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: Episode 340.
Craig: Sexy Craig.
John: Segue Man.
Craig: Don’t you die on me.
John: That’s why they call it a One Cool Thing.
Today on the podcast it’s another round of the Three Page Challenge where we look at the pages that listeners have sent in and tell them what’s working and what’s not working. We also have some follow up. We have a deep dive into the plan behind Return of the Jedi.
Craig: If one can call it that.
John: Yeah. But I think we’ll actually be able to talk about plans in general, especially opening plans of movies. Because I think it’s sort of a special case.
So that is our episode for today. But first we have some follow up. Wyatt from Florida wrote in, “On Episode 80 of Scriptnotes, Craig Mazin said that it takes four hours to drive from Miami to Atlanta which is a grossly inaccurate statement. To give some context, he was talking about how in Stolen Identity it was mostly filmed in Georgia, making for a less breathtaking road trip than he desired. But, still, I find this to be upsetting as a resident of Florida. Google says this trip takes about 10 hours with a car, which will probably be more like 14 hours after you’ve stopped several times to keep your brain from exploding.
“While I agree that the trip from Miami to Atlanta is not an interesting drive, quite the opposite, it does take a very long time. I think it’s understandable that I would take a certain amount of umbrage with this claim.”
Craig Mazin, how do you answer Wyatt from Florida?
Craig: Well, I think I was using a little bit of poetic license there, Wyatt. If you’re going to do a road trip movie, probably you should limit your units to days. How many days will this road trip be? Will it be one of those weeklong road trips? Is it a three-day road trip? A one-day road trip is not a road trip. That’s just a long drive for the day. So, yes, the trip does take about 10 hours in the car. That’s true. You are absolutely correct that visually speaking the trip from Miami to Atlanta is a festival of flat unchanging landscape.
But the sentence here that I’m going to seize on, Wyatt, is, “But, still, I found this to be upsetting as a resident of Florida.” I think you have other things to be upset about right now, Wyatt, as a resident of Florida. I can think of like 20-hundred things that as a resident of Florida you should probably be worried about. But that said, you’re right. And, yes, tip of the cap.
John: Yes. We want to be an accurate podcast. I mean, we have a whole staff of fact checkers behind the scenes, but even they will let some things slide through. So that’s why we rely on our listeners to keep us honest and keep us – we don’t want any fake news in this podcast. We want this to be a completely accurate podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. So, Wyatt, thank you.
Craig: I kind of imagine Wyatt was listening to Episode 80. He was like loving the podcast, right? He’s just totally gorged on one through 79. And here he is on 80, he’s just humming along. And then he hears me say this and he turns white. Like white as a ghost. Then he rips his headphones off, finds a baseball bat, and just destroys his computer in a rage and then finally calms down, breathes, breathes, breathes. Gets out his phone and is like, “OK, I got to fix this. I got to make this right.” And then he sends this email.
So, I hope that’s not what happened. But if it did, I get it, Wyatt. I also get angry.
John: So Wyatt is listening to Episode 80 of Scriptnotes, so quite a long ways back. So either he’s listening to Scriptnotes.net where all the back episodes are, or he has the 300-episode USB drive. So I could envision that maybe he pulled the USB drive out from his device and broke it in half, because his faith had been shattered.
Although his email does go on to say, “Love your show. Hope to send in a Three Page Challenge soon.”
Craig: Yeah, no, I think he calmed down. In my scenario he got a hold of himself. I get it.
John: You get it.
John: All right. A thing that caused umbrage on Twitter this week was a tweet by–
Craig: That’s weird. That never happens on Twitter.
John: This is actually an article by Mike Ryan from Uproxx. And I first saw it as a tweet, but then I clicked through the article. We’ll link to the article. Mike Ryan was talking with his friends about Return of the Jedi. And they happened to be discussing the opening of Return of the Jedi, which if you’ve not seen it for a while involves a plan – well, a bunch of actions that are taken to free Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, which was he had been sold off at the end of Empire Strikes Back. And Mike and his friends were wondering, wait, what was the original plan before everything went south.
Craig, can you talk us through either what does happen in the movie or what might have been behind what was happening in the movie?
Craig: Well, I can try. So, this is a movie that we all know really, really well, generally speaking. So you’d think that we would have noticed this collectively many, many times before. This is a movie I’ve seen, I don’t know, probably 20 times since it came out in the early ‘80s. And then the question that he asked here, “If Luke’s plan to rescue Han from Jabba had worked perfectly, what would that plan have been?”
All right, well, great question. So here’s what happens roughly in this opening sequence. This rather long opening segment of Return of the Jedi. First, we know that Jabba the Hutt has Han Solo. He’s got him frozen in carbonite. So he is a prisoner. He’s like a decoration in Jabba’s palace.
We see that Luke has started his plan by sending in C-3PO and R2-D2. R2-D2 plays a little message that basically is like, hey, I know you’ve got Han. Let’s bargain for him and I’m giving you these droids kind of as a show of goodwill. And Jabba is like, great, I’ll take your droids and I’m not bargaining with you at all.
OK. So now the droids are there. We also reveal that Lando Calrissian is working in Jabba’s palace kind of clandestinely. Right? He’s incognito, disguised as one of the guards. We’re not sure what he’s doing exactly, but we know that he’s a good guy and he must have a plan, too.
Then, next, Princess Leia arrives. We don’t know it’s her at first because this little bounty hunter with a mask comes in. You know, who talks like that. And the bounty hunter is bringing Jabba another prisoner, Chewbacca. And the bounty hunter, you know, is bargaining for money and then Jabba makes a deal. And now Jabba has captured Chewie.
Later on that night, the bounty hunter is revealed to be Princess Leia. She tries to rescue Han Solo. And they are caught really easily by Jabba the Hutt who now enslaves Leia and makes her wear the crazy metal special bikini.
John: The iconic bikini.
Craig: The iconic bikini. At this point, at long last, Luke – the Jedi – shows up, does a quick Jedi mind-trick on some of the pig-faced guards. I know they have names. Whatever. And then he shows up and he basically tries to Jedi mind-trick Jabba and Jabba is like, no, that’s not going to work, hits a button, and Luke falls through the floor, lands in a pit, and has to face a big monster. I know it also has a name. I think that one is called the Rancor. And he beats the Rancor, but you can tell he was not at all planning on falling into the pit and having to face that thing, because he almost dies. But he doesn’t. He beats the Rancor. And then Jabba is like, “OK, fine. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to throw you all into the Sarlacc pit, which is terrible.”
And during the Sarlacc pit execution scene Luke gets everybody to sort of work together to kill Jabba and rescue Han and save everybody and off they go. That’s how that all works. At no point until this gentleman, this mind-blowing Mike Ryan, mentioned that that makes no damn sense did it ever occur to me that that makes no damn sense.
John: Yep. And here’s my theory about why you never worried about it. Is because I think we give special dispensation to opening sequences in movies, where we see a plan that’s already in the middle of action. For whatever reason we don’t go too deep into thinking about, wait, how did this all come to be? What are they exactly trying to do? What are the next steps? Because we’re enjoying it. So as long as we’re buying it moment by moment we’re like, oh “OK, well this is the next thing that’s happening.” We’re always curious like well what’s going to happen next.
Because most plans in movies, most heists if you think about like in Ocean’s 11 or any sort of big thing that has a plan, we’ve seen the characters make the plan. And there might have been certain details omitted, but we know what the general steps are supposed to be and so then when things go wrong we know that they went wrong because we saw all this.
But with opening sequences like this we don’t see any of that planning. And so we’re just assuming that they have some kind of plan. And as long as they seem to be behaving competently we just don’t kind of question it. So think back to any James Bond movie you’ve seen, they almost always start with some kind of big stunt sequence. It never really kind of makes sense how he got into that situation or why there’s a nubile young woman waiting for him at the end of it, but it’s James Bond so you just kind of go with it. And it’s interesting how for 20+ years we’ve just gone with it for Return of the Jedi.
Craig: Well, I’ll push back a little.
Craig: So, for James Bond, those opening sequences are clearly picked up in media res, right? So we are in the middle of a plan and we don’t need to therefore know how he got into that place. What we’re excited to see is how he gets out of it. And each James Bond movie, with a few notable half exceptions, stand alone as their own stories. They are not sequels to prior movies.
Now, in this case, we don’t start in media res. We begin with a plan. So at this point in the beginning of the movie Jabba the Hutt only has one prisoner, which we know he got at the end of Empire Strikes Back. He doesn’t possess Chewbacca. He doesn’t possess R2-D2, or C-3PO, or Leia, or Luke, or Lando. And so we’re starting in the beginning, and Luke kind of just wings it. And then everybody seems to be winging it independently of each other. And I have to say even though I didn’t notice that this plan made no sense, now that I look at it and I see that it makes no sense it explains something to me about my own reaction and relationship with that movie, which is I don’t like it as much as the other two.
And one of the reasons I think I don’t like it as much as the other two is because that long opening sequence felt a little – character-wise it was always missing something for me. So, in The Empire Strikes Back, for instance, there’s a scene where Lando Calrissian sells out his friends to Darth Varder. And we can tell that Lando is conflicted because he’s trying to protect his own place, but you know, what are you going to do and he’s selling out a friend and he feels guilty. And all of that is good character stuff. There’s no character stuff in the beginning of this movie. Nobody is doing anything from character. Jabba just happens to be able to resist Jedi mind tricks. Luke doesn’t really seem like a very good Jedi, nor does he seem to have an interesting plan. It seems all a little light. And, yeah, you know, it’s not great. And I’m not sure that there is any way to logically explain the rationality behind his plan.
First of all, for this to make sense at all, Luke cannot know what Leia is doing. Right? Because what she’s doing has literally nothing to do with what he has done.
John: Yes. That is true. And if you look through this original article we’re going to link to, there are some alternative theories laid out about what we might be missing. What the original plan could have been that could have gotten us there, including the possibility that these people are actually kind of working independently. That like Leia had her own plan. And Luke had his own plan. They were essentially acting independently and really had no sense of what was going on.
But here’s where I will push back against you. You said like, well, this isn’t in media res. Clearly this is in media res to a large degree because Lando is somehow there. So he’s already part of something. He’s already in the middle of some thing is happening. Luke has already hidden his light saber inside R2-D2. So there was some thought of putting that thing in where he could get to it later on. But the question of like do they anticipate they were going to end up in the Sarlacc pit together at some point?
John: That seems like an impossible stretch.
Craig: It’s crazy, yeah. No, that’s crazy. And also, you’re right, Lando is definitely in media res, but how? And why? What’s he been doing that whole time? What was his purpose there at any given point? And why would Luke hide his light saber in the droid? What’s the point? Just show up and start swinging it and kill people. I don’t get it.
John: The only thing I can sort of be happy about is that I know David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have just announced they’re going to be doing the three Star Wars movies. Apparently they’re all about how we got to this moment at the beginning of Jedi. That’s really–
Craig: I would watch it.
John: That’s where they’re going to spend $300 million to fill in this missing detail of how Luke got to this point.
Craig: I would love to do a kind of weird gritty – like a $10 million movie that’s just a gritty film about how Salacious Crumb came to end up sitting on Jabba’s lap like that. But like where he comes from, the whole Crumb family.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: And just living on the streets and hard times. Drugs. Drugs. And, you know, prostitution. And just like — he’s seen it all.
Craig: And he’s lost his mind. He’s just lot it.
John: Yeah, but I mean maybe it’s not that bad of a gig for Salacious Crumb to be there, because you know he’s got – he has interesting people. I mean, he’s surrounded by interesting people all the time.
Craig: And he loves to laugh.
John: Yeah. And there’s lots of opportunity for comedy, which is a – he’s sort of like a Dobby the House Elf but in the Star Wars universe.
Craig: But I think he’s hiding an enormous amount of pain. I mean, that’s the story I want to see is sort of like what are you running from, man.
John: Yeah. Well I think the stories where you can take the villain and really re-contextualize him as an anti-hero and ultimately a protagonist, those are the most rewarding. So, again, I think that’s why – I mean, David and D.B. have told us secretly that this is really what their whole mission is. Is to fill in this crucial bit of logic behind this important piece of Star Wars canon.
So let’s try to generalize back out. This idea of opening sequences and plans where you don’t know what the characters are planning but the ones that work and the ones that don’t work. I’m thinking back to Pitch Perfect 3. And Pitch Perfect 3 opens with a sequence on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean and suddenly Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick are there and they are trying to save the rest of the Bellas from something.
It’s absurd, but it also gets to play in with our expectations of like what kind of movie this is. You know, it’s Charlie’s Angels. It’s deliberately sort of nuts. And ultimately we’re going to come around to see that moment again.
So, it was crazy when we first see it in the movie. It’s crazy how it actually happens in the movie. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it’s fine for that kind of movie.
Other genres have much higher expectations of like these pieces all have to fit together.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, in comedy yes we do have a little bit more leeway on these things and they usually are not quite so complicated. But I can’t disagree with you. We have a grace period at the beginning of the film. People are more accepting and maybe you can get away with a few things that you wouldn’t be able to get away with later. But, there is a kind of weird hidden cost.
Nobody, you know, with rare exception people don’t have access to their – whatever the underpinnings are of their response to a story. There’s always going to be some weird impact that these things have on some people. And until I read this I didn’t realize that this was part of my – you know, it’s not that I don’t like it. I do. I just – I’m not a huge fan of that whole sequence. And I think now this is why. Because it just kept like – at one point he describes it, it’s becoming sort of like bad comedy. Because the plan is: droids show up, Jabba takes them. Chewie shows up. Jabba takes him. Leia shows up. Jabba takes her. Luke shows up. Jabba takes him. It’s just like what is this clown car being taken – and they definitely were not doing the whole “Don’t you understand I wanted to get arrested.” None of them wanted to get captured. Clearly.
Clearly. So it just became, I don’t know. I don’t know, Mike Ryan has really opened my eyes. And, you know, F-d up my head.
John: Yep. Now Craig, I know I have had experiences as a screenwriter where, over the course of development and then production, things that were simple and logical became much less simple and much less logical. And it’s maybe worth discussing sort of how these things happen. And we don’t know how it happened with the case of Star Wars. We don’t know whether this was the initial vision as written down in the script and this is what they shot, or if just a bunch of ideas all got thrown together and this is the result of a bunch of competing ideas being thrown together.
But in my experience when stuff doesn’t make sense, it wasn’t because the screenwriter said like, “I want to make the least sensible version of the sequence possible.” It was that people with strong opinions came in with specific agendas and someone had to find a way to match these specific agendas. So sometimes it was actor agendas. It was a studio saying we need more of this character, or could we shoot new stuff so this character is actually part of the sequence that they weren’t originally part of. Could we get rid of that scene that actually explains why they’re here and what they’re doing?
There are a lot of reasons why sequences which should make sense don’t end up making a lot of sense in final movies. Are there any other factors you’ve encountered over your years of working on movies?
Craig: Yeah. I consider logic to be a very dangerous weapon in the hands of certain people. And what happens is everyone is looking at a script and somebody might say, oh you know what, there’s a problem here. I don’t quite understand this. Or this doesn’t make sense. Or this maybe feels contradictory. And a good writer will attempt to solve problems from a place of character and simplicity and elegance. But a lot of other people, what they have is logic. They just have hard cold logic. And they will begin to add things to fix it. They are “helping it.”
So when you’re watching a movie and somebody suddenly just starts saying some stuff because apparently you need to hear it so that something makes sense, it’s rarely a screenwriter. It is typically a producer or a studio executive or somebody well-meaning who is attempting to solve a problem by just pouring logic ketchup all over it. But that is not good storytelling. It’s just fixing a problem. We don’t come to movies to see that. So I worry about that when that happens.
John: Yeah. And I would say in some ways the Star Wars situation is the opposite of that where no one is talking about what they’re actually trying to do. And so therefore it’s completely opaque. And it almost feels like there was a mandate of like all these characters need to be involved in this thing. Just introduce them separately. They can’t sort of be coming in as a block, except for C-3PO and R2-D2 because we always love to see them together. And everybody has to have heroic moments. And it is actually one of the challenges of supporting a large ensemble cast is finding things for each of those characters to individually do. And sometimes you end up with these kinds of sequences which are a little bit mish-moshy.
Craig: No question.
John: Any of these movies that we talk about that have sort of large ensemble casts – Charlie’s Angels, the Pitch Perfect movies – you want each of those characters to have their little moment of shine and spotlight. You want to get to them as quickly as you can. But in doing so you end up sometimes creating kind of Frankenstein sequences.
Craig: Without a doubt. I think that’s a really good point. There’s also a demand of sequels, because you’re not sort of meeting these fresh characters. I mean, Jabba is sort of a fresh character. But we’re not meeting fresh heroes like we do with say Lando or something like that in the second movie. So in sequels it’s basically, OK, everybody knows these people already. Give them stuff to do. What you don’t get to do are these quiet, like look how we meet Han Solo in Star Wars. He’s sitting at a table, chitchatting about his ship. And then another guy comes along and he has a chitchat with him and then he shoots him.
Well, by the time we get to the third movie, when people make their entrances they’re dressed up as bounty hunters and threatening to blow you up. And then they’re saving the one that they love. And he’s blind. And then another guy comes out and goes, “Ha-ha, I knew you were there and now you’re going to wear a bikini.” And you’re like, wait, this is what sequels do to you. And believe me, I’ve written enough of them. They are very, very difficult to write because all of the tools of surprise and freshness and introduction are gone. It’s tough.
John: It’s tough.
John: The lesson we’ve learned. So I guess the takeaway we could give to our screenwriter friends is if you are hired to write the third movie in a giant franchise that’s sort of world-changing, be careful with your story logic.
Craig: Yeah. But also you could say the other lesson is don’t worry about it. That movie did pretty well.
John: No one will notice your story plot holes for another 20 years.
Craig: It’s literally another 20 years. And then two nerds will talk about it on a podcast. But even then you’ll be all right.
John: You’ll be just fine.
Craig: We should do some Three Page Challenges right?
John: We should absolutely.
Craig: It’s been so long.
John: It’s been a very long time. So I think the last time we did this was the Austin Three Page Challenges.
Craig: Oh my. Whoa. That’s like a half a year has gone by.
John: Maybe so. Or I could be forgetting another one, but anyway we have three great new entries that Megan has picked. So the general theme she decided for this one was point of view. So characters who have either limited point of view or sort of different point of views that are uncharacteristic of other movies. So we’ll start with Pudgy by Jay Emcee.
We’ll have all of these Three Page Challenges linked in the show notes, so you can read the PDFs along with us, but here’s a summary in case you’re driving in the car:
A 10-year-old named Pudge observes his neighborhood from his stoop. He plays a CD in is well-worn portable CD player and starts nodding along to the gritty East Coast hip hop. Phat Boy, who appears next to him in Timberland boots, died jeans, and a gold chain raps along like it’s his music because it is his music. The two sit side-by-side on the stoop in the freezing cold, pouring rain, and blazing heat.
Fat Boy’s outfit never changes. Pudge makes sandwiches for himself and Phat Boy, though Phat Boy has more sophisticated taste than the ingredients left by Pudge’s mom than the fridge can accommodate. Craig, get us started on Pudgy.
Craig: Well, I generally liked this. Just to start, I don’t know if there’s a reason why our writer Jay Emcee has not told us what city we’re in. It seems like it’s New York. If I see brownstones and I’m hearing East Coast hip hop then I’m feeling like it’s New York, but I’d love to know. Just helps.
And I like the way we revealed his imaginary friend, right? So this is sort of like Hip Hop Harvey. We have a character who sees an imaginary person that nobody else sees because he’s not real. And I liked the way that this guy was introduced. This is a smart way to introduce somebody. You have a fact. He’s not real. Well, there are a lot of uncreative, boring ways to show that, like I’m sitting there and he’s rapping and then I cut to somebody else’s POV and there’s nobody else there except for this little kid named Pudge. And then we go, “OK, we get it. That guy is not real.” And what I like is that he didn’t do that.
Instead, what he did was he showed time passing, and because Phat Boy never has to change his clothes, never gets wet in the rain, never gets hot in the heat, our suspicion, which I think we will all have from the jump that Phat Boy is not real is confirmed. That’s a creative way of doing this. So I really liked that.
And there’s an interesting promise of a story here. And I liked that there was a kind of well-worn relationship between the two of them. I think sometimes people will create a kind of internal relationship that you would have say with an imaginary friend, somebody who lives in your head. And once those two characters start talking it’s like, wait, have you guys met each other because you’ve lived with each other your entire lives. There should be a complete, total, easy intimacy between you two. And that’s exactly what you see here.
I don’t quite get what’s happening on page three in terms of the food. I was a little thrown by that because Phat Boy seems to fill a role which is to be the kind of musical hip hop star that maybe Pudge wants to be, but Phat Boy also has really specific and quite extensive dialogue about how picky he is about food. If that’s meant to just be kind of flavor and sort of fun flavor, I don’t know if we need basically six-eighths of a page or whatever it is, three-quarters of a page to deal with that. I would probably limit that and get quickly to what we want to know which is what is Phat Boy doing for Pudge. Why does he exist for Pudge?
John: I agree. So I think “aioli” is a funny word. It’s used a little bit strangely here. Aioli is mostly a mayonnaise kind of situation rather than a mustard situation and it’s confusing that we haven’t gotten to the mayonnaise situation when he starts complaining about the aioli. So there’s some sequencing issues on page three that don’t really track for me. But I mostly agree with you. By page three I got it and I’m ready to sort of know what kind of movie I’m headed in for. Because at this point you’ve established this is a really good Hip Hop Harvey kind of situation, but I have a hunch that it’s not just about the two of them and their relationship. There’s going to be a third thing and I’m curious what that third thing is going to be. What does Pudge want? And he hasn’t really expressed anything that he wants.
We sort of get his situation. Now we know what his normal situation is. What is the change that’s going to come? What is the thing that he’s yearning for that’s going to take him on this two-hour journey? So, but I really liked the writing. I agree with you that the way we’re introducing Phat Boy and sort of going through the time passage is really well done. The observations of the other people on the other brownstones are really smart. It’s a little central casting, but it also feel specific to the thing he’s trying to do.
A moment that didn’t quite work for me is on page one he opens up his CD player and takes a look at the disc so we can see it. And then he closes it and plays it again. Like, well, you wouldn’t do that. And so maybe we need to find a way to introduce the name of Phat Boy without doing this. Or maybe he’s sitting down at the start of this and he’s putting in his headphones and we see the disc spin up or something. But it felt weird to really make a big show of opening it, looking at the label, and starting it again.
Craig: I had the same feeling, too. That was the one bit of clunky exposition and you don’t need it because you can just see it spinning inside or you can just see that he’s written Phat Boy, Money Hungry on his sneakers because that’s his thing, or whatever it is. Like there’s ways – I mean, kids write the names of their favorite artists all over things. There’s other ways to do it. And, by the way, he’s rapping. I mean, rap stars have been known to announce themselves in their songs. So, you know, that’s OK too. I think he could do that. So, yeah, that felt a little kind of, yeah, like ‘80s TV.
John: Yep. Because I’m a person obsessed about fonts, I’m going to talk about the fonts for a second. So this script is written in Courier Prime, which is the typeface I commissioned. It looks beautiful. It is delightful. But there’s other fonts used in here, too. So on page one where it says Phat Boy, Money Hungry that is in a bold type face, like it’s some sort of Sans-Serif bold. On page two there’s a note from his mom says, “Fresh cold cuts in the drawer. No music after 8pm. Xoxo, Ma.” Some people get really annoyed by this. For me, it’s fine. You’re trying to break something out as the thing you’re going to be reading on the screen and so to stick it in a different font for me is kind of fine. It doesn’t feel too cheaty for me. But I’m curious what you think, Craig.
Craig: I have no problem with it whatsoever. In general, I’m so bored with reading scripts that the one thing that blows my mind is this notion that people who read scripts are desperate for absolute violent conformity. That there must be always one Courier and this…and I’m just thinking oh my god if my job were to read scripts all day I would be desperate for one little blob of some other font there every now and again just to wake me the F up. So I have no problem. As long as it’s purposeful, and here it was, cool.
John: Cool. Last note on the title page. It just Pudgy, Written by Jay Emcee. That’s all fantastic. If I were to be turning in these three pages to somebody or showing them in the world, I might stick a date on them just so I could show when I wrote it. I would also put an email address just so if somebody loved them they could reach me. Because with a name like Jay Emcee, which doesn’t even feel like your real name, no one is going to be able to track you down otherwise. And so it’s good work. So, make sure that people can find you to tell you that it’s good work.
Craig: Yeah. I liked it. Good job, Jay.
John: Cool. Do you want to take the next one?
Craig: Yeah, what should we do? Which one do you think I should do?
John: Do you want to do Trucker?
Craig: Yeah, man, I’ll do Trucker. I’ll do it. Sure. Trucker, written by Erno van der Merwe. That’s a pretty Dutch name right there. Merwe. That’s a great name. Anyway, Trucker. So, here’s the story with this:
Sarah, 13 and tiny, observes a butterfly as Baron, 40s, packs up a truck. They prepare to drive off, but Sarah sensing that something is off asks if everything is OK. Baron offers a reassuring smile. As they drive, Sarah points out that they haven’t taken a vacation in a while and she pitches a beach in the Caribbean that she’s seen in a magazine. She shows him the picture and it does look lovely. She’s flipping through the magazine when Baron shouts at her to get down. She scrambles down to the floor of the truck’s cockpit. They are approaching a police checkpoint. An officer shines her flashlight in as she inspects the truck. It’s tense. Finally, she waves Baron on.
Good summary there, Megan. I like that.
Craig: So, John, kick us off with Erno van der Merwe’s Trucker.
John: All right, so if you’re looking at the PDF of this you’ll notice that Erwin has chosen to sort of keep all the lines on the left hand margin. So they’re not paragraphs, they’re just single lines. That’s a style. It doesn’t really bother me. I don’t think it especially works for this script and we’ll talk about why.
I had a bigger problem with, actually, descriptions overall. And so I don’t know if English is Erno’s first language. I don’t know where Erno is from. It’s not the US because there’s definitely British choices in here. But the overall choice of words didn’t help serve the story especially well. So, start with the truck. First line, “SARAH is lying on top of a truck’s bonnet.” So, bonnet, the hood. This is the hood of the car. We know this is a British word. But, wait, what kind of truck is this? Because when I saw this I’m like, oh, it’s like a pickup truck, it’s something like that. But, no, it’s a big truck. And so if it’s a full big truck, how are you lying on the top of a big semi-truck? I just had a hard time envisioning what kind of truck this was.
Later on, you know, halfway down page one we are INT. COCKPIT – LATE AFTERNOON. I don’t think they call that a cockpit in British English either.
John: That is the cab of the truck. Or just say INT. TRUCK because we know that we are in the part of the truck that you can sit in, the cabin. But don’t call it a cockpit because suddenly I’m in space, or I’m in a jet. So, when I see words that aren’t the actual words for things it just makes me lose a little faith in the writer and the writing. And so pick those right words because in screenwriting you have so few words. They really all have to be the right words.
A few other small things. Second line, “An orange sun is lighting up her face.” An orange sun? There’s two orange suns? The orange sun. Orange sunlight. Sunlight is lighting up her face. Just giving us an orange sun, are we looking at the sun or are we looking at her face. And there’s a whole subject predicate thing that happens when you have sentences this short that we focus on, “Wait, what are we actually looking at here.” And by line two I was losing a little bit of faith.
Craig, talk me through what you’re experiencing.
Craig: Well, yes, so we definitely do have a non-native English speaker, or American English speaker at the very least. You know this from the very first scene header, EXT. PETROL STATION. So, petrol is what they call gasoline in the UK. And bonnet is a UK term as well. And in general I’m OK – look, I just had to go through this process with every single page of Chernobyl putting in Briticisms and taking out Americanisms just because everybody is UK or European on the crew and in the cast. So, you can write flashlight, but they call it a torch and, you know, why just not make it easier for them. Call it a torch, you know.
So, I sympathize and I’m not going to go after Erno so much on that stuff. I also really weirdly love this format. It is its own weird format. I don’t know if Erno is doing this because he’s just cool and doesn’t like to follow instructions. Or if he’s doing it because he doesn’t know. Either way, it was kind of cool.
I agree with you that there were some descriptive problems. There was some confusions. I do need to know what kind of truck we’re dealing with. It appeared to me that what we were talking about was a semi, like the kind of truck–
John: Tractor trailer.
Craig: Yeah. Tractor Trailer. That hauls a big thing. I don’t know how the hell she would get up on the hood or bonnet of that truck. They are way up there. And I don’t think she could just hop on down easily either. She jumps off the bonnet. She jumps off that bonnet, she’s dropping a good six feet I think. So, yeah, I need to know what kind of truck we’re dealing with. But I really liked the back and forth between these two. I’m curious, this is good mystery as opposed to confusion. I don’t know what their relationship is. I don’t think they’re father and daughter. It seems to me more like a situation where he is taking her somewhere where she can be safe. That maybe somebody is looking for her. I just got that feeling.
So I liked the way that they went back and forth. I liked how much more she talked than he did, which felt very real to me. I got so much of her personality just from the way she kind of pushed him and kidded around with him a bit. She seems like she’s almost in charge, and then he gets in charge because here come the police. That was all really good. So I actually think there’s some really good character work here. There’s some good back and forth. It kept me going.
In general, Erno, you know, if you can sort of pull back a little bit on some of the fancier descriptions, because they do distract a little bit from the nice spare nature of your characters and their dialogue. For instance, “The truck roars to life and shoots out a ball of smoke. They drive off towards the sunset into the night. Slowly disappearing over the glazed horizon.” I get it. And I know exactly what you’re seeing. But, when you read it like that, it starts to sort of mush over into Bad Poetryville. Especially from your formatting.
So, I would maybe get a little – just pull back a little bit on some of that stuff. But I kind of loved it. I did.
John: OK, so I did not love it. And for me it fell apart in the character work really. I thought all of the scene description lines where he’s trying to do essentially the parentheticals about what’s going on between the characters, it was too much and it didn’t really work. So, if we took those all out and just had what was just in dialogue I could track it better, but I still wouldn’t love it. So, let’s just hear just the dialogue. Sarah says, “You know, we haven’t taken a vacation in a while.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah. We’re always so busy. We need to relax every now and then.” “Look doesn’t that seem really cool?” “It looks nice.” “Ah-huh. It says it’s in the Caribbean. We should go.”
So, if I had that all together as one piece, I would be fine with it because I get what’s happening in there. I get sort of what she’s trying to do. He’s kind of engaged but not fully engaged in it. But instead in the actual what we have on page two is, “Baron knows what she’s trying to do. Always trying to be the optimistic one. He decides to entertain her.”
“Yes! She has his attention. Now it’s easy.”
“Yeah. We’re always so busy. You need to relax every now and then.”
“She sits up on her knees and turns her back. Shuffles in the back of the truck and pulls out a pile of magazines. Falls back into her seat and gives him a bright smile. Baron shakes his head. He is slowly loosening up. She takes the top magazine and opens it up to its centerfold. Holding it in front of her face she shows it to Baron.”
All of that action that he’s describing along the way is getting in the way of understanding what the real dynamics are between these two people which was done perfectly well in the dialogue. So, that’s my frustration with the character work in here. It’s making it seem like a whole bunch of stuff has happened when really nothing has happened and just dialogue in a screenplay can do that work for you.
Craig: I can’t disagree with that. I think it’s also exacerbated by the format because what would be three lines of action are seven lines of action when you present it this way. And that’s a long bit of page real estate to cover to get to the next line. And I agree. I think just pulling back on these descriptions would help a lot. But I could see his face and I could see her face. And I could see the place and I could see what she was kind of needling him on.
I’m kind of forgiving a bunch of that, but I will say Erno that don’t rely on people forgiving you anything. Maybe I’m just in a weirdly good mood today.
John: A generous mood. Then on page three, so this is the first real action of the piece which is like they’re slowing down because of the roadside check ahead. Here’s where Erno’s style is getting in his way a bit here. Because breaking it down into single sentences can work for moments of tension and sort of give you a sense of shot by shot by shot by shot. But by not putting any white space in here and just stacking the lines it is a real temptation to give up. And when you see a big block of text like that you’re like “I don’t know what to do with that.” That’s why poetry is broken into stanzas. You’ve got to give us a little space here so we will actually follow and see what’s important and what the changes are as we’re going through this.
Craig: Can’t argue with that either.
John: Cool. All right, Erno thank you for sending in your pages. Next up we have an untitled script by Sarah Paradise:
Lou Abern, a woman in her 30s, is getting viciously beaten by Keenan, who is also in her 30s. Both women are beautiful, tough, and fighting like they mean it in a glamorous LA nightclub. Onlookers heckle and cheer. Keenan grabs Lou by the collar and drags her across the bar top, sending all the glasses to the floor in chards.
Mitch shouts for them to stop from behind the bar. After a vicious bout of wrestling, Keenan emerges victorious. Lou exits to the alleyway and stretches her sore shoulder. Keenan playfully scolds her for giving her a small cut on the face. Lou counters that it’s not like she has a photoshoot tomorrow. Keenan mentions a movie that she’s working on that they need a stunt woman. Lou says she has retired from stunts but Keenan says she wasn’t asking.
Mitch pays them for their performance, but it was less than they agreed on. He scolds them for not avoiding the bar top like he told them. Glassware is expensive.
Craig, what did you think?
Craig: OK, so the generosity is over. I have many issues. Issue number one, we meet Lou Abern who is blonde and we meet Keenan who gets one name for some reason who is black. And they are women in a bar and they are having a crazy fight. Like a full-on punch you in the face fight, throw you over bars, smash into glassware. They land on a booth. They jump on booths, grabbing each other. At one point one of them slams headfirst into the end of a bar.
And this is not on a movie set. This is in an actual bar. And people are going crazy. And they’re shouting drink orders because apparently in the world of this movie people only order drinks at bars when two other people are fighting, when in reality when two people are fighting in a bar everybody backs the hell away because it’s dangerous.
Regardless of that, the next scene we see them and it’s like, “Oh, get it? They’re stuntwomen and they are putting this on kind of like professional wrestling to fool people into thinking there is a fight because according to this script that’s what gets people to buy drinks.” By the way, this has never happened in any bar in the world. And despite the fact that they have been punched in the face and had their heads smashed and fallen, it’s no problem. Keenan actually runs out and is like, “Wee!”
And they have kind of banter. So, which is it? Am I supposed to watch this fight and go “Oh my god this is a crazy fight. I understand that everybody is screaming for a reason. It’s a wild fight.” Or, is it just fake? Because when I watch professional wrestling I know it’s not a real fight. Everybody in the crowd knows it’s not a real fight. People don’t just punch each other in the face over and over and not fall down or bleed. And that’s what’s happening here.
The page two and three is a long discussion that feels mostly quippy and fake. I don’t know anything about Lou. I don’t anything about her. I don’t know where she’s from. I don’t know how she thinks. The way she talks is not particularly different than the way Keenan talks. I don’t know anything about Keenan. I just know that the two of them are stuntwomen who do this scam that isn’t real. And then Mitch is like central casting jerky sleaze ball. Like, “Sorry ladies, you broke a bunch of glass.” This all felt fake to me.
So top to bottom, I would say this to the writer. This is decently structured. You have a good sense of shape. You know how to begin, middle, and end a scene. You get pace. You have all these things working for you that a lot of people don’t. Like a lot of the stuff that’s in between the words. Where you’re going wrong is just simply believability. You have created unbelievable – and I see this so many times. You come up with what you think is a good idea and then you just start jamming this non-reality into words using the skill that you clearly have to do so.
So, I don’t believe the reality of this. I don’t believe the premise. I don’t believe that that’s the discussion they would have. I don’t believe the guy in the bar. I just didn’t believe any of it.
John: I liked this so, so, so much more than you did. I thought this first page was delightful. And I – and this is just people read things different ways – I read this as a crazy knock down roadside bar brawl that I have not seen two women ever have before. It seemed over the top, but kind of delightfully over the top. When they smashed the glassware on the bar I’m like, “Oh, that’s so cheesy, we’ve seen that so many times.” But then I was delighted to know that it was all faked. I guess I started reading this thinking like, OK, well this isn’t probably real. This is not actually the way it should go. And when you read it with that intention it’s like, “Oh yeah, I can see sort of kind of why they’re doing it.” Does the whole thing make sense? I don’t think we have enough information to know the degree to which the audience, the bar patrons, know that this is real or know that this is not real. I think it would be more fun if midway through this fight we sense that the people were there for the show. That this is a thing that they do. Because I would go to see that. If I could see two really good stunt people having a staged brawl in a public space that could be great. If I knew they weren’t really fighting that could be really, really cool.
So, I think it would sell drinks. I think there would be a reason why you would go to that fight, that bar to see that kind of fight.
The dialogue afterwards is not fantastic, but it’s getting us out of that setup and we’re trying to establish who Lou is and sort of what her background is. I don’t think it’s great. And I think we need to have more spin on Lou to know sort of what it is she tries to want. All we’re getting out of this right now is that she does not want to be a stunt woman anymore. And that doesn’t really seem to track with the brawl we just saw.
Craig: No. And also if this were in some skanky roadside bar somewhere I guess maybe. This is in a Los Angeles nightclub. You can’t get a Los Angeles nightclub to probably allow people to dance on a table, much less sponsor brawls that break glass. The liability problem is insane.
John: Well, but it’s fake glass.
John: I took this whole – yes.
Craig: It’s not fake.
John: Well, I chose to believe that the things they were doing were stunt person kinds of things that they could survive. The sort of things that stunt people could do and so that stuff was deliberately staged, but some of the stuff that they broke was stuff they weren’t supposed to be breaking.
But I would say I totally believe that an LA nightclub would do it just because they want to get desperate attention. There was a bar on Santa Monica that used to have like Cirque du Soleil acrobats on Friday and Saturday nights who do the stuff like true acrobatic stuff above the crowd.
John: That was really cool. This is not that different than Cirque du Soleil acrobatics in a bar.
Craig: It is massively different.
John: I don’t think so at all.
Craig: I can’t think of something more different. Here’s the thing, for me at least, if people believe that this is a real fight then a bunch of them are going to call the police. If they don’t believe–
John: So where on page one does it say that the crowd believes this is real? I see, “The crowd REACTS riotously to this while MITCH,” so they’re shouting, they’re cheering.
Craig: Here’s what I see. I see she’s punched in the face. That means it is real. You don’t get actually punched in the face in movies. They fake punch. She’s punched in the face. That’s a real fight. In fact, if you’re faking a fight and you punch somebody in the face it has now crossed over into a real fight. But, also, you’ve got drunk men heckling them. She crashes into – she gets kicked in the stomach. Again, real.
John: See, I guess I don’t understand why you believe that this fight has to be real, because we’ve seen good fake fighting a lot of times.
Craig: Because he’s selling it – or he or she – they’re selling it as real. I’m looking through this thing and I’m like so she gets her head slammed into the end of the bar and falls to the ground. Defeated, she rolls over and looks at the ceiling, breathing hard. That’s not from anyone’s POV. That’s meant to see like – that’s that shot at the end of a fight when someone is like, “Ow, that hurt. I lost.” And there’s broken glass, which is not fake glass. It’s real because at the end he says, “I’ll go bankrupt buying glassware.” Also, stunt people don’t smash into real glasses because they’d cut themselves and die.
None of this makes sense to me. I don’t get it at all. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. I just think if I saw a trailer for this movie I would be like, “Fake, not going.”
John: All right. That’s fine. I think there is an interesting idea here. I don’t think that pages two and three work especially well. But let’s go back to the actual writing on the page. I thought if this were meant to be a real fight, so take out the fact that it’s in a bar, just the action of two people having a knock-down, drag-out fight, it was pretty good writing. I never jumped out of the action writing.
John: And that’s a hard thing because this first page is nothing but action. There’s no dialogue at all. And it got me all the way through the page and that’s a hard thing to do on a page one. So I want to give her props for that.
Craig: 100%. In fact, I liked page one so much that when page two showed up I got super angry because I thought that it was just undermining something that was good. Like I agree with you. I’m watching these two women in an LA nightclub having a drag-out, vicious physical battle, and they’re not like two 21 year olds with long hair and high heels who are kind of, you know, having that fight that we see on YouTube or World Star. This is like – like they could kill each other. These are two tough women going at it and I love that. And I was like who is this lady and what is her problem and how did she end up here. And then I get to the second page and I’m like, “Oh, never mind.”
John: Never mind.
Craig: This is baloney. It’s all baloney.
John: All right, I guess we both agree that page one is really good. We disagree on whether pages two and three deny the premise that this could ever be a real thing.
Craig: Welcome to real life, author of this script. This is how it goes. And here’s the good news. It doesn’t matter who doesn’t like it. It only matters who does like it. So, in this case, you would succeed, at least if John and I were in the business of buying screenplays.
John: Which we are not.
Craig: God no. What a silly business.
John: It is. I got asked to participate in an article that was being written about the death of the spec script market. And I was like I don’t know that it’s dead. I don’t know anything. I don’t try to sell spec scripts, so I’m the worst person to ask for it.
Craig: Yeah. Spec script market, well it’s like this new phase of the spec script market where there’s no longer a spec script market. It’s a spec project market where people will go around – Rawson just did this.
John: Of course.
Craig: Where you come up with an idea, you find an actor that’s meaningful for studios. You find a director or you are also the director. And then you go studio to studio and say here’s our package. It’s what Stephen Gaghan did with Dr. Doolittle and it’s what Rawson just did with the Rock, with Dwayne, on – what is it, a skyscraper movie?
John: That’s the one he already shot. So the next one is called Red Notice, I think. So.
Craig: Yeah. So it was a huge, huge deal. And so you go and you go to like five studios. Five studios used to all read a script on a Saturday and then get into a bidding war on a Sunday. Now, you go around to every movie studio on Monday and Tuesday and with just a meeting and a presentation and they’re bidding on something where there is no script yet on Wednesday. Fascinating. But it is akin to the same kind of market.
John: It is. It’s just a different kind of thing. And there have always been spec scripts that went out with talent attached. This is sort of a super version of that.
Craig: Yeah. I will say this much, and not good news for everybody listening. The barrier to entry for this version of a spec market is way higher. Way higher. It’s rough.
John: It’s tough.
John: All right. Let’s wrap up our Three Page Challenge by thanking our three entrants to the Three Page Challenge. If you have a Three Page Challenge you would like to send in to us, just go to johnaugust.com/threepage. It’s all spelled out there. And in there you’ll find the instructions for what we’re looking for, how to attach a PDF. You’ll sign a little thing that says it’s OK for us to talk about your three pages on the air. And we might look through it.
So, Megan reads everything that comes in. So, send in your three pages if you have three pages you think we should discuss on a future episode of Scriptnotes.
All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is also font related. It’s called What the Font? And I may have talked about this years ago, but the app sort of stopped working and now it’s working again, so let me describe what it is.
So often I’ll be out in the world and I’ll see a type face and wonder what is that type face. Like I kind of recognize it but I want to know specifically what it is. So I pull up my phone, I open What the Font? It has a little camera. I click, take a photo of it. It scans it and tells me what typeface that is. It is a thing that is delightful for me. So I think if you are a type nerd like I am you will enjoy this.
There’s a web version of it, so if you’re just finding stuff on the web you can make a screenshot and do it through. But mostly I use the camera on my phone to do it, and it’s great. It’s so very useful. It’s put out by the people who sell a lot of typefaces so that’s really the business model behind it is they’re trying to sell you these typefaces that you identify. But it’s really good, so I recommend it. What the Font?
Craig: You know, nothing is as saucy as a font-based joke. What the Font?
John: What the Font?
Craig: So fonty. That is the most John August thing I can imagine. Here is the most Craig Mazin thing I can imagine. My One Cool Thing this week is Weird Al Yankovic’s Hamilton Polka. He has done a very bizarre kind of overture style summary of the show Hamilton by the great Lin-Manual Miranda. But he has done it in polka style. It is disturbing. It is weird. I love it. And you can enjoy it too, for free, on the YouTube.
John: Nice. That’s actually interesting. I mean, YouTube feels like the right place for Weird Al Yankovic to live. I mean, I have always perceived him as being a comedy and really kind of video person. And so YouTube feels like a very good fit for him.
Craig: Weird Al Yankovic, his career is fascinating. He has had this remarkable longevity. You know, a lot of these – you would think, like “Oh well, it’s a novelty act. It will come and go.” When you were a kid did you ever listen to Dr. Demento?
John: I was just about to ask about Dr. Demento. Of course I did.
Craig: Yeah. So Dr. Demento for the vast majority of you who are too young to know what the hell we’re talking about. Like, OK, first of all there used to be a thing called radio. And then you would tune into a station. And on some random night in your town, whatever your local weirdo station was, Dr. Demento would come on. It was a nationally syndicated radio program. And it was just this fun, old, kind of dorky nerdy guy who curated novelty records. And novelty records and comedy songs have been around forever. But you can’t really point to any one act other than Weird Al Yankovic that lasted beyond maybe two songs.
I mean, most of them it was like, “Well, there’s the guy who sang One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater. And there’s the guy who did Monster Mash. And there’s the guy who did, you know, whatever it was, like Fish Heads. And here’s Weird Al Yankovic with two decades and multiple albums.” And it’s remarkable. He’s just unstoppable. I love it.
John: So we will put a link in the show notes to Dr. Demento, the Wikipedia article. I am finding out that Dr. Demento is still alive. He is 76 years old. His real name is Barret Eugene Hansen. I don’t think we would have a Weird Al Yankovic without his radio program.
John: Oh radio. It was nice.
Craig: You know what? This is amazing. Dr. Demento you’re saying is 76 years old now?
Craig: Because he seemed like he was 76 when I was listening to him when I was 12. He’s always been 76.
John: Craig, I assume you are not watching The Crown on Netflix.
Craig: Well, I watched a bunch of the first season because it was part of my general Jared Harris deep dive. And I really enjoyed it. I thought it was really, really good. I loved – particularly it was an episode about his portrait being made. Churchill’s portrait being made, which I thought was fascinating. But, no, I haven’t gotten around to the second season. I’m scared because I suddenly realized, “Oh god, The Crown will never stop because, you know, they’ve got many decades to go.”
John: Yeah. They’re jumping ahead quite quickly. But the second season is fantastic. The reason why I ask is because I’m looking up that he’s 76 years old. I was watching an episode last night that was largely about Philip, and Philip is 96 years old. I had no idea he was still – I mean, I knew he was alive, I just didn’t have a sense that like he’s 96 years old and still a person in public life. That’s kind of amazing.
I intend to be a person who is 96 years old and still in public life. That’s my goal.
Craig: Well, you know, there’s a possibility that right around before we croak they’ll come up with a way to just keep us alive forever.
John: Whether we’ll hit that magic spot right now. I think our kids probably will.
Craig: Yeah. If they want it. If they want it, you know? Yeah, I mean, who needs it.
John: Who needs it?
Craig: Ugh, enough already.
John: That’s our depressing way of ending this episode of Scriptnotes. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Matthew also did our intro/outro. If you have an intro or an outro, or really more an outro, you can send us a link at johnaugust.com. That’s also the place where you can send questions or follow up like the follow up we answered today.
You can find us on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes. Leave a review there if you can.
All seven episodes of Launch are now up and available. That series is basically done, so I’m really happy with how it turned out. If you are person who doesn’t like to listen to series until they’re done, well, now it’s done, so you can hear it all together.
John: You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. If you have a Three Page Challenge you want to send in it’s johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out.
You can find all the back episodes of Scriptnotes at Scriptnotes.net or on the USB drives we sell at store.johnaugust.com.
Craig: You sell them.
John: Well, I guess Shopify technically sells them, but they exist in the world.
John: Mm-hmmm. Craig, have a great week.
Craig: You too, John. See you soon.
John: Thanks. Bye.
- We Dare You To Explain Luke’s Plan To Rescue Han In ‘Return of the Jedi’ by Mike Ryan for Uproxx
- Three Pages by Jay Emcee
- Three Pages by Erno van der Merwe
- Three Pages by Sarah Paradise
- What the Font? site and app
- Weird Al Yankovic’s Hamilton Polka
- Dr. Demento
- The Scriptnotes Listeners’ Guide!
- The USB drives!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here.