The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 390 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the program we welcome back former Scriptnotes producer Megan McDonnell. Welcome back, Megan.
Megan McDonnell: Thank you.
Craig: As you can see, she was such a valuable employee for her strong voice.
John: Well today you’re not producing because you are in fact our guest. We want to talk to you all about how you got staffed on your very first show. Then it’s a new round of the Three Page Challenge where we take a look at the pages sent in by our listeners and discuss what’s working and what could use some work.
But first off, Megan, how does it feel to be back here doing – you did so many Three Page Challenges. You probably read – how many Three Page Challenges do you think you’ve read over the years?
John: Hundreds. Yeah.
Megan: Not a thousand.
John: Not a thousand. But hundreds.
Megan: Hundreds. Certainly.
John: So you were the culling mechanism to find the very best of them. Now Megana Rao has that job, so she got to go through a whole bunch of them yesterday to try to find the three that we’re going to do today.
Megan: Yeah, I mean, it was so fun to read through all the Three Page Challenges. It’s the making the decision of like, OK, which ones are John and Craig going to like and that was the hard part.
John: I used to be a reader at TriStar and at another company before that and in some cases reading things that don’t work is really helpful because it gives you a sense of like, OK, I’m never going to do that because I just see that never works. Do you think reading all the Three Page Challenges helped you as a writer or hurt you as a writer?
Megan: It definitely didn’t hurt me as a writer, I hope. I think it’s extremely helpful to see what people are doing, not only to see like what works so well and what’s so good, but also just what the trends are out there and like what I see a lot. OK, that’s a thing that’s probably being seen a lot, so avoid that thing.
John: Avoid that thing. Megan is going to be back after we do some quick follow up.
John: Last week we had Chris Keyser on the show to talk about agency negotiations and the problems of conflict of interest, all that stuff is still happening. But on Wednesday we got word of a major payout in another conflict of interest situation. Craig, do you want to talk us through this.
Craig: Oh boy, what a mess this thing is. And this is not something that hasn’t happened before. This is kind of a pretty dramatic outcome though in terms of how it unfolded. So this is about the show Bones. This is a show that was airing on Fox. And it aired more than 10 years. And basically what it came down to was the people that were the profit participants in the show Bones essentially said that Fox had kind of self-dealt. I guess what do you say like–
Craig: Underestimated? Undervalued. Perfect word. They had undervalued the value of Bones when it was kind of self-dealing the reruns to itself and the programming to itself. So, what happens is you’re making a show. Very typical way this would work is in the old days a studio, let’s say Paramount, would make a television show like Star Trek. So they produced that show. They then sell that show, meaning they license it, to a network. I think Star Trek was on – oh boy, I’m not going to say it because they’ll get angry at me, the Star Trek people. They license it to a network. The network pays them a fee. And then over time if the show does well then it goes into syndication and all that rerun money kicks back to Paramount, the studio that made the show. But they weren’t airing it.
What happens if you have Fox Television creating a show and then licensing it to Fox Network? Ah-ha. Now you have all sorts of opportunity for skullduggery because Fox doesn’t necessarily want to have to pay out profit participation to the people that are participating in the profits. And so the lower they say – the worse the show is doing, the better it is for them, because they’re actually keeping all the money. They’re just reporting on paper it’s just not doing that well.
But it is. So, the people that felt cheated by this took Fox to arbitration and they didn’t just lose this arbitration, they lost in the most spectacular manner. The arbiter essentially awarded them $180 million, most of which was him saying Fox is a bunch of liars. They have a culture of lying. This is egregious. So, first you’re getting essentially what you were asking for as kind of the money that they had ripped you off essentially. They were saying look they ripped us off about $52 million. He said great. Here’s your $52 million and here’s another $128 million in punitive damages because of the egregious manner in which they approached their accounting.
This is not a new story. This is Hollywood everywhere all the time. And I wonder if something like this will actually change the business or if this is just going to be another one of those, well, every now and then we have to pay $170 million but we’ll make more if we keep lying.
John: Yeah. So, it’s important to note that this is going to go up for appeal so we don’t know what the final decision is going to be. But what I found so interesting about this story is that we’ve had this situation before where for reruns they were undervaluing the thing, so X-Files the reruns were about that situation, syndication, that situation. But here it was the initial broadcast of the show. So the show aired – it was made by Fox. It showed up on Fox Broadcasting. Also Hulu and Fox’s foreign affiliates. And they were pricing it below market value is the argument that they should have been charging more for the show in all those situations. And they’d actually gone to the executive producers and the stars insisting that they not challenge the license fee issues over this time.
John: It’s really fascinating because you don’t – it’s one thing to say like, oh, it’s creative accounting. But it felt like there was actual deliberate manipulation and talk about we’re not going to pick up the show for the next two seasons because the show is not successful and it really was quite successful.
Craig: Exactly. They’re saying, look, you have to go along with this and take these reduced things because otherwise we’re not going to bring the show back. Meanwhile they had already made a deal with the showrunner to continue making the show. They were lying flat out. You can’t threaten to cancel a show when you’ve just made a deal with somebody else to keep making the show.
And then there’s the Peter Liguori thing. Did you read about this?
John: You know, I got a little bit lost in all the weeds of it, because I read – we’ll put a link to the actual decision, but there’s so many different articles. Tell me about the Peter Liguori of it all.
Craig: So Peter Liguori was the president of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting Company which is the network. And he was the president until 2009. So, 2009 he leaves Fox and he happened to be around when a lot of these initial things were happening. He was apparently meant to testify in these proceedings. And seven months before he is brought in to testify Fox makes a new deal with him, an outstandingly good deal with him to produce shows at FX.
And this did not pass muster with the arbiter. It says, “Liguori’s deal came with fixed episodic fees and contingent compensation far exceeding that of top executive producers in Hollywood despite the fact that the executive Peter Liguori had ‘virtually no experience whatsoever as a producer.’” That feels like a buyout, right? That’s essentially what the arbiter is implying here is that Fox basically paid off Peter Liguori to not testify against them.
Now, that’s obviously what this guy is saying. I’m just reading along with it. But the arbitrator, Peter Lichtman, apparently is a very well-respected arbitrator. They’re going to try and I guess appeal this in court. Good luck, I think? I don’t think that’s going to work.
So this is a fascinating one. I’m interested to see if it sticks. If I had to bet I would bet it would stick.
John: Yeah. I think some version of this will stick. But I think it’s also worth looking at it in the larger context of conflicts of interest. And so this is Fox for Fox, but as we talked about last week we have these agencies that are also becoming producers and that’s going to be really awkward. You can imagine a ton of these lawsuits over like, oh, did you really find the best deal for this project or did you just take the best deal that you could make internally?
John: So it’s a real challenge.
John: And follow up is over. Megan McDonnell, you’ve been the Scriptnotes producer for a year and a half, 14 months?
Megan: A year and some change.
John: Year and some change. You were also the producer of Launch, the podcast we did about the book. But you’re only a name at the end of the show, so people don’t really know you. I guess they could have seen you at the live show, or in Austin. But talk us through your background. Did you always want to be a screenwriter? How did you come to this?
Megan: I’ve always loved to write and it kind of never occurred to me that I could be a screenwriter until I went to grad school. So I went into grad school thinking oh I’ll be a producer, I’ll be a network executive, and then once I was there and doing internships and taking writing classes I was like, oh gosh, I’ve really got to give this a try. And I’m so glad I did because now I’m writing.
John: So where did you grow up? Megan: I grew up in Long Beach, California, so a Southern California person.
John: All right. And school here? School in Boston, right?
Megan: I did undergrad at Harvard, studying English and Chinese.
Craig: As one does.
John: As one does. And then did you know you were going to move to Los Angeles directly afterwards?
Megan: Yeah. Because I knew I wanted to be in the industry.
John: Great. So you end up going to the Stark program at USC.
John: But did you have a job or an internship before Stark?
Megan: So I went straight from college, but while I was in college I had some internships over the summers.
John: So talk us through the Peter Stark program. For people who don’t know it’s a two-year graduate producing program. Why pick that rather than a screenwriting program?
Megan: Because at that point also I was like oh I’ll be a producer. This is my track. But also, I mean, all the programs at USC are wonderful, but also I think that for what I want to be doing ultimately anyway I’m very thankful that I went with the Stark program because it does teach you skills that you’ll need as a showrunner in addition to just being able to write and all of that.
John: So Craig is usually down on film programs overall, film school overall.
John: Sell Craig on film school. What were the things you took out of film school that you think you wouldn’t have gotten if you hadn’t gone through them?
Megan: A huge part of it, of course, is the friends you make there. Being able to make a short film, like using your friends as crew, and actually making stuff I think it’s helpful to go to film school. And I do think it’s like a big decision that isn’t for everyone.
But I feel very grateful that I went. One for all the people I met. Two for all the internships I had and the friends I was able to make through that. But also you just learn a lot. And it’s certainly stuff that you can pick up while you’re working, while you’re at an agency or any of that, but just like learning how things fit together in a very straightforward way I think is extremely helpful. And it’s stuff that comes up while you’re an assistant even where you just have answers to things. And it helps add value to what you’re doing.
John: Yeah. I will say a good film program, and Stark I think is a very structured film program, it gives you a sense of the entire process. And so a screenwriting program can teach you this is how screenplays work, let’s write our screenplays, but doesn’t give you a sense of how movies are made and sort of from the idea to release date to home video. That sense of it is useful and you can learn that in an academic setting.
Craig: I mean, listen, no question that there’s advantages certainly to a program like this. So we’ve spoken about how if you are going to film school in a graduate program, or an undergraduate program at NYU or at USC, I get it. I do. I can see just the value of the people you meet alone probably – I mean, I have to weigh it against what it costs. Like for instance, my friends, you know, I got my friends to work on my movie. I’m like you could have also paid a crew of people and that would have been half the year’s tuition maybe for one year of film school.
But I get that part. I do. I wish that there were fewer programs. I don’t know how else to put it. I honestly wish there was some kind of cap on how many programs there can be because sometimes we’ll get emails from people saying, “Listen, my professor of screenwriting at East Tuscaloosa Bible College says that,” and we’re like do they need a screenwriting program there? I don’t know if they warrant one. Do you know what I mean? Just fewer. I’m all for fewer programs.
John: Now, Megan, an interesting thing which is different than any previous assistant is that in addition to school you also were participating in writer’s groups. And so you had regular writing sessions with other folks. So talk us through that. How did you find those people and what did you actually do in your writer’s groups?
Megan: I think the biggest thing for me getting stuff written has been writer’s groups. It’s such a game changer. And I was lucky, the first writer group I really participated in was organized through my alumni program for undergrad. And so they put us with a group and it was a semester-long thing where at the beginning you have an idea, at the end you have a script. And just the value of deadlines is huge. But in addition to that just being around people that have smart ideas about your script and bring different things to the table and can help you out.
And just like you learn things from people when you get to meet with them every week and talk about writing.
John: So that continued after school. I know that you would have every week, every two weeks – how often were you meeting up with these writer’s groups?
Megan: I’m in two writer’s groups. One is weekly, the other is every other week.
John: And what are the expectations of what you’re going to do in a weekly group?
Megan: For the weekly one, we would just create assignments that we would have to turn by the next week with room to read them. But it would be like, OK, figure out your log line and then your structure, or have a beat sheet by the next week, or write ten pages. And then by the end, stacked in such a way that by the end you had a canvas script that you’re proud of. And then for the other one it’s just like whatever anyone is working on bring it in and we’ll see.
Craig: How many people were in these writing groups?
Megan: Six or seven.
Craig: OK, that’s not too big. Sometimes I think if it gets – if there’s a group rather large it always seems to turn into some weird political mess, you know, because writers not always great in groups.
John: So you said the advantages are deadlines. I guess there’s a sense of like social pressure. If you don’t do this thing everyone is going to notice that you didn’t do this thing. And you won’t just feel bad personally, you’ll feel like you’re letting them down. Is that it?
Megan: Social pressure, yes, definitely that. But also just the energy of being around people that are excited about it, about what you’re writing but also about what they’re writing. I think that energy especially when you’re an assistant during the day and you are kind of creatively burned out by the evening then to be around people that are very excited to be doing this, I think is a helpful thing.
John: Well let’s talk about your day jobs. So, during Stark, it’s a two-year program, but the second year all your classes are at night so you could in theory have a normal job. When did you have internships? When did you start working full-time for a place?
Megan: So, during Stark I think I always had full-time internships. Not full-time internships, but I’d stack internships in such a way that I was using all my time, which actually I’m really grateful for that system just because working all day and then heading straight to class and getting home at 11, now that’s just what I have as a baseline. OK, the workday is that many hours long and I think it’s helpful as far as then being trained to do the assistant job and then at night do the writing part of it.
John: So when you say stacked internships, so you might have two, or three, or four internships over the course of a week? So on Mondays you’re this, Tuesdays you’re that?
Megan: Yeah. Usually two at a time.
John: Two at a time. Great. And talk about internships. Classically it was making copies, but no one makes copies anymore. So what does an intern do these days?
Megan: It’s a lot of script reading, which of course is very helpful for a writer. And also just understanding like mandates, what people are looking for, what belongs on kind of what network. But for me it was always development internships or programming internships.
John: Great. So you’re reading scripts. Are you writing up coverage? What do they have you do?
Megan: Yeah. Writing up coverage.
John: Were you paid for these internships or were they credit?
Megan: 50/50 I think.
John: All right. And were you paid enough that they were actually survivable, or was it just sort of token pay?
Megan: Whenever I did get a paid internship it felt like holy moly, like this is so exciting.
John: One of the classic knocks against internships is you have to be able to afford to take an internship.
Megan: I think it’s a huge problem. Yeah.
Craig: The whole system stinks. We were talking about this on Twitter, I think Aline McKenna mentioned that the standard – and I was talking to Bo Shim who is my new assistant, and she came out of CAA. And she said early on they just say, “OK, are you OK with the industry standard of,” and I think it was $13.50 an hour or something like that. That’s just unconscionable. I really – in the middle of our argument with the agencies about package fees and all the rest of it, you know, I’d also like to start arguing with them about what they pay assistants. That’s stupid. And it’s mean. It’s cruel. It’s a bit like that old system – which is still in place – where medical students fresh off getting their MD are sent to hospitals to work 19-hour shifts. It’s dumb. It’s hazing.
John: It’s dumb and it’s dangerous.
Craig: Yes. It’s literally down to hazing. Except in this case it’s hazing plus cheapness. It’s really gross.
John: But also it creates a system where the only people who can afford to work for that little money are the people who can sort of afford to not have a job. And so people who actually really need to pay rent, good luck.
Craig: Yeah. And not only have these things not kept up with inflation, but housing costs have far outstripped that. So, it’s a mess. And I’m angry thinking about–It’s upsetting to me. And so you know let’s put that on our list of things to yell at the agencies about.
John: [laughs] All right. We’ve got a long list here.
Megan: Yeah. It’s also across the board, too, right? Agency assistants certainly don’t get paid a lot, but also assistants on shows and PAs and stuff also don’t get paid a lot.
John: When was your first real job-job that wasn’t an internship? What was that?
Megan: It came from an internship where over a summer I had a job at Fox in comedy, the network, current and development–
John: We should clarify that for folks. So current means the shows that are on the air right now. Development is shows they’re trying to figure out how to get on the air, or they’re going to make pilots and they’re going to figure out which ones go. That handoff is always really weird. So you start in development and then if your show keeps going then you’re handed off to current. Is there more prestige in current or development?
Megan: So I don’t know because I felt very lucky to be at Fox Network because it was the same person, like when you start with a project in development you get to keep it through current. So, the executives did both, which I think is relatively rare. Most places it’s split up. But I think it’s also just very different skillsets, too.
Craig: That was my first internship, too, was current programming at Fox. And I remember that – you know, they had I don’t know three, four, five current programming executives, so they would assign everybody a few shows. And their job was to go to the table readings and to give network notes and so on and so forth. And the least seasoned of them, he was a fairly new hire, I think this was his first executive job, he was given The Simpsons. And I asked my boss who was the head of current programming, I was like just out of curiosity why would you give that guy The Simpsons? And he goes, “Because it’s The Simpsons. We don’t need him to do a good job.”
John: It’ll be fine.
Craig: It’s gonna be fine. They don’t give a damn what we say anyway. The sort of prestige portion of current programming is when you’re kind of put in charge of a rescue mission I think.
John: Yeah. Now, Megan, this is a question I never thought to ask you but when did you start listening to Scriptnotes?
Megan: I think I started listening during Stark. I don’t have a sense of what episode I came in on or anything, but as soon as I started listening I backfilled.
Craig: I really wanted you to say, “Oh, I’ve never listened to Scriptnotes.”
John: I’ve never listened to your show. Even though as I produced it—
Megan: I just assume they’re fine and I publish them.
Craig: Yeah. The wave form has come through, so I’m good. Yeah.
John: How did you find out about this job and what was the process there?
Megan: I found out about this job – a friend of mine, thank you friend, forwarded the blurb about the job and was like, “Hey, is this the kind of thing you’re interested in?” Because they knew I wanted to transition to a writing thing. And I was like yes I am. And so then I was lucky enough to be able to go through the process.
John: You sent through the email, the resume, we talked and you did a little assignment. And then you were hired into the job. What does a writer’s assistant do? What did you end up doing when you were doing this job in addition to producing Scriptnotes? Like what are the things that you think a good writer’s assistant is doing for a feature writer mostly?
Megan: I think it’s so, so different job to job because you’re so self-sufficient, so I feel like the standard part of a writer’s assistant job was much less for this. For me besides doing Scriptnotes the majority of the time was just on tech support for Highland2.
Megan: Which was delightful.
John: Yeah. We are a software company as well, so there’s a lot of tech support that you stepped up and helped us out with that. But you were also writing a lot. And so what were you writing before you came here and what were you writing during here? What were you thinking your career was going to be about? Were you trying to do TV? Were you trying to do features?
You had directed a short that was great, which we linked to very early on in your run as a producer. But what was your plan getting here?
Megan: First of all I was just so thrilled to have this job because I mean obviously the best writer’s assistant job you can have. But as far as next steps/game plans, I had just started talking with my manager who is wonderful, Scott Stoops. Mostly I’m focusing on TV, so I had written a couple of TV scripts, a couple anthology specs which is kind of cheating. And then while I was here I was working on a feature, a couple more pilots. But I think the sample I’m using now is one that I actually gave to you–
John: Yeah, I read your pilot.
Megan: Right at the beginning.
John: Back then. And so I wasn’t hiring you as a writer, but I just wanted to see like does this person have the ability to put words together in a meaningful way. Does this person get it at all? So that was the goal behind that.
You very quickly skipped over this like “oh, and a manager.” So talk to us about how you came across this manager. Because it was a transition where it wasn’t quite clear whether you were represented by him or if it was a friendship. So talk about how you met this person and how it develops.
Megan: Yeah. I mean, I was so lucky, again, for this one through one of my writer’s groups we would organize every semester like a practice pitch thing where you would practice pitching in like a very fast way your idea to people in the industry. And so my manager Scott was among the people that would come in and listen to our pitches and give us notes on them. And I pitched him my project and he’s like, “Wow that sounds really interesting. Is it written?” And I was like yes it is and it’s printed out and here you go. And I gave it to him and he read it that night. And called me at work at the office. I told him who I worked for at the time. Called me at her number the next morning and was like, “Hey, just want to say I read your script and I loved it. Would you want to work together?”
We really hit it off. At that time I had kind of been talking to a couple people. There’s a strange thing where–
John: Was it about the chemistry or did you just trust him? Was it you felt that he was the right person or you weren’t even quite sure at that moment?
Megan: Well, no, I really got great vibes from him. And I had been talking to someone else, so I didn’t know when things become official and like that kind of thing.
John: Let’s pause here because Craig–
Craig: Are we dating? Are we exclusive?
Megan: I wanted to say that but I was nervous.
Craig: Are we boyfriend/girlfriend, or are we just friends-friends? Or like where are we?
John: You and I had this conversation about him because it wasn’t quite clear for a little while there. But, Craig, I want to sort of wind back here because a lot of what Megan is describing feels really familiar. And so it’s that sense of like, oh, I must be really lucky, and she’s not noticing how much hard work she did.
John: Like how many things she wrote.
Craig: Shall I punish her for this? I mean, you’re not lucky. You are no luckier or less lucky than anyone. I think that certainly the way life functions there’s going to be circumstances and things, but I think in general we – you know, once you get past the luck of where you’re born and what kind of family environment you’re born into, when you get to Hollywood there’s just not enough luck. There’s literally not enough luck possible to make you have a career.
So, and by the way, I would also say there’s not enough bad luck possible to keep somebody brilliant down. It’s not going to happen. If you are talented and you are hardworking and you are a person of conscience, an honorable person with a work ethic, then you’re going to make it. Chance favors the prepared mind, and so on and so forth.
So it’s not luck. In fact, if anything I could argue that you are unlucky that somebody that was talented enough as you were to get hired and be put on a show as you are now – it should have happened sooner. You are unlucky. [laughs] So I’m glad that even as unlucky as you were you were able to finally get a job. See, that’s how I do it.
John: That’s how you do it. I would say that I’ve actually seen a lot of people in exactly your chair sort of moving up through. And what I recognized was there was a time at which you would have some phone calls where you’d have to step outside to take the phone call about a thing, or you’d say like is it OK if I take this meeting. So, your manager is setting up these meetings and you’re going to just general meetings and see who you hit it off with. And I saw that happening and I saw it happening more frequently and more frequently.
And so I would say to Craig I think she has about three months left before–
Craig: Yep. He would.
John: Before she’s out the door.
Craig: Before she gets really lucky. [laughs]
John: So you have a manager. At one point do you have an agent?
Megan: Now I’m getting confused with my timeline because it just feels like, you know, god I’ve been working ever so long now. But I think there gets to be a point where it’s getting close to like time to get staffed, time to do this, and that’s when I started meeting with agents. And also my agents are wonderful at Verve. But, yeah, the kind of thing where it’s like, OK, if we’re going to put you up for staffing jobs it’s helpful to have someone else to follow up and to find opportunities and covering agents and stuff like that.
Craig: Covering agents for those of you at home are the agents who are assigned a studio or place of purchasing. So they’re like, OK, I cover Warner Bros. I get a call from Warner Bros saying we have an open writing assignment for so and so.
John: Yeah. Or on a specific project. But how did you get to Verve? So this is your manager sending your script to people at Verve saying like I represent this young woman, she’s fantastic, you should read her? Is that the process?
Megan: Yes. It was for me.
John: Great. And so then you go in and you talk to the agents there. You see if you hit it off. But when you say you’re being put up for shows is it just the agency sending it in or is it also your manager who is talking to folks? Is everybody sort of working together to do it?
Megan: I think, yeah, everyone is working together. They’re always in communication. My agents will submit me to some shows. The show that I’m working on now I think initially my manager was the one to kind of initiate it, which I’m very excited about.
John: So there was a moment about two months ago where I came back after a meeting and you stayed back late and like I could tell you were really, really excited. And so what was your excitement over?
Megan: This is when I was called – it was after work on like a Friday evening and I was packing up to go. But I had a call with my team planned and it was like, oh, you have a staffing offer. And I was like oh my gosh. What it was was Scott being like, “Hey Megan, you know, on this thing, you know, they really liked you. I’ve got some bad news.” And I’m like, OK, yes, of course, like I never expected to get this job. Of course. And he’s like, “The bad news is you’re going to have to quit working for John because you got staffed.” And I was like oh my gosh.
John: So talk to us about the show that you ultimately ended up signing onto?
Megan: So the show that I’m staffing on now is a Marvel show for Disney Plus about Scarlet Witch and Vision.
Craig: Ooh, cool.
Megan: And it is just my dream job. It has been – it’s too good to be true, where like I’m loving every minute of it but also like very anxious that it’s too good to be true.
John: Yeah. So we should have said earlier on that the stuff that you’ve been writing has classically been science fiction or sort of like Twilight Zone anthology-ish. It’s very much in that sort of mode. And so this felt like, wow, that’s a great show for her to be staffed on.
Megan: Yeah. It feels like a really good fit. And everyone is so nice to each other. It’s going to be good. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.
Craig: You know, I’m telling you these kids growing up now in an age where people must be nice. And I feel like they’ve weeded out the real psychos. I hope they have. You know, back in our day Megan it was just psychos. You’d open your door and it was fields of waving psychos everywhere you looked. Ugh. Now you guys, I love it. I’m happy. I’m glad that it’s that way. It should be that way.
John: Yeah. I’m really glad it’s that way. Talk us through that first day being in a writers’ room, because that’s got to be just a completely different experience for a writer who has always been working by herself. So what is it like?
Megan: Besides just totally magical, I had met with some friends in advance who had been staffed on shows before to be like, OK, give me all the tips, what should I do, what should I not do. And so I thought I was like, OK, I’m going in and I know vaguely how much to talk and how much to not talk. And I felt all set. And as soon I get into the room I realize oh my gosh, like I don’t know what seat to pick.
I was one of the first ones there, of course, because I was new and nervous. And I was like this is definitely a thing. Like when I was in China I learned much too late that the seats where you sit at a dinner table is like meaningful. And that was very embarrassing to me then. So now here I am in this room being like I just have no idea. So I picked a seat and everyone was nice and it ended up being fine.
Craig: Again, I wanted you to be fired on the spot, just like, “Oh, you have to go now. You can’t come back. You picked the wrong seat. You picked the wrong seat.”
John: You picked the wrong seat. Are you still sitting in that seat today?
Megan: Yes I am.
Craig: That’s how it works.
John: And so right now you are in the room, you are breaking story, you are figuring out all that stuff. So you’re not writing on a script yet? It’s all secret because it’s Marvel.
Megan: Yeah. Everything is very secret. That’s one thing we learn the first day.
John: There’s a red dot moving across the wall. I don’t want it to land in the middle of your chest. Well, anyway, Megan, we are so, so happy that you are on a show and a show that you’re very excited to be on. We were so sad to lose you, but fortunately we found Megana who is great.
John: And so this is so confusing to everybody. Megan’s replacement is named Megana. And she is fantastic and she’s a friend of yours from before this.
John: So she’s been great. So she’s been on the job for a couple weeks. And you’ve trained her how to do all the Scriptnotes-y things.
John: Let’s move on to our Three Page Challenge. You’ve done a bunch of Three Page Challenges. We have three this week. Our first Three Page Challenge comes from Christopher Cramer. For folks who have never listened to a Three Page Challenge before, here’s the deal. So we put out a call to our listeners saying we will read the first three pages of your script, your screenplay, your teleplay, whatever you want to send us that’s script-like and give you our honest feedback. And so Megana looks through them all and picks things that are going to be interesting for us to talk about. So they’re not necessarily the best things she’s read, but the things that had the most interesting stuff for us to talk about.
So three very brave people, actually four because it’s a writing team for one of these, have sent through their stuff and we are talking about them. These people have volunteered for this, so just reminder to everybody – everyone wanted us to do this. They went in full knowing that we were going to do this.
If you want to read along with us you can follow the links that are in the show notes. We have PDFs that you can download for these things.
All right, our first script is called Three Weeks Gone by Christopher Cramer. It’s morning on a ranch in Wyoming. Jim Young, the owner of the ranch, checks the progress of the farmhands repairing a fence. Through their conversation we learn that Jim’s nephew Mason has been having a hard time adjusting to the farm and that he damaged the back hoe recently.
Mason hasn’t come to help yet but was seen going into the barn. The conversation is interrupted by the sound of a gunshot, presumably Mason scaring off Coyotes. Then Jim goes inside to see his wife Laura. He grabs a bite and asks what Mason was shooting at. Jim leaves to check on his nephew. After a standoff with a coyote outside of the barn, Jim enters the barn to find his nephew dead. And that is where we’re at at the bottom of these three pages.
Megan, we’ll start with you. What was your first impression reading through these pages? What did you get out of this?
Megan: I think it does set up a story. Like you understand kind of what we’re doing here. You understand the relationships I think really well right from the beginning. Something I noticed before, through reading through hundreds of them, it used to be that sexual violence was the thing that was in so many of the scripts. And then more recently for all the scripts I’ve been reading suicide is now like in so many of the scripts. And that’s not to say that it’s not used perfectly well here. But something to look out for as you’re writing.
John: So this one ends, the reveal with the body at the end. And it may be because we’re asking for three pages that there’s the pressure to get to a big showcase moment at the bottom of three pages. Rarely is it just sort of trickling out at the end of three pages. But it sort of a big moment. Craig, what was your first take on this?
Craig: My first take was that I was bored to death. And, look, here’s the thing. Christopher, it’s not that your pieces of story are boring, they’re not. But the way you’ve laid it out you’ve forced me to wait for something that clearly is bad. There’s no surprise here. The second there’s a gunshot that goes off I’m waiting for somebody to be dead.
Everyone is acting like, oh, he must have been shooting a coyote. No he’s not. I know that the – because really here’s the thing, Christopher, do you really think that any of us are sitting there going, hmm, yeah, it’s probably a coyote. No. We know it’s a show or movie, so we know he’s dead. We know. Or someone is dead, right? So you’re just making me wait for this thing that I know is there.
So I was bored. And also I thought, and this is a theme I’m going to bring up in all three of these, I could have written all of this in a half a page as far as I’m concerned. You’re not using this precious space very well. There’s a lot of just yapping. There’s yapping about posts. There’s yapping about where’s my nephew. There’s yapping about him being in the barn. Then he gave me a heart attack. What was he shooting at? I don’t know what he was shooting at. How was he? Yeah, he didn’t eat much. It goes on and on.
And as far as I’m concerned you have a bunch of guys that are working on a post. They’re hitting the post with a hammer. Ping. Ping. Ping. Someone goes where’s Mason? Don’t know. Ping. Ping. Bang. They all look over. Somebody starts running. I’m watching that. Do you know what I mean? It’s just dragging this out. There’s not enough drama to warrant these three pages.
I mean, I have a lot of other small things that I want to mention, but that’s sort of my tough love beginning for you here.
John: Yeah. From the moment we hear the gun shot I sort of know that Mason is dead, and so I’m just waiting for everyone else to catch up with me, which is a really bad place to be on page two.
John: So there’s more here that I did kind of like and I want to highlight some stuff that I thought was possible here, it was possible to sort of enjoy here. So the overall setting of the world is not bad. We’re on a ranch. I like that there’s people working on the fence. I like that there’s a lot more fence to be building. I liked the moment on page – it’s really page two here. His page numbering is off. But Jim says, “Take it easy on him. Your first three weeks here weren’t nothing to write home about either. He’s a good kid.” That’s a pretty good way of giving me a sense of who Mason is.
Now if I had seen some of that and I’d seen Mason walking around, or I’d seen Mason walking with a gun that is scaring off coyotes I would have been fine. In a weird way if you’d set up Mason with a gun before all this had happened, or we just see him walking by in a shot that would have been fine. I wouldn’t have assumed that he’s dead. But because we’re talking about this character and then we’re hearing a gunshot we’re naturally going to assume that Mason shot himself.
Craig: That’s what a gunshot means. It means Mason shot himself. There’s a bunch of things that stylistically I think it’s important to take a look at because this is somewhere in the – it’s Wyoming, right? So we’re dealing with ranchers, cow hands, and so on and so forth. Everyone kind of talks a little bit like a robot for a while. And then they start talking not like a robot. First of all “Its” possessive does not have an apostrophe. Please proofread your work.
Jim says, “How is it coming along?” That’s really weird and stilted. How is it coming along? Not how’s it coming along. Things like that are a bit odd. And there’s a bunch of them actually in the action description as well. It is summertime. Even in action description if it’s not dialogue, if it’s taking place on a ranch in Wyoming there should be a slight familiarity there. The contractions are going to help you.
There’s a long conversation with a ranch hand and his name is Ranch Hand. No.
John: We’re going to hit that on another script today, too.
Craig: Exactly. I think also it’s important if you – Jim says, “How’s it coming along?” I’ve already done the contraction for you there, Christopher. And Ranch Hand says, “Oh, you know, one post at a time.” OK, a mild ranch joke I guess. But then the next thing you say is, “Jim cracks a smile. ‘There is no other way to approach such work.” Is this like a computer is explaining the joke to us? It’s very odd.
John: Yeah. So here’s a way to do that kind of joke. So, first off Jim is capitalized there for no good reason. But you could say Jim cracks a smile and then in italics go, “How else you gonna do it?” That sense of like you can give the unspoken line that he would be saying if he was going to say the line. But as it is right there it doesn’t help.
But then the idea of he reacts to that and then we reveal how much more of the fence there is to build, that’s fine. That’s great. To the degree it’s a misdirection about what is going to be happening next that can work.
Craig: Yes, I agree. Although it seemed like then everyone ignored the reveal. In other words if you’re going to make a reveal it usually comes at the end of something, not at the middle. So this is the moment where suddenly the scene has to stop so that we can do a reveal, and then it picks back up again. That’s not how it’s going to work. I mean, camera-wise if you think this, look, you know us we’re a big defender that writers can use the camera, but if you’re using the camera you got to use it right. So we pull out to see the expanse of the field and just how far along the fence isn’t. It is going to be a long day. Great.
Then the next thing. Ranch hand, “Haven’t seen your nephew yet this morning.” Well he’s a mile away from you now because I’ve pulled back. Like what’s happening? So that comes in the beginning or it comes at the end. But I don’t think you can put it in the middle here.
John: Megan, talk to me about geography in here. Did you get lost at all sort of where things were? Like the barn was close – he’d driven up in the truck but he said he’s already seen him go into the barn. And then we also have people walking through doors. Is this a thing that you notice a lot in these Three Page Challenges? I just felt like our confusion of geography is a thing that hits for me.
Megan: Yeah. On this one it didn’t bug me. I think I got more attentive to that after the Austin Film Festival Three Page Challenge where you guys talked a lot about geography and now I really look for it. In this one I saw it all pretty close together. But–
John: So let’s say that this is somebody in one of your writer’s groups who delivers these pages. What is the feedback you give to Christopher who is a friend or at least a colleague? What would you tell him to focus on?
Megan: There are just some things that he stylistically – he does a lot of things that are in all caps that I wonder like why is this in caps and why is this in caps. So hot day, restless huff, long day. And I can totally – it works really well, like sound of a gunshot. Yes, I definitely cannot miss that.
Megan: But for some other things it just like if there’s too much capitalized or bolded then I don’t know what I should really be paying attention to.
John: For sure. So like on page three there’s a coyote is uppercase and bolded. Sure. Great. We’re seeing that it’s a big thing. But if we hit a bunch of those before then we don’t know what to pay attention to.
Let’s talk about the cut to-s on the second page. You didn’t need them. And so you can have cut to-s in your script. You can leave them out. But they didn’t feel like they were providing anything new. Because it was a kind of continuous action and you could get rid of those cut to-s and nothing would have changed.
John: I’m a big fan of using cut to when you really need to signal to the reader this is a big shift. We’re really going to a new place and time. Otherwise drop them out, because just doing the scene header is going to give you the sense that you’re cutting to a thing.
Craig: Yeah. Cut to-s are really there to just say look there’s an interesting cut happening, not a cut. Similarly at the end, smash to black, that’s not a thing. I don’t know how you smash to black. You can cut to black. But there’s no smashing.
John: No. Can’t smash it. And then the blood on page three, there was just a long time on the blood. All the bottom half of the third page could have been done in two lines.
Craig: Yeah. It’s movies and television, so we have seen blood 14 billion times by the time we’re 12. So, when you want to show blood I think the last thing you want to do is all caps and bold and underlined – a pool of dark red liquid. It’s blood. I mean, it’s not that, do you know what I mean? Just say he notices something on the ground. He cocks his – I would cut it. Just literally cut the next three lines and just say, “He cocks his head to the side and then looks towards the barn. It’s seeping out from under the large door.” I would say it. Let people – we’re good at this sort of thing. We want to play. We want to be invested. We want to get to fill in a few little blanks. So why hit us over the head with something as mundane as blood?
John: Yeah. Agreed. All right, last thoughts for Christopher. I would say the idea of the world is good but I don’t quite know what movie I’m going to be following on page four. Like if I’m reading page four I don’t know what movie I’m in. And so I don’t know if this is going to be a crime thing. If it’s going to be a family dealing with the death of their son, or their nephew. I just don’t know kind of what movie it would be on page four and that’s kind of a problem.
I have a sense of the world but I don’t have a sense of like where this could go next. Fair?
Craig: Fair for me. I mean, I don’t know where it’s going. I assume it’s a ranch drama. But it’s too – it’s flabby. These are flabby pages I think.
John: Craig, do you want to take Am I a Man Yet?
Craig: Sure. Am I a Man Yet by David Koutsouridis.
A day before his 21st birthday David confesses to his budget psychologist Xavier that he is not only a virgin but that he has never been kissed. Xavier suggests David take out Xavier’s younger sister tomorrow night. Xavier says she has definitely broken up with her boyfriend. We then cut to David’s birthday dinner with his overbearing mother who gifts him a framed portrait of himself as a cherubic angel. David storms upstairs where he discovers the phone number of Xavier’s sister and decides to call her. He shows up for the date where Xavier’s sister, Renee, initially assumes that he is her waiter.
So, John and Megan, what did you think of I am a Man Yet by David Koutsouridas?
John: This was a good example to me where pages don’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable. And that you can see that person has the ability to do this thing called writing even if not everything is really working right. What was your first take, Megan? Megan: Yeah. I think it has some very funny moments. I think a thing that I got frustrated by was there would be a very funny joke and then the next character would explain the joke which wasn’t necessary because we got the joke.
John: Yeah. It’s very joke-joke-jokey. And that can be great. But I had a challenge on page one where I didn’t believe the psychologist for most of page one. And then when we got to the bottom of page one, “A framed certificate print-out on the wall. It’s been poorly made in Word.” Oh, I kind of get now more what this cheap psychologist is, but I didn’t – because I didn’t get that earlier on I couldn’t read his dialogue with any sense that it could possibly be real.
Craig: Yeah. I had the same reaction. Actually I would say also to get rid of the Word thing because I don’t know – he’s a therapist and so you can’t do it. It’s illegal to just print something out. So that’s kind of a tone violating thing where the world doesn’t even make sense.
So tone on page one, page two, page three of broad comedies is incredibly important. It’s also where everyone I think early on at least washes up on the shore and their boat smashes apart because it’s tricky. So in this case, actually there’s a really funny bit here and what I would do is just eliminate some other things. I mean, he’s saying, “I’m a 20-year-old kiss virgin.” And Xavier goes, “What?” I would just keep him like a psychiatrist. “A kiss virgin.” “Well, yeah, it means that I have never been kissed. Also I’m a full virgin.” And then the psychiatrist, or psychologist, could do this line which is really funny? “Well, if you haven’t been kissed, I’d hope so. I’d hate to think you hadn’t kissed someone but you fully penetrated them. How do you even initiate something like that?” That’s funny in the context of a guy who is not doing other wacky stuff.
John: Yeah. Just that run of dialogue if you took out all of Xavier’s lines between that and let David keep talking, a character who keeps talking can be a lot funnier. So this might be a situation where you do some beats or something just to break up that thread so it’s not so dense to read. But I believe one character talking through all of this. And all those jokes play better if Xavier hasn’t spoken.
Craig: 100%. There’s a little bit of a – again, we giveth and we taketh. We are empowering all of you to use the camera, but then we are demanding that you do not make the camera do things cameras can’t do. For instance we are close on baby face David. We pull back to reveal an oddball psychologist, Xavier. That’s not possible. Because unless Xavier is not facing David, if you pull back you’re going to see the back of his head. You know what I mean? That’s not a thing you can do.
You can’t just use pull back as this like reveal. If you want to reveal, reveal.
John: Say reveal. You’re allowed to capitalize reveal. That works.
John: In many ways I questioned the nature of like his being so babyish. On page three we also get into his bedroom which is “Bed-sheet with dinosaurs, plush toys serving as throw pillows. He grabs them, throws them into a garbage bin.” I didn’t quite believe that character because if the character is at the start of this thing frustrated that he’s never even kissed a girl and he’s 21 years old, but he just got frustrated today? Like why has he not sort of fixed his bed before this? Why does he still have dinosaur sheets?
Megan: Yeah. Someone who is frustrated with being read as a younger person would try – would overcorrect for that.
Craig: I feel like based on his name that he’s Greek and so he’s writing hopefully something that’s familiar to him with the character of Nancy, his mother. But we have seen this mother many, many times. We’ve seen her actually as a Greek mother. We’ve seen her as a Jewish mother. We’ve seen her as a Chinese mother. We’ve seen her as an Italian mother. This is the most clichéd of clichéd moms.
And I was a little confused because it began with David cheerily sits at the kitchen table. So he’s happy. And then she hands him this thing and he just doesn’t like the gift. At which point I’m like what’s your vibe, dude? If you’re super happy to be having your 21st birthday alone with your mom you can’t really flip out when she gives you a present that is consistent with that. Do you know what I mean? Like if you’re glum, if you’re depressed, if this whole thing is just like a total death of joy moment and then she makes it worse by handing you this gift I understand. But I’m like you, I’m confused. How aware is he that he’s like a child? Has he just become aware? That was a little tricky.
That said, I do agree with your initial point which is that these do feel like there’s promise there with polish and time and thought. There’s an intelligence behind this. There is some legitimately funny things that are happening. And so it just needs the usual thing that I would say to everybody that is starting to write comedy: logic, logic, logic, tone.
John: Absolutely. So the logic I would really stress is that you can have this scene with David and Nancy, with the mom and David. I don’t think it can be the first time that we’re meeting them because it doesn’t give me enough information to process how these people could possibly fit together. So I need a different thing that even if you’re not telling me everything I can believe it can fit into this universe and this world. Because I didn’t buy this first time you’re really starting at a deficit when it comes to later things.
But what Craig has pointed, like I see moments of really promising writing here. Page three, so he’s stormed off. Then David suddenly reenters, maintaining his anger, as he quickly finishes the last bit of his cake. He storms off again. That little tag on things, we’ve seen that kind of thing before but it worked in this scene and it felt like the right thing. It told us something about David and his impetuousness. And if I had a scene that set up how codependent he is with his mother or sort of like what their relationship is it could have even landed better.
John: One last typo, page one, first word that isn’t INT is psychologist but it’s misspelled.
Craig: I mean, guys–
John: Got to proofread.
Craig: I mean, honestly. They have machines that do it for you now.
John: Yeah. It would be underlined with a little squiggly. So just look for the squigglies here.
John: Our third Three Page Challenge is Chow by Carrie Wong and Herman Ming. Helen and Michael Chow, a Chinese-American couple in their 50s, shop for custom cut tablecloths at Home Depot. Helen questions Michael’s claim that the cheaper tablecloth has the same quality as the more expensive tablecloth. He convinces her that they’re the same and they check out.
A Home Depot employee tells them not to buy the cheaper tablecloth and that they are in fact not the same quality. The employee had bought the tablecloth herself and it quickly ripped.
We then cut to their 20-year-old son’s bedroom where their son Jimmy lies sleeping. And that’s as much as we know at the bottom of page three.
I’m going to start with a question specifically for Megan McDonnell. What typeface is used in these three pages?
Megan: I’m going to say Courier Prime.
John: It is in fact Courier Prime. You can tell by the lower case Ys.
Craig: Kissing up.
John: She doesn’t have to anymore. She doesn’t work here.
John: But this is a product I make.
Craig: Oh no, she’s not. Carrie and Herman are kissing up.
John: Oh yes.
Megan: And it worked.
John: It worked. It worked. They got picked. Just yesterday I was explaining to Megana how to tell which is Courier Prime and which one is not. So, yeah, now she knows.
Craig: Now she knows.
Megan: It’s so beautiful. If you guys haven’t seen it, read these pages.
John: Beyond the beautiful font what was your first impression, Megan McDonnell?
Megan: I really liked the dynamics in this. I really liked the characters. I think the way that they’re kind of looks are juxtaposed is really nice. I do think that the employee takes up such a huge percentage of the talking that maybe isn’t necessary, maybe slows the pace down a little bit.
John: The employee is just set up as “A moment later, a Home Depot EMPLOYEE (early 20s) approaches them.” But we don’t get a gender on the employee and later on it kind of becomes important because apparently she says, “When me and my boyfriend moved in together, he, like, bought the same…” And so not having any more information about that employee made it tough because that employee speaking probably has the most lines in these three pages and is just employee.
Craig: Yes. Employee. [laughs] This was another one where I thought I could have probably done this in one page. It just goes on. And I don’t know why. There’s nothing interesting happening here. The value is that the wife, Helen, is suspicious that Michael is pushing her towards a cheaper option. And it turns out he is. This is not high stakes, nor is it particularly interesting, nor is it something I haven’t seen before a billion times. This is almost the province of commercials. You know, dumb husband. And I’m fine with dumb husband, but three pages of it?
And the employee is just rambling. So sometimes we’ll call this shaggy dog. It’s rambling, rambling, rambling. The story that she’s telling is nowhere near interesting enough to warrant all this time. This story would have to go to some amazingly f-ed up placed where literally Helen and Michael are just staring with dropped jaws to justify the amount of time for which it goes on. This is the beginning of your movie. And what you’re telling me is that this movie is going to be sort of mumblecore like low-stakes chitchat. And I don’t like that.
And I think honestly that Carrie and Herman have done themselves a disservice because I think they’re good writers actually. The writing itself in and around these things is executed nicely. It’s just it has not been compressed. It has not been shaped. There’s not a lot of interesting things going on. People just arrive slowly. There’s no interesting ins and outs. There are two zoom outs which we’ll get into in a second. But this was sort of my trouble with this, like the first pages we went through, it felt like a prodigal use of what is incredibly precious real estate.
John: Some things I admired about these pages. We always talk about hair and makeup and really describing your characters. And so you look at the descriptions of Michael Chow and Helen Chow, they’re really good, and I can picture them in my head. And to skip out on that for the employee is sort of one of the big problems here. But to me this kind of felt like you have this writing team who has an idea for these two characters and just sort of gets them talking, or puts them in a situation and watches what they do. And this would be great practice for how to use these characters or practice for how these characters interact. But I don’t think it’s a great first scene in a movie.
John: It’s not setting them up on a big adventure. I’m more of a fan of the mumblecore, like stuff happens and people just talking and it’s loose, and that can work really well. But the things that work best it feels really loose but it’s actually getting to a point.
Craig: Exactly. I mean, when it’s done well people say, well, it’s mumblecore, but when it’s done well that’s just kind of the affect of the performance. But what’s happening is fascinating. So you have two people mumbling-coring at each other while somebody is watching and doing something else. The frames are interesting. The storytelling is good.
You know, you’re not going to get the movie made if it’s just boring talk. And this kind of is in the boring talk zone.
Small thing, in three – I think three different places, yes, bowl-shaped, gold-rimmed, mild-mannered, these things take hyphens. If you don’t put the hyphen in it’s just weird to read.
John: Yeah. You want to do this. Did both of you watch Master of None? Did you see the series Master of None?
Craig: Not completely but a number of episodes.
John: There’s an episode that I’m pretty sure Alan Yang directed where it’s this deaf couple in a store trying to buy something and it’s basically just them trying to have – the whole segment was just them trying to have this negotiation about what they’re going to buy. And it reminded me of this. But it’s the shaped version of this where you see their entire relationship is sort of summarized by their decision of what they’re going to buy here.
And I kind of feel like our writing team here could get there with the husband and wife because there’s something really interesting there that’s underneath this, but the employee is just dominating the whole thing. To see sort of what the manipulations are that they play with each other could be great.
Craig: Yeah. It just doesn’t – there’s no twists, there’s no turns. You know, there are versions of this where it seems like a normal thing and she’s like, oh yeah, no, because it rips. And then Helen just starts crying because this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and then the employee is like, “Oh, but it’s not the worth tablecloth.”
There’s all sorts of things you can do to justify these things, but you can’t do none of them. That’s the one that you’re not allowed to do.
Megan: I’m also curious about the way that this is opened, which is, “DARKNESS, A SERIES OF THIN GREY STREAKS, We SLOWLY ZOOM OUT to reveal…The bowl shaped hair of MICHAEL CHOW.” And I think it’s really interesting, an interesting visual, and I’m wondering are we supposed to be very curious about what it is. Are we going to come back to this? Because it is a pretty bold decision to start your film on something we don’t know what it is right away.
John: It reminds me of the start of Roma where you just see these squares and there’s water and eventually there’s mopping and eventually you sort of get to a thing. It can totally work. And maybe that really is the tone of what this is going for. Maybe we think it’s a mumblecore comedy but maybe it really is Roma and we’re supposed to be appreciating all this stuff around it.
If that is the case I think we would need to see our universe a little bit more and get a better sense that we are living in this space with these people and that we’re doing the slow pans through things, we’re really following them all the way up to the counter. And maybe it’s Roma. Maybe we’re missing that.
Craig: I don’t think it is. And if it is, this is not the way to start it.
John: The employee is written as a comedy.
Craig: The employee is written as a comedy. Let’s talk briefly about the difference between zoom and pull out or push in or those moves. So, typically in modern movies we don’t use zooms ever. A zoom is when the lens is doing the moving, not the camera itself. So as you’re zoomed in you’re looking at a small thing and as you zoom out the image essentially is like zooming out like on Google Maps, right. Whereas when you’re moving the camera itself, pushing in or pulling out, that’s more of a sense of you get parallax and motion and all the rest of it. And generally speaking zooms are bit ‘70s and a bit cheesy. They can occasionally be cool.
But in this case I’m guessing we don’t want to zoom out here, because if we did it would just be like one of those weird science movies where it’s like, look, you know, a tiny bug, and now the city, and the planet, and the galaxy. I don’t know.
Look, if you know the difference between zoom, and dollying in and dollying out, then cool, I apologize. But it’s important for people to know that there is a difference. I also – I have a question about at the end of this we arrive at the son. I assume this is their son because he’s got the same last name. Chinese-American, and then in parenthesis ABC, which I had to look up. It means American-born Chinese. The deal with this one is ECU, so now we’re extreme close-up on a yellow earplug. We slowly zoom out, again, so it’s the same gag. Is this on purpose? To reveal – and then the undersized ear of Jimmy Chow. I have no idea what that means.
What’s an undersized ear? I mean, like deformed?
John: Yeah. We don’t’ know if it means that he’s just a person with small ears or if there’s something really weird that’s going to actually be a factor. I agree. Undersized draws your attention without rewarding you for drawing your attention to that.
Craig: Perfect way of describing that. Yes.
John: Let’s talk about the ABC, American-born Chinese. I knew that term but you didn’t know that term. I think a safer bet for this script going out the first time is in that parentheses you say American-born Chinese, ABC, or ABC, American-born Chinese. And then once you’ve defined it you can use ABC after anyone else’s description if it’s helpful to you. Because in the nature of this project there could be lots of Chinese people with Chinese last names and it might be important to distinguish who was born in China versus who is born in the US.
Craig: Correct. Correct. Yeah.
John: Cool. All right. So those are our three samples, so our three Three Page Challenges. Thank you to all of our writers who sent them in. And to everyone who didn’t get picked, you’re still in the queue so we may get back to them.
Now, there was a question that came up on Twitter today asking, “Hey, last time you said that you wanted to have a bunch of female entries to the Three Page Challenge,” because historically those numbers have been low. Megan, you actually counted at one point and it wasn’t great. It certainly wasn’t 50/50. And so we want everyone to send in their three pages, but we’d really love to pick more women for these because the percentages are not fantastic.
If you have three pages you want us to take a look at you go to johnaugust.com/threepage. And there’s a button there. You click the button saying it’s OK for us to talk about your thing. You attach your script and it goes into a queue and we will take a look at everything that gets sent in.
John: Neat. It’s come time for our One Cool Things. Megan, have you ever done a One Cool Thing on the show?
John: You get to start. What’s your One Cool Thing?
Megan: This is thrilling. My One Cool Thing, I saw my friend Hunter’s setup. I love a second monitor when I’m working and his setup had the second monitor but it was like portrait, oriented portrait, which I had never seen before. This might be very obvious to everyone else. But I’ve got to say I set it up myself and Highland2 looks beautiful on a vertically-oriented monitor.
John: Nice! I love that you’re still selling our software.
Craig: Always be promoting.
Megan: Everywhere I go. People, yeah.
John: All right. So you write in Highland2, but you’re saying it works well done vertically.
Megan: Yeah. And you just can see so much more of your script and I think it’s really helpful for me.
John: Great. Fantastic. Craig, what’s your One Cool Thing?
Craig: My One Cool Thing is this tiny, little, dorky novelty item, but I saw it in my producer Jacqueline Lesco’s car. And I was like, ooh, what do you got there. And she showed it to me. It’s a charger. It’s a phone charger. That’s it. It’s a phone charger except – this is so dumb – but it lights up. So it’s got like these LED swirlies going around the cable and when you plug it in it lights up. And you’re like, OK, cool. But then when it’s charging the lights move.
John: Oh my god. [laughs]
Craig: It delights the child in me. It really does. It’s like you’re watching electricity flowing into your phone. It’s just delightful. I just stare at it. It’s hypnotizing.
John: Megan and I are going to watch the little video that shows what it looks like as it’s doing and, yeah, it does. It sort of snakes around.
Craig: Yeah. Look at that.
John: It’s like Vegas in your car.
Craig: Yeah. Vegas in your car. It’s the El-Aurora Lightning, it’s a USB cable. 360 Degree Light Up Visible Flowing, Glowing LED iPhone charger cable. I suspect that Amy August would love this.
John: OK, so are you using this in your car or in your house?
Craig: In my house.
John: All right. I guess it would be distracting in your car possibly. You could line your windshield with it and so everyone would know that you’re charging your phone and that you have this thing.
Craig: I know.
John: Now, Craig, I’m noticing that it has 286 customer reviews but they’re three stars. That’s not a very high – but it doesn’t matter?
Craig: Well, you know, some people can’t be pleased. I mean, you just like – you know, they just – apparently for a lot of people it didn’t work. But you know what?
John: You know what? It set your house on fire. But it looks so cool.
Craig: Yeah. Somebody in their review, “Anchorman: 60% of the time it works every time.” [laughs]
John: Ah-ha. Good stuff. My One Cool Thing is a thing that probably everyone has talked to you about already. It is Russian Doll, the show on Netflix. I thought it was just fantastic. Megan you said you watched it all in one sitting?
Megan: Loved it. Yeah. One sitting.
John: Loved it. Oh my god, nothing could be a more Megan-y kind of show because it’s a puzzle box show. It’s like a cross between Lost and Girls. I don’t know, but it’s just so great. Craig, did you watch it?
Craig: I have it queued up. I’m going to watch it this weekend because I’m doing a little traveling this weekend. And I’m very excited for it. And I do think, you know, Natasha Lyonne should come on the show. I can’t believe we haven’t had her. How have we not had her on yet?
John: Well we crossed paths with her because remember when we did our Slate Culture Gabfest crossover she was the guest after us. But we’ve never had her on the show.
Craig: She was so cool. I remember when we were walking off the stage from that, because we went on and then she came on, and when we were walking off the stage she is like walking on the stage and she just gives me the fist bump. It’s just like what a cool person. Just look boop, my turn.
Craig: Yeah, we should have her on. It’s actually fascinating watching the evolution and kind of progression of Natasha Lyonne over time because she’s been doing this since she was a kid. And I’m always fascinated by those people because I feel like I’ve kind of been weirdly growing up with them myself. It’s like knowing Jason Bateman is a fascinating thing because he doesn’t know it but I first met him when we were both 10. Do you know what I mean? And just like watching this thing happen is really cool.
And she’s just doing some really, really interesting work right now. Everybody loves the show. I know I’m going to love it, too. I can just tell. So I’m very excited.
John: Yeah. So it was created by her, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, a great director who directed a lot of it, but Natasha Lyonne directed it as well. It’s just really well done. It’s one of those rare cases where everyone was hyping it up a lot and then you watch and it’s like, oh yeah, it’s really good. It didn’t actually diminish from everyone’s hyping it up. So, now that I’ve set the bar way too high–
Craig: No, no. I will.
John: Enjoy Russian Doll.
Craig: I’ll love it.
John: You’ll love it. Cool. That is our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by James Launch and Jim Bond. It’s called The Stuart Special in honor of our original producer, Stuart Friedel. Our producers have done pretty well. Godwin Jabangwe set up a show at Netflix.
Megan: So exciting.
Craig: I know. How about that?
John: If you have an outro of your own you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions, but for short questions on Twitter I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Megan, are you doing Twitter?
John: No, Megan is not on Twitter. Don’t try to tweet at her. But you can find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there leave us a comment.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. We get them up about four to five days after the episode airs.
You can find all the back episodes of the show at Scriptnotes.net. Craig, just today I realized only 10 more episodes and we hit the big 400.
Craig: I know!
Craig: It’s almost too much.
Megan: Is it going to be a live show?
Craig: Oh, it should be. Well…
John: Actually I’m thinking ahead and it could end up being a live show.
Craig: It could be. Because we’ve got a little something planned. And I will give you a little teaser, not to give away too much, but I recently recorded something that is associated with Chernobyl and I did it with somebody who is a prominent radio person. And the people who were producing it were, you know, I think they were concerned somehow that, I don’t know, that we needed help or something. And I was like, look, he’s a pretty big radio guy. And then I realized – and I’ve done almost 400 podcasts. I think I’m also pretty good at this by now. I get it. I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m doing.
John: You do. Craig, it’s always lovely talking to you, but especially nice to talk to Megan McDonnell again. We miss you but we’re so happy that you’re doing so well. And continued success on everything.
Craig: Welcome back and good luck.
Megan: Thank you so much for having me on.
Craig: It was a pleasure.
John: All right.
- The Bones Decision
- The Peter Stark Program
- Three Pages by Christopher Cramer
- Three Pages by David Koutsouridis
- Three Pages by Carrie Wong and Herman Ming
- Megan’s Desk Setup
- Light Up Phone Charger
- Russian doll starring Natasha Lyonne
- Submit to the Three Page Challenge here
- Submit to the Pitch Session here
- T-shirts are available here! We’ve got new designs, including Colored Revisions, Karateka, and Highland2.
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
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- Find past episodes
- Scriptnotes Digital Seasons are also now available!
- Outro The Stuart Special by James Llonch & Jim Bond (send us yours!)
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