The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My Craig Mazin name is.
John: And this is Episode 419 of Scriptnotes. Craig, what is Scriptnotes?
Craig: Scriptnotes is a podcast about things that are interesting to screenwriters. And screenwriting.
John: Everything is mixed up today.
Craig: Yeah. I love it. It’s a Backwards Day. I like it.
John: This is the grab-baggiest of episodes. We’re going to be talking about everything from Emmys to elections, professionalism, to patronage. Lots of stuff, so let’s get into it.
Craig, this Sunday were the Emmys. I can’t believe this day has finally come. The Emmys were on Sunday. Unfortunately this is Friday that we’re recording this so we have no idea what happened on Sunday.
John: So, I want to propose something.
John: Let’s record both versions. Let’s record the versions where you had a spectacular Sunday where you won a bunch of awards, and then we’ll record the one where you didn’t.
Craig: Got it. We actually should record three. We should record Chernobyl wins an award for something, but I don’t win. I win, Chernobyl wins nothing.
John: Great. So let’s do the big sweep where you win and Chernobyl wins. You were there for two awards. You picked up both of those statues. I was so excited to see you up there on stage. I thought your speech was fantastic.
Craig: Aw, thank you.
John: I was just beaming with pride because listeners like me have been following this whole journey. And you were away from the show for a while and you made this thing. And it was great closure to see you up there on that stage. I’m so happy and proud for you.
Craig: Boy, John, it’s weird up there. It’s so surreal.
John: Well, I saw you took a beat.
John: I saw you took a beat and just took it all in.
Craig: Yeah. I was thinking of you during that beat. And then, yeah, it’s just so weird. Boy, that room is so big and the lights are really bright in your eyes. And of course you’re worried that you’re not going to have enough time. They’re going to play you off the stage which they did/did not do. And, yeah, a great night. It didn’t matter. Win or lose you’re just happy to be there amongst your peers. [laughs]
John: Yeah. You can’t take away the fact that you made something amazing and to be just celebrated up there on the stage for it was just icing on the cake.
Craig: Well golly.
John: Next version, so you don’t win the writing award but you do win the limited series award. Craig, it’s hard to even call this a mixed outcome because like Best Limited Series, congratulations.
Craig: Sure. Thank you. You know what? At this point you try and parse the achievement of making a show into individual awards just doesn’t even make logical sense anymore. So, you just have to go, you know what? We were nominated for lots of stuff and we’re super proud of that. If you win anything that’s amazing, especially in a year like this where we had such incredible competition. Congrats to Ava DuVernay and When They See Us for all the awards that they picked up. I think that’s a pretty good prediction right there.
And but to all of the great shows in our category. I mean, what a year. So, you know who the real winners were John? Television watchers. [laughs]
John: Well absolutely. And I think the Best Limited Series acknowledges the fact that this thing would not exist if you had not had the idea – if you had not been surfing Wikipedia and finding this information about the Chernobyl disaster, thinking like this is potentially a show. So that award is your award and it all came from the writing.
Craig: Well, listen, that’s the wonderful thing about television is that the writers are in charge, which is probably why television is so much better than movies right now. You know, movies, take note.
John: Yes. And I thought you saying that in your awards acceptance speech was absolutely appropriate.
Craig: Pretty crazy, right? Like what a weird axe to grind.
John: At the Emmy Awards. All right, third option. So Sunday were the Emmys. You got to go and see all the celebration for your show which was nominated.
Craig: See other people win.
John: So, while I was disappointed not to see you up there on that stage, I love when they do the cutaway shots to the people in the audience as their names are called. And to see you there with Melissa was just great. And I was just really proud to see you there, honored for what you have made.
Craig: Well, John, as you know I got into writing so that I could be on television. Actually, you probably noticed, I don’t know if they cutaway beforehand or not, but right when they announced that Ava DuVernay kept winning everything you probably noticed me turn behind me, to the left of me, to the right of me, ahead of me – depending on how it goes – to find Alec Berg and sort of give him a, “Yeah, I get it, now I know what it feels like.” Because, you know, again, poor Alec. 21 nominations. 0 for 21. But side note, that’s a pretty decent prediction. I think, I’m not trying to jinx Alec. I think it’s going to be a tough road to hoe for him. But back to the alternate reality.
Yeah, but you know what? Honestly, we didn’t go in expecting to win anything and we were so proud of our crafts people, our below the line people that won lots of awards the week before. We felt great. And it was an amazing year for television and for limited series. Hats off to Ava. Great job on that series. Wonderful show. So, we’re pleased as punch that the season of awards is over.
John: Yes, for sure. But you also had one extra special visit that happened this last week. Apparently you got to meet the President of Ukraine?
Craig: I met the President of Ukraine. I visited him. So this is a fascinating thing. There’s a conference in Ukraine, it’s an annual conference called the Yalta European Summit. It used to take place in Yalta, which is in Crimea. It no longer does because Russia has invaded Crimea. So it is in Kiev, Ukraine. And it is attended by all sorts of – you know, John, we run in Hollywood circles, right. So we always feel like, ooh, look at this party. It’s got all of the hoo-ha people.
John: Oh, Natalie Portman.
Craig: Yeah, ooh, Natalie Portman. Or, ooh, Jim Gianopulos. In this thing the hoo-ha people are like, ooh, look, Steven Pinker, and Fareed Zakaria, and the ambassador from a country to another country. It’s very fancy.
So I went there and Fareed Zakaria interviewed me on stage about Chernobyl. And then I was heading to the airport to come home and the man who runs this whole thing said, “Oh, by the way, the President of Ukraine would like to meet you if you could delay a little bit.” And I said, yeah, I want to meet the President of Ukraine. And so I went to the President of Ukraine’s office, in this very large building that used to be the Party Headquarters back in the Soviet Days. This beautiful building.
I’d never met a president before. I’ve never gotten to say, “Well hello Mr. President.” It was very cool. And here’s the cool thing about President Zelensky. He’s just been elected. And he’s one of us, John. He’s a writer-performer-comedian-entertainer. He comes out of the entertainment business in Ukraine. And it was a great conversation. We talked a lot about film production and how to help bring film production to Ukraine. They really want to get more shows shooting there, which I thought was great. And in no way did I involve myself in any kind of weird whistleblowing scandal.
John: Did you make any promises to him that were listened in by intelligence officers? None of that stuff happened?
Craig: No. In fact, quite the opposite. At one point during the conversation we were talking about some ideas and things and he said, “You know, just to be clear we’re just talking.” I said, oh no, we’re not making the laws or anything. [laughs] I’m an idiot. You know that, right? I’m stupid.
He was great. He’s a terrific guy. At least that was my impression of him. I can’t necessarily speak to how he – I hope for the sake of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people that he does a great job. He’s got an excellent – currently he’s at like 80% popularity. Do you remember when our president got an 80% popularity?
John: That was a different universe.
John: I do fear that the transcripts as people look back on this episode, you know, five years down the road something could go terribly wrong. But for this moment it was neat that you got to meet the President of Ukraine.
Craig: So you’re saying like there will be some crazy war or genocide and then we’ll have the equivalent of me on tape going, “Yeah, so Hitler, he seemed like a great guy. We had a great conversation.” No.
John: He’s really a film person. He’s an entertainer.
Craig: He’s an artist. He loves to paint. You know, he’s adorable. He’s cute. He’s got a great mustache. No, I’m very hopeful for Ukraine that President Zelensky does a great job. I don’t know anything about politics. At least Ukrainian politics. I know nothing. I’m mostly just optimistic and hopeful for them. But, yeah, that was weird.
John: Yeah. It’s also – stepping away from the President of Ukraine, it’s cool you got to travel in the circles of big thinkers who write big books about the future of the world.
John: So that’s nice.
Craig: I felt highly unqualified. There were some really impressive, very famous historians and thinkers and politicians and people. So, but it did remind me that we actually do have quite an impact on the world around us. It’s like this podcast. You know how we’re always surprised – or maybe you’re not, but I’m always surprised when people say they listen to the podcast, like Chris O’Dowd. I was so surprised that he listens to the podcast. I’m endlessly surprised that anyone listens to it. But they do. And similarly with television you make a show and you put it out there but they might tell you, oh, this many millions of people watched it, but the number doesn’t connect in your mind to reality. And then you realize, oh yeah, these people all watched it and they have feelings about it, you know. And happily for us the overwhelming opinion of folks there in Kiev was very positive towards our show which was huge, wonderful.
John: The show where it’s set. So, yes, good to hear.
Craig: Yes, very good.
John: So the Emmy season is over but also another important season is over. The WGA election season, which was endless.
Craig: Aw. Too soon. [laughs]
John: Too soon. Oh god, not a moment too soon. I don’t know why, it’s probably there’s a constitutional reason why the voting period has to be so long, but Craig it was too long. It went on forever.
Craig: The reason is that the constitution that governs these things was written in the ‘40s I believe, you know, back when people had to vote by mail only and all the information you got came by mail.
Craig: Or meetings that you had to go to. There was no Internet. There was no social media. So what’s happened is let’s say there was X amount of political content to which you would be exposed as a writer. Now there is 1,000 X political content that you are being exposed to as a writer in this election. It’s too long. They should shorten it because the amount of information that we’re bombarded with is insane. And it’s just too much.
John: It is too much. But let’s talk about the end result of this before we get into process and–
Craig: It was great.
John: [laughs] So in the East Beau Willimon was reelected along with some other folks who are supportive of the agency campaign. In the West a total of 5,809 valid ballots were cast which was 58% of eligible votes, which is a nice round number. It’s about 10,000 voters, people who could vote. So that was record turnout in the West. And more than doubles the turnout of the 2018 Board of Directors election. So David Goodman and the incumbents were reelected along with the four newcomers who I endorsed by a lot. So Goodman won 3-to-1. Everybody else was at least 2-to-1. So it was a significant victory for that group of people who are sort of a steady line from where we’ve been.
Craig: Yeah. No question. And I think this was essentially a foregone conclusion almost from the start. I mean, I didn’t think it would be otherwise. There’s some interesting things that come out of this. By the way, and one of them is that also just to be clear in case people were wondering, if I had been able to stay in the race I also would have lost. There’s no question. It’s interesting, the most important thing I hope that our membership takes away from this, particularly the people that did vote for the people who won, is that the election was not damaging to our union. That this kind of open discussion and debate did not destroy us. Nor did it topple their preferred candidates to the ground.
There was almost, I want to call it like a paranoia, or a fear that something that they loved very much or cared about very deeply was going to be destroyed by people from within. And that did not happen. Point being you can survive elections, and I’m saying this especially to guild members who never really saw one of these before because unfortunately and anomalously the last three presidential elections have essentially been uncontested, which is not the traditional WGA way. This is the traditional WGA election.
So, good news is we can survive these. They’re very good for us. They’re good to discuss. And the other thing that’s important to note for people like me who are questioning the way the leadership is going about pursuing a conclusion, a potential conclusion, to our agency campaign is that the amount of people that seemed to dissent from the way the leadership is doing this has roughly quadrupled since we took our first vote on it back in whatever it was, March or April. Back then it was 95%, about 400 people said no to that. I was not one of them. I was like you, I said yes.
About ish, averaging around 1,600 people voted against leadership, so something is happening. It’s worth noting. Those people are not in power. The people who are in power are in power. But there is a trend. So I’m hoping that leadership has taken notice of that and will consider it as they now go about, I don’t know, doing what they’re going to do.
John: I would say at all of the membership meetings, and I don’t know if you’ve listened to any of the audio from the membership meetings, the current leadership was very up front about the fact recognizing that five months into this dissent has grown. There’s folks who are unhappy with how all of this is being conducted. And sort of worried about the outcome of things. And so I think that was reflected in some of that voting there. But I think a probably more crucial takeaway is that there was this worry I think that in the fatigue and in this thing going on that people would just start tuning out. They would start paying attention and just kind of want to be done or just shut it all out.
And I think the fact that there was record turnout, that Goodman was elected by a huge majority than even he was elected when he was uncontested speaks to a support for a resolution with the current people in place.
Craig: You mean he got more votes this time.
Craig: I mean, he can’t do better than 100%
John: It is hard to do that math. At least in a democratic system, yes.
Craig: Correct. The turnout was very encouraging. You want to see writers engaged. And this is my point to everybody that was kind of freaking out. I’m sorry. They kind of were. I was shocked. The worst possible instinct we could have as a union and as a membership polity is to be against free and open elections and campaigns. And I love to see that people were engaged and got engaged and voted. I think this is exactly the way it should go. I’m thrilled. And I hope that the people take some sort of – now that they’ve gone through it maybe they’ll feel a little less insecure about it the next time through.
John: The one thing I do want to bring up because this is a thing I’ve seen and grousing on the edges of the Internet is like, “Oh, those folks who voted for it aren’t even really working writers.” And that is not accurate. I mean, in order to be a voting member people should know it’s not that you sell a script and then 20 years later you’re still a voting member. You’re not. You have to sort of keep working in order to maintain your current status. And so for 2018 there were 6,057 who reported earnings. So there are a lot of working writers who are the voting membership of the WGA.
Craig: Yeah, you hear this a lot. I mean, yes, technically you can have people – well, there are two kinds of writers who can vote who are not working writers. Your initial membership period is seven years. So, when you become a WGA member you have seven years to vote before you’re going to have to show some additional employment. So, yeah, some people theoretically are on year six of their seven without working. And there’s also quite a few people that are what we call lifetime current members. So you and I would certainly qualify. Once you have – I think it’s 15 years.
John: 15 years, yes.
Craig: Yeah, of being current active you become lifetime. 15 years is actually not that much. So there are a lot of people who are current lifetime members which means they’re going to vote forever until they die. And, yeah, so sure. But the truth is, OK, we don’t know how they vote. I mean, it’s tempting for some people to say, “Well, some people, they’re not working so it’s easy for them to vote for a strike or to vote to fire your agents.” I guess, but I think a lot of people who aren’t working also feel like, no, it’s important that the guild to not go on strike or not fire their agents. There’s no science to that is my point.
John: I would agree.
Craig: But I will say if I could, if I could wave a magic wand, I would, I don’t know about this lifetime – I don’t know if people should be voting forever. I actually worry about that. Because we’re getting older longer. Right? And there is a world in which you have more people voting in a union who are lifetime current members than current active members, which would be a disaster. That’s not what you want. So I wonder about that sometimes.
John: Yeah. And so this is not a thing that I’ve been spending time thinking about, so I’m just going to wonder aloud. Perhaps a reason why lifetime current members should be able to vote is that the actions of the guild now still have a bearing on their income and sort of their ability to do things. So, the degree to which leadership of the WGA can set broad policies that would affect – I mean, pension is a separate thing. So I’m trying to think the degree to which elected leadership would have a bearing on a person who is essentially no longer employed is interesting. I don’t know.
Craig: You’re right. It’s a tricky one. Because most unions do not have this. I mean, most unions it’s like if you’re not working, you’re not working you’re not voting. I’m pretty sure. I don’t think this is a common thing where you get to vote for the rest of your life even though you haven’t worked in 30 years which is the case for some people.
I don’t think when you and I first started in the union I don’t think it was as big of a deal because, well A, people didn’t live quite as long as they do now. And there were fewer people that had been employed up to that point. And also the guild was a little bit more homogenous in its thinking. But as things polarize a little bit, which seems to be the trend everywhere in the world. Thank you social media. And as people live longer I can see a potential issue on the horizon. And I say that as somebody who would be a beneficially of being a lifetime current member. That maybe, you know, maybe after – cap it. Like if you haven’t worked in 10 years maybe no more. Maybe you should stop voting.
It’s a thought. I can see the gray army – the art militia is marching to my house. But, hey, guys, I’m old too.
John: This feels like one of those questions where if this was debate team you could argue either side and have really good arguments to list either side. So maybe that’s why it’s an interesting debate question.
The one thing that probably every member can agree on is that there were a lot of emails and sometimes those emails that came from the WGA [unintelligible] which basically candidates and sometimes even non-members can spend some money and send out an email blast to all WGA members. People got frustrated by that. I would say it’s part of the democratic process. I don’t want to limit that. I think structurally I don’t think anything should change. I just recognize that as it got later into the voting season people got more and more annoyed by those. And I think it did not help the people who were sending those emails late in the process.
Craig: Well, everybody was sending them so if it didn’t help people it didn’t help people equally. But I agree with you. It’s part of the process. Communicating to the membership is important. What I think would help us is what you suggested right off the top, just shortening the season.
Craig: So, it’s one thing to get bombarded with emails for a month. It’s another thing to get bombarded with emails for three months, or whatever it was. Right? July, August, September. Ish. 2.5 months. So, I saw people complaining about it and I just found it absurd. Like, aw, you poor baby, you had to see an email? Aw, you had to press delete? Aw. You were born in 2002. Yeah, that’s right. I just took a shot at millennials like every other old, cranky dick. I don’t care.
John: Craig, do you know who is not going to fix this problem?
John: Me. I’m not on the board anymore.
Craig: By the way, we’re both free, right?
John: We’re both free.
Craig: We’re both free because you’re free-free, and now I can be even more of a jerk than I already was because I don’t have to worry about including you in people I’m yelling at.
Craig: Because I love you.
John: Aw, Craig, I love you, too.
Craig: I don’t give a shit about the rest of these people, so gloves are off.
John: All right. Let’s move on to our next topic. So this past week Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the reporters who originally broke the Harvey Weinstein story for the New York Times back in 2017 released their book She Said. Revealed new information about the secret settlements and non-disclosure agreements that allowed Weinstein and other powerful men to get away with what they were doing.
A lot of the tension this past week was focused on the celebrity feminist mother-daughter team of Gloria Allred and Lisa Bloom. And this was an area of the story that I wasn’t really aware of. And reading it and listening to it I was struck by a couple things. First off, it’s always good to check in and see sort of where we’re at in this post-Weinstein era in terms of how we’re dealing with just terrible men doing terrible things.
But this new wrinkle in it very much felt like a How Would This Be a Movie kind of twist to it because it was such a fascinating lens to be looking at this story through of these women who were known as crusaders for victims’ rights for women who were – in the case of Bloom working for the other side. There’s a letter we can link to which is especially damning in terms of outlining the strategy for how she would protect Weinstein.
Craig: I haven’t had a chance to read this but it does strike me that in all likelihood this is our generation’s All the President’s Men. I mean, it feels like this is a great story of two heretofore unknown journalists blowing open a story that changes our culture permanently. And so we have heroes.
John: And I would add Ronan Farrow into that, too, in the sense that there’s a whole collection of folks who are trying to do things and other journalists along the way who were frustrated that they weren’t able to get anyone to go on record.
Craig: Exactly. And so you have your protagonists in that sense. And there is an achievement at the end that is undeniable. And I think it’s, well, it’s just great to see stories again where people achieve and change the world with their minds and not with their jet-packs and super-serums and laser eyes. Because that’s real. And I’m thrilled that it happened.
I, like you, was not prepared for the arrival of new villains. Right? So you think the villain is Harvey and Les Moonves, et cetera, et cetera. And then you get this letter from Lisa Bloom that is just jaw-dropping.
John: So Megana our producer was asking at lunch, you know, to what degree was all of this an open secret. Because I see that term in quotes “open secret” in a lot of the coverage about this. Like, “Oh, Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was an ‘open secret.’” And I was having a hard time answering her because it depends on sort of what you mean what was the secret. I would say that through my Hollywood career I knew that he was an asshole. I knew that he was abusive. And I think I had a sense that there was a casting couch but I’m putting that in air quotes here because how did I think that this was a benign consensual casting couch. As we’re looking for villains, as I’m looking at myself as a villain, I think to have so misframed that in my head is one of the things I’m going to be sort of reckoning with and I think a lot of folks will be reckoning with as we take a look at these powerful men being brought down.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I’m currently writing a book about you as the villain. [laughs] You’re at the center of all of this.
Craig: Well, listen, and I can answer Megana’s question as best I can from my perspective, because I worked for the Weinsteins for a number of years. Almost exclusively for Bob which I can assure you was not a delight by any stretch of the imagination. But I had my run-ins with Harvey. I had no idea, none, zero that there was any kind of non-consensual sexual activity going on. The rumors that I heard were that certain female actors had engaged in a quid pro quo with Harvey, where consensually there was an agreement. I will sleep with you and you will put me in this movie. Which is gross. It’s not illegal. It’s unethical. It’s gross. It is a kind of abuse. There’s no question of that. It’s an abuse of power. Not to mention – also forgotten that he’s married to another woman. There’s a billion rules he’s broken but not a law.
So, it seemed scummy but it didn’t seem like a criminal thing that made you want to hurl. That was what I thought the open secret was, and even then I kind of didn’t really believe it. I’ve got to be honest with you. I thought it felt like a rumor mill thing that seemed a bit misogynistic. Like, oh, so and so couldn’t have been an actor unless she slept with Harvey. And the names that were being thrown around I thought, um, no, I think they would have been just fine. They’re good at their jobs. And they’re beautiful. And they check a lot of boxes for what a star should look like in the year say 2003.
So, that’s about as much as I knew. I would imagine other people, well certainly people inside. We know now from this book for instance, from the Kantor and Twohey book that certainly Bob knew. He claims to not know. But he knew.
John: Yeah. I think it’s always worth asking what’s happening right now that is analogous that we’re not paying attention to. Like what are the things that five years, ten years down the road we’ll be asking, hey, was that an open secret? How were you letting this go on? I think it’s always worth doing the introspection to look around and see what is happening in the industry right now that will seem shocking down the road.
And I don’t have an answer for that but I think it’s always good to be asking that question.
Craig: Oh, yeah. That is a good one.
John: That can be a thinker. I don’t know that we’ll have an answer today.
Craig: I’ve got to be honest with you. I’m the last person who will come up with the answer to that. I’ve always felt quite sheltered. I don’t know, like self-sheltered from – like I’ve never been to a Hollywood party in 25 years where I’ve seen people doing drugs. Do you know how hard that must be to do? [laughs] You know?
John: I’ve never seen anyone do cocaine. I’ve never done cocaine. I’ve never seen anyone do cocaine. And yet I see it in movies all the time.
John: So people are doing it. But I’ve never seen it.
Craig: Have you ever seen cocaine?
John: I’ve never seen cocaine.
Craig: I’ve never seen cocaine either. This is why you and I are perfect for each other. We’re the only two people I think in Hollywood and possibly in the world that have never seen cocaine. I’m not sure it’s even real. [laughs] It may be a thing that they’ve just invented for movies. It’s fake. I’ve never even seen it. So, we’re not – you and I will be the last people to know is my point.
John: Yeah. We’re just off playing D&D while everyone else is doing drugs.
Craig: Doing the drugs.
John: All of the drugs.
Craig: All the drugs.
John: So that might be an invitation to listeners. If you think that there is a thing that we’re not paying attention to that could be thing ten years from now. Like how the hell were you not paying attention to that? Write in. Tell us that. Because I’ll be curious what you guys think.
John: I also need your opinion some bit of housekeeping here. So Scriptnotes has always been and will always be free every week. It has no ads so we don’t make money in sort of the traditional podcast ways.
Craig: I don’t make money.
John: I know. But we do have expenses. So, mostly salaries. We pay for Megana, our producer. Matthew Chilelli who is our editor. And John who does our transcripts. We also pay for the servers. So there are some costs. To allay those costs we have the premium feed, so that is all the back episodes of Scriptnotes and the transcripts, the Scriptnotes app. More than 3,000 of you out there are premium feed members so thank you very much for doing that. That’s $2 a month.
But there’s some issues. And so right now we’re doing our premium stuff through Libsyn and they’re the hosting company. And they do a good job sort of getting stuff out there, but the app is not great. We’ve had some problems with the app. And Megana has being a lot of work with the Libsyn folks to try to get the app fixed up. We don’t actually make the app. We just brand it.
And if you go on their website it looks like it’s from 1999. And that shouldn’t be a big thing but I don’t have great faith in parts of it. So as I look at other podcasts out there, a lot of them are on Patreon. We’re considering moving over to Patreon. But I would love to hear folks’ opinions on should we make a switch over there. Are they happy enough with sort of what we have?
If we move over to Patreon the Scriptnotes app would eventually stop working. Is that a big deal? So I need listeners to tell us what you think about moving over to a different place.
Craig: You know, I think we should. I’m a listener. I’m actually not a listener as you know. I’m just a talker. But I love change. Before you laugh at me, I do like technological change. I do like every now and then taking a look at what you’ve gotten used to technologically and then saying let me do a little bit of research and see if there’s something better out there. Because generally speaking there is.
So, I think we should change. No offense to Libsyn. I say let’s do it. Let’s go and do it.
John: All right. So I will say, we’ll get your feedback. If we do make the switch we’ll keep both things running for a while. So it’s not like Libsyn will suddenly get shut off and Patreon will take over. We’ll figure out some way so that if you’re currently burning through your catalog on the app the app will keep working for a while. And if we transition there will be a grace period hopefully moving between the two of them. So, just letting people know that there might be a change in the offing here.
Craig: I’m excited. Change is good.
John: Cool. All right. So this year at the Austin Film Festival you will be there, but I will not be there because I’m going to be giving a speech that I promised to give. It’s a prestigious speech back at my alma mater. And I want to talk a little bit about what my topic is because it’s a speech that I gave way back in 2006 and I’m giving an updated version of the speech. And it’s on professionalism. And it feels like a good topic for Scriptnotes overall because the original topic for the speech was professional writing in the rise of the amateur. And sort of that weird tension between what it means to be professional and what it means to be an amateur.
In my initial speech I argue that professionalism has five basic characteristics. First is presentation, AKA giving a shit. Accuracy. Consistency. Accountability. And peer standards. And what I was trying to do is distinguish between professionalism from getting paid for it, because we tend to think of pro as being like a pro athlete who gets paid and an amateur athlete who doesn’t get paid. And I was arguing that much more important is how you’re perceiving your own work and how you are – the standards you’re holding yourself to and the standards that others are holding yourself to that determines professional from unprofessional.
John: Craig, are those characteristics useful metrics for you for whether someone is acting professionally?
Craig: They are. I think there is a – I’m going to add one. And it’s humility. And here’s why I’m adding it. Because we’re in an interesting time right now where a lot of people – in a fantastic way a bunch of fake, bad barriers to entry are being dismantled. And a lot of cruel pointless downward pressures are being eliminated. And I think a number of people are saying, “Listen, one of the things that’s really important to do is not be shy, not be self-deprecating, stand up for yourself, self-promote. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you’ve done well.” All those things are true.
But what I sometimes see is it’s being done – because it’s sometimes an unnatural thing for people to do. So what ends up happening is it’s done in a kind of calculated way and what’s missing therefore is an honest element of humility.
Craig: And I think that professionals should – and typically do have a certain kind of humility that comes with understanding that no matter how good you do, no matter how well you do, no matter how much you’ve learned, no matter how much experience you have there’s somebody who is better than you. And that’s a wonderful thing. It means that there is room to grow.
And it keeps you I think – it keeps your feet on the ground. And it prevents what I would call healthy self-regard and self-promotion from becoming a kind of braggy, almost insecure kind of promotion. So, I think humility is really important. I try and – well, I don’t have to try. I wake up in the morning feeling terrible [laughs], so that’s easy. But I honestly as a professional when I meet another professional who I think is really good who is humble in a kind of honest way without being self-deprecating or self-damaging, it really matters. I notice it and it means a lot. And I love that.
John: You and I can both think of some screenwriters who are really good at their job but they are lacking any humility. And —
Craig: Oh god.
John: And they – you marginalize them because of their lack of humility. And so – and I think it’s great that you’re drawing a distinction between – you can be proud of your work, you can be proud of your presentation, you can really be focused on the hustle that gets you forward, but always having the humility to ask what if I’m wrong. Or, you know, to acknowledge that there’s others out there who are doing great work as well. I think it allows sort of a self-correcting aspect which is really crucial.
Craig: Correct. And I will also say that when a writer talks about something they love, let’s say I’m reading a line and there’s a writer, she’s saying, “I read this script by this person. I think it’s amazing and here’s why.” My heart just pops open. Because that to me – that’s when I go, OK, you are – I love what you’re saying and how you’re thinking. I love the fact that you’re talking about someone else. I think it’s amazing when people do that. That to me is where I really actually come to respect the person doing the praising, even more than perhaps the person they’re praising.
It’s when people start banging their own gong kind of without any sense of context or humility that I just go, OK, well you know what would be really cool? If somebody else said this about you. That would be amazing. Right? And so I love saying great things about other writers online that I love and respect and admire. I think it’s a really healthy part of being a professional. Again, I’m not saying you have to stop saying that you’ve done something good. I’m just saying maybe every – just pare it. If you’re going to sort of talk about look what I did, isn’t that awesome, hire me, pay me. These are good things, right? Also, take a look at what that person did. And hire them and pay them, too. That’s a helpful thing.
John: Agreed. So I’m going to put a link in the show notes to the existing speech which was back in 2006. But part of why I’m bringing it up here is that I feel like there’s a lot that needs to be updated just in terms of what’s changed in the world and also I think some of my assumptions or my – I was writing for a slightly different world but also I think my views have changed a bit.
So clearly some things have changed. As I wrote this initial essay I was talking about websites. And now of course websites are social media. And so, you know, writing a blog post is a bigger effort than sending off a tweet. And so I think a lot more people are public-facing enterprises in ways that they weren’t back in the day. And so what does professionalism mean in a tweet is a different thing. It’s not just about – it’s not the grammar but it’s looking at how are you engaging with the wider world. Are you being fair to the people that you are calling out? Call out culture in general. The cycle of outrage is something that is very different.
And I see writers piling on in ways that are just not helpful or good or professionalism. And certainly doesn’t show any of those five or now six characteristics that we’re looking for in a professional.
I look at #MeToo and the degree to which I think sometimes professionalism can be used as synonymous with keeping your mouth shut. And that wasn’t good.
Craig: Mm-hmm. No.
John: That didn’t work out. I look at Donald Trump and breaking all norms and having no shame. Having no humility whatsoever.
John: And so I think we have to acknowledge that it’s tougher to argue that the only way to be successful is to be professional when you have the most unprofessional person I can imagine running the country.
Craig: Is he? [laughs] Is he running anything?
John: I don’t know.
Craig: Don’t you just think that they just give that baby a rattle in the morning and then tuck him in at night with a hamburger.
John: Yeah. I mean, somehow he got there.
John: We can parse all the things that happened but it makes it tough to aspire to the highest standards when you see that the person who got the highest office has none of those standards.
Craig: Yeah. This is when it’s the hardest – it’s easy to be a professional when it’s not hard to be a professional. And it’s hard to be a professional when it’s hard to be a professional. And when you’re surrounded by amateurs and when it is amateur hour and when you are tempted to stand up and say, “Does anyone in this room understand how stupid you all are and how under-qualified you all are and how over-authorized you all are?” Those are the moments where it’s really hard to maintain your professionalism. And yet generally speaking when you blow it you blow it. You know?
Craig: You just have to kind of be patient. It’s the worst. And it’s not fair and it’s particularly not fair to people who have historically been excluded to finally arrive and then be told, “Oh, and also now you have to be patient again because for this, and this, and this.” And I understand why people don’t want to be patient. And in some circumstances they shouldn’t. You know, I know I’m old school. I know that. But by and large being professional in the long run will accrue to your benefit. I believe that as an article of faith.
John: Yes. I would say that part of being professional is sort of peer standards and I think we have to acknowledge that for a very long time those peer standards were set by, you know, straight white men.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: And so what was professional was their expectation. And so they could use unprofessional as a cudgel against anybody who didn’t match those things. And so we always have to be questioning and challenging what those things are. And so code switching as an example of using different speech with different people that’s a natural thing. And so that we don’t recognize that people who are working for us are going to do that is ridiculous. And we have to sort of broaden our expectations of what is appropriate in different places. And that people’s backgrounds are going to influence how they are presenting themselves and that’s natural.
And that you sort of want people working for you that reflect a wide range of experience because that’s the only way you’re going to be getting all the information that you should be getting in.
Craig: Yeah. And to be clear, being professional doesn’t mean that suddenly solomonically you know exactly what the answer to every conflict is. We are now in a space where we are running into conflicts that we weren’t expecting or hadn’t previously defined and we’re not quite sure what to do about them at times. I’m speaking about people that are in authority and have the ability to make decisions or set policy. We’re all learning to some extent together. And negotiating together. And, of course – and this is the big secret – people are individuals. So we can come up with policies and conventional wisdoms but for certain individuals they just don’t agree. I mean, it’s hard, right? You can’t just say, “Well, in general the way we should treat this group of people is blankety-blank.”
90% of those people will say, “Yes, thank you.” And 10% will say, “I hate that.” So now what do you do if some of those 10% are in your room working for you? It’s really – I think we have to give each other a little bit of a break while we figure this out.
John: Yeah. And on the topic of figuring stuff out, like a thing that came up recently was Walter Mosley, a great writer, who left the writers’ room of Star Trek Discovery because he used the N-word. Walter Mosley is black. And so is it fair for Walter Mosley to use that word in the room? Is it appropriate for Walter Mosley to use that word in the room? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for you. But that was an issue. And so that’s a thing we have to figure out.
I see staff writers on Twitter who are asked to promote their show or to live tweet show but are also called out for having their own opinions at times. And that’s a thing we have to figure out. We have influencers whose whole – who make their living–
John: –seeming like they’re just normal people or whatever, but it’s their authenticity that is selling a brand, but they are the brand. That’s a weird thing. It makes me really uncomfortable.
Craig: Yeah. Why don’t we just replace the word influencer with sociopaths? Isn’t that what that is? [laughs]
John: I know two influencers who are genuinely great people. But is challenging to know sort of like, OK, are you actually having fun or are you having fun for a brand? And that’s, yes.
Craig: You know, the Walter Mosley thing is fascinating. The only details I know were from the story I read, but it seems like there was an African-American writer on staff who complained to HR and then Walter Mosley – I don’t know if he was just immediately terminated. I think they kind of had a discussion with him. And from what I sussed out he said, “Yeah, no, I’m not going to apologize for that.” And then they said, OK, well you’ve got to go.
Whenever I see these things, these stories of this sort I think please remember, Craig, that you weren’t there and you don’t know everything.
Craig: I don’t know – do you know how many times you think you understand something and then somebody comes up to you and says, “Oh, let me just tell you what actually happened and the way it happened.” And you go, “Ooohhh.”
Craig: So there are times where I think like, what, they did what? And then you find out everything and you go, oh yeah, I totally get it now. We just don’t know. But oh my god, does that not stop us from yapping our judgments out there into the world. Like we are Galactus ready to eat the planet for the crime of whatever outrage we’re currently simmering over. We just don’t know. And by the way, you and I – one thing we both are sure of is that in general the entertainment journalism industry not great at reporting full facts, context, et cetera.
John: Yep. Context is tough. And I would say but at least entertainment press might have a thousand words to dedicate to something. A tweet doesn’t. So a tweet has almost no context. You’re sort of creating context around the outrage storm that’s there. And that ain’t healthy.
John: But another thing which is worth noticing is that sometimes what’s professional can feel artificial. It can feel not real or authentic because like, oh, you’re trying too hard. And that’s a weird thing that we’re at now, too. Where just like using full sentences, you know, proper punctuation, things are changing but there’s still an expectation of sort of how things are supposed to be working.
So, just recognizing that I think the core characteristics of professionalism are probably enduring. And I’m going to probably add humility as one of those. But figuring out how those apply to a quickly changing world is the challenge we’re always going to be wrestling with. Which is why I can give this speech in October and then a few years later I’m going to have to update it again because things will have changed.
Craig: I think that’s the most important thing. And that is what’s going to keep you from being cranky old man. I mean, look, I was born a cranky old man. But what I’m trying to avoid is a cranky old man set in his ways. As long you are keeping tabs on the way the world changes and you’re listening to people from a wide range of ages and races and orientations and beliefs then you should be able to adapt as the world changes. You will not be young ever again. You will not be current in the way that a 25-year-old is current. Not possible. Nor should it be.
But what you can avoid is being ignorant, stuck in your ways, blinkered, whatever word you want to come up with for somebody that’s just decided I’m checking out. Like, look, I know somewhere along the line I just said I can’t keep up with new music anymore. It’s over. Right? It’s over. That’s fine. No problem. I’m OK to let that go and just live with the 70 years of music that that I know and I feel good about. Fine.
But when it comes to the way our society functions and in particular the way our business functions and the way professional writers function it’s incumbent upon me to listen – and again be humble – and not immediately go, “Wah, these kids,” even though I did take a shot at millennials earlier, because sometimes they are dicks.
John: All right. Let’s answer some listener questions. We have two questions here about credits. Craig, you know a ton about credits so maybe we’ll ask you these questions. Tim writes, “On When They See Us I notice that Ava DuVernay has a strange story credit. Can you shed some light on to why she’s on there twice?” And the credit he’s linking to is “Story by Ava DuVernay and Ana DuVernay & Julian Breece.” Craig tell us.
Craig: Sure. It does look weird. And here’s how that functions. When you write as a team with somebody you are considered a unique writer for the purposes of credit determination. So Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece. They wrote together as a team. That is considered a writer. Ava DuVernay also clearly worked on this on her own. That’s a different writer. So Ava DuVernay on her own is considered a discrete writer from Ava DuVernay and Julian Breece.
Now, you go into an arbitration if there is – in this case I don’t know if there was an arbitration.
John: I suspect it would have to be because she was a producer on the show. She was a production executive on the show.
Craig: Yeah, so there was an automatic arbitration. And so what happens is they look at all the material. They don’t see names. What they see is Writer A and Writer B and Writer C and Writer D. In this case let’s just say there was Writer A and Writer B. Writer A was Ava DuVernay. Writer B was Ava DuVernay and Julian Breece. The arbiters look at it and they go, “You know what? Story seems to be Writer A. Deserves Story credit. And so does Writer B. That’s what it is.”
Now, I believe – I could be wrong – I’m pretty sure that as a writer you have the option in this circumstance to collapse the credit down. So you don’t have to have your name twice. In this case, I don’t know if she chose to have her name twice or if she wasn’t aware that was an option. Or, third possibility, I’m just wrong about this. But I don’t thing I am. I think you can collapse your name down and it just would say Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece.
But, the Writers Guild would understand that you actually do have more of a percentage of that credit for the purposes of distributing residuals. Because residuals are based on the credits. So in this case – like in features Story is worth 25% of residuals. So if you are Story by Ava DuVernay and Ava DuVernay & Julian Breece, half of that 25% would go to Ava and half of the other half of 25% would go to Ava, and then the rest would go to Julian Breece.
So you can collapse your credits down to avoid this weird syndrome of double naming. But you would not lose your fair percentage of residuals as a result.
John: Yes. So the crucial take away from that is this was probably a result of arbitration and the folks who were assigning those credits they didn’t see names. They just saw Writer A and Writer B. And you wouldn’t think twice about it if it was just Writer A and Writer B. It’s just a weird situation where Writer B is a team that also includes Writer A.
Craig: Yeah. I believe – and I believe this collapsing down thing is possible because I think I’ve done it.
John: OK. Cool. Nick from Sydney, Australia, who lives in LA, asks, “Can a Created by TV credit be taken away in the same way that a writing credit can in cases where subsequent writers make substantial changes to a screenplay? For example, if I secure a Created by credit on my contract for work on a pilot script and series bible, but then another showrunner takes over the project and makes substantial changes. Can I have the credit taken away? Is there arbitration for such an action?”
Craig, talk us through Created by.
Craig: OK, I have an answer. I looked it up. So, a Created by credit comes from an original series and there are two ways you can get – you become eligible for a Created credit. You write a format for the series. I think in that sense what it means is an outline or bible. Or, and/or, you receive Story by or Written by credit on the pilot episode of the series.
Generally if no format has been written, so that would be the equivalent of a treatment in features, then the Created by credit will go to the writers who receive the Story by or Written by credit on the pilot. And that’s how that works. So it is a function of the WGA making a determination. You can’t be guaranteed it. There must be a final determination of credits on the pilot episode of the series.
So, what I would say to Nick from Sydney, Australia is if you wrote the pilot script and the series bible, the series bible in and of itself should guarantee you a Created by credit. Somebody else could add on if they receive a Story by or Written by credit on the pilot, then they too would be eligible for a Created by credit.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. This is the fall. So it means that I have to have one of my One Cool Things be the Flu Shot.
John: A good friend of ours was felled by the flu this past week. So, guys, get the flu shot. It’s basically like the cheapest insurance you can get for like not being sick for a week to ten days. Just get your Flu Shot.
Craig: Get it.
John: It’s good. It’s helpful.
Craig: Get it.
John: I can also recommend that if you are using Highland2, the pro upgrade on Highland2, there’s a new item underneath the help menu for the Highland2 Slack Channel. So if you’re a Pro member you can join on Slack where we are discussing features that are coming to Highland and you get an early look at things. So if you are a person who uses Slack or a person who might want to use Slack we have a channel now for those pro users. And you should come join us there and we can talk about the future of Highland because there’s some really cool things coming down the pike.
Craig: Fantastic. It is fall. And so I feel like if they could only come up with a pumpkin spice Flu Shot.
John: Oh. That would do it. Sell a thousand of them.
Craig: Right? [Crosstalk]
John: I have last request of listeners. One of the things we’re working on in Highland is support for scripts that are written right to left, so Arabic and Hebrew and some other languages. What we’re really lacking is examples of scripts written in those languages. And so I’ve seen scripts written in most of the Roman languages, like European languages. I’ve not seen scripts in a lot of other languages. And so I know some people use Word or other places. But if you are a listener who is working in screenplays in languages other than English and you feel like sending us a copy, just a PDF so we can take a look at what it looks like, that would be great. So just send it through to email@example.com.
We just would love a bigger corpus of scripts from outside the US and Europe to take a look at sort of how we can do a better job working with those languages.
Craig: I’ve weighted my whole life to just look at you pouring over a Hebrew text.
John: Absolutely. What’s the name of the stick you use as you read the Torah?
Craig: You know, that’s a great question. I don’t know. Well, the deal with the stick, traditionally it’s a silver rod with a hand. It’s a little bit like the hand from the hand of the queen or the hand of the king in Game of Thrones. So it’s a pointer in the shape of a hand and finger. And the purpose of that is you’re not supposed to touch the Torah because you’re desecrating it with your stupid human finger or something. Because it’s so important.
God, I’m such an atheist. But, yeah, I used that thing. I used the stick when I was a young bar mitzvah boy.
John: Craig, I’ve never asked. What was your bar mitzvah passage? Like what were you assigned?
Craig: Do not remember. But I will tell you that it was from Jeremiah. I remember it was from Jeremiah. Not one of your more popular chapters of the Old Testament. But here’s the weird part. This is actually kind of bizarre. So the Jewish calendar is not like the January to December calendar that we use. It is a lunar calendar. This is why for instance Easter is constantly shuffling around. Because Easter is based on Passover. And Passover moves around per the Jewish calendar.
So, when you are a bar mitzvah boy or a bat mitzvah girl you get assigned what’s called a Haftarah which is your portion of the Torah that you’re supposed to read, AKA memorize blindly because you don’t speak the language. And the Torah is read from beginning to end throughout the Jewish year. And there’s a holiday called Simchat Torah which is, yay, we get to start over again and read it again. So, over the course of the year every Saturday or Friday and Saturday there is a chunk that you read to progress your way through. Meaning your birthday will roughly coincide with a general section, depending on what year it is.
Here’s the weird part. My birthday is in April, early April. My father’s birthday is in early June. That’s two months apart. My father’s parents were so proud of him, because they were so Jewish, that in 19 – he was 13 in 1955. They took him to a small recording studio in Manhattan and made him do his Haftarah thing into a microphone which was pressed onto a vinyl 78 RPM disc.
John: That’s amazing.
Craig: And he had it. And he took it out while I was studying my thing. And he took it out to play it and I said, oh my god, it’s the same one. We had the same one. Isn’t that weird?
John: That is great and weird.
Craig: It’s great and weird.
John: Yeah, so I mean mathematically not impossible, but still great when those things happen.
Craig: It was highly unlikely but, yeah, so we both had the same torture, reciting the same who cares paragraph at length. That’s this week’s Jew Corner with Craig Jew Mazin. My One Cool Thing this week is Seven Cool Things if I may. Not this past Sunday when we won/almost won/sort of won/lost everything at the Emmys, the Sunday prior was the Creative Arts Emmys where a whole bunch of our Chernobyl professionals were nominated for Emmys. And seven of them won.
And I am so proud of them. And so I just wanted to say their names and what they won because it was a joy. I was just – can I just be Jewish again for a second. I was kvelling. I was kvelling. I really was. I’m so proud of them. So I’m just going to say who they were because they did such a good job. So, Stuart Hilliker and Vincent Piponnier, our rerecording and production mixers won for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Movie. And this was a great one. Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative, Period, or Fantasy program one hour or more, we won, Luke Hull, production designer, Karen Wayfield, art director, and Claire Levinson, set director. And on that one we even beat Game of Thrones.
John: How nice is that?
Craig: I mean, it was pretty good. I was sitting right behind Dan and Dave, so on that one we were kind of giving each other [unintelligible], but you know what? It was good. They won like 10 Emmys that night. So congrats to them.
We also won for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a supporting role. And that was – there’s a whole bunch of guys and women, but Max Denison and Lindsay McFarland were our leads on that one.
We won for Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie. That was won by one of our editors, Simon Smith. So fantastic for him.
This was a great one. We also won Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special. That was Hildur Guonadottir who was our amazing composer. And by the way won an Emmy for Chernobyl. She – I’m predicting – is going to be nominated for an Oscar for Joker. So she’s having one hell of a year. I mean, oh god, I love her so much. So I’m so happy to see that.
And we also won Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special. That was Stefan, Joe, Michael, Harry, Andy, and Anna.
And we won Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie and that was Jakob Ihre, the amazing Jakob Ihre, who was our director DP.
So congratulations to all of our winners and also we had I think six other nominees and so we are just so proud of all of them. I couldn’t be happier with that result. It was a fantastic night. And the best part was I didn’t even have to worry. I didn’t have to be nervous. I didn’t have to think of a speech or any of that nonsense. So, that was the best part of this whole thing.
John: Absolutely. Congratulations again to all of them and to you, Craig, or–
Craig: Or not. [laughs]
John: Or not. [laughs] Congratulations on the show regardless. And that’s our episode for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It was edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by John Spurney. If you have an outro, and we’re kind of running low on outros here folks, please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. But on Twitter, of course, Craig is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust.
If you have thoughts about professionalism, if you have thoughts about the switch from Libsyn over to Patreon or some other stuff like that hit us up. Tell us on Twitter or send us an email. Because we want to know what you think.
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Craig, thanks and congratulations. Next week is going to be a big show for a secret reason that people don’t know yet.
Craig: Ooh, I’m so excited. I don’t think I know it either.
John: You know who the guest is.
Craig: Oh, I do. Yeah, it’s pretty great. [laughs]
Craig: Have a nice week. Bye.
- The Emmy Award Winners Congrats Craig!
- WGA Election Results
- She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
- Why I Quit the Writer’s Room by Walter Mosley
- Professional Writing and the Rise of the Amateur
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Jon Spurney (send us yours!)
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here