The original post for this episode can be found here.
Craig Mazin: Hi folks. On today’s episode there is some language, some salty language, so if you’re in the car with your children go ahead and stop playing it or put the earmuff’s on them.
Male Voice: What the F are you talking about?
John: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 400 of Scriptnotes.
John: A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig: Oh my god.
John: Today on this, our quartercentenary, we are going to be talking about movie genres and sub-genres that aren’t getting made anymore, and how we can fix this. To help us out we are joined by a guest from exactly 100 episodes ago. Chris McQuarrie is a writer and director whose credits include The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, the last two Mission: Impossibles, the next two as well. Chris McQuarrie, welcome back.
Chris McQuarrie: Thank you very much for having me.
Craig: So the deal is every 100 episodes we have worked up enough tolerance to have McQuarrie back.
Chris: You know, Craig–
Craig: Here we go.
Chris: You weren’t here for the last one.
Craig: That’s why it wasn’t very good. [laughs]
Chris: And I miss that.
Craig: I can tell. Chris McQuarrie and I have been engaged in a, what, 15-year-long argument about everything.
Chris: About everything.
Craig: Literally everything.
Chris: I don’t think it’s even much – it’s not so much an argument as it is a–
Craig: It’s a love story at this point.
Chris: It’s the duelists.
Craig: Yes, exactly.
Chris: I think that’s how you would describe our relationship.
Craig: Correct. You wake up in the morning, you go to work, fighting this man you must fight.
John: So back in Episode 300 I was talking to you and we were both living in Paris because you were directing Mission: Impossible. It hadn’t come out yet. You were in the middle of shooting it. It turned out really well, so congratulations on that.
Chris: Thank you.
Chris: Thank you very much.
Craig: And two more to come.
Chris: Two more to come.
Craig: So the idea is you’ll make these until they kill you? Meaning the movies are going to kill you.
Chris: It’s more likely that they will kill me than they will kill Tom Cruise.
Craig: No, nothing kills Tom Cruise. You’ve proven that. By the way, openly attempting to murder him through film. I mean, everyone knows what you’re doing.
Chris: I have been described as his enabler. He describes me as his enabler. I’m not actually trying to kill him, I’m just trying to–
Craig: Could have fooled me.
Chris: I’m trying to just – no, he would – he would be doing most of this stuff–
Craig: Movie number one, let’s drown him. Movie number two, oh, hang him off a plane–
Chris: Well the drowning I don’t think he would try to do.
Craig: Oh, hang him off of a plane. Then let’s drown him. Then let’s make him hurtle from a roof. Oh, he broke a bone. Too bad. Keep going.
Chris: Yeah, that’s true.
Craig: Wow. You’re killing him in front of us.
Chris: I’m whittling him away. But when you see him in Top Gun–
Craig: That’s right, Top Gun Deuce.
Chris: Top Gun Maverick.
Chris: He looks younger in Top Gun than he did in Fallout. And I can tell you it’s not surgical because there was absolutely no time in between for him to do that.
Craig: So magic?
John: Just magic.
Chris: No. You know what it is? It’s incredible. It’s diet and exercise.
Craig: No, I don’t like that.
Chris: He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t drink booze. Look, we know what the agers are. Stay out of the sun. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t smoke cigarettes.
Craig: You just said three things that I hate.
Chris: Love what you do.
Craig: Love what you do, exactly.
Chris: And there’s a book you can read called Younger Next Year and it’s all about–
Craig: I’m not reading that shit. [laughs]
Chris: You should definitely read it.
Craig: Not gonna.
Chris: Because guys our age, we all have to read it. And essentially what the book says is once you start rounding the horn into your 50s you just start–
Chris: Not dying. It’s decay. And that the more you exercise–
Craig: Sweet decay. Sweet decay.
Chris: The more you exercise the more you hold off that decay. Tom has been on a regimen for 30 years now that’s–
Craig: I’m going to argue that none of us are going to do that. That we will be here at 500–
Chris: Sitting at this table I can tell you there are three guys sitting at this table who don’t work out the recommended one-hour a day, six days a week.
Craig: Not a chance. Nah, but you know what, we know words.
John: We do know the words.
Craig: I mean, the vocabulary between the three of us is astonishing.
John: It’s got to be a lot. All of those words. Craig?
John: This episode is a milestone not only in that it’s 400 but it’s also the first episode we’re recording after Chernobyl has reached the air.
Craig: Yes, we are post-Chernobyl.
John: We are post-Chernobyl.
Chris: Has it reached the air?
Craig: Last night.
John: We’re recording this on a Tuesday. Monday was the first night that it aired.
Chris: I cannot wait to see it.
Craig: You don’t have to wait. It’s on the air.
John: It’s on demand already.
Chris: No, I know. From where we’re sitting right now I will run home and watch it.
Craig: Very good.
Chris: This evening on HBO.
Craig: You’ve always been a big backer of the show.
Chris: I have deep personal feelings of resentment about Chernobyl.
Chris: I wanted to make that show.
Craig: Here’s what Chris said. Chris said, “I would like to direct Chernobyl.” And I said, but Chris, you’re making Mission: Impossible. And he said, “No problem.” And I said, I think a problem.
Chris: Well, actually, before that though I wasn’t making Mission: Impossible.
Craig: Sure. And then you were again. And you kept saying–
Chris: But in the window where I wasn’t making it.
Chris: I went to HBO and said I’ll make it. And HBO, they were very polite but I could see in their eyes they were thinking, “Well if he wants to direct it who else can we get?”
Craig: Oh no. I don’t think so.
Chris: For sure.
Craig: I think maybe what they were saying was, “So in post he’s going to be prepping a Mission: Impossible movie.”
Chris: I would have been–
Craig: I think that may have been what it was.
Chris: Is this why I can’t get a job doing anything else? This is why nobody else will offer me movies just because they all think I’m just going to be in post on Mission: Impossible.
Craig: No, it’s because I’ve gone around town just killing you.
So, Chernobyl on the air at long last. Five years. I looked in my little folder. Do you guys keep a folder of all your–?
John: Old drafts?
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: And so the oldest document I have in my Chernobyl folder is from like May 12, 2014. Almost exactly five years ago. And it was actually very comforting because the header was “Stuff to Figure Out.” And it was just like what’s this about, who’s in it, what would the episodes be? It was just a bunch of questions that any idiot could ask. I guess they all start that way, don’t they?
Chris: No. I need to do that more often. I don’t ask myself those questions, which is probably why–
Craig: We’ll get into that.
Chris: Yeah. I will say this, the other thing I said, you remember you sent me the script. I was on the east coast getting on a plane.
Craig: Yes, you read them on a plane.
Chris: And you texted them to me just before the plane took off so I had two scripts to read. And I landed and I called you up and I said I would cut one word and I would change one word.
John: That’s why you did not get the job.
Craig: I threw a fit. How dare you?
Chris: Exactly. I guess the guy who they hired didn’t cut that word or change that word.
John: You’re not to do those things.
Craig: By the way, I tried to change that word many, many times and could never do it. I couldn’t come up with anything better.
Chris: Just couldn’t come up with anything better. Well, I could have made a suggestion.
Chris: But more importantly that was a damn good script. Scripts. I read two episodes.
Craig: So now it’s a show and I don’t know what like ratings are per se, but the response has been very positive.
John: Part of the reason why you’ve gone for some episodes is you were talking at the UN. You were at the Tribeca Film Festival.
John: You got to do all these amazing things.
Chris: Dear god.
John: You recorded a whole other podcast series with Peter Sagal.
John: Which I started listening to which is great.
Craig: Yes, yes. So the idea there was because so much of what the show is about is the cost of lies and narrative and the way narrative distorts truth I felt that it was important that we hold ourselves accountable for the ways we changed things to be able to tell the story. So Peter Sagal of NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and I recorded a companion piece. So after each episode airs on HBO or on Sky Atlantic over there in the UK then there is this little companion piece that comes along that you can download from Stitcher or Apple or any of those podcast places. I’ve learned, by the way, that Stitcher is a thing. I had to learn that for this.
And we just have a discussion about what we changed and why and illuminate other various topics of interest.
Chris: We did something like that on Valkyrie actually. Nathan and I did a second commentary track where we went through and said here’s all the things we changed and what really happened.
Craig: Why do you think people – I think it was incredibly – I thought very satisfying to do it. I felt honest and good. And I didn’t sense that, and John, you listened to it so I’m going to ask you. Did you feel like maybe by learning that some things had been changed that I had in any way undermined the experience of watching the show?
John: No. In the first episode you talk–
Chris: You mean the fact that Chernobyl didn’t really happen?
Craig: There is no place called Chernobyl.
John: It’s all made up in fairy land. For example, that a key character actually had a family and you portray him as not having a family.
John: That is a big distinction in a character’s life, but it doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the event that happened.
Craig: Correct. And that kind of was the rule that we tried to follow which is I really did not want to change anything that would fundamentally make things more dramatic or–
John: You didn’t want to chat to make it more exciting.
Craig: I didn’t want to cheat.
Chris: Because the events surrounding Chernobyl need punching up. [laughs]
Craig: Yeah. Kind of like let’s just let the truth be the truth here.
Chris: Well, and I remember calling you and saying, OK, what of this, having done of adaptations of like what is true, what did you gin up? And we had had a conversation very early on before you started writing it.
Chris: You were in London. We all went out to dinner.
Craig: Yes. And then I think you were on a plane to Alaska or something like that.
Chris: Yes. I was going to the Ice Cap, which didn’t happen.
Craig: As one does.
Chris: As one does.
Craig: That’s what McQuarrie does.
Chris: I was going to do research and I was on my way to the Ice Cap and from London to get to the Ice Cap you have to fly from London to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Seattle, Seattle to Alaska, where you get off the plane and go across the airport to where the military C130 with skis on it is waiting to take you to this ice station.
Craig: Jews don’t do this. Ever.
Chris: And the Ice Cap – I got to Vegas and turned my phone on and there were all these text messages saying the Ice Cap is breaking up and they are going to evacuate the ice station and you’re not going this year. And I have never made it.
Craig: Well, at the very least it was a short flight from London to Las Vegas.
Chris: Well, I got to spend the night in Vegas.
Craig: Oh, hey!
Chris: Which is better than an Ice Cap.
Craig: This podcast is absolutely out of control. John’s eyelid must be twitching by now.
John: It’s fine. We’re vaguely on the outline still. I mean, the Ice Cap was a diversion, but–
Chris: Yes. I see on the outline it says lose the plot.
John: Lose the plot.
John: To get back on plot, we should also say that we actually have a live show coming up.
John: Every year we do a benefit for Hollywood Heart, which is a great charity that provides services to homeless youth and youth with HIV. We always have great guests. This year we will again have great guests for our live show on June 13th. The big change this time is we are trying to sell out the Ace Hotel. Which is a much bigger venue.
Craig: It’s a great theater. It’s a big venue. It’s a great venue. Definitely please come see us. Buy tickets. We always deliver on the guests. Don’t worry about that. But really aren’t we enough?
John: We should be enough.
Craig: We should be enough.
John: But the guests are really the topping on the ice cream sundae.
Craig: The guests are the topping.
John: So it’s Thursday June 13 at the Ace Hotel. Tickets are available now and there will be a link in the show notes for those.
Craig: For charity.
John: For charity.
Craig: And this is a charity that our good mutual friend, John Gatins, is on the board.
Chris: Oh lovely.
Craig: So this is all part of Gatins’ world.
Chris: We love John Gatins.
Craig: We do.
John: Also in celebration of 400 episodes we have new Scriptnotes shirts. So I’m showing these to Craig and Chris right now. So this is–
Craig: Those are so great.
John: This is the light version of the shirt. This is Scriptnotes 400. It has a sort of blank VHS videotape, was the feel I was going for with these shirts.
Craig: You nailed it.
Chris: You nailed it.
Craig: That’s amazing. I love it.
John: The dark version of the shirt.
Craig: Ooh, dark is nice. Dark kind of gives me a little bit of an Atari vibe. Yeah, I love it. That’s a little bit Breakout. I love it. This is a good shirt.
John: Good shirt.
Craig: Percentage of proceeds that go to me?
John: Are none.
Craig: Consistently zero. 400 episodes.
John: Still not making any money out of this.
Craig: Still not making any money.
John: But at least you don’t have to pay money. Early on in the first like 50 episodes Craig would have to write a check for hosting fees and all that kind of stuff.
Craig: Now John drives a Rolls Royce that’s tacked on top of a Maserati.
Chris: Is it sponsored the podcast?
Craig: No, we don’t do ads.
John: We have no ads. We have nothing.
Craig: We are free in every freaking way.
Chris: In every freaking way. You do this out of the goodness of your heart?
Craig: This is the only thing I do out of the goodness – first of all, I don’t have a heart, as you know.
Chris: Or goodness.
Chris: I was looking at John.
Craig: But I simulate – it’s how I simulate humanity.
John: So these shirts which Craig gets no money for are available in black and white and navy. We also have hoodies this time, so check them out.
Craig: Ooh, I’m getting a hoodie. You know I love a hoodie.
John: We all love a hoodie. Now we finally get back on outline to talk about the feature topic. And so every once and a while we do a This Kind of Movie, where we took a look at a genre, a sub-genre of movie that is not currently popular and we discuss how we would make that movie in 2019 or really 2020, or 2021 realistically. As we’re recording this Disney just put out a list of all their upcoming movies through 2023.
Craig: Right. Which are all Star Wars.
John: They’re all Star Wars or princess movies. But if we wanted to try to make one of these movies what we would need to do to get those on the Disney schedule?
Chris: Oh, onto the Disney schedule?
John: Or really any schedule. Any schedule.
Craig: Witchcraft at this point I think.
Chris: Not true.
Craig: Oh, here we go. Oh, look, I’m having an argument with Chris McQuarrie.
Chris: It’s not an argument. An argument would be a conflict of two different opinions.
Craig: He’s arguing about us having an argument. [laughs]
John: No, no, we’re not having an argument. You don’t understand. This is not an argument.
Craig: How dare you?
Chris: I’d like an argument please.
Craig: I love that sketch.
Chris: See, an argument would be if you had an opinion and I had an opinion, but you’re not allowed to have an opinion anymore.
Chris: If you just avoid opinions and stick to facts.
John: 100 percent facts.
Chris: Yes, then I can’t get into any trouble.
Chris: Don’t have an opinion. And that’s why we are not arguing.
Craig: The truth matters. The truth matters.
Chris: Because I’m right.
Craig: Let’s get back to the topic at hand. It’s turning into The Morning Zoo.
John: In previous installments of this segment we have saved romantic comedies. I mean, I think we can all agree that romantic comedies were dead and then we brought them back to life.
Craig: We did. We resuscitated them.
John: I think we also did some work on westerns.
Craig: They’re back.
John: So I went on Twitter and asked people for other genres or sub-genres that need saving.
Craig: That have been sort of underserved.
Chris: So I have a long suffering script. A script that’s been sitting around for years and years and years. I don’t own it. I was commissioned to write it by a producer. You would put it in the category of it’s a redemption story, personal drama, you put it in that kind of Verdict sort of–
Craig: Oh, OK. What is the genre-genre?
Chris: It’s a drama.
Craig: Just sort of people?
Chris: It is a female-driven drama. Woman goes to prison.
Craig: OK, prison.
Chris: No, beginning of the story she goes to prison. Two scenes later she gets out of prison 14 years later and is trying to reconnect with her sister who was four-years-old when she went into prison and has been lost in the system.
Chris: OK. So the kind of movie that in 1973 would have been released every other weekend.
Chris: And Netflix. Post Mission: Impossible Netflix said we want to do this. And what Netflix is after now, they’re fairly genre-agnostic. They’re really looking for, A, content.
Chris: They’re frantically trying to line their pockets with content.
Craig: That appears to be the case.
Chris: Before Disney fires up the whatever they’re doing. But also building relationships with talent. And they looked at this thing and said this is imminently cast-able. There is now, I can’t say who but there is a great actress interested in the role. And Netflix is just standing by and they’re going to do it.
Craig: That’s awesome.
Chris: The kind of movie that even two, three years ago would have been inconceivable. Another project that I was briefly attached to, I’m attached to it now as a producer, was a WWII movie, but a WWII drama. It’s not a WWII–
Chris: It isn’t Saving Private Ryan. It’s a guy behind enemy lines personal drama. Again, the kind of thing, you hear WWII and you just start falling asleep.
Craig: Even if there were explosions it would be a hard sell.
Chris: Yes. It’s dead in the water. And so you have with that mechanism if you can attach the right elements to a piece of material–
Craig: You can get yourself on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or HBO.
John: With each of these categories I want to talk about venue basically. Is it still a big screen idea or is it something that is more designed for a smaller screen, be it streaming, be it some other way to do it. But also I want to talk about what is the essence of this kind of movie. What is the biggest difference between making this movie now versus when it was originally popular? Who are the characters and then with those characters who would you cast in this kind of movie? Who writes it? Who directs it? And what are the big obstacles getting in the way of making this kind of movie again?
Craig: All right.
John: So, let’s start with sports comedies. Sports comedies used to be incredibly popular.
Craig: The Ron Shelton area.
John: So Ron Shelton had Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump. But we also have things like Dodgeball. Happy Gilmore. Major League. Caddyshack. Bad News Bears. A League of Their Own.
Craig, I’ll start with you. What is the essence of a sports comedy to you?
Craig: Underdogs. Generally speaking we have underdogs. And usually there’s somebody struggling with a – you know, there’s a term in baseball, I don’t know if carries to other sports, the yips. Oh, yeah, actually in golf too the yips are when you just psychologically are struggling with something and so your game falls apart. So typically in these movies somebody with innate skill is struggling with something and so–
Chris: Tin Cup.
Craig: Tin Cup is the best example because it’s literally about a therapist helping a guy with the yips.
Chris: Bull Durham.
Craig: Bull Durham. I mean, all of them. All of them. There’s a romance falling apart in White Men Can’t Jump. And Caddyshack which is I guess probably the broadest of these there’s still a romance at the heart of it that goes bad and has to be put back together. So it’s really about – the essence of these things is an athlete’s personal life is disrupting their game. And they have to fix their personal life to fix their game.
John: I think that’s a fair assessment.
Chris: I hate to say this. Craig is right.
Craig: Hold that. Repeat it.
Chris: Pains me. Pains me to say it.
Craig: Put it on a loop.
John: What’s so interesting is the sport itself is incredibly important for the marketing and sort of what the visual language of the movie will be, but it’s probably not very important for what the actual story will be. The sport rarely has a very direct connection to what the character’s journey is. The unique thing about that sport is probably not a big factor. I guess whether it’s an individual sport versus a team sport that’s a big factor. But, you know.
Chris: It can’t rely on the sport.
Chris: Somebody who doesn’t know anything about the sport ideally would be able to watch the movie.
Craig: Which means you generally–
John: You teach them the rules of the sport.
Craig: And one of the stock characters in these movies is somebody that doesn’t know the sport.
Craig: So they are the people that are asking questions or just looking around going well none of this matters, but that personal part matters.
John: So looking at the biggest difference between doing it now versus doing it then, one of the things as we list these movies is they’re almost all male characters driving this. And so–
Chris: My next question.
John: So I think honestly centering this around a female character is going to probably be your best way in. Whether the whole team is women or it’s unusual for a woman to be in that sport. Something about a female athlete feels more promising.
Chris: Is that going to alienate the men as well? Are you trying to make a four-quadrant movie?
John: That’s a great question. I mean, I think we always use to think about big screen comedies needed to, if not four-quadrant than sort of broadly successful. But if you’re making it not for a big screen movie maybe it’s even better that it’s not kind of for everyone.
Craig: A League of Their Own was pretty much four-quadrant.
Chris: Without question.
Craig: Of this list it’s maybe my favorite of them.
Chris: Well, and Tom Hanks is a hugely important character in the movie.
Craig: Yes, he’s part of it.
Chris: And quite wisely not the dominant character in the movie. It’s also a movie directed by a woman.
Craig: It is. And so you can obviously if you’re centering your new sports comedy on let’s say a female, like a Bend it like Beckham which is a female sports comedy, which I think a lot of male footie fans enjoyed, you will have male characters. The fascinating thing about this list to me is how white it is.
John: It’s super white.
Craig: I mean, sports are one of the areas in American culture where people of color dominate in terms of numbers they’re far over-represented. And yet in this list they’re almost nowhere with the exception of White Men Can’t Jump. I mean, it’s crazy now that I’m looking at it. It’s pretty white.
Chris: I’m wracking my brain.
Craig: It’s kind of nuts. And if you keep going you’ll see it more and more and more. Like a lot of baseball movies take place in the distant past, so when Roy Hobbes is out there in The Natural it’s sort of like, you know, there they are, the nine white guys. And Dodgeball is just sort of lily white. I mean, it’s not lily white. That’s not true. Because Chris Williams is in it.
John: Yeah, but it’s goofy.
Craig: These are largely white casts. And it seems like they’re largely for white guys.
John: So I think we’re talking sort of women, non-white characters centering. Also, you know, there’s a chance that maybe the sport you’re picking is not a sport that is currently popular in the US. So if you’re to make an American cricket movie about like a cricket team that needed to sort of – that was part of the obstacle they overcome. Like they don’t even know what cricket is or sort of that aspect.
Craig: So it’s kind of like the – what’s it, the Jamaican bobsledding team, Cool Running. So Americans try and go to cricket but they’re basically in India or Pakistan getting their asses handed to them.
Chris: Adam Sandler is working on this movie right now. Yes, he’s working on this movie.
Chris: But when you’re pinpointing these things, you know, about women and diversity, are you suggesting the way to make an outlier or to get it made? Because I have to imagine–
Craig: I’d go get it made on that one, for me, because I actually feel like – I mean, it’s not that you can’t make a movie like this again in the same mold. But it will be in the same mold. There’s something so familiar about it.
Chris: Oh, of course.
Craig: And this list barely even scrapes the surface of what there is. So, it seems like something new would be great in some way or another. New is good. And I think in this category–
Chris: So the Bad News Bears, but done–
Craig: Well, I mean, and they tried to remake it.
Chris: But they tried to remake it–
Craig: They did. They remade it.
Chris: They remade it and they remade it kind of in the same mold but with none of the things you could do.
Craig: Well, that’s the thing.
Chris: The spirt of it.
Craig: This is one of those interesting areas where over time we’ve gotten less permissive. You could not make the actual – I mean, the Bad News Bears was Rated R. There was alcohol. There was smoking. There was racism. And they were children. That’s not doable now in any way, shape, or form.
Chris: No. Because it in no way reflected reality and movies have to reflect reality now.
Craig: Hold on, let’s wield the soap box on.
Chris: No, no, this is what I read. I got the email.
Craig: There it is.
John: But here’s what I’ll say. I feel like a sports comedy is still a movie. And that it’s more of a movie than it is a TV show, than a series.
John: Because I feel like a game of sport, whatever sport you want to pick – I knew you were going to laugh, I said a game of sport.
Chris: Remember there was a TV show. Do you remember Ball Four?
John: I do not remember Ball Four.
Craig: Oh, based on, what’s his name, Jim Bouton’s book.
Chris: Jim Bouton’s book. Lasted for about seven episodes.
Craig: It turns out that in sports there is this built-in ticking clock. Are you going to win or not? I mean, there’s a big game in the beginning, there’s a big game at the end. There’s a big fight in the beginning and there’s a big fight at the end.
John: And Friday Night Lights is an exception but it’s not a comedy. It’s an ensemble drama that is centered around a football team.
Craig: Correct. About family life.
Chris: And the culture. And it’s high school. So it’s not pro and it’s–
Craig: But it started as a movie. Started as a movie.
John: It did. Next category, ensemble dramedies. So we used to make things like St. Elmo’s Fire, The Big Chill, Breakfast Club, Big Fish, Terms of Endearment. So we used to make things that had big casts, where a bunch of folks came together, where characters did grow and change but it was an ensemble. It wasn’t sort of one character’s story. Is that a thing we’re going to be making on the big screen soon? We’ll start with what is the essence of that kind of story. What is the essence of an ensemble dramedy?
Craig: Let’s make McQuarrie take a shot at that one.
Chris: It seems to me as I’m running through the list that you just – nostalgia is a big part of it. It’s my understanding that somebody did a breakdown of why people go to see movies and the number one reason was to have a nostalgic experience. An emotional nostalgic experience. I think that probably plays into sports as well, especially plays into why a lot of sports movies seem to go–
Craig: Back in time.
Chris: Back to that. And you look at The Big Chill. The Big Chill was very much a nostalgic movie.
John: It’s a reunion of friends who had separated. St. Elmo’s Fire, while it wasn’t a nostalgic movie, they were at a specific turning point in their life. They were kind of looking back at—
Craig: See, to me that’s it. We have a group of people that represent some kind of contemporary arrangement. Whether we’re catching them later or they were contemporary or we’re in their contemporariness like for instance The Breakfast Club. But they are at a moment where things are changing.
Craig: And we watch that happen. That to me is the essence of these things. But for the love of god I cannot imagine anyone putting this on a screen anymore. It just doesn’t seem like they will. It’s a bummer.
John: Yeah, it’s tragic. I mean, on a big screen. I think you can absolutely make these for streaming.
Craig: No question.
John: But in so many ways though the one-hour series have sort of taken, even like short series have taken the place of these, where you can see those characters grow over the course–
Chris: Oh, This is Us.
Craig: This is Us.
John: This is Us as a movie.
Chris: Modern Family.
Craig: Correct. And interestingly Dan Fogelman–
John: Yeah, he tried to do it as a movie.
Craig: He sort of tried to do it as a movie. He tried This is Us as a movie and it didn’t connect with audiences. But he’s obviously incredibly good at it because tens of millions of people watch This is Us and it gets all these awards. There is something, I don’t know, we used to be able to go and watch this – maybe it’s just that we used to expect less. You know, we would go to the movie theater and we weren’t asking to have our brains blown out the back of our skulls.
Chris: I went to see Hell or High Water.
John: Oh, which is fantastic.
Chris: Which I loved. And I was talking to Tim Talbot shortly thereafter and I said did you see Hell or High Water? And he said, “Yes.” And what did you think about it? “That was a great movie.” In 1987 that would have been a good movie. But he’s right in that that sort of stuff – I remember going to the movies every weekend. It was not an event. Now when you ask anybody under the age of 25 why they go to the movies they will say in one form or another, “Because I have to go.” They want to be part of a discussion.
I tried to get to see Avengers, which I finally saw yesterday, as quickly as I could because I was tired of having a self-imposed media bubble. There were things in that movie I really didn’t want ruined. Getting to that state. Whereas the stories that we’re talking about, what television does so well now especially is there is a collective history.
If you tried to tune into Game of Thrones now you don’t understand and it wouldn’t – the number of people who are saying three years into Mad Men going, “Yeah, I tried to get into that show and I just couldn’t.” It’s like, of course not, if you turn middle of season three none of this makes any sense.
Craig: Start at the beginning. That’s true. But I do think that one of the problems for – like I remember going to see St. Elmo’s Fire. And my expectation was that I was going to see a group of people that were somewhat older than me dealing with problems. And I knew at some point somebody was going to like, I think Rob Lowe was going to light a torch on fire with some hairspray or something, and Demi Moore was in a corner super dramatic. And I think thought, OK, I’m going to see some sort of human drama. That would not do it anymore. Now when people go to the movie theater it’s like, well, this is going to pin me back and it’s going to blow my mind. And I’m going to see stuff and it’s going to be an event.
Chris: An event.
Craig: An event. I just think people go to the movies for a different reason now.
Chris: But don’t you think also what you can get from television is very different than what we could get from television.
Craig: No question.
Craig: No question.
Chris: You could not make Game of Thrones as a feature film. Any of the content in Game of Thrones would be NC17.
Craig: Nor could you have made it for television prior to this kind of strange change.
Chris: Yes. It’s the networks. As soon as basic cable met the British model of television which was you make a good television show and when it stops being good you – when it reaches the end you stop.
Craig: Isn’t that nice?
Chris: Yes, it’s lovely.
Craig: You know what? This is going to be six episodes long. Great.
Chris: Yeah, or six episodes this season instead of 22 every season.
Craig: Which is why I take my hat off to people like Derek Haas who are still doing it, not just on one show, but multiple show. I mean, the amount of story that has to be generated by those guys is bananas. But, yes, the format has become not just flexible but there is not format. It doesn’t matter.
John: Let’s get back to movies. Next let’s save the legal thriller or the courtroom thriller. We’ll put these things together. So, obviously we have all the John Grisham based ones, The Pelican Brief, The Firm, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker. We have Michael Clayton. We have Primal Fear.
Craig: Love Primal Fear.
John: Love Primal Fear. Presumed Innocent. Disclosure. A Few Good Men.
Chris: The Verdict.
Craig: The Verdict.
John: The Verdict. I hadn’t thought of The Verdict.
Chris: One of the all-time–
Craig: Well, and 12 Angry Men.
Chris: Yes, oh my god.
Craig: Which is sort of the [unintelligible] courtroom drama.
Chris: Well, 12 Angry Men and And Justice for All.
Craig: And Justice for All.
Chris: We can probably go on.
John: We can.
Craig: Yes, I think we could.
John: So what is the essence of these kind of thrillers? So traditionally I think you have an authority figure who is generally the prosecutor or could be working for the defense who is very smart at the law who has to intercede in a specific situation. They generally didn’t commit the situation. They’re there to solve a problem and in trying to solve the problem they uncover something remarkable that puts themselves either in moral jeopardy or literal jeopardy. We don’t make these. We haven’t made them for a while.
Chris: No. Well, when we were talking about 12 Angry Men and The Verdict, both Lumet movies. 12 Angry Men is a morality tale, sort of a study of–
John: And it feels like a play.
Chris: Yeah, feels very much like a play. The Verdict is a redemption story. The Verdict is in a lot of ways a boxing movie.
Chris: It’s the palooka who comes back for–
Craig: And I think that that’s a good distinction because some of these movies like A Few Good Men also feels like a boxing movie where basically a guy whose dad was a great boxer and who has decided to throw fights instead for a living is going to come back and take on the all-time champ and go down dying if he has to. So, there are those.
And then there are these movies that are they turn on grand questions of justice. What is justice?
Chris: That’s And Justice for All.
Craig: And Justice for All. Or A Time to Kill is very much like that. So those are two different, I mean they always have fireworks. They always have the certain venues that we know. And there is a verdict that is a little bit like the game in the sports movies.
Chris: The Verdict actually ended without the verdict.
Craig: Without the verdict. Well.
John: But here’s a distinction is like a sports movie they want to be a single movie because it’s not a thing that’s going to continue well over time. And so like Murder One was an attempt to take one case–
Craig: Kelley I think.
John: Over the course of a whole season and it just didn’t work. It wanted to be part of one thing.
Chris: I don’t want a mystery to last that long.
Chris: And first of all the struggle in television, they referred to it for years as the Twin Peaks problem. That you can only lose audience. You couldn’t gain audience. Because when that show was on unless you videotaped it you couldn’t catch up on Netflix, you couldn’t binge it. And there was something fascinating about that. To think about it now, that television actually just spilled out into the universe and that was it.
Craig: And you either caught it with your hands or you missed it. It was gone on the floor.
Chris: Yes. It comes back to urgency. The urgency, how and why one watches a television show or a movie is very different now.
John: I think people should write a legal thriller, I mean, I feel like it’s the kind of movie that you could still imagine making today. I mean, what do you need to make a great legal thriller? You need a star. It is actually a star vehicle. It’s that person you cast as the central lawyer is great. You look at, you know, I think you can make Primal Fear at any point where you also have a great supporting character. Like you look at Edward Norton–
Chris: Well that’s a thriller, like that and Jagged Edge.
John: Oh, of course. Oh yes.
Chris: Have you watched that recently?
Craig: Yeah, it’s amazing.
Chris: I’ve been going back and watching the–
John: He is innocent!
Craig: So great.
Chris: And the other one I went back and watched recently, which was fascinating artifact is–
Chris: Basic Instinct.
John: Oh yeah. We’re going to get to sexual/erotic thrillers. And that’s there.
Craig: Thank god.
Chris: Can we just skip to that?
John: We can skip to that next.
Craig: I think that there is some space for it, the problem is it is the most trod-upon ground. Because we have 4,000 episodes of Law & Order. And it will never stop. Neither will CSI. NCIS. That arena, the courtroom procedural aspects of it have been just beaten to death. So the question is how can you do it – I think you could go back all the way to 12 Angry Men and that kind of idea.
Chris: Yes. If you ask what they all have in common as I’m sitting here [unintelligible] is the discovery. There is some reveal. There is a hidden secret that sort of turns the case. Those are hard to do.
Craig: What’s the Dershowitz one with–?
Chris: Claus von Bulow.
Craig: Yeah. Claus von Bulow.
Chris: Reversal of Fortune.
John: Reversal of Fortune.
Craig: “No one shook Sunny.” That’s my favorite line.
Chris: And what I love about that is the reversal is the last line.
Craig: The reversal is the last line of the movie.
Chris: “You have no idea.”
Craig: “You have no idea.” And then weirdly Alan Dershowitz has had his own fascinating reversal. But that’s for other podcasts.
John: Absolutely. But I think we can make a legal thriller. And so do you make a legal thriller for the big screen? Maybe. A really good legal thriller I think could also be an awards contender. The same way like The Post was a journalism thriller. That was back in that space.
Craig: Yes. It has be specifically crafted for the Academy Awards. I would think you would need two huge stars. I could see—
Chris: Let’s talk about who those huge stars are.
Craig: Streep v. Washington.
Chris: Regardless of our genre.
Craig: Meryl Streep v. Denzel Washington. Two lawyers going head-to-head over something that is actually legitimately relevant to our society now.
Chris: Well, you’d be talking about abortion, gun control, really hot topic issues.
Craig: Police brutality.
Chris: Police brutality. And then the trick of making that movie is making a movie that is for both halves of the audience, not one.
John: Yeah. I don’t know that you need like a marquee issue. So if it was about sort of corporate control, some way to do it–
Craig: Yeah, you know, he’s not wrong.
John: Because you want a thriller. You still want the thriller. You also want the legal drama.
Craig: You still want the thriller aspect. Because the truth is the thing at the heart of A Few Good Men is not a hot-button issue. There’s an interesting theme to it, but it isn’t a hot-button issue. And maybe it would actually be better without one. Maybe I just want two people – you know what also was really good? The Insider.
John: You know who would also be really good in this? Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise could do a good job.
Craig: Well, he’s done it though.
John: He’s done it.
Craig: Can he come back and do it again?
Chris: Well, I would love to see Tom do a version of The Verdict. I’d love to see him do the broken down. Jerry Maguire is his Verdict.
Craig: Oh my god. We could talk about Jerry Maguire forever.
John: We can.
Craig: I’ve got huge love for that script.
Chris: Talk about a weird. What’s the pitch to Jerry Maguire? I’m going to make a movie about a sports agent who is having an emotional crisis.
Craig: My pitch for Jerry Maguire is imagine a man whose life is deeply flawed who has a moment of clarity where he describes exactly who he should be. And that’s the beginning of the movie. And then the entire movie is him trying to become that guy.
Chris: But would you have picked a sports agent?
Craig: No, but that’s fun. I get it.
Chris: No, I mean, it’s such a – the fact that the movie works and resonates–
Craig: There’s comebacks. Makes sense.
Chris: Well, that helps.
Craig: Finding a scum-baggy kind of job like sports agent. I don’t know any sports agents. I apologize.
Chris: Well, yeah, so you just blanket called them all scumbags.
Craig: A little bit. Sorry.
Chris: It’s the whole agent thing.
Craig: Should we go to the erotic thrillers.
John: Erotic thrillers.
Chris: Erotic thrillers.
John: We’ve got Fatal Attraction. We’ve got Basic Instinct.
Chris: Now what does an erotic thriller need? What’s the central elements of an erotic thriller?
Craig: I believe boobs are high on the list.
John: Color of Night. Killing Me Softly. American Gigolo. Gone Girl I would say is an erotic thriller. Or has aspects of that.
John: It’s definitely a thriller. There’s a sexual aspect to it.
Craig: I don’t think of it’s an erotic – I don’t think of it as–
Chris: It’s a neurotic thriller.
John: But it’s pulpy in the way that you want an erotic thriller to be.
Chris: Sea of Love. Nice pull. So I’ve got to go back and watch that one.
Craig: It’s good.
John: So erotic thrillers, at the time it was sexual content on screen that you just couldn’t see other places. You certainly couldn’t see it on TV.
Chris: And now you can’t see it in theaters and there’s nothing but on television.
John: That’s absolutely true.
Craig: Or your phone. You can just see it on your phone.
John: Literal pornography.
Craig: There should be a list of – there’s probably a website that has a list of perfectly reasonable civil Google searches that will absolutely blow your mind with the images that come up. I just feel like old people are always, you know, like–
Chris: There’s no parental control strict enough–
Craig: They’re just like, oh, I’m just searching for something normal. Yeah, and then look what just came up.
John: So what distinguishes an erotic thriller from just–?
John: From porn or from things that have–?
Chris: Sexual obsession.
John: Sexual obsession. All right.
Chris: Sexual obsession. So in Jagged Edge it’s the forbidden nature of the sexual relationship. There is an inappropriate boundary that is being crossed. Michael Douglas is investigating Sharon Stone so he should not be having sex with Sharon Stone.
Chris: And Glenn Close is representing Jeff Bridges so she should not be having sex with Jeff Bridges.
John: You know what we left off this list though is Fifty Shades of Grey which really would fit underneath this general category. So it’s romance–
Craig: A thriller?
John: But, I mean, it actually has thriller elements. There’s bad people doing bad stuff in it, too. Her life is in danger.
John: So I think it would fall into this general category. So there clearly is a market for making that kind of movie. We just don’t make it–
Craig: Yeah. I mean, look, this kind of old school classic ‘90s, or early ‘90s/late ‘80s erotic thrillers were weirdly in their own way Puritanistic because they would basically reinforce that transgressive sexual behavior would automatically lead to blood on the floor. It’s all basically a lesson in staying monogamous and don’t get out of your lane and don’t give into temptation.
And people who were overtly sexual are equated with evil. And you see it come up over and over and over. If there’s any reason why we don’t make these now beyond the obvious, which is that there’s kind of no market for them, it’s probably that our sexual mores have kind of come further than anything else.
Chris: Can I point out one common thread? There are these erotic thrillers that are starring men as the protagonist and erotic thrillers that are starring women as the protagonist. The ones starring men, the men are kind of bastards. Fatal Attraction, Michael Douglas is sort of perfect in that role. You have a character who is violating the audience’s trust.
John: Cheating on his wife.
Chris: If Tom Hanks was in Fatal Attraction and made the decision that quickly to have sex with Glenn Close you’d be like, what, Tom? Whereas Michael Douglas you kind of believed it.
Craig: Yeah. A little lizardy.
Chris: Yes. And I’m looking at Richard Gere who in that stage of his career loved playing an abrasive bastard. There was almost something where he was antagonizing the audience. Cruel Intentions, Ryan Phillippe in that movie is playing a version of Valmont and is enjoying being a bastard. Al Pacino in Sea of Love, that’s like The Verdict meets erotic thriller. He’s that drunken messed up cop. An element that I’m seeing in this is the casting and the writing of the male character they all seem to be – and, by the way, Douglas comes back in Basic Instinct – a little bit of it seems to be the audience enjoying watching this guy get his comeuppance for having broken the rules.
Craig: Morality plays.
Chris: And casting the right actor in a morality play is a big part.
Craig: But they also in some way start to turn these men into passive movers. Because these women come along and tempt them and turn their heads and confuse them. You know, I don’t know, I just think it’s all a bit old-fashioned.
Chris: There was nothing confused in Michael Douglas’s performance in Fatal Attraction. They’re out having a drink after having had a meeting and he makes a decision instantaneously.
Craig: Sure. Yes, he does. But then the movie basically says, OK, fine, that happened. But look how crazy she is.
Chris: Have you watched it recently?
Chris: Go back and watch it. There’s the whole thing that she’s pregnant. And all he’s trying to do is shut it down. She’s definitely got issues.
Craig: She won’t be ignored.
Chris: But Michael Douglas is not – he handles it the way a panicking male would, not the way the hero of a movie would. The other great thing about that movie is Anne Archer.
Chris: Anne Archer is this–
Craig: I do remember her being like–
Chris: She was the ideal. And for Glenn Close, that’s kind of an unconventional role for Glenn Close. And it’s interesting that she is in almost back-to-back erotic thrillers. And if you go back and watch, look at those two movies which are shot within a few years of each other. And by the way, The Natural was right in there, too. So you look at Glenn Close playing three–
Craig: This like luminous angel.
Chris: Yes, she’s the Madonna. She was this tough lawyer, a little bit corrupt, kind of compromised. And then playing that woman in Fatal Attraction.
Craig: Sort of on the edge, mentally on the edge.
Chris: Who you cast in an erotic thriller is a big, big deal.
Craig: Well, Glenn Close is pretty, pretty good at her job. I think we can all agree on that.
John: Although we’re probably not casting her in the next erotic thriller.
Chris: Expecting great things.
Craig: I don’t think we’re going to be seeing the likes of those.
John: Craig, can we skip ahead to something that you know especially well? Spoofs and parodies.
Craig: Spoofs and parodies.
Chris: Spoofs and parodies.
John: So movies like Airplane, Spaceballs, Not Another Teen Movie, Scary Movie series, MacGruber, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Superhero Movie. Tropic Thunder. Shaun of the Dead. Vampires Suck. Austin Powers. Blazing Saddles. We’re not making many of these movies now. And I have a theory why, but I’m curious what your theory is why we don’t make these movies.
Craig: As David Zucker would repeatedly say, “Spoof is dead.” And his thing is that he would say spoof is dead, he said it before spoof came back. Spoof was dead. I remember Jim Abrahams saying that he was mixing mafia, a Jane Austen movie, Jane Austen’s Mafia.
Chris: Jane Austen’s Mafia.
Craig: And he walked down the hall where they were mixing and on another mixing stage they were mixing There’s Something About Mary. And he just sort of watched a few minutes of it and then went back and said, “Yeah, we’re fucked. Our time is over.”
And it was over. And then the Wayans Brothers brought it back with Scary Movie. But following the success of Scary Movie, and 2, and 3, and 4, there was this sudden – suddenly they were everywhere. And the marketplace was flooded with a lot of cheap stuff. And honestly as one of the people that wrote Scary Movie 3 and 4, I mean, the pressure that we were under from the Weinsteins to make those movies as quickly as possible was brutal. And we couldn’t do them as well as we wanted to do them. And we did them with David Zucker and Pat Proft and Jim Abrahams.
So by the time all that unraveled it was mostly I think killed at the moment by just the marketplace being flooded. But also you got the sense pretty quickly that the Internet was essentially mooting the entire point of this.
John: Yes. That was my instinct.
Craig: Because every joke, I mean, we used to be like, OK, you want to make fun of this movie. Well, four or five nights from now Leno is going to do the joke. Well, now they’re doing the jokes while they’re watching things. There’s no more time. It’s over.
Chris: That’s very true.
Craig: It’s over.
Chris: Everything is – yeah, the Internet is a spoof.
Craig: The Internet is essentially a spoof machine.
John: There’s no way to make the movie quick enough to do it. And even like on YouTube they can do the crappy effects version of that joke anyway.
Chris: But Blazing Saddles is on this list. It is a spoof but it is a spoof with a higher purpose.
John: So it’s not a spoof of any one movie, it’s taking genre conventions–
Craig: Of a genre.
Chris: Of a genre.
John: And Shaun of the Dead is a great example of like taking the genre conventions and upending them in a way that’s—
Chris: Well that’s a mashup.
Chris: And a great one.
Craig: It’s still I would say really hard now. I mean, Airplane was a direct spoof of a movie called Zero Hour from 1956 or something, or 1955, which no one had seen. That was sort of the oddity of Airplane that they just did this random thing. But somewhere along the line spoofs became connected to either genres as a whole or when it got really bad pop culture. And that’s when it just all to me absolutely fell apart.
There’s probably room for somebody to make a spoof of some weird movie that has been forgotten.
Chris: Well, but and Austin Powers is taking shots at movies along with Bond. Matt Helm. And some really–
Craig: In Like Flint.
Chris: Yeah, In Like Flint. When the phone rings, that’s directly taken from In Like Flint.
John: But you look at the ones of these that we feel like you could still make is that these films actually have individualized characters who sort of have an arc and have a point of view. And the movie doesn’t exist just to make fun of the movie that came before it. The character is existing within a world and is consistent within a world. So Austin Powers is a spoof of another kind of character, but is also a character himself. And Dr. Evil is a character himself.
Chris: Yes. And it’s a time travel comedy in a way. They both are, at least two of the three, are.
Craig: I mean, the people that kind of come the closest now to doing spoof and parody in their own way is Chris and Phil.
John: Lord and Miller. Yeah.
Craig: Yeah. Lord and Miller in a weird way do. I mean, Lego has certain spoof aspects to it.
John: Their Spider Man also has aspects of like it’s an awareness of where this is fitting inside the culture.
Craig: Yeah, it’s Meta. Their Jump Street movies are kind of spoofing Jump Street.
John: Oh yes.
Craig: Like it’s a self-spoof. But it’s different. It’s not like, I mean, thank god, by the way. Because honestly nothing is harder than writing those things. I will never work harder in my life than I did writing Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4. It was just—
Chris: It’s one of the reasons Chernobyl is not as funny.
Craig: Yeah, I know. It took the jokes out.
John: It took all the comedy out of me.
Chris: You didn’t make the effort. I know.
John: Let’s take the jokes out of biblical epics, and/or sword and sandals movies. So things like Gladiator, Ben-Hur, Noah, Passion of the Christ. King in Heaven. Spartacus. Ten Commandments. Braveheart, to some degree. Lawrence of Arabia. Like we used to make these things. That was actually a staple of original Hollywood. We have the giant ranches here because we used to make these epics.
Chris: Giant movies.
John: Giant movies. We don’t make them anymore.
John: So here’s–
Chris: Because they don’t win awards anymore.
John: They don’t win awards anymore.
John: Even though Game of Thrones is being show on smaller screens, it is that kind of sword and sandals thing.
John: And so we’re making them, but we’re making them for smaller screen.
Craig: TV. No question.
Chris: But is TV – I have a very large television. It’s not terribly expensive. I would imagine a lot of people have maxed their credit cards for a large TV.
Craig: You’re comparing your large TV to the TV you grew up, which was like the TV I grew up. That 9-inch black and white thing in the kitchen, with the single antenna shooting out.
Chris: It was a letterbox.
Craig: Correct. But my kids only know those TVs. But those TVs are still not – I mean, they’re not movies.
Craig: It’s not a movie screen.
Chris: No. But most people, the way their viewing habits are now, we’re making a Mission: Impossible. We have an IMAX segment in it. And people are saying well why don’t you just shoot the whole thing in IMAX.
Craig: No one is going to watch it.
Chris: It’s never going to be seen again. You’re making this balance. And there are times I’ll be framing a shot and Cruise will walk up to me and go, “You know when this is on the big screen and I pull my phone out of my pocket—“
Craig: Here it is.
Chris: This is the screen now. It’s not that it will only be watched on television, but for the life of the film.
Craig: For the life of it. Primarily.
Chris: The theatrical lifespan of a movie is 12 weeks.
Craig: Whoa. 12 weeks. What is this hit movie you’ve got that’s in there 12 weeks?
Chris: I’m talking like by the end it’s in eight theaters
Craig: Yes. Correct.
Chris: I’m giving a conservative—
Craig: Really it’s four weeks is what it is.
Chris: Four weeks. Yeah.
Craig: It used to be months.
Craig: It is now about four weeks.
John: So what is the essence of these biblical epics we’re talking about? So, if you’re talking about a Gladiator or a Ben-Hur, it is a character in a long ago time, typically a Roman time, who is coming up against an authority system. He is leading, it’s always a he in these movies, is leading–
Chris: It’s a Christ figure against Rome.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Christ figure against Rome.
Craig: That’s exactly what it is. Every single time. Christ figure against Rome. Doesn’t matter what you do.
Chris: Doesn’t matter if it’s Rome or not Rome. Doesn’t matter if it’s Christ or not Christ.
Craig: That’s what Braveheart is. That’s what Ten Commandments is. Even when it’s Jews it’s still a Christ figure against Rome. Some hero will rise in a kind of faded destiny way, usually out of nothing. And they have special powers, special abilities. They are spat on, tortured, hurt. Their family is killed. They are persecuted. And ultimately they do some incredibly self-sacrificial thing and the world is saved. And the last scene is people sitting around going, “God, he was awesome.”
Chris: He was a great man.
Craig: He was a great man.
Chris: And it’s always a man.
Craig: And it’s always a man. Patriarchy.
Chris: As a matter of fact there’s a biblical epic with a woman. Mary Magdalene is coming soon.
Chris: Rooney Mara.
John: Rooney Mara plays that.
Craig: Wasn’t there already one of those that like [Murray Bowen’s] company did? Didn’t he do? Oh, I thought he did.
Chris: Maybe we’re talking about the same one.
Craig: No, no, that one was [crosstalk].
Chris: But, yes, I saw a trailer. Joaquin Phoenix is Jesus.
Craig: Ooh. Jesus is a phoenix. I’m down with that.
Chris: Pretty interesting. It’s an interesting Jesus.
John: Yeah. So I guess that’s the question. Is this type of movie really about the setting or is it about specifically that sort of Jesus against Rome kind of thing? Because even Braveheart you could sort of look at as Jesus against Rome.
John: Yeah, so it’s the same concept.
Craig: No question.
John: And to what degree do they need to be big screen movies versus – in a weird way–
Chris: Time and distance. When you want to talk epic scale, Lawrence of Arabia is a giant event.
John: But isn’t a miniseries better suited up for this kind of epic storytelling? I think it could have been kind of a fluke that the only thing we had were movies. And so we had to tell the Ten Commandments as a movie.
Craig: And they were very long movies.
John: They’re very long movies.
Craig: Ben-Hur is endless.
John: But the better form would have been as a series.
Craig: I agree with you. I think that there is – these things will generally work better, live better, as series. I think it’s probably where they’re generally going to happen. But one of the few segments of audience that still reliably goes to movies are faith-based audiences.
Craig: And I’m not a faith-based person. I don’t even really know what faith is. I mean, I know the definition. I’ve just never felt it before. But regardless, they will go to these things. And so you have this other weird segment of movie where every now and then you’ll look at like on Deadline what were the top five movies this weekend and number four is, wait, what the? What? It’s a Prayer for Jimmy? And what is this?
Chris: And it’s why they made that last remake of Ben-Hur.
Craig: No question. Oh yes, yes. Ben-Hur was—
Chris: Was a direct calculated aimed – it was very much targeted at that group.
Craig: I mean, nothing is more cynical as far as I’m concerned.
Chris: No, no, The Passion of the Christ caught everybody off guard.
Chris: Nobody expected. And that was kind of the thing. And remember it came out at a weird time of year. It was January, when January was–
Craig: A cold, dead January.
Chris: That’s the place where movies went to die.
Craig: January, February. By the way, is there any month now where movies go to die? I don’t think there is.
Chris: Yes. Back to school week. The first week of September is still – somebody’s going to do it. But that is–
Craig: Actually a great idea for just a movie is back to school week, let’s go see every movie. It’s just one horrible movie where all of the junk gets dumped.
Chris: Oh yes.
John: All right, let’s maybe wrap up with buddy cop, which was a frequent suggestion. Buddy cop, come on, there have been amazing buddy cop movies. 21 Jump Street. The Other Guys. Hot Fuzz. The Heat. Bad Boys. Men in Black. K-9. Lethal Weapon. White Chicks. Shanghai Noon. That idea that you have two mismatched people who have to work together to solve a crime and to do things. It’s a classic paradigm. You know, Abbott and Castello. We’ve always seen these two, this [unintelligible] go through things. But we’re not doing a lot of them now. So what’s – how do we get to it?
Craig: Well, you know what? I think the Too Fast Too Furious, I just always give Derek Haas credit for that. And let’s so also say RIP John Singleton, the director of Too Fast Too Furious. But the Fast and Furious franchise is kind of a buddy cop writ large with multiple buddies.
Chris: Dragged Across Concrete is coming out.
Craig: Yeah. I think they still do these.
Chris: I don’t know that that’s a comedy.
John: Central Intelligence is essentially a buddy cop movie.
Craig: That’s right. That’s buddy cop. And there was just a movie, wasn’t there a movie with Regina Hall just out and – I think that they keep making these.
Chris: Oh, well the Sandra Bullock, Miss Congeniality.
John: Oh, The Heat.
Craig: Oh, that’s way back. But then there’s The Heat with Melissa McCarthy. Yeah, I think they still make buddy cop movies.
John: So I think we may need to step away from the idea of cops. So as long as there are two people who are tasted in a professional job of doing some kind of police-y thing.
Chris: The Odd Couple with guns.
John: An Odd Couple with guns. Thank you.
Craig: Odd Couple with guns. That’s pretty much what it is.
Chris: What it boils down to.
Craig: And they become each other’s family.
John: And so as long as, you know, you can make them for the big screen. You have to have a certain production value and a certain size to make them for the big screen. Weirdly you don’t see as many of them in TV shows anymore. So I guess right now on the air we have MacGyver, we have Magnum PI which is sort of–
Chris: Yeah, cop shows on TV are definitely more dramas.
Craig: Procedurals. Well, because the essence of the buddy cop is that they don’t start as buddies and they end up as buddies. But you can’t end up as anything on a serialized show. You have to keep going. So it kind of has to be a movie.
Chris: Yes. A lot of this conversation seems to be about how technology has disrupted what we imagined the plain of cinema to be. There seems to be a really clear shift.
Craig: And just wait.
Chris: From no home video, to home video, to no home video again. Now it’s home theater. Now it’s home – it’s content. That’s where I think the line is blurring. It’s big screen/small screen.
Craig: And the amount that’s available now is – and the resources that are being poured into it. I mean, better or worse, however you want to chop up the money, there was just way less money. I mean, there were five studios and they gave you some studio. And there were three networks and they gave you some money.
But now we’ve got just billions and billions rushing in to make more and more stuff. It is transforming things. But there aren’t that many more screens. In fact, I’d probably argue there are fewer screens than there used to be.
John: Well, there’s not more time. There’s not more time for people to view things. And so even though we have new people coming in and new distribution outlets, we have new money chasing new things–
Craig: Time is a flat circle.
John: Yes. And so we don’t have the ability to watch more things. And so we have to choose how we’re going to do this.
Chris: I’m looking at the–
John: So I skipped over some things. Is there a genre there you want to tackle?
John: Let’s talk about westerns.
Craig: Hmm, westerns.
John: On this show we’ve talked about Unforgiven. We’ve talked about 3:10 to Yuma. We’ve talked about sort of westerns. But what is it about westerns that you think can be suited towards the big screen. Because also we had Scott Frank on who talked about his great Netflix show.
John: Godless. Which was sort of exploding what a normal western—
Craig: Meant to be a movie. Written as a script.
Chris: He struggled with it for years, right? He was trying to get it down to something movie size.
Craig: Well, and he does it with all of his movies. But, I mean, look, it was movie size. It’s just that what he was struggling was to get somebody to pay for it as a movie. Because essentially people kept saying well the western is dead, the western is dead, the western is dead.
Chris: And that which is the WWII movie is dead. You hear about this all the time. And then the number of times I’ve seen a dead genre—
Craig: Everything is dead until it’s not.
Chris: Yeah. Dunkirk was a really great example of a dead genre that people don’t go to see anymore.
Craig: My favorite example is nothing could have been a deader genre than pirate movies.
John: Oh yeah, of course.
Craig: Pirate movies. Not only dead—
Chris: Do you remember Pirates with Walter Matthau?
Chris: Oh my god.
Craig: But before they made Pirates of the Caribbean we had Cutthroat Island which had sank an entire, like a hedge fund disappeared.
Chris: It killed Carolco.
Craig: Yeah, Carolco. An entire company was dead. And before that–
Chris: Killed careers.
Craig: Careers. Renny Harlin. And then – and the thought of making a pirates movie was considered almost obscene.
John: Pirates of the Caribbean. Just takes one.
Craig: There we go.
John: It didn’t start a new genre. There weren’t like other pirates movies coming after that. It was only the one pirate movie.
Craig: Exactly. Everybody else was like you know what, let’s let them have it. We’re still not making pirate movies.
Chris: We’re still not making pirate movies. And it so specifically hinges around a kind of storytelling and a character. Johnny Depp.
Craig: And a brand.
Craig: I mean, just built in.
John: It was also supernatural. So you had a supernatural vibe to it which is different than other stuff.
Chris: But the western, Unforgiven represented a shift towards deconstructionist from which the genre never seemed to – 3:10 to Yuma was its own darker western. Godless was its own. What I miss – what I’d love to see is—
Chris: The Magnificent 7. And Shane. Silverado. The Big Country. Movies that are more of an adventure and more a morality tale as opposed to – watch slow west.
Craig: It’s never going to happen. It’s gone. It’s over.
Chris: I will fight you on that.
Craig: Well, look, I think as a country and a culture we have lost the ability to go back to the kind of idealized west. We just know too much.
Chris: No, I don’t think it’s idealized. I think – you look at The Big Country, it’s not idealized. The country is rough, but a man walks into it who refuses to play by those rules. And I think that’s – if you take westerns there are two kinds. There are kind of westerns noirs where the west just chews you up and spits you out. And there’s the place where one can prove one’s self.
Chris: And it’s this rough and lawless place where somebody, you know.
Craig: Maybe a book would do it.
John: A book might do it. I mean, I think it comes back to the discussion we had with the ensemble dramedies which his that we used to go to see those movies that didn’t have a lot of high stakes in them because that was fine. We needed to go see a movie.
Craig: What the hell else were you going to do on a Saturday afternoon?
John: And so I just wonder that this non-deconstructed western that is just truly a western whether it’s actually going to get people to go out to see it on a screen.
Chris: Hell or High Water.
John: Hell or High Water—
Chris: It was contemporary but it’s a western.
John: It totally is.
Chris: It’s a bank-robbing—
John: It’s a pickup truck western and I loved it for what it was able to do. But that was not a breakout smash hit. It was a good performer, but it was not—
Chris: I think it did OK financially and it got nominated for Best Picture.
John: It did, absolutely.
Chris: Which for movies of that size is kind of the – that’s your life blood to keep in the theaters for another—
Craig: John Lee Hancock has kind of made a western in a sense with The Highwaymen.
Chris: The Highwaymen. Sure.
Craig: But, again, Netflix. I mean, and that’s where John Lee lives now. You know, those are the movies he’s going to be making now because – and here’s a guy who made, I don’t know, $14 billion for Warner Bros and Alcon with The Blind Side. And today I don’t think they make The Blind Side for theatrical. That’s what’s happened. I fear that we have lost something kind of permanently in the economics of making these movies.
And it may have literally just come down to the cost of marketing. Because—
Chris: That’s everything.
Craig: Right. I mean, Netflix, the way they market their movie is they don’t. It’s just there.
Chris: When you turn on Netflix they’re like, hey, do you want to watch this?
John: Absolutely. And they bought every billboard in Los Angeles but that’s just for us.
Chris: But here’s the upside to that. Here’s the less than dystopian way of looking at that. In the current culture where the business is suddenly waking up to the fact that they have to diversify, this is something I experience a lot on the movies that I get called in to come in and do fixes on. The business was predicated on a male director makes a $5 million movie that makes $50 million. Let’s give him $200 million in hopes it makes $1 billion. Women were not afforded those same undeserved opportunities.
Chris: Which they are now.
Craig: And were punished—
Chris: And were punished – exactly.
Craig: If they didn’t do the impossible.
Chris: Whereas the way to look at Netflix is Netflix could be the farm system. Now there’s many more movies being made for lower budgets creating – and I see lots of women directing television now.
Craig: Way more opportunity.
Chris: The director lists that I’m now being handed for the TV shows I’m working on are 50/50 and you’re actually looking at, oh, that person is being hired for the quality of their work, which is very encouraging. Is it possible that what we end up with is – you know how the Oscars have sort of divided into—?
Chris: You know, there’s Oscar movies and there’s money-making movies. Now could there be there’s Netflix movies and there’s feature films? And that the feature films because of marketing requirements need to be bigger movies that make more money. And then Netflix becomes the farm system that teaches people how to do stuff.
You could live within the Netflix bubble and make a 14, a 25, and a $60 million movie.
Craig: Yeah. I think we’re there. I mean, I think that’s where we are. The real question, is there any kind – well, question number one. Is there mobility from Netflix type of movies or other TV movies to the big ones? Or do people even want to go? Because here’s the thing. I think a lot of filmmakers don’t – you know, we were talking to Mari Heller about this. Mari Heller made this incredible movie, Diary of a Teenage Girl. It was amazing. And people came to her and they’re like here’s this huge superhero movie, you want to do it? And she was like I feel like I’m supposed to, because we’re trying to advance the cause of female directors and we’re trying to get into those big seats, but I don’t want to.
I want to do this.
Chris: Well, there’s no point in making it if – you look at her and that dilemma knowing that – having nothing to do with who is directing a movie how those movies get made. The script is not ready.
Craig: Yep. [laughs]
Chris: The movie is going in three weeks.
Chris: You’ve never done anything like this.
Craig: The actor is kind of in charge.
Chris: The producer, whose name is on a bunch of giant movies, will not be there.
Chris: And this is all going to be your fault. Do you still want to do it?
Craig: It is really terrifying.
Chris: Correct. And again, it takes a special kind of director to get into that kind of trouble and then accept the help when they bring it in. Because you are essentially now, it’s very embarrassing. You’re at a point where you’re in way over your head. And not because – this is not hubris. They’re promised support, and then it’s just not there. So now suddenly you lose control of your movie. It takes a lot having never been through the process to know that it’s all going to be OK in the end. When the movie works you’ll still get credit.
Craig: That’s a lot to have faith in.
Chris: It’s very wounding. So I can see somebody looking at that and saying—
Chris: But there’s the other side of that is the grass is always greener. You’re going to have people making big giant movies. Michael Bay made Pain & Gain because he really wanted to make it. Michael Bay, some part of Michael Bay – I don’t care, any filmmaker you can name at that level – some part of them wants to make their little movie about—
Craig: Their podium movie.
Chris: [laughs] They want to make their podium movie.
Craig: They want to make their podium movie.
Chris: Yes, and the same thing I would imagine is just – the Duffer Brothers have some big feature they want to do.
Craig: Big ass dumb movie they want to do.
Chris: Yes, they’ve got some big ass.
John: Well, I think Duffer Brothers are a great example because Stranger Things had an effect on popular culture which was terrific and because it was a really popular series. But if that had just been a one-off movie I don’t think it would have had that effect on popular culture—
John: The way that a movie that’s released on big screens can actually bend culture in a way. So Black Panther can bend culture.
Craig: We have proof of that. Because even though I admired it, Super 8 is Stranger Things.
John: It is.
Craig: And it just doesn’t work as a movie the way Stranger Things works as a series.
John: Yeah. And that was the case where J.J. Abrams wanted to make this smaller movie.
Craig: Well, what do you say we wrap this up by heading into One Cool Things?
John: Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing this week?
Craig: I do have a One Cool Thing. I hope that you have a One Cool Thing.
Chris: I have Two Cool Things.
Craig: Well, it’s called One Cool Thing, Chris.
John: He can do two. It’s the 400th episode.
Chris: I have to pick one?
Craig: No, you can do two.
Chris: One of my Cool Things is in the other Cool Thing.
Craig: OK, fair enough.
Chris: Neither of them may be cool.
Craig: They’re nested.
Chris: They’re nerdy.
Craig: My One Cool Thing this week is a recommendation from grand crossword nerd Trip Payne. And it is an app called One Clue Crossword. Very clever. So you get a little – it looks like vaguely a crossword. It’s not like a proper crossword. But there are no clues except for a picture. And all of the answers—
Chris: I’m already obsessed.
Craig: Are things that are contained in that photo.
Chris: Oh, come on.
John: Oh great.
Craig: And you’ve got to figure out what goes where in the interlocking grid.
Craig: Starts off easy, gets harder and harder and harder.
Chris: By the way to everyone listening, this is the guy who does The New York Times Crossword Puzzle in 2.5 minutes on every Monday. You are like Mr. Crossword.
Craig: No, Trip Payne could – this dude literally was once the actual champion of all crossword puzzles. He’s amazing.
Chris: But it’s you and Megan Amram and David Kwong and Rian Johnson.
Craig: Shannon Woodward and Rian Johnson and Chris Miller.
Chris: And I was a fly on the wall watching you guys and looking at my time. I can’t type that fast. I don’t know how, right?
John: I tried, too, and I can’t.
Chris: If you gave me all the answers.
John: I couldn’t fill it in.
Chris: If you were standing over my shoulder going, “Just type this,” I couldn’t. I couldn’t do the Wednesday in two minutes.
Craig: There was a great, one of the great, great crossword constructors of all time was a guy named Henry Hook. He would make crosswords for The Boston Globe I think. And he was notoriously fast. And one guy once raced him with a crossword, except the twist was that the guy had written the crossword. It was his crossword. And he lost to Henry Hook. Yep.
Chris: That’s amazing. So don’t you think that there’s some sort of a physical hand-eye component?
Craig: You get faster as you. What can I say?
Chris: Well, I definitely – because you’re able to track it on the app. Yeah, my times have improved but I’ve hit a wall. There’s no—
Craig: Yeah, you started too late man.
Chris: That’s the problem.
Craig: You’ve got to get in there when you’re a kid.
Chris: The brain is just rusty. You’re right. I should have done it.
John: So my One Cool Thing, this winter I had a cold and so I had my humidifier out. The humidifier worked great. And I found that I was still using the humidifier because I kind of liked the noise it made.
Craig: Nice white noise.
John: White noise. But like I didn’t need to have this thing out in my room and this fan spinning. So I ended up finding a really good white noise machine. I went on the Wirecutter and picked their best white noise machine. And you know what? They were right. It’s a really good little white noise machine. It’s called The LectroFan High Fidelity White Noise Sound Machine. $46 on Amazon. It’s a small little hockey puck that makes really good sound.
And the thing I learned is that some of these machines they just have a sample that they’re playing, a sample sound. This one generates it algorithmically so it’s always completely random.
Craig: That’s really random. Because I use an app.
John: For traveling I use an app.
Craig: And the app is on a loop. And what will happen is if you’re having a bad night—
John: You’ll hear the loop.
Craig: You start hearing the loop. And now you’re F-ed.
Chris: That’s got to be like delirium.
Craig: No, it’s super bad.
Chris: Horrible. Do you have trouble sleeping?
Craig: Not the way I used to. Not the way I used to. As I get older I find that actually I’m looking forward to going to sleep. I used to dread it. And now I’m like, oh yay, I get to give up.
Chris: Ooh, it’s nighttime.
Craig: I get to quit on life and just unplug.
Chris: I never realized that insomnia was just refusing to embrace surrender.
Craig: No question. For me, insomnia was always just like do not die.
Chris: In your sleep!
Craig: In your sleep. What are your nested Cool Things?
Chris: My nested Cool Things are I brought this computer bag.
John: It’s a good-looking computer bag. It’s a black bag.
Chris: It is a black bag. It is made by a company called eBags. And you can see how there’s one strap. There’s actually two, but you can undo this and tuck it in and it becomes—
Craig: Like a briefcase.
Chris: Like a briefcase bag.
Chris: And usually the two-in-one king of thing really turns me off. This is great in terms of all its many pockets. My favorite one being this rather large pocket at the bottom.
Chris: The case itself comes with a hard shell so you can store all of your cables in here. I took it out and this is where I put my toiletries when I travel. Because you have to take all of your liquids out.
Craig: Right. You’ve got to pull out that stupid clear bag.
Chris: Yes. And this bag just places you right through security.
Craig: That’s great.
Chris: It’s a great bag.
Craig: You know what? There’s a topic, by the way – traveling for writers – that we’re going to have to cover. Because god knows I’ve done it enough this year.
Chris: Oh yes.
Craig: And I got travel wired up.
John: I’ve gotten much better because I’ve done all the book tours.
Craig: Right. Exactly.
John: You just pulled something from this. So what is this?
Craig: Is that a battery?
Chris: This is not a battery. This is a laptop stand. Because writing flat on a desk – when I travel—
Craig: It’ll screw your wrist.
Chris: It screws your wrist. This is made by a company called, I hope I’m pronouncing it correctly, AViiQ. Which is how one would spell AViiQ.
Craig: Naturally AViiQ.
Chris: And for people not watching it—
Craig: That’s everyone. [laughs]
Chris: It looks like a ruler. Right? Well I’m talking – that’s not. You guys are here.
Craig: I’m not looking.
Chris: And it’s like origami. It’s made of aluminum. It unfolds.
Craig: Oh, wow, that’s great.
Chris: And feel the weight of it?
Craig: Oh my god, I’ve got to get this.
Chris: It’s like a few sheets of paper.
Craig: And this I assume is made to fit say a MacBook Pro?
Chris: I’ve had every laptop from a Pro to an Air.
John: Oh my god, it’s so light.
Chris: Everything on it. You don’t even know it’s in your bag.
Craig: That’s great.
Chris: It’s great.
Chris: AViiQ. Everybody just go and look at it online. Because there’s no way to describe it where it makes any sense.
Craig: I’m buying that. I’m buying that. That’s brilliant.
Chris: OK, good. I’m glad. And by the way—
John: It was worth the two things.
Chris: This bag, this computer bag, is like $130. It’s not extremely prohibitive.
Craig: It’s not cheap, but it’s not extremely prohibitive. It’s not made of Panda skin.
Craig: The way one would expect Chris McQuarrie to roll.
Chris: And the AViiQ thing is like $20.
Craig: I like that.
Chris: It’s been a while since I bought it.
Craig: I hear you.
Chris: All right. It’s $10,000.
John: [laughs] It’s diamond-encrusted.
Chris: Yes. It’s made of conflict medals from—
Craig: Conflict medals!
John: As we wrap up this show we should remind people that they should buy t-shirts. The Scriptnotes 400-episode t-shirts are available. They should also buy tickets to our live show coming up at the Ace Hotel.
John: We’ll have links to both of those things.
Craig: That’s like eight years of podcasting.
John: It’s a lot of podcasting.
Craig: Oh my god.
John: It’s not even counting the special episodes, of course. So, the things that aren’t part of the number sequence—
Craig: Can’t believe it. Wow.
John: Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Rajesh Naroth.
If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For shorter questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust.
Craig: Chris McQuarrie is?
Chris: Cryptically enough @chrismcquarrie.
Chris: I’m in the midst of a Twitter moratorium.
John: It’s a good thing.
Craig: Tweet at him anyway.
Chris: Yeah. I answer questions in DMs now.
Craig: Be disagreeable with him. He loves it.
Chris: Yeah, I like being disagreeable.
John: You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. We try to get them up about four days after the episode airs.
Some folks have started doing recaps and discussion on the screenwriting sub-Reddit. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, Craig?
John: If that continues that’s great. But basically they’re just recapping what happens on the show.
Craig: Oh, I hope they recap this very moment.
John: You can find all the back episodes of the show at Scriptnotes.net. or download 50-episode seasons at store.johnaugust.com.
And if you’re doing that you should probably check out the Scriptnotes Listener’s Guide at johnaugust.com/guide to find out which episodes our listeners recommend most. You were on Episode 300. We already have you penciled in for Episode 500.
Chris: Yes, done. I’m there.
Craig: No question. I mean, that’s our Diamond Jubilee.
Chris: OK, great. I’m there.
John: Chris McQuarrie, thank you very much.
Chris: Thank you guys.
Craig: And you know what, John? Thank you. 400 episodes.
John: It’s been nice.
Craig: Thanks man.
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