nothing – nothing ruins that more for me than someone is like, “Well, you can’t do that because that’s not – I’m going to blanket it not PC. But it’s basically that’s racist, or that’s this.” And I’m like, come on, you know. And you get so frustrated because the air is cut out of your momentum. And you’re like that’s not sexist. Or that’s not rapey. Or that’s not whatever.
But, somebody in the room thinks it is. And somebody in the room had the balls to say that to you. And especially somebody like me who is then going to have a sort of hilarious, never angry, but a hilarious meltdown of like, “Oh, the energy just got sucked out of my soul.” We have to create these environments where people, especially young staff writers, et cetera, can feel free to be like, “Um, hello, you can’t do that and here’s why.” And where I will then come off of my sort of downward spiral and say, “OK, no really, tell me.” And then I can still decide you know what I disagree or I hear you or whatever. But to make sure the conversation happens.
John: Cool. Thank you very much. We usually end with One Cool Things. We’re going to do something special this time. This is our new little thing called, let’s see if the slide will change, Secret Santa or Lump of Coal. So there’s no emoji for lump of coal, so we used a smiley pile of poop.
So this is something great from the last year that we want to make sure people are aware of, and something from the last year which we could do without. So, My Secret Santa would be this was the final season for both Please Like Me, which is a series I loved, and Girls, which I loved to death. And we can forget that these great things happened in this year. So, my Secret Santa are those two shows. Go check them out if you’ve not checked them out. Their last seasons were both great.
My lump of coal goes to post-credit scenes on superhero movies. Just stop. I mean, like I kind of dug it at first. It’s like, oh, it’s an Easter egg. It’s a little bonus thing for the fans. But now a movie will end and like, ugh, I’m pulling up Wikipedia, like is there a tag scene? Ugh. And by the time it actually gets to it, like ten minutes later, I’m like it was not worth it to stay. So, let’s just stop. We could all stop. We can all agree to be done. Or do it within one minute, but then it be done and say, OK, no, there’s no more. Done.
Craig: Yeah. I’m with you. My Secret Santa, is that what the good one is? Secret Santa? Is something I talked about on the show before, but it’s become an integral part of my life. 1Password. You don’t have to use 1Password. There’s other things like 1Password. But here’s why I’m actually evangelizing this.
So, for those of you who don’t know it’s a password management thing on your computer. You put all of your passwords in it. It generates good passwords for you, really strong ones so that not everything is Baloney1. And it’s great.
But, here’s the best part about One Password. So now it’s like a subscription-based thing the way all software is going, which is annoying, but my wife and I now share a subscription and so we have all of it now as a family. So the point is if I croak, she has everything there. And we have to start coming to terms with this that when we die now we leave behind this minefield of digital shit behind us. And we also have these accounts and things and banks. So now your partner has access to it all.
So, be a good digital citizen and get yourself something like that.
Lump of coal. You don’t like those post-credit sequences on movies, what I cannot have any more are these stupid mini-trailers in front of the trailer. Show me the trailer. What is that fucking thing at the beginning of the – I’m already watching the trailer. You know I’m watching it. If I’m going to see your thing, that means I’m watching the trailer. The thing lasts like four seconds. It’s a mini-trailer in front of the trailer.
Go on YouTube, go to a trailer, and watch what happens. Oh, I’m going to watch this trailer. First there’s a mini-trailer. It’s four seconds long. It’s insane.
And then you watch the regular trailer. What is that? Make it stop!
Julie: Amazing. Amazing. OK, so my Secret Santa, we already covered Pod Save America, which has just been my absolute salvation this year. And I would like to be on it if anybody knows anybody. Honestly, Reed Morano and Susanne Bier I want to say is the last name, Byer, but it’s two female directors in television, Handmaid’s Tale and The Night Manager. And what these two women did visually was so spectacular. Just the art direction, the cinematography, the actual – the visual point of view. That’s where you really can understand a director at least kind of knows their shit a little bit. They’re not just telling a story. They’re presenting a world, a beautiful world to you. And female directors in television, the good ones are few and far between and growing by the day.
But I was so wildly impressed by their work and I think that they, along with Patty Jenkins, and of course Ava DuVernay, on the movie side have really just planted their flag this year and made us all look good.
And then my lump of coal is the six-act structure in broadcast television. It is the death of good storytelling. It is the quagmire of where formerly good writers go to die. It is – when you think about it, it’s really seven-act structure because your title card comes in there and then you’ve got to – every 3.5 minutes you have to turn something and twist something. And it’s horrible.
And somebody today said that finally networks are starting to say, good networks like cable networks, are starting to say, “Oh, we don’t care about the act out. We’ll like act out in the middle of a word if we want. Don’t worry about building to that.” And that is interesting at least to explore because it’s the worst.
Craig: Is this for commercial interruptions?
Julie: Yeah. The worst.
Craig: That’s bad.
John: Michael Green?
Michael: Secret Santa, The Leftovers.
Michael: If you haven’t seen it, you do. If you’ve seen it, watch it again. Damon Lindelof, Mimi Leder, speaking of female directors, she’s an authorial voice in there that demands mention and notice. If you haven’t seen it, there was probably a reason. It felt like, oh, that’s too hard. Or maybe there’s some homework. And you know what? First couple episodes, yes. Yes. And there are 450 shows on the air. Anything that takes a couple episodes to get going, I get it. You don’t want to. Like why should I acquire a taste? It’s gross.
No. Just to get to the pleasure of seeing what real writing and what real television – I mean, what it can get to in the third season. It would be worth running a marathon and I will never run a marathon. It is gorgeous. It is liturgy. It’s beautiful. I admire it.
Julie: It’s a masterpiece.
Michael: It really is. It’s a masterpiece. And just to see how you can end a show by choice, word felt. I watched it and went, “I want to try harder, do better.” And it made me want to.
Lump of shit. This is probably not the room to say this in, but there’s this hashtag I see a lot, #amwriting.
Craig: Thank you. I know.
Michael: Like if you did that, you’re not. Secondly, writing is like, you know, if you’re a writer that’s hygiene. Like #ambrushingmyteeth. Or worse, it’s like people who declare they’re in love publicly. Then you’re not. #inlove. Like blast fuck you.
Just write and turn your wireless off and shut the fuck up.
Craig: That is a man after my own heart. No romance. None.
Michael: The romance about writing, just–
Craig: Oh, it’s the worst.
Michael: Just do your shit.
John: Justin Marks, bring us home.
Justin: My Secret Santa, and I can’t believe that I even have to say this in 2017, but I would say the thing I’m most grateful for this year is a free press. More specifically, and I want to see it around next year, and I think that especially the kind of press that values good investigative journalism and checking sources. And I think we’ve seen it both on a very high level and then in the last couple months here in this industry how much it can change things. And I really hope that we keep – in the age of the Internet when we’re just sort of pushing free journalism left and right, I hope we all have a newspaper subscription. I really, really do. Or at least the one that gives you the online version of it. That’s my earnest one.
The pile of poop, this is a thing, and I have it here. The fact that cell phones these days, they’re just getting bigger. I have the iPhone SE and this is too big still. I want a smaller phone than this. And I don’t understand why there’s not a choice. Michael has a new phone that I don’t know how it can fit in your pocket. And that’s what the thing is. We live in this age where technology is everything you can fit in a pocket, and yet it can no longer fit in your pocket.
And I just don’t understand why I cannot have a phone the size that I want it to be.
Julie: Right. But you’re not 40 yet are you?
Julie: Because the vision starts to go and then you can’t see. And I’m like I need a bigger goddamn phone because I can’t read anything.
Craig: You ageist.
John: So for young bucks like Justin Marks, we want small phones.
Justin: Small things. Like really small, like the Zoolander phone. I don’t know why we don’t have that in smartphone technology.
John: Yeah, movies promised you the Zoolander phone and it never came.
All right. That is our show for this week. Guys, thank you so much. We have so many people to thank, so let us thank them.
We’ll start off with Chris from the Writers Guild Foundation for putting us on. Writers Guild Foundation, you’re the best. Thank you.
Craig: Thank you, Chris.
John: We need to thank The Los Angeles Film School for hosting us, especially Daniel who did our AV. Daniel, thank you very much.
Craig: Thank you, Daniel.
John: We need to thank Dustin Bocks and Nima Yousefi for putting together all of these slides and stuff you saw.
As always, our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. Megan! It is edited by Matthew Chilelli who is in Japan, so cheer loudly for Matthew.
Our intro this week which truly was great, and so you’ll hear it on the real podcast, is Jon Spurney.
Craig: Brought to you by the devil.
John: Our outro is by Andy Roninson. If you have questions for us, write into email@example.com, or find us on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is…?
John: What are you guys on Twitter?
Justin: I’m really annoying. It’s @justin_marks_ because there’s a NASCAR driver named Justin Marks and it’s really bizarre.
John: That’s fine.
Justin: Don’t tweet him.
John: You can find the show notes for this and all episodes at johnaugust.com, or all of the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net. You guys are the best. Thank you very much and have a happy rest of your 2017.
Craig: Merry Christmas.
- Show slides, in case you want to follow along at home.
- Pod Save America
- S Town
- Dirty John to listen to or read
- Missing Richard Simmons
- Julie Plec on IMDb
- Michael Green on IMDb
- Justin Marks on IMDb and check out his new show Counterpart
- The Scriptnotes Listeners’ Guide!
- The USB drives!
- Julie Plec, Michael Green and Justin Marks on Twitter
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Find past episodes
- Intro by Jon Spurney and Outro by Andy Roninson (send us yours!)
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the episode here.