The original post for this episode can be found here
John August: Hey this is John. Today’s episode has some strong language – barely strong language, but if you’re in the car with your kids this is that warning.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Hey baseball fans, my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 394 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast we’ll be talking about how to create a hero the audience is rooting for even while establishing that character must change. Then we’ll be answering listener questions about conflicting notes, meet and greets, and true life stories. To help us sort through all of this we welcome back Mari Heller. She joined us all the way back in Episode 212 when she had just written and directed Diary of a Teenage Girl.
Since then she has directed the Oscar-nominated Can You Ever Forgive Me? and the upcoming Mr. Rogers feature starring Tom Hanks. Welcome back Marielle Heller.
Marielle Heller: Yay. Thank you. Back to my favorite podcast.
Craig: Back to your favorite, the one and only, the greatest.
Marielle: But unlike you I listen to podcasts, so it actually means something that I said that.
Craig: It actually does mean something. I know that you listen to this and it actually makes me feel very warm and fuzzy. And it’s been so much fun to have you be part of our little podcast family because we get to watch you do these incredible things. And now they’re like throwing Oscar nominations around and people are winning Oscars. I mean, you won a guy an Oscar. That’s how I like to think of it.
Marielle: I don’t think we won any though.
Craig: Richard Grant didn’t win an Oscar?
Marielle: No. He did win an Indie Spirit.
Craig: He won an Indie Spirit!
John: That is an Oscar.
Marielle: And they got nominated for BAFTAs, Oscars, Indie Spirits, I mean, everything. Yeah.
Craig: I don’t watch the Oscars.
Marielle: Do you really not? That’s kind of great.
John: We were playing D&D during the Oscars.
Marielle: Good for you.
Craig: I don’t really understand anything about awards, but I did know that a lot of people got nominated, obviously our beloved Melissa McCarthy.
Marielle: And Melissa, I know.
Craig: The greatest.
John: We’ve all made movies with Melissa McCarthy.
Marielle: That’s so weird. Maybe we should change the title of this episode to be something about Melissa McCarthy.
Craig: We love you Melissa McCarthy.
Marielle: One degree of Melissa McCarthy.
John: Something about Melissa McCarthy is now the title of this episode.
Craig: There’s something about Melissa McCarthy. Well, anyway, it’s just been amazing to watch how you’ve kind of grown. And now you’re making movies with Tom Hanks.
John: And you often direct commercials. That’s good.
Marielle: I do sometimes. Yeah. I know.
Craig: No, you’re big time. Basically what we’re saying is you’re big time.
Marielle: How did that happen? I don’t know. I guess. It doesn’t feel like it though, right.
John: Here’s how I think it happened.
Craig: You never know, right? Because actually you are not big time. The world perceives you as big time. But you’re still a seven-year-old girl.
Marielle: Exactly. It doesn’t make any sense in your own brain when that’s happening.
Craig: Never. Yeah.
Marielle: I’ll always feel like an outcast. It’s just part of–
Craig: You are.
Marielle: Part of my DNA. I’ll never feel like I am part of Hollywood in any way.
John: Then you’re truly a writer-director.
Marielle: Exactly. [laughs]
Craig: Well it’s so good to have her back.
John: Before we get started on your topic, which you actually suggested this topic which is a great topic, there’s a little bit of news to get through. So by the time you’re hearing this we’ll already know the results of the vote on the code of conduct.
Craig: Ooh, can I throw out a prediction?
John: Throw out your prediction.
Craig: It’s going to pass.
Craig: I’m going to say it is going to be a 93% yes.
John: All right. So the people who are listening to this podcast will know whether you’re correct or not. I have no idea what the percentage is going to be.
Marielle: I voted on the plane yesterday.
John: Congratulations. Thank you for doing that.
Craig: Thank you for voting. That’s the most important thing. Please, oh, I would exhort people to vote. But that’s in the past.
John: It’s already in the past.
Craig: Oh my god.
John: So, what happens this week as you’re listening to this, well, we are negotiating and we’re going to try to reach a settlement. But what happens the week after that is really an open question. But it’s something we’ll talk about on the show if we get to that point.
Craig: I’m sure we will.
Marielle: You guys are so helpful the way you talk about it on the show though. I think a lot of us look to the show to help us understand some of these issues, especially when our lives are so busy and it’s hard to follow everything.
Craig: That’s good to hear. And, you know, you tweeted the link to the WGA, but it may be the first WGA video that I’ve ever thought was well done. Literally the first. I have to presume you had something to do with it.
John: I had nothing to do with that video whatsoever.
Craig: I don’t believe you.
John: It’s a fantastic video. There’s a video about conflict of interest. We’ll put that in the show notes so you can see it.
Craig: It works. It reminded me of those videos that explain why vaccinations are important.
John: Helpful. I was at a couple of the big WGA meetings this past week and in one of the meetings a young writer stood up and asked a question. And the point of it was really how much is she allowed to do by herself, like without an agent. And I just wanted to talk about that for a second because I don’t we’ve necessarily talked about the entrepreneurial aspect of your career. You know, obviously at the very start before you have an agent that becomes important, but it doesn’t stop. And so what I urged her to do is to – basic things like write down the names of everyone you’re meeting with, all the people you’re going to talk to. You can call those people directly. You can email those people directly. You don’t have to do everything through your agent.
Craig, what other advice would you have for writers thinking about themselves entrepreneurially especially if they find themselves without an agent in the next few weeks?
Craig: Well the first thing to recognize is that there’s absolutely nothing that an agent is allowed to do that you’re not allowed to do. There’s no legal thing there. It’s the other way around. Agents are limited in what they can do. But on your own behalf you can do whatever you want.
Ideally, if you have an agent you almost certainly have an attorney. At a minimum. If you have a manager then that’s a different sort of thing and they will keep doing what they do. But if you don’t, don’t necessarily feel the need to run out and get one. If you have an attorney who can at least say, all right, I can kind of field or at least handle the negotiation part of things so you don’t have to worry about that. And just sit down right now, make a list of all the people that you would wish your agent would contact and lobby on your behalf. And if something should come to pass where you don’t have that agent, I would agree that you will probably be better served by yourself in that regard than the agent will serve you, partly because of the very problem that we are tackling right now.
John: Yeah. Mari, how much are informal networks helpful to you? As you’re putting together a movie, obviously you’re dealing with agents, you’re dealing with managers and stuff, but how much is it you reaching out to folks?
Marielle: Huge. Hugely. I mean, Alexander Skarsgård was in my first movie because I actually – I had been trying to get him the script through the normal channels. I had been getting nowhere, because nobody wants to give their client a script for a movie that has no money. And then I saw in an US Weekly that he was friends with Jack McBrayer who I am friends with. And I called Jack and said I’ve been trying to get this script to Alex, can you help me get it to him. And the next day I got a call from Alex.
Like it all happened because of, you know, little circles and connections. And it continues to be like that. Always. I mean, it helps to be able to get to people through their agents as well. But often I find myself trying to go rogue.
Craig: Yeah. Well because the agency method is an institutionalized thing. They represent a thousand people. They have to handle outcomes in that context. So they call, they get an official no, it is over. The no has been received. Moving on.
But we don’t do that for ourselves. We’re like, OK, who said no. Why did they say no? Let me go around that person.
Marielle: And the number of times I’ve talked to actors and I’ve said did you ever get that script and they say, oh no.
Craig: By the way, I don’t get theirs.
Marielle: I don’t either. As a director I don’t either.
Craig: They’ll say to me, oh you know, we were hoping that you write this thing but we heard you were busy. What thing? What?
Marielle: Me too.
Craig: And then when I hear about it I’m like oh yeah, no, I was busy. [laughs]
Marielle: Yeah. My agents were protecting me.
Craig: Pretty much.
John: I was reminded about all of this this last week because we were gathering names, we gathered like 770 names of showrunners and high profile screenwriters, Marielle Heller.
Marielle: And Jorma Taccone both signed.
John: And Craig Mazin.
Craig: The Jorma.
John: And as we were doing that it was interesting because we couldn’t go to agents to say like, hey, we’re trying to get to this person. We had to figure it out ourselves. And so you recognize like, oh, the informal networks you have are really important. And so we’re emailing like who has Aaron Sorkin’s email address? Who knows Aaron Sorkin? And you eventually find the person who knows Aaron Sorkin and Aaron Sorkin signs the list.
Marielle: I got an email from Jorma from you, but he passed it on to me saying we should all sign this thing. It was just going around.
Craig: It’s just going around like a bad penny.
Craig: Keeps turning up. But a lot of people did sign it. A lot of people are going to vote yes.
Marielle: Do you want to tell Aaron Sorkin’s email address on the air right now? Sure.
John: What if it was firstname.lastname@example.org? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Craig: It probably is.
Marielle: It probably is.
Craig: I think you might have just done it. It’s actually probably like Imamazing@hotmail.com.
Marielle: Also, you know, all the Gmail addresses it doesn’t matter if there’s a dot or a dash, it’s all the same. So it’s aaron.sorkin or aaron-sorkin. Oh, you didn’t know that?
John: In Gmail addresses the periods don’t matter at all.
Craig: My mind is blown.
Marielle: The periods don’t matter. Yeah.
Craig: They just strip them out.
Marielle: Which is so smart.
Craig: It is. Because then you don’t get confused between mariheller and mari.heller.
Craig: Whoa. I’m freaking out.
Marielle: It’s weird.
Craig: John, I have an amazing idea.
John: Tell me.
Craig: OK. The Writers Guild should create a list or some sort of system where if a writer wants to be staffed and the agents are out of the picture they can contact the guild through some kind of system and then there would be showrunners on the other end of that system who would then be able to see and get submissions. Wouldn’t that be an amazing idea?
John: That would be an amazing idea that is called the Staffing Submission System.
Craig: Wait, it’s happened?
John: It’s actually happening. So it’s rolling out. It’s a limited thing. I don’t want to sort of oversell it, but it’s a thing that’s out there for WGA members East and West to submit on shows.
Craig: All right. That’s exciting.
Marielle: That’s a really good idea.
Craig: It is. If it works.
John: If it works.
Craig: Like I always remain my, I have to be guild skeptic. And this is exactly the kind of thing that I could see them just fumbling. But lately, I got to say, just from that video alone, something is going on over there. I feel like it’s a John August influence.
Marielle: But I do think we’re at a time right where the gatekeeper thing is being broken down. And that is one more step toward the gatekeeper kind of being dissolved and it being direct-direct, artist-to-artist contact, which is great.
John: Julie Plec, a former guest who came to our live show, for staffing for her new show she went on Twitter saying like, “Listen, I need to find new writers. And so send me the writers you think are fantastic.” And so she went out to Twitter and she found some people off that. So it happens.
Marielle: That seems dangerous, but.
Craig: Well, exactly.
Marielle: For murderers and stuff like that.
Marielle: On Twitter that’s what I think of.
Craig: Always dangerous.
Marielle: I’m scared of Twitter.
Craig: Yeah, if you’re a showrunner the threat is that you will be, you know, just subsumed by a tidal wave of scripts. And I understand that. Even if you were to limit it just to people in the WGA my guess is there’s a good 4,000 people with scripts that would like to be on, and then name a show.
John: So the system limits people to apply into three shows, submitting to three shows.
Marielle: Oh that’s actually really good.
Craig: OK, cool.
John: Pick the shows that you think you’re actually appropriate for.
Craig: God, I hope they all pick the same show.
John: That would be amazing. [laughs]
Craig: I really want them to. What do you think that show would be?
John: Chicago Fire.
Craig: Chicago Fire.
John: 100% Chicago Fire.
Craig: No question. Oh, let’s do it to Derek. Let’s see if we can. It would be lovely.
John: Oh, it would be so good.
Craig: Just truckfuls of scripts showing up. Beep. Beep. Beep.
John: My favorite ideas for episodes are ones where the guest has an idea for an episode and says why don’t you do an episode about this and we can bring in a guest to do the episode.
Craig: Such a smart idea, too.
John: Such a smart idea. Mari, tell us about what you emailed us and what we can talk about today.
Marielle: Well, I feel like we talk a lot about how you begin a script. You guys obviously do your Three Page Challenges. What are the first five pages of a script? How do you set up a world? How do you set up what type of movie you’re going to tell? What are the rules? All of those things. And I’ve noticed in particularly the edit process of making movies that there is a script issue that can come up which is not how you set up your world but how do you introduce your main character who is going to be your hero who has a major journey that they have to go on, so you can’t meet them at a point in their life where everything is going great and they’re perfectly mentally healthy or whatever it is.
And how do you set them up as a person with problems but a person you can engage with emotionally, that you feel connected to, and that you’re rooting for? And it’s different than the likeable question that comes up a lot.
Marielle: Which is the note we tend to get about the beginning of a movie or the beginning of an introduction of a character is how do we make this person likeable. And I think that that note has come around because of this actual bigger question which is how do we set up a new character that the audience has never met before in a way that is engaging and makes you root for them and makes you connected to them in your gut and in your heart?
And I dealt with it in different ways with Diary and with Can You Ever Forgive Me? And it was such a struggle with Can You Ever Forgive Me? that figuring that out. It finally dawned on me like this is a script problem and it was a problem that I handled in the script phase for Diary and it wasn’t a problem therefore in the edit. And I didn’t handle it in the script phase with Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Marielle: So then I had to solve it in the edit, which is much harder.
Craig: Way harder.
Marielle: Yeah. So I just thought it was a good idea to talk about because it’s something I keep thinking about recently.
John: It’s a fantastic idea. It’s an Oscar-winning idea in terms of–
Craig: At least a nomination.
Marielle: All my ideas are.
John: At least a BAFTA. An Indie Spirit. It’s an Indie Spirit–
Craig: Full on BAFTA.
Marielle: Indie Spirit winner, Oscar-nominated idea.
John: Scriptnotes episode idea. So, a couple things that you’re talking about here is what is the author’s intent, like what does the movie need to do with this character and what is the audience’s first interaction with this character? And how do you line them up in a way that the audience’s first encounter with this character is positive. That they are curious and engaged. They understand the character well enough that they’re willing to go along with them, but also they want to know more. How do you set it up so that you have the runway that you need to get them through to the end of the story?
Marielle: Right. Because I think the tendency with notes around this is people tend to say, “I just want her to be more likeable in the beginning and I want her to be easier to stomach,” which I don’t think actually is the answer.
Craig: It is not.
Marielle: Because there’s a wonderful way that you can show somebody with a lot of problems but that you have to find a way to engage.
Craig: Yeah. If you mess up this little balance in the beginning the character will be alienating. It’s a turn-off, right? So it’s not a question about likeability. I agree with you. It’s really more of a question of the ability to inspire some kind of empathy in the audience.
Craig: So that’s the one side of the misbalance is that. The other side of the misbalance is they’re boring, because they’re just good. And this entire movie is maybe predicated on the fact that they’re difficult people.
Marielle: Right. With Can You Ever Forgive Me? that was definitely the case.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Right. So I believe that there is a theory of behavior that people bring with them into a movie theater. And the theory of behavior is if somebody is behaving monstrously, not in a criminal way but more in a way that violates social norms that underneath that surely there is some kind of understandable, empathizable with pain. And if you can show me, even if you don’t explain what it is, if you just show me that you know it’s there and you give me a tiny little glimmer of it, just a tiny peep, then I will be OK.
But if you don’t, I mean, we had the same thing with Identity Thief with Melissa’s character, too. It was the same thing. Show me one little peep and then I’ll be OK.
Marielle: With Diary I kind of had this chance to work this out because I did it as a play. And I got to realize when the audience connected to the character and when they didn’t. And the book started with her immediately, her first confession of I had sex with this guy and it’s my mother’s boyfriend, it goes right into it. And what I realized was in order for the audience to engage and go on this journey they first had to meet her and her philosophy of the world without knowing that little piece of information.
So, I wrote this scene where she’s walking through the park in San Francisco and we literally get to see the world through her eyes. She says, “I had sex today. Holy shit.” And you don’t know who it is with, but you see she’s really excited about it. And then you watch her looking around at kids smoking weed, and there’s like smoke wafting up around a cute boy, and a woman jogs by with big boobs and she imagines animated stars on her boobs and she kind of giggles to herself. And you get to see this creative mind at work. And you get to see this character who the way she sees the world is sort of infectious. You’re like she’s raging with hormones. She’s seeing the world through a sexual lens, but innocently sexual also. And she’s got something going on inside of her that’s bubbling out. And you fall in love with her before she tells you, oh by the way, the person I had sex with was my mother’s boyfriend.
Craig: Well, that’s so smart because I remember watching that and having a feeling – and I don’t know if this is what you intended or not – but when I watched it the feeling I had was worry for how vulnerable she was.
Craig: Because that is actually – she was “irrationally exuberant,” to quote Alan Greenspan. That is not the way you should be feeling of those things. But we have all felt it.
Craig: Particularly the first time after you have sex, you’re like this is it. I’ve stared into the eye of god.
Marielle: Right. She’s like walking around wide open.
Craig: Wide open.
Marielle: Her whole self has been opened up and she’s walking around totally vulnerable.
Craig: And then when she tells you what she did, you already know that her heart is going to get stomped on. And so somebody that’s done something, yeah, if you start with just like meh, whatever.
Marielle: Right. And I didn’t really realize at the time, but it developed over years of realizing what the audience needed in order to be engaged in the story. And I didn’t realize how hard that is to do until I was in the edit room with Can You Ever Forgive Me? and I realized – I did a lot of work on the script of Can You Ever Forgive Me? but I actually barely touched the first act. I kind of felt like I’d never done anything crime related before and I sort of trusted that I didn’t know how to set that up. And this must be setting it up right because I don’t really know to set it up, not realizing from a character point of view we’re actually not quite setting up what we need to set up to engage with this character. We’re pushing the audience away a little bit. And how can we get on her side? Because I actually do love this character. I think she’s wonderful and amazing. So how can we give the audience enough?
John: Well let’s talk some techniques because you describe it in Teenage Girl about you literally are showing her POV. So you are showing her POV on things and letting the audience know that this is from her POV and this is how she sees the world. And so once we are seeing what she’s seeing then we’re kind of in her shoes and that’s a very helpful technique. So by literally setting her up as the focus of the universe and the lens through which we’re going to experience the entire story.
Marielle: Yeah. And I think if you can set up what makes that person special. The way they see the world and how that is something unique and special, which Lee Israel, the Melissa McCarthy character in Can You Ever Forgive Me? also had a very special lens through which to see the world, which is really jaded, and funny, and dry, and self-involved, but enjoyable. And so we had to open it up enough so that you can see the way she was experiencing the world and be able to laugh with her, not just at her.
It’s also a matter of giving I think that character enough power that you’re not terrified for them the whole time. Like it’s this balance, right? Because you want to show – often you want to show your protagonist in a position where their life is going badly. You know, I think about Breaking Bad. You want to see the ways in which the world is not treating them well. But how do you do that in way but you also see where their power does lie when they had it, or you see their struggle for power, or whatever it is, but you don’t see them so deflated that you can’t feel like there’s any fight left or something.
Craig: Right. Well, I think sometimes people that – we’ll call these people challenging people, challenging characters. A lot of this stuff is they don like armor. This is their armor against the world. And one of the techniques you can use to create empathy is essentially show them nude. Not literally, but in As Good as it Gets which is, you know, Jack Nicholson is playing an incredibly challenging character. He’s a racist. He’s a homophobe. He’s just viciously cruel to everybody, including children and waiters. And then he gets into his apartment and we just see him go through the motions of having to do the locks a certain way, and having to move his things around a certain way. And because in here he’s naked. And it’s not that he’s pathetic. He’s not depressed. He’s not crying himself to sleep. But now we see what he looks like without the shell.
Craig: And then we go, oh OK, there’s somebody to love in here.
Craig: And the one thing we know for sure about almost all of these characters is that they are alone. And showing loneliness is a huge—
Marielle: That was the key for us with Can You Ever Forgive Me? was the scene we could feel the audience connect to Lee is when she’s at home watching an old black and white movie. She’s speaking along to the movie with her cat, eating shrimp out of a napkin that she stole from a party. But she’s enjoying herself. You’re seeing what she loves. She’s lonely. But it’s funny. Like it had all of these elements that made you connect because you get to see her vulnerable. And there is something about seeing people in their place that they live when they’re alone and giving them that one little moment to let their guard down, especially if you’re established them as somebody with a thick armor before that. Seeing them drop their armor is really effective.
Craig: Seeing what makes this person smile. What makes them laugh? What makes them happy? And understanding how they’ve built their state of acceptable imperfection around themselves to protect from the world outside. And then you start to go, OK, oh yeah, you know, when you go outside put your armor back on because you are not equipped for out there. And now you’re with them.
There’s a question of timing as well. When do you do this? Because if you start this way you kind of let air out of the balloon. You kind of need to start with Bah and then go, but OK.
Marielle: Right. But it can’t be too late.
Craig: Precisely. You’ve got to measure it out just right.
John: Well how long do you think you have before an audience decides, OK, I’m onboard with this movie or I’m not onboard with this movie?
Marielle: Ten minutes?
John: Is it ten minutes? Do you think you can get all ten minutes? I don’t know if–
Craig: I mean, I think about it in terms of scenes. I think once you have delivered the scene that shows that they are a challenging person, I don’t want to see another one. If it isn’t within that scene I need the next one to be–
Marielle: That was the exact issue we had with the first act of Can You Ever Forgive Me? was it was scene after scene after scene of showing the same armor and the same pain and the same being shit on by society. And it was taking too long to get to the moment of vulnerability. To get to the moment of the soft underbelly where you get to see somebody naked a little bit. And yet we knew we needed to set up these circumstances to show why she was going to go to this life of crime. So we had to show her dire straits. We had to show all of these things of how bad it was. Because when we stripped them out and we only showed one or two things you went, “She didn’t try hard enough.”
Marielle: And so it was this fine balance. But what we ended up doing, our editing trick we ended up doing, is we tried to turn all of the pieces that were separate scenes, that were written as very, very separate scenes into a sequence.
Marielle: And we did it with music.
Craig: That’s the way to go.
Marielle: We had recurring music that came back between each piece. And we tried to make it not feel like and we’re going to start again, and then this one is going to have a beginning, middle, and end, and then we’re going to start again. Because that felt way too repetitive.
Craig: There’s an enormous amount of pressure on any scene that starts from a dead spot and then builds, right?
Craig: Those have to be pretty good scenes. And if there is a sense of repetition in them, right, then all that pressure just begins to crush you. So what you effectively did was kind of follow the do a scene and then give me the vulnerable scene. You just took a bunch – it’s a very smart solution.
Marielle: We took a lot of scenes and smooshed them together. And it was tricky to figure out and I don’t think it’s perfect by any means. It’s one of those things that I’ll – I mean, I don’t think you ever feel like any movie you make is perfect, but it’s one of those things I’ll go down feeling a little bit frustrated about because we worked so hard on it and I think it works, but it could have been better, and it could have been better in the writing phase and then we wouldn’t have had that problem.
John: A lot of filmmakers in your situation would have tried to do a voiceover or some way to get us inside of her head so we understand that the character that we see on screen is not the full character. There’s another way to do it. And voiceover that’s not planned, voiceover that’s glued on at the end it just doesn’t work. It’s disastrous.
Marielle: I did voiceover in Diary that was so baked in because she is writing a diary and when I made it into a movie I thought, OK, I don’t want to see her just sitting down and writing and hearing her voice. I want to see her physically recording herself on a tape recorder because that’s something I did as a kid. So that became part of the DNA of the movie.
John: It was natural. You can feel when it’s just been spackled on to try to fix those things.
John: But that instinct for voiceover is good to hear. Sometimes if you’re looking at a first act, a first ten pages that isn’t working, it might be good to think of what that voiceover would be. If you did have the insight into what the character was really thinking write that voiceover, set it aside, and then figure out how do I get the effect of that voiceover with actual scenes.
John: What are the actual scenes you could write that would give you that information?
Marielle: What would the action that I could see, the physical action, the visualization of that voiceover. Because I do think it’s also a lot about what you see, what your visuals of that person are. Whether it’s them in their space, how do they move in their space, what are their actions that they’re doing? Are they active? Are they passive? You know, what speed do they move through the world? Is it that you’re doing a slow-mo shot of a person with their head down walking through a crowd? Everyone else is moving fast, they’re moving slow. What does that tell you, that visual, about that character and where they are in their head? Are they depressed or whatever it is?
But if you can try to figure out what the visual way to tell that story of their internal dialogue it’s all the better.
John: For sure. Now, we’re talking about difficult characters, but some of these lessons apply to any character. Because every movie is theoretically a character’s one-time journey, one-time adventure. So what are some lessons we can take for more traditional heroes who are not – I mean, obviously all heroes need to have some flaw, something that they can overcome, some journey that they can go on, but what are the lessons we can take from these really difficult characters and apply them to characters who may not be so challenging?
Craig: Well, it’s a craft thing for me. It’s giving the audience a glimpse at some truth that that character is not willing to even acknowledge themselves. So they may look happy, right, because this is what we do as people. We create a situation to cover up some sort of pain and go, good, good, I’m happy now. No you’re not. And I need to see that. But you don’t get to see it yet as a character. I get to see it and I get to see that you don’t get to see.
I may be dreaming this, because I haven’t seen Groundhog Day in a long, long time, but I believe at the very beginning when Andie MacDowell first comes in he looks over and he sees her kind of goofing around with the green screen and there’s this little weird moment where he’s a human being. And he’s just sort of taken by this person and how kind of free and happy she is. And then he returns quickly into being an absolute wretch, as she calls him. And it’s so important because we see him go, you know, nah. Let me just go back to being a wretch and a letch and all that. That’s my speed. That’s what I do. I don’t actually have the equipment to, I don’t know, appreciate someone as a human.
Marielle: Right. And we were just talking about Groundhog Day for this exact reason which is even though Bill Murray is obviously so troubled and he’s somebody who can’t be happy and he’s a miserable person by all accounts, but he’s so enjoyable to be around as an audience member.
Marielle: You wouldn’t want to be his friend. But watching him is just a joy because watching somebody have terrible thoughts and say them out loud, or do the things you’re not supposed to do in life, or say no I don’t actually want to talk to the guy I just ran into from high school. Sorry. There’s something actually really relatable about that, even though you know it’s bad.
Craig: Right. And he’s so good at it. I mean—
Marielle: He’s so charming.
Craig: That’s another lesson I think for heroes in general is give them their flaw but then make them smart. Or make them powerful. Make them do something–
Marielle: Make them specific.
Marielle: Make them specific and make their – whatever their problem is, whatever their flaw is, it should be baked into the thing that makes them interesting.
Marielle: Like it should be – with him, part of what’s interesting about him is that he’s kind of a jerk and he moves through the world and you feel like that’s why he’s successful. You feel like that’s why he’s gotten where he has gotten in life. It’s not like he’s somebody who is living in a ditch and can’t make a living. He’s actually a successful kind of celebrity guy who everybody wants to talk to.
John: The superficial charm is partly what gets him where he is.
Craig: And therefore you understand that it’s actually hard to remove that person from this path. In fact, it takes a metaphysical, cataclysmic event of time looping to force him to stop doing this because he can. And I think that’s for all characters in the beginning of a movie whatever their flaws, whatever their dire strait is, it should be something that theoretically they could keep doing forever if not for you as the writer just changing one little thing. Moving one toothpick.
Marielle: Knocking them off balance.
Craig: That makes it no longer possible. Which is the worst feeling for them. And really all they want to do then is just try and get back to where they were at the beginning of the movie for the longest time.
Marielle: And I think, something I thought about a lot when I writing Diary was that often when that protagonist is a young woman particularly they end up becoming less than an active participant within their world. They’re more like a blank slate that we tend to see things happen to and we project ourselves onto that character more. And I was so aware of the fact that I wanted her to be active within her life. I mean, she was within the book, so I’m not making up who this character was. But what I loved about her was that she was so active and she was such an active participant in all of her problems. And that made it so that – but I realized that that’s a major problem we have, particularly with female protagonists, is that things tend to happen to that person.
Marielle: Rather than their inherent philosophy about their world or their inherent problems within themselves are the thing that’s driving something.
Craig: That drives it. The passive hero is bad in all shapes and flavors. But you’re right, there is a certain brand of plot where something crashes through the window and I fall off a boat or I get hit by a thing or a wizard turns me into a something and you’re just dealing with it, you know.
Marielle: Right. You’re sort of perfect to begin with and then something bad happens and something.
Craig: I know. And you know there is this thing, I’ve become really, really weary lately of beautiful people and their problems.
Marielle: I’ve always been weary of that.
Craig: Yeah, I just like, you know, I get it, it’s hard whatever the circumstance is in this movie, but you are objectively beautiful in a world that prizes that above everything.
Marielle: No, it’s really actually a major challenge to get an audience to totally sympathize with somebody who is super beautiful, super rich.
Marielle: It’s just really hard.
Craig: Yeah, maybe we should stop. Maybe we should not do that anymore because it’s–
John: Or if we’re going to do it we should look at the examples of movies that do it really, really well. I go back to Clueless where you have a beautiful rich girl who is the center of the movie and what Amy Heckerling does so genius-ly is set her up as this very flawed character even within her very skewed world and let her – she’s making the decisions that are leading her down these paths to discovery.
Marielle: And she’s not just flawed. She has a really funny way of seeing the world. Her mind is really interesting. And she’s not smart in a book smart way, but she’s smart in this other kind of way.
Craig: And she’s not evil.
Marielle: She’s good.
John: She has very good intentions.
Craig: She’s a good person. Which I think is partly what saves that there.
Marielle: She’s also young. Like if she were a character who were 40 you’d kind of be like, you know, I don’t know if I care anymore.
Marielle: But there’s a vulnerability to being young that is almost similarly to a vulnerability of not being beautiful or something.
John: But also because she’s young, we’re talking so much about the very start of this and how you set up this character, but we set up these characters so we can give ourselves the runway to have a full arc. And so in seeing Cher at the start of this movie we can see what her problem is and she needs to grow into. And we sense that she could grow into this thing if she could make the right choices.
Marielle: Do you have a memory of what the first thing we see of Cher is? I can’t pull it out of my head.
John: What is the very first moment of this? You know, we’ve always talked about doing, we should do a Clueless deep dive on it, because it’s one of my favorite movies.
Marielle: You should.
John: I’m trying to remember what the very first–
Craig: We should also have Amy on.
John: We should have Amy Heckerling on.
Craig: She’s the best.
Marielle: Can I sit in the corner while you do it?
Craig: Yeah. You don’t even have to sit in the corner.
Marielle: I’ll just listen though.
Craig: Yeah. You can sit in her lap. She’s very tiny though. She’s a very tiny person.
John: Maybe she can sit in your lap. Nice. So what basic lessons do we want to take from our flawed but improving characters discussion? So, it’s about how we first meet this character, the situation, what insight we’re getting that they may not want us to see perhaps. Sometimes it’s seeing them along. Sometimes it’s seeing their point of view. Giving us a sense of what is specific and interesting about this character and this situation. What else?
Marielle: There was like a moment in Homeland that I remember my writing partner Katelyn pointed out, because it was such a great character moment where Mandy Patinkin’s character is alone. They’d been working late. He’s at his desk and he pulls out a box of crackers and some peanut butter and he doesn’t have a knife. And then he takes a metal ruler and he scrapes the peanut butter and puts it on his cracker. It’s the saddest thing you’ve ever seen.
Craig: I feel like I’ve done that.
Marielle: Like 1am at your desk.
Craig: I may have done that this morning.
Marielle: Yeah. But there’s something – it was specific, it was character related. It was so defeated. Like something about it was like, ugh.
Craig: Well you see how deprecated someone’s – whatever the part of our life we reserve for us it has withered away for this man. It’s just the job now. Everything else, like the comfort of a meal or anything, it’s all gone.
Marielle: And it wasn’t the introduction of his character, but it was something that let you connect to him in a real way.
Craig: Which in television as you go on and on you get opportunities to flip the script on people. So this person is just an absolute awful villain, and then we get the episode where we go, oh god, you’re a person, too. But in a movie we’re on the clock. And so one lesson definitely is once you show us – introduce to us a challenging character, you have pulled a pin on a grenade. You are running out of time.
Marielle: It’s so true.
Craig: So make sure we get to see them as a vulnerable person we can empathize with before the grenade blows up or else you’ll never get a chance. Because they won’t believe it later. It will contrived.
Marielle: It will. It’s true. You have to see something that is innate to who they are. And you have to see it early enough that you go, oh, OK, now I’m connected to that person. They’re my person. I’m on their side. I’m with them. I’m going to see this story through their eyes. Which it actually really matters. I mean, it’s so tricky, but if you’re not on the side of your character you’re screwed.
Craig: Jack Nicholson does something in As Good as it Gets that always blows my mind. It’s early on when he’s delivering one of his horrendous rants that are so shocking you laugh because you’re shocked. And once he’s done, and he does it with pure conviction. There’s no hesitation. He just does it. And then the person just sort of reacts and then he reacts like them, like he didn’t get it until that moment that he could hurt someone with this. And then we see inside of him is guilt. And that’s also – it doesn’t excuse it, but you start to say there’s more going on here than just a jerk.
John: It’s a relatable moment. Because we’ve all done that thing where we overstepped where we didn’t mean to and then you’ve embarrassed ourselves and yes.
Marielle: It’s a naked moment.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a naked moment.
Marielle: In that small way.
Craig: It’s a revealing vulnerable moment.
John: Cool. We have a bunch of questions that are stacked up because we’ve not answered like crafty questions in a long time. Craig, do you want to take the first one here?
Craig: Yeah I do. All right. So Connor in Koreatown asks, “Lately I’ve been getting notes in meetings from two different executives that seem to tug in vastly different directions. Sometimes the people involved realize and remark upon this. ‘Ha-ha-ha isn’t this funny?’ And sometimes it seems to not even occur to them that they have just shoved an idea down the opposite path that the previous note did. What’s the best way to handle this? Is it our job to make the execs aware of this conflict and attempt to work it out with them there in the room? Is this something that we should just keep to ourselves and work out later on our own?”
Well this has never happened to me, or to you, or to you. So how could we possibly answer this question?
John: First time ever happened in Hollywood.
Marielle: But I do think that it’s always the best thing when you get two conflicting notes because it makes you get in touch with what you actually want. Because you feel in your gut somewhere one note making you go, oh, and one note making you go no, no, no, no. And sometimes only getting one set of notes – dealing with the exec is a totally different question. But in terms of what it does for you in your writing process, and it’s what happens at the Sundance Labs which is so helpful, is when you get conflicting feedback it puts you in clearer touch with what you really want.
John: Yeah. So, as a practical matter when you get those conflicting notes, I think it’s fine in the room to sort of let’s talk through this. And you don’t need to necessarily need to bring up that they’re conflicting notes, but I always like to bring it back to your work and your next step or like what you want to do. That you want to be the person who can give them what they want. And so you say like, OK, so is the goal to do more of this or to do more of that, because I can see that it’s going to be hard for me to do both things simultaneously. And so that way you can bring it back to the fact that you are going to be doing work on an actual script, an actual draft that they’re going to read next and talk about that as the future work rather than what an idiotic thing that just happened in front of you.
Marielle: You know, you guys talk about this all the time, but when people are giving notes I think there’s often very little thought about what that actually means for the work that you’re going to have to do after those notes come. It’s often that people want to feel engaged in the project. They want to feel like they got to give the smart note. They want to feel like they said the thing in the meeting that made a change. They want to feel like they’ve been involved in the creative process.
But they’re not necessarily thinking through the fact that one of their notes could take you down one path and the others could take you down another path. So clarifying and being like let’s unpack that a little bit, where does this lead us, where does that lead us, or, oh, that makes me think of this can kind of be a helpful way to make both notes feel heard yet do what is right for the story. Because I don’t know, I just also don’t think it’s our job to always do every single note. Our job is to filter those notes through our brain, take those notes, and say OK the reason that that’s not going to work is this. Or I totally understand why you think this note makes sense. I went there, too. And when I went there here’s what happened. You know, when I tried that in a different draft then this is what went down.
And explaining the process then they feel heard. Their note has been addressed essentially, even though it’s not making it in the script.
Craig: I mean, from a practical point of view Connor I think it’s perfectly fine to say – if you have a lot of conflicting opinions it’s fine to say, listen, it’s probably going to work best if you have a pre-discussion and come up with one unified set of notes here that you can discuss with me and advocate for. I’m happy to have the conversation with everybody here, but for the sake of clarity what I can’t do is do both of those at once. So let’s try and figure out where we’re going. And also let’s have – because sometimes the conflict between notes is not about notes. It’s a conflict between how two people see the movie.
Craig: Or see the script or the show. It’s very fundamental. I try and have a conversation. And I try to ask questions. I think Connor one thing you can do is get out of the mode of receiving notes and get into the mode of having a conversation with them about notes as if you didn’t write the script. Put yourself in the shoes, you are also a creative executive on this project. So start having a conversation and ask questions. Ask them – go into that more. OK, well happens if this? Or why do you think that that would be better this way? Just ask questions.
Craig: The more they talk the more of a chance that they will either finally figure out what they’re really trying to say or also finally realize that what they’re saying is stupid, which happens all the time. I do it. I’ll say something and someone will ask me a question and I’ll go oh my gosh I just realized that’s stupid. Never mind.
Marielle: We all do that.
Craig: Yeah. That’s human. So give them a chance. Or rope. Whatever analogy we’d like to use.
John: The last bit, that spelunking you’re doing to try to ask questions about the questions might also reveal what’s really behind the note, which sometimes isn’t really about the script in front of you. It’s about the executive who’s above them or something else that’s going on. And so it’s good to know that.
Marielle: Or it might be revealing a problem with the script that’s different than the problem they’re identifying in the note.
Marielle: It may be that those two executives both are having – if they’re having conflicting notes about the same scene or the same moment or the same character or whatever, OK, so they have two philosophies about how that should be solved. But they’re identifying a problem. There’s a common problem there. There’s something wrong with the way that’s being developed.
Craig: It’s snagging. Something is snagging.
Marielle: That’s a good thing to identify and you can dig to find out what the deeper problem is.
Craig: You as a writer will always have more permission to propose a radical change than they will.
John: Oh yeah.
Marielle: Yeah. That’s a good point.
Craig: So what they’ll do is they’ll nibble at something and they’ll say, “I think in this scene she shouldn’t come in until the end.” And they’ll say, “No, no, I think she should come in sooner.” And you can go, “I think I know what you’re both reacting to. That scene shouldn’t be there at all. In fact, that character should be this character.”
Marielle: And people are blown away when you’re able to do that.
Marielle: When you’re able to go, “You know what? It’s actually bigger than anything we’re talking about. This whole thing needs to go. Or that character is just not working.” And they go, “I didn’t want to say that, but that’s clearly the problem.”
Craig: And by the way I’m glad they didn’t want to say it, because the truth is—
Marielle: You do.
Craig: If somebody says that to you before you—
Marielle: Then you’re like, “No.”
Craig: It sounds horrifying.
Craig: It sounds like you’ve just suggested 14 years of hard labor in a gulag. But if I come up with it it’s like, oh no, but I know what to do, so it’ll be a joy.
Marielle: And let me tell you that that’s how it feels the whole way through that. Feels the same way in edit. If somebody else suggests that a scene needs to get cut out that I spent two days filming it makes my heart race. But if I come to the conclusion that I need to cut that scene out and I go to them and they go, “Wow that was really bold.” I feel great.
Craig: Yes. Exactly. Like look at me.
Marielle: Look at me. I killed my darlings. I did that really hard filmmaking thing where I cut something out and it made the whole better. But also I think with writing as the exact same thing as with editing. Sometimes it takes a while to get to those points. Sometimes getting to a point where you’re ready to make some big change, because often it’s something that you felt – it might be the first thing you wrote in a script. It might be that scene that you’ve had in there the whole time that made you love the character. And then you realize it has to go. You have to come to that on your own in some way.
Craig: You do.
Marielle: And you can get nudged, but if someone tries too hard to get you to lop that arm off it’s just really—
Craig: Your muscles tighten up. Dennis Palumbo talks all the time about how there are lines that we write that we are so resistant to cutting not because the line is good but because its creation meant something to us.
John: Of course.
Craig: It was a signifier test that we had changed as a person or as a writer or something.
Marielle: Oh, that’s so sweet.
Craig: You know? But then you have to cut it. [laughs] You just have to take the lesson of I can do something like this, but also it should not be in this. It’s hard.
Marielle: Right. It is, really.
Craig: So, good question Connor. Hopefully we helped you out there.
John: Jordan asks, “I’m a youngish writer trying to make it my day job. I have a lawyer and I’m in the WGA so I’m starting to meet with managers. It’s not going great. In one meeting I asked the manager if she was going to represent me after 45 minutes of chatting about work and personal life. She seemed uncomfortable and said she needed to read more but that we would be in touch. I understand now that maybe it isn’t very cool to ask, but I was under impression that that was why we were meeting. How do you ask that question? Or is that the manager/agent’s job? Is there a way to know if a meeting is going to be a general meet and great before I slog through traffic to get to general advice like apply to Sundance Labs?”
So, Mari, you’re of the Sundance Labs. So Jordan is asking this really kind of natural—
Marielle: Oh, it makes my stomach hurt.
John: Yeah. Because it’s like dating.
Marielle: It is.
John: Is this going well? Is this not going well?
Marielle: And it’s so kind of wonderfully bald – like I would put that in a script the person just being like, “So are you going to represent me?” Because that’s the naked moment that you’re not supposed to do. I mean, not that you’re not supposed to, because I don’t think there’s a supposed to, but yeah, it’s uncomfortable because there is this – I mean, there’s such a thing in this town particularly of having a million meetings and never knowing where that meeting is leading or if it actually means anything. And we’re supposed to just be OK with that. Like what was that meeting about? Why did we meet and talk? It’s just part of – and everyone will say, “Well you’re building relationships. You’re building relationships.”
Craig: No you’re not. What you are is a piece of sand in a sieve that somebody has gathered up and they’re shaking the sieve to find what they think is gold. But they have to tell you, “Oh no, no, you’re an important piece of sand to me, therefore let’s have this 45-minute meeting.” But in their mind you either are that gold that they were not expecting to find, or you’re just another piece of sand.
Marielle: Or they’re not even really judging you in that moment on whether you are that gold. They’re waiting to see what you’re going to do without them so that then they can say, “Remember, we know each other. Now I do want to represent you because you’re already working.” So in so many ways having that meeting, you just should be spending that time writing the script because whatever you make is what matters. Those meetings matter once you’ve made the thing, once you have the thing, once you have some value to them that they could then help you with. And then they can be incredibly valuable. But until that thing exists, whether it’s a short film or a script, or whatever, those meetings are just to lay the first ground work and–
John: Yeah. I think those meetings are important because they teach you how to have those meetings and they’re practice for important meetings that are going to come later on. So you have to take them. I think Jordan’s awkward overreach of like, “So are you going to be my manager?” in the room, that’s a lesson learned.
John: And so it’s good that you learned that lesson in something that didn’t matter so much.
Craig: Let’s give him just the practicals here. It seems like the best practice would be to let them tell you that they are or are not going to represent you. So you have your meeting, you say well this was lovely, and then they say, “Yes, I really enjoyed our meeting.” Great, well let’s keep in touch. Or follow up if there’s interest. Whatever you want to do. Meaning I don’t need you.
Marielle: Yes. I think that’s actually the most important thing is to give off the air of like–
Craig: But we’re all so desperate.
Marielle: And that they would be missing out if they don’t take you on.
Craig: Right. By the way, everyone is doing that. Everyone is desperate.
Craig: Everyone is doing this to each other. Yeah, I’m cool.
John: I’ll tell you about an early meeting I had. So my attorney is Ken Richmond. And so my agent had apparently set up several meetings with different attorneys. This is when I was selling Go. And so I went in and met with Ken Richmond. And we talked for about 20 minutes and I said like, “You’re fantastic. I want you to be my attorney.” And he’s like, oh, OK, OK, this is good. And there were other attorney meetings already set up that I was going to be blowing off for this. But he was the right person and sometimes you know. It’s dating. Sometimes you know.
Craig: Sometimes you know.
Marielle: That was the question I was going to ask, too. Did you want this person to be your manager? Is this the person who when you were sitting there you went, “I want you to be my manager?”
Craig: Or is it that you just want a manager?
Marielle: A manager.
Craig: Which sometimes people can pick up on. And then it’s like, right, well I just don’t want a client. I mean, you have to find somebody that you care about.
You know what? Listen, Jordan, totally understandable. And we’ve all done stuff like that.
Marielle: Oh gosh yes.
Craig: And it’s annoying to have to game anything, play any kind of game.
Marielle: It’s the part of the business I hate the most.
Craig: I agree. And you know what? You do it a little bit here or there. Or, by the way, maybe Jordan you sit down with somebody at one of these meetings and you just be yourself. And you just say, listen, this is how I am. I’m not good at playing the game. So, just let me know if you’re interested or not. And they might go, “Oh no, I’m totally interested.” And then you’ve found your person.
Marielle: Right. And I actually think the way to not play the game is to make it that you’re doing enough that you actually aren’t playing the game. That you actually don’t care.
Marielle: Like you want to pretend you don’t care if that person signs you, but actually if you have enough going on on your own you actually won’t care that much.
Marielle: So, do the things that make it that you don’t care for real. Then you’re not playing a game. You’re not pretending.
John: Great. Chris from Brooklyn writes with a question I think you’ll be especially good to answer. “I started sketching out a screenplay based on a true-life murder case from the 19th Century which about only three historical nonfiction books have been written, as well as many articles. Although I’m using them all as sources, one book in particular encapsulates the story best. Mostly looking at it from the same angle and shares the title I want to use. But that title was also used in several Penny Dreadful dramatizations of the story way back when.
“However I’ve been reluctant to reach out to the historian who wrote this book because he is known and well-regarded and if asked I’m not in a financial position to afford the option I imagine he would want. But I’m not sure an option is necessary because the true story involves no living persons. Based on what I found online it seems as if the book in question was either optioned or purchased nearly a decade ago with a name actor attached but nothing appears to have happened with the project since then.
“So, given all that, and given that the book is my primary source but not an exclusive one, should I reach out to its author to avoid any potential legal challenges down the road? Or just stop worrying and write the darn thing?”
So you guys have both written things based on true-life things. What’s your first instinct for Chris here?
Marielle: I would do both. I would keep working on the thing. I wouldn’t hold everything up. But I would reach out to the person who wrote it. I would first of all if you have an agent or you have a lawyer they can look up the option and who owns the option, or if there still is an option. If it was 10 years ago and no movie has been made about it.
Craig: That would be a lapsed option.
Marielle: And also you’re probably fine. Like most books after the first few years they’re coming out if they haven’t been optioned and no one is holding onto that option they’re not going to be some crazy hot commodity that’s impossible to get the option for. And you can actually get a very affordable option, especially if – in my limited experience – if that author feels like you’re the person with the most passion who has a reason behind it and you can connect to them in a real way and you appreciate their artistry and they can appreciate your artistry. Then actually it’s more about that relationship then about how much money you’re bringing to the table. They may not have anybody else who is even considering doing this weird historical thing that they wrote 10 years ago and it lapsed. You know?
So you might be getting it at the perfect moment.
John: Yeah. Craig, what do you think?
Craig: I’m in slight disagreement. I think no question you should keep writing it. I actually wouldn’t reach out just yet because you don’t need to. The facts are the facts. This is a nonfiction thing. The title is a question mark and I would strongly consider a different title at this point. But there’s nothing in – if it’s facts there’s absolutely nothing in any of those books that the authors own in terms of fact. They own the expression of those facts. They own their sentences. They own the way that they lay it out. And even then in a very specific way.
So it’s just research. They’re research sources for you. If as you get closer to selling this or setting it up, in that moment you should say these are the sources I used. These are the books I used. This one has an amazing title and it inspired me the most. We might want to consider reaching out. If you reach out now and they say no, now you’ve got a problem. Because merely by reaching out—
Marielle: You’re right.
Craig: You have indicated that you are basing this on this book.
Marielle: I take back everything I said. Craig is right.
Marielle: No, no, really. I think you’re totally right. Because historic is so different. Like the book that I optioned was about someone’s personal life, written by the person whose life it was. That was very, very different.
Craig: Yes. There’s life rights involved. If somebody writes about their life, everything that they’ve written about now becomes public record. But all the stuff behind it that you would want to have, and also just to avoid – the one thing that you definitely don’t want is to say, OK, I’ve written something. It’s based on someone’s description of their life. They’re alive. I didn’t need their permission, but they hate this, and they are now telling people not to go see it. That’s bad news.
Marielle: No, it’s bad news.
Craig: Right. You don’t want that. So those are considerations that come later down the line. But you know for Chernobyl we kind of in conjunction, they had somebody – HBO had somebody that does this and then I had a researcher that was helping us kind of do our version. But we had to make an annotated script for every single page. Everything had to be sourced. I mean, it was the biggest term paper of my life.
Marielle: Do people even really still do that in college anymore? I mean, is that like a thing you do? Do you cite your sources?
John: Oh you cite your sources in college.
Craig: They’re required to. I mean, there’s probably some app that does it for you now. Sourcy.
Marielle: That’s my – are these things kind of going to the wayside that these things being learned–
Craig: Everything is going to the way. Everything. It’s all collapsing around us.
Marielle: Like the Dewey Decimal System.
John: Irene Turner came on the show to talk about her movie which was historically based, and so we’ll put a link in the show notes to her conversation because she had to do what you did which was basically cite every little thing about it, because it was a well-known public figure but where that information came from was important.
Craig: And I had to defend my thesis at times. The gentleman that HBO used, that was as thorough a prostate exam as I’ve ever had.
Marielle: You should try to submit these scripts to some college, to like Harvard or something, and see if you could get a Ph.D. This could be your dissertation for some degree you didn’t want anyway.
John: Professor Craig.
Marielle: Professor Craig with a Ph.D. in Chernobyl.
Craig: Surely there’s an easier way to get a degree, like bribe them?
Craig: There’s got to be some way to bribe them. I’m sure there is.
Craig: Not anymore. Not anymore.
John: Craig, do you want to take the last question?
Craig: Last question. Craig from La Canada writes, “Mari, you’re married to Jorma Taccone right? When is MacGruber 2 coming? Thanks.”
Marielle: Oh my gosh. I love it.
Craig: You don’t have to say if you’re not allowed to.
Marielle: No, I think it’s OK. Jorma has been talking about it. I think it’s fine. Jorma and Will and John Solomon, so Jorma Taccone, Will Forte, John Solomon who all created MacGruber together have been pitching it as a miniseries.
Marielle: Instead of doing it as a sequel movie. They started to realize it would be better as a very short miniseries.
Craig: But it needs that canvas. Because we’re talking about a work of literature. It needs to occupy the space it demands.
Marielle: Yes. And so they’re in the process of writing it with Hulu.
Craig: Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. I can’t wait.
Marielle: I know. The pressure is real.
Craig: I’m the biggest fan.
Marielle: There’s somebody on Instagram who anything Jorma posts just writes, “MacGruber 2 or get the fuck out.”
Craig: That’s me.
Marielle: That’s probably you.
Craig: MacGruber 2 or GTFO at Insta.org.MacGruber.
Marielle: Which I like that the MacGruber fans are so rabid. You know, it’s the thing – I talk to Jorma about it all the time. He has made a lot of projects that are his total passion projects. The things The Lonely Island makes, they’re weird brain child things that they love. But MacGruber was one of those things where he was so happy when they made MacGruber. And they got to make another one.
Craig: Because he made one of the great movies of all time. Of all time.
Marielle: Yeah. And they have to make another one.
Craig: They have to. Oh. I could go on.
John: All right. It has come time for our One Cool Things.
John: My One Cool Thing is these new door locks being installed at my house and my office. They’re by Schlage. They’re good.
Craig: Is that how you pronounce that?
John: I think it’s Schlage or Schlage.
Craig: It’s not Schlage?
John: I don’t think it’s Schlage, but maybe it is. People can write in and correct me if I’m wrong.
Craig: Yeah, thank you. Germans, tell us.
John: What’s cool about it is we already had – we didn’t have to rekey the locks at all. So our normal keys still work, but then this thing works for the deadbolt and it’s cool. So I just don’t have to carry my keys around as much which is just great. I punch in my code and the door opens.
Craig: And you can do it with your phone.
John: You can do it with your phone. You can tell Siri to open your things. I can tell Siri to check if the door is locked. So, it’s nice.
Craig: You talk to Siri?
John: I talk to Siri.
Marielle: Doesn’t that make you feel like you’re – I know I sound paranoid, but couldn’t you be hacked or something and then somebody could just get into your doors that way?
John: Yeah. Probably. Probably so.
Craig: But you can also be physically hacked with a hammer and a screwdriver.
Marielle: And a sledgehammer. Yeah. But I don’t know. There’s something about – maybe this is not true, but in Brooklyn there’s this thing going on where everybody – some of us have cars, which is crazy, but you end up parking blocks away from your house. But if you’re keyless key is within 30 feet somebody has figured out some machine that can just open your car door with that and people are stealing cars that way.
Craig: Sweet. Awesome.
Marielle: So people are like put your keys in the freezer and it won’t work. And I can’t tell if that’s true or not, but there’s something about like all this car theft is happening because of these keyless keys.
Craig: Oh, Brooklyn. Yeah, don’t have a car.
Marielle: I know. That is the solution.
Craig: Just don’t have a car.
Marielle: Or have a car and just don’t care.
John: Not caring is—
Marielle: That’s actually the key in Brooklyn or in New York is if you have a car you can’t care.
Craig: Have a piece of crap car. Just don’t care. Don’t get something nice.
Craig: What is my One Cool Thing? Ooh, yeah. OK, my One Cool Thing, so every year in Stamford, Connecticut.
Marielle: Jorma’s grandmother lives there.
Craig: That’s my One Cool Thing. No. It would be weird if I started referring to his grandmother as a thing. Yes, you know that thing.
Marielle: She’s, yeah, that would be weird.
Craig: And he’s related to. In Stamford, Connecticut every year there is the Annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament. There are many, but this is the big one. It’s run by Will Shortz who is the editor of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle which is the gold standard of crossword puzzles. And this is where everybody comes and it’s a lot of people. They all descend upon some Marriot or La Quinta and they do puzzles. And they compete. And then there’s the ultimate prizewinner. This year again Dan, I think, Feyer, who is insanely brilliant at crossword puzzles in a way that is just disturbing.
In any case, you at home can do it. They have the exact same puzzles that they did there available online. And you pay I think it’s like $20 or something like that and you click on puzzle number one. You do seven puzzles. Puzzle number one and it times you just like them and it scores you just like them. Currently I am number 15 out of like a thousand online participants. Meaning, this is a challenge to–
John: To knock Craig down.
Craig: Come on people. Knock me down.
Marielle: It’s going on right now?
Craig: It goes on—
Craig: Well, until the next year, right. So they’re all available for you to purchase and do now. And as people purchase and do them they will change the – but I’ve been number 15 for a bit now. So, you know, if you’re listening and you think you’re a bad ass, come at me bruh. And see if you can knock me down. And if you do, if you’re the one that knocks me down a peg let us know.
John: All right. Write in to email@example.com. Let us know. Take a screenshot.
Craig: Oh yeah. Definitely take a screenshot. Well, just write in and tell us what your name is because I can look on the standings. We can, yeah. Don’t cheat.
Marielle: OK. My One Cool Thing is a play that’s opening on Broadway I think this week called What the Constitution Means to Me.
Marielle: And it’s Heidi Schreck. She’s a writer. And an actor. Comes from theater like I do, but she’s written on a bunch of TV shows and stuff, too. And it’s an incredible play that I got to see in its Off-Broadway form and it’s now coming to Broadway. Very personal. It’s sort of about when she was a teenage girl and part of how she was raising money for college was she was going around and doing these constitutional debates at rotary clubs and things like that.
But what she’s really digging into is how the Constitution treats women and how it has historically treated women and what that means for herself personally within her own family dynamic. It’s so brave. It’s so personal and deep. And it makes you question everything you know about the world. But it’s just an incredible play.
Craig: What the Constitution Means to Me. And so as you’re describing it in my mind I thought, OK, now that title is like the kind of clunky debate thing.
Marielle: It is.
Craig: Oh, that’s great. And then it takes on this whole other meaning.
Marielle: And she starts off the whole play kind of going back in time and acting like this plucky 15-year-old girl who is going off and doing all of these debates about Constitution.
Craig: She sounds like the light reflection of the very dark and evil Ted Cruz who also spent his childhood—
Marielle: Oh, he did?
Craig: Roaming around and memorizing the Constitution and explaining to people what it means to him, which is bad, because he’s bad.
Marielle: I guess that was a thing that people did and you could win scholarships doing that and it was–
Craig: Yes, it was a thing.
Marielle: My sister did debate and was a very accomplished debater in high school, but it wasn’t specifically these sort of competitions where you would win money and go to these sort of rotary clubs. She did the kind of classic debate.
Craig: Who are the people that are like, “Good news, it’s Friday night, which means we go to the club and we hear kids talk to us about the Constitution. Let’s do it.” Kiwanis, Rotary, Knights of Columbus.
Marielle: Exactly. Elks.
Craig: Let’s go.
Craig: And they love it.
Marielle: They do.
Craig: They love it. They’re like—
Marielle: But the play is – even if you have no interest in the Constitution or what that would be, and that type of night sounds like a terrible night, the play is so moving and Heidi – she wrote it and she performs it herself. And the fact that it’s going to Broadway just feels like this wonderful gift to the world. It’s so cool.
John: Oh yeah. Our friend Mike Birbiglia does the same thing. He does those one-man shows.
Marielle: I know.
Craig: I was going to say. Mike Bags has blazed a trail here and it’s happening. Well, we should obviously did up a good link to this show. It sounds amazing. So congratulations to Heidi for getting something like this to Broadway. That’s remarkable.
Marielle: It’s a huge deal. Yeah.
Craig: That’s great.
John: That’s 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. We have some Sexy Craig, but we’re not going to use those yet.
Craig: No, you keep those bottled up.
John: If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For short questions, on Twitter Craig is @clmazin. John is @johnaugust. Mari, are you on Twitter?
John: She’s not a Twitter person.
Craig: Your sister is a Twitter person.
Marielle: My sister is and she’s funny.
Craig: I follow her.
Marielle: Oh good.
Craig: I think I do.
John: Is Emily your sister?
Craig: Accomplished comedian.
Marielle: Accomplished comedian. She has a special out right now. And she also writes for Barry.
John: Oh nice.
Craig: Nice. That’s fantastic.
John: Oh yeah. I think I knew that.
Craig: With our friend Alec Berg.
John: You can find us on Apple Podcasts 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 days after the episode airs.
You can find all the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net or download seasons of 50 episodes at store.johnaugust.com.
Craig: Mari Heller, thank you so much for coming in. This was a delight.
Marielle: Thank you guys for doing my question. It feels so good to suggest a subject and get to talk about it.
Craig: It was a good question, you know. Boom.
- WGA Video Explaining ATA Negotiations
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- Scriptnotes 212, Diary of a First Time Director with Mari Heller
- Schlage Locks
- American Crossword Password Tournament Online–let us know if you unseat Craig!
- What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck
- We’re hiring a coder! If you’re interested please send an email to email@example.com
- Submit entries for The Scriptnotes Pitch Session here.
- John August on Twitter
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- Outro by James Llonch and Jim Bond (send us yours!)
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