The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 408 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast we have far too much to talk about.
Craig: Oh no.
John: Eight topics, any one of which could be the centerpiece. So I thought Craig we might borrow something we do every time we play D&D which is there’s situations where arrows are shooting into a group of people and you’re not quite sure who the target is. So you as a DM, what kind of thing might you do to figure out which of those random people is the target?
Craig: You give them a number. You count how many there are. And you roll that many sided die.
John: So luckily in the world there exist eight-sided dice. So here are the topics we will let the dice decide which order they will fall into. The topics are: Aladdin. Chernobyl. John’s new agent. The WGA elections. The status of the agency stuff. Craig’s solo episode. WGA financials. And dots, dashes, and parentheticals.
John: One small craft topic.
Craig: I just wanted to add the Jeopardy noise.
John: It’s important.
John: We could have Matthew do it in post but really I think that artisanal homemade feel is what this podcast goes for.
John: Ding. But first, Craig, there was some follow up from Episode 406. Do you want to talk us through this?
Craig: Sure, Alice, a longtime listener, first-time commenter writes, “Dear John and Craig. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your discussion with Rachel Bloom about how sex is portrayed on TV. You asked her to give you a wish list of the kind of scenes she wanted to see but I don’t think she did. So here is my wish list of what I would like to see more of.
“One, discussions of contraception. A humorous and embarrassingly memorable example is in the movie Shop Girl. Two, allowing men to say no to sex instead of implying that they are always ready to go at a moment’s notice. Three, discussion of menstruation as a natural part of a woman’s life and not just as a punchline. Four, verbal discussions of what kind of sex the characters are comfortable with before the act. Although it has been derided by many, one of the good things about 50 Shades of Gray is that they had such a discussion. Many shows imply that not saying no means yes and they skirt dangerously close to date rape, see for instance Blade Runner.
“Five, more laughing during sex because it can be hilarious. Thanks so much for your show. Keep up the good work”
That’s a pretty good list.
John: That’s a great list. Alice, thank you very much for that list. I hope that some of these topics make it on to the whiteboards of TV shows that are in the room right now to figure out their seasons because they’re all good things. And there’s ways to do all those topics even on broadcast television. So yes, more of that.
John: Yep. All right, let’s get to our eight big topics because this could be a marathon episode if we don’t get to it quickly. So I could roll a physical die but I think I’m going to try to have Siri roll the die for us so that everyone can hear and so that Craig knows I’m not cheating and trying to – because we’re doing this on Skype so he can’t see what I’m doing.
John: Roll an eight-sided die.
Siri: Five this time.
Craig: Wow. Whoa.
John: Siri has picked number five.
Craig: God, she started us off with a hot topic.
John: Oh, the status of the agency stuff. Oh my gosh. All right, let’s get into this.
Craig: Let’s do it.
John: So much has happened since we last talked about the agency stuff, but nothing really fundamentally on the ground has changed. Let me recap some of what’s happened since we talked about it on the show last, because there are a lot of little individual things. And we are recording this on a Friday. By Tuesday when this episode comes out, who knows, things could have changed again.
So, the WGA got back into the room with the ATA. The ATA doubled their previous offer on packaging but didn’t change anything on producing. That’s a fair summary I think of what happened in that room. It didn’t go great. In a video response the president of the WGA, David Goodman, explained that revenue sharing was a non-starter and that we weren’t going to negotiate percentages on something we didn’t think addressed the fundamental issues involved.
At the same time the WGA stated they were at an impasse with the ATA and would begin negotiating with the individual agencies instead. Then, WME, CAA, and UTA sued the WGA for antitrust. They were separate lawsuits but they’re basically all saying that the writer firing that happened in April amounted to an illegal boycott. The WGA issued a cease and desist to the ATA claiming antitrust, price fixing, and unlawful collusion.
The WGA sent out a modified proposal allowing a one-year sunset clause on packaging fees. Abrams Agency let the world know that they were willing to give up packaging fees and producing since they were the first of the major ATA agencies to sort of break away from the pact there. But they didn’t want to sign the Verve agreement, so as we’re recording this it’s not clear that anything is actually going to happen with Abrams. So, that’s a summary of I think the highlights of what’s happened since we last talked about this on the show.
Craig: Yeah, if we want to call those highlights. So, it seems to me that the kind of missiles, the legal missiles that are firing back and forth is, well, in the short term – and when I say short term I mean probably within a year – I can’t imagine either one of those or any of these kind of cross-suits having a direct impact because it’s going to take forever to wend its way through the system. These are leverage moves.
I am so disappointed. I’m just going to come out and say it. I am so disappointed with the position that our side took which is that revenue sharing was a non-starter. I don’t know how else to get to an agreement myself. And I’m concerned that the agencies make so much money off of packaging fees that they may just look at the numbers and say we make more if we keep packaging directors and actors and never get anything from writers than we would if everybody goes to 10%. In which case this never ends. And the guild sort of unilaterally excludes its own membership from the four biggest agencies on the planet, which I’ve said before is unacceptable to me for so many reasons, not the least of which is I think it will permanently damage our status in television which is well-earned and well-deserved and hard fought for.
So, I’m really disappointed. And I think it’s something that has to change. I don’t think we’re going to get there with a lot of the same people in charge. I don’t think anything is going to happen until an election. And I just feel a little jerked around. I think that the vote that we had, the implication was give us negotiation strength so we can negotiate a deal and we haven’t negotiated anything. We’ve just said, nah, no packaging fees. So, I’m upset. I’m upset. Yeah.
John: I hear all that. And so last time as you vented I didn’t sort of respond back. I do want to respond back on some things because I feel like there’s some differences of opinion here that are important to voice.
So I can’t say some things that are sort of stuff that’s ongoing. I do think it’s a little disingenuous to say that, well, you can say that you gave him your vote on moving ahead to give them leverage to make a deal. But I think it’s very clear and there’s good tape to show that the request with the vote is to vote honestly, to vote your conscience, and not to vote to give them leverage. And that’s a thing that was said repeatedly in the run up to it.
So, I can totally understand why you felt you were doing that and that could have been your intention, but that wasn’t a thing that was asked for. Am I communicating that clearly?
Craig: Yes. I disagree.
John: OK. We can disagree on that point.
John: I share your frustration and disappointment at this process. I think I quite naturally direct most of my frustration and disappointment at the agencies for not looking at their clients, or their former clients, and a valuable thing for them to be winning back. And I don’t see them trying very hard to do it. And so I think a difference I’ve noticed with the smaller agencies and we’re going to get to Verve later on, but of the major agencies only Verve was the one who emailed out a survey to all their former clients saying like, hey, what do you actually want. And they took the results of what they heard back from their former clients and realized like, oh crap, we should probably actually take that seriously.
John: And I don’t see the agencies, big, and some of the smaller ones, too, taking that seriously.
Craig: I agree with you on that.
John: That’s a thing I would hope to see more of in this near period.
Craig: You won’t. [laughs] You won’t. I don’t foresee that changing on their part. I mean, just so you know, I don’t think that their angels in any way, shape, or form. To me they’re a known quantity in a sense, so I just – I’m so pragmatic. You know, I just think like, OK, they’re not going to stop being leopards, but we need to figure out how to get them to stop taking bites out of our leg and go back to biting other people on the leg. And any kind of hope that they’re going to find their way toward some sort of more moral position is I think ultimately going to be fruitless.
John: Oh, no, no, I’m not arguing for a moral position. I’m arguing strictly practical. Strictly sort of like what do the numbers tell us. And what is the opinion of the folks we were trying to represent as clients? And I don’t see them actually doing that.
As I would say in the run up to it they were doing a lot of outreach meetings trying to sway that opinion but didn’t do a lot of actually listening sort of what that opinion would be or what the opinion is right now.
Craig: Yeah. They blew that. They blew it. No question.
John: I do want to talk a moment about the revenue sharing, the decision not to move ahead with the revenue sharing. And we’ll link to the video which sort of explains why that became a non-starter. You know, as the video explains it wasn’t simply that it was the moral issue of sort of we’re now trying to share this thing we don’t think should exist. It was also the practical matter of how the hell are we supposed to divvy up this pie and divvy up this pie not only necessarily among writers but other folks who would be perhaps entitled to a piece of this packaging fees. It became – it was basically like kick it all at the WGA to figure out how to disentangle this incredible mass of stuff that would be heading our direction. And it wasn’t clear how soon that money would be coming. It became clear that we were negotiating to enter into a percentage negotiation on this thing was to accept a tremendous amount of responsibility for dividing this thing that was probably indivisible.
And that there were other topics. There were other solutions that were not being seriously considered because this had been the anointed decision.
Craig: I think it’s our responsibility if we’re going to demand that our membership fire all their agents that they have relationships with and empower our guild to negotiate with the agencies, then yeah, it’s their responsibility to do the difficult thing. Of course it’s difficult. If it were easy, you know, this wouldn’t be a negotiation or at least the potential for a negotiation. It’s not going to be as difficult as the MBA which is 800 pages.
We have models for divvying pooled amounts of money between writers, directors, and actors – residuals for instance is an excellent model. And I do think there’s a way to do revenue sharing that restores the you-make-more-when-we-make-more. The fact that it simply wasn’t explored either somebody – either we don’t have the right people because our people are saying, “Oh golly, the math is too hard.” Or we’re using that and when I say we I mean some people inside the building are using that as an excuse. I don’t know how else to get there. I literally don’t. I’ve thought about it for a while. I don’t know how else to get there and I don’t think we will get there any other way.
And, by the way, we’re leaving money on the table which I think is really bad for writers. Again, we’ve empowered the union to make a deal for us and they’re not. Currently the plan appears to be nothing, because saying we’re going to negotiate with the individual agencies, they’re not doing that. They’re not going to do it.
John: Again, things I can say and things I can’t say. I think what you say from Abrams was an attempt to do that. And so we’ll see–
Craig: I’m sorry, they don’t count. And no offense to Abrams, and no offense to their clients, but the big four are the ones that we have to figure out how to live with. We have to. Or we’re going to be damaged.
John: Yeah. I understand the sense of the necessity of figuring out how we’re going to deal with the giant elephants in the room.
John: I totally do hear that and understand. I will say that there are the members of the negotiating committee and the board do understand that and do have – that is a subject of discussion.
Craig: I’m praying for all of us. And when I say I’m praying I don’t pray. I just sit and stew really is what I do.
John: As an atheist Craig prays. All right, are we ready to roll the die again?
Craig: Roll it.
John: Roll an eight-sided die.
Siri: It’s four this time.
Craig: Oh, more WGA stuff.
John: Oh, this is a very related thing. So it’s the WGA elections. The announcement came out about the upcoming WGA elections. Every year we have an election. Every year on this podcast we talk about the elections. In certain cycles we’re electing the officers, so the president, the vice president, and the combined secretary/treasurer. In other cycles we are just electing half of the board. So there’s a total of 16 people on the WGA West board. Eight each time are up for reelection or for selection for those spots.
So if you’re looking through the list that came out recently of who those candidates are you will notice Craig Mazin is among the people who is running for the WGA board.
Craig: What an idiot. What an idiot.
John: I can say that because I’m not a person who is running for election in this cycle.
Craig: So smart.
John: So Craig and I would not be on the board at the same time if this were to happen. There are eight board seats. There are 17 board candidates. But there could be some more being added because people can also submit their names by petition. Those petitions have to be received at the guild by July 23.
There will be a candidates’ night forum which I suspect this year will actually be fascinating. Where people can ask questions of the candidates and sort of engage in a discussion there. That is happening Wednesday, August 28, at the WGA headquarters, probably in the newly refurbished room that is so much better than it used to be.
Craig: So much better.
John: So much better. Voting ends on Monday, September 16. So, the candidates’ night forum is probably the start of the election cycle, so the 28th. But all voting is done by September 16. So, we’ve still got a long runway ahead of us here.
Craig: Yeah. Thank god. Because I really don’t want to do any of this stuff for a while. Campaigning is inherently demeaning to everyone. I really do believe that. I wish we didn’t have to do any of it. But I understand the point of campaigning. I mean, you need to let voters know what you think.
You and I talked about how we do the podcast. When you were running our basic rule was we could talk about WGA issues the way we always do and we could endorse other people, but you couldn’t campaign for yourself. And I think that’s a perfectly good way we should approach mine.
John: And on this podcast I will not be promoting you either, so it will just be a discussion of the general things and the election, encouraging people to vote, but not to vote necessarily for–
John: You, a person who is on this here podcast.
John: So, Craig, things you get to look forward which may be different from the last time you were on the board because that was 10 years ago? More. It was a long time ago.
Craig: Almost 15 years ago.
John: 15 years since you’ve been on the board. So a thing you will probably be doing, you will probably go to wix.com because everybody goes to the exact same website for the endorsement stuff. So you put up a little endorsement website with a form that fills out. People fill out their form.
Craig: I was the first person to use an online form.
John: Craig, you were a trailblazer back in the day.
Craig: I was just lazy. It was Wufoo was what I was using back then.
John: Wufoo is the other good choice. So Wufoo probably will be the one you’re using. You know what, I said Wix. I bet it was Wufoo that I used this last time. I blocked it out of my memory.
Craig: There you go.
John: But that will happen and you might have some events. You’ll get some people to endorse you. It will be a thing.
Craig: Oh god.
John: Craig, it’s important to have screenwriters on the board. Because here’s a general pitch I can make on behalf of sort of interests of the board and just what I’ve seen is there will be really smart, talented people running for everything which is great. I want to make sure that as I leave the board, as Andrea Berloff leaves the board, and Zak Penn leaves the board, that’s three screenwriters we’re going to be down. So please do elect some folks who are primarily feature writers, or at least do write features because some of those issues are different and we need to make sure that screenwriters are well represented on the board.
Craig: I feel like I have enough anger for five screenwriters.
John: Yes. But you’re only one person.
Craig: I’m only one person.
John: And you will also be busy doing other things. So I want to make sure that the screen subcommittee that Michelle Maroney and I started and ran these last two years can persist, because there are enough people on it to actually get that work done.
Craig: Nevertheless we persisted. We will persist.
Craig: We will persist.
John: And now we will roll the die again.
John: Roll an eight-sided die.
Siri: Rolling. It’s seven.
Craig: All right.
John: Oh my god, we’re so WGA focused in the start here. I apologize. This really was random. Every year the WGA has to publish its annual report, its financials. And every year on this podcast we talk about it, so let’s quickly look through the financial report. We’ll put a link to the PDF in the show notes here.
Craig: Yeah. Well, some interesting things popped out but no more interesting to me than the very first thing that the guild currently for fiscal year, for this fiscal year, ran an operating surplus of $10 million. And this practically sent me through the roof. Why?
Because, it’s not like surpluses are inherently a bad thing. In a sense you can squirrel away from stuff for a potential cold winter. My problem is that screenwriters pay 1.5% in dues. It used to be 1%. Then it went to 1.5% of every dollar they make in writing income and residuals to the union. Television writers don’t. They pay 1.5% of WGA minimum because there’s this other surplus money they make as producers that the WGA can’t touch. So essentially feature writers have been over-taxed in a way that is hard to describe. And when we’re running a deficit it’s hard to make an argument that you should be reducing one category’s dues rate. But we’re not.
So to add insult to injury we’re running a surplus of $10 million. That’s for an organization that spends about $43 million a year. So that’s like 25%. It’s a lot. So, I think dues reform has to happen. Has to.
John: Great. That’s a thing Craig Mazin can do if you were elected. That won’t be controversial at all, Craig. I think that will be smooth sailing, nothing to worry about. Those aren’t live wires sitting in a shallow puddle.
Craig: It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
John: No worries there. Let’s take a look at some of the little chart things because I always find that interesting. So the number of writers reporting earnings, which is basically the number of working writers really, that dropped 0.6%, but the overall amount earned grew 4.2%. That was slower growth than previous years, but sometimes those numbers in the last year adjust upwards because stuff gets reported late. So I’m not going to take that with too much – I would say it looks more flat than anything else, so we’ll see what happens.
Craig: Yeah. That’s my guess, too. But of note we have increased our earnings every single year for five years running now. We’re doing well.
John: And easily you can point to the growth of streaming television as why there are more jobs. We’re making more money because there are more writers working. There were 6,057 writers working this last year earning $1.5 billion. That’s great. We cannot count on that always happening. There’s obviously disparities between features and television. What I found interesting is that there was a decline in the number of people working in TV but not in features. Actually the number of people working in features was up a tiny bit.
Craig: Yeah. I think that’s Netflix.
John: That’s probably Netflix. Movies written for Netflix. I’m sure you’re right.
Craig: I think that’s what it is. Also, it’s good to note that even though we are essentially flat in terms of the number of writers reporting earnings, I mean, it’s just like whatever 38 fewer, we still are going up in earnings, meaning we’re earning more per writer which is great to see.
John: Yeah. But let’s take a look at sort of why that is is it tracks pretty closely to the increase in scale minimums that happen. Because particularly in TV, as Craig said earlier about dues, is that in television we’re only looking at the writing income and that writing income tends to be scale. It’s producing income that’s above scale. And so as we’re looking at writing income increasing that’s largely because every three years we’re negotiating for increases in those things. So, that’s largely what’s pushing those numbers up.
So, we’ve just got to keep pushing those numbers up.
Craig: That’s true. In screen, however, where that doesn’t apply at all, we are again doing better, which is great, because screen, you know, really got hammered for a while. So in feature I think entirely because of Netflix, I really do, we have essentially again holding flat the number of writers between 2017 and 2018, but the income goes up again, I think when everything is rounded up probably around 8% or so, or 9%, which is fantastic. It means, again, we are earning more per writer in features which is a sign of the marketplace.
John: Yep. Let’s take a last look at residuals. So TV residuals were up 10.6% to $307 million. That’s good. Theatrical residuals were basically flat line, it was a 1% increase to $154 million. The best part of that chart to look at is the source of where that money comes from, because the actual money coming in is about the same year to year, it’s that it used to be home video and now it’s entirely “new media,” which is streaming, it’s Netflix, once again.
The answer to most of the questions in the annual financial report is Netflix.
Craig: Correct. It has made a massive difference in things which is scary. You actually don’t want that to be so concentrated in one area, but while it’s happening let us celebrate it and make hay as the sun shines as they say. The only other thing I noticed, and this just sort of is a general bums me out thing, our legal department every year reports the number of open cases they have. Those are cases that they’re pursuing that have not yet been resolved. And every year roughly that number is around 500 and change.
It’s too much. Either we don’t have enough lawyers or, I don’t know.
John: Actually, I’m going to – so I will say that I see the settlements and I see sort of what actually happens. The amount of money that legal brings in in getting stuff done is really impressive. So, the fact that we may have 500, those aren’t the same 500 year to year.
Craig: Of course.
John: That’s how many they’re actively pursuing. And so you may absolutely be correct that we may need more resources there, but I don’t know that more resources would actually push that number down. It might just mean that we are bringing more cases. I think the better thing to look at is how much money are we collecting for our writers who are not able to collect it for themselves. And I think that is a meaningful statistic to look at.
Craig: Yeah. And for that we kind of move in a weird way between about $4.5 million and $16 million, it was a high water mark in 2014. 2017 was $5.6. This year it was $10.8. So, yeah, you know, it’s in that kind of zone. This looks to be more like an off year for us, but it may be cyclical. We may get more stuff done by the end of the year. I don’t know.
But, yeah, you know, I think more lawyers would be a good thing.
John: So, and here’s what I’ll stress I that whether it’s $4 million or $10 million that the guild is bringing in overall, if you are one of those writers who is not getting paid or needs that money that is a game changer. So we have to make that for every member we are able to do that work and sort of deliver the checks that they deserve.
John: So that’s a thing that if you are back on the board this next time you can look at their reports every time and see who we’re getting money for and that to me is one of the best parts of every meeting is seeing what they were actually able to do and solve.
Craig: Yep. I will.
John: Let us roll the dice again.
Craig: Roll it.
John: Roll an eight-sided die.
Siri: OK. Seven this time.
Craig: We already did that one.
John: OK, we repeated a seven. So maybe we need to switch to a D6. Let’s renumber and go to D6. Change here. So we’re going to get rid of – number four is gone.
Craig: Number five.
John: So four will now become your solo. Four is now your solo.
Craig: And five is gone, too.
John: Roll a six-sided die.
Siri: It’s five.
John: Number five – dots, dashes, and parentheticals. So, a long time ago I would do these little videos on YouTube where I would record my screen as I was writing through a scene and talking through stuff and people found them really helpful. They were just a huge hassle for me to do and so I sort of stopped doing them. But this last week I was answering a question, I guess coming in through the mailbox through firstname.lastname@example.org about when do I use three dots versus when do I use two dashes. And it felt like the kind of thing that like it’s just going to make much more sense for me to just show in a video than try to describe it.
So I’ll put a link in the show notes to it, but it’s a little six-minute video I did that sort of talks through the conventions of when to use three dots versus dashes when dialogue is interrupted or when people don’t finish their thoughts.
Craig, was it consistent with what you do? I go for three dots when someone is trailing off, when it’s like an incomplete thought. I use two dashes for someone who is cut off by either another event or someone else interrupting them. Is that what you tend to do?
Craig: Essentially. Yeah. I will also – I will use dashes if I’m cutting them off because I’m putting a parenthetical in or some action takes place. So it’s meant to say there is no real disruption. If I go from you’re saying something dash-dash and then you’re saying something start with two dashes, and then continue. That just means you keep rolling.
So, yeah, that’s pretty much what I do.
John: The last little point that I talk about in the video is that when characters are talking over each other you have a couple of choices. And a tempting choice is always to do dual dialogue and it’s rarely the right choice. So there can be cases where you have two people speechifying at the same time. And the point is that they’re not listening to each other. That’s an example where dual dialogue might make a lot of sense.
You also have situations where do you want to go to the park, one character says yes, one character says no, and they say it simultaneously. You can dual dialogue that.
But if someone is just overlapping or you want the sense that people are talking over each other, I find the parenthetical of overlapping or at the same time tends to be more helpful in communicating what I’m trying to convey on the page. Is that your experience, too?
Craig: It is. I almost never use it. I used it one time out of all of the five scripts for Chernobyl and it was when Akimov and Dyatlov are having an argument about what the rules state, that you can’t lower it from 50%, when we came down from 80%. And I wanted it to basically be these two guys were essentially talking over each other and not listening to each other and that worked.
But by and large I just think that forcing overlaps like that is very mannered and it’s also uncommon. People don’t really do that with each other. They might overlap each other a little bit naturally at the beginning and end of something, or interrupt each other, but it’s so rare to have people just talking at the same time and not stopping.
John: We were rewatching Call Me by Your Name last night and there is a section in that where this Italian couple is at the table and they’re just talking constantly. And so that was a situation where you literally would put the side-by-side dialogue because it’s 30 seconds where they’re talking at the same time and not paying attention to each other at all. So that’s an example where you might want to do that.
But this last week on Twitter, Craig, someone had tweeted at both of us asking how much do you use beat. So there’s a convention which is not maybe a great convention in screenwriting, where as a parenthetical you just say “beat” which means sort of a pause or it’s a moment. It’s an interruption and such. And I said I don’t tend to use beat all that often. That I probably use it less than I used to. But I really liked your answer to it, so talk us through what you often do in that parenthetical.
Craig: Well, like you I’ve reduced my usage of beat, mostly because it’s so generic. It really is just saying nothing more than a mechanical instruction to the actor, pause. Right? But a pause is there for a reason. And as I’ve kind of gone on in my career I’ve just become more and more enamored of just informing the actor and director what the subtext is through parenthetical or through action lines. And so instead of just saying beat I might say reconsiders, or questions herself, or realizes. So that the reader and the actor and the director all understand why something there is happening. And it also gives them the choice of how to time it. So you don’t have this rigid pause but rather sometimes that little flash can happen so quickly that we see it happening and they keep talking and that’s way better than a kind of overdone stop, two, three, next line.
John: For sure. So I really liked how you phrased that on Twitter. It was a better answer than I gave so I wanted to make sure that you said it aloud because not everybody reads the tweets.
Craig: Well, thank you, John.
John: Rolling the dice. Roll a four-sided die.
Craig: So cute.
Siri: It’s three.
John: It’s number three.
Craig: Oh, it’s your new agent.
John: I got a new agent. Yeah, so that was big news of this last week. So for the first time in 20 years I have a new agent, a new agency. I switched to Verve. So I decided I would tweet out that I’d done this just so that I could actually say my whole – present my whole case and not have it sort of misreported in the trades. And that mostly worked. So there was an article in the trades about it, but it actually just said what I said and I didn’t have to answer any reporter questions.
Craig: Isn’t it amazing? Like I honestly feel like 95% of the things that are in the sort of web journalism are simply regurgitations of other things. Like they don’t do any – did they even call you? Or did they just reprint what you said?
John: They just reprinted what I said. And here’s the thing. The conversation we had earlier about the agency situation, they will recap that as if they are quoting it. So I just want to call out the people who are going to do this in Deadline especially right now. You know what, at least mention the Scriptnotes podcast. Because so often they’re saying like “In a recent podcast” and it’s like what podcast. Oh, my podcast? That’s where I said it, in my own podcast.
Craig: Why wouldn’t you call us? If you’re doing an article you should call. I mean, all you’re doing is just, what, writing down something transcribed and it’s not – how is that a thing?
Anyway, so you have a new agent at Verve.
John: I have a new agent at Verve. So here are the tweets I sent out and this really is sort of a good recap, but I’ll do a little framing around it afterwards. So, I tweeted, “I’ve signed with Verve. They’re the agency that represents some of my favorite writers, including Michael Arndt, Meg LeFauve and three of my former assistants,” which is true. “I’m excited to join them.”
Tweet two, “Back in April, I tweeted that I’d happily give my UTA agent of 20+ years a kidney. The offer still stands. But my frustration with big agency practices has only grown. I don’t think they’re putting clients first.”
Tweet three, “When I toured Verve, I really liked the vibe and spirit. It felt like a good match. To be clear: I would have met with ANY agency that had signed the agreement. I know a lot of screenwriters who will do the same.”
Four, “My decision to go to Verve is entirely my own. Yes, I’m on the WGA board but that’s not why I’m making the move. I remain committed to reaching an agency agreement that serves all writers. WGA West members can help by filling out the survey coming to inboxes this weekend.”
So those are my four tweets. And it was my decision to move there and that’s not going to be applicable to a lot of other people, but you have actually changed agents more than I have. And so I kind of want to talk through what it’s like to change agents because this was kind of a new thing for me. So I could talk through sort of what I did, but I suspect there’s some useful things for anyone who is considering moving from one agent to another for whatever reason if it’s not sort of this reason.
John: Cool. So, in my case I reached out to see who is there and who is there that could vouch for them or just give me some experience on the ground. So I reached out to Jac Schaeffer. She’s the writer who is running the Scarlet Witch show that Megan McDonnell, our former Scriptnotes producer, is writing on. So I reached out to Jac and I said, “Hey, I know you’re at Verve. Are you happy at Verve? And if you are at Verve who is your principal agent there because I’m considering making a switch?”
She wrote back that her agent there was Bill Weinstein, he’s fantastic, and offered to make the email introduction. And that is a very common way things happen here is someone who knows both people makes the email introduction just so it’s not me blinding emailing into somebody at Verve.
Craig: Yeah. I think the times that I’ve done this, there was one time where I really did a big I’m going to sit down and meet with all of the major agencies and talk to all of them and then pick one. And with that I used my attorney. I basically had him kind of call and say, “OK, would you like to meet with him? And who would like to meet with him over there?” And those were decided and off we went. It was a week of awkward couches.
John: And so used your attorney for that, other writers might use a manager for that. That’s a very classic thing that managers set up agency meetings for a person to go in and sign with an agency.
So in this case it was this writer who had made the introduction. I emailed with Bill Weinstein. We scheduled a phone call. We had a good phone call. Set up a time for me to go in. And before I went in they read some stuff so they’d have some stuff to talk about when I actually came in.
I went in, I met – I shook so many hands. I met kind of everyone at the agency. I sat down with Bill Weinstein and two other agents to talk through specifically what my goals were and what I was looking at for the next year and couple years ahead in my career.
Then I talked to my attorney, an important person to get involved with this.
John: And then when the time came to make a decision I called Verve, I called UTA to let them know that I was making the change, and that was it. A thing I need to sort of clarify because the timing looks weird is that the same day I announced that I was moving over to Verve was the day that UTA announced that they were suing the UTA. That was a coincidence. That wasn’t one causing the other. So that was not the reason for why I left.
Craig: You know, something you said there just flicked a little switch in my head. And it was about the manager thing. One thing to think about if you are a writer that has an attorney and a manager and you’re trying to figure out which agent you should go to, maybe rely on the lawyer a little bit more. Because managers are already inherently dealing in a kind of conflicted space. I mean, all the problems that we have with agencies, managers have codified from the very beginning of their work. That’s what they do. They want to produce your stuff and then you don’t pay commission.
So similarly a manager may be funneling you to an agent that they can kind of protect each other with, because inevitably down the line if you have an issue with one or the other you’re going to go to one or the other and say what do you think. And sometimes they just protect each other. And that’s not what you want.
What you want is an independent adviser. You don’t want necessarily a sweetheart deal being made behind your back that you don’t even know about.
John: Yep. I think that’s really good advice. And attorneys tend to see just a wider scope of things because they’re just dealing with many different clients and many different situations. They know a little bit more about how the sausage is made sometimes. I think it’s a good recommendation to at least enlist your attorney’s opinion if they’re not actually steering the conversation around.
John: But I also say, I mean, the reason why I reached out to this writer was because I wanted to make sure that she was having a good experience at this agency and with this agent. And so asking for those personal recommendations is an important part of this as well.
Craig: No question.
John: So right now Verve is the only sort of mid-sized agency that has signed the agreement. So I was really happy at Verve, but that was also sort of my one choice of a place, a midsize agency, that I could sign with. But in a macro sense let’s talk a little bit about the pros and cons of big agencies versus little agencies. Because I think there’s some real things to think through.
So at what other point this all gets resolved and people have a choice of I could go to a giant or I could go to a smaller agency, some pros and cons.
Some cons. In theory a smaller agency has a smaller information network. They have fewer agents who are talking to everyone at all the studios. Their tentacles are in less things in terms of understanding all the jobs that are out there or what’s really happening. Their information network could be smaller.
John: They might have less access to certain IP or certain deals. So, they might have – you know, the big agencies would have a big book-lit department that would track all the books that are coming out. And might be able to steer some of those your way early.
They would have less history of making certain kinds of deals, especially big overall deals. Like the mega blockbuster deals.
Craig: Right. The monster deals for your J.J. Abrams and your Mike Schurs and those guys.
John: So interesting on the patching thing is that I sat down with a director this last week who was at Verve and his point was – it was an interesting pushback against that – is he said that being at a purely literary agency, so Verve only represents writers and directors, he finds it very easy to go after any actor because there’s not an in-house stable. You’re not competing with your own folks inside the agency. So, he’s actually been able to have good relationships with the talent agents at the different agencies when it comes time to go after an actor for a role. So that’s a thing he found coming from a big agency to a smaller agency, he found that helpful.
Craig: And I can see that, particularly if you’re talking about features. In television I think things are a little bit trickier. Well, why? Because the agencies are addicted to packaging fees. They are motivated to package. Yeah.
John: We’ll list that as a pro. I would say a pro is fewer clients means fewer internal conflicts. So basically we’re not all fighting over the same thing. And we talked about that in our conflict of interest episode a zillion years ago which is that the more folks you have who are going after the same things, there’s naturally going to be some conflicts among clients and that’s just a thing that has to be managed. And the fewer clients the fewer conflicts there are there.
John: And it’s probably less positioning which is that sense of they’re not actually putting you even on the list for that job because they have three other people who are clients who they need to be sending that to first.
Craig: That’s the danger. I mean, ultimately you are competing against everyone. But you want your advocate advocating. And they can’t really advocate for you fully if there are three people ahead of you on the list that make more money and are more important. I mean, that is an inherent issue at these agencies. And even at a small agency like Verve it could potentially be – somebody on Bill Weinstein’s list just took one step backwards. [laughs]
But you’re right. There are fewer potential conflicts to be had there. I think at a place like CAA it’s always conflicted.
John: Oh yeah. The last pro I’ll list is that you as an individual client probably have a bigger impact on that agency’s bottom line at a smaller agency than at a large agency.
John: And part of that is just because there’s more clients, but also the bigger agencies are – as we’ve seen – are invested in a lot of other things, too. And so the financial interest in making sure that each of these clients is served to their best capability is different at a small agency than at a bigger agency.
Craig: Right. Absolutely true.
John: Let’s roll the dice again.
Craig: So much fun.
John: Roll a four-sided die.
Siri: It’s two.
Craig: It’s two.
John: Oh, Chernobyl!
John: Craig, so we haven’t gotten to talk about Chernobyl since it resolved and so you’re so sick of talking about Chernobyl. Can I just congratulate you again on–?
Craig: Of course.
John: –On Chernobyl and on the podcast which I thought were fantastic.
Craig: Thank you.
John: The Chernobyl podcast is the top rated TV and film podcast in the world.
John: So, congratulations on that.
Craig: That’s awesome.
John: Which is great. Questions I had for you, and these are not really spoilers, so if you have not seen all five episodes I don’t think I’m going to spoil anything for you in talking through this.
Craig: There are no spoilers. It blew up.
John: It did blow up. Episodes one and episodes five cover some of the time periods, particularly in the control room. My question – does anything that was originally intended to be shot for number one or number five drift back and forth in the edit?
Craig: Nope. It’s exactly as planned.
John: But I suspect you did shoot all of the control room stuff at one time.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: You didn’t like send everybody off.
Craig: Oh no. We shot it all in one. There was one week. One week in that control room. And, you know, we – when I look back at that week we got a lot of pages done.
John: Oh, I’m sure.
Craig: Well, that was – there were really only three sets we constructed. We really tried as much as we could to be on location or on an exterior. We built the sort of Kremlin conference room because we couldn’t find one that worked right with its little hallway attachment.
We built Lyudmilla and Vasily’s apartment just again to control this little apartment. And then we built the control room. And the control room was our biggest build. And Johan and Jakob shot the hell out of it. I mean, they found angles that I would have never even thought of and just kept it looking fresh all the time. But, yeah, it was a great week. I loved all those guys in there. They were all fantastic. Just good people. Great actors. Some people don’t know that the guy who plays Stolyarchuk is Billy Postlethwaite, Pete Postlethwaite’s son.
John: Oh how nice.
Craig: Great guy. They were all just terrific. It was a joy to work with those guys.
John: How early in the schedule was the control room shot? Was that quite early on in the months of shooting?
Craig: I would say it was sort of – I’m a little fuzzy but I’m going to say it’s maybe like a month in out of four months. April, May, June, July. Maybe a month out of five months. It was about a five-month shoot. So it wasn’t in the middle. It wasn’t right up front. Part of it was that we needed time to get it built.
John: I get that. In the library at johnaugust.com we have the scripts to all five episodes, but on the podcast earlier you said that you initially thought of this as six episodes. What would the extra episode have been or was it two things combined? What was the difference between the initial plan of six and what became the five episodes?
Craig: So, I was writing episode two, I had laid out a show bible and I had a description of how each episode would work. And the way I described episode one, episode four, and episode five, and six I guess at the time, was all correct. But when I was writing episode two I found that – I noticed, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but in the new world of limited series where you’re allowed to just set your own episode limit kind of it seems like writers sometimes are a little languid with their pacing. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this. But they sometimes – I’m like I think you might be wasting my time here with this kind of indulgent 20 minutes.
And because the second episode was taking place essentially in the day, the one or two days following the explosion of a nuclear reactor, I really wanted to people have the sensation that they were just falling through an episode, just out of control. So, I just said, you know what, I’m just going to tighten everything up. I think I can tighten this and just make it way more urgent if I combine episode two and episode three into one episode. And that’s what I did.
And so I called up HBO and said, hey, look, I’m thinking about doing this is that OK? And they were like, yeah, that’s great. And then later – because I come out of movies I found out that I get paid by the episode.
Craig: So that’s why I think some of these limited series are a little long, you know. I get paid for another episode, yeah, sure.
John: What was the episode ender for episode two as you initially had thought about it in your show bible? Or you had not gotten to what individual scene would end an episode at that point?
Craig: You know what? I’ll tell you right now. So the original end of episode two happened around the point in episode two where General Pikalov drives his truck in and comes back and reports that it’s not 3.6 roentgen, it’s 15,000. And then the next thing I showed was a scene that we never had in the show, I never even wrote it. It was the moment where the Swedes determine that something was wrong at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant which was kind of the beginning of the end of the secrecy.
So that’s where that ended. And I think I made a smart choice to combine.
John: Yeah, I would say that the truck driving in there felt like it was a moment that could have ended the show and yet there was still 20 minutes, there was more runway left there and so it made sense. You did the right thing.
John: My last question for you. If you could email yourself back three years ago when you were just starting on this project some piece of advice what advice would you give to younger Craig Mazin going into this about the show?
Craig: Hmm. I think I would advise myself to stand by my instincts. And generally I did. But I have – this is the first thing that I’ve ever done that was truly mine. It wasn’t an assignment. It wasn’t a sequel. I didn’t have a writing partner. It was mine. There was no source material like a fictional book or something like that.
So, I went in and said this is the product of my instincts and now unlike those other situations where a lot of times I get into people-pleasing mode and want everyone to be happy, in this case I just was like the most important person to be happy is me. Which is a very weird thing for me because I’m not built that way. I just mostly want the puzzle to work.
But I allowed myself a tiny bit of preciousness, precocity.
Craig: One of those. And I think it helped. And I don’t mean to imply that I ever threw any tantrums or anything. It was more like when I felt that out of the five people in the room, four of them thought one thing and I thought the other, I gave my point of view a full fair hearing. I didn’t always. Sometimes you do change your mind because other people are right. But I didn’t default to, OK well, it’s a vote.
John: Good. So you advice would be stick with that the whole time through. Because probably earlier on in the process you felt like, oh, I’m going to have to bend a bit here and you learned that bending was not the right solution.
Craig: Yeah. Sometimes I would, you know, I would bend and then I would come back and say, no, no, no, no, we’ve got to go back the other way. And that’s, you know, by and large that worked. But, again, I don’t mean to imply that I wasn’t open to things because all sorts of contributions came in from all directions, from our key cast and from Johan of course and from Carolyn and Jane and everybody involved.
It’s just that it’s not really that I said I’m not going to listen to other people. It’s mostly that I said while I’m listening to other people I will also consider what I want equally, which is new for me. So, I would want that to be fresher in my mind before I started.
John: Sounds great. All right. We’re down to two things, so I’m going to say flip a coin.
Craig: Oh, I like that.
John: Tails. Tails is Craig’s solo episode. So, Craig, you did a first-ever solo episode. This is back Episode 403 where you taught us how to write a movie.
John: It was really good. People loved it. And so, here’s let’s read what Bob wrote. “Immediately upon hearing Hegelian dialectic I shot up from the coach and started taking notes, hitting the pause button frequently and shaking my head as I’d never heard the phrase ‘central dramatic argument’ before. It didn’t stop there. The presentation led me over to my script and allowed me to see it in a whole new way.”
Craig: Oh good.
John: And I’m going to paste other things in the show notes so you can see and be happy about people’s reaction to it. But I’ve got some questions.
Craig: Go for it.
John: Here are some questions I have for you. I can very easily imagine someone listening to this or reading the transcript and saying like, “Ah-ha, Craig has found a new formula.”
Craig: Oh god. I hope not.
John: And I think the reason why they might do that is because the same way that Syd Field took Casablanca and sort of made it fit this sort of paradigm someone could say like, oh, all movies are like Finding Nemo and everything should follow in that thing. So, do you have any sense of how to encourage people to use what’s helpful here but not let this be a straitjacket for them?
Craig: Sure. So, Pixar movies in general are formulaic. There is a Pixar formula. And the Pixar formula happens to mesh nicely with my point of view about structure. But that’s – they do it in a very pure way. And animation can do things in story that live action can’t. Animation is almost like pure story. In fact, you will see, I mean, this model of how I’ve described things isn’t just Pixar. It’s across almost every major animated film now, ever since Pixar came on the scene.
But for live action this is meant to just be inspiration for how to think about your characters and how to think about why things happen in a movie at certain times. But your choice of execution should be as unique to you as your own fingerprint. If it’s not, then, you know, you will just have made a very well-structured piece of crap.
So this is not a formula. This is meant to be a kind of philosophical musing on why narrative works the way it does. Why it appeals to us the way it does. And in that sense if I’ve inspired people to stop thinking about plot and start thinking about character first then I will have done my job.
John: Great. And I will say having seen Toy Story 4, which I’m guessing you have not seen yet.
John: It does – it’s completely the Craig Mazin plan. It really does follow the kinds of things that you’re talking about. If you look at Woody’s journey through Toy Story 4 it is a lot of what you’re pitching in your episode.
I want to make it clear that most screenwriters that you encounter in real life are not going to use thesis and antithesis. So Craig is using philosophical terms that are meaningful for his argument, but if you start throwing those around causally people will look at you kind of cross-eyed, or they’ll know that you listened to that episode of Scriptnotes.
John: They’re not things that I’m casually using. Like Aline and I aren’t having mussels and talking over these things.
Craig: No, no, or having mussels.
John: Oh, Aline and I are having mussels on a regular basis.
John: In Larchmont.
Craig: That’s your shellfish choice?
John: I love mussels.
Craig: No, absolutely true. This is not something you want to just trot out when you’re on your water bottle tour of Los Angeles and you’re sitting in a room with a studio executive or a producer. You could easily sound like a pompous jackass if you begin talking about Hegel. Yeah. This is really more of an inside baseball philosophical thing for you to think about when you’re alone quiet with your laptop or desktop.
John: Yes. I would caution that Craig’s philosophy if applied without subtlety and artistry could make it seem like the choices are being made by the author rather than the characters. And so just to really be mindful that your characters don’t end up becoming in a weird way plot bots responding to all the terrible things that the author is doing to them.
And so that’s always one of the trickiest things in writing narrative is you’re laying out these roads for your characters to walk down but making it feel like your characters are choosing to walk down those roads and that they actually have free will. That’s not a unique criticism of Craig’s screenwriting philosophy here, but if done poorly I think that’s what the result is going to feel like. It’s just an angry, evil god punishing these characters.
Craig: Yeah. If you’re doing that you’ve got it completely backwards. So the idea is that you need to understand this human being fully. And they need to be interesting. And what they feel and think needs to be interesting. And then you have to ask what would be the most fascinating thing to do to that person given what I know about them. The worst thing you could do would be to go this is the point where torture happens and then they just get tortured but it’s not interesting. It’s just torture. That’s, you know, well some people like that. But it’s not my thing.
John: Lastly, I think if I were to lay out sort of my philosophical argument for screenwriting and sort of how to write a movie I would approach it a lot differently. A thing that is a huge focus to me which I didn’t hear you talking a lot about is the role of the audience and the role of the audience’s expectation and the social contract you make with the audience and how they are the third party in all of this. And so you have the author intent. You have the character’s intent. But you also have the audience’s intent. And to really be mindful of what does the audience want. And that they are a character in this drama as well. And to be really thinking about their perspective on that.
And that doesn’t fit neatly into the thesis and antithesis, but they are the other party who is engaged with this whole argument to me.
Craig: Yeah. Well, I mean, the truth is I’m mostly thinking about them with this because I’m trying to get at why any of us like any story. But understanding, having an innate sense of what the audience is going to want to want is – that’s where talent is, I think. I mean–
Craig: Yeah, there’s nothing – I can’t really – I mean, we had a clever headline for the episode, but this is not a substitute for talent. This is merely a way to help talented people organize their thoughts if they’re struggling or feeling like they’ve written something that’s plotty or they feel like they’ve run out of runway.
John: The last thing is I went through a list of my top movies and the top 100 movies to think of movies where this thesis/antithesis sort of dynamic doesn’t really come into play. And so there are a lot of movies where you don’t really see this. But I think as long as you’re looking at this as not a formula but a useful set of questions to be challenging yourself with as you start to write, it’s only going to benefit, even if the ultimate movie doesn’t fit into the dynamic of this character’s world view keeps getting challenged the way that Craig’s describing.
So, what I don’t want people to do is think like, well, you know, Jurassic Park doesn’t fit this at all and if you’re saying that Jurassic Park is a bad movie, no. We’re not saying that. I’m just saying that the kinds of questions that Craig is challenging you to ask would make even movies like Jurassic Park which don’t fit this overall template stronger.
Craig: Completely. Yeah. There’s nothing – I think I said in it, too, that this is really about a kind of movie. It’s about a very classic sort of movie-movie. But even a lot of classic movie-movies stray away from these things and that’s totally fine.
If you’re writing something and you’re loving it and you’re confident in it then you’re in a good space. If you’re writing something and you’re struggling and you’re not sure why, then maybe this will help. That’s about as much as I can–
John: Yeah, I would say the movies that it’s going to help most are the ones that feel like they kind of have a classic hero’s journey. A Joseph Campbell kind of thing. Because I think what you’ve done is a really smart way of addressing the stages of the hero’s journey, but what it really feels like on the character’s perspective. Or what they’re watching.
Craig: And it’s free. It’s free. You don’t have to pay $2,500 to go see some dude yammer on stage, or buy a book. It’s free.
Craig: I’m just trying to put these people out of business, obviously. [laughs]
John: It’s a noble goal.
Craig: This is just spite.
John: All right. Lastly, our last of our eight topics is Aladdin.
John: Aladdin! So, Aladdin crossed $300 million domestic, $900 million worldwide so far. So it’s the highest grossing movie of my career, which is–
John: Which is very exciting. And so I wanted to talk through sort of how much money I’ll be getting off of it. And because that’s the thing that people come to me. It’s like, “Man, you must be rolling in dough. Your movie made a ton of money.” And it’s like, no, it’s great that my movie made a ton of money. I think it’s important for people to understand that I don’t get any of that box office money. Like that ticket you bought, I don’t get any of that. But thank you for buying that ticket. It’s still meaningful and valuable that you bought that ticket.
So, screenwriters, I got paid good money to write a script that became a movie. And down the road thanks to the WGA I will also get residuals. And so residuals are for all the things that aren’t showing on a big screen or showing on an airplane, for weird reasons.
So it’s home video. It’s buying it on iTunes. It’s renting it on iTunes. We have a really good rate for renting on iTunes. So rent that movie on iTunes.
It’s for when it sells to a streaming service, when it shows up on ABC television. Those are the things where I get extra payments for it. So I don’t get any money right off the top of the box office. Sometimes some contracts will have a box office bonus. I checked through my contract. I don’t have any box office bonus, because that would have been swell.
Craig: That would have been swell.
John: I didn’t have one for Aladdin. But in lieu of that I got a credit bonus which is a common thing you’ll also see. For sharing credit I got a bonus for that.
But I was looking through, so if you’re curious about your residuals I know a lot of screenwriters who never check their residuals. And so on the guild website go to mywga.org. When you’re signed on click on the My Residuals tab. It’s actually really good.
Craig: Yeah, it is.
John: You know, and so full props and credit to the WGA for figuring out how to really show you your residuals. But by movie or by year you can check exactly how much you’ve gotten and from what categories. And so the closest comp I had for Aladdin is probably Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which didn’t do quite as well but did really well.
And so over the 15 years since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out I’ve made $2.7 million in residuals. And I say that because it’s a big number. And I think it’s important for people to understand that like residuals really do matter. They really are an incredibly important source of income for writers. So those checks come every quarter. You get the big green envelope that has your check in it. The biggest checks are in the first year that a movie shows up on video. But then they do keep coming. And so for a family film like Aladdin I can expect those checks will keep coming.
Craig: Yeah. And if you want to understand the value of our union, and I like to point these things out particularly when I’m grousing about them, the original Aladdin, the animated Aladdin, came out in 1993, 1992. It came out in 1992. That’s 27 years ago. And worldwide it made $500 million. And I would venture to say that 27 years ago that’s probably akin to your $900 million now worldwide.
And Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who wrote Aladdin, got zero dollars in residuals. And they don’t even get credit for the story, right, for the new one?
John: Yeah, they get an onscreen credit, but it’s not a WGA credit.
Craig: It’s a source material credit. So the point is the animation world doesn’t have residuals like WGA does unless you’re talking about primetime animation like The Simpsons and Family Guy. So that difference is millions of dollars.
Craig: And we can’t work hard enough to protect that. But these are the things – and it’s really when I look over at animation I go, OK, whenever I’m feeling a little grumpy about the guild I just look at animation and I go we get to determine our own credits. We get residuals. This is really, really important. Because it’s a strange feeling to know that in massive success not one penny is going to trickle down to you. That’s bad.
John: It is bad.
A thing I do want to say is that I am assuming that Aladdin will come out on iTunes, it will be available on DVD and all those normal things. And I’ve seen cover art for DVDs, so I think they will exist. I think that’s a thing that’s going to happen. But another thing I know is going to happen is Disney+.
John: So, Disney+ is Disney’s equivalent to Netflix, it’s a streaming service. Aladdin will of course show up on Disney+ and not on Netflix or someplace else. And the rate that Disney will charge Disney for the movie of Aladdin determines how much residuals I will get. And that is a weird situation. So that is the reason why I’m going to be very mindful of sort of what numbers they are reporting for how much they are licensing Aladdin to itself.
Craig: Sure. And we know that Disney+, which I think is going to be an enormous success for Disney, is starting out at a very reduced monthly rate to sign the world up, which I think they will. And so you’re right. That does impact your earnings.
Now, compared to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was driven largely by DVD sales, our rate for Internet rentals and streaming and sales I think is a bit better.
John: It is.
Craig: Than the DVD rate. So it may balance out. But you’re right. There’s a huge difference when someone is buying a DVD that costs $18 or someone is paying – what is the initial Disney+ rate? Like $12 or something?
John: It’s surprisingly low.
Craig: Yeah, for a month, and your one piece of it. So you carve out your biddy share of the whole thing. I mean, which in Aladdin’s case will be a pretty good share. But, yeah, I’m fascinated to see how that functions.
In the long run I think it will be good for writers. In the short term, while Disney is slowly harvesting humanity it may be slightly negatively impacted.
John: Yeah. So I would say all the streaming services on the short run have been good for writers. So we say Netflix, we also mean AppleTV Plus, we mean Amazon.
John: Hulu. The folks who are employing writers – that’s awesome. That’s good. More writers employed is really great. The challenge will come when it’s time to figure out residuals for some of these projects which are essentially just made for the services and how we are going to calculate those.
Craig: Well, see, it’s hard.
John: It’s hard.
Craig: It’s hard.
John: So somebody on the WGA board in these upcoming years will have to figure out how we’re going to do that.
Craig: Somebody is going to have to figure out who to hire to do that.
John: Ah-ha. That’s true. It’s not just an elected person’s decision.
Craig: Fire fast, hire slow.
John: We have come to the end of our eight topics. Man, that was a lot but I think we did well by at least seven of those.
John: So good on you and me.
John: It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is the Rodecaster Pro Sound Board. It’s a recording studio for podcasts. So it’s not what I’m using right now to record this because I’m just recording directly into my computer, but when Craig and I are live and in person, or with a guest we’re often doing it at this improvised little studio I have at my house. And it’s been a real challenge. And as we were recording the Rachel Bloom episode like the computer froze up. There were real production issues. And so I ended up buying this new board and it’s really good.
So I would say if you’re thinking about doing a kind of podcast where it’s two or three people in a room talking, this is probably the thing to get. Because you just plug in microphones, you plug in headphones. People can hear themselves in both sides of their headphones. Craig, you’ll like that.
Craig: Yeah. Look at this thing. It’s like a little mixing board basically. So it’s got mic pre-amps already in there. Oh yeah. And I assume it’s just USB to your laptop?
John: It’s USB to your laptop, but it records onto a little card itself. And it records separate channels. So you want to record separate channels. And originally this didn’t have multi-channel recording. Multi-channel recording means that each mic is being recorded separately. It is a godsend when it comes to actually cutting episodes together.
Craig: Yeah, no question.
John: So, buy this.
Craig: Somebody is always quieter than somebody else and all that. And so, yeah, it’s a huge help. No question.
John: And so next time we have you out of the studio and you’re calling in, it can also patch in, Skype through the computer. So it should work much better for these things. So, I recommend the Rodecaster Pro for folks who are considering a podcast.
Craig: Brilliant. Well, my One Cool Thing is a lot of people’s One Cool Thing, but you know, I struggle to keep up with television. I do. But I was traveling back and forth last week and I took the opportunity with some extra free time to watch Russian Doll from Natasha Lyonne and Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler. And I loved it. I loved it. I thought it was awesome.
And, you know, OK, one of my least favorite things about peak TV, someone comes, “Have you seen blah-blah-blah?” No, haven’t seen it. “OK, it’s amazing. You have to get through the first 4,000 episodes, but then the next 12,000 episodes are incredible. And I’m like, uh, that sounds like a lot of work man. And in this one, I’m like I enjoyed the first three episodes, clearly. You got to get to the end of episode three or you’re not going to ever get to the absolute joy and shock and dismay of the rest of the show which is at times really funny and at times really beautiful and at times terrifying.
And Natasha is a force of nature. Just remarkable on it. So, yeah, I couldn’t love it more.
John: So you realize sort of like your connection to Russian Doll? So we were on the Slate Culture Gabfest and Natasha Lyonne was the other guest.
Craig: I remember.
John: On the Slate Culture Gabfest. And she had recommended Black Mirror. That was her sort of equivalent of her One Cool Thing. So I feel like there is a synchronicity here because I don’t think you necessarily get to Russian Doll without Black Mirror happening first and sort of like shattering some glass around there, sort of make it possible to make such a weird, great series.
John: And so I think it all comes together in a very great way. But I agree. Russian Doll is one of my favorite things of the year. Just geniusly done.
Craig: Yeah. Just beautiful work. I just loved it.
John: Give them money to do whatever they want to do next because we want more of it.
Craig: Well I think they’re doing a second season of Russian Doll. I was like, how? But yes.
John: But more please. Cool. And 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 Arbitrary Jukebox Experiment. And a correction, on a previous episode, Episode 397, we accidentally credited them with Thomas Johnstone’s outro. So fixing that. Sorry Thomas Johnstone. Sorry Arbitrary Jukebox Experiment. But thank you for everyone who sends in outros because they are fantastic.
You can send your outro to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. But for short questions, Craig is on Twitter @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust.
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 the week after the episode airs.
Folks do recaps of our episodes on Reddit. So go there and check out the recap if you want to see what people are talking about with the show. You can find all the back episodes of this show at Scriptnotes.net, or you can download 50-episode seasons at store.johnaugust.com.
And you might want to check out the Listener’s Guide there if you’re new to the show because people have recommended their favorite episodes. So if you want to catch up this will tell you what episodes to prioritize as you’re doing your catchup.
Craig: Brilliant. You know, we have 4,000 – you’ve got to get through the first 4,000 podcast episodes.
Craig: But the next 20,000 are great.
John: Yeah, I mean, because you have to listen to them all in order because as you know it builds episode by episode.
John: And there’s no randomness. It’s not like we’re rolling dice to figure out what we’re going to talk about.
John: It’s all planned.
Craig: You won’t understand why Episode 378 is genius unless you hear the setup in Episode 16. So good.
John: It’s really, really elaborate.
John: Craig, thanks.
Craig: Thank you John for a wonderful dice-rolling show.
John: Have a good week. Bye.
- Scriptnotes Episode 406, Better Sex with Rachel Bloom
- Verve Talent and Literary Agency and John’s Tweets.
- Find Chernobyl scripts here!
- Watch Chernobyl, listen to the podcast here.
- WGA Financials
- Dots, Dashes, and Parentheticals
- Scriptnotes Episode 403, How to Write a Movie
- Rodecaster Pro Sound Board
- Russian Doll
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by the Arbitrary Jukebox Experiment (send us yours!)
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the episode here.