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 348 of Scriptnotes.
John: A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
On today’s program it’s another installment of How Would This Be a Movie in which we take a look at news stories our listeners have sent us and try to figure out how we can stick Michael B. Jordan in them.
Craig, you are shooting your show. You’re shooting Chernobyl. How is it going this week?
Craig: It’s going really well. I am very, very pleased. You know, in general I don’t like talking about these things per se. I’ve noticed that the newer generation of screenwriter is very forthcoming with these things. So they’ll send pictures from the set and they’ll talk about their funny experiences that they’re having. I’m not really that guy. I like to sort of go, you know what, I like to deliver a show in a little package, a movie in a little package, and say, “OK, it’s ready to be opened.”
But, that said, it’s been going really, really well. We have this wonderful cast. We’re in some incredible locations. And today, very moving day on set, because as we are recording this it is currently April 26th. So today is the 32nd anniversary of the disaster at Chernobyl. And the explosion which took place at 1:23 in the morning led us to have a moment of silence on set today. Lasted one minute and 23 seconds. It was quite moving and quite beautiful. And just to kind of keep the Chernobyl vibe going, in just about ten days or so I will be at actual Chernobyl, which is sort of a dream come true for me because I’ve been living with it in my mind for years now. So, this is exciting times for young Craig Mazin.
John: I’m very excited for you. So, I can’t wait to hear more stories about how it all comes together and to see the real show. You guys don’t know when the show will come out yet, do you?
Craig: We do. I’m not sure I’m supposed to – I don’t know if we can say that stuff.
John: At some point in the future.
Craig: Let’s put it this way: it will be next year.
John: It’ll be next year. Cool.
Craig: Early next year. Not late next year. Before the middle of next year. How about that?
John: Fantastic. We can be much more specific about dates on our live show. So, on May 22nd we are going to have the next Scriptnotes live show. Craig will be back in town. We will have some special guests who we will announce soon. But tickets are already up for sale. So, this is a benefit for Hollywood Heart, a great organization that helps at-risk youth in Los Angeles. And tickets for it are on sale. It’s going to be May 22nd at the ArcLight, 8pm. So, if you would like to come see us, come see us, because it should be a really good show. This is our annual show that we do for them. And it should be another great event.
Craig: And we’re kind of saying to people that they should buy a ticket on faith at this point, because we’re still working out who is going to be on it. But we don’t disappoint. And honestly, John, I got to feel like you and I are enough.
John: We should be enough of a draw. But, I get why people are curious who the special guests will be. And I’m very eager to announce them once it’s actually official that we can announce who these folks are going to be.
John: Cool. Last week we answered a question about multicam. Matt wrote in to say, “I used to work in multicam, including a couple of Chuck Lorre shows. And what I always heard from the writers about double spacing was that the wider spacing baked in some of the spread time-wise for laughs in the final broadcast. Scripts were ideally delivered at 45 pages or so, double spaced. Above 50 was considered long for a draft. Single cam drafts usually come in much shorter, around 30 pages by comparison.
“Why action lines are capitalized is an answer I’m less sure of, but I believe it’s a holdover from theatre and vaudeville. An interesting and perhaps intended side effect of all caps is that it encourages less action description overall, which is useful since your show’s actors are usually navigating the home sets and maybe one swing set traditionally.”
Craig: That makes sense. There’s less to say because you’re not talking about new places. And there’s only so many things you can do in say the set for – what was the Frasier café? The Café Nervosa? I can’t remember.
John: Yes, yes. Or Central Perk in Friends.
Craig: Exactly. Central Perk. The world’s largest coffee shop in Manhattan. It’s the world’s least busy and largest coffee shop in Manhattan. So that makes total sense. It just seems a little, I don’t know, readably – is readably a word? I don’t know. Legibility? I guess that’s the word. It’s like a lot. Maybe they’ll stop doing it now because really in the age of texting and online communication sitcom scripts, multicam scripts, look like they’re screaming at you. So, I don’t know, maybe they’ll stop doing all caps.
John: Yeah, we’ll see. I think the spacing in terms of giving a sense of overall length and flow, that feels like sort of one of those industry norms that comes up and arises. So we’ve talked about on the show many times that a minute per page as a rule of thumb, it doesn’t really mean that one page of your screenplay is going to be a minute. It just ends up working out to be about that way. So most scripts are between 100 and 120 pages. Most movies are about two hours or less. So, it’s useful. And we can look through a script and see like, OK, this feels long, this feels short. For something like a half hour sitcom, it’s going to have those laughs which are stalling things. Yeah. That could be useful.
Craig: I was talking with our excellent script supervisor, Chris Rouse, today and the topic of timings came up because one thing that script supervisors do in film and television I guess – I’m new to television, so everything is new to me in television – is they do timings where they will essentially estimate based on their guess how long would this screenplay be if you kept everything in it. How long would your episode be? And the point of it is to determine essentially ahead of time “Are we automatically heading into a situation where we’re shooting perhaps too much? Are we heading into a situation where we might be a little short?” which as you recall I think we – or Dan and Dave might have told the story about Game of Thrones. The first season they were short on a whole bunch of episodes and had to go and shoot some additional conversations to kind of fill things out.
Have you ever had that encounter where you’ve kind of gotten an actual, “Hey, guess what your pages work out to be blankety-blank minutes?”
John: Yeah. So on all the movies I’ve had that have gone into production there’s ultimately been that conversation with the script supervisor. And usually she’s talking with the director as well to get a sense of what the plan is for how things are going to feel. Is this going to be a shot-shot-shot-shot quick cutting, or is this going to be long or slow kind of things. But it’s an estimate of how long the actual running time of the movie would be based on your script. And I’ve got to believe it’s crucial in television as well.
Craig: Yeah. For sure. I mean, it’s less crucial in television than it used to be. I mean, television I think was always the one that was most concerned about it because traditionally television had to fit into very severe time blocks because there was a schedule. That’s obviously sort of fallen by the wayside with the exception of the remaining network shows. Movies, you know, it was more like, “Uh, is this a two-hour movie or an hour and a half or what?”
But as it turns out at least for Chernobyl, it seems like I’m kind of in the minute-a-page zone. It just sort of does work out.
John: At some point we will have a conversation about A Quiet Place, which I’m guessing you’ve not seen yet Craig because you’ve been busy doing stuff.
Craig: Well, no, but I think I’m going to catch it this weekend. The only problem is I may want to wait. So, I saw Ready Player One here in Vilnius. And seeing movies here in Vilnius, American movies, is fine. They’re in English, it’s just that they put Lithuanian subtitles on. So, that’s no big deal.
But I heard for A Quiet Place apparently there is a lot of discussion that takes place with sign language. And I guess–
John: Oh, that would be an interesting challenge.
Craig: And so there’s English subtitles. But here I think the subtitles are only in Lithuanian. So I don’t think I should see it here.
John: That would be an interesting challenge. I bring up A Quiet Place just because at some point we will have a discussion about it. And that screenplay looks different in part because there is so little dialogue in the script. The writers made some different choices about showing stuff on the page and using the page to give a sense of how the movie feels. And so we’ll want to have a deeper discussion about that.
Craig: Yes. Yes. But I liked Ready Player One, by the way. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
John: I’m eager to see it. Still haven’t seen it.
Craig: It was nice. It was fun.
John: All right. Our next bit of follow up, so on previous episodes we’ve talked about representation behind the camera. We’ve also talked about how a lot of things seem to be shooting in Atlanta. Jim wrote in. Do you want to take Jim’s email?
Craig: Sure. Jim says, “As you know, the last few years Georgia has skyrocketed in US film production.” Jim says, “I believe we currently number three and headed toward number two. Initially that was simply due to the tax credits, but studio space and supporting industries have exploded as well, so I’m hoping we’ll be in the mix for a long time. Plus, the talent seems to enjoy being in a big city like Atlanta versus Michigan or New Mexico. And we can convincingly portray a number of different environments.
“With all the new production there has been a lack of qualified below-the-line talent.” Just side note, below-the-line talent refers to crew folks that are not actors, writers, directors, producers. “And a couple years ago the Georgia State University system created the Georgia Film Academy to help fill that need. It’s both a degree program as well as a continuing ed opportunity for virtually anyone that wants to get into the industry.
“At nearly 40 I decided to give up my IT job and try to make the leap to film production and the program has been very helpful. They do a great job of onset internships and placement. And I know a bunch of people who now making their living in film. Just anecdotally I can say that the percentage of women and people of color going through the program seems well above the industry average. This has the direct benefit of meaning the average crew here is both younger and much more diverse than I would guess the average LA production is.
“Unfortunately, none of that production has really translated to the writing side. Everything is still done in LA. I’ve heard rumors showrunners would like to establish rooms here locally, but they don’t believe there’s enough local talent yet. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that one way of addressing the diversity problem is in training and placing new qualified talent. And it seems like Georgia is making a serious effort to do that.”
John, what do you think about what Jim has to say here?
John: Well, first off I want to thank Jim for writing in because I would have no real perception of what it’s like on the ground in Georgia without that. So, thank you for writing in.
Yeah, I can see how anytime you are bringing new people into an industry that’s an opportunity to bring in new, more diverse people into an industry, both racially and gender wise. So, I can see that being good. I can see that being progress. And I also think he’s right to point out that you have to have a structure for training these people. And so a continuing education program seems great. The ability to let people start in the industry with some background is crucial, because we shot Big Fish in Alabama. There was really no local film industry so we had to recruit from all over the place. There’s enough stuff happening in Atlanta now that I can see why you’d want to have a continuing crop of new folks coming into it. So, yeah, it makes sense to me.
Craig: It does. I mean, look, there’s a little bit of an underlying concern, because Jim is right that there are these things other than just the tax incentives. But let’s be honest about why the studios go there. The studios do not go to Georgia because of the wonderful variety of environments, nor do they go to Georgia because, I don’t know, there seems to be lots more people qualified to do below-the-line now than there were before. They go to Georgia for the tax cuts. Period. The end. That’s it.
And the tax credit system is – there are political ramifications for states and in some cases territories like British Columbia, kind of getting into a race to the bottom where they essentially attempt to outdo each other in terms of more and more giveaways to these incredibly successful, well-funded, wealthy companies. And in doing so they are undermining a little bit of their tax base.
Now, there is obviously a commercial value to it. There have been some studies that have kind of delivered mixed conclusions about whether or not this actually helps a state in the long run. But I think for individual people that are getting training, I think it’s great. I do think it’s a bit of a pipe dream to imagine that showrunners are going to be establishing writing rooms in Georgia for mainstream entertainment. I don’t see that occurring.
John: I don’t see that occurring either. What I could envision is somebody says like, “OK, we’re going to actually try to shoot some multicam here, or like half hours where we actually want the writer right by the shoots.” Or even like a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend where the showrunners need to be very directly involved with how everything is going. I could see if there was some reason why production really needed to be in Atlanta and you really needed the writing room right by it. I guess. But I don’t envision writing rooms in Georgia soon.
Craig: Yeah. And that’s why the great majority of television shows that are bound to stages will end up in Southern California because simply put the showrunners don’t want to move themselves and their families. So you’ll end up either at Warner Bros or at Universal or Disney or in Santa Clarita. There are lots of stages there. There are all sorts of places to shoot. It’s the single camera shows that aren’t stage bound that do – for instance Breaking Bad famously was based out of New Mexico.
John: Yeah. If I could wave a magic wand there’s many things I would wish for, but one of the things I would wish for is to get rid of all tax incentives because I do think it creates really, really – we talked about conflicts of interest. It creates really bad incentives overall for choices we make in making movies.
Craig: Yeah. And not to be a bummer Jim, because listen, I’m so happy that you’ve kind of taken this leap. I always think it’s exciting when people begin that so-called impossible American thing of the second act, right? Isn’t that right? Americans never have a second act. What was Mark Twain’s saying? Or do we only have second acts? I can’t remember the quote.
Anyway, the point is I’m excited, Jim. I really am. But the transfer of below-the-line employment to states like Georgia has come at a great cost to a lot of good men and women in Southern California who moved there and put down roots to work in the film industry and then suddenly production kind of picked up and left them behind because of these – it’s just simply greed. I mean, I guess you could argue it’s good business, but it’s also just paying people less is what it comes down to.
John: Yep. And if we want to have a bigger discussion about below-the-line, I think the other thing we need to talk about is how expensive it is to live in Los Angeles now.
John: The housing costs particularly in Los Angeles–
John: Have become really prohibitive. And so I feel like there’s probably a lot of below-the-line folks who may end up just moving to Georgia or one of these other states that’s shooting not simply because there’s more work there, but because it’s just so much cheaper to live there.
And in this last week I’ve heard three different stories of folks leaving Los Angeles just because it’s become too expensive.
Craig: So sad. Well, so Jim, it’s a mixed bag here. But overall for you personally, thrilled. John, what are we doing next? So far this is going swimmingly.
John: The next thing we’re doing is actually simpler and happier. We’ve talked a lot about character descriptions and the importance of a great character description in your script. And Kyle Buchanan and Jordan Crucchiola writing for Vulture put on a list of how different female characters were introduced in their screenplays. And so we’ve seen the bad version of this a lot, where like she’s hot but doesn’t know it. But these are actually some really great descriptions. So I wanted to pick a couple of them.
From the two Terminator movies. So, this is the description in Terminator 1. “SARAH CONNOR is 19, small and delicate-featured. Pretty in a flawed, accessible way. She doesn’t stop the party when she walks in, but you’d like to get to know her. Her vulnerable quality masks a strength even she doesn’t know exists.”
OK. That’s a lot. But I’ll take it. And that’s an iconic character. And she’s your central character, so I can see throwing some extra sentences. It’s a little bit hot and doesn’t know it. But if you look at the actual Linda Hamilton as she is in that movie, it’s a pretty good description of who they ended up putting in that role.
Craig: Yeah. And also we’re talking about something that was decades ago. So it’s one thing for us now to snarkly go, “Hot but doesn’t know it,” snark, snark, snark. Yeah, we have the benefit now of 30 years and a certain kind of general progress. To me this is not terrifying in any way. Well, you should not write this now. I don’t think this feels kind of fresh or interesting now in any way, and a bit dim. But yes, for then, I think it was perfectly fine. And I’ll pick a little nit.
I don’t like descriptions that talk about bone structure. I find that so odd. Because to me – you see it all the time like this. Like a man with a wide jaw. A woman who is delicate-featured or small-boned. And I just think like you don’t know who you’re going to get. We’re not hiring people because of the size of their bones.
But, anything that’s wardrobe, hair, and makeup makes me happy. And I thought that “she doesn’t stop the party when she walks in, but you’d like to get to know her” as far as male gaze points of view go it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen. So, it’s not bad.
John: Let’s jump forward to Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. So, this is the description. “SARAH CONNOR is not the same woman we remember from last time. Her eyes peer out through a wild tangle of hair like those of a cornered animal. Defiant and intense, but skittering around looking for escape at the same time. Fight or flight. Down one cheek is a long scar, from just below the eye to her upper lip. Her VOICE is a low and chilling monotone.”
Craig: Yeah. Now we’re talking. So first of all, wardrobe, hair, and makeup. As you know, these are my favorite things. We’ve got all three working here. Well, no, we don’t have wardrobe, but we do have hair and makeup. And I really like the sense that what I’m seeing here is a feeling that is visible. Sometimes we’ll see descriptions where people talk about somebody’s inner mind but there’s no way for it to be visible. But here her eyes peer out through a wild tangle of hair like those of a cornered animal. That is shootable. Skittering around looking for escape at the same time. Shootable. Fight or flight. Yeah. I get it all. And now you have the scar.
And I love the specificity of the scar. Nothing is worse than, well, no, there are a lot of things worse like say genocide. But regardless, as screenwriter sins go, when a screenwriter says a scar on her face.
So, where? How much? Where is the scar? How long is the scar? From what? You know, specificity in all things. So I love, I love – and then the voice, too, using sound as a way to describe this character. This is great. I love this.
John: So I’m going to leave one last one. This is Mo’Nique’s role in Precious. And this is how her character is described. “MARY — INCREDIBLY LARGE, OILY SKIN, UNKEMPT HAIR, AND WEARING A GRIMY HOUSE DRESS sits on the couch with her back turned to Precious. This mass of woman looks as if she is one with the furniture — if not the entire apartment.”
Craig: OK. So, all right. Now, you know that I am obsessed with Precious. You know this, right?
John: I did not know this. So, I learn new things on this episode.
Craig: I am obsessed with Precious. Like beyond. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. And in particular this character I am obsessed with. Like Precious is very cool and everything, but I’m obsessed with Mo’Nique’s character and how amazing she is. And the performance. And this description is brilliant because, boom, wardrobe, hair, makeup. And the skin. The hair. The grimy house dress. The way that she’s one with the furniture. Oh, it’s so great. I love it so much.
Everything about Precious is just amazing.
John: Yeah. I agree. So we’ll have a link in the show notes to this list of descriptions. I thought they were really helpful and great. So, so often we see the bad ones, so it’s important to notice the good ones as well.
John: So thank you to the writers for singling those out.
All right, it’s time for our main feature, How Would This Be a Movie. So, we’ve done a couple of these. We take a look at stories in the news, often stories that our listeners have sent us, and try to figure out how you do a movie or a TV series based on this story. Sometimes it’s been the exact actual source material. Just last week we were talking about Chris Morgan and Blumhouse optioned the rights to a piece we talked about. But sometimes it’s just more like, well, this is a story area, so what kind of story would you tell in this area. And we’ve got some good ones and they’re all about family this week. Just like Fast and the Furious, this week it’s all about family.
Craig: All about family.
John: Family. How many times can we say family in the trailer?
Craig: We’re family.
John: We’re going to start with every family needs to start with a baby. And this is a story of a baby, a mother and her son. This is the story of Tia Freeman. So she is a young woman, 22 years old. She is in the US Air Force. She is traveling from the US to Germany, a stopover in Istanbul. She goes into labor while she’s on the plane. She goes through customs. She checks into her hotel room in Istanbul and gives birth in the bathtub and then goes back to the airport the next day to fly out with her baby.
So this story really first broke – I first became aware of it because J.K. Rowling had commented on this series of tweets. So Tia Freeman did a whole tweet stream that sort of talks through the whole process of it all. But there’s also other stories written up in the press. We’re going to link to a piece in the Independent. But it was also written up in the Turkish press which is how it sort of first got out there in the world.
This story is nuts and there’s so many ways you could talk through it. Including whether like is the baby the first act, the third act, like how this all works is interesting. So, Craig, what was your first instinct on this?
Craig: The details of it are remarkable. The way that she kind of singles herself out as doing this quintessentially millennial thing of going, “Oh, I’m experiencing something. I’m not particularly well prepared for it. Let me just go to a room and YouTube how to handle it and I’ll just go from there.” And that part of it is fascinating.
But a couple of things jumped out at me right away. First, we’ve seen now a number of incidents that people describe telling stories of their own experience in this kind of Twitter format of dear listener, follow me now. They’re really good at telling stories. But there is becoming an emerging style.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: It’s an interesting kind of way of telling a story that didn’t used to exist because we didn’t really have this kind of, well, almost like we’re getting telegrams from the front. So it’s a fascinating way of telling narrative. That aside, what emerged for me was this notion that there’s a classic what we call man vs. nature story. So man vs. man, man vs. nature, that kind of thing. And there’s been a number of movies that are essentially man must survive in the elements. A lot of times these stories are stories of people who otherwise are city dwellers or modern and then they are thrown into wild situations and must survive. They generally focus on men, but there have been some really good ones with women as well.
But this to me is a kind of classic survival story but in a way that can only apply to women. It is a story only a woman can experience. Which is “I am about to have a child and I am alone with nothing. And I have to do it on my own and I’ve never done it before.” There’s something really fascinating and, well, survival-y about it. I love that part.
John: It’s primal.
Craig: Primal. That’s a great word. Primal is what it is. Primal is a much better word than survival-y. Yes.
John: To be fair, it’s late where you are. I’m coming in here at noon.
Craig: That’s true.
John: I’m a little bit fresher. Circling back to what you said in terms of the form that we encounter the story as this tweet stream, so back in Episode 222 at our Austin live show we talked through the story of Zola, the stripper sex worker, and that was an amazing tweet storm that became incredibly popular.
This is a similar thing. Like Zola, she has a really fascinating voice and it’s very peppy even through really kind of potentially scary things. The format of it is really fascinating and the format of it doesn’t necessarily dictate sort of what the movie story of it would be, but it does I think help inform our understanding of who this character is. Because the primal nature of like giving birth and sort of that whole journey, we’ve seen things like that. And it’s no spoiler for me to say that in A Quiet Place you have a pregnant woman who is away from any sort of medical care and has to figure out how to give birth. Her story is specific and real and feels true that this person would choose to trust her phone over any stranger.
But, before we get to that point we have to really look at sort of who is Tia as a character and how is Tia denying her pregnancy up to this point. Because that’s the really fascinating part of the character to me is I think the same reasons why she’s able to give birth by herself in a bathtub is related to how she’s been able to convince herself that she’s not really pregnant for all these months and not to tell anybody. So there’s something fascinating about the character herself that – she’s not telling anybody that she’s pregnant and she’s not even going for help when she’s actually going into labor. That’s the interesting package of this character.
And it’s challenging in a story to figure out how you’re going to externalize whatever that internal thought process is because without a voiceover, without some way to get inside her head, I think it’s going to be challenging to understand why she’s not telling anybody what’s going on.
Craig: Yeah. I was a little confused about that just from a journalistic point of view, because it says from the article that we have linked here, “The 22-year-old, who was in ‘denial’, having only been told about her pregnancy six months into her term, assumed she had food poisoning from a meal she had eaten on the plane.” Well, so, she was in denial but, OK, let’s say you’ve gone six months and they’ve told you you’re pregnant, because that’s what it’s saying here. She knew she was pregnant. And I think the idea was that she’s in denial in the sense of like, “No I’m not, but yet I am.” And so that’s a very profound denial. I mean, that’s a really profound denial. And that part does make me kind of feel detached from her. I must say.
Because she’s been told she’s six months pregnant. She can do math. She is a computer technician. Computer specialist. So she can definitely do the simple math here. She’s got essentially three to four months before this baby is going to come out. And she decides 3.5, four months later that she should be traveling to Turkey. And then when she starts to feel terrible abdominal pains her first thought is I’ve had food poisoning. That is a profound denial to the point where I don’t quite connect with her. Something is odd there.
So I don’t think I would make that choice.
John: Yeah. I wouldn’t make that choice for myself, but I do think that whatever character you’re sort of creating out of Tia there’s going to be a natural question of like is there some form of – is there some psychological thing happening there? Is there some form of inner blindness? There’s something bigger going on there that is letting her be in this place of denial. And denial is a really powerful thing and there’s other stories of women who were surprised that they were pregnant or were able to sort of not see the realities around them.
John: But I think that’s – you’re going to have to grapple with that because you can’t get to the baby without knowing why she was in this situation. Because it’s very easy to imagine – you can easily rewrite the first half of this so she knew she was pregnant but the baby came too quickly. The baby came before she was expected to. That we buy. And that makes it simpler. But the actual character that’s presented in the story right now is challenging for those reasons.
Craig: Mm-hmm. Yeah. It is challenging. And very often these kinds of stories of – we’ll call them primal survivalist childbirth tales – take place in period pieces. God, no pun intended. I swear. Because we have an understanding that if you are on the great plains in 1820 that it’s not exactly the same thing as being in New York in 2018 and you just say – or, by the way, Istanbul, which is a world capital, an enormous city – to say, “Oh yeah, what do I do?”
So, frontier, post-apocalypse, these are places where suddenly things like – or isolation. That movie where James Franco gets his arm stuck in a rock. So he’s just far away. And that also counts.
John: Or the movie Room where she’s literally locked in a small place.
John: And so we don’t see that birth, but it would have been a similar kind of situation.
John: So we’re used to exterior forces causing the woman to have to give by herself. So the fact that it was internal forces basically that are having her do this is interesting. It’s just so different and you’re going to have to set that up well in the course of whatever story you’re telling.
So, let’s do talk about this as a movie. If we’re making this movie, Craig, do you put the birth near the beginning or near the end?
Craig: To me the birth is part of a first act and I want to see a second and third act about what happens after. I want to see someone survive. And also protect a child. I don’t really see a movie in the specific story here of this particular woman. I think it’s a bit not-a-movie.
John: I agree that this specific story is challenging. I think if you were handed the rights to this story and like, “OK, write a movie,” I would put the birth near the top and see the outcome of it. Sort of like Room, you know, establishes how things are and then transitions to outside the room afterwards. And that format may give you a place to put Michael B. Jordan in the movie. He’s the reason you’re going to make this movie.
John: You’ve got to get a male star in there somewhere. But I agree with you. I think what was most interesting to me about this story was her as a character, that millennial sense of “I’m just going to figure out how to do this on my phone rather than talk to somebody” was really fascinating. But I think it’s a movie rather than a TV show. I think if you’re going to do this kind of story it works better as a one-time event because it is so singular, versus an ongoing drama of this woman on this journey.
Craig: Yeah. Pregnancy stories kind of demand movie because they are – they encapsulate what it means to have a beginning, middle, and end. There’s just no real room for an ongoing tale of pregnancy I don’t think.
John: Yeah. Cool. All right, let’s get to our next story. So this is actually a nonfiction article in Slate. It’s by Tom Bowman and Brigid Schulte. They’re writing up as part of a regular feature where couples describe their big central argument. Basically what is the fight you sort of keep having because you are fundamentally different people and this is the argument at the crux of your relationship.
So in this series are sort of interwoven essays. Brigid talks about her nature as a worrywart. The person who is doing all the worrying for the family. And how frustrated she is that her husband, Tom, basically just doesn’t worry and is just like everything is going to work out fine. And she feels that he can only have that opinion because she’s been doing all the worrying for the family.
So, Craig, reading these two characters, reading these two people, what was your instinct about how they fit into a movie or a television show? What would you do with these characters?
Craig: Nothing. I didn’t like these characters. Here’s the thing. I liked the concept a lot. And I think the concept is a movie. The problem I have with this essay just character-wise, these are human beings so they’re not characters, they’re people. And they’re doing this thing that I just don’t believe. I’ll just be totally honest and no offense to Brigid and Tom, but they’re having a husband and wife discussion. So we’re talking about two people who have been married – I think they say for 25 years. This is two people who are in a committed relationship for a long, long time. And they’re having a discussion with each other one at a time in print. And it is intended to play like a really insightful, honest, therapeutic discussion where they’re each airing these things out. And it kind of goes through this, well, very neat little bit where they kind of describe some initial problems. And then in the middle of it they start to get into the meat of some of the things, their fears, and their interest with each other.
And then suddenly at the end they are just professing why they love each other so much. And I just find it all fake. I just don’t believe any of this. This is not how it goes. So, I didn’t really enjoy reading it.
However, however, it starts with this thing before either one of them start talking. There’s this bit in italics that is just stated as if it’s a fact. I don’t know if it is a fact. But I thought, “Oh, if it were it would make a wonderful movie.” And this is what it says, “Every couple has one core fight that replays over and over again, in different disguises, over the course of their relationship.” And I thought that is fascinating. And it sounds kind of true. And more to the point, for what we do here on this segment, it sounds like something you could build a movie around.
I think you could absolutely do a movie that is a kind of – like a long term rom-com or a long term not-com-rom, where two people meet and they fall in love and they fight. And then they get over it and they get married and they fight. And then they get over it and they have children. And they keep having the same fight. And the movie is structured essentially in chapters of this fight that keeps happening, but it keeps happening with different clothing on it. The circumstances change, but the underlying fight never does change until they are old and at the end of their lives when they have the fight one last time and finally realize how to kind of resolve it. And the resolution of it is something that’s kind of beautiful and unexpected and insightful. And then one of them dies and I cry.
And that’s a movie. I mean, someone can go write that movie today as far as I’m concerned.
John: Yeah. So it’s the nature of what is that fight and the degree to which that fight, that sort of central argument between the two characters, is a product of those two characters. I mean, it is in some ways a child of those two characters. Each of those characters has relationships with other people who are not their partner. But that thing that they have between them, the chemistry that they have between them also has products. And one of those products is this fight. And maybe if you don’t ever have that fight, if you don’t ever have that sort of central argument between the two of you, is that a real relationship? Maybe that is the nature of a relationship is that you’re going to have conflict and that conflict is probably going to center around one big thing.
John: And it also ties into that central truism that there’s a quality of opposites attracting or people look for their missing parts and so they are sort of drawn towards each other because they’re not the same person. And that you don’t want somebody who is exactly matching you because if they exactly match you there’s not going to be anything interesting. There’s not going to be anything to talk about in a way.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, look, exactly right. And so let’s call our movie Seven Fights. That’s what the movie is called. And you have these people meeting and falling in love and then having this fight over this thing that’s tiny. Like their first fight, the first real fight I had with Melissa was over spaghetti sauce. It’s always over something that you’re like, I mean, what was your first fight with Mike? Do you remember?
John: Probably feeling slighted that he didn’t notice that I was upset.
Craig: There you go. Oh my god. You and Melissa should go sit in a room together. [laughs] Mike and I can just continue to not notice when our spouses are upset. So, but this is – I mean, that fight then continues to happen. But in the end, and I believe this, we have those fights not because there’s a problem between the two of us, but rather we have this fight because there’s a problem inside of us, each of us, all of us, from the wounds of being alive and of growing up and of having parents and of being children in a scary world.
And when we meet someone and we fall in love and we form a committed relationship with them we will naturally have fights with them about those things because that’s in us. It was in us before we even met them. And that what you get to at the end of this movie is this understanding that “I kind of loved having that fight with you. I was going to have that fight no matter what. And I had it with you and that’s what mattered was it was OK with you. Because I always knew that I could have that fight because I am scared or I am confused or I am self-loathing, whatever my wound is. And I know that at the end of the fight you’ll make me feel better about it. It was never a fight with you. It was a fight inside of me and I liked having it with you.”
You can get to the end of that in your movie, and then one of them dies, and you cry. I’m telling you, in fact, if anybody does – I’m just saying this right now, because here’s the thing, we got ripped off the other week. We didn’t really get ripped off. I’m just joking. We love Chris. No one can just take this now. That’s a real idea. Now they have to pay us for it.
John: All right. So if somebody wants to do the seven arguments over the course of people’s lives that will be it. I want to circle back though to what you said about you have this innate sort of thing that you’re wrestling with and you basically found a wrestling partner to sort of externalize this thing that you were trying to deal with. And it’s true. I think you go through life with these things you’re trying to answer and you need to kind of answer them in a dialectic. You need to find someone else to help you grapple with this thing because otherwise it’s just you by yourself and you can’t actually do it.
It’s been interesting writing the second Arlo Finch. There are some moments in which the Arlo character is not around his friends and it becomes very difficult for him to think through some things because it’s so much easier to think through things with other people around. And when it’s just him by himself you end up just sort of circling. You can never actually make any forward progress. So he has to basically imagine he could talk to his other folks so that he could actually grapple with things. You just basically need extra sets of hands to sort of move the emotional furniture of your house around.
So, I get that. I think it’s an interesting thematic idea at the center of this.
Craig: Yeah. If you have the same fight with somebody over and over, one of the implications you can take away that’s the negative implication is you and I have this problem we can never get over so this is no good. There’s something rotten at the core. And I reject that. I think if you have a fight with somebody that you are in a real relationship with and you’ve come around on your fourth version of that fight, what it means is you feel safe enough with that person to have that fight.
What you’re saying is I’m pretty sure that at the end of this argument you’ll still be here. And that’s beautiful, you know. And then one of them dies.
John: Yeah. And then who are you going to have that fight with?
Craig: Well, that’s the thing. Then your life is over and you don’t know who to have the fight with. I feel like I’m going to cry right now. No one can take this. We should just start a Scriptnotes production company for this and just hire somebody brilliant to do this sort of thing.
John: I agree. Done. Before we commit to doing this as a movie though I do want to talk through this as a TV idea. Because I do think there’s an interesting TV series idea that either charts over the course of a relationship these arguments, or look at this kind of discussion between two characters as being part of kind of the show bible of an ongoing drama series, or a comedy series, because I know when I’ve done TV work before one of the things I’ll do early on is this kind of conversation between characters. Like this sort of imagined conversation between characters just to expose their different opinions and how they see the world. And it gave me a sense of these are the kinds of discussions and spaces that the story will take us to.
It’s nice to have these things figured out that aren’t locked into plot that are actually just about the characters and how they perceive the world because that gives you a sense of where you can go independent of specific story points that are going to happen in Episode 3.
Craig: Yeah. This is one that could definitely be some sort of ongoing series. Even the movie version I’m talking about is reminiscent of This is Us where you’re talking about multigenerational tales, but also a story of two people over time. And you can absolutely serialize this sort of thing. I can see that. I mean, I personally am interested in the movie version, but I could definitely see a really interesting limited series where you’re watching two people grow older together over the course of ten episodes.
John: And it only occurs to me now that Big Fish is essentially the movie version of this kind of argument. It’s a father and a son, but it’s basically they have one argument and they keep having the same argument again and again until the father dies.
Craig: See? One of them dies.
John: There’s truth in tears that come out of that final revelation of what each of them was actually trying to get out of the other and sort of why the argument was so important for both of them.
Craig: I actually think every movie that follows two people over the course of a long period of time is essentially some version of we’re trying to figure out what’s keeping us together and also there’s this kind of, I don’t know, burr. Right? There’s this thing that’s irritating and yet at the end we resolve it.
And what’s interesting about this concept and the way that these two authors sort of phrase the premise. And again phrase it in a kind of weird gaslighting way where it was like, you know, “This fact that we all believe which is not necessarily a fact.” But regardless that – it’s basically shining a light on it and saying this is our concept. We’re not telling a story and then sort of discovering that we’re having this kind of discussion over and over. We’re making it about that. That fight. Sort of the way like Harry Met Sally said, you know, a lot of romantic comedies are about men and women who feel like they want to be together but then aren’t together but then shouldn’t be together and then it all falls. Let’s just make it about that.
So, I like it. And I think no one should steal it from us.
John: Sounds good. All right, our final story is actually our longest story. This is Elif Batuman writing for The New Yorker. It’s a piece called Rent-A-Family. It tells a story of a service in Japan that lets you basically rent family members for different events and different reasons. So, at first I thought it was just like, “Oh, this is going to be odd and goofy,” but it ends up being quite poignant in places as well. So, you can rent family members for things like weddings and funerals. But in some of these cases they’re renting family members to basically replace dead loved ones or just people who you’re lacking in your life because you’re lonely. And some of the stories were actually quite touching.
So, Craig, what did you make of this as a general story space and is there a movie in there that you’d like to see?
Craig: Well, there’s a movie in there. Would I like to see it? I don’t know. I think that the – there’s a very common shopworn formula that still occasionally you can wring a fun time out of. And it’s quite a high concept comedy where someone suffers some sort of loss or is experiencing some sort of lack in their life and someone enters their life to kind of fix that. Whether they’re hired to do so, or they just sort of show up under some other capacity. And then through your experience with that person you grow and you confront your loss and you accept your loss and you move on. And then they move on. And so on and so forth.
This is Hitch and it’s Mary Poppins. There was a movie, a Kevin Hart film, a few years ago where he has to hire – or he doesn’t, I think it was Josh Gad, had to hire a best man because he didn’t have a best man. So I’m going to hire a friend. I’m going to hire a mom. I’m going to hire a coach. I’m going to hire this. I’m going to hire that. And then you inevitably learn how to have the real thing.
It’s fine. We’ve seen it so many times. I don’t know necessarily – I mean, Her was a brilliant version of that I thought, like the greatest possible version of that. Because the person that kind of crashes into his life and teaches him how to get over loss is a computer. That’s the sort of thing that I found beautiful and wonderful and surprising and fresh.
I don’t know if I find this particularly beautiful, surprising, and fresh at least in concept. It’s hard to imagine at least in western culture this being a thing. So, Lars and the Real Girl. There’s another one. That’s like, wow, that’s spectacular.
John: The Wedding Date, a Dana Fox film.
John: Basically hiring the guy to go to the wedding with you. We’re the Millers is essentially this, where you’re hiring a fake family to help you smuggle drugs in. And over the course of that you end up sort of–
Craig: Becoming a real family.
John: Real family stuff. Yeah. So here’s what I thought was interesting about it. And trying to figure out the best person to hang the story around is probably for me either the widower whose daughter has left and so he hires an actress to be his wife and his daughter who come and sort of fill that space. And in the process of filling that space end up getting him to think about and talk about what he’s going through and reach out to his daughter.
He’s a good character. But also the guy who runs the company, Ishii, seems like a really interesting character because he’s sort of a Hitch in the sense of like he’s a fixer, he’s the person who is organizing all of these things. But he actually plays a lot of roles himself. And there’s a good argument to be made that he plays the roles in so many different families but has no family of his own. There’s something messed up about that as well. So he’s always playing dads, and he’s always playing dutiful sons, but he’s sort of none of these things apparently.
The degree to which what these actors are doing is sort of like non-sex sex work is also really fascinating. It’s kind of like emotional prostitution in a way.
John: And sort of how we feel about that is interesting and potentially cool. So often we see the broad comedy version of this. But I think there’s something fascinating about the non-comedic, or at least the less trailer-momenty comedy version of this that I think could be great.
Craig: I agree. And I generally prefer this concept – when you are doing something as overt as hiring someone, because I find that concept generally to be a bit fake. I’m going to hire a best friend. I’m going to hire a family. I’m going to hire a girlfriend. What I generally like is when somebody comes to this honestly and it’s just confusing to other people. Like in Her, he comes to this honestly. It’s just a software update. He’s not hiring anybody.
Lars and the Real Girl, he makes a choice. This is what he wants. Those concepts I tend to like better. I just think this feels a bit – I think we sort of left this one behind in the 2000s, this kind of he’s hired a family. The hiring part I think may be done.
John: Yeah. The article points out that in western cultures we sort of do this without calling it out that we’re doing this. So when we hire nannies, when we hire a therapist, when we hire sort of other folks to sort of come into our lives and make our lives better and easier, we’re doing that. And sometimes those relationships cross over and they become sort of more intimate than just professional. And that’s a real thing we do.
But I agree with you that if we were to try to import sort of exactly what’s happening right now in Japan and put it in a western context, I think it would feel forced. I think the movie version of that – we would have a hard time swallowing the premise that somebody is hiring these actors to do this thing. There would be a lot shoe leather to set that up.
Craig: And it just feels so predictable. I mean, that’s the biggest problem. It’s predictable. You know, if the concept has a certain fresh aspect to it then you’re not quite sure where it’s going to go. I did not know how Her was going to end up.
Where it ended up was essentially – it fit in the box of what I would think of as being predictable, but it got there in such an unpredictable way. And the problem with the hire the families, it does start to feel a bit predictable. So, yeah, this one I’m going to say, yeah, it totally could be a movie. I wouldn’t want to write it. But yeah, it could be a movie.
John: Great. And there’s a role from Michael B. Jordan. I think he plays the Ishii character.
John: So you’re set.
Craig: Who is he in the – oh, obviously in the Seven Fights he’s the guy.
John: Oh, he’s the guy. He’d be great at that. And so obviously I should say for our listeners that the reason we’re sticking Michael B. Jordan in every movie is because if you are setting up a movie in town right now his name has to be on the list for everything.
John: 100%. Whether it’s a period movie. Great. A space battle movie. Great. Whatever you got, stick him in there.
Craig: Yeah. I was pitching a biopic of Warren G. Harding and his name came up.
John: Totally. Why would you not. I mean, come on, Hamilton did it.
Craig: It’s cool. Look, nothing – I was not pitching a biopic of Warren G. Harding. By the way, worst biopic ever.
Craig: Actually, not the worst. Warren G. Harding was a terrible, terrible president. Often considered to be our worst president, although lately may have adjusted that. But he died in office and there is a theory that he was poisoned by his wife because he was not just a philanderer but an aggressive philanderer who almost certainly fathered a child out of wedlock while he was president in the White House. And also he was incredibly corrupt.
John: Well that’s not good.
Craig: Yeah. So actually it might be a good biopic.
John: Yeah, so bad president, good biopic.
John: Harding. So to wrap up our segment on How Would This Be a Movie, I think we are interested in the space overall of hotel bath baby, but maybe not necessarily that story. I think Worrywart vs. Zen Master, again, we are interested in the space but not necessarily that specific movie. Rent-A-Family, I would say I think this article sells. I think someone buys this article and tries to make it into something.
Craig: No question.
John: Yeah. So I think that is going to be our most likely to become a movie.
Craig: Bit of a back-handed compliment there isn’t it? Someone buys this.
John: I think Chris Morgan’s people are reading that article thinking, hmm, we can buy this.
Craig: Chris Morgan scoops us two weeks in a row.
John: Oh, that would be great. But it is about family, and he does make the Fast and Furious movies.
Craig: He does. He does.
John: He does. So, basically like it’s Vin and Michael B. Jordan and the Rock, and it’s all about that.
Craig: Love it.
John: They’re all mourning the loss of one of their own. Yeah, they’ve got to replace her with somebody. Done.
Craig: Her. [laughs]
John: Her. The story of our life. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a very cool little One Cool Thing called Choir!Choir!Choir! it is a choir in Toronto that meets once a week and they do sort of drop in singing events, so it seems to be at a bar or something like that. And so basically you show up, they give you some sheet music, they teach you the parts, and as a big giant group you sing the song. And so I’m going to put a link into some of the videos they’ve done.
I first heard about it because Rick Astley showed up at one of their events and sang Never Gonna Give You Up and it’s gorgeous and it’s beautiful. And so it made me really want to sing songs in a bar with a big group of people.
John: Choir!Choir!Choir! is my one my One Cool Thing.
Craig: Choir!Choir!Choir! You know, they could get Tony! Toni! Toné! to Choir!Choir!Choir! Remember Tony! Toni! Toné!?
John: I do.
Craig: Yeah. ‘90s.
John: I put it in the same sort of like Bell Biv DeVoe.
Craig: That’s right.
John: That era of music.
Craig: That’s right. My One Cool Thing this week is something that we’ve been using on set here in Lithuania. And I assume that this is being used widely back home, I just haven’t been on set in a while. So have you ever used the QTAKE Monitor app, John?
John: I have and it is lovely. And so basically it lets you see the shot that’s happening on your iPad or your iPhone.
Craig: Yeah. So when we’re shooting, whether it’s film or video, and these days 95% is video, either way there is a video feed that comes from the camera to monitors. That monitor is used by everyone from the people that are pulling focus to producers to directors to DPs, the makeup and hair people have their own monitors to check that whole situation. So everybody is watching. And traditionally on movie sets you’d have this video village and then there would be multiple video villages. And this crowding around. And who is looking at the monitor. And monitor, monitor, monitor. And you’re craning your neck.
And also the placement of video village becomes an enormous pain in the ass, because you have to move it every time you turn a camera around because it’s going to be in the shot. Well, now the video playback guy is basically sending it to this app and if you’re there on set and authorized you can just watch it on your phone or your iPad, which is a better screen frankly than most video monitors. And you can see both cameras, A and B, at the same time. You can zero in on A if you like. It’s perfect. I love it. I never, ever want to be anywhere near video village again. It’s wonderful.
John: Yeah. So way back on Go, so this is 20 years ago, we had a broadcast on the video tap. And so you may have encountered this. I had a little portable TV monitor, like a little battery-powered TV monitor, so I could see the shot. So if I wasn’t like right on set I could still see what the camera was seeing. And it was good, but that thing just ate batteries. And I kept waiting for them to come up with a better system. And so QTAKE may have been around eight years or something, but it is just that better thing that you’ve been waiting for.
Craig: Yeah. For sure.
John: My understanding of it is it is actually generating its own Wi-Fi so you’re signing onto its Wi-Fi rather than any sort of provided Wi-Fi which is handy. So that’s one of the ways that keeps it locked down so that other folks or random passers-by aren’t seeing what you’re shooting.
Craig: Exactly. So there’s two things. There’s your access to the Wi-Fi network, which you need a password for, and then your device has to be approved by the video guy before you can see it. I remember years and years ago you’d have a television in your trailer, for instance. So if you had to go back to your trailer to do a quick rewrite or have a meeting or something you could still see what was going on. Which is fine, but it’s usually just one camera. This thing you see both. It’s just so much better. I love it. It’s great. QTAKE Monitor. Super thrilled with it. Hurrah.
John: Love it. We have one last bit of follow up. So, last week’s episode we talked about how John Gatins and I are hosting a Q&A with Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. We said that if you would like to come to this we can get you on the list. And the first person who writes in with lyrics to a song that Craig titled “On the Other Side of the Velvet Rope” will be our winner.
So we had a bunch of people write in. Thank you everyone who wrote in. The first person to cross the finish line was Chris Y. So he’s going to get his name plus one on the list. But we had one guy who went way above and beyond and actually recorded the song and sent us a video and it’s terrific. So Nicolas Curcio, we decided to also invite you to come to the Q&A. And his song that Craig proposed is actually our outro this week. So that’s what you’re hearing under all of this.
Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you have questions for us you can write in to email@example.com. Short questions are great on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. You can find us on Apple Podcasts or any place else you get podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes. If you could leave us a review, that helps people find the show. It is lovely.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. We’ll also have the links to all the articles we talked about. Transcripts go up between four and seven days after the episode airs. And you can find all the back episodes of the show at Scriptnotes.net. We also have a few more of the 300-episode USB drives. We’ll probably make some 350-episode USB drives pretty shortly. Yeah.
Craig: Nice. Nice!
John: Cool. Craig, congratulations on another week of shooting and I hope this next week goes well, too.
Craig: Me too. And I’ll see you then.
John: All right. Bye.
- Our next live Scriptnotes will be Tuesday, May 22nd at the ArcLight in Hollywood. Tickets are on sale now — proceeds benefit Hollywood HEART, which runs special programs and summer camps for at-risk youth.
- How 50 Famous Female Characters Were Described in Their Screenplays by Kyle Buchanan and Jordan Crucchiola for Vulture
- Woman tells incredible story of how she used YouTube videos to carry out waterbirth of own baby she doubted she even had, while alone in hotel room written by Tom Embury-Dennis for The Independent
- The Worrywart vs. the Zen Master by Tom Bowman and Brigid Schulte for Slate
- Japan’s Rent-A-Family Industry, written by Elif Batuman for The New Yorker
- Choir!Choir!Choir! is a choir in Toronto that meets once a week for drop-in singing events.
- QTAKE Monitor is an app that lets you watch shots on set from your own device.
- The Scriptnotes Listeners’ Guide!
- The USB drives!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Nicolas Curcio (send us yours!)
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the episode here.