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 339 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the program it’s one of our favorite features, How Would This Be a Movie, where we take complicated real life situations and boil them down to two hours of filmed big screen entertainment. The only way we know how to process life.

Craig: Yeah. Exactly. Can I just stop for a second and say Episode 339 – we almost have a year of podcasts.

John: Very true. You could listen to a podcast a day, which would be a way to spend your life. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way to spend your life. But an hour with John and Craig every day. And actually if you counted all the bonus episodes I bet we’re super, super close to a full year.

Craig: We are. We’re probably super close. I’m just quickly doing the math in my head. This means we’ve been doing the podcast for roughly seven years, or 52 years.

John: Yes.

Craig: It’s one of those, right?

John: One of those two. Math is hard for us. But it’s one of those two choices. It’s been a good, long time. But it’s a been a good, fun time. A few weeks ago we aired an old episode because you and I were both traveling and people said like, “Huh, the sound quality wasn’t so good.” And you know what? You’re right. The sound quality wasn’t so good. Expectations have increased.

Craig: Well, you know, technology and all the rest of it. We’ve gotten better at those little bits and bobs. But even so, I’ve got to say – you know what it is? I’ll tell you, John. You and I, we’re the marrying type. So, when we started this podcast it’s like we got married.

John: Yeah. Absolutely true.

Craig: We don’t get – our heads don’t get turned.

John: Not a bit. So I’ll say that on an early episode I said like, “You and I, Craig, we’re not really friends. We’re not talking outside of this podcast.” And I could sense that you were really crushed by that. And, fair. And then I think we’ve become much better friends. We weren’t even playing D&D together when we started this podcast. That’s how long it’s been.

Craig: Which seems impossible. I’m crushed when anyone says that we’re – well, you know, we’re not really friends. And I think to myself, but why?

John: But why aren’t we friends?

Craig: I’m delightful. [laughs] I don’t understand what the problem is. No, I think we are friends. It’s true. I mean, it takes roughly 339 hour-long recorded conversations to really get to know you. But approximately one or two to get to know me.

John: And I always feel gross when I drop the word friend with somebody who is not really a friend. So I was on Chris Hardwick’s show a few weeks ago. It was a delightful conversation. You should listen to it because it was a really good time. And he’s on episode like 900 of his show.

Craig: Oh god.

John: But when they first proposed this, I was like, “Oh yeah Chris and I have been friends for years.” And then I realized like are we actually friends? No, we’re people who know each other well and when we recognize each other we’ll say hi and catch up. But it’s not like we’re hanging out every weekend. And so it was weird that I would ascribe Chris Hardwick as being a friend and not you back then.

So, I apologize.

Craig: Yeah, well no apology necessary. I think the word friend has been absolutely shredded to bits by the modern age, and particularly Facebook, which as it turns out is not this vaguely annoying thing. It turns out to be a bit of a melanoma on the skin of society.

I used to think like, ugh, Facebook is just annoying because it has distorted what it means to be a friend or to have a friend. And everybody is now engaging in this strange narcissistic display. No, it turns out Facebook is much, much worse.

John: But, Craig, they’re going to fix it all because they’re tweaking the algorithms.

Craig: Oh yes. Of course.

John: So all those problems of the past, they’re going to go away.

Craig: Is there a more annoying Facebook post than the, “Dear friends, they’re fixing the algorithm. If you wish to keep hearing…” No. No. Don’t talk to me.

John: Do not do that.

Craig: No.

John: Facebook should only be about cute photos of babies and dogs. That’s all I want to see.

Craig: Pretty much. Anytime someone is like just respond so I know that you’re still listening to me. Mm-mm. Mm-mm.

John: Don’t do it. But on the topic of responding so that people know that you’re listening, Sundance Episodic Filmmakers Lab, which is actually like TV lab. We’ve talked about this before. It’s a really good program and they asked us to hype it up again so that they can get more great entries. The Episodic Story Lab is really, really great. And so it’s people who are doing television series, but also things that are kind of like television series. They put together showrunners and TV staff writers and people who are aiming for that kind of job together in a room up at the top of the mountains and they make great TV the same way they’ve been able to make great indie films.

So there’s going to be a link in the show notes to the application process for the Episodic Story Lab. Definitely consider if you’re considering writing TV. And if you are a writer headed towards this industry why aren’t you considering TV? So it feels like a good thing to consider applying for. I think the technical deadline for applying has passed, but they are still reading stuff realistically. So, get your stuff in there. Get into the Episodic Story Lab.

Craig: Yeah. Just a fine organization and we keep seeing great people graduating from that program and doing great, great things. So, seems like a no-brainer to me. Yeah.

John: All right. Let’s get to some follow up. Craig, will you take the first one here?

Craig: Yeah. We’ve got Steve in Los Angeles who writes in, “I’m a regular Scriptnotes listener and years ago I attended a Q&A with you at USC. Someone asked,” is he talking to both of us or just you?

John: I think it’s probably just me. We’ll see.

Craig: Just you. Because who is you? I mean, I’ve done Q&As at USC, but you’ve probably done more.

John: I’ve done more.

Craig: Your name is on a room there.

John: I got a name on a room.

Craig: Yep. “Someone asked you the proverbial question how do I break in as a writer.” That is not a proverbial question.

John: Yeah. What is a proverbial question? Let’s discuss proverbial questions. Is it an unanswerable fundamental question?

Craig: I don’t even know if there are proverbial questions as opposed to proverbial examples or the proverbial complaint or the proverbial – but a typical question, or the often asked question, but proverbial, I don’t know. Because proverbs aren’t in the form of questions.

John: No they’re not. They’re just sort of statements. [Unintelligible].

Craig: Yeah, I would say someone asked you the hackneyed question, “How do I break in as a writer? You answered that selling a spec screenplay is like winning the lottery. The best way to win is to buy as many tickets as possible. I took your advice to heart and my writing partner and I worked hard to stack the odds in our favor. There have been countless rejections over the years, but last week after writing 17 spec scripts we won.

“Our sci-fi spec, Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers, sold to Warner Bros. I wanted to reach out and say thank you. Your advice motivated me to keep buying lottery tickets.”


John: Wow. Well congratulations, Steve, and to your writing partner. It’s awesome that you sold your spec. It’s awesome that you wrote 17 scripts. And I think it’s good for people to hear that it’s not about writing a script, or writing two scripts. It’s often about writing a whole bunch of scripts.

You know, Jonathan Stokes, who has become a friend, he is a middle grade fiction writer but he’s also a screenwriter. He works a lot in both. And it took him a long time to get his first purchase or his first spec sale, but then he ended up selling a bunch and he basically had this big old trunk full of scripts and he kind of sold them off one by one. So I’m curious whether that’s going to happen for Steve.

Craig: It’s a very common thing when people are interested in your work and hiring you for them to say what do you have in your drawer. So, Steve and his writing partner have another I guess 16 scripts in their drawer. But another thing to point out here, if we extend the analogy of the lottery ticket, unlike normal lottery tickets in which your odds remain the same, i.e. horrendous, in spec screenwriting with every script you write I think your odds get just a little bit better, because you theoretically at least are getting a little bit better each time.

John: Yeah. In the next episode of Launch, which I guess came out the same day as this episode of Scriptnotes, which is crazy, the final episode of Launch actually we talked to Tomi Adeyemi who has a book that comes out next week and her book is going to be huge. And sort of like Steve’s situation though, it wasn’t her first book. It wasn’t even really her second book. It was a bunch of stuff before this. And so she’ll seem like an overnight success, but there was a lot of work behind that overnight success-ness. So I would definitely tune in for her story in the next episode of Launch as well.

Craig: Yeah, there is the proverbial overnight success – proverbial used correctly there. And typically people will say, “Yes, my overnight success came over the course of 4,000 nights.” We just don’t see all that other stuff. What we see is the result. We see the outcome. So don’t get fooled by outcomes, folks.

Take a lot at the process. Steve has shun a light upon it.

John: Indeed. Winston in Los Angeles writes, “I recently wrote to you about my creative paralysis and I want to thank you for the advice you gave me on the podcast. It was affirming and encouraging. And now I’m happy to report that a production company has since agreed to produce my passion project. Of course, this is very exciting and I’m now in the process of attaching a showrunner before we take the project to the market. I’ll be having my first meeting with a potential showrunner very soon. And this writer on paper seems to be a great fit for me and my project.

“My question to you, John and Craig, is how should I approach and handle this meeting?”

So Winston is talking about a situation where he has written something and they’re going to partner him up with an experienced showrunner to go out to market. Like this is a person who would sort of godfather the project and sort of be the backstop to guarantee to the studio and to the network that this is really a show that can happen. And Winston who doesn’t have experience running a show will have somebody who does have experience running the show.

So, Craig, if you are meeting up with a potential creative partner for the first time what do you recommend you do?

Craig: Well this one is a tricky dance. I’ve never had this meeting, but I’ve definitely talked to people who have, from both sides. And so I think if you are aware of the potential pitfalls from both sides you’ll probably be well served.

So the showrunner is someone who has experience doing a lot of the things that Winston you may not have experience doing. Some of those are very managerial tasks. Managing human resources, as the corporates say. We are going to be hiring writers. We are going to be assigning writers things. We’re going to be figuring out our budgets. We’re going to be firing writers. We’re going to be hiring writing assistants. We’re going to be promoting writing assistants. We’re going to be dealing with notes from the studio. We’re going to be dealing with notes from the network. We have postproduction schedules to hit. We have staff to hire. We have staff to fire. We have crew to hire. Crew to fire.

We have directors to deal with. On and on and on. Oh, and let’s not forget the actors who occasionally will tromp into a trailer and complain about their characters or ask for more money or ask for more lines. All of this stuff is business-y stuff. So, I think Winston you should just be aware that when you’re speaking with the showrunner that there is a certain amount of experience they have that’s valuable to you, as opposed to going into that meeting and thinking, “So, nobody trust me because I’m new but they should trust me because I’m great. And so they’re just sticking somebody on here to be my babysitter.” That is not at all the case.

However, also then from the other side of things, for the showrunner, I think it’s important for a good showrunner to realize that somebody new to the business has created something that is unique and worthy of attention and thus has created a job for the showrunner.

John: Yep.

Craig: And that’s really valuable. So, the more the two of you can learn to trust and love each other, and the more the two of you can recognize what the other brings to the relationship that is irreplaceable, the better off it will be. If you feel like the showrunner is dismissive or disinterested or imperious then I think it’s fair for you to say I don’t want them.

John: Yeah. You got to trust your gut instinct there. And if the first meeting does not go well, I doubt that the third meeting and the 17th meeting will go well. In many ways I would recommend that this not be a meeting. If there’s a way you can have this first encounter not be in someone’s office talking over stuff, I think you’re going to be better off. Because so much of this relationship is going to be kind of a relationship, a mutual trust in that we’re trying to make the same thing. So if you can find some neutral happy spot to have some coffee in and chat that could be great. Where it doesn’t feel like you’re in an office environment necessarily, where you can just talk about overall visions, overall strategies. Where challenges could come up. What some of the opportunities are. Talk about your vision for what is going to happen over the course of the season.

You know, you are the person who wrote this thing that got this all started. And they are going to be the person hopefully who is going to help you carry this all the way through to the end. So, if you can find a neutral place to talk through the story that way that will be great.

A dynamic I don’t think you want to see is where they are suddenly kind of in charge of everything and you are their employee. That’s not going to be healthy either. So, you got to find some place where there’s a good balance that you’re trying to work together to make something rather than you are working for them.

Craig: 100%. And it’s good to be able to point to examples of the kinds of working relationships you admire and desire so that there isn’t any of those weird fussy moments where – you know, I was just talking to somebody today, a journalist, and she’s doing an article about our casting director on Chernobyl who is also the casting director of Game of Thrones, Nina Gold, and the journalist asked me this interesting question about how it works with hierarchies where everyone is sort of together in a room. You’ve got your executive producers. You’ve got your director. You’ve got your casting directors. And there’s a difference of opinion. How does hierarchy come into play?

And I had never really thought about the question before, but it did seem to me that in cases where things are working well, like for instance on our show now happily, it doesn’t. That hierarchy is irrelevant. What matters is general trust and faith and another person’s instincts, respect for another person’s feelings and opinions. Respect and belief in your own feelings and opinions. And a general appreciation for passion. Both strong negative and strong positive. And then things get hashed out.

Rather than situations where rank suddenly becomes very important. I find those to be diminishing and dispiriting and I think sometimes what happens is showrunners can take over a show and then you realize, “Oh, they’re a general and I’m some sort of weird lieutenant colonel that no one is saluting or carrying about because they don’t have to because the showrunner is ranked higher.” That’s a bummer.

John: Yeah. You’re sort of the founder, but they’re the CEO who got installed above the founder. That sort of thing does happen. I haven’t had a lot of like long term creative partnerships, but the longest I’ve had has been with Andrew Lippa on Big Fish. And a thing that Andrew and I figured out very quickly is that we’re not always going to agree on everything. But publically, when we’re in front of other people, we are in 100% agreement. And we will never disagree with each other in front of other people. And that may be a dynamic you find with this showrunner is that you can close a door and work through all the stuff you need to work through, but when you’re in the room with a network, when you’re in the room with the studio you are one united front.

And if you’re not one united front, they will find ways to pit you against each other, not because they’re trying to bring the show down, but they’re just trying to get their views heard and understood. So, the degree to which you can talk about how to be united in your vision publically, even when you are still figuring out privately what that vision should be. That’s got to be a goal.

Craig: And I would even carry that through to writing rooms.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: And to casts. Basically, you guys form your own little mafia and you don’t take sides against the family in public. Because you need to be a little mafia. You need to protect each other. Making television shows and movies is a process that is both necessary to make creative dreams realized and also it is a process that is corrosive to creative dreams. And the only thing that will protect you from the corrosive aspect is a mafia-like you and me. You and me, buddy, no matter what, back to back.

And if we have a fight, let’s fight behind closed doors. But when we come out, our ranks our closed. And it’s us against the world. And then everybody will follow along.

John: Yeah. That’s the goal.

All right, our last bit of follow up is a slightly different piece of follow up. So we’ve talked about MoviePass several times on the show. So MoviePass is a service. You subscribe for a monthly fee. I think it’s now $10 a month. And with that you can see unlimited movies basically. Or a movie a day.

We originally questioned well how is this possible. This is a way to lose a lot of money for a company called MoviePass.

Craig: Right.

John: And then people wrote and said, “Oh, you know, I think there actually is maybe a viable business plan here.” And then when we were doing our live show in Hollywood, a guy came up afterwards named John who said, “Oh, you were talking about MoviePass. I’m a MoviePass user. I’ve seen a movie every day on MoviePass.” And like well that’s crazy and great. And would you please write in and tell us about your experience. So, he did. And so here is his testimony of his experience using MoviePass.

And I thought I would just play it in total because if we were to get him on the phone and talk to him about it he’d be answering exactly the same stuff. So, here is John Parker talking about his experience with MoviePass.

John Parker: Hey John and Crag. John Paul Parker here. I’m a MoviePass subscriber and I just want to let you know that the service is not a scam. It actually works as advertised. I received my MoviePass card on January 5, 2017. And since receiving my card I have seen a new film in the theater every day. I’ve literally not missed a single day at the theater since getting my card.

Living in Santa Monica there are major multiplex chains like AMC, and also smaller art house shops like the Laemmle Theaters all around me, so I have yet to run out of a new film to watch each day.

The greatest thing about MoviePass is not how many films you get to see, it’s how many really good smaller budget independent films you will see and support. Films like Maude, Tragedy Girls, Ingrid Goes West, Good Time, and Landline are all films I went into completely blind and absolutely loved them. If it wasn’t for this service it is very unlikely I would have dished out the cash to see these films in the theaters unless someone strongly recommended one of them to me.

While the service is not perfect due to its nearly impossible to reach customer service when there are issues, or the inability to get seats early, for what you’re paying for it’s really hard to complain. When I got my card in early 2017 the plan was $500 for the year. It’s now dropped down to $120 per year. Seeing the amount of movies that I have has added up to roughly $5,000 for this year. So I’m definitely getting my money’s worth.

Originally it seemed like MoviePass’s business model was to hope that people wouldn’t use the service as much as the monthly plan is actually worth. Kind of like a gym. But now that the price has dropped down to $10 a month my guess is that what they’re trying to do is just acquire enough customers so that they can use their members to leverage them against the studios and theaters.

The App Store says that they have over 500,000 downloadable users. If that number rises to say 5 million users and each one of their customers sees at least one film a month at an average of $10 a ticket, then you’re looking at $50 million of US box office sales a month that they control.

I hope this information helped you out. All the best to you.

John: John Parker that was amazing. Thank you very much for writing in with that. And I should say that Megan McDonnell, our producer, she also uses MoviePass and she’s had a pretty good experience with it. So, I guess I’m wrong. Or I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how long MoviePass is going to last. I don’t know what it’s going to become. But for me to have dismissed it out of hand was incorrect I think.

Craig: Yeah. So certainly someone like John is rare. I don’t think a lot of people can – even have the time or the freedom – to see a movie a day like he does. But the deal, just to refresh my memory, is MoviePass is reimbursing the theater and therefore the studio for the cost of the ticket?

John: Essentially what happens is through the app you go in, you say I’m going to see this movie at this theater. And basically it’s GPS bound so that you’re literally at the theater. You’re clicking the button. It’s activating. It’s putting that money on your special MoviePass credit card. You’re using that MoviePass credit card to buy the ticket. So that is the transaction that’s happening.

So from the theater’s perspective, it’s essentially invisible.

Craig: It’s the same. It’s the same thing. Right. So, listen, we kind of went through this last time where it seemed like maybe what MoviePass was doing, and John is getting to this as well in his comment, they’re building a database of information and customers that could theoretically then be leveraged. Which is frightening, a little bit. I get frightened by – what’s the thing? If you’re not paying for something, then you are the product?

That worries me somewhat. But for now I guess, you know, go John Parker, go.

John: Yeah. I like that it has challenged himself to see a movie every day. He’s seeing a lot of movies he wouldn’t have otherwise seen. So that’s great and that’s fantastic.

I know there’s also been some challenges where certain theaters in Los Angeles and other markets are no longer on MoviePass and that was an unpleasant surprise to some folks. But I’m curious about new models. I would love for it to actually help the theatrical experience to get more people into theaters on a regular basis, because I think big screen entertainment is something worth fighting for.

So, I want it to help big screens and not hurt big screens. I’m not quite sure how it’s going to end up three or five years from now. But we’ll see. Because after all this podcast is going to go on for the next 20 years. So we’ll go through all of these cycles and see what it is. And we won’t believe what we were saying way back in 2018 about MoviePass.

Craig: Well, I mean, look at what we were saying in 2016 before things changed.

John: Indeed.

Craig: Long sigh. Long sigh.

John: Imagine that different world we lived in way back when.

Craig: Yep.

John: All right. It’s time for one of our favorite features. This is How Would This Be a Movie. Listeners send in articles from the news on Twitter to us, @johnaugust and @clmazin. They say, “Hey, this is like a How Would This Be a Movie.” And usually they’re correct. And so I hit the little fave button. Or if I really like it I save it to my pin board and we gather them all up. And occasionally we go through and take a look at these stories and ask, well, how would they be a movie?

So, we have five different articles that were suggested in. Many of these were by multiple listeners. So we will tackle them and see which of these stories might really be well-suited for the big screen.

Craig: Right. Or maybe amend that slightly to big screen or Netflix screen, you know, like perhaps an Amazon movie or a Netflix movie, but a feature film.

John: A feature. And sometimes we should say we’ll go through a story and say, you know what, it’s really a TV idea. It’s really a TV series idea.

Craig: Right.

John: And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with television.

Craig: Not at all, says the guy who’s writing television right now. So, I agree.

John: We are not big screen chauvinists. We just know more about big screen stuff.

The first article is by Zeke Faux for Bloomberg, which is just what an amazing name.

Craig: Right? Like Zeke Faux? Faux. That can’t be real. That has to be faux. It’s just crazy. That’s crazy. I mean, it would be like meeting somebody whose last name was “False.”

John: Yes. The headline of the article is Millions Are Hounded For Debts They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back With a Vengeance. One of our listeners said, “There’s an intriguing criminal network and a great, great persistent protagonist, but also a lot of dramatic action based around spreadsheets and phone calls. Shruggy face.”

I love shruggy guy built out of punctuation.

Craig: Shruggy guy is the best. You know who introduced me to shruggy guy?

John: Who?

Craig: Stuart Friedel.

John: That feels completely Stuart Friedel. Stuart Friedel, our former producer.

Craig: Yeah. He actually is the human shruggy face guy. Occasionally you can just imagine Stuart going, “What? What are you going to do?”

John: Our story follows Andrew Therrien. I guess I’m pronouncing his name right. He is a normal person with a normal job. Gets a phone call from a bill collector about a bill he does not owe. And a second phone call. And a threat to rape his wife. And other violence from these bill collectors. And most people would be frightened, annoyed. Andrew, it almost feels like one of those death wish things where you cross the wrong person.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And he goes on a mission to track down who this person was who is harassing him. But really what the whole industry was like of these people who are trying to collect debts, especially these really basically fake debts. And so this is a long dark slide I would say I would describe this article. Craig, did you feel a sense of a movie in here?

Craig: I did. I did. I don’t think it’s necessarily something that’s going to park in cinemas, as they say, but it could be an excellent feature on a Netflix or an Amazon or something like that. And here’s why. There is some general kind of interest in a new sort of villain and a new sort of scam. There’s a great tradition in movies of the little guy fighting back against a shadowy network of bad, bad people. I remember seeing that George C. Scott movie Hardcore, which was really gut-wrenching. But you could feel it. It was like there was a decent person trying to fight this thing that was so much bigger and just so much dirtier than he was. And how was he ever going to possibly win?

And so I like that. That’s good old traditional stuff. And there is an interesting onion-like method to this where you keep peeling layers and finding more and more stuff underneath. And finding people that are oddly sympathetic. And in fact in one point one of the middle men that was handling some of these fake phantom loans ends up killing himself because he’s so miserable about what’s happened and his life has fallen apart because of it.

But the reason that I think this actually could be really interesting to watch and unique is that there’s this fascinating notion of extreme people colliding. So you’ve got – and in the center of this onion there is a bad guy. The bad guy is named Joel Tucker, I believe. Joel Tucker kind of sits on top of this empire of awfulness. And he’s the one that has put all this in motion and he’s the one that has to be stopped.

And Joel Tucker, his scheme impacted millions of people. And if you impact millions of people the odds are you’re going to run into that one-in-a-million guy. And to me that’s sort of already the movie poster. You know? If you hurt a million people, you’re eventually going to hurt that one-in-a-million guy. And the one-in-a-million guy is our hero.

And our hero simply doesn’t care. It’s like, “Oh my god, I found the man who will not stop. His life is designed to find someone like me at any cost.” And he does. I love that.

John: In many cases that type of character is the villain. It is the unstoppable killer. It is the Terminator. It is the Freddy or the Jason who just keeps popping back up and is just relentless. And so it’s nice to see the relentless hero for a change, because looking through this guy’s basic makeup it’s not that he classically has the great story or the arc where he was this mild-mannered thing and then someone killed his wife. It’s not that.

It’s just like something was going to piss him off and this was the thing that pissed him off. And once he got pissed off you just don’t stop.

When I first started reading this I thought like, “Oh, there’s an interesting story to be made overall about this predatory bill collecting, about payday loans, about this whole industry that preys upon people who are just between checks on things.” And so you could do the Adam McKay version, The Big Short version, where you’re really looking at it as an overall industry. But in some ways I don’t think it’s as rewarding as the one that focuses on a single person.

We often cite Erin Brockovich as that story of the one person who stands up against a system. And this guy feels like that person standing up against the system.

Craig: Yeah. This is a little bit like an Average Joe version of John Wick. Now, movies like John Wick are fun and they’re very similar to Taken and Taken is very similar to other movies before it where there is somebody who is an established dangerous person that other people in the world of danger know about and respect. And then somebody mistakenly comes along and screws with them. And then we just have the visceral fun of watching a guy on God mode, basically playing a videogame level, you know. I mean, Old Boy and all that stuff. It’s basically just videogames on God mode.

But this is different because nobody knows who this guy is. And, in fact, it’s almost like this man was waiting for this moment. That his life had been just about being on pause until such a moment that his super power could be required. And his super power is to never stop until he gets the right guy on the phone, and gets that right guy to admit what he’s done, and bring him to justice.

It is the strangest story. And it’s fascinating.

John: Well, because usually he would have some sort of structure backing him. So either he’s a journalist who is doing this for a newspaper article. Erin Brockovich, she is working for a law firm who is investigating this. But this was just – he was personally offended. And personally wronged. And that is what starts him on his quest, which is very relatable but also just unusual for this kind of story because he doesn’t have the backing of a greater thing behind him.

Craig: Right. That’s why I love it. In fact, there’s no evidence in his life as far as this article indicates that he would have even had the capacity for this. This man’s job – Andrew Therrien, his job was salesman for a promotions company. And then later in the article they talk about what he specifically did as salesman for a promotion company. He was promoting ice cream brands and hiring models for liquor store tastings. That is not a dangerous man. That’s also not a man who becomes obsessive about avenging this harassing phone call for $700.

Just to be clear, it started with a request for $700. And this guy went bananas. And I love that. I just think that’s so cool. And this is the kind of movie where if you got somebody like let’s say Leonardo DiCaprio to just become sort of bizarrely fascinated by this nut as I am, and he’s like a good nut, then you actually would get that in the movie theater. Because it’s like, “Oh my god, he will not stop. This is awesome.” I love that.

John: Here’s also why I think you might make the movie version of this is the situation he finds himself in general is relatable. So, I’m not behind on debts but maybe once a year I’ll get that call from a bill collector who is after somebody who used to work for me, or like they’re trying to collect the debt on the sister-in-law of someone who used to work for me. Basically they’re casting out the widest net possible to see if they can put pressure on somebody for some bogus debt. And it is horrible and I hate these people when they call and I let them know how much I hate them when they call.

And so we all have that experience either directly or by one step away and so I think we can relate emotionally to what that experience is like. It’s just like we are the people who wouldn’t snap, and he is the person who snaps.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, this guy bucks the trend. If the world feels like all of the chips are stacked against you, and here is a guy who just walks into a poker game with no chips. And just doesn’t stop until he wins. It’s fascinating. That part of it to me is remarkable. And I think it’s one great actor away from being a thing. But you need that great actor.

John: Well, and a script, too.

Craig: Oh, yes, of course.

John: We always forget somebody has to write the script. Another potentially great role is in Worst Roommate Ever. Do you want to set us up for that?

Craig: Sure. Worst Roommate Ever. This has been going around and around. And I got sent this because a lot of people were like, “See, you didn’t have the worst roommate ever.” I don’t know. I think I still did. I think Ted Cruz was worse than this guy, even though this guy turns out to be a murderer. But in his own way, Ted, I believe – you can make an argument he’s complicit in murder. Side thing. We have to get to our – we owe people the – you know, every now and then we do the Scriptnotes side show. And I think gun control. We may need to do the gun control one. We had promised at some point.

John: I think we need to. I think we had promised that, so we should dig into that.

Craig: We’ll get to it. OK. So, this story is about a man who, again, a bit of a one-in-a-million kind of guy. And here’s what he would do. He would look for people who were advertising sublets, like I need somebody to help split the rent with me. I’ve got a spare room so you’ll pay a little rent and you can move in. And he would move in. And he was a 60ish kind of guy. And for a few months he would be just the best. He would be the best roommate. A gentleman. A kind man. He would pay on time. And then things would start to get bad.

And he would become sort of a nightmare tenant. And what he was doing as it turned out was trying to get people to sue him. This is where this one goes so weird. His whole thing was essentially to create conflict for conflict’s sake. He wasn’t really trying to steal people’s homes from them. He wasn’t trying to extort money from them really. He just liked getting into fights. A little bit like the Joker. Just chaos for chaos sake. So he’s like Roommate Joker.

But eventually it gets much, much worse. I mean, he clearly had serious mental problems and eventually he does end up killing his own brother and goes to prison. And when he is in prison he commits suicide. So he’s not around to torment people anymore. But it is a remarkable story of somebody that would go from rent share to rent share with only one motivation: to enter into a chaotic relationship.

John: The article we’re talking about is written by William Brennan. It is in New York Magazine. And what I found so fascinating about him as a villain, it reminded me a lot of the villain in Dirty John. So if you listened to that podcast or read the newspaper series, where superficially charming or charming enough, and sympathetic to the degree that he’d moved to town because of a sick family member and he needed to be closer to the hospital or he’d just been displaced by some natural storm. He showed up with a cat and a dog who he seemed to care for a lot.

So, you felt sympathy for him. And it’s a very classic technique where when you do a favor for somebody you feel extra indebted to them. And so he was doing a favor by moving into the apartment and helping to pay your rent. But, you know, in you doing a favor for him by taking him in you felt this bond. And then he clearly is – Craig, I mean, you’re the psychologist, but like a psychopath? Sociopath?

Craig: I don’t know.

John: To some basic degree he did not seem to – maybe he understood people’s misery and trauma but he liked to inflict it. He seemed to just really get off on just twisting the knife in there.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And he went to law school and was apparently a brilliant law student. Failed the bar and never took it again. So, he had this legal background that he could use. But not necessarily use particularly well. He may have perceived himself as the victim in all of these stories. It’s not quite clear. But he’s not a person you should ever let into your home.

Craig: No. He’s not. And so there’s a – you probably saw that movie Pacific Heights. It’s a couple decades old now at least. Michael Keaton is essentially in a similar situation. A couple is looking to rent out some space in their home and Michael Keaton shows up and he seems perfect. And then he never wants to leave. And then he becomes a nightmare. And then it becomes a thriller and stabby and so forth.

The reason why I think this is not a movie is actually because the nature of this bad guy is puzzling. I don’t mind watching puzzling heroes because I’m meant to empathize with them, so I will learn about how they are and maybe even aspire to be a bit like them. But this guy’s problem is so strange. His reasons are so strange that they feel a bit arbitrary. And in real life that happens all the time and it’s a very, very scary thing. In movies, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating if we feel that our villain is purely arbitrary.

And even in a movie like Dark Knight where we are meant to think, at least for a while, that the Joker is arbitrary and loves chaos, he has a point he’s trying to make about the nature of humanity to Batman. This guy has no point. He just likes getting into fights. And that strikes me as just a profound personality disorder. It is bizarre. And there is no explanation for it, nor do I find it particularly satisfying. I don’t want to hate him because I don’t understand him. I feel bad for everybody involved. And then he dies in the end and there’s no real sense of tragedy. The person that he kills, his own brother, there’s not much of a narrative story between those two either. I just don’t think this is a movie.

John: Yeah. I don’t think it’s necessarily a movie either. But I think it’s an interesting example of the Blank from Hell genre, which we went through a whole bunch of those. It’s the Nanny from Hell. It’s the Roommate from Hell. It is–

Craig: The Adopted Daughter from Hell.

John: The Assistant from Hell. That sense of like you’ve invited this person into your life and then this person becomes someone incredibly dangerous to you and to your sense of normalcy. And that happens in real life. We all have experiences where somebody who you thought would be cool ends up not being cool and being kind of a nightmare. And so to take it to the nth degree is really interesting.

But I think you hit a crucial distinction is that when a hero is complicated and it’s sometimes hard to understand exactly how their head is working we kind of lean into it because, all right, I’m going to try to sort this out. When a villain is doing that, particularly a villain who wouldn’t necessarily have full storytelling power, we’re like, yeah, I don’t get it. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Even movies that are, I think, have really great things to them can be frustrating because of that opacity. I really liked I, Tonya, but at the end of the day I have a hard time saying what I believe about Tonya Harding or Jeff Gillooly or actually a lot of the people involved in that story because I don’t think we can really even know. And I don’t think the filmmakers can definitively tell us what was going on inside their heads. And that is frustrating on a narrative level.

Craig: Yeah. There is a difference between moral ambiguity and I’ll call it motivational ambiguity. I don’t mind wondering at the end of a film if someone is good or bad, because the truth is usually we are both. It’s a very human thing to be morally complicated. And those are interesting endings to movies when you are left discussing with your friends and loved ones afterward what do you think about that character and can you understand why they did what they did. I think we see the villain in Black Panther, Killmonger, is a great example of someone who is morally complicated. And at the end of the movie you can have great discussions about where he came from and why he did what he did.

But motivational ambiguity is frustrating. Why he did what he did, crystal clear. Whether it was wrong or not, that’s a different story. But actually motivated him, no question. He tells you. And when we don’t quite know why people are doing things from a simple motivational point of view it does get frustrating.

John: Yeah. So a writer who chose to adapt this story would have to make some fundamental choices like he’s doing this because of X. You’re going to have to pin something down which may not be really true or based on reality, but you’re going to have to give the audience some clear framework for why he’s doing this, or I think you’re going to end up with a very frustrating movie. Or more likely a movie that doesn’t get made because the notes are like, “I don’t get why he does this. It’s a pass from us.”

Craig: Yeah. And also pretty good litmus test for whether you should adapt something or not. If you have to invent the beating heart of the thing, what are you adapting it for? I mean, the whole point of these things is that you find something that gets you excited in it. That is inherent to it and honest to it. You can then, you know, paint outside the lines and invent, but there is a connection to something true. If the thing that you are ultimately connected to in a story like this is your invented reason for why this guy does stuff, then what do you need this for?

John: Yep. All right, let’s go to another story with a complicated hero, or villain. A character at the very center of the story who we’re not quite sure why she’s doing what she’s doing. So this story is Teen Girl Posed For 8 Years As Married Man To Write About Baseball And Harass Women. This story we’re reading is from Lindsey Adler who is writing for Deadspin.

So it tells the story of baseball fan turned writer Becca Schultz who for eight years was pretending to be a man writing about baseball. She started this persona when she was 13 years old and it was revealed much later that she was in fact a woman ,but she wasn’t just writing about baseball. She was harassing women online and doing some things which are kind of despicable. And it’s very hard to say exactly why.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, well, she tries to explain it. And the explanation starts, well, the way you would expect which is “I wanted to be a valid heard voice in a man’s world. And I was not a man, nor was I even an adult. And so I took upon the mantel of an adult man to be heard.” And that’s a fascinating thing and it’s an interesting commentary on our society.

It’s also – you could look at her performance as an adult man as a horrendous critique of adult men, because she went ahead and did the things that adult men so often do, which is harass women, make them feel bad, pressure them sexually, get them to do things they didn’t want to do sexually, berate them. Except as she says, you know, at some point it wasn’t intentional like an act. She says it slowly led her down a path to some things that she was very uncomfortable doing but didn’t even realize were happening. And then she was in too deep. And I think what ends up going on is people like this create relationships that matter to them.

Everybody, myself, everybody has had a relationship with somebody – even if it’s brief – on the Internet. It doesn’t have to be sexual. It could be a combative relationship. It could be anything. Where you realize I’m in a relationship with this person, for better or for worse. And it’s doing something for me, because I keep coming back to it. And it is a fascinating sort of example of how human relations can become quicksand when you remove accountability. But that in and of itself doesn’t feel like a particularly new or fresh observation to make cinematically.

John: Yeah. So at the heart of this is the concept of catfishing. And so this is catfishing where you’re not going into this proposing a relationship where you’re like presenting yourself in a relationship as a person you’re not. We’ve seen tons of stories of that. And I don’t know if there’s been a great movie version of that, or at least a great sort of big screen movie version of that. This one is weird because of the addition of baseball. And the sense that she was just a teenager when she was starting to do this.

But, I mean, teenager-hood is the time when you are trying on personalities anyway. So to try on an adult male personality online, and then carry it through to making up a fake wife and fake kids and then have these online relationships with these women who believe that you are a man – yeah, you can see sort of how it happens. I have a hard time understanding or envisioning how you would make this a movie in the sense of like whose perspective are we in.

Craig: Right.

John: Because if we’re just seeing her go through all these steps it’s hard to really picture what are we seeing onscreen. This is the kind of thing where I feel like you need the internal voice of the main character who is doing this. And so it feels like a book rather than a movie. I just don’t know how you make sense of this character without having real introspection.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. I understand her. And it is a very juvenile kind of thing that she did. And it was a – I can empathize with the desire for intimacy, even when intimacy goes wrong and turns abusive. I understand essentially what was going on. It doesn’t puzzle me. I just don’t think that there’s anything larger to learn. So it doesn’t need to be represented as a movie, I don’t think. I hope she gets help.

John: Yeah. I hope she gets help, too. And I think if there’s a story to be told out of this, or something that’s not quite this story but this general area of a story, it feels to me like a book. It can weirdly be like a stage musical where you can have the ability to sing the song of who you are inside. Or do double casting where you are the same people. She is both herself and the person she is presenting herself. Those are compelling ways to do this. I just have a harder time seeing this as a piece of visual entertainment up on a screen.

Craig: Yeah. I think actually a musical is a pretty good idea.

John: Yeah. I will always fall back on a musical. But yes.

Craig: Well, I mean, isn’t Dear Evan Hansen is kind of in this world, right, of a kid who tells a lie and can’t get out of it.

John: That’s true.

Craig: So, yeah, anytime you are dealing with a very internal, complicated, ugly, greasy, yet beautiful and sad and lovely mush of human emotions, I hear a song.

John: I hear a song.

All right. Our next story is from The New Yorker. It is a piece by Rachel Aviv entitled What Does It Mean? “When Jahi McMath was declared brain-dead by the hospital, her family disagreed. Her case challenges the very nature of existence.”

So, Craig, you are our resident almost-doctor. What did you make of this story? And do you want to talk us through the framework here? So essentially a young woman goes in for a tonsillectomy. Something goes wrong. She ends up in a coma. And beyond a coma she ends up brain-dead. The family does not believe that. And essentially keeps her or her corpse, you’ve got to decide where you stand with whether she is alive or not, for years it seems now. And she’s still in this state in their apartment. And I guess it makes you question are they right, are they wrong. Who are the heroes and who are the villains in the story?

Craig: This is a classic bioethical conundrum tale here. This girl had – at least it’s suggested – may have had a physical condition where her corroded artery was really close to her pharynx and when that happens that can raise, as the article points out, potentially raise the risk of hemorrhaging. It does appear, in fact, that she was hemorrhaging. And ultimately that led to her heart stopping, a loss of oxygen to the brain. The heart eventually restarts but the brain appears to be dead.

So, you have these situations where Patti [sic] Schiavo was sort of the one everybody knew about. Someone whose brain shows no provable activity on an electroencephalograph. But the rest of the body can be kept alive with a ventilator and all the rest of that. And so the heart keeps beating and so on and so forth. And you’re on a feeding tube, etc.

So, what do we have here? And this is where it gets mushy because this article kind of paints everybody out weirdly to be a villain. That’s how I felt. Like the doctors all felt a little too callous about it and a little too dismissive and a little too, “Ugh, whatever, it’s a vegetable, she’s dead.” And there’s implications that race was a factor.

The family seems to be reading a bit much into some of the body movements that occur with their daughter. Which, you know, sometimes it could be a real thing. I mean, there’s locked-in syndrome and all the rest of it. But it still doesn’t look like she’s alive. I mean, they do bring a doctor in from Cuba who insists that she’s alive. But it’s a little upsetting. And there’s this other strange thing that’s happened. So they talk about the Jahi McMath shadow effect. A rise in the number of families, many of them ethnic or racial minorities, going to court to prevent hospitals from unplugging their loved ones from ventilators. The notion there being white doctors are telling us our kids are dead when they’re not really dead, because they’re racist and don’t care, or care less. And we’re going to fight back.

I don’t believe that that is the case. I don’t.

John: I don’t believe that is the case either. Here’s my real worry about this as a movie is I could see this being made as a movie and in the movie version of this the family are heroes and the doctors are bad guys and she clearly is still alive and this is Lorenzo’s Oil and she probably wakes up at the end. You bend it just enough to see like, “Look, they persevered. They believed when no one else believed and look at where we are right now.” And that version of the story doesn’t tell about all the loss and of the costs that happened because of the decision to keep believing that she’s alive when everyone says she’s dead. The costs to the rest of the family. The costs to the medical system. The costs to other people who didn’t get help because this money and time and resources were being spent on this situation.

So, I get so nervous about this because I can’t envision a movie version of this story that doesn’t have this family as the heroes in it.

Craig: Yeah. You’re right. I mean, you don’t want to do a story where the point is these people are delusional and need to let their kid go. I mean, you could, and generally speaking the way you would do that is by having a disagreement between family members so it didn’t feel like there was some outsider coming in just yelling at them until they finally said, “Oh you’re right. What are we doing?” And then they bury their kid.

But this is not something that really is part of the common human experience.

John: Well, I say it is part of the common human experience in like that faith in miracles. That faith in like, no, no, we just have to keep believing longer and then we will – all our faith will pay off. I mean, that’s ultimately what this is is that if we believe hard enough and long enough we will be proven correct. And that is a common experience, whether it has to do with death or not death. And every one of us is also going to face end of life decisions. We’re going to face those choices of like do we start hospice or do we do some other great intervention on behalf of an elderly parent. Like we all do face this. This is just the more extreme version of it.

Craig: Yeah. It’s tough when it’s a kid because the whole point of a child is that they’re supposed to live. You know, if there’s someone who is 85 and then the doctors are like “Brain-dead,” you’re like, “No, grandma is still alive.” Well, it’s grandma. What are you going to do? So, I understand the misery of it. And my heart goes out to anybody that has to suffer from this. But I think that we have yet to really come to grips with accepting the notion that we die and that people die. And there is also, look, if you believe religiously then you’re just going to keep these people alive because you believe in a soul and neuroscience doesn’t. Neuroscience believes in electricity.

John: Yeah. But you’re going to keep these people alive even though they’re being kept alive by artificial means that were not sort of part of your cultural tradition before this moment. So, that’s the weird thing, too. It’s only going to, in many ways these kind of decisions are only going to get harder as we get better and better at keeping more and more people, their bodies functioning even after what we had decided was death has occurred. That’s an interesting thing, too.

Also I should have said the other big cost of this is, of course, organ donation which is the one thing that can actually save people’s lives.

Craig: Yeah. That’s the part that’s so rough because it’s impossible to say how you would handle something like this, but I’d like to think the way I would handle it would be to let my loved one go and then save as many lives with their organs as I could. And certainly, oh my god, if it’s me – I mean, if I get a bad headache, go ahead and harvest my organs. [laughs]

John: There’s a story this past week, I’ll try to find a link to it, about the actor Jon-Erik Hexum. So he was–

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: He was a star who was on this show called Cover Up. He was like a big hunky model guy. And he was messing around with a prop gun and fired a blank that lodged a piece of paper into his head and he died. What I hadn’t heard about the rest of that story is like they donated all of his organs, because it was the perfect death because everything was in ideal condition. And so parts of him are still alive in so many different people, which I think is just an amazing legacy to carry on.

Craig: I knew him from Voyagers. He traveled through time. No question. That was a joke that did not work and he died. But, yeah, you save all these lives. And I think that’s wonderful. I would love to do that. But, you know, is this a movie? No.

John: No. It is not a movie. It is an interesting story to talk about at a dinner party when you want to depress some people, but it is not a movie. What will not depress them is our final opportunity. A Carnival Cruise Descends into Anarchy. There’s many stories about this one, but it’s Avi Selk writing for the Washington Post is the one we’ll link to.

Essentially on a Carnival Cruise ship, apparently one family that had like 12 or 24 people just created this tremendous chaos. And there’s video of just these brawls happening. Passengers were scared for their safety on the boat. They were like locking themselves through the cabin. We laugh because it’s absurd. I’m sure it was terrible for the people involved. I feel like there’s a movie space here, or at least there’s an episode of a TV show here, because that is sort of like one of my fears. Because it’s awful when you have people on a flight who are misbehaving. Like that’s terrible. But on a boat where you’re there for a week and these people are always around. It’s that sense of like a small village in the middle of the ocean. There’s something really interesting and fun to do there.

Craig: Yeah. There’s some broad comedy to be done about a cruise. I mean, they’re Australians. They’re like a family of Bogans basically. That’s a word that we learned from Rebel. Yeah, there’s something. I mean, I don’t know. What bums me out is this is the one that probably most studio executives would be like, “Get me that Carnival Cruise thing. Get me the rights to that.” Because it just feels like, you know, it will be that movie. So I don’t even want to help them. I don’t want to help them.

John: It’s like Murder on the Orient Express but like funny and on a boat.

Craig: Exactly. Yeah. That’s what they’ll say.

John: And could we make it less snowy, and funnier, and could some people be in bikinis. And could we put Seth Rogan in it?

Craig: You’re helping them. Stop helping them.

John: That’s a movie.

Craig: Stop it.

John: [laughs] Yep.

Craig: No help.

John: All right. So, of the How Would This Be a Movies that we talked through, I think it’s clear that the debt collector one is probably the most compelling movie of this batch.

Craig: Yes. For me. But the most likely to be made is the Carnival Cruise descends into anarchy.

John: I think you’re probably right. Here’s what I’ll say. The Carnival Cruise, you do not have to buy the rights to that Carnival Cruise. There’s really nothing especially great or remarkable about the scenario there. The general sense of like what if you had Animal House but on a cruise ship. That’s a free idea. Free idea for anyone in Hollywood to run off with.

Craig: And begin…type…type…type.

John: It’s time for our One Cool Things. I have two One Cool Things. My first is Portal Bridge Connector. So, Craig, you’ve played Portal. You’ve played the amazing videogame Portal.

Craig: The cake is alive.

John: The cake is alive. The cake is delicious. Portal Bridge Connector combines all the fun of Portal along with the Bridge Connector games where you’re trying to move a vehicle from one side of the screen to the other side of the screen by building a physics enabled bridge. It’s really ingenious. I’m playing the version for the Mac and I’m sure there’s other versions, too. But it does all the fun stuff about bridge things with all the warped sense of humor of Portal. It’s very, very clever so I recommend you waste a lot of your time on Portal Bridge Connector.

Craig: OK.

John: My second one is a great podcast by The Onion called A Very Fatal Murder. It is a parody of true crime podcasts. It is ingenious. It is so, so good. So I don’t want to say too much and spoil it for you, but the episodes are really short. So, download the whole season. You can burn through it in a little over an hour. But it just so nails all the tropes to the degree to which you won’t be able to listen to other true crime podcasts because you’ll recognize, oh yeah, that’s a trope. It’s just ingenious.

Craig: See, now I’ll listen. And you don’t have to worry about me not listening to other true crime podcasts, because that wasn’t going to happen anyway. But I do find that whole thing pretty up its own butt. And so I love the idea that they’re taking the piss, as the Brits say. Because it is all very kind of formalized.

You know, this is my problem with podcasts.

John: Now that you’ve listened to three podcasts–

Craig: These things keep popping up, even in the three I listen to. There’s like – have you ever seen the video that someone did about YouTube voice?

John: I haven’t seen that. I should find it.

Craig: So, YouTube voice is this thing. People who do YouTube videos where they’re talking about whatever the hell interests them, they all speak somewhat similarly. And they also edit their sentences so that there’s never any breaths. And in fact a lot of times purposefully clip off the ends of words. It’s so strange.

John: Yeah. That editing style is really annoying. It’s really clear when you see it.

Craig: There’s also podcast voice. And I don’t like it. [laughs] I don’t like podcast voice. And you know what? Neither one of us have podcast voice. Although I will say that in Launch you kind of have podcast voice. You have podcast voice in Launch.

John: I do have more podcast voice. And so in the later episodes where it is just more just chatting because I’m literally just in a hotel room and I’m exhausted, I’m a little less podcast voice-y later on. But finding my right voice was hard. And we threw out the entire first episode and rerecorded it because I was too podcast voice-y. It really felt weird and forced.

But it’s the difference between me spontaneously talking like I’m doing right now and reading off a script. And I have to read off a script because I have to be able to make these points and connect these dots in ways.

Craig: Well sure.

John: That I wouldn’t have to just speaking.

Craig: There’s this cadence that we are familiar with for instance on news broadcasts. The local reporter, “I’m standing here where just minutes ago,” and then in England it’s very much – there’s a wonderful, again, a person did a video where someone is just saying garbage but in the intonation of a British news reporter. And you realize how formalized that is. And it’s becoming formalized for podcasts, too. But you know who does a great job of not doing podcast voice, even though it’s an incredibly scripted show? Karina Longworth.

John: Yeah. I would agree. I would say part of it is that when you actually just talk to Karina in a normal setting that’s her real voice.

Craig: That’s right.

John: But it fits really naturally. Her normal speaking voice is a little bit not like how other people would speak.

Craig: Her voice is authentic there. You don’t get a sense that she’s doing the podcast voice. Like for instance Leon Neyfakh, and I really, really enjoyed the Slow Burn podcast, so I hope he doesn’t take this as some sort of terrible insult, but he’s got massive podcast voice. And I actually want to say to him, you know what, you don’t need the podcast voice.

John: Well as the expert in podcasts, I feel like you should step in there. Having listened to so many podcasts, you are the person to–

Craig: I’ve listened to ones of them. Ones and ones of podcasts.

John: Tell us about your One Cool Thing.

Craig: Super-duper late to the party here, but I went on a binge and watched The Good Place. And I love that show so freaking much, written in part by my cousin, Megan Amram. So sorry that I’m so late to the show. But I hope you guys are watching it. If you’re not, watch it. There have been two seasons so far. Each season has I think ten episodes. So, very manageable. The cast is so, so good. I mean, the writing is amazing and the cast is great. Jameela Jamil – do you watch the show? Or have you watched the show?

John: So I’ve watched every episode and I watched the first season twice because I went back and watched it to sort of see what really happened. And I watched it with my daughter who is 12 and she loves it as well.

Craig: Yeah. Jessie, my 13-year-old, thrilled. Jameela Jamil may be the prettiest person in the world. Just like – I’m doing the thing where I’m fanning my face because she’s the hottest person alive. And hysterically funny on that show. William Jackson Harper plays Chidi and I want to be his friend so much because he’s basically like every nerd friend I ever had in college where we would sit and talk about Nietzsche and nonsense like that. And just loved it. And even like earlier in the episode I said Leap of Faith and in my mind I hear Chidi saying, “Well actually you know Kierkegaard, really it was better translated as a leap into faith.” It’s just so great.

Kristen Bell, the greatest, has always been the greatest. She’s first ballot Hall of Famer. And then Manny Jacinto is the latest in this wonderful television tradition of impossibly stupid people. I want to do a history of the impossibly stupid person on TV. You know, like Woody Harrelson on Cheers was one of the early ones I remember seeing. Like that’s not possible to be that stupid. And then Homer, of course, one of the great impossible. And then Manny Jacinto is even dumber than all of them.

And then lastly I just want to point out that on The Good Place they do diversity properly. You don’t get a sense that the show is diverse because a social justice warrior was whacking them on the knuckles with a ruler saying, “Come on. Fulfill the quotas.” It’s diverse because the show is about humans who are dying and going to the afterlife. And if you just go by the odds, I looked this up. If you by the odds, and you’re just going to randomly scoop up ten people that just died on our planet, the odds are that out of those ten people two of them will be Chinese. Not Asian. Chinese. Two of them. Two of them will be Indian. Two of them will be of predominately African descent. So we’re now up to six people. We’ve got two Chinese people, two Indian people, two people of predominately African descent.

There’s probably going to be one more non-Chinese, non-subcontinental Asian, so we’re talking about Indonesian or Filipino or Thai or Vietnamese, or Japanese, or Korean. So now that’s seven people.

We’ve got three people left. Divide them roughly up between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white people. That’s basically the world. If anything, they’re a little skimpy on the Chinese people. Other than that, they’re really good about being appropriately representational of the world.

And also there’s one person from America, which I loved. You know, it’s great. Because there’s not that many Americans.

John: You left off one person who is fantastic in the show who is Ted Danson who anchors it in way that is just so remarkable. And is clearly having a fantastic time doing it, but also has a weirdly difficult role that he just nails. It is just an incredibly ingenious show. Megan Amram’s puns are worth it. It’s the show where you actually do pause to look at all the signs that they’re constantly changing out. Drew Goddard directed the pilot and it’s hard to imagine that he had such a vision for what that show is going to be so early on. The writing across the board is fantastic. So, hooray.

Craig: Yeah, it’s just so good and so smart. And it’s legitimately laugh out loud. I cannot wait for the next season.

John: Cool. That is our show for this week. As always, our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also the place where you send questions and follow up and feedback-y things.

If you have a short thing, on Twitter I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. That’s where you can send us articles for us to consider for How Would This Be a Movie.

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You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at It’s also where you’ll find transcripts for this and all the back episodes. You can find the most recent 20 episodes or so are on iTunes, but the whole back catalog is at It is $2 a month for all the back episodes. There’s also some USB drives with the first 300 episodes available at

Craig, thanks for a fun exploration of How Would These Be Movies.

Craig: John, it was a great show. And 339, ooh, 340. We’re coming up on 340. So excited.

John: Oh, it’s going to be good. All right, have a great week.

Craig: See you next time.

John: Bye.


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