The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Hi. My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 369 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the program we’ll be answering a fundamental question: what is a movie? We’ll also be talking about award season and other stuff. We’re going to do follow up from five years ago. It’s going to be a big show. And because we have a big show and fundamental questions we asked Mr. Fundamentals on himself. Franklin Leonard is here joining us. Franklin Leonard of the Black List fame. Franklin, welcome to the show.
Franklin Leonard: Thanks for having me. I’m going to add Mr. Fundamentals to my Twitter bio.
John: That would be nice. You were on quite early episodes of Scriptnotes. I remember the first time I think you were on was at the Austin Film Festival.
John: You came on to announce the Black List website.
Franklin: Yeah. It was like six years ago. Because we launched the site October 15, 2012. And it’s funny because I don’t think of it as being early in the Scriptnotes’ lifespan, because I had been listening since the beginning. But, yeah, I guess it was.
John: You were there right at the start. So, thank you. Our first bit of follow up is actually from five years ago. And so we have a little clip that we’ll play. So, five years ago we talked about iPads in movie theaters. And so Disney was doing an experiment where like you bring your iPad in so you have a second screen experience in the movie theater. And Craig and I wondered if it was going to be a slippery slope. Let’s hear what Craig predicted.
John: And so you will see more and more kids with glowing devices at movie theaters.
Craig: That is incorrect.
John: And it’s going to suck.
Craig: That is incorrect because this is especially designated as an iPad-allowed zone. I have no doubt that the Disney people will very smartly say to every kid as part of the app and part of the audience thing that this is a special thing and that this isn’t something you do in the theater normally. They’re very good about that sort of thing. And I also – and I also know that movie theaters and other audience patrons are very good about policing these things.
So, no, I don’t believe children will be bringing iPads anymore because of this into any other movie and the slippery slope argument is – it’s a fallacy.
John: I know slippery slope is a general fallacy and yet I will ask Stuart at this moment to flag in a follow up pile. Five years from now–
Craig: Oh good.
John: We will discuss whether there are more children trying to use electronic devices in movie theaters.
Craig: I am totally in support of that.
John: So the Stuart I mentioned there is Stuart Friedel, the original Scriptnotes producer. Stuart Friedel sent himself some email to the future and so he emailed this past week to say it has now been five years. So, we are now living in the future. We can only imagine back then. Five years later are we seeing a preponderance of iPads in movie theaters?
Franklin: Thank god no. At least I haven’t.
John: I have not seen it either. So Craig was correct. I think every once and a while we need to point out when Craig is completely correct. The number of iPads in movie theaters has not increased. And I would say even the abuse of cell phones in movie theaters hasn’t increased at all. It’s still annoying when it happens, but–
Franklin: I mean, I’m aware when it happens enough because it doesn’t happen that often. And weirdly about this, thinking about it now, I actually think kids are better about this than adults are. Right. Kids just kind of want go in and take me away. Adults will be distracted every five minutes by the thought of our phone, at least I know I am. And a good movie will make me not think about that.
But, yeah, I don’t think it’s changed that much.
Craig: It just was never going to be a thing. Mostly I think because it’s just annoying. I mean, children in movie theaters are already annoying, to add more annoyance to their baseline annoyance level. And I just think in general Franklin is right. People are getting better about it. Everybody knows that it’s kind of the equivalent of, I don’t know, blowing your nose into your hand or something. It’s just bad etiquette and you shouldn’t do it. So, I’m glad that that hasn’t happened. It’s actually kind of amazing in a weird way that it hasn’t, I suppose, because phones in particular – forget tablets – but phones have infiltrated everywhere else. But the movie theater remains a little bit of a sacred space.
John: Yeah. We never let our daughter use the iPad at restaurants, but I do see so many families, which is like they prop up the iPad at a restaurant and it drives me crazy.
John: Franklin, you were just back from the Toronto Film Festival. I take it it was a good time. You enjoyed Toronto?
Franklin: Yeah. I mean, it’s sort of a high point of my year and certainly my cinematic year. Yeah, I mean, it’s a really strong year for movies, or at least it feels like it, at least that’s the big take away from me from the festival.
John: I was watching your coverage from it and a tweet that you sent out from the Black List had Kate Hagen who was on the show before and the hashtag “show us your room.” And so can we talk about #ShowUsYourRoom and sort of what that is?
Franklin: Absolutely. So, #ShowUsYourRoom actually did not start with us. It started with a writer who on the Black List last year, Amanda Idoko, who just wanted to share photos of writers’ rooms to sort of show the makeup of it. And I think some of that had to do with showing the diversity or lack of diversity in some rooms, but I think it also had to do, and the thing that I really took away from it was these are the people that are writing the things that you love. And especially in a space like Twitter if you’re a 16-year-old kid or a 21-year-old kid and you don’t think that you’re represented, like here’s a bunch of photos of people who look like you, who come from where you come from. If this is something that you ever gave a thought to wanting to do, it is possible. Not that it’s going to be easy, but like there is a path, which I always think is a good thing. So, should-out to Amanda. She does amazing writing and amazing sort of social media advocacy I suppose.
John: Yeah. Especially in this time where I think ten years ago we started to see showrunners who were social creatures, and so you knew who Joss Whedon was, you sort of knew J.J. Abrams. They were sort of the giant titans. And so you associated a show completely with that thing. But now in the age of social media you have accounts that are run by the writers’ room and you have the individual writers on that. And so there’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also an opportunity to really show what you look like and there really are people behind those words.
Franklin: Yeah. It’s one of my favorite things about social media actually. Like when you watch an episode of television that you really loved you can literally sort of say to the people who wrote like thank you. Which how often do we get that opportunity in everyday life, even if you work in Hollywood?
John: Craig, are you going to show us your room for the writing room on Chernobyl?
Craig: Yeah. It’s me.
Franklin: Actually, you should do a photo of just you with the hashtag.
Craig: That would be a bit obscene. No, it’s just me. It’s the least diverse room ever because there’s only one person in it.
Franklin: But there’s so many Craig Mazin personalities.
Craig: No, I mean, they’re all of a sort really–
Franklin: They’re all actually the same. Fair enough.
John: I’ve really tamped down on the number of personalities he’s allowed to–
Franklin: Well just the intros alone.
Craig: The intros alone. That’s where I really get to spread my wings. John is a very controlling podcast daddy. But, I actually am helping out Rob McElhenney on a new show that he is doing that’s not yet been shot but it will be. And so I’ve actually had my first experience working a little bit in a writers’ room. Again, I’m not like a full time, I’m just sort of like a consulting – I don’t know what you call this. I really don’t. It doesn’t matter. I’m helping my friend. That’s what it’s called for me. But I do spend time now every now and again with a room full of writers in a proper writers’ rooms. And it’s actually fascinating.
I’m learning now after whatever 24 years in this business how a writers’ room works. Finally. A quarter of a century later. And I really enjoy it. I think it’s really interesting. And I’ve met some really, really smart people in there. But I’ve also come to appreciate and understand that some people, they’re not big room talkers, they’re more writer-writers. But it’s OK. Not everybody needs to the room talker, you know.
I always thought that that was a big part of it, but I guess there’s enough flexibility for different styles. So that’s nice to see. There’s a social aspect to it that’s kind of awesome.
John: We had Alison McDonald and Ryan Knighton in here last week talking about being a staff writer and sort of the life inside the room. And Alison said that she will meet writers who are just genuinely great writers who just don’t fundamentally belong in a room. You have to be able to share and just play with others in a way that is just so different than other kinds of writing.
Craig, do you think if you could put the 25-year-old version of Craig Mazin out here in Los Angeles, do you think you would fit in well on a room or not?
Craig: Yeah. I generally do very well in those situations. I mean, again, I haven’t been in the writing room, the classic television writing room situation, until now. But over the years have been in many, many, many roundtable rooms where you spend a day with other writers trying to plus or punch up a movie and those are writing room situations. They’re not just sort of extended, you know.
And I’m very comfortable speaking in front of people, obviously. I like that. I enjoy that process. But what I wasn’t aware of and what I had no experience in was the way that things are sort of built and then unbuilt and rebuilt and unbuilt and rebuilt. And it’s fascinating. I really – I just enjoyed watching that part of it happen.
John: So before we get to our marquee topic there’s one bit of news for our premium subscribers, so these are the folks who pay us two bucks a month to get all of the back episodes and there are some bonus episodes we’ll be doing. But one special bonus thing we’re going to do for our premium subscribers is Craig and I are going to record an episode of the show that is answering any question, so not just writing questions, but it can be anything. So it’s a random advice episode on my take and Craig’s take on anything that is troubling you in the world that you have a question about.
But you have to be a premium subscriber to send in those questions. And so there will be a link in the show notes for where you send those questions. We’ll check your email address to make sure you really are a premium subscriber. But we’re be recording that in the next couple weeks, so if you would like to have us answer your question and to hear the answers to those questions this would be a good time to sign up for the premium version of the show at Scriptnotes.net.
Craig: And we have all of the answers, right?
John: We have all the answers. There’s literally not a question you could ask that we won’t have an opinion on.
John: It might not be actually true.
Craig: I’m going to say it’s going to be true.
John: Yeah. It’s a true opinion is what it’s going to be.
John: All right. It’s time for true opinions on movies. This was a thing that Franklin and I had sort of talked a little bit about online and so that’s why I wanted him to come in because it’s sort of a fundamental question and he’s Mr. Fundamental. What is a movie? And I think growing up I had a really clear sense of what a movie was and what a TV show was and what other things were. And it’s just gotten increasingly blurry. And you might say well does it really matter and from a writer’s perspective it really matter financially. It tremendously matters. And so I thought we’d spend a few minutes talking about classically what we think of as movies and sort of where we think we’re headed.
So I’ll start off saying growing up I thought a movie was a thing you bought a ticket for and you saw on a big screen. And after it had been on a big screen eventually it would show up on VHS, and then DVD, and sometimes it would show up on ABC. I got to watch the James Bond movies on ABC. But those were clearly movies that were just showing on TV.
And then there was a thing called a TV movie which really happened kind of during my lifetime where this sense of it’s a thing deliberately designed for network television. That was about two hours long but had a seven act structure or something. And that was a whole different beast.
But now we’re moving into a time where I don’t think those distinctions really apply. Franklin?
Franklin: No, I totally agree. I think we’re close enough in age that I think I have exactly the same conceptions. A movie is something that you went to the theater for, you bought a ticket, it ran somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours and 15 minutes. Yeah, a TV movie was about two hours with commercials, but it definitely had commercials. And then a TV show was something that, you know, came on every week. And it was a half hour or an hour long. And I guess the miniseries was, you know, but even miniseries though I think of that as something that came on four consecutive nights. Or, did they even do them over four weeks? I think it was just a sort of consecutive night special event.
John: It was like a block event. Because Roots I think was night after night. I don’t think it was a once a week.
Franklin: I think it was night after night. Absolutely. So, yeah, and those were very clear – it was very clearly delineated. Like the idea that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish them never even occurred to me until relatively recently, but it really does feel like all of that is collapsing. And I’ll be honest. I don’t know that I have a clear definition. It’s one of the reasons I emailed you was how are people talking about it right now. And so I sought the advice of people wiser than I.
John: Craig, you’re wiser than either of us. What is a movie?
Craig: A movie is a closed narrative story that takes place over a time span that is greater than one hour and can be viewed in one sitting, and is intended to be viewed in one sitting without interruption. That’s what a movie is. And we are no longer in a world where we can define it as that kind of story and also shown in a theater. That’s over. There are theatrical experiences of movies, no question, and there will continue to be so. But the notion that these feature films that would have otherwise been in theaters but instead are airing first on another channel, I mean, we used to call them direct-to-video movies, remember?
John: Oh yeah. For sure.
Craig: They were movies, right? There was no question that those were movies. It’s just that they were direct-to-video. Well, it’s the same thing. It’s just direct-to-streaming, or direct-to-screaming if it’s really bad. But it’s a movie. And we all know. We all know. There’s no question. I mean, maybe every now and then you’ll run into something and go, uh, what’s this exactly, but most of the time I’m pretty sure we know. And so the real question is what does it matter? And there it actually weirdly matters a lot because we have – well, the thing that most people think of is awards. But, the awards are ultimately irrelevant. They are trophies as Seinfeld calls them.
The bigger issue is we have these massive and massively complicated collective bargaining agreements where the directors, the actors, and the writers have negotiated all this stuff over decades, decades, with those studios. And those are based on a division of this is what happens in theatrical, this is what happens in television. And that’s all getting blown to hell and our deals no longer reflect the reality that’s going on.
So, we have a problem where we have one set of rules for instance to determine the credit of a movie that runs in a theater for seven days and then goes to streaming and one set of rules that covers almost a similar experience except it just doesn’t do the seven days in the theater. That makes no sense. So, we’re going to have to figure all of this out.
John: So, there still are equivalents of movies of the week or made for television movies, so there are movies that are made for Hallmark channel that really fit kind of what we grew up with in the sense of like it’s a very limited pattern budget. It’s designed – a certain kind of story that is still a made-for-TV movie. And those still exist. And so as we see the reports going out of the WGA we see folks who write for those movies and that is still a thing that exists. The challenge is like these movies that are debuting on Netflix, are those made-for-TV movies? Not in any meaningful sense. They’re exactly the same movies – in many cases they were developed at studios to be theatrical releases.
John: And instead they’re showing up there. So the Cloverfield Paradox is an example.
Franklin: Right. Exactly.
John: That was going to be a giant budget studio movie.
Franklin: Movie release.
John: The same with Bright. I was talking with Liz Hannah last night who is doing a movie that’s going to be a Netflix movie and in every way it’s like an indie movie, a pretty significant budget indie movie, but it is technically, maybe a movie-of-the-week. It’s really a made-for-TV movie. It’s really hard to say what these things are. And where it matters is we have formulas for what the residuals are going to look like, how credits are going to be determined, that are vastly different based on our expectations of where movies end up.
Franklin: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting to me because really the distinction between what we think of as a TV movie, like Hallmark Channel is a great example, and what we’re thinking of in terms of Netflix and these other platforms, it’s a quality distinction or sort of our assumption about what the quality of those are.
John: Assumption of quality and budget. We assume that a TV movie is going to be budgeted under $2 million and it’s going to have like a 17-day pattern. There was a way those used to work.
Franklin: But even, I mean, there are platforms now that are making a large quantity of those, of movies that fall into exactly that category. And maybe even made on lower budgets and sort of with more constrained production realities, and so it really is – it’s a fiction of our brain on some level this distinction. And I’m, A, glad that I don’t have to be the one to resolve it, though I mean my general attitude is tie goes to the writers. I mean, again, at the end of the day you’re creating minimum an hour and a half to two and a half hours of content. Where it screens is a separate question from what contribution you made to it and you should be compensated fairly for the contribution to the thing and where it chooses to be distributed is a different question that other people have to deal with.
John: So we look at this from a writing point of view because we’re so egocentric with writers, but of course it also matters for directors because directors have different deals based on where it’s going, actors have different deals. So it’s a more systemic thing. So, the Writers Guild could come and say – and Craig maybe you could help me out with your answer where we’d actually say this.
John: Craig’s basic definition of this is a piece of entertainment that is between and one and three hours or something.
Franklin: Seems right.
John: That it’s designed as one piece and not a serialized piece of entertainment, that I guess is what the boundaries of what we’re going to call a movie is. So we can say like anything that’s like that has to be treated by certain rules. That still is not going to fundamentally change the nature of the industry. Netflix is an example. Because a movie that debuts on Netflix is only on Netflix there are no residuals. It’s not going to go to another place where you would earn residuals. So it’s not going to go on home video. You’re not going to get those rentals. So you’re going to get – they’ll buy you out of your hopeful residuals. And it’s just a flat fee based on how much they expect it to do. It doesn’t actually correlate to how many times the project is viewed.
John: And that’s not just a writer’s thing. That’s a director’s thing. That’s an actor’s thing. That’s an everything.
Franklin: Yeah. And I think the other thing that’s interesting is, I mean, there’s indications that Netflix is going to make a move with some of their movies and put them in theaters. And how does that affect those deals? Do they just sort of fall under the sort of original deal for theatrical distribution and then Netflix is the post-theatrical distribution window? Again, lots of open questions. I don’t know what the answer is. But, again, my fundamental thing is the people who are making the thing need to be compensated fairly for it. Period. Full stop.
John: Craig, what do we do?
Craig: We may come to a day where we have to, all of us, ban together and fight Netflix. Wouldn’t be shocking to me. Depending on how things proceed. And we could also do the same with Apple if need be. We could do the same with Amazon. And we could do the same perhaps with Disney. So that’s the one that’s over the horizon but it’s coming fast is Disney’s direct competition for Netflix.
You’re right to say that at least in the short term, assuming that for the sake of argument we did change things so that movies are movies, and we take the word “theatrical” out of it and we just say, look, a movie is a movie. We all know what it is. That’s a movie. That’s not a movie. The residual thing is the residual thing and it would have to be worked out, you know, but credits would change. The way that we determine credits would change. And I think frankly putting the pressure on movies to pay residuals. We don’t have to define residuals the way we define it. You know, we can define it in all sorts of ways.
I mean, right now we all struggle. I think the entire business, frankly, the entire non-Netflix business, is struggling with the fact that Netflix is so untransparent. And it may be frankly that they are not making any money on these things. Who even knows? We don’t know. No one knows.
John: So let’s talk about classically what residuals are so we’re all talking about the same thing. So, a movie is released theatrically and then every other time it is released on home video or if it shows up on ABC TV or premium cable there is a fee that is paid to writers, to actors, to directors, and that ends up being very significant money. So, that could be millions of dollars of residuals. A big family movie can generate a tremendous amount of residuals.
And the equivalent Netflix movie would not make those residuals. So, with Netflix it’s even a question of are they making money? We don’t know anything about sort of how many times those movies are being watched. But I think what we’re trying to get at in residuals is that a tremendously successful movie that’s watched a lot should generate additional revenue for the creator.
Franklin: You would think so.
Craig: So, it’s important for people to understand why we even have residuals. The whole purpose was to emulate what would normally be a royalty system. If we maintained our copyright then reuse would have some sort of fee. Every time a song plays on the radio there is some reuse fee that is generated and siphoned back through ASCAP or BMI and then some portion goes to the artist. And every time a copy of a book is sold the writer receives a royalty.
Similarly, our system was based on reuse where they said, OK, look, for the movie once we put it in theaters that’s what we call primary exhibition. That’s not reuse. That’s use. And then everything after that with the exception weirdly of airplanes is reuse. And then you get paid your royalty.
Well, for Netflix I think what you end up looking at is something similar to what they have done on television where it’s a window. There is a window that we define as primary exhibition. Once you start showing something you have two or three or four weeks or whatever the normal theatrical release life would be to say that’s primary exhibition. And then after that it’s reuse. And that means every freaking time you show it some nickel goes in a box. And they may, you know, kick and scream about that. What they’ve been doing is essentially saying, look, this is roughly what you would have gotten under a system like that. We’ll just pay that to you now.
And a lot of people are taking that deal. My general philosophy in life is when somebody offers you a check you should be immediately suspicious. Why? Why are you offering me this money? Why are you telling me that this is just as good as something? If it’s just as good then do it the other way.
John: Sometimes Netflix they’re paying you your full rate and so like it’s the sense of like, well, you could either make this or not make this. So you’re going to take the deal to make this. But, you know, you don’t know what the back end is going to look like.
Franklin: Can I ask what might be a dumb question? Specifically how do they handle residuals for writers let’s say on pay cable, like HBO or Showtime?
Craig: There’s upset fees. It’s a similar thing. There’s a way for them to essentially buy out your residuals. That’s built into these deals. And it’s part of our agreement. And I hate it. But–
Franklin: Because here’s why I ask. If a bunch of people buy tickets to the movies you deserve a piece of that. If they watch it on television, they’re making greater ad revenue because more people are watching it, you deserve a piece of that. If you buy a VHS or a DVD or streaming, you deserve a piece of that.
Netflix’s model, like they’re not necessarily getting more money because more people are watching it. But they may be getting more money because they get more subscribers. Someone may stick around on the platform longer because they know your movie is coming or they know that there is the possibility of a movie like yours coming. And that feels like, A, a very difficult thing to sort of determine the value of something algorithmically in that system unless they were being hyper-transparent and they’ve made clear they have no interest in being – and in fairness, they don’t really have an interest in being, and not just for that reason alone, but it presents problems that are, I mean, it could be darn difficult.
John: So let’s figure out sort of why it’s different than what’s happening right now with studios. Is that when a studio ships a DVD that’s a physical thing that ships. When a studio makes a deal with somebody for this movie to show up on this pay cable place that is a deal. There’s a paper trail for all of this. When you are both the creator of a thing and the distributor of a thing–
Craig: Yeah, it’s a closed loop and it’s self-dealing. And Franklin is right. There are many, many metrics that they use in theory to define success. And we don’t know what they are. And nor do I care. Because they can’t really monetize those specifically. At some point you simply have to create some kind of artificial structure to mimic what would normally happen in a royalty situation.
And in a pure royalty situation if Netflix didn’t have work-for-hire they would come to me and say we want you to write a movie. And I would say, great, I’m going to write this. It’s my movie. I own the copyright. I then will sign a licensing agreement with you. This licensing agreement allows you exclusive rights to air this and it’s in perpetuity. And this is the fee that you pay for that. And also this is the royalty rate for every single time someone watches. Period. The end. There’s no other way to do it.
Or you do time. Right? But there has to be some kind of system in which you are rewarded for the only thing you care about as an artist which is how many people saw it.
John: So, theoretically, we’re going to talk about Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma later on. I know it’s your One Cool Thing. Alfonso Cuarón makes this movie for Netflix. So, Alfonso Cuarón has some deal that’s going to be a little different than what you and I would have, but ultimately we need to have collective decisions for sort of like what the overall deal is going to be. And that’s the WGA. That’s SAG. That’s DGA figuring that out.
Franklin: Yeah. I mean, look, I don’t claim to have the answers and I think that really the only way to come to any answers that anyone could realistically be happy with is if there was greater transparency around how many people were watching it. How much time they were spending on the platform? But again for obvious reasons Netflix is going to be loath to make that information public. Maybe there could be some sort of private information sharing between the guilds and them as an organization. But again I don’t think Netflix is going to be the only sort of platform that’s going to have to struggle with these issues. Like Craig already said, Disney is coming in hot.
John: So I was talking yesterday with a friend, a former Scriptnotes guest, who is writing a movie for Fox right now. And so I asked him what’s going to happen, where is your movie going to end up showing up. And is it going to be at Fox? Is it going to be on Disney? Is it going to be Disney streaming? And he has no idea. So to be in the middle of production and not knowing where your movie is going to end up is just a crazy situation to be in. And it’s not just an esoteric like you know oh what little label is going to be at the front of the movie. I don’t know what his deal is like, but theoretically if it debuts on Disney’s streaming will he get residuals in a normal sense?
Franklin: I think that’s another reason why these issues sort of need to be resolved in a macro sense, because I actually think we’re headed in a direction where that will become the norm for a lot of folks, like where you’re making a movie and the results of the film, like the final product determines where it is distributed. And that is just sort of – it’s untenable the idea that people would sort of go into making a movie without knowing what the business structure of the thing is.
John: Yeah. So, any last thoughts on movies? So we defined movies as being between one and three hours long. They’re a closed story. Yes, you can have Marvel cinematic universe movies, but they’re essentially a closed narrative that’s not supposed to have a second installment right after them. And it doesn’t matter where it shows up.
Franklin: Yeah, I mean, I’ll add one additional wrinkle to it and it’s sort of on the eve of the coming Game of Thrones final season. But I actually think for example HBO is leaving money on the table by not putting those in theaters.
Franklin: And they’re coming in at like, what, 1:15, 1:20 each episode? I would go to a theater every Sunday night to watch each episode of the final season of Game of Thrones. And they’re not a closed narrative necessarily but there are certainly episodes that you could beside most movies and feel just as sort of fulfilled with a closed narrative when you leave the theater. So, all of these things are collapsing and expanding simultaneously and I think it’s all the more reason why these big questions about how people are going to be compensated for making them need to be resolved sooner rather than later.
Craig: I think they have a little bit of a limitation, I think all these places do, in that they’re charging people money to watch their product on a television screen. If they then start to release them in theaters for money they’re kind of double-charging. Or, yeah, they’re double-charging. And that’s a problem. And then you get into like well OK if you subscribe then you can go for free. Then what’s the point at that point, right?
So, they are a little bit jammed up. The only way I think they can get away with these things is if they do like for instance a special movie event. But even then I think you start to risk danger of people wondering well what am I paying for exactly, what am I getting. Because my understanding of HBO and Netflix and Amazon and Apple is I pay you a subscription I get to see everything you do without an additional nickel spent.
Franklin: Oh no, 100%. But I actually think they could double charge and people would willingly double pay. Like I pay for HBO right now. I would continue to pay HBO, but I would take on an additional cost in order to see the final season of Game of Thrones in a theater. I think the same thing is true with a lot of these Netflix movies that’ll be in theaters. I’m going to continue to pay for Netflix, but will I pay to go see Roma again in a theater? I absolutely will.
John: So you brought up Roma. Roma is going to be one of the movies we will look forward to this award season. But I have to confess I am not looking forward to award season.
Franklin: Me neither.
John: I’m just done with award season. And so this doesn’t have anything to do with the popular Oscar. I actually enjoy watching the Oscars. I don’t think they’re too long. I’m happy to watch them.
John: What’s way too long is the four months leading up to the Oscars, or five months, or however long it is.
Franklin: It’s basically six months of the year at this point.
John: It’s such an industry.
Franklin: Yeah. Look, the award season unofficially starts now with the sort of Telluride/Venice/Toronto thing which is end of August/early September and runs until the Oscars which are the end of February. I mean, the year is basically summer movies, which creeps earlier and earlier every year, and Oscar season, which is now until basically late February.
John: So, Craig, what should we do about award season? Or should we just ignore it? Should I learn to pretend it’s not there?
Craig: I think it’s over. It’s too late. Toothpaste is out of the tube. Like so many things in our world, all of this has become commoditized and turned into an orgy of list-making, odds-making, betting, gossiping, argument-causing nonsense. We can’t help it. It’s a reality show now. And it’s stupid because it has absolutely nothing to do with any of what needed to happen to make those movies exist. Quite the opposite in fact. People had to all come together and collaborate on things and love each other to make these movies exist. And then it becomes this stupid rat race of nonsense.
I don’t know what there is to do about it because basically Harvey Weinstein weaponized the process in the ‘90s and it’s just gotten worse since then. And unless you – you can’t change the constitution and outlaw 90% of what publicity people do. This is how it’s going to go for a while because people are chasing money, although I have a weird feeling that it’s not even about that money. I think it’s just about the pointless need to be at the front of a line. It’s a very Los Angeles thing.
You know, I think it was Bill Maher who once said if you put a velvet rope in front of a toxic waste dump in Los Angeles people would start lining up. And that’s kind of what I think award season has become. It’s just this weird pointless craving, like getting the best table in a restaurant, which has always confused me because I don’t know how to tell the difference between tables in a restaurant. I’ve never known that. So, that’s, you know, I think it’s too late. It’s over. It’s gone. We lose.
Franklin: The one thing that I will say in defense of award season, and it’s not even really in defense of award season so much as being maybe an errant consequence of award season is that they do serve as marketing for movies that might not otherwise get it. And I’ll use a movie like Moonlight as an example. And certainly it’s a rare case. But without the award season, without the Oscar race, I think a movie like – I think a lot of people don’t see a movie like Moonlight. I think a lot of people went to see it because people were talking about it as a contender for Best Picture.
I think that’s probably true of Roma for example. I think it could end up being true for If Beale Street Could Talk, although more people were anticipating Beale Street because of the Oscar success of Moonlight and Barry in particular. So I agree with you Craig in the main about the content of award season and I wish there was some other way that you could frame a showcase of the best of cinema, or sort of the things that people think of as the best of cinema that didn’t have all of the sort of toxic realities that are really just a sort of boiled down version of everything that can be terrible about Los Angeles and Hollywood in particular.
John: Listeners, if you have suggestions for how we could get rid of award season, or get through award season in a more sane way you can write in. But let’s make some predictions for Megan to send five years into the future. Five years in the future what’s going to become of award season and what’s going to become of movies?
Craig: Oh, well I’ll take the lead on this. Nothing will change. In five years movies will pretty much be as movies are. There will be more original movies running on our screens at home through the Disney service and Netflix and so on. But there will still be huge theatrical releases coming out every single week. There will be a big summer box office battle issue of Entertainment Weekly and so on and so forth. And when it comes to awards nothing is going to change at all.
John: But will anything have changed in terms of getting writers and other people fairly compensated for movies that are not released theatrically?
John: Will we figure any of that stuff out?
John: We will have essentially the same conversation five years from now you predict?
John: Yep. Franklin what’s your thinking? Five years in the future.
Franklin: It’s really hard for me to argue against that honestly. Yeah, look, the theatrical business will still exist in five years. I think people will be going to see movies of all sorts. There will continue to be a giant summer blockbuster season and probably a six month award season. As far as how people are compensated, I certainly hope there’s a change, but you guys have much deeper knowledge on the realities of that than I do so I happily defer to your judgment.
John: A thing we found out as we surveyed screenwriters for the WGA is that 80% of screenwriters are also TV writers. Either they’re currently working in TV or they’re planning to work in TV. As these things get more and more combined we’re going to have to figure out ways to do what Craig describes. Basically after a certain window every new time it’s watched a nickel goes into the jar. Because it shouldn’t really kind of matter ultimately whether it was a 90-minute thing or a 30-minute thing. Just you pay that person.
Franklin: I totally agree.
John: There will be more things like Chernobyl, like Craig’s.
Franklin: And more limited series specifically authored by Craig Mazin.
Craig: There will be at least one more. There will be at least one more of those.
Franklin: That’s my big call for 2023.
Craig: I do agree. I think that that is a format that is expanding and expanding rapidly. It’s a tricky one because I feel like a lot of these – here’s another award season bunch of baloney. The whole like limited series, not really limited. Like The Crown was a limited series its first season. No it wasn’t. And so a lot of these limited series become these sort of back door seasons into a multi-season show.
But I do think that that is going to – what’s happening is the television business seems to be shifting away from just pure ratings and into more of a kind of targeted depth. So they’re like, look, we don’t need to be the Super Bowl. We don’t care if 80 million people watch. What we want is these five million people to all watch.
Craig: And if we can get those five million. And the only way to get those five million people is to show them this. So, it doesn’t matter that most people don’t see it. These five million did. And that’s going to keep them paying for all the stuff, right? Because they’re not going to watch any of the rest of this junk. They’re just going to watch this.
So, you start to get into the – you know, there’s a great article by Malcolm Gladwell many, many years ago about how Prego figured out for the first time that if you sold five different kinds of Prego you would make so much more money than if you just sold one kind of Prego. So, it’s the Prego-ization of television. That’s what’s happening. And I think that is going to drive actually a lot of wonderful new content. I think there’s going to be a lot of limited series. There’s going to be more documentaries. There’s going to be all sorts of smart stuff.
But for movies and for award stuff, I just think as the guy says in Fall Out, “War. War never changes.”
John: It has come time for our One Cool Things. Craig, why don’t you take it away?
Craig: OK, well, sometimes I have like a prospective One New Cool Thing, which I don’t know if it’s going to be cool or not. You know what? In fact, I’m going to hold that one off because I’m trying it. So I’ll be able to come back in a week or two and tell you if it was cool. This thing is cool right now. You know I’m a huge fan of these Rusty Lake games. We’ve talked about the Rusty Lake games before. They’re amazing.
So Rusty Lake has a new one out called Paradox. For the first time they’ve incorporated video of actual people which makes their normal totally screwed up experience even more totally screwed up. I love these games. And it’s not so much about the gameplay, although I do like that. It’s their aesthetic and their weird backstory mythology which barely makes sense and yet you can tell the people doing it it makes sense to them. And their weird fetishization of certain strange objects like shrimp. They just keep showing up.
It’s so weird. It’s so weird. And so it’s just very much like if David Lynch kind of created a point and click adventure in a series that’s been going on now for years. So, Rusty Lake Paradox. Totally worth the – I guess there are two chapters in this one, so maybe the total amount is $4. Come on.
John: Yeah. Play it.
Franklin: I’m sold based on that description.
John: Yeah. Franklin, I think we’ve already spoiled it for you. But your One Cool Thing is?
Franklin: My One Cool Thing is Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma. And it’s funny I was nervous about mentioning it because I didn’t know if the One Cool Thing could be a movie. But I saw it at Toronto and it just hasn’t left me. I find myself in traffic thinking about its images, thinking about what it was trying to say about the world. And it’s just an extraordinary film. And the one thing that I will say is that you should see it in a theater. It rewards the theatrical experience. The sound design is just exceptional. The performance by the lead actress, Yalitza Aparicio – speaking of award season. But like I want her to get the notice that an actress of a different background would receive for a performance of this caliber. It is just remarkable.
So, yeah, everyone should see that movie. Go see it in a theater. It is very much unlike anything that you’ve ever seen. Bring tissues.
John: Cool. My One Cool Thing is, well, so every week on the show I do a One Cool Thing but I generally have like many cool things I would like to share. And so on Twitter sometimes I will link to them or sometimes I’ll put them on the blog. But I wanted sort of a repository of all the things that I kind of find interesting. So, I started a weekly newsletter just called Inneresting, the way that Aline makes fun of me for saying interesting.
And so it’s just a once a week, probably on Wednesdays, maybe on Thursdays, maybe not every week, but it’s a little short email of just like here’s a list of things that I found kind of cool that you might find cool, too. So if that sounds at all appealing there’s a link in the show notes. It just shows up in your inbox and it’s a way to sort of see what I found cool this past week.
Franklin: That does sound appealing. And I will be subscribing.
John: Very nice. That is our show for this week. As always, our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is also by Matthew Chilelli. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send questions or follow up.
If you want to reach us on Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Franklin you are?
John: Makes it very simple. You can find us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. While you’re there leave us a review. That helps other people find the show. Transcripts go up on johnaugust.com about a week after the episode airs. But you’ll find the show notes up just with this episode. So the stuff we talked about you can see there.
And all the back episodes are at Scriptnotes.net. If you subscribe now you can send in a question for me and Craig to answer on our random advice episode that will be coming up soon.
Franklin Leonard, thank you so much for coming in.
Franklin: Thank you so much for having me. I have always enjoyed it and consider it a great honor.
Craig: Thanks, Franklin.
- Scriptnotes, Episode 108: Are two screens better than one? addresses the fear of iPads in theaters
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