The original post for this episode can be found here.

Megan Amram: And the award for Best Popular Screenwriting Podcast goes to…oh my god…Scriptnotes!

Michael Gilvary: This is the first nomination and the first award for Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig Mazin: Oh wow, OK, I was not prepared for this. I did not think we were going to get this. OK, time is running out. I just want to thank, first of all, everybody that made this podcast possible. Obviously my agent, and my wife Melissa.

John August: We have to thank our listeners, our fans, the people at the live show. You’re the reason why we do this. You make it all so worthwhile.

Craig: And we do this because we care about you, the screenwriters, and this is for you, the screenwriters. This is why we do it every day – week in and week out. We’re not doing it for money. We’re doing it because we care about the people out there and we always will. We love you and we thank you so much for this. And every single one of you, if you have a dream. [Crosstalk]

John: Amy go to bed.

Today on the program we get Craig’s opinion on a range of topics, including changes to the Oscars. The Editors Guild vs. IATSE. Disney buying Fox. The Department of Justice. And WGA dues. My function in these topics is just to set the ball so that Craig can spike it.

Craig: Oh fun.

John: But we’ll also talk about my experience with the unavailability of a specific movie and what you can do to help. Craig, you’ve been gone for so long that we have just so many things stacked up.

Craig: It’s incredible.

John: And we need to knock them down.

Craig: I know. So I’m doing this long range from Lithuania. Coming at you live from Eastern Europe. I really enjoyed our opening. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to winning something.

John: But you never know. I have high hopes in the future that you will be rewarded with something for your tireless devotion to the business and craft of screenwriting.

Craig: Well, it’s getting easier, right?

John: The posthumous Oscar.

Craig: They’re making new categories. Ooh, I like – maybe I can just get into that death montage right? That was something.

John: Ha! That’s what you want. So, a little bit of news before we get into the other topics. Scriptnotes is now on Spotify. So, they added us to Spotify this last week, so that’s great. If you would like to listen to us on Spotify–

Craig: Did we take Alex Jones’s spot? Is that what happened? Like they took him off and we go on?

John: That’s what it is. They got rid of one. He goes out, we go in.

Craig: Perfect.

John: So now we’re on Spotify. So, if you would like to listen to us on Spotify, that’s great. You can leave a review for us there, or star us, or whatever the ratings are there because that helps people find the show. And also some updates on the Austin Film Festival. So that happens at the end of October. Starts October 25 and goes through that weekend. So in addition to our live show, and a Three Page Challenge, Craig is judging the pitch finals. And I am now hosting a career panel with Tess Morris, Christina Hodson, Nicole Perlman, and Jason Fuchs on Friday the 26th.

Craig: Oh my god.

John: At 3:15.

Craig: That is a great lineup. Those are four of my favorite people in the world. That’s going to be spectacular.

John: Yeah. I got to hand pick my people, and man, it’s going to be a great, fun panel.

Craig: Nailed it.

John: Nailed it. So come see us in Austin if you’re not already planning to come. Come and I don’t want to spoil it, but everybody who comes to the Austin Film Festival will get a special piece of swag that they will enjoy.

Craig: Including me? Do I get the swag?

John: You get the swag, too. Everyone gets one.

Craig: Ooh.

John: I’m Oprah-ing this. Everyone gets the swag.

Craig: And you get a – is it a car?

John: It’s not a car.

Craig: Meh.

John: But we are shipping these bits of swag to Austin tomorrow. So it will be there in time.

Craig: Holy – so wait – you’re pre-shipping swag ahead of time?

John: We’re pre-shipping swag ahead of time.

Craig: Oh wow. My mind is working overtime. Do not tell me what it is. I want to be surprised with everybody.

John: I won’t. You’ll be surprised.

Craig: Even if you did tell me, I would forget, so I would be surprised again. It would be amazing.

John: We had a bit of follow up here. Do you want to take this letter from Chris Fousek?

Craig: Yeah, sure Chris Fousek writes, “I am a long time listener of the podcast and screenwriting procrastinator extraordinaire. I have just contacted Chevalier’s bookstore about a personalized copy and thought maybe I would write you a quick email as well.” Personalized copy of what? Let’s find out.

“We recently just welcomed our own Arlo into the world and just wanted to thank you for all that you do for the writing community as well as the creation of Arlo Finch.” I think they’re talking about you, John. “A decisive inspiration in naming our new baby Arlo Leigh Fousek.” What an amazing thing. How about that?

John: Yeah. There’s an extra Arlo in the world. So, Chris had sent in a little photo of a newborn baby. All newborn babies are cute. This was a cute baby along with all other babies. I have a hunch that there are going to be plenty of Arlos being born independent of Arlo Finch. I feel like it’s a name that’s going to be on the rise because it has a good throwback quality, but I’m excited to have helped name one baby out there in the world.

Craig: And Arlo to me seems like it could go gender neutral.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Like I don’t know if Arlo Leigh is a boy or girl. Because both of those names are gender neutral.

John: They are. Looking at this – actually I do know that this one is a boy because in the little photo that was sent through the little thing says Arlo and there’s a boy sticker on the hospital card. But I agree. Arlo, you could name a girl Arlo.

Craig: Baby has a beard. That’s the other giveaway. A full beard.

John: Well, yeah, and they sent the full nude baby picture, which I guess–

Craig: That often [crosstalk]. Not this time. Good. You know what? I’m glad they didn’t do that. That’s not appropriate.

John: Nope. So anyway, that’s a nice little bit of Arlo Finch news.

Craig: That’s great.

John: Another bit of follow up. Back in our conflict of interest episode we talked about how the WGA and the agencies were talking about renegotiating their deal, their contract, or essentially the WGA had given notice that they wanted to renegotiate the contract which started this one year ticking clock. And basically nothing has happened since that point until last week the Association of Talent Agencies, which represents all the agencies, came back and said, “Wow, we really wish you wouldn’t have put us on shout like that, but they, let’s have some informal talks.”

So, it looks like something will slowly start to happen on the negotiations between agents and the WGA.

Craig: Yeah. I generally remain skeptical about all negotiations between the WGA and anyone. The WGA negotiating with a sandwich place, I am skeptical of the negotiation. But we did have a pretty solid negotiation last time around with the companies. This is a different deal. Very different deal. And I think the big problem that we have, well, ultimately I think is going to come down to some judge somewhere deciding if our point of view is correct or their point of view is correct.

I will say this. As a new arrival to the world of television, I find the existence of packaging fees, which is one of the big bugaboos that we’re digging into with these agencies, to be the most odious, absurd nonsense every devised by Hollywood. At least financially speaking. I think it’s ridiculous. And I’m going to do everything I can to destroy it. I don’t know, I mean, I’m willing to, I don’t know, go full Katniss Everdeen.

John: Very good. And I will say my concern is that as noxious as these packaging fees are, my bigger concern is that as agencies becomes more involved in the actual production of material we as writers become employees of agencies which is a real messed up situation. So it’s not just that they have a piece of the backend. They are actually producing stuff. And that becomes really problematic.

Craig: Never. Never. I will also Katniss Everdeen that.

John: Never.

Craig: No, who is the other guy? Peeta Mellark?

John: Yeah, that sounds right.

Craig: All right. Pretty decent pull. I’ll Peeta that one and I’ll Katniss the other one. I don’t care.

John: Great. So, we’ll be under a giant Thunderdome and there will be cheers and people will be watching. It will be great.

Craig: I will wear a fiery dress.

John: She’s on fire.

All right. Let’s get to our main topics because there are so many main topics.

Craig: So much.

John: This past Wednesday the Academy Board of Governors announced several changes coming to the Awards telecast. So basically they’re going to get down to a three-hour total running time, which means that certain awards are going to be given during commercial breaks rather than during the main telecast. They’re going to move the whole Oscars earlier in the calendar, so not this year, but the next year it will be moving up two or three weeks, so February 9th is the target date for those.

And, finally, and sort of most controversially they want to add a new category, Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film.

Craig, what’s your hot take on these? It’s not even a hot take because we’re recoding this almost a week after it’s been announced.

Craig: A warmed-over take.

John: What’s your lukewarm take on this?

Craig: Well, look, in general I kind of can’t get too worked up over this stuff. There are certain kinds of people that are Oscarologists. They take the Oscars super-duper seriously. They care a lot about them. They think they matter a lot. And to some extent they do. They can matter a lot for individual films and, of course, I think for people that win Oscars, I mean, we have statistics. They actually tend to live longer than their cohorts. It is the closest thing that we have to objectively announcing that somebody is good at their job, in movies at least.

Certain awards being given during commercial breaks, it was inevitable. You know, these award shows go on forever. It’s kind of become a running joke. And while I’m not sure while ones they’ve shunted off, but if it’s the short form animation or something like that I’m not shocked. It makes sense. People essentially watch these shows for the actors. That’s kind of the deal. That’s why the SAG Awards for instance are televised, whereas nobody would ever both televising the DGA Awards or the WGA Awards or the Editors Guild Awards because nobody wants to see those people. They want to see actors. They’re famous.

So, I get those changes. The earlier date, fine. New category: Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. I cannot describe how much I hate this idea. I can’t put it on a scale of hatred. Zero to all of my hatred. This is all of my hatred plus five. I hate it. I hate it. And I’m really curious what you think, before I discuss why. You’re a member of the Academy. I don’t know if they asked you about this stuff or polled you guys about this, or if you were involved. Are you allowed to say what you think about it?

John: I am allowed to say what I think about it. I’m not on the Board of Governors. I’m just a normal Academy member. So I got the news the same time everybody else got the news. So I don’t like the name. I don’t like the idea. But I will, just for the devil’s advocate, I will explain sort of where I think it is coming from.

I think it’s not coming from the Academy. It’s coming from ABC. It’s coming from the company that is actually broadcasting the awards. And ABC is looking at the fact that last year the ratings for the show dropped 20%. So it’s still the biggest, or second biggest television event of the year, right after the Super Bowl. But it wasn’t as big of a thing as it had been previous years. And so they’re looking and saying we need to give an award to a movie that everybody has seen so people will actually tune in to watch it.

And I get that as an instinct. I’m not a fan of the existence of this award or the choice to add it. I really don’t like the name.

Craig: Ugh, the name.

John: I think that could have been workshopped a lot better.

Craig: Oof.

John: And it’s not even clear what the criteria will be for this award. So, I think the general sense of like we need to also make sure we are awarding great movies that are not sort of art house movies. I get that. And that we don’t only look at this sparkling little gems in the distance, but really look at the movies that are right in front of us. But I don’t see this award, especially with this name, and this presentation doing that.

Craig: I’ll go one step further. I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think that they are going to–

John: I think it’s going to get pulled.

Craig: So much negative feedback, because first of all the name is outrageous. And it actually ends up hurting the very thing they want to help. If they want to help, for instance, a movie like Get Out, or a movie like Black Panther, or even movies that people really love like some Disney movies, you know, it’s not helping them. It’s essentially ghettoizing them. So, it’s like, “OK, here’s the real Oscar for the best movie. And then here’s – you’re popular. They bought your tickets. So here’s a special kind of side Oscar. It’s not a real Oscar.”

And to me if I could wave the magic wand, because I do believe that the Oscars really do have a problem. They no longer routinely reward Hollywood for what they do. What they’re doing is routinely rewarding independent films for what they do. And so what I would do is I would essentially create a category of best independent film or best limited release film. Ghettoize them. But keep the best movies – so in other words you say, look, if you’ve been released on fewer than a thousand screens you are the best limited release film. And then all these movies that slip into theaters for five days or one day in 12 theaters to qualify, all that stuff goes away. You have to actually be in a – and then the Oscar is reserved for movies that are on a thousand screens or more, meaning movies that maybe people could have possibly seen. Because that’s what they used to be.

I mean, when you look back at what Oscars were they gave awards to big movies, not little – I mean, I love little movies. I tend to like them more than the big movies, but you know, at some point either this is for Hollywood or it’s not.

John: Yeah. I think that’s a smart choice. So hopefully they will listen to you and come to their senses and some of these things will not come to pass the way they are being presented right now. I guess I’m sympathetic to the notion that it is both an organization trying to award excellence in its field and also a worldwide telecast that is meant to be popular and beloved and that individual movie lovers take ownership of the Oscars. And so they’re trying to balance these two things. I just don’t think they balance them very well.

Craig: No. And it’s just an indication that there’s – something is wrong over there. I don’t know what it is, because I don’t know how they operate. And I never will. But something seems wrong with the way they’re governing in general. It just seems like maybe there’s too many people. I feel like the place is paralyzed or something and it’s too bad, because it’s an amazing organization actually. They do a lot of really great work.

John: Yeah. For instance they hosted our 100th episode of Scriptnotes.

Craig: That was obviously their brightest moment. But, you know, there’s the Nicholl Fellowship. And the Library. They do a lot of really good things. Everybody knows them for the Oscars. That’s supposed to be their moneymaking gig. If people stop watching it – this feels a little pander-y. I don’t know. I hope they change it.

John: We’ll see what happens.

Craig: Yeah. We’ll see what happens.

John: In the category we’ll see what happens. The Editors Guild is not happy with IATSE. So, this is a complicated union situation. I actually had to look up the history of how these things came to be. IATSE stands for the – ready? – The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists, and Allied Crafts in the United States, its territories, and Canada.

That is a very long name, so that’s why we call it IATSE. But IATSE is essentially the super union that covers a bunch of the trades in Hollywood. They also do other stuff, but particularly the trades in Hollywood. They’re a total of 375 local unions, including the Animation Guild, which is a source of great annoyance to writers who work in animation; the International Cinematographers Guild; and the Motion Picture Editors Guild.

So this past month they were renegotiating their contract with the AMPTP, the same people we negotiate our WGA contract with, and the editors were not happy with how this deal was shaping up.

Craig: Yeah. This is a – well, I think the problem here is, again, one of a structural thing. We were just talking about the Academy. So let’s talk about IATSE. IATSE is just huge. It’s massive. And it covers segments of the labor force that are really different from each other. I mean, the Writers Guild sometimes runs into trouble now and then between representing feature writers and representing television writers. And the Directors Guild has television directors and film directors. And they have first ADs versus directors. But nothing like IATSE.

In IATSE you have an enormous amount of grips. You also have them representing costume designers. And you have them representing cinematographers and editors. Everyone is doing a very different job with very different needs and very different problems. The issue is that this union never strikes, ever, even though they do have easily the single best strike threat in town.

John: If IATSE were to strike there’s no alternative. All production would stop immediately if IATSE were to strike.

Craig: Instantly. Instantly. Also, all post-production would stop instantly.

John: Yes.

Craig: All pre-production would stop instantly. Everything would stop. Period. The end. And they do need to strike together, I believe. The problem is when a particular local like Editors Guild Local 700 has a problem with their contract, big IATSE starts talking with – essentially they start negotiating internally. So, it’s not just I have to figure out how to get what I need out of the AMPTP. I also have to figure out how to convince Grips Local 80 that they should be striking with us over our editors’ issues.

And what ends up happening is, at least in this case, and I think that this probably is fairly common in IATSE, big IATSE goes ahead and negotiates a deal on behalf of the editors. And now the editors local is saying to their members don’t vote yes on this even though our union, specifically represented by Matt Loeb, their president, is saying that they have created “a huge victory.” That’s what he’s calling this contract that the editors are saying – unanimously the Editors Guild Board of Directors said to recommend that their members vote no. Now that’s a huge schism in their – not much of a union is it at that point, at least there’s no union in the union.

John: Nope. So, complicating everything else is that each of these individual local guilds has their own leadership. So Cathy Repola is the Executive Director of the Editors Guild, but she is the one who is coming out against this deal. Her specific concerns with it were for editors there’s a nine-hour turnaround time versus a ten-hour turnaround time.

Turnaround is one of those things that we don’t think about much as writers but is so crucial to everybody else working on a production. So turnaround is from the time you leave work to the time that you have to come back to work, that is turnaround. And SAG has turnaround negotiated for all of its actors. And IATSE negotiates turnaround. It’s ten hours for almost everybody except for editors who only get a nine-hour turnaround.

Craig: Which is crazy.

John: Imagine you work till midnight. You leave at 12:01. They can call you back to work at 9:00am. So how are you supposed to have a life, much less sleep, if that is what they’re insisting upon?

Craig: It’s outrageous. And, by the way, the real shame should always be on the companies for insisting that that – because, listen, they can say, “Well, blah, blah, blah.” Really what it comes down to is just dollars and cents. It’s a spreadsheet. And there’s a certain amount of money that they don’t want to have to spend to give people what I think is just humane treatment. I mean, ten hours is barely humane frankly as turnaround. It should be 12. But, OK, if everybody else below the line is getting ten, how do you warrant this nine-hour thing? It’s outrageous.

But then, secondarily, you have to look at IATSE and say, listen, your editors have a point. If the implication that editors are making is that big IATSE has essentially thrown them under the bus to keep everybody else working and happy, well, that looks pretty much like that’s what happened. Because there’s just no – I don’t see how you could possibly justify calling something a “huge victory” when you haven’t changed the single most brutal aspect of that working contract.

John: Nope. So the other thing that she points out is that one of the quoted big gains of the contract was new media residuals sort of being refigured out. So the same way that writers like Craig and I get residuals for stuff we’ve written that shows up on Netflix or shows up, you know, downloads through iTunes, those are residuals that are paid to us individually as writers. For IATSE guilds, those residuals go in to help pay their pension fund. And the pension fund is a crucial aspect of survivability in this industry.

Her concern, which I think is a lot of people’s concerns, is that it’s not going to be enough money going into the pension fund to keep it solvent. And that the pensions that we’ve come to rely on and expect will not be solvent if they don’t negotiate a better rate.

So that is one of the other bigger concerns that they’re facing and other unions are going to be facing.

Craig: And this is something that is specific to them, although the DGA has a somewhat similar thing. When the writers and actors, well, I don’t want to speak about the actors. I know for sure that when writers get residuals those residuals come to us. They are not siphoned off to help support the pension plan or the health plan. The pension plan and the health plan are paid for by basically premiums that the studios pay on top of the money they pay us, up to a certain point.

The Directors Guild will siphon off some of the residuals to help support their pension and health. And I believe IATSE siphons all of it off. I don’t think like a grip or an editor is getting residuals. It’s all going to support the pension and health plan. And when somebody says, for instance, Tom Davis, the business agent of Grips Local 80 and the second international vice president of IATSE, when he says this is a good deal, he’s proud of it, and provides for secure funding of your pension plan. It ensures that your health plan is fully funded. The question is for how long. Define secure.

Because you can say you’ve solved a problem for the next eight months, but very clearly going by any reasonable projection you haven’t solved it long term. And if you haven’t, you haven’t. Which means you live hand to mouth, negotiation to negotiation.

And therefore every time you go in you are in a terribly weak position. You want to ask for a ten-hour turnaround. But now you’re just begging for health care and keep to your pension plan solvent.

This will become an increasing problem. The companies, their tactics, their strategy, there’s no secret there. It’s quite clear what they want to do is exactly what I just said. Every single union, every negotiating cycle should come in on the brink of insolvency in health and pension and therefore the companies are only obligated to save those basic needs and do nothing else.

And I think that at some point everybody in IATSE has to kind of look at each other and say, “Do we all recognize that we’re sitting on this nuclear bomb that we refuse to use, ever? And why?”

John: When I look at it from the editors’ point of view, I am so frustrated on their behalf just because I also look at animation writers who are covered by IATSE and are similarly frustrated because while there’s a huge range of different professions that are covered by IATSE. Many of them are folks who are going to a set and doing work on that set and then going home. So they’re working on a production for a limited period time, on a set, and then they leave. That even goes down to like studio teachers. They’re working on that set and then they’re going home.

The jobs of editors, the jobs of animation writers are not at all like those jobs. And so it’s not surprising that this massive union is not looking out for their interests in the way that WGA would look out for animation writers’ interests or if the Editors Guild could be its own union could really look after the needs of editors. And so there’s likely no way to break off the Editors Guild and let it be its own union.

Craig: No.

John: But of course that’s what they’d love to do.

Craig: They can’t. It’s just never going to happen. The labor laws that govern decertification in these things are impossible. This toothpaste is out of the tube. But here’s what’s so shocking to me. If the editors did peel off and became their own Editors Guild they would be remarkably powerless. Because as just editors they could go on strike and then people would say, “OK, well prep continues, production continues, post is going to be delayed, but let’s see if we can bring some more editors in somehow. And we’ll deal.”

So then you could see, well, what if we as editors got together with the cinematographers. Then we could shut down post and production. Well, hold on a second. Let’s also get together with the costume designers and the makeup designers and now prep is stopped. Hey, let’s form an international alliance of theatrical stage employees and then we can strike.

And this is what blows my mind. They’ve solved the problem. They just won’t do it. And there’s something rotten at the core of this union if they are allowing this to happen to their members. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it.

John: I don’t understand it either. We will not solve it, but we will be in solidarity in sadness with our editor friends.

Craig: You’re sad. I have umbrage.

John: All right. Sadness/umbrage. They’re related emotions.

Craig: Yes. True, true.

John: Let’s direct our umbrage to a new thing that is coming up. I’m actually curious what you think about this. So, this past week the Department of Justice announced that they are going to be reviewing the Paramount Consent Decrees. So we’ve talked about this on two previous episodes, 327 and 347. The Paramount Consent Decree was 70 years ago that basically said that a motion picture studio could not also own theatrical exhibition. So they could not own their own theaters. It’s breaking up that sort of vertical monopoly that studios were having.

It had very specific other requirements in terms of blocked booking. And you couldn’t require theaters to take a whole slate of movies. Very specific things that were thrown down 70 years ago. The Department of Justice is looking at changing these rules. Craig, what’s your take on this review?

Craig: It’s interesting. I remember thinking when Fin-Syn went away, that was sort of the equivalent. That was where television networks couldn’t produce their own content. That went away. And then television networks started doing that and it was not the end of the world. But I remember thinking, Hmm, you know, I could see a lot of opportunity for abuse. And there have been problems particularly in the area of self-dealing, where networks buy products from the studios that the parent company owns and so forth.

In this case, I kind of am OK with it because I feel like the current system is a little busted. Theaters/exhibitors are problematic. They have remained problematic for the film industry. They are stuck in an old model, incredibly stuck in an old model, where every ticket for every movie essentially costs the same with slight variations for 3D premiums and so forth. They make most of their money selling you incredibly overpriced garbage. And the facilities themselves often are resistant to improvement. And it is not sustainable because home theaters are getting better and better. And I’m not talking about fancy home theaters. I’m talking about an average middle class family in the United States has a flat screen TV that is so much bigger and larger than anything you or I had as kids. And the sound is really, really good.

And so at some point something has to give. And maybe the studios would do a better job of this.

John: I am skeptical that the studios would do a better job at this. I think it would ultimately – I can envision scenarios in which just like Fin-Syn this goes away and everything stays basically OK. But I can also imagine it really just crushing theatrical exhibition, or sort of your ability to see the movie you want to see the day you want to see it at the theater you want to see it. Because if Disney buys out specific theaters and so Disney movies are only available at specific theaters in certain markets then they can’t get to other things. It becomes really problematic.

I would also challenge this assumption that exhibition is flailing or going down. I don’t know the exact numbers, but box office is actually doing quite well. And I would say compared to when I moved to Los Angeles, exhibition in Los Angeles is much, much better. And so I do see the chains investing in facilities and sort of getting better. So, I don’t think that this threat of, oh, our home television screens are going to be so good that we’re not going to go out to the movies. I don’t that’s borne out by the last 15 years.

Craig: Well, I do agree with you that movie-going is fairly robust. I think it’s just more the economics of the exhibition itself. In other words, the tickets sales are the ticket sales. They’re doing quite well. But how much money the exhibitors are collecting and putting back into their facilities, that’s the part where I’m starting to wonder if they have the ability to revolutionize or advance or, I don’t know, innovate in any kind of interesting way.

Yes, in Los Angeles there are these wonderful movie theaters that have these big super cushy seats and they lean back and you can reserve a seat and you can get dinner and a drink and it’s amazing. But the vast majority of the country it’s still a box that is not particularly well cleaned and the popcorn costs way too much and the projection equipment maybe isn’t the best. And sometimes the sound is meh.

And I just – like for instance, let’s say Disney were allowed to exhibit Disney films. There would be no shortage of places to go see a Disney film. That’s the one thing they would solve immediately by constructing new theaters. And those new theaters would be amazing. And when it was time for Star Wars, every Disney theater would be a Star Wars theater. And there would be no problem seeing Star Wars and it would be – you wouldn’t have that restriction, right?

So, there would be flexible supply and demand. And, of course, ticket prices would probably become flexible, too, which is something that I kind of think maybe is reasonable. You know?

John: I’m not objecting to any sort of those innovations along the way. I guess my concern is for if you’re Lionsgate and you have The Hunger Games and you want to come out 4,000 screens across the country that is increasingly difficult if Disney owns a third of those screens. And those negotiations become very tough.

Craig: Yeah. Ish. I mean, because look, you still can see a ton of Warner Bros. television shows on other people’s networks. And I think if people see that The Hunger Games is going to be a hit frankly I think there’d be quite a bit of competition to get those.

John: Yeah. But I think the competition to get those would be that Disney would have to have a piece of The Hunger Games. So I think that giant corporation would say like, “OK, well you want to be on our screens, then we get 10% of your movie.”

Craig: That’s possible. But then of course they could go to Fox and say – well, Ok, not Fox.

John: Not Fox.

Craig: OK, Universal. They could go to the Universal theater chain and say would you just run this and take the normal share of ticket price. Because, look, the truth is that the exhibitors get essentially, what, a 40% take. That’s the best take there is. And that, by the way, is why ticket prices cannot budge because the exhibitors refuse to do it, because there’s nothing in it for them ultimately.

John: Yeah. We’ll see where this goes. I mean, it’s a 70-year-old deal. Yes, the industry has changed greatly since this was all negotiated. I’m just not convinced that we will see changes that actually benefit movies and that benefit people who love to see movies. I think we’ll probably see changes that benefit Disney and that’s a scary thing.

Craig: Yeah. I think no matter what we do somehow Disney will benefit.

John: Well that’s our next topic which is the Disney/Fox merger looks like it’s going to happen. Basically all the roadblocks along the way have been lifted. What’s strange to me as I talk to folks around town is nobody quite knows what happens next. It’s not really clear whether Fox continues to exist, both as a motion picture studio and as a television network. Do you go in and pitch something at Fox?

We had a discussion about sort of an initiative we wanted to go talk to places, so do we go in and talk to Fox? Does Fox still exist? We just don’t know. Craig, what are you hearing and feeling about Fox these days?

Craig: Absolute confusion. I was on the lot for a few days a couple weeks ago helping somebody out on a project and just walking around that lot, it was the first lot I ever worked on in Hollywood as an intern. It’s before I even graduated college. So it holds a special place in my heart. It’s a wonderful lot.

John: Yeah, it is.

Craig: And it just occurred to me that it was kind of the crazy situation. I think Disney purchased Fox Studios, they purchased 20th Television. They didn’t purchase Fox Broadcasting Network. They did not purchase Fox News or Fox Sports. But I believe they did purchase the lot. I think that’s part of it is they own this lot now and no one there – and I asked – no one really knows. They don’t know.

I think that there was a reluctance to make any serious decisions until they knew it was actually happening. Well, now it’s actually happening.

John: I had a friend who works at Fox who was describing this lunch she saw which was a bunch of Disney employees coming over to meet with their equivalent people at Fox. And there was like a lunch where they’d get to know each other. But she said it was weird to think about like in most of these cases one of those people is going to go. There’s going to be redundancies and one of those people is going to go away.

And so if I were merging these two things, yes, there’s probably places where you could really combine things and do a better job. So if you combine home video, you combine sort of those backend things, but the actual production and the actual labeling, I would keep Fox around. I just think it helps so much for Disney to have a Fox label for all those movies that are not Disney movies, and also just to have different smart people working on those things and getting them out there in the world.

I don’t know if they’re going to do that, but that’s what I would do.

Craig: I think they will. Yes, obviously the big prize is the library and I guess to a lesser extent a certain amount of real estate, but it does seem to me that – I mean, look, you certainly don’t buy Fox and own the Simpsons and not want to keep making the Simpsons, or keep making Family Guy. That continues.

With that in mind, you then turn your eye to the feature film studio. So television, you guys keep on doing what you do. Feature films, Fox does great. They really do. They’re incredibly successful. They have a good team over there. Emma Watts is a very good executive. She knows what she’s doing. And they have had a lot of success.

You’re absolutely right. Why would you stop? Why would you eliminate those jobs? You can’t release those movies. You can’t make Deadpool at Disney. It’s not possible.

John: No, you can’t.

Craig: You can’t.

John: So Emma Watts is fantastic, of course, but you look at Elizabeth Gabler, Fox 2000, that’s a kind of movie that – so they’re mostly book adaptations. The John Green books are over there. Those are movies that Disney is not making themselves.

Craig: Right.

John: Disney is not making Love Simon. And so you keep Fox 2000 for that. And Fox Searchlight gets a couple Academy Award nominations every year. Disney doesn’t. So you’d keep Fox Searchlight. So I guess we’re arguing for keep the film side of Fox, you know, Fox.

Craig: And I think they will. It just seems so odd to me to purchase a movie studio and then not use the movie studio. It’s like, I don’t know, taking the peel and throwing out the fruit on the inside. It’s got great value and they have franchises over there. And obviously, look, they could cherry pick. But I just think they would be giving away money. Makes sense. Keep them.

John: So specific questions that have come up this last week that I don’t have the answers for is what happens to Blue Sky Animation. So Blue Sky does Ice Age. Their Fox’s sort of in-house CG animation. Chris Wedge does a lot of their movies. They make good movies and they make a lot of money. But they feel really redundant to a company that already has Pixar and has Disney animation. So, don’t know what happens there.

And you brought up Family Guy and Simpsons. Those are some of the only animated WGA-covered shows on the air. It’s because of a special deal that was made with the WGA and Fox back in the day. So the Fox animation shows that show up on Fox are WGA-covered and that’s fantastic for those writers. But what happens now that this is all moving over to Disney? Will we be able to get more WGA-covered shows in animation there? We’ll see.

Craig: I mean, I think technically what happens is there’s a work area and an employer and once you have organized that area then you have it. So, Fox Primetime Animation is WGA. I don’t see that changing. They make those shows for Fox Broadcasting. So The Simpsons aren’t airing on ABC now. They’re going to continue airing on Fox, which is not owned by Disney. And 20th will continue to employ those people under a Writers Guild contract because there is one. They have jurisdiction now. That’s sort of irreversible as far as I now. Will they be tougher on new entries into that space? No question.

John: Yeah. I mean, so they could just basically stop, saying we’re not going to do any new shows for Fox Broadcasting because those would have to be WGA shows.

Craig: No. I think actually 20th is the WGA signatory.

John: 20th is the signatory.

Craig: But essentially what they carved out is if 20th Television is making primetime animation, whether it’s at Fox or anywhere, it just turns out that it always is at Fox, I believe that the deal is that those have to be WGA shows. Now, I don’t think that Disney is going to turn down the opportunity, like for instance Family Guy has generated some spinoff shows. If The Simpsons should generate a spinoff show, which is incredibly unlikely, but let’s say, it’s going to be a WGA show.

But are they interested in developing new animation? Probably. I mean, I don’t know why they would be honestly because the shows that they have that work work, and that’s that. And they keep going. But Blue Sky is an interesting one. I think there’s an argument to be made that they keep doing Blue Sky. But I don’t know. It’s like even money to me. I look at them and like, well because look, Disney has Pixar, but Disney also has Disney Animation. So, then there could also be Fox animation which is a very different vibe.

John: Definitely.

Craig: So, boy, I don’t know. Anybody that’s going to predict probably ends up with egg on their face here.

John: Yeah. The backdrop for all of this, of course, Disney wants to have its own streaming service, so they are no longer going to be putting their movies through Netflix. So all the Marvel movies, the Star Wars movies, and other stuff will be going through the streaming service. So that’s going to be a whole interesting thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And an issue of self-dealing. It will be fascinating to see what happens there. Apple, of course, has their own service. It’s not clear whether it’s subscription or what it’s going to be. But we have friends who are working on shows for Apple, so it’s going to be a very different landscape two, three years from now.

Craig: Yeah. I think that was going to be true no matter what. You know, whether these companies buy each other or not, three years from now god only knows.

John: Craig, you had a thing to put on the outline which was about the WGA, specifically dues. What was your thinking there?

Craig: Well, every year I like to take my nerdy walk through the Writers Guild of America West Incorporated Annual Financial Report, which they are constitutionally required to issue to all of us who are members. And I believe out of the roughly 7,000 Writers Guild of America West members, one reads this thing, and that’s me. I read it very carefully.

John: I read it, too.

Craig: Yes, of course. The board doesn’t count. But you did when you were not on the board. You also read it. You were good.

John: I did read it.

Craig: The first thing I always look at, of course, because as you know you and I are both tireless champions of the working feature screenwriter was just to see how things were going for our long depressed ilk, and not great. So, not as bad as it had been, but still pretty bad. The number I look at is essentially the number of writers that are reporting earnings in the year and then the total earnings reported. When you look at – and they give us a span of 2012 to 2017 – 2012 total earnings, $368 million. And total earnings in 2017, $421, which seems like quite a nice rise, until you look at the number of writers reporting earnings and you see that in 2012, 1,664 writers shared that pie of $368. And in 2017, 1,940 writers shared the $421.

Effectively what this means is that the average earning, this is the mean, this is not how it actually works out, but the mean average from 2012 to 2017 has actually dropped. It has dropped slightly about $4,000. I would be so much more interested in the median earnings, just because I think that’s probably more representative of what’s going on.

But regardless, our earnings are not just flat. They’re going down. And they’re going down in non-adjusted dollars. If we were to adjust for inflation it would be even worse. So, this is not good. It continues to be bad news for feature film screenwriters. And as you and I have discussed numerous times it is my great hope that the guild starts to address this as kind of thoroughly and actively as it can. And I know that you’re taking the lead on that now.

John: So, a thing I think is crucial for you to understand, which is very hard to reflect in the data, is that when you show the number of writers who have feature income, keep in mind that 80% of feature screenwriters are also TV writers. So, we need to look at sort of how much they’re making overall in a year, and not just how much they’re making on the movie side.

So, my concern is that are these people making enough money that they can keep working as a writer? And if they are not able to do that, that means there’s a huge crisis. But I think it can be a little bit misleading because you and I both know that from 2012 to 2017 it’s been increasingly common for folks who would normally just be feature writers to also be working in television. Like you, you’re working in both features and in television.

So, while I share your concern that the feature earnings are down, I don’t know that the actual earnings for individual members are down, because they may also have TV earnings.

Craig: Fair enough. However these earnings are – obviously these are the earnings that are just from their feature work. And I think that it is not great if what we’re saying is the only way to make a living in features, or to at least keep pace with inflation, is to also then work in television as well. And it’s particularly concerning when you are talking about new feature writers, the ones who generally are making the least, if they are entering a business where people are saying literally you can’t actually just do this job. You have to also do television. Or you can just do television. But being a feature film screenwriter isn’t a job anymore that can be on its own. That’s sort of a rough one.

John: That existential concern I think is a really valid one. And so we have to look at what is happening that is causing their income to fall. And my hunch is that they’re doing just as many drafts as the writers back in 2012 were doing, but they’re not getting paid for those drafts. And they’re probably working on multiple passes for the price of one pass. Unpaid work.

Craig: That’s right. So there’s a lot of unpaid labor here. Exactly. But I did have this concern, then that kind of led me to this concern about dues.

And the reason I’m concerned about dues is for a couple of reasons. First the screenwriters proportionally pay more in dues than television writers, simply because screenwriting income is all writing income. A large amount of television writing income is actually parsed out as “producing income.” So that doesn’t get dues-ed. Dues-ed is my nice little verb there.

John: Yeah. That’s what they say in the WGA, too. They say Dues-ed.

Craig: So screenwriters have always carried a disproportionately heavy burden of the dues. Now, the dues that we pay are 1.5% of what we earn, both for employment and also what we earn in residuals. It wasn’t always 1.5%. It used to be 1%. And at some point, I think possibly in the ‘90s, or rather the ‘80s it was bumped up to 1.5% because the guild was struggling a little bit and the guild was also going through a number of strikes and needed to beef up its rainy day fund and its good and welfare fund so when we go on strike they’re able to help people out, give them bridge loans. That is no longer the situation.

We have been at 1.5% for decades at this point. I think my entire tenure in the guild I’ve been at 1.5%. And lo and behold this year the guild had an operating surplus of $8.2 million. And that’s up from before. And it was the product of growth and overall writer earnings led by, it’s no big surprise, television. And by investment gains.

So my issue, and this is going to sound a little libertarian, so bear with me, but there is that thing where people say we have to increase taxes to pay for a problem. And the people who are against tax raises say, sure, but you’re never going to unraise the taxes are you? Because taxes have a way of sticking around. One went up to 1.5%. There is no longer a problem. In fact, there seems to be the opposite of a problem. We are now sitting on extra money that we don’t know how to spend. And we should lower the dues rate if for no other reason than to help out feature writers who are struggling, particularly new feature writers for whom that 1.5% is real money that really hurts and is coming generally on top of 25% that they’re paying out to agents, managers, and lawyers.

John: Yes. So I’m actually on a dues subcommittee for the guild, so these things are discussed. There’s an operating surplus this year. There’s not always a surplus. But I’m curious, so I sort of can’t talk about discussions happening internally, but I’m curious Craig how you would see addressing this. Because you say at this point things are good, but you don’t know sort of what the future holds. How would you address the concern that if you were to lower it to a certain point you may need to raise it back up again later on? Do you put a sunset clause in there? Do you a temporary thing? What are some mechanisms you would like to see done for addressing the dues situation?

Craig: Great question. And I think there’s a very simple answer. The dues rate is set by the Board of Directors. Simple as that. So, the Board of Directors has the flexibility to adjust the dues rate depending on circumstance. What’s happened is they’ve just stopped. And they shouldn’t. I think there should be a set review. We go and have negotiations every three years. There should be a set dues rate review every three years. And if it looks like, well, we might need to throttle back up, we throttle back up. And if it looks like we can throttle down, we throttle down.

But it seems punitive to force new members, and I’m talking about a woman who is just recently out of college, she’s 24, she’s got student loans. She’s just gotten a job. She just had to pay out $5,000 in her dues initiation on top of everything else. And she also has to pay that extra half percent of her income because the guild just can’t be bothered to pay attention. I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s fair. We’re running a surplus. We should make these adjustments on the fly regularly.

John: So a thing I should put in here for context is that the dues that we’re discussing, these are things that are the operating expenses of the guild on a day to day basis, but they are not your health and your pension. And so it can be confusing as you sort of join the guild is that you are responsible for paying the percentage of your income, the residuals percentages is calculated automatically. Every quarter you are sent a form, you fill it out, you send it back in, and they send you another form that says this is how much you owe for this quarter. That is the kind of dues we’re talking about.

The kind of money that goes into pay for your health care, the health plan, and the pension plan is handled by a whole separate thing and those funds are pretty good right now. As we talked about the IATSE thing, the concern overall is making sure that those things stay solvent, but this is not the money that goes to making those solvent.

So, yeah, Craig, I can’t argue with you. I think there’s a reasonable case to be made for looking at what our dues are and making sure that it reflects the needs of the guild and the needs of the members.

Craig: This is why we need you at the guild.

John: Thank you. And I should also say that the guild elections will be coming up pretty soon, so in a future episode we’ll talk through the folks who are running for this. I’ll encourage you to go the candidates’ night if you want to. I’ve gotten a chance to meet a lot of the people who are running this year and there’s some really great, great people running. Sometimes you’re really twisting arms to get enough people to run and this year we had a ton of people running and a ton of really great new ideas. So, it’s going to be a good episode to talk through who is running and who we think you should support.

Craig: Absolutely. We’ve got I guess some sort of candidate list we can go through. I think we should probably wait until we get a little closer to the election. Is that right?

John: Yeah. So maybe two weeks from now we’ll do that.

Craig: That sounds like a good idea.

John: Cool. All right, our last big topic for today is movies that you cannot find anywhere. So this past week I wanted to watch The Flamingo Kid. Craig, you’ve probably seen The Flamingo Kid.

Craig: It’s one of my favorite movies of all time.

John: Holy cow. Well, Craig, you could not watch this movie online if you tried. And so–

Craig: What the?

John: I just assumed I could go to iTunes and go to The Flamingo Kid and Garry Marshall’s Flamingo Kid starring Matt Dillon would be there for me to watch. But, no, it is not on iTunes. It is not on Amazon. It is not on any streaming service.

Craig: What?

John: You cannot find a legal digital copy of The Flamingo Kid anywhere you go.

Craig: Why?

John: So, that is maddening. And I have theories but I want to tell you that the only way I was able to get The Flamingo Kid was to go on Amazon. I found through a third party reseller that was selling it through fulfilled by Amazon. It came two days later on a disc. I watched it like a caveman off of a DVD. We don’t even have a DVD player that would play it, so I ended up watching Garry Marshall’s movie on a 12-inch MacBook screen which was very frustrating.

Craig: Crazy.

John: And so I tweeted about it and a lot of people tweeted back. Franklin Leonard tweeted at me this great post by Kate Hagen talking through her similar thing trying to find this movie Fresh Horses from the ‘80s.

My hunch is that what’s happened with The Flamingo Kid is that it was an ABC/MGM coproduction and it’s unclear right now who probably has the home video rights and so therefore no one has sold the home video rights. My suspicion furthermore is that there’s a lot of movies in that situation, including movies that you would think like, well of course they’re going to be available, which are not available.

Craig: Fascinating. I love that movie. Hector Elizondo and of course Matt Dillon. You know my favorite thing in that movie is when Matt Dillon goes in the bathroom in the fancy house and he thinks the soap is candy. It’s the greatest thing. The face he makes is one of the greatest things that has ever been put on film.

I think you’re absolutely right. It’s a case of a dispute or maybe a nonexistent business partner and an ownership problem, and then so who has the rights? And who can actually release it? And who can make the money off the release. It’s such a bummer.

John: Yeah. So if you are a listener who has some time on your hands, I have two things you can do. So if you are a person who is a coder or a person who is good at sort of scripting things to go out into the Internet and search for things, this is something you could do for me and I’d be delighted to see what your results are.

So, I’m curious to look at the top 100 grossing movies of each year going back to around 1980. I’m stopping at 1980 because I feel like movies after 1980 are more likely to have been on home video at some point. Before then it’s catch is catch can. But so if you go back to 1980, make that list, that would be 3,700 movies. And then if you can set up a script to go through and check which of those movies are actually available on a service online. So, iTunes, Amazon, whatever service you want to find to compare to to see which of those movies are just not available anywhere.

I’d be curious to see that list of movies that are not available anywhere. And that’s a thing that a clever scripter could probably do in an afternoon.

But if you are not a clever scripter and you find another movie that you think should be available but is not available anywhere, I set up a special Google form where you can fill out the name of the movie, your name, and sort of where you checked. And we’ll start to make a list just anecdotally like “Surprisingly this movie you’d think would be out there is not out there.” So there will be a link in the show notes for the Google form you can fill out. And basically just build a spreadsheet of these movies that you think are out there that are not out there.

Craig: Missing movies. OK. Good plan.

John: Yeah. So the other thing to think about is who is ultimately responsible for solving this. And so I will not solve this. But to me going all the way back to the Academy, I think it’s the Academy that’s responsible for this. I think it’s the Academy who is responsible for film preservation, for film promotion. I feel like they’re the ones who should take up the mantle of making sure that these movies – these movies that are made by their members – are out there in the world.

So, I’ve been talking to some folks over at the Academy about really looking into this and making sure that film preservation isn’t just about, you know, making sure that Gunga Din is pristine on 35mm, but that you can get The Flamingo Kid.

Craig: Well, The Flamingo Kid is the Gunga Din of our youth.

John: It is.

Craig: So, I say yeah. No, listen, this is one of those deals where two people may have a dispute over who owns something so they’re each happier with everyone getting all of nothing than something of something. And that’s a great idea. Maybe the Academy can step in. See, these are the sorts of things that would get them some goodwill. I like that idea.

John: All right. So we’ll see if that happens. We’ll follow up on that in a while. But Craig, we made it through all of these things. I can’t believe we did it.

Craig: We did it. We did it. And I knew we would do it because, you know what? Unlike our awards speech we have a generally good sense of time. We finish on time. Not like some podcasts. I’m saying that as if I ever listened to a podcast. I don’t. So I don’t know if what I’m saying is correct.

Oh, you know, I’m on a podcast by the way.

John: What’s this?

Craig: I guest-starred. Guest-starred? Guest appeared on the Freakonomics Podcast.

John: Holy cow. That’s great. Mike listens to Freakonomics. So what did you do on the Freakonomics Podcast?

Craig: Well, I don’t think the episode is out yet, but I had a really good discussion about – well, I thought it was going to be a discussion about creativity. This is with Stephen Dubner. And it just sort of became more of a conversation about I guess my career and choices and things and how stuff happened. It was a very – I mean, he’s a very very good interviewer. And they do it very similar to the way you and I do things. It’s a little more high tech because you have to go to a studio and everything. But he’s in New York and I’m here. But I’m very used to this, talking to the disembodied voice. He was very good. We had a great time. And I understand – I have come to understand this is a very popular podcast. Yeah, it’s like number five, I don’t know. It’s up there.

John: But it’s not the Best Popular Screenwriting Podcast.

Craig: No. I mean, obviously that’s us. And I don’t really know why anybody else would even do a screenwriting podcast. It seems futile. It’s like opening up a burger place next to In-and-Out. What are you doing? Stop it.

John: All right, it’s time for our One Cool Thing. My One Cool Thing is a Craigy kind of thing. It’s a game for iOS. It’s called Antihero. It is a turn-based game, sort of like a board game, but you play this master thief, sort of the head of this Thieves Guild, who is trying to spread influence across this little town. You can play against the computer or against another player. I thought it was really well done. And so you start to find these urchins that you can send out to infiltrate different businesses.

Craig, you would really dig it as a person who likes games on iOS. And thieves. So, Antihero for iOS.

Craig: Somebody says Thieves Guild to me I get all aquiver. I love it. You know in Elder Scrolls, Thieves Guild. Got to be coming.

John: I never do that tree.

Craig: What?

John: Sorry.

Craig: What, no? You know that? From The Happening, the Mark Wahlberg thing?

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: It’s amazing.

John: The best. Never seen the movie. I’ve only seen the memes.

Craig: Seriously. I’ve only seen, what, no. And where they slow it down it gets even better.

My One Cool Thing is, so I think I’ve talked about Mark Halpin before. A prior One Cool Thing was his Labor Day Puzzle Extravaganza which David Kwong and I are just levitating in anticipation of. I literally think David is going to live with me for a week while we do that. But in the meantime I’ve been practicing by doing Mark Halpin’s puzzles that he’s made for The Nation. The Nation Magazine, the periodical. Each month for quite some time now he has done a special cryptic crossword puzzle, oftentimes based around his love of Broadway, specifically his love of Sondheim. So, now we’re really hitting like all of my bells at once. I mean, it’s just like – I don’t know how. This man was made for me. It’s just perfect.

So, Mark Halpin I think is the best cryptic crossword constructor on the planet. He doesn’t just come up with great clues and tough puzzles, and these are very, very tough, but there is always a four or five-step process to lead you to some brilliant meta solution. They are incredibly ingenious. This is not casual puzzle time. This is if you are a meta puzzle super dork like me. Definitely check these out. We will include a link in the show notes.

He provides all of the puzzles that have appeared in The Nation he has hosted on his own website, freely available for download and printing. Strongly recommend them.

John: Very cool. All right. That is our show for this week. As always it is produced by Megan McDonnell and edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Luke Davis. If you have an outro you’d like us to hear, send us a link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. But short questions are great on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

You can find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Just search for Scriptnotes. Leave us a review while you’re there. That helps people find the show.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. In the show notes for this one you’ll find the link to the Google form that I’ve set up for missing movies. So, if you can think of a movie that you cannot find anywhere, let us know.

You can find the transcripts. They go up about four days after the episode airs. And you can find all the back episodes of Scriptnotes at Scriptnotes.net, or at store.johnaugust.com where you can buy them in seasons of 50 episodes.

Craig: Such a smart idea.

John: And that’s our show.

Craig: Great show, John. You know what? Fantastic show.

John: Fantastic show. Maybe the best screenwriting podcast ever.

Craig: Not maybe. Definitely.

John: Not maybe.

Craig: Nah, for sure.

John: All right. Take care. Have a good week.

Craig: See you next time.

John: Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.