The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: Oh, my name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 370 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the program we’re going to take a look at simultaneity which is a difficult to spell word for two or more things happening at once. Then we’ll hopefully be applying what we learned to three new entries in the Three Page Challenge.

Craig: Ah. Our old friend.

John: Yes. It’s back to basics. Just me and Craig. No special guests. It’s a craft episode.

Craig: Good. Because you know what? It’s enough already.

John: Enough.

Craig: Enough. I mean, we are like County Kitchen Buffet, or Perkins Cake and Steak. I don’t even know if that’s really a restaurant anymore. I’m coming up with comfort food restaurants. We provide a certain comfort food experience to people. And while every now and then they might like the fancy breakfast, mostly they just want the Root and Toot and Fresh and Fruit’n or whatever that stupid thing is called.

John: I feel like this is more like the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. You know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s what you’re going to get. You’re going to get a conversation about a topic in craft. You’re going to have some Three Page Challenges.

Craig: Right.

John: There’s going to be some stuff we love, some stuff we think could be better. There will be spelling mistakes.

Craig: Probably a little bit of anger somewhere in there.

John: Maybe. There could be some anger. We’ll see.

Craig: You know what’s interesting about the Quarter Pounder with Cheese? It’s a very good example of getting what you expect, except it’s never a quarter pound. I guess it starts as a quarter pound and then something happens to it. So you actually never really know what it weighs. I’d be interested. Somebody should put them on scales and see.

John: I know exactly what a Quarter Pounder with Cheese tastes like, but I’ve not eaten beef in 25 years.

Craig: So good.

John: But I still know what it takes like. I lost a tooth to a Quarter Pounder with Cheese growing up. It was a tooth that was going to fall out. I was losing my baby teeth.

Craig: Ah, OK. It wasn’t like the white whale coming to take your leg.

John: Not a bit like that.

Craig: OK. You’re not on some lifelong revenge crusade against Quarter Pounders.

John: What if I were? What is that were really my thing?

Craig: It would explain a lot.

John: It would explain so, so much. Last week, or the week before we talked about how we’re going to do a special episode that is just random advice for people who are premium subscribers. And so these premium subscribers have been writing in with their questions. So, here’s a little sampler platter of some of the questions we may be answering from our listeners. So, we’ve gotten a bunch in, but these are three ones that I thought were really good. I’ll start with one. Craig, what’s your take on traffic calming, such as narrowing streets or reducing lanes, adding bike lanes, etc. to reduce crashes between drivers and pedestrians or cyclists? How do you feel about that?

Craig: I’m pretty sure the robot cars are going to solve that problem for us.

John: Mm-hmm. Because the robot cars will just plow over those cyclists and pedestrians because they’re the enemy.

Craig: They’ve been taught to prize other robot cars. That’s in the hierarchy of who they should murder. First must protect self, then other robot car, then pets, then property, then human beings.

John: I think, I mean, Elon Musk is their first priority, isn’t he? Like must protect Elon Musk.

Craig: Like I said, the robots are going to protect themselves first. He’s – what’s going on with Elon? He needs to adjust the dosage there. Something has gone a little wacky.

John: The dials got a little bit off there. People who don’t sleep can kind of accomplish a lot, but they also can make some bad choices.

Craig: It’ll kill you in the end.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Oh, here’s one. I like this one. One of the questions that we’re going to be answering is “Did John have a roommate in college?”

John: I’ve had many roommates in college. And I will talk about them I think on our special episode. None of them are as notable as Craig’s. But actually the last roommate, so by roommate I’ll define like a person I shared a room with for an extended period of time who was not my husband Mike is a famous person. So I can talk about that as well.

Craig: OK, well there you go. So we’ll have a little bit of that going on. What else are we going to be talking about in this – this is going to be a great episode by the way.

John: So another question is my partner and I have a theory that only one member of a romantic couple should enjoy pickles. Do you eat pickles? Does your significant other eat pickles? Are we speculating uselessly based on anecdotal evidence?

Craig: That one is not going to take a long amount of time.

John: But I mean yes or no. So we’re happy to answer your pickle-based questions.

Craig: Yeah. But I would also encourage people to write in with questions that are suitable for our vast intellect and enormous reserves of practical wisdom.

John: Yeah. So I will say that some people have been writing in with genuine screenwriting questions and it’s like you know what that’s probably not what we’re going to prioritize in this episode because we do that every week.

Craig: All the time.

John: All the time. So this is going to be a special thing. We’re going to really try to emphasize random advice, not screenwriting advice.

Craig: Yeah. John and I are trying to spice things up over here. Don’t bring us the same old thing.

John: Absolutely. We’re in a long relationship here. This is going to be sort of our weekend getaway.

Craig: Right. Come on. You get what we’re doing? Let us just have fun. Don’t – ugh, these people. What else is going on? You know what? I sense, just because I have a certain telepathy, that there’s some kind of t-shirt news in the offing.

John: There are three great t-shirts up. And so you were actually gone for when we announced these t-shirts, but there are three new t-shirts that are available at Cotton Bureau. The first is Colored Revisions, so it is a helpful guide to the order of colored revisions if you’re doing that in your script. Next we have a Highland 2 shirt. And finally we have a Karateka shirt, which we’d actually done years and years ago, but people asked for more of them so we made more of them. So, they are selling nicely. They’re available right now at Cotton Bureau.

Craig: Now, John, do we happen to have a revisions t-shirt that is Europe only?

John: Tell me about European revisions. Tell me what is different.

Craig: They flop pink and blue. So they go white, pink, blue, not white, blue, pink.

John: That’s crazy.

Craig: I. Know. Trust me I know. I mean, there’s a couple other weird ones down the line, but the big shocker right off the bat, I mean, because we’re so ingrained here in the US. It’s like after white comes blue. And they’re like, wait, what, blue, what happened to pink? I’m like what do you mean what happened to pink, pink is next. No it’s not.

John: I don’t remember that from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but I believe you. So I’m sure that’s just the order they use.

Craig: They may have let you do what you do. But because we had so many different countries and it was exclusively European, I mean, the production was entirely housed in Europe. It wasn’t like we were shooting stuff over from – I mean, you guys were at Warner Bros right?

John: We were.

Craig: So Warner Bros can sort of say we’re in charge. Do it American. But no, not for this.

John: That’s a good point. Because Warner Bros insisted that we keep the script formatted for 8.5×11 even though we were on A4 paper.

Craig: There you go.

John: There you go.

Craig: There you go.

John: Last bit of news is that you and I are both doing some stuff in October. I am starting off in October in Frankfurt. So I’m doing an Arlo Finch event at Hugendubel an der Hauptwache at 11:30am.

Craig: That’s a great place.

John: On October 10th. It is a very cool bookstore based on how the website is set up. So I’m doing a tour of Germany and Scandinavia and so that is one of the public events in Germany there.

Craig: Great.

John: Then after the Austin Film Festival I am going to Boulder, Colorado. And so I’m going to be doing a 6:30pm reading event kind of thing at the Boulder Book Store which is my hometown bookstore. So come check that out. That’s October 29th at 6:30pm.

Craig: Great.

John: But we’re both going to be at the Austin Film Festival, which should be great. We’re confirming our guests for the live show. It’s going to be a fun time.

Craig: Yeah. And based on the guests that I already know we have, you’re going to want it. And we now have a pretty decent multi-year track record of delivering some pretty awesome live shows. So, you’re going to want to see it. I don’t know what else to say. You’re going to want to see it.

John: Yeah. I’m going to say a little bit more of the entertainment burden for this show is on Craig’s shoulders this year based on an idea that we’re going to try to do. So I’m looking forward to it.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a little bit of an entertainment. I like to think that the entertainment burden is always on my shoulders because I’m vivacious.

John: Yes. You are vivacious.

Craig: And I’m a human.

John: You are. Yet, to pull this off you’re going to have to do some work ahead of time. And I’m usually the person who is just like Mr. Organized thing, but you’re going to have do some organize-y stuff.

Craig: After we conclude recording this podcast I will give you an update on that.

John: I’m so excited. All right. Let us get to our feature topic which is simultaneity. So this came up with some stuff I was writing this week and I thought it was something we could talk about in this episode because a lot of times in scripts you have two events need to be happening simultaneously. And it’s a weird thing about how text works versus how images work. So, when you see an image you see the whole image at once. And you can take in all of it at once.

When you are reading a sentence you don’t know how the sentence ends until you get to the end. And as a writer you have to arrange your sentences in priority of what you want people to see in the frame. So, here being an example. Let’s say you have a burning clown being chased by a polar bear in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Craig: OK. Seen it, but fine.

John: Absolutely. It’s a cliché image, I know.

Craig: Trite.

John: You can only do so much in one sentence so you have to prioritize do you start with the clown, or the man on fire, or the bear, or the setting? Basically each sentence is going to do kind of one thing, or you’re going to have to basically arrange those objects and those things in the importance you want the reader to see them. Versus on an image, like if you just saw that as a frame, you saw this as a scene in your movie, you’re going to get all of that at once, to the point where like a director may have to make choices about what he or she is going to focus on in that frame so we can actually see not the whole thing all at once.

And so this kind of simultaneity, like we’re always wrestling with sort of the order of things and sort of how we’re seeing stuff. But it becomes especially challenging when two things are supposed to be happening at the same time and on a script level you have to figure out how you’re going to show that these things are happening simultaneously.

Craig: And it’s where the screenplay format does let us down a bit.

John: Yep.

Craig: The very first writing job I ever had was for an advertising agency. And they gave me a format to use for, you know, you’re writing a 30-second ad. And their format, which I think is fairly common in the advertising/copywriting world is basically a paper that’s divided into two columns. And the left column is for text. That’s dialogue or onscreen text or voice over. And the right side is visuals. So right off the bat they have created a sense of simultaneity that we simply don’t have in screenplays because we’re reading them top to bottom and we’re separating what we say from what we see.

John: And so we make certain exceptions, like dual dialogue, where people are speaking at once. And, sure, but you’re still going to always read the stuff on the left before you read the stuff on the right. So as a writer you’re making choices about who gets to be the left hand column because that’s the stuff that you’re going to read first.

You know, text, it’s inherently limited in its ability to do a lot of things at once. It’s always going to be – it’s always linear. It’s always going to be left to right, or right to left if you’re in a different language. But it’s not going to be everything at once.

Craig: Yeah. And, look, certainly everybody is dealing with this when they’re making the movie as well because we experience time in a linear fashion. So no matter what we do, no matter what funky games we play, we experience things linearly. In movies where we call them non-linear, for instance like a Tarantino movie. So Pulp Fiction gets all loopy and funky with its time and you realize that the thing you saw at the beginning is now at the end. And in fact it’s not really the end. The end is in the middle of the movie. But we experience all of it in sequence linearly and then the movie goes, oh wait, by the way imagine that that actually already happened or something. Right?

So, we’re always struggling with this, whether we’re writing or we’re shooting, but what you’re right to say that one thing the camera can do is witness things at the same time. We cannot witness for the audience, meaning our reader as writers, we cannot witness things at the same time. And this is why sometimes you will – if you listen to us a lot and we talk about these things and it may come up in our Three Page Challenge analysis – we harp on the way people write their action. Because in a very real way your return key, your enter, your paragraph break is you essentially saying this is where the end of a thing I want you to experience happens and now you’re going to see another thing.

So for instance, in your example, if I want to see the clown first I describe the clown. Then I hit return and then I describe oh my god look he’s being chased by a polar bear. But if I want to see it all at once, if I want to see the clown, the bear, the fire, the post-apocalyptic landscape, I just lay it in one tight little paragraph to say, “See, you experience all this before I hit the return key.” That means you’re kind of getting it all at once.

John: So if we want to separate those ideas out, like if we want to give a sense of how it’s going to feel on the screen you would probably say a man is running. We notice his oversized shoes. The man is a clown. Widening out we see what he’s running from. It is a polar bear charging on all four feet. Widening further we see the post-apocalyptic landscape of this thing. So that’s giving the sense of like by breaking out into those smaller sentences and putting them in that order we’re getting a sense that, OK, we’re probably kind of pulling out here. Basically we’re focused on this and we’re coming out.

If we did want to see the whole thing all together we’d keep it together as one sentence. And that gives a sense of like all of this is going to be sort of one shot. Sentences aren’t exactly one for one matches with shots. But we do as a reader tend to think about an image that goes with a line of scene description.

Craig: No question. And similarly when people are talking we either can say, look, this is what they’re going to say and you’re going to listen to it, or this is what they’re saying and while they’re saying it I want you to notice another thing happening. So, in that case you will break their dialogue up on the page. That is essentially how we create simultaneity between speaking and seeing is by carving up the dialogue. And the reader understands that it’s not like we look at the person talking then look away to see the thing then look at the person talking. It’s all at the same time.

John: An example being like a man and a woman are having a conversation at a table. She finishes her dialogue. She picks up the bottle and refills his glass. And then they keep talking. As a writer you may have put that there just to sort of break thoughts up. But it’s also going to change the energy of that moment. It’s basically signaling that there is a shift here. If we were in one type of coverage we may have moved to a different type of coverage. Something has happened here. And sometimes you see especially new writers they’ll throw that kind of stuff in without recognizing what it actually feels like from the reader’s perspective. Or that by breaking out a separate line versus sticking some of that stuff into a parenthetical they are really changing the texture and feel of how that scene is playing.

Craig: No question. And good point for all of you that are starting out. It may seem a bit random like why do you carve up this bit of dialogue. Why do you put a return thing here? Why don’t you? There’s no hard and fast rule to this except that you must always imagine how people might feel reading it if they don’t know what’s coming next. And think impressionistically. What is it that I want them to feel in the moment? Simultaneity is a very exciting thing to be used in a movie. You can use it sparingly. There are plenty of movies that have very little of it. But when multiple things are happening at the same time it’s exciting.

So, for instance there’s a scene in Chernobyl I’m thinking of where a character is listening to other people talking. And he knows something that apparently they do not. And he keeps waiting for one of them to say the thing that he thinks is so obvious but none of them do. And he’s growing increasingly nervous. So there’s simultaneity there because people are talking and I need to be also with him and see his experience of this. So, I have people talk and then in between I start writing bits of dialogue for him that’s in his head that he doesn’t say that’s in italics that’s in action.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So it’s like I’m creating simultaneous dialogue between what is spoken by the talkers and what is being thought by the thinker. Anything you can do to kind of get across – and there’s no screenwriting book in the world that will list that as a thing you can do. And nobody taught me to do that. I only did it because it just seemed like it made the most sense to convey what I wanted people to experience. Simple as that.

John: Yeah. So what you’re describing is, well, maybe we can talk about three kinds of simultaneity you’re going to find in screenwriting. There’s at least three, but let’s talk about these three. So this first one is I think kind of what you’re describing in Chernobyl, also the example of the clown running from the polar bear, which is a simultaneity where everything is happening all at once in a frame and yet we are having to focus on certain things. And so a thing that often comes up in these questions that people write in is like I have this big party and there’s different conversations happening at different places in the party. How do I show that?

Well, that’s a thing that you do all the time and as you’re recognizing that while these people are having this conversation over here other folks are having a conversation over here and it’s all happening in a shared space. And maybe it doesn’t matter that they’re all exactly synchronized, but there’s going to be a reason why you’re moving from one conversation to another conversation. So, they’re all in a space and they’re all happening at the same time but there’s not a great degree of interaction between the two.

A second kind of simultaneity that you see is people in different places that have to be happening at the same time. So, it can be examples of parallel action but with interaction between the two. So like there’s two sides of a phone call. So you and I are talking, we’re not in the same space, but we can cut to either side and it’s one conversation. Or a car crash where you see we’re in two different cars and we realize like, oh, they’re going to crash into each other. Like they’re headed towards each other. That’s a kind of simultaneity that’s common and it’s generally set up through parallel action, parallel structure between what one character is doing and what another character is doing. And when it’s done really well can have a tremendous amount of suspense. If there’s no interaction between the two then we as the audience have information that the characters don’t and that is stressful in a good way.

Craig: Yeah. And you’re putting your finger on, particularly with the party scenario you described, you’re putting your finger on one of the main struggles that both writers and directors and editors have in transmitting narrative that’s like real life and that is that there is a certain kind of mundane simultaneity we simply cannot do. We are incapable of doing it. Because at a party three different conversations are happening exactly at the same time in different places. We don’t know how to do it.

John: Yeah. So often like those conversations are happening literally just across from each other, so like you and I are having a conversation and the people next to us are having a different conversation and somehow we’re able to keep it all straight. That’s actually very hard to do on film. I’m sure people can find good examples of places that have been able to pull that off, but when I’m talking with you at a party I’m able to tune out everybody else and just focus on what you’re saying. That’s really hard to do in film and in television because we’re used to like if there’s people talking we should be understanding the people talking. So to push out that other noise is really a challenge.

Craig: Neurologists have been studying this issue of attention for a long time because the human brain is remarkable. We can actually pick out if we choose to one person’s voice among 40 voices. If you were at a party, everyone is talking at once, you can still have a conversation with one person. Because your brain decides I’m just going to focus on you. In movies our attention devices are literal focus and then the levels of sound. So you can sort of simulate things by rack focusing. That means, OK, I’m looking at these people in focus, I’m hearing them, and then I rack and I realize that these people are also talking. They’ve been there the whole time but now I can see them and hear them because the other audio has gone down.

It turns out that this sort of thing is actually quite distracting and oddly artificial. Because in a weird way it’s closer to how our minds process. So therefore it ends up a little bit in the uncanny valley of attention setting. And that you may very frequently be better off just simulating the simultaneity by listening to one conversation and cutting and going to another corner of the room and listening to a different one. And it doesn’t matter – only if it’s really important that they happen at the same time. And if it’s really important that they happen at the same time then you get to play tricks like this person’s conversation is going on and then it gets interrupted by somebody coming in through the door and going I’m Here and everybody cheers. And then you cut over to the other corner and they have their conversation. And theirs ends with that same person coming through the door and going I’m Here and everyone cheers. And you go, oh, I get it. Those were happening at the same time.

But the rack focusy, gimmicky fade in/fade out stuff, sometimes it’s not worth it.

John: Yeah. My year living in France I saw a bunch of movies in French and generally I can do it. If I am watching a movie and I can see the actors talking I can follow, even without subtitles, I can follow what’s going. It takes sort of every brain cell. But if you try to do that and you also have a voice over, like that kills me. My brain can’t process both them talking and a voice over. I need to be able to see the person speaking the French or I am just completely lost. And to the point where like I saw a movie with Mike and I was like, oh yeah, that was good. And he’s like did you understand what happened in the last five minutes? I was like no. He’s like the little girl died. And I’m like the little girl died? I had no idea. And it’s because my brain could follow people talking. And the same thing happens at parties if people speak to me in French. I can follow one conversation in French if 100% of my attention is focused there. But everything else around the sides I can’t deal with it. It’s just too much noise and too much information.

Craig: Yeah. And so we kind of do our own weird approximation of simultaneity because we can’t actually handle it ourselves. There’s only so much information we can take in. So, it’s not cheating. It’s just sort of an acknowledgement that what we’re doing is we are approximating reality but we’re doing so in a very unreal way. Reality is not two-dimensional. Reality does not have edits. Reality doesn’t have a score. So I don’t get too hung up on the fact that we can’t achieve perfect simultaneity and I think it’s probably a dragon that certain fancy directors are more interested in slaying than writers.

But as writers our job is to convey a sense of simultaneity.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so apart from whatever simple kind of things we have at our disposal like the shift key and breaking of dialogue, it’s really about honestly keeping the reader in mind.

John: Yeah. The last kind of simultaneity I want to make sure we talk about is that sense of a shared clock, or sort of like you’re in movie mean time. Everybody in the movie is on the same clock. And by that I generally mean like if it’s day for me it’s also day for you. That we’re all in the same time space. And so soap operas are sort of a classic example of this. In college I used to watch Days of our Lives, and a thing you notice about soap operas is like all the characters they’re in the same day. So, you never sort of jump to the next day in soap opera. Every soap opera happens within a day. And really most movies and television they’re pretty explicit if we’re going on to a new day, time has changed. And every scene that happens happens after the scene that happened before it. So even if there’s different characters you’re going to default to the assumption that this scene has happened after the scene that happened before, even if it’s completely different characters. You’re going to assume that time movies forward. And it becomes jarring if you and I have a conversation and it’s sunset and the next conversation we see with the other characters it’s still afternoon. That feels weird. And we want to believe that it’s always going to go from morning to afternoon to evening to night to morning again.

And so sometimes as a writer you’re going to have to make choices about like, OK, when are we starting night and when are we going to believe that it’s the next day, or time has moved forward?

Craig: I told you about the crazy thing they made me do with the timeline writing in Europe right?

John: Yeah, so they want you to number every day and hour? Basically give a clock time for every scene?

Craig: Every single scene header had to have a time. An actual clock time. And I mean I gave it to a woman who works with me and I said please take the first pass at this because my whole thing is there are three times of day in movies – bright, dark, and in between. That’s the time of day. And, yes, sometimes you do need to know the time of day. And I had already called out those scenes. Like, yeah, you need to know this is 4:05. This is 4:10. Five minutes have passed by. But they’re insane about it. And it really wasn’t particularly useful. I don’t know why they do it that way. I will rail against it for the rest of my life. But they are very, very, very concerned about that sort of thing.

John: I would assume that their logic behind it is that it helps all the other departments figure out what day it is, what will have happened before, so if they need to make choices or changes. And literally so that the set department can move the clocks on the walls to the right time.

Craig: And yet somehow the largest motion picture and television industry in the world has managed to get by without this for a century. By the way, the way to deal with clocks: don’t show them. Don’t show clocks.

John: Don’t show clocks.

Craig: There you go. Problem solved. Because clocks are a continuity nightmare anyway.

John: Maybe we can find this episode online or a clip online from it, but I do remember an episode of Studio 60 which is all about the clock, because it’s all racing up to put on their Saturday Night Live like show. And there’s this meeting between two characters and they’re talking and the clock on the wall changes every time they cut back to the character. And you just can’t believe that they left it in. And so the clock is important as a story element but why they wouldn’t have stopped the clock is crazy to me.

Craig: Yeah. Stop the clock. Yeah, that’s like a rookie mistake. There’s that and the scenes where there’s one that Melissa always gets crazy about in Thelma & Louise where Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon are in the, I think it’s the bar, it’s right before the big confrontation where they kill somebody. And they’re having drinks. And every time you go back and forth the level of liquid in each glass goes up and down, and up down, and up and down.

John: The prop people are just like killing themselves when they see that.

Craig: You know, at some point though I guess you look at that and you go whatever. Like it’s important and then it’s obviously not important because Thelma & Louise is an institution. I don’t think that that glass scene harmed anyone’s appreciation of a classic film.

John: It was an important movie about women taking control of their lives. But the glasses. Oh my god! I can’t get past the glasses.

Craig: I always thought it was a movie about the strange behavior of liquids.

John: It really is. The fluid dynamics of that movie I just couldn’t put up with that.

Craig: It’s my biggest problem. I just thought that they kind of got away from what mattered.

John: Yeah. I mean, obviously evaporation in that universe works completely differently.

Craig: And condensation.

John: Indeed. So.

Craig: It’s amazing. Amazing.

John: Magical.

Craig: We’ve got some three pagers here that we’re going to have to deal with, huh?

John: We do. So let’s wrap up our simultaneity saying like if there are situations where you have to signal simultaneity, Craig really hit on one where it’s that sort of repeated moment, so the guy walks through the door and everyone says welcome or like surprise, to signal that those two moments really did overlap, they happened at the same time. So characters reacting to the same thing is a good way to do it.

Just really repeated scenes. So that’s what Go does. It repeats the exact same scene three times. And when we first shot Go we didn’t have that scene. We were repeating a different scene, two different scenes. And it didn’t work. Like the audience couldn’t track it. So that’s why I had to write a new scene that could be the one scene that we’d always go back to. And then finally like just communication between two characters can signal that people are in the same time space. And so classically now a text sent between people lets us know to connect where they are and that we’re in the same time. Because otherwise if you just cut to somebody you don’t know is it right now, is it hours after that last scene. So some kind of communication between the two of them can signal this is happening now and not slightly in the future.

Craig: Excellent summary, John, and an excellent topic of something that is a challenge but also an opportunity I think for writers.

John: Agreed. Let us take this opportunity to look at more writing. This is a Three Page Challenge–

Craig: Segue Man.

John: A segment we do every now and again. The next time we’re going to do this segment is at the Austin Film Festival, so we’re going to do a live version of this at the Austin Film Festival.

Craig: Yes.

John: So starting today if you would like to submit your three pages you can submit them specifically with a little tick box that says I will be at the Austin Film Festival and I am happy to come up on stage with you and talk through these three pages.

Craig: I feel like we’re extra nice to people in that venue. So if you want the nicest possible treatment, that’s the way to go.

John: And we always have special guests up there to help us talk through things. It’s a fun time to do it. So if you would like to submit to that you can. But in a general sense these are the first three pages of movies or pilots that listeners have sent in for us to take a look at. This is not a competition. This is just an exhibition of screenwriting craft. And we talk through what’s working and what could be better. So if you have three pages you want to send in you go to If you would like to read the pages that we’re about to discuss they’re attached to the show notes or just go to

Craig, do you want to start us off with Collective Outcasts?

Craig: All right. I will do that. This is Collective Outcasts. This is a pilot written by Angelique Gross. And so we begin with Jack, he’s 25, kind of a buzz cut military guy, waking up in the morning to his alarm. Meanwhile in her own bedroom is Amy, 24, a slacker who does not want to wake up at all. And we kind of go back and forth between them. He’s completely on point, gets up, gets dressed, he’s clean, he eats a healthy breakfast. She refuses to get up. She drinks some wine from last night. She’s kind of a big hot mess. And then she eventually gets going a bit late.

We see that they’re both on the same campus. She is – it’s some sort of art campus I believe, an art college, and she’s talking to her mother and explaining that she’s registering for her classes right now. And Jack, who is former military, walks through this very sort of squishy liberal campus to arrive at this faculty adviser Richard, who is surprised to see that this is their first student who has ever been here on the GI Bill. And Jack explains that he has in fact been in the military since he was emancipated at the age of 16. He served in Iraq. And now he wants to meet people with similar interests. He did not make any friends in the army. And those are the first three pages of Collective Outcasts. John, what did you think?

John: Well, let’s start with the obvious relevant topic which is the parallelism. So, this first page is all parallelism where it’s the exact same time we’re seeing Jack, we’re seeing Amy, we’re seeing them going through the same time. It literally says 6:00AM, 7:00AM, 8:00AM in the scene headers there to show us that these are happening simultaneously. It’s a very classic structure to show two characters with very different reactions to the same kinds of everyday things.

Where I was frustrated by this set up is – I think we talked about sort of like the showing hitting the alarm clock when you wake up in the morning is just such a cliché beat that you have to really put some spin on that or else it’s going to feel just really cliché and it’s going to start you off on a bad foot. This kind of does that.

The bigger problem for me was moving from Jack’s side to Amy’s side to Jack’s side to Amy’s side, the transitions really weren’t built there. It was just basically contrasting, but there was no sense of flow between them. And the good versions of these sequences it really feels like you’re moving forward every time you’re moving between the characters. It can be as simple as like he opens a door and then she opens a door, or she walks through a door. That sense of like there’s a visual feeling of moving through a space. And here it was just like a bunch of shot, shot, shot, shot, shot, which got me a little bit frustrated.

Craig, I had a hard time understanding this campus. And so our initial description of the campus, I think the reason why you sort of wonder like is it a private art college, so “Amy walks across a small but fancy university campus pathway. This school probably wasn’t like your college. There are no frats or grades but there are workshop nights with copious amounts of alcohol and ever present judgement from the anti-commercialism students.” But you didn’t say private art college. You didn’t give me a sense – give me a name. Just be specific about sort of where we’re at. I didn’t know where we were at sort of in the world. So, you gave me a lot of context without telling me what I’m actually looking at.

Craig: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about the simultaneity in the beginning. I think you’re exactly right. The best of these things work where one side of the simultaneous action is commenting on the other. So it’s simply the contrast of I got up on time, I didn’t. I’m clean, I’m going to take a drink. But there’s something a little bit more commenty about it. It seems like – well first of all I thought they were in the same place for a while. It’s a natural thing to presume that if we start with an interior of a bedroom and then we cut to an interior of a bedroom and they are two people in their mid-20s and they are both waking up at the same time that they may be roommates. They could be living in the same house. I don’t know. So partly I also wanted to make very sure, or I would suggest to Angelique that she make sure that there’s a little bit there to make it clear that this is one kind of space, this is another kind of space. This one is on the ground floor of a tiny thing and this one is in the high rise of a large dormitory. Whatever it is, just so I know they’re in different places.

It is very cliché. And it’s not giving me much other than this. This guy is a straight-shooter and she’s a mess. Which kind of, hmmm, we’ve seen it. We’ve just seen the wake up sequence many, many times. It’s hard to get excited about it. And I’m not sure it’s the best way to introduce somebody like this, meaning Jack. Amy, yes. Right?

So let’s get to John’s point about this college. Here are the things that Angelique describes about the college at the top of page 2 that we will not see. We will not see that it is small. We will not see that it is fancy. We will not see that it wasn’t like our college. We will not see that there are not frats or grades. And we will not see that there are workshop nights, whatever those are, with copious amounts of alcohol. And we will not see the ever-present judgment from the anti-commercialism students. What are they anyway?

We will see none of that. Here’s what we will see. We will see a 24-year-old woman walking across some sort of quad. So, therefore what Angelique does later down is exactly the kind of thing she needs to do right away. “Jack walks down the hall taking in all the posters and art. One flyer reads: ‘WANT TO JOIN AN EMOTIONAL FIGHT CLUB?’ Another: ‘JUNG DEMOCRATS MEETING TONIGHT!’”

So, you need to build the space. First of all, give this place a name. Tell me that it’s an art college. Tell me that it’s super snow-flakey. Whatever it is that you want to do so that you want to set up a situation where Jack is a fish out of water. Go for it. But then you have a fish out of water. So, introduce him as the fish out of water. He walks into a place and people presume that he’s someone’s dad, or that he’s lost, or that he’s security. Do you know what I mean? Like what could possibly happen when this guy walks in. But just to see him wake up and approach his adviser just feels sort of like a pretty boring way to introduce this character.

When he meets Richard, who is his adviser, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think about Richard. Richard seems to be both interested and not interested. He announces exposition. He says, “That’s right, Jack. Nice to meet you. I just wanted to touch base before the semester started. You’re our first student here on the G.I. Bill!”

What? No. No one says that. Ever. In the world. And nor would he want to touch base with him just because of that, especially because right after that it says, ”Richard doesn’t really care about what Jack is saying.”

So, it just seems like Richard is here for exposition. He’s Professor Exposition and it’s not working.

John: I agree. It’s not working. So my bigger macro concern isn’t really Richard. It’s Jack. Because Jack doesn’t feel like a guy who just spent eight years in the military. He feels like unfrozen Boy Scout. Like what I’m getting right now doesn’t feel like a person who has lived and done stuff. It feels like he’s just naïve in ways that you wouldn’t be if you served eight years in the military. So, you’ve seen some stuff if you’ve served eight years in the military. And so, yes, I think the general idea of a guy on the G.I. Bill going to an art college, that can be some good interesting tension. I buy that as a concept. And ultimately I assume this is a romantic comedy, so they will become a couple.

But this isn’t the right way for me to meet him and I’m nervous about how we’re setting up this character because I can sort of feel his arc and the thawing of his soul and I’m not loving it.

Craig: I agree with you. And another thing that always concerns me is when fish are out of water and seem to be really excited about it. You should be gasping for breath when you’re out of water. You don’t belong here. You want to get out of here. You didn’t want to be here in the first place. And the good news is you don’t have to stay. You’re only there for a week to do something. And then you get stuck, or you meet someone you fall in love with, or something.

But there’s no conflict inherent in the idea that he really, really wants to be there. So, I’m not sure where this goes. But I would say to Angelique that while these pages are laid out nicely and–

John: And they use Courier Prime which is a beautiful font.

Craig: Courier Prime, which as you know always butters John up. I think you need to go on cliché patrol. I think you need to go on exposition patrol. I think you need to really think about how you want to introduce characters. And you definitely, definitely want to manage information flow, because right now what you’re doing is you’re just kind of dumping information on us either through clunky dialogue or clunky action. But you’re not actually providing the filmmakers, whether it’s you or another person, with the tools that are required to convey this to the audience.

John: Yep. The last really small thing I want to point out is as Jack and Amy are introduced, “JACK (25), he’s a buzzcut military man but socially awkward,” so you can lose the pronoun for he and for she on this. When you’re introducing a character let them be their own noun. Let them carry the sentence. So, I just think you could lose the he’s and the she’s. Jack is a military buzz cut man, but socially awkward. Just let that be the thing. Don’t double up your noun and your pronoun.

Craig: Yeah. You can also drop the verb. Jack, 25, buzz cut military man. You don’t even need A. Buzz cut military man, socially awkward, endlessly curious. I like a nice bip-bip-boop. But yes, Amy, “she’s a feminist slacker.” It starts to feel a little bit like he – it’s like The Dating Game.

John: He’s a/She’s a. Yeah.

Craig: Exactly. Yeah. What’s next?

John: Let’s go to Yohannes Ashenafi. This is The Foster House Part 1, GPS. So, let me read a little summary of this. Mr. Kenny, 40s, is a raging hillbilly in every way. He’s driving recklessly while drinking a 12-pack PBR, Pabst Blue Ribbon, listening to a college ball game on the radio, and angrily trying to navigate through the Pocono Mountain backroads.

Toby, 17, with the brains of a genius but the accent and vocabulary of a hillbilly, is surrounded by his younger foster siblings watching a nature documentary on VHS. Hearing the screeching approach of the car the kids all jump, Toby signaling for them to keep quiet. Mr. Kenny enters in a rage, kicks the dog, meanwhile Toby warns the kids to stay quiet. Lucy, who is 11, wets her pants and asks him not to leave, but he must. And that’s the end of our three pages.

Craig, get us started at the Foster House.

Craig: Well, it’s not The Foster House. There’s about three different foster house movies in three pages, so let’s go through each one of those and maybe Yohannes can figure out which one he or – I guess it’s a he – wants to write. Because we have tonal problems throughout here.

Here’s what we have in the beginning. We have by the way a fairly well described scene where a goofy redneck weirdly in a neon blue Nissan, which already I was like, wait, what, OK but fine, is yelling at his radio because there’s a game going on and he obviously bet on it and it’s not working. That part was a bit cliché. And the radio broadcaster does not sound at all like a radio broadcaster. Sounds like movie radio broadcaster.

What I thought was really true to life was the way he started yelling, Mr. Kenny started yelling at the GPS navigator voice. That felt true and comical. Honestly comical. And then we go to at the same time this foster house where children are watching a nature documentary and they’re really excited by this and most of it is occupied by the narrator’s voice over for the documentary. And so the kids seem to really be enjoying this movie where animals kill each other, which is this whole other different vibe. And then things take a real hard turn once more when Mr. Kenny, who was presumably just a hapless goofy idiot who yells at GPS woman, comes home and now you realize, oh god no, he’s like Bill Sikes from Oliver and he’s going to beat or sexually assault them. And they’re terrified. I don’t know why they’re suddenly terrified. Because apparently they live with him all the time.

He kicks the dog which I got to tell you if you literally kick a dog on screen some people are just going to get up and walk out, FYI.

John: Yeah.

Craig: If you actually kick a dog, without warning, with no warning. You can show violence towards animals as something that a cruel, terrible person does, or you’ll see in the case of Chernobyl something that soldiers are required to do and it’s very sad, but it is explained. But there’s this sudden shocking moment of really awful violence. And then we have Toby speaking in a very kind of cornball approximation of an Appalachian accent or something telling these kids to be quiet because he is going to essentially beat them up or something.

And one final bit of confusion, a little girl, 11, which is not little by the way. 11 years old they have iPhones and a bunch of them are vaping at this point, but fine. 11 years old, it says, “She has soiled herself.” Which one is that?

John: That’s a bad thing.

Craig: I didn’t want to know. And she says sorry to Toby, who is one of the older kids, “Please don’t leave us.” Why would he – he’s 17, he lives there, he’s their brother, their foster brother, where is he going?

John: So my hunch is that Toby has left the house and is probably living out in the woods and sort of watches over the kids. So, there’s a lot to unpack here.

Let’s start with our sort of marquee topic of simultaneity, which is part of the reason we picked these three pages.

Craig: Sure.

John: So hillbilly guy is driving back, the kids are watching a nature documentary. We sense that he’s probably headed towards them just because we’ve seen movies before. We know how movies work. But there was an opportunity here that if we were to intercut between the two of these a little bit more we could have a little bit more tension. If we really establish that he’s coming to them before they know he’s coming that is a possibility. I don’t know if it’s necessarily what we want, but it’s a possibility of escalating tension which could be good.

I agree with you that this sort of initial like he’s driving and he’s bet on the game, there’s too much, but I like sort of what it gets to. Where I wanted more is on page two, “Mr. Kenny slams on the breaks, the car fishtails to a stop. Fueled by petulant tantrum he trashes his car.” I want to know what trashes his car means.

Craig: Did he get a sledgehammer out?

John: But if you actually describe what that is, that is a really good revealing character moment. He’s just the kind of guy who beats up his car can be funny but it can also be really kind of terrifying. And it would be great to know that it crosses from funny to terrifying at this moment, because then I have a very different feeling about him coming into this house.

What you said about the dog, it drives me crazy. And so it’s not even about violence to animals, it’s just that, you know what, racist hillbillies, they love their dogs, too. And I think there’s a much better version of this scene where he’s this maniac but he still pets his dog or something. He doesn’t at least kick it. I think there’s something about that which is I just checked out of the movie because I didn’t believe that moment and I didn’t sort of want to keep going with it.

My probably biggest problem with these pages is there’s a bunch of foster kids. I have no idea how many. I don’t know what ages they are. I don’t know how many kids are in this scene. And that was frustrating to me. They’re not even uppercased when they appear. And so I don’t have a sense of am I looking at three kids, am I looking at ten kids. What is the nature of this scene we’re headed into? And if I don’t have those details I don’t know what to be anticipating.

Craig: Yeah. That is an unacceptable level of ambiguity. At the very least you need to know how many actors you’re hiring to put in a scene, if they’re children in particular, and people need to know the size of the family. Similarly, there’s just basic logic things. If this is the sort of guy that kicks his dog, the dog – this is what we have here, “His dog knowing no better comes running towards him bearing love.” No, dogs don’t do that to people that kick them in the face. They cower. You know, it’s just like stuff like that where it’s just – it feels like this is one of those things where we have a writer who wants to do things but doesn’t necessarily want to be accountable for them. I mean, even soiling themselves. Like now what? Are you going to just let her stand there in that? You know what I mean? You have to be accountable for everything.

John: So, I have no idea whether English is Yohannes’s native language or not. There were some things in here that made me believe that either it wasn’t carefully proofread or this is not sort of his first language. I would say that simple things like repeating hillbilly a lot doesn’t give me a lot of faith. You’ve got to be more specific. I think you can say hillbilly once. You can use it as a noun. Then you don’t get to use it as an adjective again. You have to be more specific about sort of what specific things we’re seeing.

So, Pabst Blue Ribbon, great. I buy it. That’s good. But you’re going to have to keep providing details that are not just hillbilly.

Craig: Agreed. One quick typo at the top of two. Mr. Kenny is yelling at the GPS woman but he refers to her as women, plural, but it is a woman.

John: It is a woman.

Craig: A woman. All right, well.

John: Great. Let’s do our third and final Three Page Challenge.

Craig: This one is Token Genius, also a pilot. The title of this particular episode is Andre and Aggy and it is written by J. Gordon.

So, we begin with Andre Brown, 30s, black nerd, addressing an audience we do not see. And he’s there to tell them about what it is that he does. His research is to create humanity’s last invention. And he talks about how at some point technology is going to render human beings completely obsolete. You might as well just give up because the super intelligence that Andre is going to help create will kill all of the people on the planet in their sleep.

And then we reveal that he’s talking to a group of five year olds in kindergarten under a career day banner. And that ends our teaser. When we come back the students are watching an animated lesson, which is some sort of thing on the television about the body and the brain, and how the brain is sort of like a computer. And while that’s going on Andre is talking with the teacher, Janice, a young Jane Goodall sort, and she’s trying to explain to him that he didn’t quite exactly fit the bill of what career day was. And she points out he looks terrible. And he says, “Yeah, late nights.”

And the animated computer on the little video that they’re watching crushes a brain, a regular tiny cartoon human brain, and the video is over, and Andre is confused – or not confused. He understands they didn’t applaud because they didn’t get it. He knew they wouldn’t get it. And Janice reminds him that they’re five.

John: They’re five years old.

Craig: Those are our three pages, Token Genius.

John: I’ll start. So the simultaneity in this one is these kids are watching a presentation while the adults are having a conversation. And it works here. I believe that we can cut back and forth between the two of them. We can hear walla-walla while the adults are talking. Works great. And the two sides inform each other and that’s lovely.

I thought the writing was really great and also these pages just look really good. There’s just generous white space on the page. I was never sort of frightened to read stuff. What was bolded made sense. It all really invited me to sort of keep reading through it. And that’s worth a fair amount. I would keep going into this script because it was funny, because it was very specific, and I was curious sort of what else was going to be happening in this story.

I loved the description of Janice so much. So here’s the full description of Janice: “JANICE (30s) young Jane Goodall; frizzy bun, empathetic brows, counselor’s smile and speaks with the calm confidence earned after over a decade working with irrational creatures.” And that’s a very set up for her next line. There were a lot of really smart choices here and I really dug it.

Craig, what did you think?

Craig: I’m a little harder on it than you. Although I do agree that the character descriptions were great and if you look at Andre’s black nerd is brilliant. Says a lot right there. And there’s a certain confidence to that. And then it says, “He cleans his thick lenses with the hem of his cardigan.” Well you know me. Wardrobe, hair, makeup. It’s my favorite. So we’ve got thick lenses. We’ve got the hem of a cardigan. We’ve got a frizzy bun. We’ve got empathetic brows. Love it. So I can see these people.

Here are my issues. First, this set up where the sort of crotchety, curmudgeonly scientist doesn’t understand that delivering some kind of anti-human scree to five year olds won’t work. That feels very broad. Broad to the point where I just think, OK, we’re not in real-ville at all. Because I don’t get it. And at the very end of it for a teaser definitely doesn’t work because we reveal that these kids are sitting there and then the last line says, “SPOOSH – a juice box EXPLODES in the back row and we…END TEASER.”

What? I don’t understand. Meaning like a kid squeezed down on something? But that’s not what they do. And even then it’s just not that funny. So the kind of set up is not – it just feels very clammy to me.

Second problem. I agree with you that the simultaneity that was handled really well. When we come back and they’re watching an animated lesson, first of all I’m like what’s this? So is this from him? Did he bring this? Maybe at the end of his little speech when he realizes he blew it he could say, “Maybe I should just show the video,” and Janice says, “Just show the video.”

When we see the video though it seems like the video is just reiterating the stuff he said, which is odd. And doing it now, again, it’s the same joke. Computers are going to kill us. And you just don’t want to repeat that vibe again. It just doesn’t quite move the ball forward. It just seems like we’re doing the same thing again. I’m not even sure why Janice is letting this continue.

I like the fact that J. Gordon allows me to determine that Janice and Andre have some kind of relationship without telling me that they do. I just get it. They know each other. I don’t know what that relationship is. If they’re friends, if they’re lovers, if they’re exes. Doesn’t matter. I just know that they know each other. And again at the end when Andre says, “No one clapped. I knew they wouldn’t get it.” “They’re five.” Dude, it’s like you’re just not a real person at that point. You know? You’re now repeating the thing from the beginning. Do you still not understand that they’re five? What?

So, it got clammy. It got broad. That part I thought was not great. But the general flow of things I agree with you is really good. The descriptions are good. I just would say to J. like, OK, you hit the broad one, now do better. You can do better. I can tell. Just be a little smarter about this and just presume that we’ve already seen this joke done this way on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel sitcoms. Don’t Zack and Cody me man, you know what I mean? Give me better, right?

Couple of big typo-y think-o things in here. Meet and greet he spells “meet and great.” That’s greet, not great. And there was another wacky one early on.

John: You should route for me to win?

Craig: Yeah. Yeah, root is R-O-O-T, not R-O-U-T-E.

John: There was also an its/it’s problem on page three.

Craig: There you go. These things matter.

John: Yeah. So let’s talk about the clamminess because, yes, that page one is a giant clam. And where I think you have to be really careful about it is it also feels like a cheat if you didn’t establish the background behind it in a way that could work for both what we’re supposed to think it is and the real thing. And so Crazy Rich Asians which is a movie I loved so much and saw it twice, one of the things it does really well quite early on is it establishes our heroine in the middle of a poker tournament or poker game and she’s against an opponent. And it’s a very dark space. And it looks like it could be some sort of backroom at a club or something. And then as the lights go up we see it’s a lecture hall. Is it a bit of cheat of a lecture hall? Sure. But we believe that it could possibly happen. And I want to make sure that in this script we believe that in that initial shot we can believe that we are in someplace like a Ted Talk or something and then it’s revealed that he’s actually talking to a bunch of kids.

So I want to make sure that that is a possibility. Maybe this doesn’t have to happen at the school also. Maybe there’s some other place where he could do the same presentation.

I also agree with you about the video. It’s like I think the idea of showing a video because it would be fun could be good, but like what was the video actually made for? And if the video was a sales presentation or some other thing that he’s just, well, it’s got animation and kids love animation, that may be a reason why we believe he’s showing it.

Craig: Yeah. You make such a good point. I mean, it did occur to me that if someone said to me you must direct this I wouldn’t know how. Because a kindergarten classroom isn’t like only a kindergarten classroom in one direction. There’s colorful baloney everywhere. That’s kind of the nature of it. And you could say, well, you could be really close on him. Not for an entire half a page of a monologue. It would become bizarre. And understand also, J. Gordon, the longer you are on somebody talking without showing who they’re talking to, the more people, with every passing second, more and more of your audience will go, oh, there’s going to be some sort of funny reveal or crazy reveal of who he’s talking to but it’s not who I think it is.

And by the time you get about halfway down the page that number goes to 100%. There’s literally nobody who doesn’t see it coming at this point. And then if you turn around and you see it’s a kindergarten classroom and they go, whoa, whoa, hold on, it wasn’t behind your head, now you’ve just cheated. So, it’s a clam and you actually cheated to do the clam, which is the worst clam.

John: Absolutely. It’s one of those bonus clam strips that you get at a second rate fast food seafood company.

Craig: Yeah. It’s just batter. There’s not even a clam in it.

John: Just batter. There’s no clam inside.

Craig: Right. I actually like those.

John: Yeah, I do too. I kind of loved Sea Galley fried clams. I mean, it’s just fried fat. It’s delicious.

Craig: We just love fried.

John: Fried anything. Love it.

Craig: Fried. We love fried.

John: Tempura fried stuff. Tempura fried is delicious, but of course it’s just fried.

Craig: It’s just a different kind of fried.

John: It’s all good. So let’s recap what we learned from these pages. So we had examples of simultaneity, of parallel structure, of people in the same space experiencing different things. We had simultaneity of someone approaching and sort of the tension you can build from that.

I want to thank all three of these people for writing in with their Three Page Challenges. And basically everyone who has written in, because to pick these three Megan went through, god, like a 100 of these over the last couple of days to get these down. So thank you to everyone who sends those in. Thank you to these people for being so brave.

Megan did point out to me that she estimates that about 6% of the things she looked through were written by women. And so we’ve talked about this on previous episodes is we’ve gotten as high as like 30% I think in past years. So I don’t know why we’re down to 6% right now, but–

Craig: Wait, 6% of the submissions?

John: Of the submissions.

Craig: What is going on?

John: I don’t know what’s going on. But, at different times the ratio has been up to like 30%. And obviously, yes, sometimes people are using initials. Megan is Googling to see if she can figure out who these people are to see if they’re male or female or don’t identify as male or female. But we would just love to have some non-guys in here. So, if you are considering writing in this thing and you think like, oh, they never pick women. Yeah, we do pick women. We really do try to. So send those in.

Craig: Apparently wildly disproportionate to the submissions we get.

John: Anyway, we would love to have–

Craig: OK, so you know what? We should just say, you know what, for the next two months only women submit. Literally. That’s it. Just women. Because this is crazy. And it’s nothing against guys. It’s just that, OK, you’ve been getting kind of a free ride here off of the reluctance of women to send in script pages. Well, let’s just cut that out for a while. Just women, come on. We want to do this.

John: All right, so Craig, are we going to say that for Austin it’s only women? Or for the next ones we do in a non-live panel? Because I don’t want to sort of–

Craig: No, Austin is special. Austin is special.

John: So right now send in your three pages to Austin or to other stuff. There’s basically a tick box if you’re coming to Austin. But for the next one we’re doing just as a normal show, it’s going to be all women. So, we’re going to be looking for those submissions.

Craig: Yeah. So your odds of being selected have just skyrocketed. Maybe women aren’t sending these in because they realize that it’s just a terrible experience.

John: But I think it’s mostly a good experience. So we’ve done previous live shows where we had I think all three of the entrants were women. I don’t think that’s been the case. I hope it’s not the case.

Craig: You’re right. You’re right.

John: All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a video I watched on “How to Beat Any Escape Room,” by Mark Rober. And I thought it was pretty good. So I’ve done a bunch of escape rooms. You’ve done a bunch of escape rooms. I thought this guy’s advice he wasn’t an expert at all, but he went to talk to people who have done a bunch and people who design escape rooms and I think his basic advice makes a lot of sense. And so the first thing that Rober is going to tell you is that communication is key. You have to be speaking aloud about the things you’re finding and also crucially what inputs you need to solve a problem. So make sure that everybody in the room understands what you’re trying to do.

Craig: Right.

John: A thing that Mike pointed out, which I’m glad to see this video points out, is you need to clean up after yourself. And so once something is done, find a place to put all the stuff that’s finished because you will waste so much time picking up a thing, a puzzle, that’s actually already solved. And so there are these kind of suggestions, but also other suggestions in here. So if you’re interested in escape rooms I think this would probably help you.

Craig: I’ll watch that. I mean, I did escape rooms in Lithuania.

John: Nice.

Craig: I did escape rooms in Latvia. How about that?

John: I’ve never done a Latvian escape room.

Craig: It was quite good.

John: It’s just a hotel room.

Craig: It’s called Latvia. No, I like Latvia quite a bit. The bit of advice I always give people beyond I mean the things that you said are absolutely true. I mean, communication is always the big one. But I always say to people ask yourself what could pair with this. Because it’s very rare for any escape room to give you a self-contained puzzle. Like here’s a lock and the stuff around it will answer the answer of the lock. No. It’s going to be something somewhere else that you’re going to have to go, oh wait, that plays back to this. So think about an escape room as a series of pairs of things. And puzzles are in pairs. And if you can figure out what the pairs are a lot of times you’re well ahead of the game.

John: My other bit of advice which is not covered in this video, but understanding how to do tangrams is genuinely useful for many escape room situations which are those – like how you arrange the pieces, the little triangle pieces and things to fit into puzzles. I’ve seen that in multiple cases in multiple places. So knowing how to do that will save you some time.

Craig: That is literally an automatic minus star for me. Because I just – tangrams, it’s just a waste of time. It’s busy work. It’s a busy work puzzle. It requires no insight. It’s just sort of doing it. So I don’t like it when they do stuff like that. I much prefer the insight.

John: I guess the other problem with the tangrams is that like really only one person can do it at a time. And so there’s no teamwork.

Craig: Yeah. And it’s like, oh, let’s put that guy – just randomly start mushing these triangles around until you find. I think it’s lazy. I don’t like the tangrams. There was a tangram in one of the Escape LA rooms which I think you were saying they were converting to a different room which it was their worst room by far I thought. The cavern.

My One Cool Thing this week, I mean, you know I’ll go on and on. If I could make 1Password my One Cool Thing every week I would. But what I really love is the combination with – so in iOS 12 they now, you know, it was a big thing when they allowed you to use the share functionality to kind of go over to another app, get something, and pipe it into a thing. But now you can literally – and it’s with a bunch of different password managers – when you are on a field on your iPad or your iPhone and you need to fill in account information and you put the cursor in that thing it will bring up your keyboard. But above your keyboard it already says something like, hey, do you want to pull in your information on this website from 1Password. And you hit that and off you go.

John: Bloop bloop.

Craig: So it’s just getting much, much faster and zippier. I really like iOS 12. I think there’s a lot of cool stuff.

John: Yeah. One of the new features that’s in Mohave I think is it’ll show you all of the saved passwords you have for various things and it will put little yellow triangles if you’ve repeated a password for multiple sites. And it’s a very useful way of thinking like, oh, shoot, I should not actually be using the same password on multiple sites. And so you can see which ones you’ve done and then change them on those sites.

So, credit to Apple and to everyone else working on the problem of passwords.

Craig: Yeah. They’re trying. 1Password has something called Watchtower where it will both analyze all of your passwords to make sure that they’re not weak or even just good but strong, and they’ll also reference everything against the Have I Been Pwned database to say, oh you know what, you need to change this one because there’s some evidence that there was a hack and some of that information might have gotten out.

John: We got an email in here that said like, oh, this was your password for this and I have evidence of you doing these terrible things and it was because of just one of those LinkedIn kind of password things that got broken years ago. And so it’s scary when you get an email that says like your password is this. And it’s like, yeah, but you know what because I use a different password for every site I know exactly which one that was and, nope, you’re just a scammer.

Craig: Yes. If anybody sends me your password is this, it’s just going to be a big long string of garbage. What do I care?

John: You don’t care.

Craig: I don’t care man. I don’t know my passwords to anything.

John: All right. This is our show. And our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro you can send us a link to That’s also the place where you can send questions, longer questions are great there.

Short questions are great on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

You can find us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there leave us a review. That helps people find the show. You’ll find transcripts for this show and all shows at If you go to, that’s where you submit your entry to the Three Page Challenge.

You can find all the back episodes of the show at That’s also where you can sign up to be a premium subscriber. And those premium subscribers, well, you need to send in your questions. And so there’s a special link in the show notes where you send those questions and it shows up a little Google form and it’s great. And we will be doing an episode with just those questions pretty darn soon.

Craig, a pleasure.

Craig: As always.

John: And have a great week.

Craig: See you next time.

John: Bye.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.