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 351 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the program we’re going to be talking about the way that movies tend to bring their stories full circle and what that means for writers trying to figure out their story beats. We’ll also be answering questions about YouTube, arbitration, and skipping credits on Netflix.
Craig: Yeah. This is going to be pretty great for our second 350 episodes. This is kind of how I think in 700s.
John: Absolutely. You’re a Septcentennial.
Craig: That’s right. I work in base 700.
John: Absolutely. I wonder if there’s any civilization that was a base seven civilization. Because obviously we have the Babylonians who were base six and 12. You know, we’re in a decimal system. But obviously some system somewhere there are going to be creatures with seven fingers and they’re going to be working on a base seven.
Craig: I think it comes down to fingers, right?
John: Fingers and toes, whatever. Although, I mean, the Babylonians like they didn’t have six or 12, so?
Craig: And we still have base 12 for clocks.
John: Absolutely. Those Babylonians they helped us out a lot there. Because I think circle math just works better in six and 12. That’s why.
Craig: Circle math works better. 360. But again, you could divide a circle into anything. The truth is you could have divided it into 500 segments. And then you’d be back to base 10.
John: I’m so happy we’re staying on theme, our circle theme, for this episode.
John: First we’ll start with a little bit of news. So this is a thing that happened this past week. There was a small theater in Pittsburgh that was going to do Big Fish. They decided to cancel Big Fish because some background actors were established as being a same sex married couple during one number. It was silly and crazy and frustrating. So, on previous episodes we talked about what writers should do when there’s drama, when there’s drama out there in the world, and the degree to which you should participate in the drama or comment on the drama.
In this case Andrew Lippa and I, the authors of Big Fish, did jump in to say like, “Hey, that’s not cool. It’s absolutely fine to stage the sequence with a same sex married couple walking in the background.” And it was interesting to see it play out sort of on Facebook and then become a bigger thing.
So if you want to see the actual statement that Andrew and I wrote it is up on the site at johnaugust.com. But it was just an interesting little moment that happened that I wouldn’t have anticipated because Big Fish has been staged hundreds of times across the country and this is the first time that we had to get involved in any way.
Craig: Yeah. I read your and Andrew’s statement and I thought it was really well done. No surprise there. I think that you guys probably have more cover to write something like this because you’re not just writers but you are creators of IP, right? So there’s a certain producorial or entrepreneurial aspect of your co-ownership of that show.
The thing that confused me was why – if you have a problem with same sex marriage why are you licensing a show written by two openly gay men? What’s your theory there? How does your mind work? I don’t get it.
John: Yeah, so this theater, and in our statement we were trying to be careful to not kind of just slam the theater entirely because the basis of why we get staged so much across the country is we are a very family-friendly wholesome show, with no swearing or violence. And in some cases we’ll even let theaters ask us to change a certain word because they don’t want to say the word penis or whatever. We’ll let that happen because we sort of want the show seen by as many people who want to be able to see it and stage it. I mean, I think the actual experience of staging a musical is so crucial and that’s why in many ways our audience is not just the folks who are sitting down to buy a ticket but the folks who are spending weeks to put the show on.
John: So we want to make sure that we keep it out there for the folks who want to make it. But I don’t think there was really anti-gay animus behind any of these decisions. And I don’t want to sort of assume that there was. I think there’s often just a fear of controversy. A fear of making somebody feel uncomfortable. And that’s a thing that we need to get rid of kind of overall, especially on the topic of just like there are gay people in the world. It’s a thing we see on network television all the time. There’s that sense of like can we just soften this a little bit. Can we make sure that we’re not going to ruffle any feathers?
John: You know, Blackish had it with an episode this season which they pulled completely because they were worried about angering communities especially I think around the NFL. So it’s a thing that people face all the time. And so you wouldn’t say that this theater is anti-gay or that ABC is anti-Blackish, but so often they’re so afraid of upsetting anyone that they’re going to upset the people they need to be supporting the most.
Craig: I understand that. I side with your argument against that sort of thing. And curiously I should note that when we talk about being a family show, the people that have the least problem seeing same sex couples being represented on screen or on stage are children. Their generation doesn’t give a damn. Well, at least as far as I can tell. And granted we live here in California. Maybe a little bit different in Pittsburgh, but I’m kind of guessing maybe not. Because culture has changed. And it’s a legal institution in our country. And my feeling is “Get over it.” And if you’re uncomfortable with that then don’t come back.
But we have, I think, a responsibility to be consistent in our positions on these things. If you’re uncomfortable with same sex marriage or you’re worried about people being uncomfortable with same sex marriage then, you know, maybe don’t try and profit off of the work of people that are in same sex marriages. That’s my thought.
John: All right. I would say the last thing that’s interesting about this scenario is that as screenwriters, as TV showrunners at times, we have control of our product to a certain point but we’re not getting involved with individual productions down the road. Like if a certain TV station is trying to show our show and we don’t like that TV station we’re not going to get involved with that.
But usually the authors of a play, if they do get involved in a production it’s because that production is trying to change something that is against the text of the show. And so you’re trying to not stage it the way it’s actually written on the page. So it was weird for us to come on board and say like “Listen, no, there’s no characters who identify as LGBT in the show, but there’s also no characters who are not – who identify the other way.”
It was weird for us as writers to be jumping to the defense of the director of a show saying like it’s absolutely fine for this person to choose to stage it this way because that is a valid interpretation of this. And so often as people working in Hollywood we are very frustrated by directors and sort of directors changing things. But here this was an opportunity to say like, oh no, it is the director’s job to provide perspective on this and to bring it to new life.
Craig: Right. Yeah, I’m fascinated by that job of stage director because you get this pretty remarkable contrast of things. You can see a show and then you can see the same show by a different director, so all the words are the same, the songs are the same, the story is the same, but it’s all different somehow. That’s really interesting. It pulls out for an audience exactly what a director brings.
John: And we never get to see that in Hollywood because a thing is made just once. And so therefore that is that vision, so we never see two visions of the same story.
Craig: Except The Exorcist. What was it called, The Exorcist Dominion? So there were two Exorcist sequels. It was Exorcist 4 essentially. Paul Schrader wrote and directed an Exorcist sequel. And then when he was done the studio or the financiers, I think maybe Morgan Creek said “We don’t like this, it’s not scary enough. Let’s redo it. Let’s redo it with Renny Harlin. Let’s rewrite it. Let’s bring out Renny Harlin. We’ll keep a few scenes but we’ll redo it. And most of the same cast, so it’s sort of the same story, but it’s sort of not.” And I’ve seen both of them. It’s fascinating.
And Stellan Skarsgård is the star of both of those. I said I got to talk to you about this because I’m fascinated by what happened there and I got a really interesting perspective on it from him. But that’s the one thing I can think of in movie history are two movies of the same thing sort of by two different directors. Very strange.
John: Yeah. In film schools you’ll often get an exercise where three different crews will be given the same material and they’ll shoot it and you’ll see how vastly different their approach is to shoot the same material. But agree, in the real world in sort of actually made big things it’s a unique opportunity.
Craig: Exceedingly rare.
John: All right. More follow up. So, two episodes ago we talked about Highland 2. You and I discussed Highland 2. It’s now out in the world. It worked. It did really well. So I was so terrified as we were launching because it had been beta for three years. I was worried that it would not actually be able to be downloaded and the in-app purchase would work. So, we actually released it in Japan for six hours, so Matthew Chilelli, our editor who lives in Japan, could download it on the Japanese Mac App Store and make sure it worked. And he screen recorded the whole thing. So Matthew who is editing this, thank you very much for doing that. It worked for Matthew and it worked for a bunch of people.
In just the first ten days we’ve almost reached the number of people who had installed Highland 1. Six years it was out there.
John: So that’s a remarkable launch. So thank you to everyone. Thank you for people who left reviews. If you haven’t left a review for it, it’s great and it helps because it helps other people find the app and let us know what you’re thinking. Because we’re really happy with this version but there’s a roadmap we’ll put a link to about what’s coming in future versions and you can help us figure out what we should be working on next.
Craig: So you guys are going to make some money on this?
John: We are making some money. So we’ve made $29,000 so far on it.
John: Which is good. Which is really good for an app like this. And a couple times we outranked Final Draft in the total grosses, so that’s nice to see too.
Craig: God, I love that so much.
John: That’s really Craig’s goal behind all this is just to see them suffer a little bit.
Craig: Oh, that’s sexy. Oh, you know who loves that?
John: Yeah, is he back?
Craig: Oh yeah, he’s so back. Tell me about Highland 2. Highland 2.
John: Yeah, so he’s really – he’s become a monetary focus person. He’s really about sort of like value and cash flow.
Craig: Sexy Craig likes imagining Highland 2 spanking Final Draft. Spank.
John: This is not going to go well. In Episode 346 Christina Hodson came on and we talked about race and gender and inclusion and all sorts of things pertaining to Hollywood. It was a really good episode. Following after that the New York Times did a story on her and that and me and there’s a photo of the two of us together. I do not like the photo whatsoever. It looks like I’m giving her instructions on how to fix things. I’m not happy about the photo, but it was a nice story.
Craig: Oh my god, you’re right. It looks like you’ve shown up to say, “Hey stupid. Look at what I wrote.”
Craig: Oh that’s terrible. Why did they do that? Why did they do that?
John: Because we weren’t thinking and Christina and I were both really uncomfortable being photographed. The photographer was super nice, but he had this set us and like, “OK, we’ll try this.” And that was the photo they ran. And I wasn’t crazy about it.
Craig: She’s awesome by the way.
John: She’s so cool. So I’ve gotten to hang out with her. We like Christina Hodson. We’ll have her back on the show at some point. But you can read the New York Times story about that. And sort of the ongoing discussion over whether these tools can be helpful for people figuring out what they should be thinking about in their own scripts.
John: JT in Philadelphia wrote in. Craig, do you want to take him?
Craig: Sure. He says, “Your discussion of the controversy surrounding the pronunciation of Los Angeles reminded me of George R. Stewart’s 1975 book Names on the Globe, a wonderful exploration of the origins of place names. Sadly it’s long out of print but used copies are readily available. Anyway, he spends nearly two pages delving into the controversy and the many variations of the pronunciation that were used by one group or another.
“What I found most interesting, however, was the way politicians and others who wished to sidestep the controversy tended to settle on the abbreviation LA, which is why Los Angeles is practically the only city that is universally known by its abbreviation.” I’m smiling as I read this because that never occurred to me before.
John: It hadn’t occurred to me either, but it’s so true.
Craig: Holy – I mean, people will occasionally say NYC, but only because it’s a little bit of a cutesy thing and there’s a song from Annie. But nobody in New York goes “Oh yeah, I live in NY or NYC.” No one says that. LA is the only one. No one says STL for St. Louis. Wow.
John: And I think part of it is because LA captures the idea of bigger than just Los Angeles. In a weird way Los Angeles feels like the city where LA feels like the city and the surrounding region and sort of the idea of LA. So if you say like where do you live, “Oh, I live in LA,” if you live in Santa Monica you can say like “I live in LA.” It’s a general sense of that. But you wouldn’t say to, if you were visiting somebody in New York like, “Oh, I live in Los Angeles.” You more likely say that you live in LA because it’s a wider sweep that sort of counts as LA. It’s a strange thing. But I had never really considered that we speak of the abbreviation as much or more than Los Angeles.
Craig: Yeah. And, look, there are places like people who live in Mendocino, they don’t say, “Oh, I love in SF.” They say, “I live in Mendocino. It’s outside of San Francisco. Or I live near San Francisco.” Nobody says SF. I mean, there’s Nola, but nobody really says Nola.
Craig: Right. For New Orleans, Louisiana. Nobody says that. We’re the only one. It’s fascinating. Thank you, JT. Great reference to a very cool book.
John: All right. Larry writes in saying, “I thought you might like this story from the Washington Post. One space between each sentence they said. Science just proved them wrong. Obviously there needs to be a standard, but do we really want to leave it to science?”
So this is a story about whether two spaces or one space are the better choice for readability in text. This article seems to argue that two spaces is better, at least for certain fonts. Craig, you and I are both now one-spacers. What do you take from this?
Craig: I didn’t read it. I didn’t read it because you know what I don’t care. Here’s the thing: I was a two-spacer. Then I became a one-spacer. I have no problem reading anything with one space. Frankly, I have a problem reading things with two spaces. I can understand that there’s a point to say that it might be easier this way or that. It’s too late for me and this is the deal. I’ve just decided I get to be cranky and old about things now. And I think I’m going to be cranky and old about that one.
John: I’m absolutely fine having switched to one space. I don’t find it easier or harder to read with multiple spaces. That sense that like oh the extra space helps you keep sentences apart, I don’t really buy that. That’s why you have capital letters.
John: It’s going to be fine. So I will maintain my one space policy because I can.
Craig: Yeah. Because you can. And you will.
John: And I will. Craig, you proposed the topic for this week’s episode which is Full Circle. We kind of left it at that, but what I took that to mean was that the way in which our stories, especially movie stories, have an expectation or a natural pattern where characters end up coming full circle at the end of stories. Is that your intention behind the idea?
Craig: It is. Exactly right. There is this strange feeling we have about this sense of a return, and generally speaking I think it helps writing. I think it helps us as we go about writing something to think of the ending as the beginning and the beginning as the ending. That they are overlap-able essentially. And that there is a strange echo in the end of the beginning. And you see it very, very clearly as is often the case with structural things in animation, because animation is just pure storytelling.
So when we think about Finding Nemo, and the beginning of Marlin finding this one little egg and then at the end he’s holding his son and he imagines the one little egg we cry. And we cry in part because there is a connection to the beginning. And I’m fascinated by the way the return to a thing is inherently emotional to us.
John: Yeah. So as we talked about movie stories and what makes movie stories unique from television stories, a movie story tends to be about a character taking a journey that will be the one time they take this journey in their life. It’s this unique set of circumstances that are occurring to and because of this character. They’re generally leaving their place of safety and comfort and going off into the world. And that we want to see them making forward progress and have obstacles but ultimately getting to a place.
Yet often that place that they physically end up is the same place where they started. So Wizard of Oz, she leaves Kansas, she comes back to Kansas at the end. But they come back to that place changed and that is the crucial narrative the journey the character has been on is that they are not the same person they were at the very start of the story. Other stories, they’re not going to literally come back to the same place, but they will be assembling a new home, a new normal that has echoes of the original normal at this place they’ve gotten to. So that is the full circle. There is a thing that they’ve wanted that has been driving them. They achieved that thing. And in achieving that thing they’ve come back to a place of normalcy that they have created which is echoing the original place.
Craig: That’s all absolutely correct. And there is I think layered in there this other magical little thing which is an implication that existence is meaningful. I could make a pretty good argument that it’s not actually meaningful, but one of the things that is wonderful and seductive about good storytelling is that it implies quite the opposite. That there is meaning in life. And that these moments in our lives may indeed be important. And so when we come back around to things and stories we get this little hiccup in our hearts because it means that there’s a sense to all to it. That we’re not just randomly going through moments.
The first person that like really used the word circle with me was Jeanine Tesori who is a Broadway composer and I worked with her on a musical movie. And we were talking about the idea of circle and I want to just point out there’s – you’ve seen Fun Home haven’t you?
John: I’ve never seen Fun Home.
Craig: Oh, you’ve never seen Fun Home?
John: No. It’s a masterpiece by all accounts.
Craig: It’s wonderful. So there’s this thing – Fun Home begins with this little girl and she’s demanding that her daddy play with her and she plays this game. She says “I want to play airplane.” This is all in song. “I want to play airplane.” And he sort of does this thing that I used to do with my kids where he gets on his back and he puts his feet up and she sort of gets on his feet and balances and pretends that she’s an airplane.
And then the progression of the show is about how this girl grows up and starts to realize that she’s gay and also starts to realize that her father is gay. And she can handle it and he can’t. And he eventually commits suicide. At the very end of the show you’re kind of broken up, as you might imagine by all of this. He’s committed suicide. She’s in shock. And then they go back to her being a little girl again. And she’s pretending to fly on him again. And the last line of the show is as kind of a grownup version of herself she says, “Every so often there is a rare moment of perfect balance when I soared above him.” And you go, oh my god.
So I thought this show began with a nice moment between a father and a daughter and showing that they were close and that they used to have together. And then all this other stuff happened to kind of pull them apart. And then he died. But really that moment at the end is this much deeper more tragic story of someone who cannot admit to themselves who they are, but because of their love for their daughter she can. And she can go places he never could. That’s profound. And then you cry.
And it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t the repetition of that beginning moment. There is a promise in that repetition that things make sense.
John: Yeah. The technique you’re describing is called bookending. So you’re opening with a scene and coming back to the scene. Either the exact same scene or a close echo, a close rhyme of that scene to make it feel like, “OK, there’s intention. That there is a meaning behind things. That these things were put there for a specific reason. That there is a nice clean beginning and end. Weird that we’re talking about circles and we’re talking about beginnings and ends, too, but like that there really is a reason behind all these things being placed out there before us.”
So a bookending is a very classic technique and useful for a lot of situations. But even if you don’t literally have the same scene, you do have I think a natural movie expectation that we are going to come back to a place because movies as we talked about tend to be structured around a central dramatic question. There’s a fundamental question that the movie is trying to – the movie is asking at the start and trying to answer over the course of it and hopefully you’ve gotten that answer by the end. And so when you get that answer that naturally brings you back to the question. Like you’re asking the question again and providing a new answer. That’s what you’re describing in Fun Home and it’s what we see hopefully in movies that are working really well is the thing you’ve set up at the start as the issue you’re going to be tackling, you’ve tackled it and you actually have come to a conclusion about it. And that conclusion by its necessity is referring back to the beginning.
Craig: Right. And this helps guide us as we’re putting these things together because first we need to know what’s our actual point. What are we trying to say? And then I think you have an opportunity before you ever worry about anything else like inciting incidents and the middle and the whatever. Pinch points and all the other nonsense they throw at us. You have an opportunity to create a wonderful, terrible, funny, or tragic irony. That the beginning and end have an ironic connection to each other. And it could be an uplifting irony. It could be a touching irony. But irony in juxtaposition like that is giving the audience a thorough satisfaction. That’s almost like dessert, you know. You feel satisfied because the ending is the beginning. You feel as if that is that proper ending.
And when the ending is disconnected from the beginning I think this is sometimes when we will get the note, “There’s a problem with the ending. I’m just not feeling enough at the end.” And if you are getting that note take a careful look and see if there is a – if you have closed the circuit essentially.
John: Absolutely. So my first movie Go, that final scene is incredibly important. And it feels like, “Oh, you could lose that little thing.” Like basically all the storylines are wrapped up. But without that final scene where like they’re all back at the car together and Manny asks, “So what are we doing for New Years?” Like, oh, OK, a normalcy has returned. All the questions about like will Ronna have enough money for went. That’s getting paid off there. And then Manny is alive. We didn’t know if we was still alive. And he’s asking what are we doing for New Years. Like, OK, they’re all all right and we’re going to return to a normal space after this wild night and all the stuff that has happened over the course of it.
Without that scene you don’t leave the movie nearly as satisfied, even with all the funny bits along the way, often that final scene is really where you’re sticking the landing and making it feel like, “OK, this was worth your whole time getting through there.”
If you’ve ever been to see a movie and like it breaks halfway through or like there’s a big interruption, you don’t get to see the last bit, even if you enjoyed the movie up to that point it’s not going to be your favorite movie because you just don’t know how all the pieces come together.
Craig: And there is the communication of intelligence when you get to the end and you see that the end is an echo of the beginning. Floating above the characters and the things they’re saying, there’s a feeling of comfort. That the storyteller was in control. That everything was carefully done and said to you. I’m a big Guns N’ Roses fan. And one of the things I love about Guns N’ Roses is that every now and again, but not infrequently, they would write a song that was a pretty good song. And then they would just tack on another awesome song as part of it. They didn’t have. They just did.
It was like, you know, November Rain is a pretty fine ballad. That’s a cool ballad. Now here’s an awesome guitar song at the end of it that has nothing to do with the rest of it but it’s amazing.
Craig: Or like Rocket Queen. Well, it’s a pretty decent song. And then at the end let’s just do a different song which is awesome. They would do that all the time and what you would feel was this sense of we’re so good at this we can just do it just cause. We can give you extra. That’s how good we are. We have bonus talent.
And I think sometimes when you’re telling a good story and there’s that, well, unexpected return – because see a good completed circle, the beginning does not imply an ending. You know, I show up and I show up to Fun Home and it’s a story about a woman who – I’m going to watch her grow from a 10-year-old girl into a 35-year-old woman. And I’m going to hear about how she grows up and the story of her life. And how her relationship with her father changes and what happens to him.
So, when I watch in the beginning that she’s a little girl and she’s playing I think, “OK, I have no idea that this is going to mean so much more and yet it’s the same thing at the end.” And so when I get it it’s bonus art. And that’s when we feel loved by the storyteller. We feel taken care of. And I love that feeling.
John: So mostly we’re talking here a Broadway musical or a movie, it’s a one-time experience. It’s about two hours going through it. But a lot of the same logic applies to television as well. Only there you’re talking about the course of a season, the course of multiple seasons, the course of a whole series. And so recent conversations – obviously I sat down with Aline and Rachel for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and they talked about how they had mapped out the four seasons. They really knew what the arc of the whole show was going to be. And they were hoping to get the four seasons so they could really complete it out.
And then earlier in the year I sat down with Stephen Schiff to talk through The Americans. He was describing the third season, not spoiling stuff in it, but I have loved this third season and you realize like oh my gosh they have – we talked about Chekhov’s Gun on the wall. Like when you see a gun on the wall that gun has to fire at some point. And you realize like, “Oh man, this is like Chekhov’s 12 Gun Salute.” Like there are just Chekhov’s guns going off all the time because there are so many things they have carefully stacked up along the way. And they’re all just firing and it’s so exciting to see.
Like the things you knew, OK, that’s going to have to happen at some time. Oh no, there’s only three episodes left. All of these things are happening. It’s so exciting to see everything coming. And I have a very strong suspicion that when we get to that last episode it will come full circle. It will answer that question of can you be Russian spies living as Americans here and what does that mean to be sort of a false family within this country? They’ll be able to answer that question because they just so clearly thought through what they’d done and what they could do to answer that question over the course of the season.
Craig: Have you ever read The Sandman comics?
John: I never read Gaiman’s Sandman. No.
Craig: OK. Well, treat yourself. And they have – I think it’s a set of I want to say three or four volumes that have all of them. Neil Gaiman is an absolute master of this. And in Sandman he does this so beautifully and so frequently, circles within circles, that it seems impossible. Like it seems like he must have had some massive spreadsheet because the amount of stories he tells and the nature of them and the way that they roam between sort of regular people to gods of various mythologies, whether it’s European mythologies or African mythologies or Asian mythologies, and then into strange science fiction and then back around. It is mindboggling.
But every time he comes back around, sometimes he would come back around to something that was from like four years earlier. How did you know? This is insane. He’s brilliant at it.
Definitely if you haven’t read Sandman, my god, I’m saying this to everybody not just you. It is such a joy. It’s so literate and smart.
John: I will look forward to reading it. So let’s end this segment talking through some advice for how writers can think about this circle as they’re breaking their stories.
You can go to the Dan Harmon sort of – he literally has a circle chart that he goes through as he thinks through his stories which works for Community and for Rick and Morty. And that is his way of doing it. I have never been enamored by that specific approach, but I think the general idea of thinking about like where am I starting, where am I getting to, and to what degree is that ending reflective of where I started? Like does it feel like, OK, it’s answering the dramatic question. Is it getting me either physically back to that first place or emotionally back to that place that that character sought? That is a thing I’m always thinking about right from the beginning.
There’s a project I’m hoping to write next where the nature of it I knew exactly a moment that had to happen and that it was probably the last moment of the story. And so then I had to think like, OK, knowing that it has to be the last moment, what is the first moment that’s going to make it feel like getting there is going to be as rewarding as possible?
Craig: Right. And to me that’s the – it’s tough to give practical advice about this beyond “think about it,” but the general guideline is to find something that is in its own way beautiful, and beautiful meaning harmonious and satisfying and delicious, to say you know what the beginning – if I want this remarkable ending, what would be this ironic way to have it as a beginning? And sometimes you don’t know that you’re going to need an ending and so you look back.
I mean, when I was doing the last Hangover movie with Todd Phillips, you know, we could have ended it all sorts of ways, but it just seemed like we should end it where it began, all the way back in that room where Justin Bartha’s character was going to get married and they were having a chat and Alan was trying on a tuxedo. And now Alan is about to get married. And it just felt like that’s – you know, draw your circle.
Now, nobody was planning on that, so that’s not a particularly delicious one. It just felt appropriate. But when you are planning your version of it, think about what would feel so good. Because you know your ending is complicated and insightful and definitive. Your ending is a period at the end of a sentence. So what’s the question version of that to begin with?
John: Absolutely. Really establish the question and therefore the answer will have meaning. The other thing I would remind people is that you can’t come to a place unless you left. And so your characters have to leave that place they start, which I think is one of the biggest challenges often screenwriters have is they don’t let their characters move. They don’t sort of force their characters to move and actually take some action.
So, if people are just sitting around not doing anything, there’s no coming back to a place because they never left. You’ve got to get them moving. Most of the time that’s literally leaving their place of safety and comfort, but it can also be, you know, a journey of what they want, what they’re going after, what is normal for them and pushing them into a place that’s not normal.
John: So you got to leave before you come back.
Craig: Hell yeah. Get out.
John: Hell yeah. All right, let’s answer some listener questions. Marco writes, “I have been making a low budget pilot for an animated series for the last few years. It will be finished by the end of this month. My question is whether or not to put it on YouTube for all to see, or keep it a secret and only show it to professionals who could be interested in producing it.” Craig, what are your first thoughts for Marco?
Craig: Well, if you have professionals who might be interested in producing it then it seems reasonable to begin by putting it say on Vimeo and putting a password on it. A lot of people do things like that. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that maybe you don’t. And if you don’t, then just let people see it, because maybe it gets passed around and you get attention for it.
I don’t see why you wouldn’t.
John: In general I am a fan of sharing stuff and letting people discover it and trying to let what’s naturally going to happen happen. But I will, a counter example here, so Megan McDonnell, our producer, she directed this really good short earlier this year and I asked like, “Oh, so you’re going to do the festival circuit with it and get some awards for it?” She was like, “Oh no, we’re actually going to put it online.” And that’s totally her choice and people saw it and she got meetings off of it. But I think there’s also a scenario in which they went out, they won some awards, and got some attention that way where people are looking at it on a big screen with professional attention. Like oh holy cow, here’s a good short with some stars I recognize. And some awards behind it could have been helpful.
So, there’s no one perfect way to do that. But if Marco your concern is like someone is going to steal my idea and do their own version of it, don’t. Because showing your work is good, so show your work.
Craig: Show your work, Marco. Lex in LA writes, “Is the WGA going to fight Netflix skipping credits? One of my biggest pet peeves with Netflix and other streaming platforms is that they cut away from the end credits and jump into a trailer for something else or another movie, episode of a TV show, etc. A lot of the time I finish the film and think ‘I wonder who the DP was,’ and I’m constantly let down when Netflix cuts away before it gets to the below-the-line credits. Hell, the ABC app on my Apple TV cuts away during the last scene before the closing credits.
“Is there anything the unions can do to combat this? Shouldn’t it be a given that the credits are allowed to roll in their entirety?”
John: All right. This is not an official WGA answer. I will say that the WGA is not a great vehicle for addressing this, because WGA deals with the folks who make things, not necessarily the folks who exhibit things. So it would be a challenging thing for the WGA to implement. Where I think you could see some movement on this would just be a lot of public shaming. So I think if you had a big group of high profile filmmakers and TV makers saying, “Hey, Netflix, cut this out. Hey ABC, cut this out. Show the credits,” then I think you could sort of publicly shame them a bit into doing that.
But I don’t think unions are going to be able to do that. Craig, what’s your take?
Craig: Well, I think there is some bearing that the union has on the exhibition of credits and I don’t know exactly how the legal mechanism works, whether it’s that if you’re a signatory you have to require any exhibitor to obey the following rules for credits. In other words we’re obliging you to pass the rules along. I do know for instance that CBS cannot air a show, show you who the director is, and not show you who the writer is. And that they have to follow the order of credits.
So the thing with these credits is that the rules are negotiated by the unions. The two most powerful unions when it comes to credits are the DGA and the WGA. The director and the writer credit are married together essentially. Even on posters if you show the director’s name you have to show the writer’s name in any way, shape, or form. That’s just the rule.
Then the below-the-line credits, those are the purview of various IATSE unions that don’t really have the kind of credit protections that the DGA or the WGA have, nor do they have seemingly the interest to promote those things.
I feel like it’s a little bit honestly of a shrug, because the way we consume that information now is so different than what used to be. You just go online and you have the answer. It’s all there. And I generally don’t stick around for the credits. If I want to know who did it I take a look. To me credits are fine, but I don’t make movies so that people can see the credits. You know what I mean? I just want them to see the show.
John: Because of the Marvel movies and their after-credit sequences which I’ve railed against before, there is a tradition of sitting around for certain movie’s credits and not other movie’s credits. On Netflix, yes, I notice that as things go by sometimes I have been frustrated and wanted to see those things and have to sort of deliberately hunt them out. But it’s not that hard to hunt them out. I think Craig makes a good point that like you’ve got IMDb at any point and so you can always look up who the person was behind that.
I will say that growing up, sitting through credits did give me a sense of just how many people are involved in making a movie. And that is a lovely thing to see like “Oh my god it took thousands of people for this movie to exist” Was a good education. But I don’t know that the unions are going to be able to make this happen.
John: I think public pressure on Netflix is by far the most likely way of getting that to happen, or some setting that Netflix allows you to do to like never skip credits.
Craig: There will be no public pressure on Netflix to flood your television screen with endless credits. It’s just not going to happen.
John: DT in Los Angeles writes, “I’ve been consulting with a distribution company who has recently started doing their own productions. One of their productions currently in preproduction is a historical drama based on real people. In Episode 325, Craig mentioned how he and his researcher had to create an annotated version of teleplays for Chernobyl. Irene Turner also mentioned having to do this in Episode 293 with her screenplay for The Most Hated Woman in America.
“The attorneys for the production company had never heard of an annotated screenplay until I explained it to them based on my listening to the podcast. Could you give me a bit more detail about how an annotated screenplay is formatted? Are they footnotes or endnotes like a college research paper? Or are notes just inserted into the action line? Also, how specific are the sources? I’d imagine if you are citing a newspaper article you have to list the publication, the author, and the date of the publication?”
Craig: OK. Well, first of all, DT, the deal is that there are certain things that are our obligations and responsibilities and then there are certain things that are their obligations and responsibilities. Typically what happens is when the company hires you to write your project one of their obligations to us is to indemnify us. Essentially if someone comes along and sues they cover it. And they cover the legal action in our defense. In exchange we promise that we didn’t do anything wrong, that we haven’t ripped anybody off. Obviously if we have then all bets are off.
But one of the ways that they feel that they’re on solid footing with that indemnification is that we provide them with an annotated screenplay. If they didn’t ask you for one, and they are also indemnifying you, you probably don’t want to bring it up because you’re getting something for free there.
That said, the actual physical document, the annotated screenplay, I didn’t even see. We just had our researcher do it and send it in. So, I will get a hold of it. And I can’t publish it for you guys yet, just because I don’t want to give anything away regarding the show. But I can at least describe it. So, I will get a copy of that and in our next show as part of follow up we’ll talk through what that looks like.
John: Absolutely. A thing I would also single to DT is that in the case of Chernobyl, especially in the case of Most Hated Woman in America, there were concerns about libel. Are you saying things about people that could create lawsuit situations? If your historical thing is something that happened in the 1600s that’s not going to be a problem for you.
So, the reason why I imagine you might do an annotated screenplay in that situation is if there are certain facts that are not well known and it’s not clear sort of where you’re drawing these facts. There you might want to have some evidence-based, like “This is where I got this thing from” to make it clear that you’re not drawing on one specific source of material. But I think it’s more for recent history that you’re going to be finding annotated screenplays an important thing.
Craig: I agree. I mean, essentially whatever the time is that covers the possibly defamation that might occur. That’s what you’re dealing with. And, by the way, it depends country to country. In the United States I believe the deal is are they are alive or not. If they’re alive you can defame them, if they’re not you can’t. That is not the case in other countries, for instance Russia. So, depending on–
John: Can you defame the dead in Russia?
Craig: That is what I’ve been led to understand.
John: Holy cow.
Craig: That you can and then the family could take action against you. And, you know, we don’t do that in our show. We’re careful to not do that. There’s certainly historical figures that we describe what they did, which is not good, but in a couple places it was a thing that we had to kind of work through. Then the question is where is this airing and who is making it and all the rest. There’s a lot of complicated factors.
Because Chernobyl is a joint production between HBO and SKY, it’s a very European-based production, so there’s multiple country laws that are covering this. So, I think that got a little complicated.
John: Cool. Do you want to take our last question?
Craig: Yeah, Writer A…ooh, I like the mystery. Writer A in LA writes, “I recently…” OK, this is just really rough, Writer A because of what’s about to happen. Writer A in LA writes, “I was recently Writer A,” were you now, “in an arbitration that involved three other writers. And I encountered a dilemma that I haven’t ever heard discussed.
“In addition to Story by credit, I believe I deserved shared Teleplay by credit with whichever of the subsequent writers contributed the most to the shooting script. But when I attempted to suggest Teleplay by Writer A and Writer Whichever I was told by my attorney that I had to determine which of those writers deserve the shared credit. That is to say Teleplay by Writer A and Writer D. That required me to read all the other writer’s drafts and make a judgement which I felt was best left to the arbiters and was ultimately a decision which I think has no impact on me, or am I mistaken in that presumption? Is my lawyer correct?
“As the original writer why do I have to do anything other than defend my original contribution?”
John: So this is a valid thing and I’ve encountered this in arbitrations before. So the quick arbitration refresher is because we have a Writers Guild, thank god, we have the ability to determine the credits for our movies. And it’s the Writers Guild that determines that. It is a panel of arbiters who are picked per project. They are anonymous. We do not know the names of the writers involved in the project. They are assigned Writer A, Writer B, Writer C.
In this case the person writing in was Writer A. And so what Writer A is really asking is am I allowed to say “The credits should be me and somebody else.” That you basically don’t care who you’re sharing credit with, but you recognize it’s going to be somebody else. And this lawyer said, no, no, you’re not allowed to say that.
But let’s think about in what circumstance is Writer A saying this at all. It’s in the letter that the writer is submitting along with the arbitration, which is generally a short letter that says like I’m Writer A, these were my contributions to the script. Generally it ends with I believe the proper credit is Writer A and whatever you believe the proper credit is. That is really what the writer is talking about. Am I required to list which of the other writers is the appropriate one. The lawyer says yes. I say kind of basically no. I think it’s generally good practice to sort of say what that is, but it’s also fine to say in the letter like this is a tough case. I don’t know who to say is the proper other writer, but I believe it’s going to be either one of these two.
I think you do yourself a disservice if you’re not actually looking at the other scripts. But you’re not actually required to look at the other scripts as a writer in an arbitration. What do you think?
Craig: In the case of Writer A’s lawyer versus John August, I rule in favor of…John August.
John: Thank you.
Craig: You are correct. The lawyer is absolutely wrong. Writer A, your lawyer couldn’t be more wrong. I wish I could see your lawyer right now to look them in the eye and say, “Dear Lawyer, I know you meant well, but you’re wrong.”
Here’s why: when you write this statement you are essentially saying, “Look, I believe I deserve teleplay credit because I believe I have met the threshold for credit.” That’s how credits work. You hit a certain threshold, you earn a credit. In film we use percentages, which is kind of a game, but essentially what we say is, “OK, if it’s an original project if you’re the first writer your threshold is 33% of the final shooting script. If you’re a subsequent writer it’s 50%.” For other movies that are adaptations everybody’s threshold is the same. If you can show that you have written a minimum of 33% of this movie then you have earned credit. At that point you have a choice. You can say I’ve earned all of the credit, because I wrote 90% of this script.
You can say, you know what, I believe I deserve credit and just because I’m a fair-minded person I also think Writer B should get credit, but I leave that up to you. Or you can simply say I’m not here to tell you anything other than this. My contributions meet the test for teleplay credit.
Craig: I’m not saying they meet the test for sole teleplay credit. You guys can determine how the rest of that is apportioned. That’s up to you. All I’m saying, and the only argument I’m making is I’ve hit the threshold. That is absolutely fine.
So, your lawyer was super wrong.
John: Your lawyer was wrong.
Craig: And I got to say, people at home, don’t ask your lawyers these questions. They’re not dumb. Believe me, they’re not dumb. And a lot of lawyers are pretty good with our credit stuff, but why would you ever ask your personal attorney whose job is not say to be a lawyer administrating the credit system of the Writers Guild, which is its own subset of jurisprudence, when you can just call up your union for free, the people you pay dues to, and say “I have a question.” And they will give you the definitive answer, which in this case I assure you would be you’re fine.
So, there you go.
John: What people may not understand is that Craig isn’t just talking like he sort of knows this stuff. Craig has actually been involved with sort of the instructions that are going out to arbiters and all of this stuff for years, including new stuff that’s coming out to make this process more clear and transparent for people going through an arbitration. So do trust Craig, don’t trust your lawyer.
I will say Writer A one reason why you may want to read through those other scripts is if there really were like four writers after you. In order for someone else to receive credit that writer would need to hit at least a 33% threshold in the final shooting script. And if in reading those things no other writer actually hits 33%, even if you individually your contribution wasn’t more than 50% or whatever, there could be scenarios in which you end up with sole credit even though you only did a little bit more than a third of it because none of those other people actually hit that thing.
So, it may be worth it for you to see what that is. Or it may be fine for you to say like I believe I deserve credit and I leave it for you fair arbiters to figure out who if anyone else deserves credit.
Craig: No question. So you can say “I want to figure out if I deserve sole credit or not.” And by the way the 33% probably doesn’t apply here because this is television, this is a different deal. But regardless I want to read everybody’s stuff to figure out am I asking for shared credit, sole credit. Am I sort of being agnostic about it and saying you guys tell me. All I’m saying is I deserve some credit.
Or, Writer A I think it’s reasonable to say, “You know what? I read the final shooting script. I know I deserve credit. The rest is up to you.” That’s the only argument I’m making is I deserve credit. Should I share it? Should I share it with this person or this person? Should I not share it? That’s on you guys. You decide. You tell me. I don’t care. I’m good either way.
As an arbiter, I will tell you, as the person that’s actually making judgements, I am always happy to see writers arguing for their credit. And I am generally less happy seeing writers arguing against somebody else getting credit. Now, sometimes you have to. But, yeah, there’s nothing requiring you – for instance, Writer A says when I attempted to suggest Teleplay by Writer A and Writer Question Mark I was told by my attorney no. Well, yeah, you can absolutely say I think the credits should be Teleplay by Writer A and whichever other writer you think qualifies. No problem with that whatsoever. You can read all of them. You cannot read all of them. Ultimately it’s up to you.
I generally would advise you to read everything, but you know, it’s up to you.
John: And now it is time for our One Cool Things. To bring this full circle is 21 Things to Know Before Losing Your Gay Virginity.
Craig: Oh, thank god. I got to cram on this.
John: This is by Alexander Cheves. It’s written for The Advocate. And what I liked about this article is that it literally just very clearly sort of lays out here’s what’s really happening here because one of my great frustrations in seeing gay sex portrayed in movies is that the first time is portrayed in a completely unrealistic way about sort of how it all works. And I think they basically just took what you would assume from straight virginity and tried to apply it to this and it just isn’t the same. And it’s different and you got to acknowledge that.
And so this is I think a very practical guide. If it’s something you’re going through or if you have a person in your life who you know is going through this I would steer them in this direction because I feel it is a helpful overview of some of the things that you’re going to be thinking through as you’re–
Craig: As you’re losing your gay virginity.
John: I think it would be helpful for straight people to know some of this information, but it’s certainly helpful for any person who is going to be encountering this themselves to know this going in.
Craig: Wow. Yeah. I think that may be the most John August thing of all time. As you’re losing your virginity to go “Let me now consider. Hold on. I’m just running through the 21 things. I’m at thing 14. Slow down.”
I’m going to read it. I want to know. Fascinating. I know – things to know before losing your straight virginity…that’s a pretty short article. It’s going to be weird. That’s pretty much–
John: And certainly there’s a huge overlap between the two.
John: It’s going to be weird for sort of everyone and of course porn has distorted our expectation of what those situations should be.
Craig: It has.
John: But there’s specific stuff, and like most kids are not going to encounter in popular culture the way they will encounter all the straight stuff in popular culture.
John: So I think that’s the reason why you have to shine a spotlight on some of these things so that people know it’s actually out there and that it’s not what they would assume.
Craig: All right. Well, I’ll take a look at that. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I’ll be prepared at a minimum. So my One Cool Thing this week is sort of new to me, so I’m just starting it, but I like the concept of it. It’s an app called Moodnotes and essentially you log your mood. And it’s got a lovely interface. This is the part that I love the most. You know that little pain chart in the doctor’s office?
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: I love that pain chart because number one is super happy and number ten is just freaking out, but it’s just all smiley faces and you rarely see a smiley face just freaking out and dying. So it begins when you log your mood, and you can do it each day if you like. It’s just a simple screen that says how are you and then it shows you a face, just a very stylized face. And then by swiping up or down you create smiley or sad. And you can do it to various degrees. And when you’re done you can add a little detail and then you can save it. And essentially the idea is by monitoring your mood you can see over time patterns. First of all, you become more mindful of your moods. And you can start to see patterns.
And the reason I think this is potentially very useful is I remember years and years and years ago when I had a lot of – I was having a huge migraine problem and I went to a neurologist and he gave me just a chart and he said every day you have a headache write down, put a little check mark here, and just put the severity with a number. And I did it and then I brought it back to him after a month and he goes, “Oh my god, look at this.” I had a headache almost every day. And it was important to see that because essentially what happens to us on a day to day basis is we forget. We forget what happened yesterday and the day before. And I think you can start to not notice that you’re depressed until you’re really depressed.
And I also think you may be missing certain patterns like I tend to get really moody on weekends or I get – maybe for women I get really moody right before my cycle or something like that. So, it’s really useful I think to just monitor your mood. If nothing else it keeps you mindful. But it may also have some predictive or diagnostic value. And I think it’s $4 or something, which my new jam is like I don’t want free apps. I want to pay for them and be done with it. I don’t want the apps that are constantly like a subscription, blah. So I like it.
Give it a shot. It’s called Moodnotes.
John: Fantastic. All right. That is our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Olufemi Sowemimo. If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com.
That is a place where you can send questions like the ones we answered today. On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Short questions are great on Twitter. We’re happy to answer your questions there as well.
We are on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcast. Just search for Scriptnotes. Leave us a review if you’d like. That helps other people find the show.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. So it’s links to the things we talked about and other stuff you might want to download or investigate.
We have a few more of the 300-episode USB drives left, but we also have the whole back catalog available at Scriptnotes.net. Every week we check to see how many subscribers we have to the premium feed through Scriptnotes.net and it keeps growing, so it’s very nice that more of you are subscribing to that to hear all those back episodes and bonus episodes. So if you would like to go back and catch up on the early days of Scriptnotes you can at Scriptnotes.net.
And that’s it. Craig, it’s nice to talk with you. I’m going to talk to you next, I guess the day this episode comes out, at our live show.
Craig: Oh, I’m excited for that.
John: I’m excited for it, too. All right, thanks all.
- Our next live Scriptnotes with Jonah Nolan & Lisa Joy (Westworld) and Stephen McFeely & Christopher Markus (Avengers: Infinity War) is TONIGHT, Tuesday, May 22nd at the ArcLight in Hollywood. Proceeds benefit Hollywood HEART, which runs special programs and summer camps for at-risk youth.
- John’s statement on one theater’s choice to cancel their performance of Big Fish over the inclusion of same-sex parents.
- Highland 2 is officially out! This is the New York Times article about our Gender Analysis feature.
- Names on the Globe by George R. Stewart discusses the pronunciation of L.A.
- One space between each sentence, they said. Science just proved them wrong. is a Washington Post article by Avi Selk about whether to put one space or two after a period.
- According to Craig, Fun Home is a good example of a moving bookending.
- The Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman
- Dan Harmon’s Story Circle
- 21 Things to Know Before Losing Your Gay Virginity by Alexander Cheves
- Moodnotes is an app that tracks your mood
- The Scriptnotes Listeners’ Guide!
- The USB drives!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Olufemi Sowemimo (send us yours!)
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the episode here.