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 396 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Craig and I are both maybe just a little bit jetlagged. Craig, you just flew back from England, correct?
Craig: Yeah. This was my last run over to London. We finished basically.
Craig: We mixed our final episode of Chernobyl and we just got some straggling VFX shots left, but basically I guess it’s probably good that we’re done because it’s coming out in a few weeks.
John: [laughs] Yeah. You should be done. It’s good. And I just flew back from Maine. I was there doing a one-week book tour of the northeast. It was great but I had to wake up at 1am LA time to catch my flight back here. So, if I nod off in the middle of this podcast that will be the explanation of why, not because I’m not fascinated by the things we’re talking about.
But now we are both back in town and it’s a really good thing because, well, nothing interesting happened this past week. It was a very quiet week in Los Angeles while we were gone.
Craig: Sleepy. Yeah, one of those rare weeks where everything goes as planned. [laughs] He-he. Yikes.
John: Today on the podcast we’re going to be talking about a lot of big numbers from the latest developments in the WGA/agency situation, to the announcement of Disney+, and the final installment of Star Wars non-ology. I guess is that nine movies? Non-ology?
Craig: Sure. Why not?
John: Sure. Then of course we’ll answer some listener questions. But I wanted to sort of frame this as big numbers because we had a very big exciting thing happen this week because we got our first image of an actual black hole.
Craig: That’s right. It was gorgeous.
John: Yeah. It’s named Powehi, which is a Hawaiian phrase referring to “an embellished dark source of unending creation.”
John: I’m a little skeptical of that long name, because a culture that would have a term for an embellished dark source of unending creation – that feels a little specific for a three-syllable word.
Craig: Yeah. Well Po means embellished dark source.
John: Oh, that’s right.
Craig: We is unending. And Hi is creation. You’re right. Actually many Polynesian languages are sort of famous for having these very long words.
Craig: So this is an odd one. But the photo really isn’t of the black hole. The photo, of course, is of the light being sucked into the black hole. You can’t really take a picture of a black hole, because it’s a black hole.
John: Yeah. And it’s actually a composite image of the radio telescope’s data that they were able to pull from this thing, but still it’s impressive. It’s an accomplishment because it is a demonstration that the physics that we assumed were real, are real and so we can now see it. This 55 million light years from Earth. This super-massive black hole has a mass that is 6.5 billion times that of our sun. That’s not even a number I can fathom, because I can’t really even fathom how big the sun is.
I love going to planetariums where they show you relative sizes of things. And I kind of remember that for a while, but then I can never remember whether the Earth is a speck of dust or a golf ball. And really it doesn’t matter.
Craig: It really doesn’t matter. And also I should point out that the super-massive black hole either has or had a mass. Because what we’re seeing is a picture from 55 million years ago. Correct? I think that’s right.
John: It is. Yeah. So, it took that long for the light that we’re capturing or the radio waves that we’re capturing to get to us. So, that was a long time ago. But you know what? Black holes, they last a really long time. And I know this because the same week that this news came out I watched a really good video, I’ll put a link in the show notes, it’s by John Boswell. It is a Timelapse of the Entire Universe. And it starts now and goes to the end of the universe, but it keeps accelerating as it goes. And you realize that the period of the universe that we’re in right now is actually just a brief little blip in the time in which we could actually have planets and solar systems. Because most of the universe will be giant black holes crashing into each other and eventually decaying until there’s nothingness.
Craig: Well, that’s certainly what the simulation would have you believe. In the meantime I’m just wondering, in the time-lapse of the entire universe where did the part where we fire our agents land? Was that recent? How long does it last?
John: That was Friday at midnight.
John: Yeah. So that was another sort of change in the overall physics of the Hollywood universe is that – so this past week we were having negotiations with the Association of Talent Agencies. Last week we sort of assumed that it was going to have already happened, but then there was a last minute extension, so this last week there was more conversation. A deal was not reached and you and I and every other member of the WGA got an email saying there’s been no deal reached, it has now come time for us to send a notice to our agencies that they need to either sign the agreement or they are no longer representing us.
Craig: Yeah. So this is a, you know, I don’t know how else to phrase it except a failure of negotiation. Normally when we are looking at failures of negotiation between the Writers Guild and the companies the outcome is a strike. In this case, you know, and I’ve been saying this all along, when we had Chris Keyser on, we’re kind of management here. And the closest analogy I could come up with was that this is sort of a lockout. We’ve locked them out.
It is a failure of negotiation, but I place it at the feet of the agencies. I really do. I think that it took them – either it took them a very long time to take this seriously, or their strategy was to not take it seriously. But suddenly there were five hours left and at that point they wanted to begin. When you’re down by 14 points that’s not the time to run the clock out. You run the clock out when you’re up by 14 and there’s 40 seconds left. Why they’re running the clock down, I don’t know. And why they chose to do what they did I don’t know. Why their first volley with eight hours to go was so far afield of the fairway I don’t know.
John: Yeah. You and I talked a lot about this sort of off-mic this whole week, sort of anticipating what could be happening, what might be happening. You and I both had our theories of sort of, you know, theories of mind for sort of what was going on on the other side and I don’t think either of us were particularly correct. It’s hard to sort of, you know, understand quite why we got to this place. But here’s what we do know is that there are 43 agencies who have signed this agreement. They’re not the big agencies that you would know. But they represent about 300 or a little bit more of our members. So that’s something. If you’re at one of those agencies that’s awesome.
What’s going to happen this next week, the next few weeks, is there’s going to hopefully be more discussions, hopefully building on sort of the small things that were decided in the room. There’s going to be a lot of speculation about whether more agencies will break off from the ATA to make a deal. I think there’s probably some betting pools about who that would be. But it’s uncharted territory. We are past the event horizon and so we don’t know what the future holds for our relationship with our agencies.
Craig: We don’t. The reasonable prediction would be that after a brief cooling off period everybody comes back to the table and starts talking again. There will be increasing pressure as time goes on. Time always delivers pressure. There are people whose job is to determine for the agencies how much money they are not making per month for every month this goes on.
And this is kind of an interesting difference between a typical labor action like the kind where we go on strike, when we go on strike we don’t make money and they can’t get new writing. In this case, we can keep getting hired. We can keep making money. In fact, there is a real argument to be made that whatever pain is and whatever the distribution of pain is it is wildly in favor of the writers and wildly in disfavor of the agencies.
You are going to have a lot of people, a lot of agents at those agencies, saying, “Hey, you’ve kind of eliminated my career here.” And I have to say that in that there is some hope for this all because when you run a business and you have employees, sure, some people are awful about it and the larger the corporation I suppose the easier it is to be awful, but these are not massive corporations. They all work in a building. And I think seeing people in pain and seeing people scared and seeing people suffering is going to make a difference to the men and women who run these agencies.
They don’t want this to go on forever. And people will get hurt. So, the question is where’s that sweet spot between what they can live with and what they can’t? The truth is the longer this goes on the more danger they are in.
John: Yeah. On this flight back I had wifi and so I was emailing with a bunch of writers, just sort of checking in with them on sort of where they were at. These are largely folks who are on that big list of 700 people who signed up.
And one of the things I stressed in conversations was this is weird and uncomfortable and that’s probably good. It kind of needs to be weird and uncomfortable because if this felt normal we wouldn’t actually solve it. And so you have to sort of be comfortable with being uncomfortable for a bit while we sort of sort through these situations.
But in two of the conversations I had with writers today I realized folks who I knew well, like big screenwriters who you and I talk to quite a bit, don’t have agents. I was surprised like one of them hadn’t had an agent for eight years and he works all the time.
John: So, it seems like, oh, it would be so weird and impossible not to have an agent, but there’s folks for whom it’s fine.
Craig: Well, there’s the creeping danger for the agencies. So, the longer this goes on the greater the chance that – not everybody – but a number of writers will say, “I don’t notice a difference here.” And that’s obviously an existential threat for the agencies and their relationship with writers.
The other issue is the actors are waiting out there. So SAG does not have a signed agreement with the ATA and hasn’t for a while. So they’ve just kind of punted this the way I think in a sense the writers punted this, too. But the longer this goes on the longer the odds are that SAG will do the same thing. And at that point it’s untenable.
So one of the tricky parts for the agencies is they can’t simply make a deal and imagine it is only with us. Whatever they do here is going to be extendable I would imagine to the actors and then of course to the directors. All of their clients really. The simple solution of course is to simply revert to 10%. Whether or not that happens, I don’t know. But I absolutely agree with you that it is uncomfortable. That is a sign that probably it’s moving in the direction it should be moving in since the entire point of this exercise was that the status quo and the comfort of stability was not worth the price we were paying.
But on a personal note it’s distressing. It’s distressing to me because I am close with my agents. My main agent has been my agent for well over a decade. And this is, I think the two of us feel a little bit like two brothers on different sides of the Civil War. It’s one of those things.
Craig: It’s sad. We don’t like this.
John: No. I tweeted as this was all happening that my agent of 20 plus years, you know, I would give him a kidney tomorrow if he needed a kidney. I’m on my way to Cedars. He’s genuinely a good guy. And so what we’ve tried to stress from the very beginning is this isn’t about an individual agent. This is about a system that’s broken that needs to get fixed. And so hopefully we can get this system fixed.
But speaking of broken systems, I want to give you an opportunity because I know you are not happy with some of what the WGA was saying in the FAQ about this. Do you want to talk us through that?
Craig: Yeah. And I’ve never been shy about criticizing the union at any point in time. In fact, I tend to do it when people are most annoyed with the idea that I’m criticizing the union. Because I think in part the Writers Guild has a kind of institutional paranoia that in times of strife any dissent represents potential fatal wound to the body politic which is nonsense. I think dissent is essential, particularly to keep any kind of structure of power and authority honest to the people that it purports to represent.
And I think by and large the Writers Guild has actually done a very good job through here. But they always go one step too far. And here’s my problem. They released a frequently asked questions for writers which was very thorough and people do have a lot of questions about how this all works. But there was one thing that stuck in my craw.
So, the letter that we all signed and sent to our agents – I did it, you did it, most of us are doing it I presume – says essentially you can no longer represent me for employment in regard to any new deal covered by the WGA.
John: Yeah. My writing services.
Craig: Correct. What the frequently asked question says is – question: What if I’m a TV writer/producer? Answer: Some unsigned agencies, meaning agencies that haven’t signed the code of conduct, meaning most of them, have been telling clients they can still represent them as producers. This isn’t true. Because your writer and producer functions are inextricably linked and are deemed covered writing services under the MBA you cannot continue to be represented as a producer by an agency not signed to the code of conduct.
Well, I don’t think that’s true at all. I think that’s just patently false. I think that, well, it is true in practice that writer-producers in television, those two activities are mushed up and linked together. But producing is not covered by the MBA. The MBA has passages that say, look, if you are claiming to be producing and you’re doing more than this small limited number of exceptions then you’re actually writing and it needs to be covered here, but otherwise producing income is dues-able. That’s how we know it’s not covered by the MBA and that’s how we know that in fact the Writers Guild cannot stop people from producing in television. There’s an entire category of television producing called non-writing producer.
So, why did they do this? I think again because they’re paranoid. But they don’t have to be here. That was unnecessary. Because if you are a proper writer-producer in television and your agent cannot represent you in the writing portion of the deal then they won’t. And you can’t produce and not write if you’re meant to be a writer-producer. So, the point is you can’t – they can’t get away with saying that they represent more than they do. And I think it’s also unnecessary. I think the fact is saying to the agencies you cannot represent my new writing work is as far as we ought to go and it’s as far I believe as we can go.
And until such time as somebody makes a decent argument to me that the MBA says otherwise that’s what I’m going to believe. And they tried to make an argument but I thought it was terrible and it didn’t hold water. So, this is where I think sometimes they go too far. That was unnecessary and I just don’t think it’s enforceable.
John: Yeah. So talking with some showrunners today or emailing back and forth with showrunners on my endless flight back from Maine I was talking to them about sort of these issues and I was really heartened to see that the showrunners I was talking to really did see their writing and producing functions as being so inextricably linked that they couldn’t imagine having conversations with their agents about the producing function of their job which was really they couldn’t separate it. So as a practical matter they felt those two functions were so linked that they couldn’t imagine separating them out. And that’s the kind of thing that also happened during the strike. There were showrunners who felt like they couldn’t go through and be doing post-production on episodes because it was still kind of writing.
John: And so I totally get that. And as a practical matter these showrunners I was talking to said, listen, I think the best way through this is for me to sort of stop talking to the agencies and to direct my folks to stop talking to the agencies so that we get this done more quickly and more fairly and sort of resolve this thing.
Craig: Well, I wish that you had written this, because that’s the answer. In other words, during the strike we said – we organized ahead of time. We talked to showrunners and said, listen, if we go on strike the companies are going to demand that you continue to fulfill your producing responsibilities which are not covered by the WGA, for instance supervising editorial. That’s not writing. Well, a lot of the showrunners sort of ahead of time said, “Yeah, we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to cross the picket line. And so you’ll have to sue us.”
Meaning the guild can’t compel us to do this. There is no legal reason we’re doing this. But since we’re all doing it you’d have to sue all of us and that won’t work. That’s how you do this. You don’t say you’re not allowed to.
And by the way, because this isn’t a labor action what we’re talking about really is representation. So the question is if you’re making a deal can you have an agent negotiate the producing part of it and have somebody else negotiate the writing part, practically speaking the answer is no. that doesn’t really make sense.
John: Not really, no.
Craig: Yeah. And so what I wish we were saying is you shouldn’t because it’s going to diminish our ability to do these things. What we’re saying to you is don’t. Right? But we’re not telling you you can’t. And we’re not lying to you about what the MBA covers. That’s where the guild just drives me nuts. They’ve got to go one step too far. And my problem is they’ve done this so well with the exception of that that I think it just diminishes a little bit of their – it diminishes the legitimacy and the honesty of the other arguments which are all excellent.
John: Yeah. Well, Craig, thank you for keeping us honest on that. The one last sort of macro question I got a lot today was about, but wait, couldn’t the agencies just package shows without writers? They could use actors and directors? The first response to that is always, well, but they don’t. The writers are always sort of deemed essential to these shows. So I would be surprised if any studio was going to be willing to pay a packaging fee that doesn’t include a writer.
But the other thing that I thought about today which had never really struck me before is we see these mega deals for writers, these $100 million deals for streamers with these writers, you don’t see those for directors. You don’t see those actors. There’s something obviously very special about writers is that we make the things that they’re able to show. And that is why we are so valuable. And I think that’s also why we’re so indispensable for these packaging fees.
Craig: And it’s why the feature business is so bizarre. Because it’s always been the case that the richest creative talent in Hollywood, the most handsomely-rewarded creative talent in Hollywood were television writers. Always. And continues to be the case. And then you have this bizarre world in features where, I don’t know, it’s like they pretend that television doesn’t exist and that that entire system isn’t working really, really well. And I’m kind of fascinated by what’s going to happen.
Because what you’re seeing now – is this just aside from the agency thing – but you are seeing people like Spielberg grouching at the Academy about whether or not Netflix movies should be eligible. And I understand the arguments on both sides, but there is underneath it a certain kind of fear I would imagine among directors that if their protected and exalted status in features disappears because everything is television then they will have lost an enormous amount of status and authority and that’s kind of an interesting side effect to all of this.
As the television-ification of Hollywood continues writers and their leverage only I think increase in stature. And another reason why it’s really important that we take this time now I think to reset things with agencies because we can. We are in fact the people that are the lynchpin behind these massive deals.
John: Yeah. Craig we got two questions that were specifically about WGA stuff. I thought maybe we’d take them first.
Craig: Great. All right, well Sam asks, “I just signed with one of the big four agencies off my break-in spec.” Great timing, Sam. “It made the Black List. It has some A-level talent circling. I’m meeting on assignments. All the good stuff. The thing is this is my very first go-round. I’m not in the WGA. What happens to a guy like me if WGA writers walk from the big four? Do I sit tight until I accumulate enough points to make it into the union and then jump ship? Could my agent even negotiate a WGA deal for me?
“I have a manager, so I’m not going to be floating out in space all alone, and despite not being in the union I want to back my fellow writers.”
John, we’ve got answers for this. Go for it.
John: We do have answers for Sam. First off, Sam, it’s awesome that you’re thinking about your fellow writers. That is a good start on your career. You are not a WGA member. You are not bound by sort of what’s happening with this. You can stay repped by this big four agency. They can send you out on stuff. Book something. Get a great job. Get a great job at a studio. That is going to be covered work. And with that covered work you are ultimately going to be joining the guild anyway and at which point let’s hope this is not still happening. But at which point you would have to be leaving your agency because then you’re bound to the restrictions of what’s going on right now.
So, you’re fine Sam. But it’s awesome that you’re thinking about this. This is the kind of guy who if this were the strike he would show up on the picket line even though he didn’t have to be on the picket line because he was there to support. That’s good.
Craig: Great. Thanks for that. John, you want to take Tamara’s question?
John: Sure. Tamara writes, “In the negotiation with the agencies about packaging fees why doesn’t the WGA team up with the DGA and SAG/AFTRA to demand that all their client members receive 50% of packaging fees so at the end of the year all packaging fees collected by the agencies would be split 50% for the agency, 50% for client members? Wouldn’t this be better than trying to eliminate the fees altogether?”
Craig: Well, Tamara, I agree with you. It would be better. I would be all for that, personally. That’s my personal feeling. I think the Mazin plan as I put it is once the agency recoups what it would have made from a 10% commission then everything after that they would split with everybody that was covered by the package. So that would mean everybody that wasn’t paying commission essentially would then get half. And it would be prorated among how much you contributed to that imputed 10%.
The issue though is that I don’t think, and I mean, John, maybe you know differently, I don’t think we can just team up with two other unions like that in something like this. I think we have to sort of negotiate on our own first. The DGA may have a deal in place. SAG does not, if I’m correct.
John: Yeah. I would say as you try to rope in other unions it gets more complicated and one thing I’ll just say in defense of the Mazin plan, Mazin idea, is that what Craig is trying to do is incentivize agencies to get more for their clients. That’s really ultimately what it comes down to. So that the 10% is really meaningful. And so that they are not only thinking about that packaging fee. They’re thinking about how do I get my clients paid more so that I make 10% more.
Craig: Exactly. My basic theory is if you tell them that the higher their clients’ salaries, the more packaging money they get to keep for themselves. They will be incentivized to maximize our salaries. And that’s all I want. I just want – there was a thread between agents and clients and that thread was the more you make the more we make. And that thread was severed by packaging fees. I want to restore that thread. However it works out. I want it to be that the agents realize that the more money we make upfront, all of us, the more money they will get to keep later on.
John: Yep. And as we wrap up this conversation we should never forget producing because producing is the thing which I feel like we don’t address now, five years, 10 years, 20 years down the road we will be kicking ourselves because it’s so clearly a conflict between what’s best for us and what’s best for them. And the nature of an agent versus an employer.
Craig: Yeah. And I would say that this is another area where – because I don’t represent the union. You’re a board member. I was many years ago. But I’m just a member at large. I have no problem saying to my fellow writers just as a person don’t work for those companies. Just don’t. You know? Because I don’t think it’s good. I don’t think it helps us. I don’t think it’s a healthy relationship to have. I don’t think making life better for those companies is going to make life better for writers in general. So I would say don’t work for them.
Craig: Yeah. Just don’t.
John: That’s a choice. Nice. All right, moving on, also this week we found out the details about Disney+. That is the new Disney streaming service. It launches November 12. It includes content from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and of course since they got Fox there’s also a bunch of Fox stuff on there including The Simpsons. Every episode of The Simpsons will be there.
So, that was a lot and it doesn’t actually cost a lot. It costs $7.99 per month.
Craig: [laughs] Yes it does.
John: At least at the start here. In addition to the stuff that already exists there’s going to be original shows, Marvel shows based on Hawkeye, Falcon and Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch and the Vision, which we talked to Megan our former producer about because she’s working on that show.
John: There’s new Star Wars shows. And probably the single show I was most excited about when I heard about it almost a year ago is called Encore. It’s a reality show. It stars Kristen Bell. And she is the producer who brings together former cast-mates of a high school musical and they have to recreate it within one week.
Craig: Oh wow. Well, you know what? I was Curly in our senior year production of Oklahoma. So, Kristen Bell if you’re listening, Freehold High School, class of 1988. Oklahoma. I have no hair left. I would need a wig.
John: You would need a wig. It’s a great idea for a show.
Craig: Love it.
John: I mean, it’s just going to be a ton of stuff and we’re just clearly now into the age of streamers. Between this and Apple+, you’ve got the Hulu. You’ve got the Netflix. You’ve got the HBO. This is our universe now.
Craig: It is. And this was clearly designed to be a kick in the ribs of Netflix. No question. That pricing alone was – well it was just a massive underpricing. And they can do that because Disney, I think they claim that they will be profitable by 2024 or something like that. And I believe them. I believe them completely.
Netflix, you know, continues to burn through cash and they charge quite a bit more a month. So now it gets interesting because they’re going to pull all this stuff off of Netflix obviously. And unlike Netflix which has no other streams of revenue except for their subscription service and doesn’t have a kind of endless library just yet, even as they make a thousand shows, what they don’t have is 30 years of The Simpsons right?
And Disney obviously has the ability to buffer everything with their theatrical and their parks and their cruise ships and their merchandising, and ABC. It’s going to get interesting. I think, if I had to predict, I would say that Disney+ is going to be an enormous success.
John: I think it will be an enormous success, too. The only thing I would say don’t discount about Netflix is we think of Netflix through our US bias, but when I travel overseas Netflix is giant. And they have a lot of local content that is made for the countries that they’re in. And they continue to do more and more and more of that. So, Disney even with all the stuff they have, I think a lot of folks are going to stick with Netflix because there’s things they want on Netflix.
Craig: No question.
John: It’s not going to be an either/or situation.
Craig: I agree. I think it’s really more about the future and how it impacts Netflix in the future because if they’re holding all this content like Star Wars and Pixar and Disney, I mean Disney is a huge selling point for Netflix content. And it’s going to go away. So it impacts what their curve looks like ahead. But, look, as a writer, as a content creator, I want there to be 20 of these things.
John: Oh my god, yes.
Craig: As long as they pay us well.
John: Yeah. I mean, I’m very sad to lose Fox and I will never stop bitching about how I don’t think Disney should have been allowed to buy Fox. But places that want to make things is good for us.
John: And so we should make things for those places.
Craig: Correct. Agreed.
John: Agreed. One of those giant properties that will be showing up on Disney+ is the new Star Wars. So, this week we learned the title. It’s The Rise of Skywalker. We saw a teaser. It got 16 million views. I want to talk about big numbers. But I would like to do right now on this podcast is just play one minute of the music from the trailer. So this is a John Williams clip. Because I truly believe you could have just played this music over a black screen and we would have all had goosebumps and been so excited to see this movie. So, if you’re listening to this on a podcast player that’s speeded up can you just slow it back down to normal speed now? Because I think it’s worth just listening to just music to sort of feel what they’ve done here.
And as you’re listening to this I want you to notice how when the choir kicks in they just simply go up the scale and, man, that is so effective. At some point, Craig, you just got back from your sound mix, I do want to have a whole episode or most of an episode about the mix and score and how that works and how a writer can approach that. But listen to this and just see the remarkable job they’ve done with the music for this clip.
John: It’s so good.
Craig: Well, I mean, look, that’s storytelling. You can actually see. It’s writing. Like regular writing. It’s got a narrative to it. I mean, there’s the recall of an old theme. Well, first of all there’s the weird sort of dissonant thing that builds up and then it resolves into sonance. And then like you say there’s that climbing chorus going on, rising above the repeating theme. And then just as it’s about to resolve they cut it off.
John: Yeah. Anticipation. That cliffhanger.
Craig: Cliffhanger. Then you have the introduction of some evil terrifying thing. Then the resolve but underneath the resolve you have the evil kind of hanging out in there. It’s storytelling. It’s just wonderful. And people have made this argument before. I think there’s merit to it. That Star Wars would have been one and done without John Williams.
John: I think that’s a very good argument to be made because visuals in the original movie are fantastic. Visuals in this trailer are fantastic. But without that score it just doesn’t work the same way. It doesn’t, I mean, they often say the score is that piece of the movie you get to take home with you. It sticks in your head and you sort of hum it to yourself. And he was just a master at doing that.
Craig: He is. He continues to be.
John: I’m not putting him in the past, but what he did for Star Wars is just so iconic.
Craig: And E.T.
John: And E.T.
Craig: And Superman. And Jaws.
John: And Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Craig: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
John: So he’s had a few hits.
Craig: Harry Potter.
John: He’s a few instances of success.
Craig: He’s had all of the things.
John: He’s had all the things.
Craig: He really is – when you look at like everybody in Hollywood and you ask who is the greatest of all time, meaning who made the biggest difference and was the biggest kind of positive impact in our entire history of film and television, there’s an argument to be made it’s John Williams.
John: I think a very good case can be made for John Williams.
Craig: And I love your idea, too. We must do, look, I’ve just been mixing for a while. I’m obsessed with mixing in a way that I really do kind of get a bit sleepy during color-grading, color-timing. But the mixing, it’s everything to me. And so I would love to talk about how much writing happens in our ears. That’s a great topic.
John: Cool. Let’s take one of our questions. We have a bunch here, but we’ll save the rest for other days. Question from Scott. He asks, “As a screenwriter working to get into the business, if you write say two to three hours a day what does the rest of your day look like? Are you done-done, or do you have more work that you do that’s not words on a page?”
So, Craig, talk me through a writing day on your side and I’ll describe my day. How many hours a day when you’re really writing are you really writing?
Craig: Well, yeah, about two to three are actually what I would call composition time. Then there is thinking time. And there’s ordering time. And there’s imagining time. And daydreaming time to imagine the scene. I don’t like really writing anything until I’ve watched it a bit in my head and thought it through.
Of course, I am in the business. When I was working to get into the business, after the two or three hours of writing a day I went to my job.
Craig: You know? I made money so I could live.
John: Yep. I would say I’m like Craig in that there’s probably two to three hours a day where I’m at the keyboard or pen in hand writing the stuff that is the actual screenplay or book in this case. But there’s a lot of time that’s thinking through other stuff.
Now, back when I had a day job my day job was answering phones and doing all that stuff. My other day job is sort of this podcast, it’s the software company I run. It is a thousand WGA stuff. So there’s a lot of other things that fill up the rest of the day. But it’s good that there are those things because I don’t know anybody who can write eight hours a day. A person who can actually just sit down and physically do that. It’s really taxing on the brain.
You’re making all these choices of how to get through a sentence. And that decision-making process just exhausts you. At a certain point you just can’t write more.
Craig: Yeah. It requires an enormous amount of attention to detail. Like attention not only to the kind of detail of words, order of words, sentences, how do you break them up, word choice. But also just attention to detail of all the things you’re responsible for. All the plates you’re spinning to keep a scene real and alive. The relationships. And the themes. And the description of places. All those things. It requires massive amounts of attention.
There’s only so much you can – you have about three hours of that hyper focus before it starts to break down.
John: Yeah. And if you try to force it and go longer–
Craig: Oh boy.
John: You end up writing crap.
John: You just do. And you would think that you would write shorter, but you end up writing much, much longer. The days where I’ve had to really muscle through, those scenes are sloppy and long and you can feel it. They’re flabby. And you end up having to strip them down and redo them from start.
Craig: Yeah. They’re sort of shapeless. I mean, again, we talk about intention all the time. The more tired you get, the more overworked you get, the less ability you have to craft and to create intention. You just start typing.
John: Let’s get to our One Cool Things. I have two One Cool Things. The first is on the topic of big numbers. It’s this article by Sarah McVeigh in The Cut where she talks to Abigail Disney – Disney – about the fortune that she inherited and why she gives most of it away and sort of like what it’s like to be absurdly wealthy and the toxic effects of being super wealthy. I just thought it was a really great interview and it made me really like Abigail Disney a lot. So, take a look at that.
And second off this past week the Anita May Rosenstein campus of the Los Angeles LGBT Center opened in Hollywood. It is fantastic. It has 100 beds for homeless youth. A new senior center. An academy. So it’s the new flagship. But what I think is so smart about this building is that it’s both homeless youth and senior housing and senior programs. And it just lets those two generations kind of work with each other and help each other.
And so some of the training that they have in there is for culinary arts. So like if you are a gay homeless kid who has shown up in Hollywood without a place to stay not only can you get a bed but you can get through your GED, learn how to work in a kitchen. You get a whole apprentice training and there’s other stuff – you can basically find a way to make a life in Los Angeles.
And so the Center was incredibly important to me and I posted on Instagram the caption about sort of when I was in Hollywood this was probably ’97, ‘96/’97, I met this young woman who was really freaked out and she needed to get back to this place. And she was sort of sketchy about where she was going. But it turned out that she was staying at the Center in one of their emergency beds. And I was so grateful that she had a place to stay. And I’ve been supporting the Center ever since, so check that out.
Craig: That is One Cool Thing indeed. And it’s particularly important that Los Angeles has something like this and to expand something like this is wonderful because the reputation of Los Angeles as exhibited by the Guns N’ Roses song Welcome to the Jungle is well-deserved. This is a place where people come from all over the country and they are incredibly vulnerable. And they’re really vulnerable when they’re LGBT, when they’re underage, when they have mental illness. There’s a whole host of reasons why you can become easy prey on the streets. And to have a place like this is tremendous. To give kids a second chance is tremendous.
And then also to return some dignity to the lives of older people I think is beautiful, too. So, on one hand kind of a bummer that we can’t get our crap together enough as a nation to do this collectively through our governing systems, but a wonderful thing when private organizations step in to fill that gap. So that is terrific.
Well, OK, so you’re making sure that people find a place to stay, and I’m going to talk about a place that you want to get out of. You know I love escape rooms.
John: I love escape rooms, too.
Craig: Oh, such a fan. And last week I did an escape room called Lab Rat run by Hatch Escapes. It is the escape room I’ve ever done.
John: Holy cow, that’s high praise.
Craig: It is indeed. I have done escape rooms in Los Angeles. I have done escape rooms in London. I have done escape rooms in Lithuania. I have done escape rooms in Latvia. And I just loved it. It was fantastic. It’s just wonderfully done. It’s one of the most elaborate rooms I’ve ever been in. But the elaboration of its presentation did not detract from the actual fun of doing the puzzles as well. There is a moment that is unique which is when you’ve done a lot of escape rooms you’re really appreciative of that.
And the nice thing is that when we finished, this is no spoiler here, there’s a fairly large audio-visual component to it. It starts with a little bit of a presentation. And at the end if you manage to escape, and they really do want you to, there’s some credits. And in the credits suddenly were all the names of the people that I was with and me. And I’m like, wait, how did they do that? And so when the door opens in comes Tommy Wallach who is one of the owners, cofounders, and designers of Lab Rat. Turns out he is a fan of the podcast.
John: Oh, amazing.
Craig: It was amazing. And you know what was really nice was that he just moved right past Chris Miller, Oscar-award winner. See, it never ends. You’re Chris Miller. You’re top of your game. You’ve got an Oscar for Spider Man. You’re Chris Miller. And some nerd with a podcast outshines you. But only in escape rooms. Only in escape rooms.
Anyway, Tommy Wallach, fan of the podcast. And he gave us a tour backstage behind the whole facility. It was remarkable.
So, anyway, my point is One Cool Thing, if you like escape rooms–
John: Everyone should go.
Craig: Lab Rat is not to be missed. It’s really, really good.
John: I’m going to book this before the episode goes up so that I can actually get a reservation.
John: Awesome. That’s our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megana Rao. Edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Lou Stone Borenstein. If you have an outro, send it to us. You can send it to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you send questions like the ones we answered today.
On Twitter I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We love to answer short things there.
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Craig, thanks for a fun episode.
Craig: Thank you, John. See you next week.
John: Thanks. Bye.
- Timelapse of the Entire Universe by John Boswell
- Disney+ News
- The Rise of Skywalker teaser
- What It’s Like to Grow Up With More Money Than You’ll Ever Spend
- Anita May Rosenstein Campus of Los Angeles LGBT Center
- The Lab Rat Escape Room
- Accepting recommendations for updating the Listener’s Guide
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