The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode contains some bad language. It also contains some minor spoilers for Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but probably nothing that would hurt your enjoyment of the movie. Thanks, and enjoy.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is the 2018 Holiday Live Show. We are live here in Hollywood–
John: This is the state we’re in.
Craig: Yes, correct. And we want to thank you all for coming out. We understand it’s a little traffic-y. It’s a little traffic-y out there in Los Angeles, again. So, thank you very much for coming. And we have– I’m going to go with our best show ever. This is going to be our best show.
John: It’s going to be the best show we’ve ever done.
Craig: Yeah. We kind of went a little crazy this year. Like overloaded it with too much goodness. We should have spread it out.
John: There was another holiday live show where we had like 12 guests and we just kept putting them on one after another, but we have like really quality guests–
Craig: Right. That was a shitty show. This is a great one.
John: So, Larry Andrews is here. He’s a representative of the Writers Guild Foundation. And we were trying to figure out how many live shows we’ve done. Someone could probably Google this.
Craig: About 48. 48.
John: Yeah, 48 at least. We’ve been on for 50 years. The first two years we didn’t do a live show here at Hollywood.
Craig: You know that I believe you. Like if you say we’ve been on 50 years I’ll be like, yeah, that sounds about right.
John: So the 20th anniversary of Go is coming up this year, which seems absolutely impossible. [Unintelligible].
Craig: That’s great.
John: But nothing makes me feel older than having one of your movies be able to drive, or vote.
Craig: Yeah, I think we’re coming up on the – what is it – the 98th anniversary of Disney’s RocketMan, a film that if you are–
John: Is there going to be a retrospective screening?
Craig: For idiots. Yes. Yes. There’s an idiot’s screening.
John: An idiot’s screening.
Craig: Idiots love it.
John: So I love doing the podcast every week with Craig Mazin, who is a fantastic co-host. And, Craig, you’ve been super busy but it’s great to see you here in person and getting to talk through stuff with you.
Craig: Oh. Oh.
John: No, this is not an intervention.
Craig: I’m not–?
John: No, it’s not that.
Craig: But am I being let go?
John: No. No. No. There’s people–
Craig: Because this would be a shitty way to do it.
John: Well, yeah, but you’d go out with a bang, wouldn’t you say?
John: Behind you there are slides. The people at home can’t know that there are slides. But there are slides here and those slides can illustrate the things that you’ve done. It could be a retrospective of all of your greatest and lowest moments.
John: No. That’s not what I’ve done here at all. But a thing we did do on the program recently is we talked about this show and we decided that we wanted to do our first ever gift exchange. So these people are seeing the very first ever Scriptnotes gift exchange. You set a restriction on this. What was the restriction?
Craig: $20 or less.
John: The price of a ticket. So $20 or less.
Craig: That’s rough. It’s actually hard to buy something now that’s not awful for $20 or less.
John: So I think I’ve done that. But do you think you’ve done that?
Craig: Bought you something awful? No question.
John: All right. That’s good. Should I give you my gift first, or do you want to – how are we going to do this? It’s sort of one of those things like who is going to say I love you first.
Craig: No one believes that you know what love is, so yes, do it this way.
John: All right. So my gift to you will be familiar to – the wrapping will be familiar to anybody who is in the industry in Hollywood. It is the paper that was sent with Marvelous Mrs. Maisel DVDs.
Craig: Oh yeah. That was extravagant.
John: So people in the industry, we get these screeners basically like “Please give us awards.” And Amazon this year for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel/Maisel–
John: Maisel. Sent these posters with it. And everyone is like what the hell are these posters. Wrapping paper.
Craig: Yeah. It’s become – it’s like a big cylinder of stuff.
Craig: We just want the DVD. Just give us the DVD. Also, it’s on Netflix, right?
John: No, Amazon. Ah.
Craig: OK. We all have Amazon. We have it already. You don’t need to send the thing.
John: But I wanted to give you this gift.
Craig: Thank you.
John: So this gift is wrapped up. So you can open it.
Craig: Can I?
John: You may.
Craig: Thank you for permission.
John: This gift was a previous One Cool Thing. Craig never pays attention to One Cool Things.
Craig: Liartown. The First Four Years. Sean Tejaratchi.
John: So this is–
Craig: Do you understand what my life is like? I say things and then it’s just, yep.
John: That’s correct. So I think you will like this book because it is really funny and really filthy. So there’s a page I blew up here. This is Anne Geddes Hello Cruel World.
John: It’s a baby in an ashtray.
Craig: Yeah. It’s pretty cool. That’s pretty great.
John: And so my husband Mike will tell you that it’s the thing that I will – just nonstop laughing as I go through it. So it’s an accumulation effect.
Craig: Holy shit. This is fucked up. This horrifying octopus Tweety bird saying Stay in School, and there’s a skull under. It’s amazing. I love it.
John: So some of the things you can look forward to in this book include – there’s grocery store ads for like impossible things, like owl tips.
Craig: Shrimp pull-ups. That’s awesome.
John: And this thing over on the right is a little obscure, it’s like an ongoing joke, but it’s about a Japanese businessman who is being sexually harassed by an elk. And I felt like for a person in Hollywood–
Craig: That’s the face you make.
John: That’s the face you make. So Craig I hope you enjoy Liartown.
Craig: Thank you, John. That was awesome. Thank you.
So, everybody knows that I do most of the work for this podcast. But one of the things that you did very early on was you designed our logo. And in doing so set sort of the tone for the show that has now been running for approximately 15 years. And I still see people wearing this t-shirt and it’s sort of become a thing. And I wanted to do something to kind of honor that. And I found these. And they’re kind of really – just take a look at this. Because also you’re very neat.
Craig: And I wanted to do something to help you continue to be neat.
John: Thank you, Craig.
Craig: Take a look at this.
John: I will say that Ryan Nelson, the person who actually designed our logo, so I want to thank Ryan–
Craig: No, in my mind you did it.
John: I’m getting rid of the tissue paper here. Oh my gosh. It is a tiny typewriter.
John: But, tell me more.
John: Oh! Typewriter coasters. Craig, this is a very, very thoughtful gift.
John: Craig, can I give you a hug?
Craig: Yeah! I don’t think you know how to hug.
John: I know how to hug properly.
Craig: But we’ll work on it.
John: We’ll work on it.
John: It is time for us to talk about the guests that we have on the program tonight because sometimes as we’re gathering guests we can find fantastic people but they won’t have common things to talk about. This year we did a great job I think of finding people with common things to talk about.
Craig: Yeah. I’ve been kind of like buddies with – can I say Pammy? Because it’s been Pammy for a long time. Pammy, me and Pammy, are buds. And it’s been kind of amazing to watch this blossom and you can see like that’s pretty good. Nothing against it.
John: Smurfs: The Lost Village.
Craig: But then, oh shit.
Craig: Damn! Right? So like she’s been crushing it at the highest level at Disney Animation and Features and Wreck it Ralph 2–
John: Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Craig: Correct. Currently in theaters.
Craig: And viewable and you should all go see it. She’s pretty amazing at what she does.
John: Yes. Pamela Ribon will you please come up and join us? Pamela, welcome to the show.
Pamela Ribon: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
John: Our next group of guests, they have some credits of movies you’ve heard of.
Craig: Is this Lord and Miller?
John: This is the one.
Craig: Is it two people?
John: It’s two different people. Yeah. It’s not Lordon Miller. That would be a cool name though. Lordon.
Craig: What is it then? Lord and Miller. Lord and Miller have done everything that you like. Literally. Just run it through your head. Do you like The Lego Movie? Yeah you fucking do. Do you like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? Who doesn’t like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? Be honest. I want to hear. Nobody. Exactly.
John: One woman started to raise her hand, but then she brushed it off.
Craig: No, she reconsidered. She remembered how good that movie was. 21 Jump Street. I mean, it’s so boring. And they’ve done it again with the latest Spider-Verse movie. Right?
John: So would you please welcome up Chris Miller and Phil Lord. Welcome to the program.
Craig: They’re two people!
John: As you guys all know, Craig sees no movies, and so has nothing he can talk to about the actual things you’ve recently done.
Craig: Or anything you’ve done before.
John: But I’ve seen both your movies. They’re recent movies. And they are fantastic. They are some of the best animated movies I’ve seen in quite a long time and I loved them both immensely the moment I saw them. So, and also congratulations. You guys are both up for awards. You guys should duke it out tonight to figure out who is going to win.
Craig: So, it’s done. Yeah.
Craig: Oh, for Golden Globes.
Pamela: I’m very strong.
Craig: Fact, Pam, former roller derby.
Chris Miller Really?
Craig: Roller player.
Chris: You could definitely takes us then.
Phil Lord: What was your derby name?
Pamela: Make you holler.
Craig: That’s so good.
Phil: We have a friend. Her name was Laguna Biatch.
Pamela: Oh, I know her.
Craig: Was it May Q.? Of course it was.
Craig: I love that. Yeah, no, she could definitely kick your ass.
Pamela: But Laguna is very good.
Craig: What if they bring up Laguna?
John: So, Pam, we were talking at dinner about sort of the writing process of Ralph Breaks the Internet, and so this isn’t a situation where usually on a movie a writer writes a script, then you write another draft, and then maybe another draft. How long were you employed on Ralph Breaks the Internet?
Pamela: I did over 2.5 years of writing.
John: And this wasn’t just like give us a draft and you’re done. You were physically going in there to work on a movie.
Pamela: Yeah. At one point I wanted to – I have a cowriter on this movie, Phil Johnston, who is also the co-director of the film. At one point I was just curious how big my Ralph file was. And there were over 800 documents – drafts and rewrites – just that I had had. And I know that those weren’t all of them.
Craig: How do you even sort those? Do you have an advance Dewey Decimal?
Pamela: We do. Yes. It is. Because you want to know, particularly because Phil and I are passing stuff back and forth, so there’s an initial situation with dates and times. Times, because sometimes it’s like three times in one day you’ll rewrite.
Craig: You guys don’t rewrite anything?
Phil: First time and it comes out perfect.
Craig: First time through.
Phil: One and done.
Pamela: Very good.
Craig: Shoot it. Shoot it!
Phil: We chisel it in a mountain.
Chris: We write every word and then we just chop away the ones that don’t fit into the story.
Phil: Like every word in the universe? Oh yeah, that’s a good way.
Craig: Just remove the words that don’t belong.
Craig: Are you kind of on the same timeline for an animated feature of about 2.5 years of work?
Chris: Or more. Generally. That’s the thing about animated features is it’s so different of a process. It’s such an iterative process. You’re looking at animatic storyboards, various different phases, and every time you get a look at it in its crudest form and you go I thought that was going to work, but nope it sucks, so we’ve got to redo it. Again and again and again and again.
And I think that’s why animated movies end up – a lot of them end up being so good is because people had a chance to see and feel whether things work and they’ve had a chance to go over it again and again.
Phil: Right. They were bad ten times first. Then they got good.
Craig: Which leads me to a question, because I’ve been thinking about this since I guess Pixar sort of redefined how good storytelling could be on a movie screen, and I think they did. Is there any way for live action to ever catch up or is the gap even widening? Are animated features just perfecting the art of the feature narrative?
Chris: Well don’t you feel like live action features are becoming more animated? And weirdly animated features are becoming a little more live action.
Craig: Tell me how that works.
Chris: I mean, if you look at Wes Anderson, right, after he did Fantastic Mr. Fox his live action movies had more of an animated vibe. Right? When you look at all the big superhero blockbuster type of movies a lot of those sequences, the big action scenes and other things are pre-vis’d and CG. And a lot of that stuff is CG. You look at Gravity and that sort of thing. That one almost qualifies as an animated movie, that film. Which means things get planned out. Things get watched. Things get experienced. And that’s why some of those things end up feeling really visceral.
And then similarly in animation, it used to be a lot of like really one person isolated in a booth. I say my line five times and then I go on to the next line five times. And now certainly after we did the Jump Street movies we started trying to get actors together more often and have them improvise with each other and have things feel more natural. And so it got a little bit more of the spontaneity of live action. So I feel like they’re getting closer.
Pamela: Yeah. We did the same thing on Ralph. John and Sarah would want to be in the room together so that they could work with each other.
Craig: And that is kind of a new thing. I mean, it’s actually startling to me to think that was never that way because so many of the actors that people bring in to do voices – once they started the let’s get actors to do these as opposed to like let’s get voice actors to do them – they’re all brilliant improvisers and it seemed odd to me that there was a stretch there where they wouldn’t let them improvise. It’s crazy. It’s kind of crazy that they didn’t do it that way.
Pamela: Well can you imagine though, like well four years ago I said this line and I liked it. You know what I mean? We’ve made like eight versions of the movie since then.
John: But before Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly are in the room together you have to have a script and you have to figure out sort of what stuff is. Can you talk through what the scratch process is for you guys in terms of getting from words on the page to something recorded that you can actually see and listen to? What is that process like for something like Ralph?
Pamela: Well, on Ralph we do a lot of our own scratch. We’re all just trying to crack each other up. So we work together. So Phil, and Rich, and Josie and I tend to do a lot of the scratch so that we can also while we’re recording can improvise and then even in editorial while we’re putting together the screenings we can just go up and rerecord something.
John: So it’s like a table read but you guys – at the end of the process of that you actually have a movie you can watch with just your voices in there. And what kind of things do you learn in that process of doing the scratch and doing the temp versions of things?
Pamela: Well we start to figure out timing. I mean, a lot of times you’re doing an impression of the actor you’re hoping to get, or you do just have, so you start to play with their timing and the sound of them. You don’t have them for a little while so you can just start to figure out how these relationships might work. And you can land an emotional moment because you hear it in your head. And then, you know, very rarely as a writer do you get to be like, “And say it just like this.” And then have her hand go here and then her foot. You craft the entire moment and that I think becomes difficult when you move into live action when you’re used to working in an animated space.
John: I want to say Phil and Chris, one of the things that struck me about your movie is that the opening 20 minutes of it feel like it could be a live action movie. It’s a very grounded reality in ways that you don’t normally see in animation. How early in the process did you come to that realization that you wanted it to feel that way? And what was the writing process and the sort of boarding and scratch process to get you to that point?
Phil: Well I think we always thought that the movie was going to start with like a very animated montage-y sequence and then focuses down on Miles Morales and literally starts alone with him in his room and he’s listening to a song and not singing it very well. And it was actually Rodney Rothman who wrote the screenplay with me, he said we really just want to spend time with Miles and see him behave. And the movie basically starts and ends with him alone by himself in his bedroom.
And it was a really conscious choice to go I want to show you everything that a crazy super hero movie can be at the start and then I want to bring you in to a really grounded reality and then slowly we’ll start turning up the temperature on the water that this kid is in, and the movie will get sillier and crazier and more like a heightened reality throughout.
Craig: I mean, has technology kind of freed you creatively to write a different way? Because I think in the old days they’d be like every frame is an hour or two hours or 12 hours of someone’s time, or a thousand computers. So, no, you can’t just have him behaving. Right? You’re not allowed to do that. We don’t have that money. I mean, now do you feel like there’s a certain freedom in terms of animation to be a little, I don’t want to say indulgent, but to take a breath?
Chris: Well, I mean, I think if you go back to the history of feature animation you really are starting with really simple drawings on the storyboard and animators thinking of physical bits for things that kind of describe the character. So in a way it’s very old school to just give the animators some real estate to express the character through movement, which is like what animation does better than anything is that it’s a lot like dance.
It’s hard because we’re like dialogue driven dudes and you’re like jokes and when you put these movies up and build reels you take all the air out because you’re so insecure that your material is not good enough. And maybe if we go fast no one will see. So, when we are able to give characters a little bit of space you realize what dummies you are and then you realize there should be no writing. Or no words.
Pamela: The words get in the way.
John: Classically animators were people who were in charge of these movies and in this case we have writers who are in charge of these movies. What do you think you bring as a writer to an animated project that is different than somebody who comes from an art background? And in my times doing some animation I felt some friction there. Have you guys felt friction? And what are ways that writers can get through those situations?
Pamela: I think for me it’s always like character is the last thing sometimes that’s thought of. It’s these worlds and what-ifs and this is amazing. Why make it animated? Because it’s a place we can’t be in live action. And often the last thing thought of is who is going to be in this movie. And as a writer I think I often approach with well what’s an interesting thing I want to talk about or person I want to think about or a character. And then I put them in this fun world. So, I don’t know, do you guys?
Chris: Yeah, I mean, I think that when you’re writing for animation it’s just a lot of the rules that are right for writing in live action just twice as important. Like the idea of you should be able to follow the story with the sound off. Like the next door neighbor on your airplane test. If you can follow the plot of the movie without the headphones that your neighbor is – on the back of their seat – then the movie works. And I think that’s true of live action just as much as animation, but it’s especially true in that medium. So you have to as a writer think extra visually and you never want to be like, OK, here’s two people standing in a room just talking for five minutes in a way that you can kind of get away with sometimes, and certainly in live action television.
But I think in animation you really have to think visually. And then I think the other part is that you also have to be really open and flexible because there’s a lot of people, storyboard artists, designers, art directors that are like give them enough room to try with those things. They’ll come up with a bunch of crazy ideas and maybe half of them won’t work for the larger story context, but half of them will make their scene more interesting. And the same thing is true that someone will come up with a piece of concept art that’s like, oh, that’s way more – that changes everything that we’re doing here. And then you have to be really nimble. It’s why the process takes so long.
But because it’s a team project and it takes so long it’s something that can like – if you open yourself up to a bunch of ideas you get a bunch of free, cool stuff out of it.
Craig: And you have this incredible resource of all these people that are there to help. And in live action you’re just miserably alone. And I’m sure you enjoy that.
Chris: And sometimes they’re just thinking about the scene themselves. Like the storyboard artist is just thinking about this moment. What would be fun in this moment? They’re not thinking what’s going to be half an hour later, how that’s going to mess everything up.
Craig: Yeah. So you have to maintain a global view. On behalf of a lot of people here, some of whom I would imagine are interested in writing animated features, there’s no animated spec world, right? What do you do? How are you supposed to get involved in this?
Chris: There’s a live action spec world?
Craig: Ish. I mean like every now and then somebody buys something for independent. But, I mean, in a weird way it does seems like there should be an animated spec world because you could – like Wreck it Ralph is – there’s no IP for Wreck it Ralph, right? It is the IP, correct?
Craig: I mean, granted, it’s sort of hoovering up a lot of pop culture.
Craig: But it’s its own thing. And if somebody comes up with their own thing then it kind of – you’d think that maybe, you know, somebody would get interested.
Chris: It’s possible. It’s totally possible. People pitch ideas for animated movies to studios all the time. And if it has a hooky idea, they’re looking for stuff.
Pamela: Yeah, now more than ever.
John: But in your cases you guys were both brought in to do these things. So, Pamela, you were brought in to do the second movie in this franchise. You guys, how were you approached to do Spider Man? And was it always this idea that you would take the Miles Morales character and build out the universe? What was the initial thing that got you into that meeting?
Phil: Well, Amy Pascal and Avi Arad came to us and said we want to do an animated Spider Man movie and we said no, which is how everything we get into starts. And then we started thinking about it and thinking about how much we liked Miles as a character and we also thought the opportunities in animation for a movie in this genre would be limitless. And then we started thinking about our favorite comics growing up and how they all were drawn by an individual artist, and I really felt the tooth of the paper that they were drawing on. You really felt like somebody was communicating visually to you. And we thought well maybe we can make a movie that feels like that. That feels like the visuals are speaking directly to you and that there’s multiple artists all interpreting different characters and they’re all living in the same frame.
Chris: So then we went back to them and said we’ll only do it if it can be about Miles Morales and we can make it look crazy. And they said OK. And then – and we’re like oh really? And then now here we are.
Craig: When that happens is there a moment where you think “Oh shit, they were just going to say yes to anything we said, maybe what we just said was dumb.” Like do you ever get worried about that?
Phil: Every day.
Craig: That’s good though.
Phil: We should get more worried at the start.
Phil: The problem is you get really worried in the middle.
Craig: Oh yeah, that’s a bad worry, yeah.
Phil: After you’re too deep to turn around.
Craig: Right. That’s a despair. That’s not a worry.
Phil: Yeah. That’s despair.
Craig: It’s a slightly more advanced situation.
John: It does feel like all movies go through a journey, a narrative arc, where like it’s fantastic, it’s exciting, there’s troubles, it’s the worst thing that’s ever been made, and then you sort of salvage it. But I feel like animation has its own special case because usually in a live action feature you’re either in production or you’re in editing and you’re trying to save it in editing. Maybe you get to do some reshoots. But it’s hard to sort of find the movie in that place.
But in animation if something is wrong you can just go fix it because you’re not so locked into the things you’ve done. Was there a lot that changed in the Spider Verse movie from – if you were to look back at your original script for it and the movie that’s nominated for a Golden Globe, how similar are they?
Phil: It’s like they’re the exact same movie and every word is different. Like the characters are the same, the basic plot moves are the same, the emotional ambition of it is the same, and maybe the tone. And then everything else changed and it changed completely different and then we put some stuff back the way it was. It’s a mess.
Right, you had 800 documents?
Pamela: Yeah. We had nine screenings. Yeah.
Phil: Oh yeah.
Pamela: It was a bunch of different movies that still kind of like the first table read four years ago.
Phil: Right? Like you generated three seasons worth of material.
Pamela: Villains gone. Whole act threes. Yeah.
Phil: So you learn to like not be precious about this particular moment or this particular scene or even this whole plot because that might go away.
Pamela: Yeah. I mean, we get notes from 400 people when you get those screenings, too. That’s a little different. Everybody sees it and then you’re walking through the room with all of them every day for weeks while they’re like, “How’s that coming along?”
John: This is a Disney movie and Disney has the magic hat building. There’s a whole history of Disney animation. And so I know there’s a whole process it goes through and every movie goes through that process. Phil and Chris, though, Sony Animation makes animated movies but is not nearly the powerhouse. So did you have those company-wide screenings where you had to sort of show your–
Chris: Yeah, we were showing it around a lot. We also had three directors and the two of us on this movie. And so every moment was debated by the five of us. How many beads of sweat are on Miles’s brow in a shot is debated. That’s the thing about animation where like in live action you just spray the mister on his head and then you start shooting. This it would be like I think there should be a little bit more on his upper lip. You’re like, ah, that’s gross.
Pamela: And another two-hour meeting of like these are the 20 different kinds of sweat beads we can give you.
Craig: That sounds horrifying.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I’m actually kind of interested, Pam in the – because these guys have kind of gone back and forth, right. And I know you’ve done live action, but this is a question that I think is sort of a – most people will say, look, you’ve been in live action. What are some of the things you can do in animation that you can’t do in live action? And people go into the idea of the worlds and the control of things. But is there a flip side to that? Are there things that you kind of miss or yearn for that you feel are easier or exclusively capable of doing in live action that you don’t get in animation?
Pamela: Yeah. Well I did TV before this and so that’s where you’re used to this sort of room. And so I miss being able to just really go for a run with jokes. You don’t have this kind of time. The movie has to be so short and the words get in the way. And sometimes you’re like, oh, I just would like four more puns.
Craig: Right. Like a chance to just live in the moment.
Pamela: Let’s be so silly for a minute. Yeah. And you can’t stay still. If they stop moving it looks broken. So everything’s got to keep going. And–
Craig: They stop moving it looks broken.
Craig: That’s terrifying. I never realized that.
Chris: It’s like Speed, the movie Speed.
Phil: The bus has to keep going.
Craig: Like if someone stops they still have to have an eye twitch or something or people think the movie broke.
John: Phil and Chris, we need you for another five minutes because you are doing another screening on the other side of town, so for people who live in Los Angeles like everyone here in this audience they know that you are going all the way to the west side for a screening. And so we are really tempting fate by having you here for as long as we can.
Chris: There’s a helicopter though.
Pamela: Oh, that’s nice. That’s big time.
John: The Golden Globe gets you the helicopter.
Craig: Just for on Waze.
Phil: We bumped into each other in our respective helicopters on our way here.
Craig: There’s a serious helicopter tie-up though heading out west. Sorry guys. It’s award season. What are you going to do?
Phil: What are you going to do?
John: Both having made animated features, what do you think live action folks can take from animation that would help them, especially writers to take from animation that would help them? Because it is such a collaborative process working in animation and that can be great but it can also be frustrating. What guidance could you offer folks who are trying to make the best movies, animation or live action, that you’ve learned, the lessons you’ve learned from doing animation?
Phil: I mean, I would say two things come to mind. One is what you’re getting at which is that these are collective works of art. That’s what makes them beautiful. You’ve got these huge crews. There’s a thousand people on this movie. Even a small movie that you’re making in film school is still a handful of folks and you’re cooperating and no one is getting murdered. Right? For the most part. And that’s a miracle in and of itself. And then together you’re making a work of art. That’s like to me that almost makes me cry it’s so beautiful.
Sometimes that work of art is terrible, but the fact that you’re doing that together is really great. So we try to – when we are our best selves we try to embrace that and we get a lot from our collaborators, our heads of department, and our fellow filmmakers, in this case these incredible 3D directors and it’s everyone in between. The janitor gives you notes and you take it. And that’s really important.
The other thing is that there’s an emphasis on how you visually and cinematically characterize something or someone. And that lesson should always be applied in live action. Like we start – like an animated movie that we’re directing with walk cycles and like little tests. Let’s just see a character designer move this character around on a piece of paper and see how they emote. Like when you’re talking to an actor or you’re thinking about a character on the page how do they walk? How do they move? How do they carry themselves? Those lessons are so valuable in live action because no one ever really – rarely talks to an actor about that kind of stuff.
John: Cool. Guys, thank you so much for joining us here. We’re going to send you guys on your way.
Chris: Thanks everybody.
Phil: Sorry you guys.
John: Thank you. Finally, they’re gone. All right. They were OK.
John: We can talk about them now that they’re gone. Pamela, thank you for sticking around.
Pamela: Oh sure. My brain is stuck on the sexual harassment elk. I just – hold on. I just have to get it out of my head.
Craig: It’s two fingers to the mill.
Pamela: The Time’s Up will be called The Buck Stops Here.
John: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Pamela: That’s been sitting in my brain for so long. I feel better now, thank you for doing that with me. Thank you for humoring me. Thank you.
John: They are gone. So now it’s time to welcome two new guests. First off is Zoanne Clack. She is an executive producer on Grey’s Anatomy. She has written a zillion episodes of the show. She is also a medical doctor. Zoanne Clack, welcome.
Craig: So if you guys have any “Is this infected?”
Zoanne Clack: Don’t come to me.
Pamela: Don’t. That’s gross.
John: Craig Mazin is the doctor on the show. But you’re an actual–
Craig: I am a doctor. I’m just not licensed.
John: All right.
Zoanne: I still am actually.
Craig: Or educated. Yeah, well you’re fancy. I cannot treat patients without committing a number of fraud felonies.
John: But you guys have both done autopsies, so that’s something.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I haven’t done the autopsy, but I have attended the autopsy.
Zoanne: I must admit I have not either done an actual autopsy. No.
John: That’s fine.
Zoanne: I’ve cut people open.
John: I’m a little disappointed in Zoanne. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed.
Zoanne: Usually they’re still alive. I try to keep them alive.
Craig: Yeah. They would never let me near an alive person. But I went to town on the dead ones because what could happen?
John: What is so surprising for all of us here is our next guest has done many autopsies. Cherry Chevapravatdumrong is an executive producer on Family Guy and The Orville. Come up Cherry!
Craig: She has not done autopsies.
John: No, I mean, I’m just assuming you’ve done autopsies.
Zoanne: You don’t have to answer that question.
Cherry Chevapravatdumrong: My parents wish. Like it’s a medical thing.
Zoanne: I was like, oh, there’s two of us.
Craig: It’s three. It’s three of us.
John: While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about parental expectations, because Zoanne Clack how did you become a medical doctor and then decide, you know what, I want to write about doctors rather than being one? What is the process of going from doctor to writer about doctors?
Zoanne: Well, I was one of those doctors who was told I was going to be a doctor from like the time I was like five. So, you know, I made good grades and I’m from Houston, Texas, and I’m the only daughter. Hey, Houston. I’m the only daughter of a single mom. So, all hopes, dreams, and aspirations fell on me.
So, you know, in order to be successful in African American culture, and I think a lot of others, you’re supposed to be a doctor or lawyer.
Craig: I can think of one other culture, for sure.
Zoanne: I’ve heard of your culture, Craig.
Craig: For sure.
Zoanne: And so I didn’t want to be a lawyer and so I was like I’ll do this doctor thing. So I basically, you know, I got chemistry sets for Christmas. I did that whole thing. I went straight in the science route. And then in high school I was like, wait, how old do you have to be? How old will you be when you – 26? That’s like forever, to a 17-year-old.
So I actually went to Northwestern and got into the radio, TV, film program. Oh, Northwestern. And then went home for the summer and looked at my mom and went back and did all my premed requirements because I realized that, you know, this whole starving artist thing I just couldn’t do it. My mom was a teacher who struggled through just putting food on the table, two jobs, that whole thing. So, it was like this is the stable way to go. That’s a pipedream. Just go on with your life.
And then it was ten years of straight medicine. Medical school. I went to residency. I did emergency medicine residency at Emory. No.
Craig: No, we don’t let those people in.
Zoanne: And I – east coast – I was basically burning out like my second year of residency, which usually it takes a lot longer. So I was trying to find what the next thing I was going to do and I tried a lot of different things. I worked for the CDC. I was going to do like another residency which was – that’s too much. I thought about doing binge research which who am I, I don’t know what that is.
So, it was just like I kind of refound that kind of dream that I had. And I started taking classes. And I was like, you know what, I have a pretty good day job and maybe I’ll just move out to LA and just do my day job and see what happens.
So, the most random part I think about the story is that I was kind of setting everything up in LA and I was, again, not the starving artist type. So I had my jobs lined up. I had my apartment lined up. I had friends here looking for jobs for me. And in the back of one of the emergency medicine magazines they were advertising for the ER person, like the onset consultant. And I was like oh my god that would be perfect for me.
John: ER the show? The show ER?
Zoanne: The ER show. So I sent off a letter. I heard nothing. And then I randomly mentioned it to like my mentor at Emory, which is in Atlanta, and also I never discussed like my artistic goals with my doctor/scientist friends. But I randomly mentioned it to him and he’s like, oh yeah, I trained with that guy who is hiring. Why don’t you mention my name? His name had literally been used in an episode of ER. That’s how close he was to this guy.
And so I sent off a letter with his name in it. Got an immediate meeting. Was the most excited I’d ever been about any job interview ever. Like literally giddy like a ten-year-old. Didn’t get the job. But I came out here anyway.
Craig: It worked out.
John: She’s doing fine.
Zoanne: This is the year 2000, so.
Craig: Like you guys know how the story ends. Don’t–
Zoanne: Like, aw. A collective sigh.
Craig: Oh no. Are you OK?
Pamela: She’s a good storyteller.
Zoanne: It was a hard like year. So I didn’t get the job, but I thought I wanted to act because that’s what you know when you’re from Houston. So I took some acting classes. And here’s the thing, like actors don’t just put drops in their eyes to cry. They have to drudge up all this mess. So I was drudging up all this stuff on the one hand, and as a doctor was told to push it all down. So, all of that was coming up and I didn’t have anywhere to put it. So I started writing and I was like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. And then I took some writing classes. And then when I had interviewed for ER they were like we’ll keep you in mind, which I thought was just Hollywood talk for we’ll never see you again. And they called me up like a year later and they were making Presidio Med. One of the executive producers, Lydia Woodward, was looking for a doctor. She didn’t know for what. And I was like I’ll be a consultant. I’ll be on set. But I’d really love to write.
So literally I pushed the first script I had ever written into her face and she hired me two months later.
Craig: Told you.
John: Happy ending. Now, Cherry, how did you disappoint your parents?
Cherry: Literally almost exactly the same way. I’m Asian. I was supposed to be a doctor. They told me I was going to be a doctor when I was five. I gave up on that and made them give up on that like halfway through high school, probably. But then after like undergrad I had a very useful psychology degree and they were like, “Yeah, no, now you should go to law school.” And that is shorter than med school. And it’s three years. And I thought maybe I could just sort of – I went to NYU and I thought secretly I could just get a job as a page at NBC or something. You know what I mean? I was just like, oh, I’ll just live in New York and then become a PA at SNL or something. And sort of get out that way.
Didn’t happen. So, wasted three years. It’s fine. It’s fine. You know what I mean? Like racked up a bunch of student loans.
Craig: It’s not a waste.
Cherry: Oh yeah, no.
Craig: It needed to happen.
Cherry: Yeah. But honestly it was kind of like three years of living in the big city, whatever, and then after that I was like confident enough and also had no more school to go to. So then I was like, OK, now I will move to LA. And then I got a job on a desk at CAA and that was my first job.
John: So you had the classic sort of like working at CAA, figuring out what Hollywood was, and how did you get from that to something that you wrote getting into someone’s hands that got you a job as a writer?
Craig: Because they want to know how can we work on Family Guy? They’re like how do we get that Job.
Cherry: Oh yeah. Oh my god. OK. So, yes, I did the assistant thing. I sort of like, but yeah, I worked at CAA. And then I worked for a couple TV producers. I was a writer’s assistant. And then at some point one of the – the guy that got me the job that enabled me to leave CAA, he was working on a show called Hope and Faith. He was the writer’s assistant there. Alex Carter. He works on Family Guy now. And he had mutual friends with some of the other people who worked on the show. Chris Sheridan was one of them. And I had applied to the CBS Writers Mentoring Program. A lot of the networks and studios had these programs and diversity initiatives. And as part of that I went and hung out in the writers’ rooms on the show Yes, Dear. And Chris Sheridan, who later became EP and showrunner of Family Guy, when it was canceled for the last time – he’s been on ever since, yay. But he was working on Yes, Dear at the time and I met him there. And he knew Alex Carter. So we kind of like had two ways of knowing each other.
So, yeah, when he was hiring for Family Guy he remembered me from hanging out in the Yes, Dear room. And this was a long time ago. So it’s like not being offended by jokes. He’s like, oh, she seems like she could hang. “Do you have a spec script?” And I was like yes. So that’s how – go – go through the normal fucked up shit that one would normally do in a writers’ room because that’s exactly what happened when I got the job. You got to get used to it. And, again, it’s a different atmosphere than it was over ten years ago now.
But, yeah, so that was kind of the thing. Oh, she seemed like she’d be cool. So, also, let me just make sure that the spec script is good. OK. And then he brought me in to meet with the other two EPs.
Craig: And off you went.
John: Now, Pam, you came up through television as well. Did you have the experience of being in rooms where bullshit was happening?
Pamela: Oh, I almost was like it was the style at the time. But I don’t know. I’m sure some level of assholery still continues in comedy rooms.
Craig: I really want you to say, “No.”
Pamela: No, every room I’ve ever been in has been very sweet. And we have tea. I was in a room that was mostly – one of my first comedy rooms was all Frasier writers. And so they just did not know what to do with me saying jokes with the word vagina in it. They were like, “What? Who is this youth?”
I came up through sketch and improv comedy in Austin and like I guess the modern day equivalent of how like you get discovered on Twitter, because I’m from the older net and I wrote online before there were blogs. And so, yeah, and then I did the Aspen Comedy Festival. And that led to a Comedy Central show where, yes, my job was to make terrible jokes that kill your soul. And then I got a sitcom after that. Started writing on those.
It’s the same thing. It’s like how much can you hang? How funny can you be? And how – you know, much like animation, you have to stay passionate but you can’t be precious about anything.
Craig: Right. This is an interesting kind of – I like the fact that we’re doing this little dive back in history because Zoanne you were in a very interesting position. It is an easy thing I think to ask anybody how has the television business and landscape changed, and even I can sort of talk about it and I’m very new to TV. But I’m kind of curious how has it changed from inside of one show? Because how long have you been on Grey’s Anatomy?
John: You were telling us before how many episodes there are. You just wrote –
Zoanne: I just wrote the episode that tied ER which was 331.
Zoanne: And we just did the table read for 332.
Craig: Grey’s Anatomy starts airing what year?
John: We had just started our podcast.
Craig: Correct, yeah.
Zoanne: Gave them all my best years.
Craig: I mean, just for the youngsters in the room. 2004 was three years before the iPhone existed. And so you have seen this landscape change massively and I’m just kind of curious as it has changed around you, inside the room have you felt it? And has the show had to kind of do interesting things as the world around it has changed?
Zoanne: You know, our show and Shondaland in general I think was a little ahead of the curve on that whole thing. So, when I first got the list of writers I was very disappointed being a single woman because there were like eight women in the writers’ rooms and like three dudes, all of which were married. I mean, that is like kind of unheard of, especially in comedy rooms I think.
Cherry: Come work at Family Guy. Lots of dudes.
Zoanne: Are you the only?
Cherry: For many years. There were many, many seasons where I was the only. And if I wasn’t, I was one out of two women. So, yeah.
Zoanne: Yeah. Completely opposite. So, we had our share of bad jokes and that sort of thing, but they were all acceptable to all of us because we were mostly of the same gender and we were aware of that. So, the only thing I feel like that’s changed is the different writers that I have just seen come and go throughout the years.
Craig: That’s kind of interesting in and of itself, right?
Zoanne: Yes, but there’s a subset of writers that tend to do well on our show and they’re always lovely people. So, I’ve always had a great time with all new sets through the years.
John: So, Cherry and Zoanne you’ve both been in situations where new writers have come on and as Megan and I were driving over here tonight we were talking about like someone that starts on Grey’s Anatomy on this season is there any expectation that they’ve gone back and watched all of the previous shows? You’re nodding. That terrifies me. How about for Family Guy?
Cherry: People who work on the show don’t watch the show. It’s fine. You know what I mean.
Craig: Slightly different vibe at Family Guy.
Cherry: You can miss some stuff.
Craig: They say like watch an episode of Family Guy.
Cherry: You know who Stewie is? You’re hired. Ok.
Craig: He’s the bald one.
Cherry: There’s too many. There’s just too many.
Zoanne: Our show is so serialized that literally we’ve told people to step out of the room until they have watched every episode.
Pamela: Oh my gosh.
Zoanne: I mean, but when you get hired it starts. And then–
Craig: But 331—
Pamela: They come back with like a husband and kids.
Zoanne: Well a lot of them have already seen a number of them when they get there because they come in as fans. So, that’s always helpful because you can see it from a fan’s point of view which is really nice.
Craig: So not only are you a veteran writer of the show but you are also a repository of an enormous amount of institutional wisdom. I mean, after that many shows it’s like a history of a country at that point.
Zoanne: Well, there are two writers with photographic memories, so they’re really helpful.
Craig: That works.
Zoanne: And then there’s a lot in the room of this phrase, “Uh, we’ve done that before.”
Craig: Family Guy, you never experience that, right?
Cherry: Oh my, it’s we’ve done that before or The Simpsons did it. Yeah.
Craig: Simpsons did it.
Cherry: So it’s like, ugh, and then it’s like how long ago was it? Maybe we can do it again and it’s fine?
Zoanne: How can we make it different? Like at the beginning it was like how can we do this story that ER had but in the Grey’s Anatomy way. And now it’s like how can we do this Grey’s Anatomy story in a different way?
Pamela: On Ralph most of the storyboard artists and Rich and Jim, they’re all from The Simpsons, and they had gotten in a run on something they thought would be funny. And I was like I’m so sorry to do this you guys but The Simpsons already did it. It was you and you. And they were like, “Oh yeah, we did it.”
Craig: You did it!
Pamela: Like literally you.
Craig: You did it. And they forgot.
Zoanne: That’s always surprising when it was yours. It’s like, oh, who’s episode was – oh, mine. No wonder I liked it so much.
Pamela: Yeah, that’s right.
Craig: There’s something kind of informative. I mean, and it comes out of what you were saying earlier and what Chris and Phil were saying. The volume of notes and work that is required. The 800 files. The 330 shows. I don’t know how many Family Guy is up to now. What are they up to, 14 million?
Cherry: Over 300. I don’t know. Something like that. Yeah.
Craig: Some insane number. That what you inevitably lose is any sense of preciousness. One of the hardest things about writing something for the first time is your experience, your general world of writing is one thing. And therefore that one thing is incredibly important and meaningful and therefore every scene is incredibly important and meaningful. Every word. These guys don’t have time for that. And in a weird way that’s kind of what you need to do even when you’re starting and you only have the one thing. You have to kind of think like there are 300 things behind this so let me not obsess over this one thing.
Pamela: Yeah. Because really you should already be writing your second thing.
Zoanne: And Grey’s Anatomy fans will know what this alludes to, but we always say the carousel never stops turning.
Craig: So that was an episode where somebody lives. A baby perhaps lived? And gets to ride on the merry-go-round.
Zoanne: I love the huge groan.
John: So while we’re talking about things you have to keep repeating themselves again and again, I thought we might try a special little game thing that we rolled out. The impetus behind this was a listener question. He wrote in to ask – well, Craig and I say romantic comedies. I don’t know if you guys notice. But there were no romantic comedies, and Tess Morris came on the show and talked and we solved it. And Netflix made a bunch and now there are romantic comedies. And there’s even like big screen romantic comedies because of us.
Craig: We changed everything. Again.
John: Again. And so after having done that a listener wrote in to say like hey could you save the big screen Christmas comedy. And we said–
Craig: Sure. We can do anything.
John: We can do anything. And so we wanted to talk about the big screen Christmas comedy and sort of play a little game about this. So give me one second and pull up my notes.
Craig: Guys, it’s a John August game. It’s happening. While John is doing that I just want to mention we have a special guest star in the audience. Stuart. Stuart is here. Stuart. There’s no Stuart.
Pamela: Oh, that’s your Christmas movie.
Craig: There’s no such thing as Stuart.
Pamela: If we clap our hands maybe Stuart will appear.
Craig: I’m ready to play this game.
John: So, Craig, you’ll read the parts that say Craig.
Craig: Well, all right.
John: All right. Here’s the thinking. So back in 1843 Charles Dickens published his acclaimed novella A Christmas Carol, which tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly merchant visited by three ghosts who bully him into buying a goose for his employee’s family.
Craig: I’m sorry. What? That is not – they don’t bully him. Bully?
John: I think they’re bullying him. Aren’t they?
Craig: Whoa, that is a weird take on that. But OK, he’s a bad dude and they’re – OK, anyway. I mean, god sent those ghosts.
John: All right.
Craig: This slender book has inculcated the idea that corporations rather than the state are responsible for lifting children out of poverty and starvation. What’s worse, they’ve made it so that every Christmas story must end with the hero learning a valuable yet incredibly obvious moral lesson. But what is that lesson?
John: So tonight we are going to try to figure it out with a new game we’re calling Santa Claus is Bumming Me Down. Do we have anyone in the audience who would like to play this game? So you’re going to have to guess which is the right moral lesson for these movies. Show of hands, somebody? Ideally fantastic would be somebody who did not grow up in the United States.
Craig: There we go.
John: That’s you. Right there. Did not grow up in the United States. What is your name sir?
Mario: My name is Mario.
Craig: Italian Mario?
Mario: Originally I think, but potentially – I grew up in Mexico till I was like 14.
John: That’s good.
Craig: It counts.
John: That’s going to be good.
Craig: That’s not this country.
John: So let’s–
Craig: You’re lucky.
John: Yes. So let’s talk through and we’re going to start our odyssey of Christmas movies with Four Christmases. Four Christmases tells – it’s from 2008 – tells the story–
Craig: Do you know this one?
Mario: Do I know the movie? I think I’ve watched it.
Craig: I think I’ve watched it is good enough.
John: Yeah. Close enough. In this story from 2008 a young couple struggles to visit all four of their divorced parents on Christmas day, learning about each other in ways that test their relationship. Is the moral…?
Pamela: A, Reese Witherspoon’s character may seem controlling and uptight, but really that girl is just whiskey in a teacup.
John: Or is it B?
Zoanne: B, if you’re dating a Vince Vaughn character be warned that his family will be drawn even more broadly to make him seem sympathetic.
John: Or is it C?
Cherry: C, family is important, even if it seems a little dysfunctional.
John: Mario, what is it? Is it A, B, or C?
Mario: I’m going to go ahead and say C.
John: It is in fact C. He’s seen the movie. That’s obvious right here. Next up, Craig, do you want to take it?
Craig: Yeah, have you seen Jingle All the Way from 1996?
Mario: I don’t believe so.
Craig: Good. Here we go.
Mario: Oh wait a second.
Craig: Do you know who that is?
Mario: We probably got this in Mexico in like 1998. That’s what happened.
Craig: That doesn’t help this. OK, we’ll try it anyway. A workaholic father promises to get his son the hottest toy of the season even though it’s Christmas Eve and the toy is practically sold out. As he hunts down the toy with Christmas morning approaching his ethical code is tested. Is the moral A…
Pamela: As Kahlil Gibran writes – never had to say that out loud – “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give up yourself that you truly give.”
Craig: Or B…
Zoanne: As Charles Darwin writes “A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.”
Craig: Or is it C?
Cherry: As Sinbad says in his straight to video movie Shazaam, “This movie never existed. You’re suffering from the Mandela Effect.”
John: Mario, what is it? What is the answer?
Mario: I love C, but I’m going to go with A.
John: It is right. That’s the moral of that story. So far you’re two for two Mario. We need to stump you here. With Deck the Halls.
Craig: Did you say you’re from Mexico or New Mexico? Just be honest.
Mario: Mexico. Mexico City.
Craig: I just want to make sure.
Mario: Yeah, no, I was born in Mexico City.
John: Deck the Halls from 2006. A suburban dad and Christmas enthusiast tangles with his new neighbor who has plans to eliminate his house with enough holiday lights to make it visible from space. A war of one-upmanship threatens to drag Christmas through the slush. Is the moral, A?
Pamela: White suburban dads are a menace to the earth and must be stopped.
Craig: Do we need to go further?
Mario: I think that was it, yeah.
Pamela: It’s the answer to all these movies.
Craig: Well, just for fun let’s hear the other ones.
Zoanne: The Christmas spirit should illuminate your heart, not your neighbor’s bedroom.
John: Or is it C?
Cherry: Don’t cross Danny DeVito. Seriously. He’s short but he’s scary.
Mario: It’s clearly C. No, B.
John: B. That is in fact correct.
Craig: Although I’ve got an argument for A. I got to be honest with you. As one, I have an argument for A.
Zoanne: A is strong.
Craig: A is strong.
Pamela: We would have accepted.
Craig: Let me ask you this. Have you seen Fred Claus?
Mario: I have not.
Craig: OK, here we go.
Mario: Neither had I seen the previous one.
Craig: Ok, good. Good. Fred Claus. Here we go.
Pamela: I don’t know this one at all.
Craig: When Santa’s criminal brother lands in real trouble – this was a real movie – I’ve written worse movies than this. When Santa’s criminal brother lands in real trouble Santa bails him out and brings him to the North Pole to work off the debt by making toys. The headaches mount for Saint Nick, who not only must deal with his trouble-making brother, but also an efficiency expert – shit – who has come to evaluate Santa’s operation, threatening the future of Christmas. Really?
John: I didn’t see this movie. But Megan wrote up the synopsis. I trust her. You can Wikipedia.
Craig: Is that right?
Craig: All right. Is the moral…Mario is the moral A?
Pamela: Differences can make for a stronger team and provide opportunities for personal development.
Craig: Or is it B?
Zoanne: Vince Vaughn has essentially one character, a snarky ne’er-do-well who is barely redeemed in the third act by making the absolute minimum contribution to the social contract.
Craig: Or is it C?
Cherry: Like the journalists of Slate and New York Magazine, the elves of the North Pole need proper union representation.
Craig: It’s a tough one.
John: You’re doing good. Mario, which is it?
Mario: I’m going to go with B.
Craig: B, Vince Vaughn has essentially one character?
Mario: No. A. I’m going to go with A.
John: It’s A.
Craig: It’s A.
John: It’s A. All right.
Craig: This is not a hard game.
John: No, it’s not a hard game.
Mario: I know.
John: The conceit is that there’s two funny answers and one correct answer.
Craig: It’s not a strong – it’s not a challenge.
Pamela: But doesn’t it seem like the note the movie got? Do you think this movie could be about…?
Mario: I noticed there’s a lot of Vince Vaughn in this movie.
Craig: There are.
John: I would say that never having seen Fred Claus, you know that Vince Vaughn hooks up with the efficiency expert. That is guaranteed based on the description.
Pamela: Yeah. Place is a real mess when they’re done.
John: Now Mario have you seen Jack Frost from 1998?
Mario: I have not.
John: Oh, all right. We’re good here.
Craig: Who has?
Zoanne: It looks frightening.
John: Show of hands.
Craig: No way!
John: Wow. So many people have seen this movie.
Craig: You guys have way too much time on your hands. Let’s go.
John: So, Jack Frost. A year after his tragic death an inattentive father is magically resurrected as a snowman. Given this second chance the father and son struggle to make up for lost time. Is the moral – sorry Pam.
Pamela: Oh my goodness. Does he hug him? There’s so many scenes in my head. I’m sorry. Is the moral do you want to build a snowman? You won’t after seeing Michael Keaton’s turn as a Colorado jazz man who wants to prove he’s literally the world’s coolest dad.
John: Or is it B?
Zoanne: “Snow dad is better than no dad” is actual dialogue from the movie.
John: That is confirmed.
Pamela: Oh my god.
John: Or, bring us home Cherry.
Cherry: Don’t take the people you love for granted because you might die and not be resurrected as an ice gollum.
John: Mario, help us out.
Mario: I’m going to go with C.
John: It is. It is C.
Craig: Yeah it’s C.
John: All right. Craig, we are up to Surviving Christmas.
Craig: Have you seen that one?
John: From 2004.
Craig: They’re all blending together now, aren’t they?
Craig: It’s all a big mush.
Mario: I don’t think so.
Craig: All right. Here we go. Focus Mario because this is hard. It’s as hard as all the other ones. A wealthy executive has no close relationships and becomes nostalgic for his childhood home as Christmas approaches. When he visits the house and finds another family living there he offers the residence a large sum of money to pretend they are his parents. Soon, he tests the couple’s patience and things get increasingly complicated with the arrival of their real daughter. Is the moral, A?
Pamela: The spirit of Christmas is not about the hollow traditions but about the people you share them with. For instance, Tony Soprano.
Craig: Or is it B?
Zoanne: If Vince Vaughn is unavailable for your Christmas comedy, Oscar-winner Ben Affleck can and will fill that role.
Craig: Or is it C?
Cherry: Never invite a yuppie into your home.
Craig: This one is hard. I actually don’t know this one. What do you think?
Mario: Sounds like it’s C, but.
Craig: Never invite a yuppie into your home?
Mario: We’re going to go with A.
John: The spirit of Christmas.
Craig: That’s obviously what it was. It wasn’t hard. I was kidding.
John: These are gimme questions.
Craig: Should we do one more?
John: We’ll do one last one.
Craig: Let’s do one more.
John: So the last one will be The Santa Claus 3. Did you see the three-quel? Did you see Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause?
Mario: I was not aware there was a first one.
Craig: Oh, this could work.
John: This is the 2006 one. So this is the synopsis. Christmas cheer turns into holiday chaos when Santa invites his in-laws for a visit and must simultaneously contend with Jack Frost’s scheme to trick Santa into renouncing his title and creating an alternate timeline devoid of Christmas cheer.
Craig: That is a great idea for a movie. No. No. No.
John: Is the moral?
Pamela: A, when making a sequel to a sequel start with the tag line and work backwards.
John: Or is it B?
Zoanne: Be true to yourself.
John: Or is it C?
Cherry: There is no moral. There is no objective reality. We are simply living in a snow globe on the shelf of some alien civilization, or maybe some kind of Matrix-like simulation.
John: Mario, what is the moral of Santa Claus 3?
Mario: I have to go with B.
Craig: I like that Mario would never even go with the wrong answer just for fun.
John: Absolutely. Mario, the moral is to be true to yourself. And there you’ve done it. Mario, you have completely aced the game. Thank you very much.
Craig: You aced it. Thank you Mario.
John: As our winner you get a Writer Emergency Pack. We’ll give it to your afterwards. Come up afterwards.
Craig: Outstanding work.
John: Outstanding work. That was good. So, I would say if we’re going to bring back the Christmas movie we’ve got a lot of work because I don’t want to necessarily see any of those movies remade.
Craig: It’s sort of the problem is that Christmas is about essentially one thing, you know, which is it is better to give than to receive and family stuff.
Pamela: And learning the true meaning of blah-blah-blah.
Craig: Right. Learning the true meaning of blah-blah-blah.
Cherry: And Santa Claus.
Craig: And Santa Claus doing something involved – because even when they’re like, oh, let’s do a funny thing where Santa Claus is this, or the elves are that, and it still always comes down to the same. But I guess people like that. It’s Christmas.
John: It’s Christmas.
Craig: You know there’s a song.
Craig: I sometimes do that.
Pamela: Oh, I wanted a piano to just slide right in. Animation.
Craig: A new song in 1994, wait, let me get this right, was on the Billboard Top 100 list and it has been on the Billboard Top 100 list every year since 1994. What is that song?
John: All I Want for Christmas is You.
Craig: All I Want for Christmas is You. Mariah Carey. Yeah. Christmas, man. It works.
John: That’s the point of this.
Craig: Well, you know, Jewish people are always just like ooh.
John: Ooh, Christmas.
Craig: That shit works on people.
Pamela: They’re fun to come up with though. Like at dinner last week my girlfriend and I were like here’s one.
Craig: What, oh like a Christmas movie?
Pamela: Yeah. We came up with a Christmas movie. It’s really good.
Craig: OK, what’s yours?
John: You don’t have to pitch the whole thing. Just at least give–
Craig: Just give us the basics.
Pamela: I don’t have the whole thing. It’s about a girl who is lonely at Christmas so she goes to rescue a cat and she falls in love with the guy at the rescue shelter and like the cat is trying to teach her the true meaning of Christmas because Santa is trapped inside the cat. And it’s called…
Craig: What’s it called?
Pamela: Mr. Claws.
John: That’s the way.
Craig: I like it.
Pamela: She wanted to call it The Nine Lives of Christmas though.
John: No, no.
Craig: Well, she sucks and you’re awesome.
John: It’s probably a Kevin Spacey movie.
Craig: Can you do an animated movie about two snowflakes that are friends except they’re exactly alike and in the snowflake world that’s terrible and so they have to split up. And then they make their way back to each other but then one of them melts or something? Isn’t there like a–?
Craig: Yeah, right.
Pamela: Isn’t that Frozen?
Craig: That was about ladies.
Pamela: Yes, I know, but.
Craig: These are snowflakes.
Zoanne: Anything in the snow world I think is now Frozen.
Craig: You’re a sicko.
Pamela: I’m sorry.
John: It has come time in our podcast where we invite you guys to ask questions of us. And so we have two microphones. We have people who will hold these microphones. If you have a question you would like to ask me and Craig or our wonderful panelists you may raise your hand and a person will find you and bring you the microphone. So I see some people over here. How about you over here. We’ll start with you.
Audience Member: Hi. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about specifically writing for animated movies, about not forgetting what you wrote. Especially when it comes to emotional connectivity with your character from the beginning.
John: Pamela what was the emotional connection for you as you started approaching this Ralph movie?
Pamela: Well, you know, this is a sequel so you know it’s about Ralph and Vanellope and their friendship and so there’s a feeling that comes with that that you’re aiming toward. So, sometimes it will get far away from that. It will start to get dark or it becomes someone’s movie more than the other movie. And it just doesn’t feel true to them. I think it’s a little harder on something like Moana where there isn’t – you’re like well what will she be? But you definitely know that feeling when she’s working, when she is that navigator with that spirit.
So I think you’re really more emotionally feeling through that movie than anything else. We know that we can make it funny later. And we know that the action is going to be there. So you really are more I think writing towards the emotion most of the time.
John: In the Ralph movie, not a huge spoiler here, but actually in kind of both movies but especially the second one I noticed that Ralph is protagonist and villain. It’s his needs are what is creating the story but also destroying the world that he’s built. Was that part of it from the very start? Was there a villain in the story for a while but it got tossed out?
Pamela: We did have a villain in some versions. She was a virus. She was built to eradicate viruses. She was a security guard based off of Phil’s mom. And the problem was, whenever we had another villain, Ralph and Vanellope would sort of arc too early. You know, they’d get along and then they’d save the day and it just felt like the movie kind of ended as soon as they were in love again.
Craig: There’s no conflict.
Craig: And you need conflict.
Pamela: Well, and you mostly want – you’re just rooting for them to fix what’s wrong. You know they can get through anything together once they’re together.
Craig: Yeah. It seems like honestly to answer your question that animated movies are pure story and therefore the thing that people would obsess over the most is the emotional integrity of the piece. And then on top of that you layer in the fun.
Pamela: Right. Because when the demographic is every single person in the whole wide world you have to make them feel. Not everybody is going to get every joke and not everybody wants every action sequence, but they want to feel the whole time no matter how old or young they are. And so that’s what you’re talking toward, the inner child.
Audience Member: Thank you so much.
John: Thank you. Another question. I see a hand back over there.
Audience Member: Question for all of you. The most useful and least useful note you’ve gotten from executives.
John: The single most useful note, and I think I’ve told this on the podcast before, was I was in a meeting on Big Fish with producers Dan Jinx and Bruce Cohen and we had been through a couple of drafts and we were at sort of this place like is this movie getting made or not getting made. And Dan Jinx said to me, he’s like, “You have Will saying this great story about his father at the funeral. What would it be like if he said that story to his father before he died?” And it was such a simple thing but so completely transformative that I stopped him and was like, OK, no, no, we’re done. I’m going to do this. It’s going to be really, really good. That was a fantastic transformative note.
The bad notes I’ve gotten have been the ones where they’re trying to transform a thing I’ve written into something that is just completely not what it wants to be. And either moving out of a place of fear or just like they just had a completely different vision and there’s just no way that this is going to overlap. Craig?
Craig: I mean, the best note I ever got I think was just it’s like an overall thing that I think about all the time from Lindsay Doran. Because I used to think about character as the most important thing. Like the character, the character, the character, the character. And she said, “Don’t think about character. Think about the central relationship.” And therefore there’s no more character, there’s characters, and there’s the magic in that stuff that happens between them. That actually is what we think of. That is where the fun and all the dirt and the grit and the relief and joy is. So, I always think about relationship now instead of character.
And the worst note in general is anytime someone says, “This character is not likeable. Can you make them more likeable?” And my instinct is I’m going to make them less likeable now. Like me.
Pamela: I once got this note, “Be mindful of the pacing. The scene is too long and too short.” And I wrote it down because that note was given to my face. And then I printed it out and I put it on the wall and I was like – and then a few years later I was telling that story to someone and they went, “That’s actually pretty profound.” And I looked at like the scene I was writing at that point and I was like, “It is too long and too short.” And it went from being the dumbest note to like it’s a really good note. A scene really can–
Craig: It can.
Pamela: Just do both.
Zoanne: On Grey’s Anatomy we live in this fantasy lovely world where we don’t get notes anymore from executives. We get notes internally. But it’s a lovely world. You should join us there. But I am working on pilots now and one I’m working on now I would say is probably a good and bad note all tied in to one. I mean, I was trying to introduce three characters at the same time in a pilot where you have to like set up everything. And they were like, “Let’s focus on one character,” after I literally like pitched for months these three characters. And so I’m still working through that. But I feel that it was probably a good note, but it feels like a really bad note.
John: Cherry, any good note and bad notes you got?
Cherry: A good note, this was from my manager, not a network executive. Can’t think of a good one from a – but early on she said that, you know, it’s like comedy writers always joke, joke, joke, joke all the time. And she had a note like towards the end of one of my scripts that you can sort of let the scene be emotional and not have to suddenly turn around at the end and like funny, funny line.
Bad note, I literally think somebody at Family Guy once gave a note to have like Stewie talk to Lois or something, but the whole point was not that Seth doesn’t have – you know what mean? I was just like, wait, what’s happening? It was just very like–
Craig: Your brain shut down it was so bad.
Cherry: I think it was a weird mistake or just like what? Because usually especially later on in a show’s run you’re like, please, don’t even try. Thanks.
Craig: That’s fun.
John: All right. We’ve got time for one more question. Who has that question?
Audience Member: My question is for the ladies. I know a few of you mentioned – sorry Craig.
Craig: No worries.
Audience Member: A few of you mentioned the experience of being the only woman in the room and that’s something that I’m really interested in. And as someone kind of coming up now what advice do you have for women, people of color, people with disabilities, anyone who feels like they’re the only one in the room?
Pamela: Well, I have always made a point to point it out if I find I’m the only woman in the room, just with a simple gentleman. Like the amount of times I’ll start an email that’s all notes I’ll be like, “Gentleman,” and I’m not even trying to be a dick. I’m just saying like hi, this should not be the case, this is a sitcom about women. I’m the only one. And I’m a staff writer. And so let’s get some ladies.
You know, now I find if there’s another woman and she’s near the room I’m like do you want to – how can you get in the room? Do you want to be in the room? So there’s that. It’s like find your peers. Talk. If we all stay isolated as the only woman in the room we don’t learn that we’re all going through the same thing in all these different rooms. And you just have to get – I think there was a long time of women being grateful to have the one seat. So it’s like we have to be past being grateful and start finding more chairs.
Zoanne: Well, again, I live in a fantasy world in which women rule everything.
Pamela: It’s like Wonder Woman, right, where you guys are.
Zoanne: There was one man/woman partnership at some point, but they have all been women, and usually it’s predominately women. I think right now it’s like 60/40 in the room. But I will say that this is a wonderful time for women and people of color to be breaking in just because people are – it’s very much on their minds. It’s very much a thing. And if you have that good work to back you up people are trying to include us. They’re trying to be inclusive.
There was just a layout in the Hollywood Reporter about the black women writers and there were – it’s just a beautiful spread and it was a lovely time and I find of forgot to turn in the questions so I don’t have any quotes, but I’m in the picture. And it was wonderful to see all of these working black women writers who were lifting each other up and supporting each other. We have like a Facebook page that any time there’s an assistant thing that comes up, or a writer’s thing that comes up we post on that page so that we can have more of us knowing who is out there.
So, it’s really about networking and trying to find those people and lifting each other up.
John: Cherry, any thoughts?
Cherry: OK, here’s, no.
Zoanne: Tell me the secret.
Cherry: I mean, I think it would be much rarer for anyone today to go through the same kind of room that I went through when I started just being such a vast difference because they’re trying harder to make rooms more diverse in all ways. So I actually think you have a good shot at not having to deal with it.
But I think today you could stand your ground. Like I would say for sure in rooms 10, 12 years ago, you know, somebody said something you’d just be like, “Ha, ha, ha, it’s cool.” Because you just want to show up, you want to do good work, you want to keep your job. And then one day hopefully you will be in charge and you can like women and all that.
But, today I think actually if you decided to point something out it would – people are more willing to listen. It would go over better today than it would a decade or so ago.
Pamela: Yeah. It’s also not necessarily your job to have to point it out, but it’s someone’s job. So you can go find the person who is supposed to be fixing this shit.
Cherry: And don’t feel like you have to do it, but if you – I think today if you wanted to and you wanted to be that person it would go over better than for instance my advice to someone like from ten years ago might be like, “You know what, just like let it slide. That’s just how rooms are.” And I think today rooms are not necessarily like that anymore.
Craig: I wonder if there used to be an attitude when anybody would complain about any kind of just feeling excluded, or being treated differently, or an other, that someone would basically address the complaint by saying, “No, actually you don’t have that problem. There’s not a problem.” And I think now if you were to say that people would immediately start to sweat. But then once they got past the personal terror phase they would say, “OK, I acknowledge there’s a problem. If you’re saying there’s a problem there’s a problem.” It has to be a different–
John: Well, the cost of doing nothing is a lot higher now.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: So that’s a positive change that’s happened.
We have a tiny bit of follow up here at the end of our show. This is John’s WGA Corner. But actually Craig is a former WGA and Zoanne Clack has just left the WGA board after several terms there. Zoanne Clack has moved on to be – she’s now on the WGA Health Fund.
Zoanne: Pension and Health Trustee.
John: Oh, she’s a trustee of pension and health.
Craig: Oh good.
John: We have an actual doctor on that. So thank you very much for that. The things I want to remind you about, if you are a WGA member, east or west, you got an email from the guild asking you to take a quick survey about where you’re represented, meaning your agent, your manager, your lawyer. Craig, Aline and I just sent out an email about that.
John: Yeah. You signed your name on it.
John: So this is your second reminder to fill out the damn survey. And Craig, talk to us about our next live show.
Craig: Our next live show will be January 27th at the WGA Theater. That’s the one in Beverly Hills. Where we will be screening William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. You know we do our little deep dive every like three years. We’re going deep dive on The Princess Bride.
John: So please join us for that.
Craig: You’re going to want to be there for that. That is open to everyone. That is not WGA only. That is open to everybody. More details as they become available.
John: Great. And that is our show for this evening. We have some people we need to thank. Thank you to our amazing guests.
Craig: Thank you guys.
John: This is a benefit for the Writers Guild Foundation. We need to thank Enid Portuguez and Dustin Fleischmann for putting tonight together. Here at the LA Film School I especially want to thank Jared and Tayshaun for getting our audio fixed and figuring it out. Bless you guys for that.
Our show as always is produced by Megan McDonnell. And edited by Matthew Chilelli, who are both here tonight. Thank you guys very, very much. And thank you guys all very much for coming out here. Thank you. Have a good night.
Craig: Thanks guys.
- Thank you, Writers Guild Foundation for making this event happen!
- And thank you to our incredible guests: Pamela Ribon, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Zoanne Clack and Cherry Chevapravatdumrong!
- Featured movies in the Santa Claus Is Bumming Me Down game are Four Christmases, Jingle All The Way, Deck the Halls, Fred Claus, Jack Frost, Surviving Christmas and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.
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