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 345 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast we’re doing something a little bit different. We often answer listener emails, but I thought we’d actually have the listener here with us as he asks his email. So, would you mind asking your question that you wrote in to us with?
Isaac Aptaker: Yeah, sure. “Dear John, you are one of the rare few to have both a successful screenwriting career and an accessible email address. I am an almost out of high school 18-year-old planning to pursue a career in TV. Next year I will enroll in the screenwriting program at either USC or NYU. I’ve gotten tons of advice from guidance counselors, family members, even a chatty, slightly overzealous cab driver. I wanted to ascertain whether you believe one school has a significant advantage over the other.
‘I’m inclined to stay on the East Coast for a few years before I make the move to LA for what I assume will be the majority of my working life. And I tell myself that a solid spec and good people skills are what really matter. But then I read those oh-so-persuasive articles about the SoCal-educated Josh Schwartz wunderkinds of TV. The ones who sell scripts right out of college and are helming their own shows before they can get rental cars. And it seems they always throw in a thanks to those Trojans shout-out.
“So, if you can offer any advice I’d really appreciate it. That cabbie made a damn good U-turn, but I’m not sure he knew a ton about scripted television. Thanks, Isaac Aptaker.”
John: All right. I wrote Isaac back and I wrote, “Hey Isaac. Both schools are great and more than anything count your blessings. Two questions: where do you want to live and what do you want to do? If you want to live in NYC, go to NYU. While it’s not an easy city to be broke in, you’re more likely to be content in your poverty living there during college than afterwards.
“In terms of Art, with a capital A, if on a given weekend you’re more likely to see the indie movie than the blockbuster, NYU might be the better choice. My sense is that there’s more independent bent at NYU and less of an asking for permission attitude.
“In terms of screenwriting programs themselves, I can only speak to USC’s which I didn’t attend but I visited. I think it’s good but only as good as you make it, which probably applies to any writing program anywhere. If you want to be a Hollywood screenwriter for the good and the bad that implies you’ll get more exposure to that career and the whole film industry at USC.
“Honestly, a lot of what you learn at USC wouldn’t happen on campus but navigating your way through internships and meeting people for the drinks. The film industry is a much bigger part of daily life in LA than it is in NYC. It sounds like your instinct is NYU. Listen to it. If you decide to move to LA after that you’ll have some catching up to do, but that shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Whichever place you decide to go, here’s my one piece of advice: work really hard. Don’t think about grades as much as becoming the writer you want to be. Josh Schwartz didn’t get the OC because he was lucky. He got it by working his ass off. John.
“P.S. Let me know what you finally decide.”
Now, he also wrote to Craig, so Craig you had separate advice for him.
Craig: He did. I don’t see his version of the email that was sent to me. So I’m just going to assume that he also started with, “Dear Craig, you’re one of the rare few to have both a successful screenwriting career and accessible email address.”
I wrote back, “Isaac, I strongly recommend USC.” I just want to point out, I always strongly recommend things. Always.
“I strongly recommend USC. My understanding is that USC’s program is far more vocational than NYU’s, which is a bit more, shall we say, academic. However, don’t make any decisions just yet. I’ve forwarded your question to Howard A. Rodman who teaches at USC. I’m hoping he has a more informative answer for you. Full disclosure: I didn’t go to USC or NYU, so no bias here. Craig.”
John: All right. So, Isaac, we have you here with us. We’ve been wanting to know the answer to this question. What school did you choose to go to?
Isaac: I went to NYU.
John: All right. And has that all worked out OK for you?
Isaac: It worked out. It did.
John: All right. It worked out so specifically well that here is the twist in all of this – the emails that you sent were 13 years ago.
John: So you were a high school student. You are no longer a high school student.
Isaac: I’m not. Unfortunately. Or fortunately. Both.
John: You are a writer working in film and television. What are the most recent things we would know you for?
Isaac: Yeah, my writing partner Elizabeth and I just wrote the movie Love, Simon and we’re also the co-showrunners of This is Us on NBC.
John: So that’s a pretty busy life. Isaac Aptaker, Elizabeth Berger, welcome to Scriptnotes.
Elizabeth Berger: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Craig: This is so cool. Because, I mean, first of all we were so nice.
Isaac: You guys were so nice.
Elizabeth: So nice.
Craig: You have to understand, because this is 2005 when Isaac writes this to us. So we actually don’t even really know each other at that point, or barely. We kind of knew each other.
John: Yeah. At this point did he have his website up?
Isaac: Yeah, you must have.
Craig: So we had talked a couple times on the phone, but we were far from doing a podcast together or anything like this. And we were both actually very – we wrote you back. Thank god. I mean, how often does this work out, right?
Elizabeth: You’re inspiring me as I’m sitting here. I’m like I need to write nicer emails back to people. It’s really incredible. And I imagine you really took it to heart.
Isaac: Yeah, it was a big deal. It was like, oh, this is so cool.
Craig: Well, that’s nice, probably though – maybe John you always write back to people like this, but I generally will be nicer if the email is well written and there’s some indication of intelligence there and I don’t think I’m completely wasting my time writing to this person. So, good eye for talent. We should have signed him.
John: We should have signed him then.
Craig: Right. We should have gotten both of these.
John: Yeah. Little finder fees. So I guess the reason why I did write back the more lengthy answer is because your email was asking one specific question between two different schools. You seemed smart. You had like a whole narrative to like what your story was. The cab driver was a recurring character in it. That was a question I could answer that you would actually maybe take my advice seriously.
And, of course, you did take my advice and not Craig’s advice.
Isaac: I did. Yeah. It’s true.
John: And went to NYU.
Craig: Which worked out.
Isaac: It did.
Craig: I mean, although, in my defense—
Isaac: Who knows what would have happened?
Craig: Correct. I mean, no offense to Elizabeth—
Craig: He could currently be everything.
John: Because you’re doing OK.
Elizabeth: There is room for improvement.
Isaac: I haven’t created a franchise yet.
Craig: I think the good news is the worse of his outcomes has been pretty good. But I was at least honest about the fact that I really didn’t know how to answer your question. And so I sent him off to Howard Rodman who obviously blew it.
John: Did you end up talking to Howard Rodman?
Isaac: I don’t remember. I don’t know if he ever reached out. I do remember it was a little trickier, because I had actually – I had applied to NYU early so I had already signed a contract and committed and then I found out I got into USC. So there was this whole like I would have to break that. There was a whole legal situation to it, too. But I don’t remember if Howard reached out.
John: All right. So, what I’m so excited to have you guys on the show for today is to talk about writing as partners, to talk about writing film and TV, and to your role in terms of running a show and what that is like now because this is all stuff that Craig and I don’t know a ton about. So, this is – it’s great to have people on who know more about what the kinds of things that writers are actually facing. So let’s start back to NYU. So you wrote this letter. You decided to go to NYU because you got good advice from me.
John: How far in this process did you meet Elizabeth?
Isaac: Oh, I think we met pretty much on day one, right?
Elizabeth: Yeah. We were both in – we were dramatic writing majors, which is a concentration in screenwriting, television writing, and playwriting. And we were both in sort of the core class that you have to take which is called The Craft of Dramatic Writing. And we met on day one.
Isaac: Yeah. We became – in those classes you have to read your work out loud and people critique it. So we knew we liked each other’s just sort of general sensibility. We became friends. And then towards the end of school we became roommates with another guy in the East Village. And we decided to write a pilot together about sort of that 20-something pilot or movie that everyone kind of has to get out of their system.
Isaac: So we wrote that and got a little $10,000 grant from NYU to actually produce it in the apartment we were living in with this very generous third roommate who let us take over. And we didn’t kind of kill each other through that experience of making a show in our home in this tiny little place. So we decided to move out here and give it a go professionally.
John: Great. So NYU was undergrad, right?
John: So it was undergrad so basically you’re 18 years old, you’re in NYC, you’re going through this film program together. You’re also doing all your other college requirement classes. You’re roommates. You shoot this little pilot. How soon after graduation did you move from NYC out to Los Angeles?
Elizabeth: Pretty soon. Isaac went pretty much immediately. And I think – thank goodness he did because he sort of – I would have probably dragged my feet longer otherwise. Isaac went. He found an apartment. He found me an apartment in the same apartment complex. And then he was sort of like, OK, I mean, you can tell from his letter who you’re dealing with. And then he basically was like I’ve got everything set up. Are you coming? And then I followed.
Craig: I think that’s wonderful. And I think that every time I hear these stories about two people that meet each other in a writing class and then you hear her writing and she hears your writing. And then I hear these other stories of like he goes out and he does the thing. In my mind I’m already working on the psychological profile. What safety and comfort does she bring you and what safety and comfort do you bring her? Because it’s so scary to do these things, to move to LA, to write at all. I mean, John and I, we just like being scared alone. But there’s something that you guys do for each other. And it was like there from the start which I think is amazing.
Elizabeth: For sure. And I will say even that first day at NYU, like we are all sort of gathering as freshmen. And Isaac is the one person in a buttoned down shirt and like slacks. And I was like who is this guy. And I think there was–
Craig: Who’s this nerd?
Elizabeth: No, who is this grown up amongst us?
Craig: He’s clearly disinterested in fashion.
Elizabeth: From the beginning I could tell that he had a plan. And that was something that was very helpful for me who loved writing but wasn’t necessarily thinking about what’s the most pragmatic way to go about this.
Craig: Right. And so he brings the plan and you do all the writing?
Elizabeth: I do all the writing. He’s never written anything.
Craig: He’s kind of more your agent really is the deal.
Elizabeth: No, Isaac does a lot of writing, too.
John: So a very classic thing has happened here which people are always writing into us about. Basically when should I move to Los Angeles? And you decided to move to Los Angeles right after you finished film school. You had a couple things written together. What was done before you got out here?
Isaac: We had written two pilots together. Back then they were like really big on writing a spec of an existing show. They were like you have to write – that was all we did at NYU for such a high amount of money. So we had a 30 Rock spec that we wrote together.
Elizabeth: But that was when we came out.
Isaac: Oh, we wrote that when we first came out, yeah. And then Elizabeth had a job writing celebrity gossip that she took with her from New York and I got a job working for this movie producer named Robert Cort who produced like all the movies that we grew up, like he had 40 or 50 credits in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Like his lobby is insane.
Craig: Bob Cort.
Isaac: Exactly. And so I was his assistant at a very small company, just a couple other people, and he found out that I was a writer and was very generous and said “I want to do more young comedy. Come in and pitch me whatever you’re working on.”
Craig: I love that you called exploitative generous.
Isaac: Hey, at the time—
Elizabeth: He was amazing for us.
Craig: Listen, you move out to LA and you’re like, “Exploit me. Would somebody please exploit me?”
Elizabeth: You’re like, “You want to do anything with me?” Yeah.
Isaac: Somebody who has actually made something? So we were writing our first movie at the time. We came and pitched that to him, which was this movie called Lauren Pemberton is No Longer in a Relationship. And it was right when Facebook was just sort of becoming a huge thing. And it was that notion of like what happens when that girl you’ve been in love with forever finally becomes single. And then all of these guys come out of the woodwork in the Something About Mary kind of way and pursue her.
Craig: Oh, that’s smart. I like that.
Isaac: So we developed that with him for like eight or nine months while I was on his desk rolling his calls and stuff. And then he was cool and sent it out and we got signed off of that. So it was pretty – we were fortunate. It was pretty fast.
Elizabeth: We were very lucky.
John: All right, we got to connect more dots here. So you wrote this 30 Rock spec. What was the premise of your 30 Rock? What was the A story? What was the B story?
Isaac: Oh man.
Elizabeth: Oh my god.
Isaac: It was called Traliz Jormon. And the premise was that in the cold open Liz Lemon and Tracy are accidentally photographed hugging. And then the paparazzi assume they started dating. And it’s very good for the ratings of the show. So Alec Baldwin forces them to continue this charade and hilarity ensues.
Craig: That sounds about right.
John: A very good premise for that episode. So you write this spec of 30 Rock. What else were you writing while you were developing this pitch for Bob Cort? Would we even call it a pitch?
Elizabeth: No, we were writing a movie.
Isaac: We wrote it on spec. We were just writing a movie.
John: So you wrote the movie on spec.
Isaac: We wrote that pilot about prostitutes in a department store, right? That was not good.
Elizabeth: I don’t know. But, yeah, we were mostly focused on Lauren Pemberton.
Craig: You do know. You know.
Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s very vague in my mind. No, we were writing the movie and Robert was amazing. He was really giving us development lessons. He was really pushing it forward and it really – it took more time because we were learning a lot while we were doing it.
Craig: And you guys were – we’re talking 22?
Isaac: I was 20.
Craig: 20, OK.
John: So you went to college early?
Isaac: I graduated a little early. And then moved out here.
Craig: Did you skip a grade?
Isaac: In a high school I did, yeah.
Craig: Yeah, he skipped.
Isaac: But I moved out here and I couldn’t get into bars to go to those assistant mixer things. I would like talk to the bouncer, and I was like “I’m running out of money. Please, I’ll have a ginger ale. I’ve just got to go in there and talk to someone.” And eventually it worked.
Craig: Just by time elapsing you got to 21 and then–
Isaac: Yeah. And then I was allowed to drink legally so it was all fine.
Elizabeth: I was like his older companion that would travel with him.
Isaac: Elizabeth was 42 at the time.
Elizabeth: No, I am two years older than Isaac.
Craig: I’m always fascinated to hear these stories about that particular time when people come out here because it just reminds me of when it was me. And it was the same thing. I had just turned 21. Got in my car, drove out here. And everything that happens to you is so vivid. And even now it is still so vivid to me the people you meet, the meetings you had, and the fact that you were late for one. And I still think about it. Getting lost in the Paramount lot, trying to find parking.
Isaac: Yeah. All the time.
Craig: Everything that happens to you in the first year is so vivid and so panicky.
Craig: And sweaty, and terrible, and wonderful. And I just love the – did you have the, because you went to–
John: Oh, absolutely.
Craig: I only ask if it’s different for you because you were here at USC. So there was kind of already a little bit of a connection.
John: There was a little bit more structure around you, but it was still the random people you’d meet out at drinks became important, or not important, or the sense that like, “Oh, that person who I just met now has a giant TV show. And they were just like – I was buying them a drink last week.”
Craig: I know. And then you start to analyze. You’re constantly analyzing. OK, what did they do? How did they do it? Why didn’t it happen for me? What’s going on? What do I do? What am I missing? All this thinking, right?
Then, I’m just jumping ahead a little bit. We’ll get back to it. Then you guys end up where you guys are now and you go, “All of that wasted thinking.”
Elizabeth: Yeah. The anxiety.
Isaac: I know.
Craig: Because none of it was really important at all.
Isaac: But it’s so important at the time. Every meeting is so important.
Craig: Every choice you make. Everything you wear. Everything you say. Everything you do, where you go.
Isaac: It’s exhausting.
Craig: It’s exhausting. I know, I love it.
John: So, you write this script. So Bob Cort is going to be producing this thing. It goes to representatives first, or it goes out on the town? What was the process for that?
Elizabeth: Reps first.
Isaac: Managers first, yeah.
John: So you sign a manager off of that, and then an agent? Or what was the process?
Isaac: Yeah. We signed with our manager who is still is our manager to this day, Aaron Brown, who was at Industry Entertainment at the time. And that was like December of 2009, I want to say. And then first thing in the New Year they sent it out to agents and we took meetings, because they wanted us to have a team before they sent it out as a spec. So then we signed with Verve, who was a brand new agency at the time.
Isaac: Then they sent it out really wide and everybody had really high hopes for it. And we were like, “Oh my god, this is incredible.”
Elizabeth: “We’re huge writers.”
Isaac: We did it! And it did not sell, of course. But what did happen is we took a ton of generals off of it. They did a great job getting every single person to read that script. And it had enough kind of heat that everybody talked about it. And so we were able just to go out and meet so many people.
Craig: That does actually take the sting away. I mean, there’s certain outcomes in this business are final outcomes. A movie opens, it bombs, final outcome. Wah-wah. But those things, I’m sure it was kind of a rough weekend maybe, you know, but then suddenly you have these meetings. People are like, “I loved it. I loved it. I love what you guys do. I love your writing.” They start telling you what you do well, whether they’re right or not.
And then jobs occur. I assume jobs occurred?
Elizabeth: Yeah, and it’s healthy psychologically too, because even though you’re not making any money, you’re at least like I’m in the industry. I’m going to meetings. I’m talking to people. And it makes you feel like you’re on your way to something as opposed to just waiting around.
Craig: So a little pro tip for people that are looking to exploit young people arriving in Hollywood, it’s validity that we are so desperate for more than anything. We want validation. We’re so, so desperate for it. And there is an entire psychological maelstrom that is going on in our heads during that time. So it was good that you guys got that. It kind of got you back on the horse.
Craig: And then jobs.
Isaac: And then jobs.
John: So I was in the same situation with Go. So like Go went out and everyone read and is like, “This is fantastic. We’ll never make this movie. But write us something that’s like this but that we can actually make.” And so you were getting – I suspect you went into a lot of meetings where it was like the water bottle tour of Los Angeles and you’re chatting about stuff, they like your thing, and they pull out this little card that has all the projects that they’re looking to make.
John: And then you go back in and you try to pitch on one of those. Was that the next step for you?
Isaac: Yeah. We made so many mistakes.
Elizabeth: Because you just want to be working, so you’re just like “I’ll do that one, and I’ll do that one, and I’ll do that one,” and you’re not really thinking it through very carefully. And it’s something that we had to learn was don’t say yes to everything. Like even if it feels like that will move things faster, it actually moves things slower because you end up committing to a bunch of stuff that is sort of half-baked and that you’re not that passionate about.
John: What was the first thing you were paid to write?
Isaac: The first thing we were paid to write. We were only really pursuing feature stuff, but through the director David Dobkin, because we had sent him Pemberton to direct, he had a pilot that Neustadter and Weber wrote called Friends with Benefits that went to series on NBC. So we weren’t like formally staffing but Jeff Kleeman, who was Dobkin’s exec at the time, really liked our writing and said you guys should come to the show. You’d be great for the show.
So Ira Ungerleider, who was the showrunner, met us. And it was our first ever staffing meeting, because that wasn’t what we were doing. We were so scared. We were terrified. And he tried to intimidate us a little to see if we could handle a writer’s room. And we got that job. So that was in the spring of 2010. And that was our first – that was our Writers Guild job.
Craig: So Kleeman is responsible for this.
Isaac: Kleeman, yeah.
Craig: That guy is great.
Isaac: He is. He’s the best.
Elizabeth: Yeah. We love him.
Craig: Does he still run the Ellen DeGeneres Company?
Isaac: I believe so.
Craig: I love that guy.
John: Great. So suddenly you’re staffed on a TV show in its first season, correct?
John: And it ran 13 episodes?
Isaac: 13 episodes.
John: Great. So you’re figuring out how to write a half hour. You’re figuring out how to put all that stuff together. And that was a single-camera half hour, correct?
John: So it was still within the realm of experience of what you’d actually written before. So it was like your script probably.
Isaac: But it was still scary.
Elizabeth: But the experience of being in a room was so different and so terrifying. And we were with real seasoned veterans. I don’t think either of us said a word for about 14 days. And finally Ira called us into his office and was like “You guys deserve to be here. I need you start speaking.”
And then we were like, “OK, OK, OK.” And then we came back the next day and we started to talk.
Craig: And then you started speaking. And I bet everybody was like, “Wait, where did these two come from?” Well, because that’s kind of the way it works. I remember definitely being intimidated by everybody that had done the job before because they all seemed very relaxed. And I was not relaxed ever.
Craig: And over time I started to realize that a lot of them really it’s just that they were relaxed. They actually didn’t have anything else of value to offer. They were just super comfortable sitting. And then I thought, you know what, I think I can do this. I think I can write. I just need to be relaxed now. And then I got it made. So I just had to work on relaxing my body.
John: Can we talk about some finances during this early period because–
Craig: Do you have receipts?
Isaac: Are you going to audit us?
John: Absolutely. So you guys had moved out here straight from college. Obviously your expectations of living standards were low because you had just come out from college. So you guys are living separately in the same building. You’re making kind of no money, and then when you start working you’re splitting a salary. Was it lean those first– ?
Elizabeth: Oh yes. Yes. Isaac found me an apartment that I couldn’t quite afford, which was a one-bedroom apartment which had like a living area and the bedroom off of it. And we were like, well now I need a roommate, but I don’t have another bedroom. So we found the one person in Los Angeles, this lovely girl named Sara Randazzo who was like, “That’s OK. I’ll live here and I’ll build a wall out of bookcases.” So I basically had this girl living behind shelves with me.
Isaac: It was so dangerous.
Craig: In earthquake country.
Isaac: Yeah. Like nine-foot-tall IKEA Billy Bookcases that were not secured in any way to the wall. Just like waiting to go down on her.
Elizabeth: And then I had my freelance gossip job, which I actually could just pay my rent with, which was good once I was splitting it with Sara. But we did not have a lot of – when you were saying that you remember things so vividly, it’s those meals that we would eat are so clear in my mind like with what we would have.
Craig: What was your go to?
Elizabeth: The two of us combined. I just remember a night of broccoli with breadcrumbs.
Isaac: And marinara. Every night. Frozen Trader Joe’s.
Elizabeth: Frozen pudding.
Isaac: What’s frozen pudding?
Elizabeth: I feel like Isaac is pretending he doesn’t know what this is.
Craig: There’s frozen pudding?
Elizabeth: OK, I think it was pudding and then berries that were–
Isaac: Frozen berries that you microwave on pudding. Yeah, yeah.
Elizabeth: I’m sorry.
Craig: Because they don’t really sell frozen pudding. By the way, they should.
Isaac: That sounds delicious.
John: Well, there’s pudding pops.
Craig: Yeah. But we can’t talk about pudding pops anymore.
Elizabeth: No, it was just pudding and frozen berries.
Craig: I remember when I first moved out here I got an apartment in North Hollywood, near the high school, and this is in 1992 when it was bad. Like a guy literally was murdered outside my window. I’m not joking. Like they knocked on my door in the morning. “Did you hear the murder?” And I’m like I didn’t hear the murder. What happened? There was a murder?
And so I had a friend of mine from college who was sharing the apartment with me. And he was Korean-American. He had Korean relatives. And they would just give us this huge industrial shipping crate full of ramen. And that’s what we just – [name of ramen]. That’s what it was. It was like, oh, it was the best. Like five days in a row, awesome. Day six, you’re like, oh man, no.
And where was this apartment building?
Isaac: Now it’s really cool. Back then it was East Hollywood adjacent. Now it’s where Sqirl is and all those cool places on Virgil.
Craig: This is how it goes.
Isaac: Nothing was there when we were there.
Craig: But you know, like in New York, too, I mean, it’s insane.
Elizabeth: Oh yeah, how different, yeah.
Elizabeth: Crazy. Even when we lived in New York, we were on 6th Street between—
Isaac: Fifth and B.
Craig: Oh, Alphabet City.
Elizabeth: And it was just starting to be an OK neighborhood when we were there.
Craig: Because when I was a kid you literally couldn’t – Rent – the whole point was like we can live in a building here and light barrels on fire. Like, no you can’t, not anymore.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Now it’s so fancy. Now it’s so trendy.
Isaac: When we were there a guy died on a bench outside of our building. It was still like that a little.
Craig: Death bench.
Isaac: Yeah, death bench. It’s still there.
Craig: It’s still there. Sorry John.
John: No, so you guys were going through – you were working on this show, you were splitting a salary. So I just want to make sure everyone is clear that you guys were splitting one writer’s income. You were paying a manager and an agent and a lawyer.
Isaac: And a lawyer.
Craig: That’s 25% right there.
Isaac: I mean, you can look it up. Back then it was like $3,500 a week minus 25%, split. And it’s for 20 weeks, because it’s a 13-episode show.
Craig: And then taxes.
Isaac: And then taxes. And you have to pay your Writers Guild initiation which is a lot.
Craig: And they found you for that one, didn’t they?
Isaac: Oh, they find you right away.
Elizabeth: I feel like you have to pay it before you start getting paid.
Isaac: Before you get health insurance.
Elizabeth: You have to pay it so quickly.
Craig: You do. I mean, that was the first thing – that’s how I knew for sure that I’d been hired was that Corinne Tippin from the Writers Guild called me.
Isaac: I know. And they keep calling and calling. One guy, another staff writer on our show who was also new was like dodging it, like dodging the draft. He was determined not to – he was going to go to Canada and cut off a finger.
Craig: They will garnish your wages.
John: They will find you. So, these 13 weeks pass. That show only went one season, correct?
John: And so what happens next? Do you immediately start trying to staff for another show? Were you guys writing a feature?
Isaac: So by that point we had met Dan Fogelman who we share a manager with. He was on the set of Crazy Stupid Love and had a lot of downtime and was looking to read new writers. So our mutual manager sent him that script, Lauren Pemberton, and he really liked it. And so we met up for a drink and he was like, we hit it off, and he said, “I would love to produce your next thing.”
So we started developing a movie that we were going to send to him to produce, and simultaneously we saw on Deadline an article about an MTV show called I Just Want My Pants Back that we thought sounded very cool. And we were both desperate to go back to New York at that point. It was filming in Brooklyn.
We went to our representatives and said we want to go up for this cable show. And they were like, you’re crazy, you’re getting off of an NBC show. It was different.
Elizabeth: Yeah, now there’s no stigma like that. But back then–
Craig: But then still it mattered.
Isaac: They were like, no, you’re on a network show. You stay in network.
Craig: Because streaming hadn’t muddled anything.
Isaac: Right. It wasn’t a thing yet. So there was this clear definition. But we really pushed them on it and we said it’s Doug Liman and we want to work with him. We believe in the show. And we got that job. And so then we packed up, after being here not that long, and moved back to New York to do that.
John: I never saw the show, but I can imagine a show produced by Doug Liman was chaotic.
Isaac: It was so chaotic.
Elizabeth: It was chaotic, but it was amazing for us because they kept Isaac and I on. We wrote all of those first and then they shot the show. And they kept us along with the showrunner to be sort of the onset presences. And it was so – it was all on location throughout Brooklyn with Doug grabbing the camera on the fly and sort of running around filming. And for us it was just like this incredible crash course in production.
John: That was probably the best part of it. Because doing a normal 13-episode show, there’s a whole bunch of people whose job it is to do that stuff. And with a Doug Liman production, I can tell you that your job is to do all the stuff – pick up all the pieces that fell on the floor.
John: In the best possible way. So that was probably as much film school as your NYU experience was.
Isaac: Yeah. The budget on the show was so low, so we would film two units simultaneously. So the showrunner, David Rosen, would go with kind of the main whatever bigger scene was happening. But then we would be left with this whole unit and we had never been on a set before. We didn’t know what we were doing.
And one night we were with Doug. He’s friends with so many people. He had convinced them to turn off the power. We were doing a blackout episode. So we turned off the power in a big chunk of Greenpoint. And I was alone with Doug. I was like 22 or 23. And trying to give him a note on a scene in the pitch black. And he doesn’t want to hear it from this dumb kid. And I’m like how am I being entrusted with this right now.
John: That’s great.
Craig: That’s kind of how it works. No one really can prepare you for these moments because they just happen. And when they happen, honestly, I do believe those are the moments where people either stay or go. I really believe it. That at some point the school is over and the safety is over. And then something happens and you are put in a crucible. And I remember my crucible like that was – I was working for this ad agency. It was before I wrote any scripts or anything. And this is when networks used to do fall campaigns. And I was 22. And my job was to write every single thing that every single CBS primetime
star was going to say. And then I had to go into all of their trailers and convince them. They didn’t want to be there. They didn’t want to do it. They were forced.
Had to convince them to do it. Rewrite it if it needed to be. Do it all day. And I’m talking like Candice Bergen, William Shatner, Dick Van Dyke – William Shatner was, no shock, the weirdest one. Angela Lansbury. The best.
Isaac: That’s a good one.
Craig: She was the greatest. I learned a lot. I learned so much. And that was I think a day where when it was over I’m like, wait, they let me do that?
Craig: That’s insane. I love that you guys just jumped in like that and did it. It was so smart of you to not stay safe.
Elizabeth: Uh, yeah. You kind of have no choice in those moments. But, yeah, for us it was the best time. It was like film school, except on the streets of NYC making this little show.
Craig: I love it.
Elizabeth: It was cool.
John: So it was a phenomenal hit and of course got like 19 seasons.
Elizabeth: [laughs] Oh yeah.
Craig: Once again, the show killers.
Elizabeth: We brought our magic touch.
Isaac: Just did our 12 and out. Yeah.
Craig: You guys are ratings round-ups.
John: You guys were able to come back to Los Angeles, and were you on another show after that? What was the next step for you?
Isaac: So we had a good experience with MTV, so they wanted to keep us in the fold. So they had a couple new shows at the time and we wound up going on this show called Zack Stone is Gonna Be Famous, this little whiz kid Bo Burnham who was a YouTube star/comedian. He’s so talented.
Craig: Really funny guy.
Isaac: Created – he’s a genius. And so we did that for – that was really short. That was like a few months.
Elizabeth: It was really short.
Isaac: Which was a ton of fun.
Craig: And you guys killed that show.
Elizabeth: We killed that. Quickly.
Isaac: Killed that show. Brought that one down. Three shows in under two years we killed.
Craig: You guys did what you do.
Elizabeth: Yeah, we brought our little touch.
Isaac: Sprinkled our death dust all over it.
Craig: By the way, I mean, there is kind of a point though that unlike directing, and I think acting to this, writing – there is – it’s not the show succeeding… – I mean, hits are hits, and they’re wonderful for you, obviously. But you don’t die because the show dies. If you work and you’re responsible and you do good work, they kind of just keep the writers going.
Craig: Which I think is great.
John: So you’re plowing through, killing shows.
Isaac: Just taking them down.
John: At what point are you back in Los Angeles full-time working?
Elizabeth: That was back in LA. So we did Zack Stone. And then after Zack Stone, Dan Fogelman created The Neighbors, this alien sitcom on ABC.
Craig: Which you killed.
Elizabeth: We did two seasons on The Neighbors.
Elizabeth: That was huge for us.
Isaac: Kept that one on life support for a while.
Elizabeth: So that was a lot of fun.
Craig: But that show ultimately could not withstand your participation.
Isaac: Dan elevated it enough that he squeaked out two years as we tried to bring it down.
John: Can we talk through your credits, basically what you’re credited onscreen for these things, because it seems odd – so you started in on this first show as staff writers?
Elizabeth: Staff writers.
John: And then for I Just Want My Pants Back, were you still staff writers? Or what was your credit?
Isaac: We were still staff writers.
John: Even though you were basically–
Isaac: That’s the hardest bump to get.
Elizabeth: Yes. It’s a hard bump. And also there were only like four writers on that show. And they were looking for staff writers. That was the only position we went up for.
Isaac: What we did get, pro tip for anyone who is listening, for young writers: we were able to negotiate script fees, which is a thing I don’t think people know to ask for. But if you’ve been a staff writer and you’re returning and you’re willing to not take the bump, they’ll sometimes give you script fees, which is a big deal.
John: So as a staff writer on a TV series, their staff writer salary that they’re paying you normally would include one or two script fees?
Isaac: It’s however many you write until it exceeds what you’ve been paid as a staff writer.
John: So essentially you have to be paid scale for the script you’re writing unless the salary they’ve already paid you would be more than that scale.
Isaac: So, for example, on Friends with Benefits, we wrote three episodes of the show. But that did not exceed our total pay, so those were totally free scripts. Whereas another writer would have gotten $25,000 to $30,000 for those.
John: So getting paid your actual script fee on top of your staff writer salary is a great thing to negotiate.
Isaac: It’s a big deal. It really helps.
Craig: Fresh cash as we call it in Hollywood. Fresh cash.
John: Talking up through the hierarchy of titles for television, so you start as a staff writer. You got bumped up to story editor at some point? Or you skipped over that step?
Elizabeth: We skipped that. On Zack Stone we were Executive Story Editors.
John: Fancy ESE.
Elizabeth: It was huge.
Isaac: That’s the weirdest title in all of Hollywood.
Elizabeth: All of them are sort of bizarre.
Isaac: Executive Story Editor.
John: Does that actually mean anything different? Or that was just a different title?
John: OK. A lot of people will go from Story Editor to just Producer.
Isaac: It goes Co-Producer. There’s so many of them. Co-Producer. Producer. Supervising Producer. Co-Executive Producer. Executive Producer. And then Consulting Producer is this wild card title that nobody understands.
John: Consulting Producer is often a person who was an experienced producer from some other show who is being helicoptered in to do a little bit of work on something.
Elizabeth: Right. Exactly.
John: All right. So, quickly can you talk us through some of the other shows you worked on to get up to where you are now?
Isaac: Yeah. So we did two years on The Neighbors with Fogelman, then we jumped over to – we wanted to work with Jason Katims. We were big fans. And he had About a Boy. So we jumped on to that for the second season of the show. And then after that we talk an overall deal to work at 20th and that landed us on Grandfathered, which was the John Stamos sitcom, which was a lot of fun. That Fogelman also produced.
And then from that, This is Us came along. And we jumped over to drama.
John: Great. So Fogelman, Katims, you’re sort of bouncing back and forth between the two of these sort of showrunner-y producers. At what point were you not just the folks brought in to sort of help along?
At what point were you more sort of fundamentally involved in the overall direction of a first season? Does that make sense?
Isaac: Yeah. I mean, I think we’ve been really lucky where most of the showrunners we’ve worked for were real mentors, starting with Ira. He was on the original Friends when he was very young. So he took a real interest in us and would let us sit in on notes calls. And he would send us off to go try to write a draft without a lot of help just to like push us.
And then Dan was the same way. He really sort of helped grow us and gave us a lot of scripts to write. Would send us to set and send us into editing by ourselves, sort of giving us increasing responsibility, both I think because he’s awesome and was a mentor, and also because I do think at a certain point we showed we could do it and it would make his life easier.
Craig: Let me just give you a little insight into this. Dan is a great guy. So I’m not denying that he was being generous and mentoring. However, to have people you can rely on, I mean, if I can say, “OK, I have 14 million things to do today, I am petrified. There’s no one I can trust – oh, no wait, I’ve got Elizabeth. I’ve got Isaac. Hey, you guys, I have a great opportunity for you.”
I mean, it is the most rare and precious thing. This is how you get ahead. How do you get ahead in Hollywood? By being someone that other people can rely on in their moment of need. And every moment that they have is a moment of need.
Elizabeth: It’s really true. And we see it now as showrunners. Like if you have that person that you’re like please rewrite this scene for me while we go into editing and it can be done when you get out, it’s the best. It’s like a hug. It’s like really the best feeling ever.
John: To what degree are you guys together as one brain – to what degree can you guys split apart and just do your own separate things? Because that’s a real challenge with writing partners is the degree to which “Are they one person or are they two people that can be used?”
Elizabeth: In television, we were pretty much together all the time until we became showrunners of This is Us. And then it’s just too massive for it to be possible. So it was actually pretty new for us to be like, “OK, you rewrite this script, I’ll be in editing. I’ll see you in four hours.” But it’s just sort of the nature of the show.
Isaac: Yeah. We kind of had to rethink the whole way we work together. Because now it’s like we come in a little early, we have a morning meeting and make a plan for the day, and then usually we go off and don’t even necessarily see each other until dinner.
Isaac: It’s sad.
Elizabeth: But not all the time. I mean, there will be moments where we’ll both have four hours in the writer’s room and that’s fantastic. But just when it gets crazy.
Craig: See, the more successful you get, the less time you have to do your job.
Craig: And do it the way you like doing it.
Craig: It’s really frustrating.
Isaac: There’s so many emails.
Craig: There’s so many emails.
Isaac: There’s so many. You could do email all day.
Craig: Listen, this is my first deal with it now because of this miniseries. Every morning when I’m here, because they’re all in Europe. Every morning I wake up and there’s 40 emails about – and it’s not about any of the things I’m used to talking about, like writing. It’s all like “This wig, is this OK, and this person has decided to move this scout to this…”
It’s a lot.
Elizabeth: It’s a lot.
Craig: So much. So it’s good that you have two of you.
Elizabeth: I know. And Isaac does those well. Thank god.
Craig: Well, yes, it’s Isaac, it’s you, it’s Dan. So maybe I’ll just take one of them.
John: Pull one away.
Isaac: It really is a multi-person job.
John: What happens when you guys don’t agree?
Isaac: It happens, but it’s not that prominent.
Elizabeth: It’s pretty rare. I mean, it would only be related to a script and then we can usually compromise.
Isaac: Usually if it’s like we really – it’s whoever is more passionate wins, it tends to be. Like, if Elizabeth feels really strongly about something and I feel sort of strongly, she’s probably right because she cares about this particular point more. That’s usually how it goes.
Elizabeth: Yeah. But we don’t have disagreements on like this is the correct way to have a meeting or anything like that. It’s always like very nuanced debates that then, like Isaac said, one person will be like, “All right, you seem to care about this.”
John: Now, with This is Us you’ve not managed to kill the show yet. It’s actually incredibly successful.
Elizabeth: We’ve been trying. [laughs]
John: So can you talk us through the development of an episode of This is Us? And so let’s say it’s not the first episode of the season but episode three. What does that look like? What is the process of going from, “OK, this is the blue sky sense of this is what’s going to happen in this episode” to the room, the board, the outline, the writing of the episode? Like what is that process of figuring out episode three of the show?
Elizabeth: Sure. Well, we break everything as a group. So we would say, all right, this is episode three. We know generally where we’re going in the season by the time we’re up to sort of doing one at a time. And then we just figure it out really as a room for a few days. And sort of slowly start putting down scene by scene what everything is going to be until one writer is ready to go off and do it.
John: Are you doing act breaks first? What is the process for This is Us?
Isaac: No, on This is Us, it’s weird, the act breaks are not that important. There’s so many stories and an episode is so tricky that a lot of times we completely restructure the episode in post. So we really – we keep the stories all pretty separate and break them and then blend them together. And what’s really important on This is Us, because it jumps through so many times, is finding the transitions between scenes when you’re jumping from past to present so it feels cohesive. So those we look for.
And we do break it with acts, of course.
Elizabeth: But we’ll do that later. So we’ll think like, “OK, here are five great Kate beats for our story.” And then once we’ve done that with everyone then we start organizing them and sort of thinking, “OK, this will be an artful way to go from this present day story to this past story.” But that’s sort of next layer.
John: So how you’re moving back and forth between them, that’s still done as the group?
John: On the big board. That’s not the individual writer who is responsible for the script? He or she will come in knowing like this is the plan at least for how we’re going to get between these two stories?
Elizabeth: Exactly. Not that there aren’t occasionally things that are found in a cool way once you’re off. But we try and lock those things down, just because the show is so complicated that the more someone goes off with the more chance they have of being successful.
John: Are both of you in the room while these things are happening? Who is responsible for that whole process? And how many writers are in the room as you’re going through this big thing on the board?
Isaac: There’s ten writers.
John: That’s a huge show.
Isaac: Yeah, it is. Because it gets small so fast, because once you get into production someone is always on set, someone is always in prep, someone is always writing. And all of a sudden your ten writers, it’s like “Who works here?”
Craig: It’s like three.
Isaac: During preproduction we’re both there because there’s nothing going on. Once it gets up and running it’s usually one of us, because there’s set and editing and content meetings and director meetings and so much going on. And then Dan is very involved in the show, extremely. He’ll come in, you know, he’ll come in and hear every story before it goes off to script. And he’ll give extensive notes. He loves editing. He lives there a lot. So he bounces around. But he’s super involved.
Craig: And then you just kind of together are on this hamster wheel that moves along. I mean, because how many episodes we’re talking?
Isaac: We do 18 a year.
Craig: So it’s like slightly under the traditional massive number of network episodes, but it is still far more than the length, so last week I was talking with Alec Berg on the show. So Alec does Barry, he does Silicon Valley. I think they do eight, maybe ten. Maybe?
Elizabeth: Yeah. We get so jealous when we hear this.
Craig: I know. And it’s like Robert King, because somebody was talking about just how rough it was schedule wise on their show because, I don’t know, the cable network had decided to go from 10 to 12. And he was like, “Oh, did they?”
Isaac: Oh, really, boo-hoo. I know. I love that The Good Wife owned that for their award campaign. They were like we make 22.
Craig: That’s a very Robert thing to say and do. But he’s right. And 18 is a lot. I mean, it’s a lot.
Elizabeth: Yeah. It gets pretty crazy. Because what did we do, we aired 10 in a row this last season. There’s a point where it just becomes you’re just racing against the clock. You’re trying to finish one script and you’re trying to edit something that goes on television in a day.
Craig: It gets a little scary I would think, you know, just that thing of, “Wait, is this good anymore? Because we’re going so fast.” But it’s good that you have each other.
When they talk about – I don’t know if they discuss the economics of all this with you, but it used to be that it was really simple. They would do 22 episodes on network television a season. And the whole point was you did 22 a season. Roughly at the end of the fifth season you had enough to syndicate and everything else after that is – but they don’t really syndicate anything anymore. It’s very hard to rerun shows that are highly serialized like This is Us. So why do you have to do 18 episodes?
Isaac: NBC just wants – that’s the number. They want more. But, yeah, the 100 episode thing is not really relevant anymore. Our show is presold into syndication. Hulu bought it domestically right away. And internationally it’s different places. But the whole model is so different. Because, yeah, like you said, with a show where it’s so serialized, it’s not like you pop on an SVU and it’s contained.
Craig: No, you’ve got to basically binge seasons.
Isaac: So in that sense for the streaming services it’s really valuable because it just keeps you going.
Craig: Yeah. My daughter has definitely started mainlining This is Us. She’s all about it.
John: So while you guys were doing a TV show, you’re very, very busy. So I think you should add features on top of all this. So let’s talk through some feature stuff, because two weeks ago you had Love, Simon come out, which is fantastic. Congratulations. But why do features on top of TV? What’s the motivation?
Elizabeth: I don’t know.
Isaac: We’re crazy.
Elizabeth: No, I think it’s so different to write a movie. You have this space to create and to write. And it just is such different pace. And we really love it that we kind of can’t resist.
Isaac: It’s so nice to write something with an ending also. I mean, network television goes on. You just have to find an engine to keep things going. Just a story that’s two hours and it has a beginning and a middle and an end is so satisfying.
Craig: Yes. That’s why I still like – I just never think about true serialized television because I don’t know what the ending is. I’m just dumb. I need to know how it ends. I don’t know what to do otherwise.
Isaac: Right. I know. I’m so jealous of what you’re doing. I would love to write a miniseries. Like Big Little Lies. Just that whole kind of template is so cool.
Craig: Do it. I mean, do it. You guys can do whatever you want.
Isaac: One day.
John: When you’re not busy. So talk us through Love, Simon. How does Love, Simon come to you? So it’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. This book comes into your orbit. What was the process of getting Love, Simon together?
Elizabeth: Sure. The producers at Temple Hill brought us the book. And we love those guys. We’ve wanted to work with them on something before and it just had never sort of materialized. They brought us the book and we were sort of like, “Oh, we’re really busy in TV. I don’t know if we want to do this.” And then we read it and we loved the book. And we also then learned that there had never been a major studio movie with a gay teen lead like this before.
Craig: I love that they had to learn that. It’s actually a really good sign though.
Isaac: It seemed crazy to me.
Elizabeth: We thought it was nuts.
Craig: When we moved out here if somebody said “You realize there’s never been a gay teen – yeah, no, we realize that. There’s never been gay people onscreen.”
Elizabeth: We were like how could that be true?
Isaac: We didn’t believe it. Yeah.
Elizabeth: But there’s been these amazing smaller movies, but there just hasn’t been this before. And we were just like we want to do that. That feels like that should be done, and we couldn’t resist doing it.
John: All right. So you read the book. You figure out your take on it. It’s a Fox/2000 project. You go in, you say like we’re the ones to do this. How are you stacking this work on top of TV work that you’re doing. Because this was before This is Us, I assume?
Isaac: Yes. We were on Grandfathered at the time. And it worked out nicely. We were a little bit on the show when we started writing it, but what’s so great about network TV is it does move so fast that you have a few months off. You have a hiatus. You’re killing yourself for eight or nine, 10 on This is US, months of the year, and then you have a couple months to do other stuff. So we wrote that on hiatus from Grandfathered before we went onto This is Us.
I mean, we’ve written a bunch of assignments, and this one was so just charmed. Elizabeth Gabler and Erin Siminoff at 2000 got it. They wanted to make the movie right away before anyone was involved. They said we’re going to shoot this in the spring. Let’s get a director and just do it.
Craig: See, it’s one of those movies you can’t stop.
Elizabeth: We’ve never had anything like that.
Craig: And you won’t again, by the way.
Elizabeth: We don’t think so.
Craig: I’m serious. But when it happens, it’s crazy. It’s amazing. And not always, by the way, does it mean that the movie is going to be any good, so in this case like everything lines up. That’s fantastic. Are you now sort of tempted to – well, I don’t want to get you in trouble or anything, but it’s fun writing movies isn’t it?
John: You guys are doing another Temple Hill thing which I don’t know if it’s announced yet.
Isaac: We’re doing John Green’s new book, Turtles All the Way Down with them and 2000, because we just had such a good experience.
Craig: Keeping the band together. I love that.
Isaac: Keeping the band together. And we’re trying to find something else with Greg Berlanti who was phenomenal.
John: That’s great.
John: Turtles is going to be a really tough adaptation. I don’t know where you guys are at in it, but I read that over the Christmas break. And it’s just delightful writing but it’s so incredibly internal to her experience. And so good luck externalizing some of that stuff.
Isaac: Thank you. We just started.
Elizabeth: Thank you. That is obviously the biggest challenge of it is it’s such a beautiful book, and how do you take a thought disorder essentially and make it cinematic. So in even thinking about should we do this/can we do this that’s obviously the number one challenge. But we’re excited. We have plans that we hope will go well.
Craig: Here’s what you should not do. I’m obsessed with Dune, David Lynch’s Dune. I just have this thing about it. I love it. And one of the things I love about it is it what you shouldn’t do, but it is fascinating and I talk about it every now and then because I just think it’s so bizarre. When people think things in his movie they do their own voiceover while he’s on their face. So they’re having a discussion, like we’re talking, and then suddenly I’ll stop talking and the camera is still on me and then you will hear me go, “He doesn’t understand.” It’s the craziest decision that’s ever been made in movies and I love it so much. Don’t do that.
Elizabeth: OK. We won’t do it that way.
John: I don’t think that’s going to work for you. The other challenge, and so I’m not trying to make your road more difficult ahead of you, but obviously what you’re going to see here is that the book sets up an expectation that it’s going to be a mystery that’s solved in a classic way and it’s not solved in a classic way at all. So you guys are going to have to do some work that you’re not going to get credit for in a weird way in terms of like honoring our expectations of like what’s supposed to be happening in a movie versus what happens in the book, and because the book is so successful you also have to meet everyone’s expectations about this is what happens in the book.
Craig: He’s telling you to quit.
John: I’m not telling you to quit.
Elizabeth: I think it’s the challenge of an adaptation is how do you preserve what’s so beautiful about a book, but also make it your own in a way that strengthens it for the screen but still preserves what’s incredible.
John: Absolutely. And some of the John Green books have been just remarkably good transitions. Neustadter and Weber did a fantastic job. So just do what they did.
Elizabeth: We’re going to try.
Craig: Do you know those guys by the way?
Isaac: Yeah. We do. Weber sent us a very sweet email like, “Welcome to the John Green adaptation club. Good luck. That’s awesome.”
Craig: They are the best guys.
Isaac: They’re the best.
Elizabeth: They’re the best. It’s actually, it’s kind of a funny story. But when Fault in our Stars first came out, Isaac and I read it. And we were like, “Oh my god, we love this so much. We would love to write this so much.” And we kind of knew, but we didn’t have all the information that they were talking to other people. And they were kind of far along. We didn’t know how far along they were. We wrote 20 pages of The Fault in our Stars.
Isaac: In one night.
Elizabeth: Because we were going in to meet with Temple Hill. So we were like what else do we have, we have to try. And we went in and we had our 20 pages. And we meet with Wyck Godfrey and he was like, “Guys, I can’t read that.”
Craig: By the way, good for Wyck.
Isaac: He felt so bad.
Craig: Marty would have absolutely read it.
Elizabeth: Yeah, Marty would have. But he was like heartbroken for us. But he was like, “Guys, we pretty much hired these guys. And even if we hadn’t, it’s illegal for me to read that.”
And we were like, “OK.”
Craig: Yeah. Marty would have had them writing the other 80 pages.
Isaac: I’m like, great, it’s already a quarter done.
Craig: Yeah, keep going.
Elizabeth: But it worked out because obviously those guys did an incredible job, and I think we were so heartbreaking that Temple Hill remembered us and came to us down the line.
Craig: When you have some passion – again, what are people looking for? They’re looking for people that will comfort them. They’re looking for people that they know they can rely on. They’re looking for people with passion. And as it turns out, weirdly enough, I think 90% of the people that are trying to “make it” in this business don’t have that passion, aren’t comforting, aren’t the people you can rely on. If anything they’re here to kind of take.
There’s a lot of people that show up here looking to take, fame and money. And it doesn’t work that way. You guys did it the right way, which is fantastic.
Isaac: Thank you.
John: To circle stuff back around, so 13 years ago you sent through this email. If some kid were to send you that same email right now and write to you—
Elizabeth: No, Isaac answers stuff.
John: What advice would you give him or her about sort of entering the industry now or sort of like what choices to make now because you guys are much closer to this than we were obviously? So, what advice would you give to a young kid applying to one of these film schools or thinking about how to get started in the industry?
Isaac: I actually just got asked this a couple days ago by a kid I used to babysit for who wants to be a writer. What I see so much right now is that people get so caught up with like how do I find an agent, how do I get a job, how do I become an assistant that they don’t leave themselves any time to write. And so they’re great and they wind up in a position where they have all this access and all these people who are rooting for them and would love to read their script and they don’t have the script because all they’ve been doing is networking and getting writers lunch and all that stuff.
So I think you have to find a lifestyle that allows you time to write the thing and also meet the people who will read the thing. Because without both parts of the equation you’re not going to get there.
Craig: So, so true. And I got to tell you, I still don’t really know what networking is. I mean, I know what people describe as networking. I’ve never done it. I don’t know what it is. I didn’t do it when I got out here. I did my job during the day and then I would go home and write.
Isaac: Right. Exactly.
Craig: And other people were networking. But to what end? If you don’t have anything to show?
Isaac: If you don’t have a script no one can help you.
Craig: Congrats on your networking. That’s not a job. Really, your job is going places, having two drinks, and boring people with your talking. Which is, again, a wanting. It’s a need. I’m here to see what you can all do for me.
Craig: And I was always just trying to write things to see what I could do for other people. You guys did it right.
John: Elizabeth, any other advice for that writer who is– ?
Elizabeth: Yes. I mean, tacking on to Isaac, I think it’s write as if someone is waiting for it. I mean, one of the things that was so incredible for us about having a partner is we would set deadlines for each other. And of course they didn’t really matter our deadlines, but we took them so seriously. So if I knew I had ten pages due the next day for Isaac I was staying up late and writing those pages. And he was doing the same.
And I think if you work as if someone is waiting for your work, at a certain point someone will be ready to read it and you just want to be ready for that moment.
John: That’s awesome.
John: All right. It’s come time for our One Cool Things.
Craig: Love these guys.
John: Craig, start us off with your One Cool Thing.
Craig: OK, my One Cool Thing. So, as everybody knows who listens to this podcast I’m a big crossword puzzle guy. There is a collection of crossword puzzles called Queer Qrosswords. I’m going to read their description. It’s a dynamic pack of 22 LGBTQ+ themed crosswords which you can get just by donating $10 or more to a LGBTQ+ charity like the ones listed below, and then they have things like the Trevor Project, and even broader ones like ACLU, and Immigration Equality, and so on and so forth.
I’m a friend of the LGBTQ+ community, but also really mostly I like crosswords. So, I chucked some dough at the ACLU, I got this pack. I’m about halfway through. I do a couple a day now. But there is – I think I’ve talked about Mark Halpin on this podcast before. He’s one of my favorite crossword constructors. And he does this amazing puzzle omnibus meta puzzle madness thing every Labor Day. He has a puzzle in this that is just spectacular. He’s so good at it. It’s really clever. It’s really smart. He’s very good with the meta stuff.
So if you like crossword puzzles, Queer Qrosswords. And this is the annoying part, but we’ll have a link. But it’s Queer and then Crosswords they spelled with a Q. I don’t like that. But it’s QueerQrosswords.com
Isaac: That’s tough.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t like it. That’s the one mistake they made. Otherwise, great pack. And, you know, it’s a good cause. $10 to help some people out.
John: Very nice. My One Cool Thing is taking Twitter off your phone while you’re on vacation. So I went to Japan for two weeks and I deleted Twitter off my phone and it was incredibly helpful. I find that if I have Twitter on my phone those dead moments I’ll just pull up Twitter and I’ll just become outraged. And it also keeps me too connected with my life here. So just deleting it off my phone, I still had it on my iPad so at night I could check Twitter. But it was great. And so I put a little pin at the top saying “Hey I’m going to be slow responding because I took Twitter off my phone.” And it was really good.
So I put Twitter back on my phone now that I’m back in Los Angeles, but I would just say when you take a vacation take a Twitter vacation as well. And it was a really good thing for me to do for these past two weeks, so I really enjoyed it.
John: Do you guys have One Cool Things for us?
Isaac: Do you have a One Cool Thing?
Elizabeth: I have a similarly technology-based one to John’s. I’ve been doing this thing where I’ve told myself I’m not going to be embarrassed to just sit while I wait for someone to show up. Because usually I’m like – I look weird if I’m not on my phone. So even if I don’t want to be on my phone I’m on my phone. But now I’m like, no, I’m going to sit and that’s fine. Like I used to do before I had a cellphone. And you notice the world. Like you notice interactions that you haven’t noticed in a while.
Craig: You also have to figure out what to do with your arms.
Elizabeth: It’s very unnerving. I mean, I hate it right now. I’m still in the process where I’m trying to break myself out of feeling uncomfortable, but I think it’s good. It’s like we used to have those moments to sort of process things and now we don’t do them as much.
Craig: That’s absolutely true.
John: Isaac, do you have a One Cool Thing?
Isaac: Well, related to that. A lot of people already know about this, but Elizabeth introduced me to it. This app called Headspace. It’s a guided meditation app. It is my favorite thing in the world. Do you guys talk about this on the show a lot?
John: These two weeks in place of Twitter I put Headspace in the same spot.
Craig: So this is me, just so you understand, like This is Us, This is Me. I have it. I have not used it. Every day it sends me a reminder. Get some headspace. Now I’m angry at Headspace.
Isaac: It’s making you anxious.
Craig: It’s actually making me anxious and angry.
Isaac: Oh, it’s so great.
John: Isaac, how long have you been doing Headspace?
Isaac: A couple of years now. Every day at lunch usually for 10 minutes. I lock the office door and try to get Elizabeth to do it with me, or she answers emails while I do it. But it’s so accessible. I’m not a meditation guy. I’m not a yoga guy. It’s like these fun cartoons. You get levels up like in a video game. And this guy Andy who invented it just has the best speaking voice I have ever heard.
John: It’s crazy how good it is.
Isaac: And if you’re ever stressed there’s these three minute packs. You just put it on and you just learn how to control your body. It’s great.
John: Yeah. The best metaphor that he sort of has done in these first two weeks I’ve done it is essentially there’s all these cars going by and you just notice the cars but you don’t try to hold on to the cars as they go by. And it’s really that same way with thoughts. That thought just went by and I don’t have to hold onto it. And it really is good for that because, you know, as writers we tend to be so worried about like that – what if that idea gets away from me? And it’s like, nope, just let it go.
Isaac: It’s the best.
Craig: And you’ve been doing it a while and it hasn’t stopped him from writing or anything like that. And he seems pretty well-adjusted.
Craig: He’s pretty well-adjusted? You’re the nervous one?
Elizabeth: Oh, Isaac? Well, the best is when we both – there are those rare times we’re both doing Headspace in our office, lying on the floor, and praying no one walks into the room.
Isaac: Our assistant doesn’t come in and be like, “Oh my god, where do I work?”
Craig: They’re sleeping again. Yeah.
Elizabeth: We’re pretty creepy.
John: Very cool. Guys, thank you so much for coming.
Isaac: Thanks for having us. This was great.
Elizabeth: Thank you so much.
John: Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Travis Newton. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the one Isaac asked.
For short questions, we’re on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust. Are you guys on Twitter? Do you want people to tweet at you?
Elizabeth: Oh yes. I’m @bergernight.
Craig: She’s so proud and not proud.
Isaac: That’s also the name of her company.
Elizabeth: The fact that I have to spell both words doesn’t exactly make it roll off the tongue.
Craig: You miscalculated.
Craig: Berger Night.
John: You can find us spelled quite simply on Apple Podcasts for Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there leave us a comment. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. They go up about four days after the episode airs.
All the back episodes are at Scriptnotes.net. If you want to see things that Isaac and Elizabeth have made, you should watch This is Us, which you guys are about to go back into the room to start writing.
Isaac: Yeah. We’ll be back on September on NBC.
Craig: Yeah, get to work. My daughter demands it.
John: Love, Simon is in theaters right now. What else should they look for you having done?
Isaac: That’s pretty much all we have out this year.
Elizabeth: That’s it for now.
Isaac: Hopefully Turtles All the Way Down will be out in theaters in a couple years.
John: Guys, thank you so much. Bye.
Elizabeth: Thank you.
- Thanks for joining us, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger!
- Love, Simon is in theaters now! Isaac and Elizabeth also run This Is Us on NBC.
- Queer Qrosswords rewards your donation to an LBGTQ+ charity with crossword puzzles.
- Taking Twitter off your phone while you’re on vacation
- Not being on one’s phone while waiting for someone
- Headspace guided meditation app
- The Scriptnotes Listeners’ Guide!
- The USB drives!
- Isaac Aptaker on Twitter
- Elizabeth Berger on Twitter
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Travis Newton (send us yours!)
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here.