The original post for the 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 421 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast we’re following up on things that we’ve discussed in our first 420 episodes.
Craig: Oh god.
John: So, you should probably listen to those first.
Craig: Yeah. Do us a favor. Hit pause. Just give a quick 420-hour listen. And then come right back.
John: Yeah. The character voice you’re using there is the voice of Flune who is a terrific character that you played in our last D&D session.
John: Oh, Frune, sorry.
Craig: Frune. You don’t get his name wrong.
John: Sorry, yes, Frune. And Frune was a great character that I hope others get to experience in some way, because it was a great character voice choice there Craig.
Craig: Thank you. They won’t experience it the way I do it. I’m special.
John: There’s so much to get through because after 421 episodes a lot of things have happened. Let’s go all the way back to Episode 5 where we talked about copyright and work-for-hire. And there’s a development just this past week which I thought was really interesting. So, Craig, talk us through what’s happening with Terminator.
Craig: Yeah. So Terminator, like a number of movies, right now is subject to the original writer’s effort to terminate the copyright grant. And in this case the copyright grant was made 35 years ago. So, when you’re looking at these cases, right now if you were to write something original and then you sell it to a studio you are granting them the copyright – you’re transferring them copyright.
One of the things that we know from US Copyright Law is that it permits authors, or in the case of death the estate, essentially surviving spouses or children and so on and so forth, to terminate grants of copyright assignments and licenses that were made on or after January 1, 1978 when certain conditions have been met. And one of those conditions is you can’t do this any earlier than 25 years after the execution of the grant. Or in some cases 30.
And so there’s a window that you kind of arrive at. And it’s all tied to a date. The important thing to know here is that we’re hitting that window. And for a number of interesting projects. And this depending on how this shakes out could have very serious impacts on how Hollywood does stuff. Because some of the things that these writers are looking to terminate grant on are huge properties. Huge.
Craig: Like Predator and Nightmare on Elm Street. And you’ve got not small authors but huge authors like Stephen King and David Mamet who are going to war to kind of get back their right to their work.
John: Yeah. So one thing that complicates all of this is that sense of copyright as it applies to screenplays is complicated because as we’ve talked about on the episode we’re referring to, but other episodes, one of the useful fictions that we engage in in the United States is that I can write a script and sell it somebody and we sort of pretend that they wrote the script. So that copyright is with the person who bought the thing rather than the person who wrote the thing. It’s a useful thing that lets us have a Writers Guild. And these are complicated questions.
The Friday the 13th which happened this past year was pulling apart some of that fiction. And it’s going to be interesting to see how it all sorts out. So the Friday the 13th original writer was able to sue and win to get back some of the rights to the Friday the 13th franchise. So, this is going to be really fascinating.
Now, the article we’ll link to, it seems like in the case of Terminator what’s probably ultimately going to happen is they will make a deal with Gale Anne Hurd who I should stipulate I do know and is a friend. They’ll basically pay her some money so they can keep making Terminator movies. But in the case of some of these other properties it could become really complicated, especially the things that are books that were then adapted into things. Well, if that author is able to take that book back then someone else could make a completely different property based on that book.
Craig: Yeah. And you’re also dealing with companies that maybe weren’t paying attention to this. So, Skydance for instance acquired the rights to The Terminator franchise from his sister – David Ellison runs Skydance. His sister Megan Ellison runs Annapurna. And so it was an interesting inter-sibling business exchange where David Ellison bought the rights to Terminator from Megan for $20 million. So that’s $20 million just for the rights. That hasn’t paid for a script, or actors, or production, or anything. Just $20 million for the right to make these.
And then suddenly someone comes along and says, “Oh by the way that’s not an absolute right. You paid $20 million for something that I could theoretically revoke.” So what happens is you’re right – you enter a situation where basically people are trying to figure out, well, I have something that is worth a lot unless you say it’s worth nothing. And you have something that is worth something to you, but without me not as much. So, how do we work together?
It’s fascinating. But I could also see circumstances where an individual writer just says, “Yeah, I don’t actually care about money. I don’t want you to make more movies of this. I’m killing it.” And that’s interesting. Generally speaking our business, once they identify a problem like this will go into overdrive to figure out how to prevent it from biting anyone else in the butt in the future. So that’s what I’m actually kind of curious to see happen.
John: Yeah. I’ll be curious whether there’s legislation or other things that sort of work to sort of protect the folks who believe that they are copyright holders because they’ve made properties based on it.
Now, we should stipulate that for most of our listeners who are writing their own things, don’t think about this, don’t worry about this. This is 30, 35 years down the road from whatever spec script you sell. So, while we wish you all to have 35-year careers, that’s not a thing you need to be thinking about.
But as we approach projects that we’re being brought in to work on that may be a question we should start asking. Wow, do I want to spend three years working on this property not sure that it’s actually a movie that can be made because of weird chain of title problems.
Craig: Yeah. Honestly I’m just excited for people to live 35 years. Period.
John: Yeah. That would great if they did.
Craig: That would be great.
John: Back in Episode 2 we talked about how to get an agent and/or manager. So you and I tackled the big fundamental question that people always asked us. They were asking us on our blogs for a long time. And we tried to answer it. This past week I was talking with a writer who was asking me, like, “Oh, is it OK for me to be trying to get an agent?” This is a non-WGA writer. “To try to be getting an agent during this time?”
And I told him yes. I think actually it’s an OK time to try to get an agent. And in a weird way I feel like there’s going to be a lot of lower level agents, literary agents, who are really not doing a lot at the moment. So I said like, yes, it is legitimate and OK for him to do this. And it’s also legitimate and OK for a person at this point to try and get a manager.
I think managers are probably busier than they’ve been traditionally, but it is legitimate to do this. So if you’re wondering like, oh, is this a time that I could be looking for an agent, I’m not a WGA writer, yeah you could.
Craig: I mean, I think the only difference between now and then is that it’s going to be much, much harder I think for somebody to get an agent now just because the amount of agents has been reduced down. The supply is very small. So, you have a lot of Writers Guild members that – I mean, look, I can’t tell if anyone – I mean, I know you did. There’s like two or three people that I’ve seen. But like generally speaking I’m not sure if it made really any changes.
John: Oh, I think we’re talking about two different things. So, yes, there have been quite a few people who – working WGA writers who moved to agencies that have signed the deal. What I was telling this writer is like is it OK for me to talk to one of the big agencies that has not signed a deal. Yes. It is actually OK if you’re not a WGA writer. You can do that.
Craig: Oh, you mean as a non-WGA writer.
John: Exactly. As a non-WGA writer.
Craig: Oh, yeah, well, I mean, sure. You’re not bound by anything.
John: Yeah. In a weird way this moment is a better moment for that non-WGA writer to be read at these agencies than when a deal is signed because suddenly there’s going to be a lot of movement and a lot of frantic reading at all those agencies. So, this is not the worst time to do it.
Craig: Well, the only thing to be aware of is if you sign – let’s say you’re not a WGA writer and you sign up with UTA for instance. The second you sell something–
John: You’re going to have to drop the agency.
Craig: You’re going to have to drop the agency. So I don’t really recommend it. I don’t quite get the point of it. And I’m not sure why they would take anyone on with that. Oh my god, we have to solve this thing. I can’t believe this is still going on. You’re not on the board anymore so I can be more frustrated about this, I think. I’m just so frustrated, John. So frustrated.
John: Craig, I hear your frustration.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Episode 389 we talked about the future of the industry. We talked Endeavor Content, the parent company of mega-agency WME, and its plan to become a public company through an IPO. That IPO was scheduled for last week. And it did not happen. It was pulled at the very last moment. So we’ll link to an article Kim Masters wrote for the Hollywood Reporter which was good how Ari Emanuel’s outsized IPO dreams were dashed. There’s an article we can link to by Lawrence Meyers saying why Endeavor’s IPO U-turn was a surprisingly brilliant move.
What I’ll say sort of in framing on this, I was opposed to the idea of Endeavor Content and thus WME becoming public companies. I said this several times. I feel like a company whose responsibility is to shareholders really can’t have its responsibility also be to its clients. And that’s why you also don’t see law firms as public companies. It’s just not a thing that tends to work out well. And I didn’t see this working out well.
I was surprised honestly the IPO didn’t happen. It looks like it was really more sort of the state of the market made it not a great time for them to be launching other–
John: WeWork most famously, and we’ll link to an article about WeWork which was great, and Peloton did launch and went down a lot. So, you know, I can say that it was probably the best choice for them not to launch because it didn’t seem like it was going to go very well.
What I did tweet on the day that it happened is that I want to be really clear that I’m not rooting against the production arm of Endeavor Content. It’s great to have more buyers. I’m not rooting against the agency of WME or William Morris, whatever you want to call that thing. I don’t think they should be the same company and I really don’t think they should be a public company. But I don’t have some desire to destroy them. I want them to find a way to get through this. Partly because I want those agents who are working there – and especially the younger agents working there – to be able to have jobs and be able to do this as a living. And I think agents are a really helpful and important thing in our industry. So I don’t want to see them go away.
Craig: Like you I despise the entire idea of the sort of publicly traded agency responsible to shareholders, although to be honest with you it’s already too late to the extent that all of the big agencies, and a number of the mid-sized ones, or even god knows smaller ones, are already essentially in the pocket of private investors, institutional/private, you know, venture capital. So that’s already kind of happened, but I didn’t like the idea of the IPO either.
I mean, some people – god bless them – really do think that the WGA killed this. I just want to hug those people and say, ah you. No, we didn’t. This was the market for sure. And I was thrilled. Thrilled honestly that the market ruined it because I hate the idea of it. And unlike you I don’t like the idea of the Endeavor production company. I do wish that that would be destroyed. I would love to see all of those destroyed. I’m way more militant about those things than you.
John: Let’s tease this apart. So I like the idea of independent production companies. And so I’m envisioning a scenario in which Endeavor Content who makes film and television shows is not affiliated with the agency. So I would love the production entity there sort of like an Annapurna, like an A24, to exist, like another buyer is a good thing. I would just like a buyer that doesn’t have its own agency.
Craig: But that’s what it will always be. I mean, so they’ll say, “Look, we are what you just said. We’re two different corporations.” Blah-blah-blah. And everybody will go, “Oh, shut up.” You know, we know. Yeah, you are, but the whole reason that you’re interesting as opposed to some other place is because you can say we have all these clients that we can funnel towards this. I think those things should die.
And, look, we’ve got a lot of buyers right now. The one thing I don’t think we’re short on is buyers.
John: I would say a change that’s happened over the time that we’ve been doing this podcast is while I was really saddened to lose Fox and that consolidation sucked, it is weird that we have a tremendous number of buyers right now. And I think that’s why we’re seeing more writers employed than ever.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. So sure, I would love a big studio. Another big studio would be amazing for movies. But just in general for buying there are a ton of options. And I would love to see all the agencies getting out of that business entirely because I think it’s a distraction. I think there’s a danger that they just care about that. I think in the case of WME it’s not even a danger. It’s just a fact. That’s what they care about. They said as much. Yeah, an interesting thing. I sort of giggled at it because I was happy because I don’t like the idea of that and it’s not anything we did. If we want to comfort ourselves with that we can. But I completely agree with you that we need to get these agents back to work and working for us. So, again, let’s fix that.
John: Let’s fix that.
Craig: As quickly as we can.
John: A term I’ve been thinking about this past week is sustainability. And how do you find a sustainable business model? Because I wonder and I worry whether this idea of growing bigger and bigger through venture capital is just simply not sustainable. And I would sort of urge us all to be thinking about some of these decisions through that lens for the next couple months in terms of how do you get to a place where you’re setting up systems that can keep going on that don’t have to rely on constant growth.
Craig: Yeah. For sure. And the best check I believe on these agencies are the clients. Not necessarily a union. If an agency begins to cease to be valuable to its own clients they’re going to leave. And that is the ultimate check on this marketplace.
Now, there are certain things that these agencies can do that are kind of anti-competitive. We know that. But there’s at least enough of them where we’re not in the situation where there’s a monopoly. So the real question is can we find an agency that is large sized and competitive that isn’t also kind of ignoring certain activities that they need to pursue on behalf of their clients. I think we’re not in a dangerous place yet there. But, it is worrisome. I mean, one of the reasons why I was so supportive of the Writers Guild action in the first place is because I think these agencies needed a wakeup call. And the easiest wakeup call to deliver was the one on affiliated production. The packaging thing is just never going to change.
I mean, you can change, but it’s never going to go away. At least that’s my opinion. So I’m hopeful that we can get there. I do think that there has been a good adjustment.
What we haven’t seen is what was predicted to happen within two or three weeks of our vote which is either one of these large agencies collapsing or signing our agreement or high-powered agents splintering off to form a new agency. Actually agency business has shown itself to be incredibly resilient and incredibly stable and incredibly resistant to large change.
So, where this goes from here, do not know. But we know where it’s not going. It is not going towards an Endeavor IPO any time soon.
John: I will say that – you say that the agency business has been shown to be remarkably stable. I would say that there’s not been visible signs of that cracking and fissuring. But I don’t think we know the internal workings of those agencies.
Craig: No. I’m sure that there are things that they’re doing internally. I mean, they have to respond to the world around them. But they have managed to weather this crisis by any definition of the term weathering. And they’ve weathered it well. I’ve been surprised to some extent, but also to some extent not. And it does call into question just how much money they’re making without us. Seems like maybe quite a bit.
So, you know.
John: Yeah. Let’s do some quick answers here. Jason Reed asks, “I’m curious what happened to Scriptnotes producer Godwin. He had a short stint and disappeared. I assume he got hired in TV or similar, but I don’t remember it being mentioned.”
Godwin Jabangwe is writing for Netflix. He got a Netflix deal. He went through a program at Imagine for writing and he’s been writing a thing for Netflix. I spoke to him a couple weeks ago and, you know, I think he’s doing well.
Craig: And it’s not on the air yet though?
John: It’s not on the air.
Craig: One day we may see the Godwin show?
John: One day we’ll see the Godwin Jabangwe name showing up I suspect.
Craig: The Jabangwe Jump will occur.
John: It will.
John: Adam LaMarkin asks, “What celeb most impressed Craig with the congrats on Chernobyl?”
Craig: Well, this is kind of cool. The night before the Emmys I was at dinner with our Chernobyl family. And I was sitting next to our director Johan and suddenly there was just somebody behind us. And I turned. And that person said, “Are you Craig?” And I said, “Yeah. Are you Sean Penn?” And he said, “Yeah.” And then we had a whole discussion with Sean Penn.
Craig: Big Chernobyl fan. And, you know, I’ll tell you man, six months ago Sean Penn doesn’t stop to put a fire out if I’m on fire. You know? And I think that was pretty cool. He really liked the show a lot.
I would love for Chernobyl to be able run theatrically, like just for one crazy weekend. The Cinerama Dome or something like that. I don’t know if we have the materials that would make it work mix wise. I don’t know if we ever mixed it for that many channels. But, he said, “All right, if you do that I’ll present it.” I said OK.
Craig: All right Sean Penn. That’s pretty awesome. That was pretty cool.
John: Follow up question from Adam LaMarkin. “Has Craig seen cocaine now that he’s won an Emmy?”
Craig: So if you crack the Emmy open it’s full of cocaine. That’s what weights it down.
Craig: Yeah, no.
John: Greg Titto asks, “What good D&D moment earned John an Emmy inspiration token?”
Craig: John, I cannot remember. Why did I give you inspiration?
John: So I won inspiration because I was helping to make peace in a fight between Michael Gilvary and Kevin Walsh.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So they were arguing over a familial death vengeance thing and I being the peacemaker argued that in the afterlife they’d be able to solve these questions.
Craig: That’s right. You came up with a way to shut them both up. And if that doesn’t get you inspiration after a 30-minute argument about why they should both kill each other what does earn you inspiration at that point? It was great. And also it was very true to your character. Your character believes that he is at the center of a cult that is worth joining. So you speak with confidence. Pure confidence.
John: My character is essentially sexual Jesus. So it was nice.
Jim Bond asks, “Will there be an Austin Three Page Challenge Craig?” Because you’re running Scriptnotes by yourself at Austin this year. So is there going to be a Three Page Challenge?
Craig: There’s not. I believe the issue is that I’ve got two other things I have to do. I haven’t confirmed this yet but I believe I’m going to be moderating the Dan Weiss and David Benioff panel, which is going to be a big one. And I have my own panel on Chernobyl. And we’re doing the live show. And I judge the pitch contest final.
John: Yeah, so you’re being busy.
Craig: I’m pretty busy. And, you know, I don’t like doing Three Page Challenges without you. That just seems weird. Oh, and I saw by the way on the schedule some other guy is doing the first three pages. Yeah.
John: Um. OK.
Craig: He’s doing a thing called The First Three Pages. And I’m like, huh. Well, you know, it’s not patent-pending or nothing.
John: No, it really isn’t.
Craig: Yeah. Good luck.
John: You could do the first four pages. I don’t know. You could change something.
Craig: Just change one thing. [laughs]
John: Just one thing.
Craig: Just one thing.
John: Scott Turner says, “Please remind me that I will survive this page 68 funk that I’m in.” He’s referring to Scriptnotes 152, The Rocky Shoals. Craig, how will Scott survive?
Craig: He’s not going to. Unfortunately it’s over, Scott. You’re never going to make it. No, of course you’re going to survive it. Scott I also recommend maybe listening to the episode I did recently called How to Make a Movie, because I do believe that one of the more useful aspects of that little talk is how to approach that section of the movie so that it’s not something you fear or get lost in, but rather it’s your favorite part of the movie. Because the truth is it’s my favorite part. That second half of the second act is actually my favorite part of any movie I’m writing.
So take a listen to that. But, yeah, of course you’ll survive it. You’ll survive everything until you don’t.
John: You don’t. Several listeners wrote in to ask about t-shirts. So over the course of making Scriptnotes we’ve had all sorts of t-shirts. Probably 12 different designs. We’re going to be putting all of them up on Cotton Bureau for print on demand. So if you would like one of the old Scriptnotes t-shirts, including like the Scriptnotes tour shirt, or Camp Scriptnotes, we’ll try to get all of them up there that we can. So maybe in lieu of a new shirt this year we’ll have all of the old shirts up. So if you’ve worn out your favorite Scriptnotes shirt you can replace it.
Craig: You could make a Joseph-like Technicolor t-shirt coat.
John: Oh wow. Just stitch together all you old ones. Make a coat of many colors.
Craig: That’s right. A coat of many colors.
John: A Dolly Parton reference. In Episode 42 Verbs are what’s happening, your One Cool Thing Craig was about which e-cigarette brand you preferred. And pointed to the Joytech 510 with the [low carbonizer] and E-Juice from Johnson. Craig, how are you feeling about e-cigarettes at this moment?
Craig: Well, I don’t use any vaping anymore, because you know unfortunately it’s just too easy to get hooked on the nicotine. So I quit it just because I didn’t want to deal with nicotine craving, although I do love nicotine. This technology that I cited here, it is like Model T Ford stuff. So, almost everybody now that vapes is going to be using something like a Sub ohm mod box with the cool, you know, like the whole other thing with double coils and blah-blah-blah. Johnson weirdly their juice started to really be awful because they had to make some flavor changes.
But there’s a billion places to get all this stuff. There has been a controversy in the news recently because a few people were suffering from what appeared to be some sort of mysterious lung disease. And the mystery has been solved. They were vaping kind of off-brand/back store cannabis products which have been mixed with some weird oil. And the oil was essentially coating their lungs and making them sick and possibly threatening them with death. But that’s been about, I don’t know, like 14 people.
People who are using regular vaping products from reputable sources are not going to have that problem. I think that the hysteria around vaping is a shame. Cigarette smoking is so much worse for you.
Now, it is a problem that kids are vaping at enormous rates. And the problem there is not that they are going to die from strange vaping disease. The problem is that they’re going to be hooked on nicotine which is going to screw up their moods. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed John but teenagers are a little moody to begin with.
John: They can be moody.
Craig: Yeah. So it’s a huge problem. And the Juul Company has essentially been at the forefront of the problem. They are the company because of the design of their product. If I could wave a magic wand and do some regulatory work I would think that all vaping products would need to be able to make some sort of noise when used. It wouldn’t have to be a very loud noise but something that would be enough to alert a teacher. Because kids are literally just vaping into the sleeves in class. And that’s not correct. That sort of has to go.
All that said, this train may have left the station permanently. I’m not sure there’s a way to put the toothpaste back in the tube or pick your analogy.
John: So I was at a dinner with some doctor-y friends and one of them is a researcher who is studying literally flavored vapes and figuring out what is the chemistry happening inside of favored vapes. Her point, which is – so I’m not reporting final research, I’m just reporting what she’s observing so far – is that the compounds that these things are creating are not things that have been well studied. We certainly haven’t studied what they do in lungs. So, while I would like to, like you, believe that it is significantly safer than smoking, I don’t think we actually have science to back that up. So, I wonder if in a future follow upisode four or five years down the road we may look back at this and say like, oh no, oh no, no, vaping was really bad. And that is a concern.
Because I actually had sort of misunderstandings of it even based on your initial description. Because I literally knew nothing about vaping before you mentioned it on the podcast episode. I assumed that you were breathing out water vapor. You are not. You’re breathing out glycol. And that’s not a thing that you necessarily want in your lungs a lot.
Craig: Well, I’ll push back on that.
Craig: Propylene glycol is considered one of the safest substances you can breathe in. In fact, every time you’ve been at a concert or a show that had a fog machine you were breathing in and breathing out propylene glycol. That’s what that is.
Craig: It is inert. There’s also a substance called vegetable glycerin which is just as safe and inert. And that’s the other thing. So generally speaking you’ll see a mixture of those two things. But you can also just say, look, I just want vegetable glycerin. I don’t want propylene glycol. For some people it irritates their throat or something.
I do think you’re right. We could come down later and say, “Oh my god.” I think there are certain flavors that they are already starting to pull out because they’re concerned that when you heat them they can change chemically and cause a potential problem. But to compare them to the 400 compounds in cigarettes that we know are carcinogenic, it’s a bit like saying, “Well, we haven’t tested this bicycle yet so we don’t know if it is as dangerous as this wood chipper.” Logic tells us that it can’t be more dangerous.
So the question is for people who are trying to quit I would have no problem saying to them every single time please if the only way you can quit is to switch over to nicotine through vaping, do it. Because it can’t be worse. It literally cannot be worse.
But, if you are just looking to have some fun for the first time, maybe just don’t do anything like that.
Craig: But keeping people from starting smoking would be wonderful if we could. But, you know, look, underlying all of this stuff regarding drugs and humans using drugs recreationally is the innate organic desire to do so. Even animals will seek out hallucinogenic vegetables and eat them because we like it. Just living people like messing with their brain chemistry. And so the trick is trying to figure out how to do it in a way that doesn’t ruin your life or your body. Vaping I still think – I just think that there’s a certain hysteria around it and a moral judgment around it that I’m uncomfortable with. It reminds me of the way people used to talk about marijuana to us. And now all of a sudden marijuana is wonderful and everyone should have it in all of their facial creams. And I just feel like we need to take the moral component out. There’s a judgy-ness going on that I think is unhelpful.
John: Absolutely. You want clear observations without moral judgment on it.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: Let’s talk about Episode 419, catching up to the present.
John: Professionalism was an episode we did. I listed some characteristics that I thought demonstrated professionalism and things you should look for when you talk about professionalism. Phil Hay, our friend, tweeted to humbly offer these additions. “Commitment to dignity, yours and others. Good boundaries. And doing what you say you’re going to do.” Those feel like good general purpose things to add, just like you added humility to it. So dignity/humility I think could maybe be put together. I think those are two ideas that sort of fit well together.
But, yes, I think those are all good additions to a code of professionalism.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, commitment to your own dignity and to others’ dignity, and good boundaries, I think is directly answering the way our business has changed over the last couple of years. And he is exactly right to say it. It used to go unsaid. Well of course it’s unprofessional to harass someone or to make somebody feel uncomfortable in a sexual way or to grab someone. But it turns out you actually need to say it. You have to actually say it out loud, “That is unprofessional.” So I think it’s really good to establish that. And I loved when he said, “Do what you say you’re going to do.” Because I’ve always said every time I walk into a room with the producer or a studio executive I’m bringing with me the ghosts of every writer that screwed them over. And, you know, they do.
I mean, when I hear these stories I’m just shocked. Shocked at what writers do. I mean, then I’m like why am I the guy that actually panics about making sure that I deliver something on time or whatever, much less deliver it. Right? I mean, there are writers that have taken money and then just never done anything.
Craig: Yeah. Ghosted. How the hell? It just seems like you would go to prison. Theft. [laughs]
John: Kieran from Ventura writes in about professionalism, “Amateur comes from the Latin word for love, Amo Amas, Amat. And it’s easy to see the connection and meaning there. A professional was originally someone who would profess an oath to start their occupational journey, such as a doctor, a lawyer, or a priest. So the solemnity of this oath-taking seems to point to the seriousness that is required when trying to conduct oneself in a professional manner.”
So I like that idea. I like that idea of professional being the sense of like professing or commitment to the thing that you are doing beyond just the love of the thing. Useful Latin-ing there.
Craig: I agree. I think that sometimes “professionals” believe that they’re only professional because they’re being paid, and yet they act like amateurs. And that’s a problem because they can say things like, “Well I fell out of love with this.” And I’m like, OK, but you took money and therefore there’s like an oath, right, that you’re going to fulfill your obligations because this is serious business. And, yeah, I think that’s a really useful way of thinking about it. I mean, ideally you want to stay in love with your work but also behave in a way that is consistent with the promises you made to the people around you.
John: Yeah. Eric writes in, “Be sure to include social media decorum as an evolution of what blogs and forums used to be,” because my original post was very much about blogs and forums. He writes, “No one owes you their attention. Don’t spam people. If they choose to interact be cool with it and don’t expect anything else. Don’t be a dick goes a long way.”
Craig: Yeah. Well, I mean, I feel like we’ve talked about how to Twitter-er before right? I mean, haven’t we talked a little bit about that?
John: We have. I think it is constantly evolving. Even as we started the show Twitter was a very different medium. Like we live in a kind of different universe, which is a good segue to an extra episode we did called This Feeling Will End. That was in November 2016. Do you remember the topic of that episode? It was a bonus episode that we recorded after the presidential election.
Craig: That was the election, yeah. Has the feeling ended? [laughs]
John: Has the feeling ended? This is a fascinating week for it to come up. Because I remember the just despair and wonder and confusion I felt in that moment. And I feel a different thing this week. But it’s related. That sense of like, wow, have all the systems in place just completely broken down? What kind of form of government are we living in? I do feel some of that.
So, I don’t know that this feeling did end. It certainly changed. How are you doing?
Craig: Yeah. I would agree with you. I think there was probably a little too much optimism built into that. A sense that the structures around one person would continue to behave as those structures behave. They did not.
Craig: It’s not the failure of one man. It’s the failure of an entire institution. And, yeah, I think that the feeling has changed but it hasn’t gone away. And the new feeling I have, the new question is, “Is there any way back? Or is there simply a better but different place that we can get to?” I mean, eventually this ends. But how and when and what does it mean, I don’t know.
John: Looking back to the actual title of the episode, The Feeling Will End, for me I was living in France during that year and the feeling ended, or at least that initial feeling ended with the Women’s March. Because the Women’s March was like, oh wow, I’m not alone. Everyone else acknowledges this is a crazy thing that’s happening. And so participating in the Women’s March and sort of that mass demonstration was helpful and meaningful.
And so since that time I’ve been in a lot more sort of protests and marches and really come to appreciate that as a political forum and political act. So, I do wonder in this moment that we’re in right now if something like that will be what is required for us to sort of shock the system and actually get to that place where we make everyone who has to do things recognize that they actually have to do a thing. That we’re not willing to settle for rolling along with this slow motion car crash.
Craig: Well, at the very least we can say that we don’t quite know, or at least we cannot predict from the current situation what the final outlook will be. When this began with Nixon, first of all he had the single largest landslide in presidential election history, or if not the single largest really close. He had won nearly every state. And then when this started there was just a lot of people saying this is ridiculous and it’s nonsense and it will go away. And it just didn’t. And slowly but surely people came around. Not everybody, but enough to say, “Yeah, no, that’s enough with you. You’re done.”
John: So we’ve recommended on the podcast before, but if you have not listened to the Slow Burn season about Watergate it’s a terrific short podcast season that really talks through what it felt like to live in Watergate. And so useful in this moment.
Episode 335, Introducing Launch, that was the episode in which I introduced Launch which was the podcast series I did about the launch of my book series Arlo Finch. A part of that Launch series was about the film and television rights and how I decided not to sell the film and television rights. So the follow up is I’m now in the process of shopping those rights. And it’s been really fascinating talking with people about Arlo Finch as a movie or a TV show. And those conversations are really cool.
It’s nice to sort of see the thing that I’ve made with a different lens and sort of with a different placement in the entertainment universe than even when I started to write these books. I think so much has changed so quickly. I was looking at it as like, oh, is this going to be a three-movie series. And now it’s like, oh, is this going to be a streaming series? That change happened so quickly that it’s sort of nice to go back and think about what I believed the [unintelligible] rights were for Arlo Finch as I was writing it and what they are now.
Craig: That is a great point. And if I had to guess – I’m not trying to handicap anything – but if I had to guess I’d say, yeah, streaming service. I see the way my daughter watches things. Like, man, she just devoured Umbrella Academy. You know? So I think, yeah, streaming service is my guess.
John: We’ll see where it ends up. I will report it here when it happens. Also back in Episode 419 we talked about the premium feed. So this is people who are paying us money to listen to all the back episodes, the back catalog. And the suggestion that we might end up moving from the Libsyn service that provides the Scriptnotes app to something like Patreon. An update here is I’ve been talking with the other folks in places who do this thing and I think we may have a good alternative here. So I suspect we probably will move on from our current set up. But I also want to thank all the people who wrote in on Twitter and we got 10 or 15 people who sent in feedback on what they were looking for. Some highlights of what you guys most want is access to the whole back catalog. So the episodes that we’re talking about today. Some bonus content certainly. And the ability to get to those things easily. So not just through a web interface, but getting to them on your own player rather than through a dedicated player seems to be the call. So that is what we’re looking at doing.
Craig: Yeah. That sounds, I mean, I’m along for the ride obviously. But you know me, I love a change. Let’s mix it up.
John: Yes. Craig, do you want to take us through another topic from 419?
Craig: Yeah, sure. So in 419 we spoke about #MeToo and asked what other issues are we not paying enough attention to now that will seem head-smackingly obvious in a few years. And Kelly wrote in with something really interesting. She said, “While it’s not quite the same as the Harvey Weinstein scandals, I think there will be a big come to Jesus moment in the next few years about how low assistant pay is still a massive gatekeeper to the industry and prevents meaningful movement for diversity. I’ve been an industry assistant for almost eight years now and I’ve worked in an agency, on a show, and for a few different production companies so I’m pretty ingrained in assistant Hollywood.
“When I moved to LA to try and become a writer I worked as an unpaid intern for months before getting my first job that paid me $375 a week. This was in 2011. You would be shocked at how many assistants have a similar story. For assistant Hollywood the intersection of low pay and lack of diversity is so obvious. And while I’ve seen some high level showrunners tweet about assistants being paid more, very little has been done to create any sort of meaningful change. For the most part it seems like an issue that higher level writers, studio, and agency heads etc. choose to be willfully naïve about as they then turn around and lament the lack of diversity in Hollywood and how few experienced people with diverse backgrounds are available for employment.”
John, what do you think about Kelly’s point that this is a big thing we’re just all of us not paying enough attention to?
John: I think Kelly is right. And she’s right on a couple different levels. I think what she’s pointing to is a longstanding assumption about who assistants should be. That assistants should be folks just out of college. They’re seeing this job only as a stepping stone and don’t actually need to be able to live on this job. Because they have family money, they have some other way of earning. And in a weird way it’s almost like a hazing to we’re going to pay you so little now but it’ll be worth it in the end.
And I think that is a destructive and bad tradition that we’ve sort of ignored a little too long. I don’t know how you’re feeling about it, Craig, but I’d be happy to spend some time over this next year on this show, but sort of in the real world looking at what assistant pay is, how it is a barrier, and how it is keeping people from really entering the industry and what we can do about it.
Craig: I am so in on this. Kelly is 100% right.
So, one of the things that makes me vomit about Hollywood, and there’s a number, but one of them is that as she points out there’s a kind of lovely progressive narrative that everybody shares, but when it comes time for a group of them running a corporation to determine how much their least paid people get paid, they just will not give them what I would consider to be a living wage. They just don’t do it. So, they are doing incredibly hard jobs. And by the way, they’re being entrusted, all of these assistants, with all of our confidential information. They are essentially the machine oil that makes this machine run. And they are being woefully underpaid at studios and at agencies. And these are studios and agencies that have the money to pay more. And they are studios and agencies where the people at the top are being compensated with tens of millions of dollars. Sometimes those people are bad.
And so we see Les Moonves and how much money he makes. And I think of whoever the assistant is making $15 an hour. And you may say, OK, hold on, I’m out here in Little Rock and $15 an hour is pretty good. In Los Angeles $15 an hour is not going to get it done. Especially when you need to show up at work wearing a certain kind of amount of clothes. You need to have a certain amount of access with your phone. You have to watch everything on every streaming channel. And then they expect you to go out and network with people which means go to dinner and have drinks and all this stuff. It’s ridiculous. Assistants in Hollywood are not paid enough. And you and I think can actually make a difference here. I really do.
John: So let’s try.
Craig: Yeah. I think we should. I don’t know who to talk to. We need a Che Guevara. But basically I just want to start shaming places. And I would love actually if assistants who are having a great experience could write in and say, “Look, here’s the part that’s good. I’m being paid this. This seems livable and fair. Here’s the part that’s rough. The healthcare that we get is wonky because of blankety-blank-blank-blank.” Let’s start collecting some interesting data so that we can start shaming places that don’t live up to that standard, because we have to take care of our assistants. We have to. It’s just cruel. I’m so glad that Kelly – I’m not sure if Kelly is male or female – but I’m so glad they wrote in to turn our heads towards this.
John: Absolutely. And what I would say is that any solution, both the information about sort of what’s really going on on the ground and sort of like what steps need to be taken to rectify it sort of should come from the people who are in it right now. And I think too often we try to fix problems from just the top down without understanding what the actual situation is and the people who are doing it right now. So that’s why we need input from people who are at that rung right now, which I think is probably a lot of our listeners.
John: So write in and tell us what you know.
John: All right, let’s jump down to Episode 403, How to Write a Movie. Alexander Angle wrote in and actually attached audio, so let’s take a listen to what his question is.
Alexander Angle: Hey there. Question for Craig. So, I’m re-listening to Episode 403, AKA the Craig Episode, and in it you talk about theme and anti-theme with anti-theme being what the character pursues at the beginning of the story. My question is simple. Is pursuit of the anti-theme the same thing as the character’s tragic flaw? Are they just interchangeable terms? Or is tragic flaw something totally separate? That’s it. Thanks a bunch.
Craig: What a good question.
John: So in your schema of things anti-theme and tragic flaw, they’re clearly related. Are they the same thing?
Craig: They’re not the same thing. So, one thing I would say, first of all Alexander, is I don’t think a character is necessarily pursuing the anti-theme at the beginning of the story. They are living the anti-theme. They are living in accordance with the anti-theme. So it’s not anything aspirational. It’s just part of who they are. Why they choose to believe that anti-theme, the reason they live in accordance with it, that is connected to a tragic flaw.
So tragic flaw as we commonly understand is a character aspect that is an imperfection in the way somebody perceives or thinks about the world. They are terrified of losing someone that they love. They think the only way to love somebody is to possess them. That is a tragic flaw. Jealousy is a tragic flaw. Hubris is the classic tragic flaw.
But those things aren’t necessarily organizing principles around what you live your life. Nor are they particularly useful for the construction of a plot. So there is some specific kind of philosophy that the character already believes in quite firmly that is a symptom of their flaw in some ways.
John: So I’m going to try to restate this and see if this makes sense. A theme and therefore and anti-theme tend to be either a question or a statement, a set of beliefs. And that is challenged over the course of the movie. Whereas the flaw that you’re describing there is more – it’s probably a single word. It’s probably a single concept. So you’re saying hubris or jealousy. That is a flaw that could be informing why they’re doing what they’re doing, but it’s not the overall sort of story question the way that a theme or an anti-theme is.
Craig: I agree. And I think that we get a little too caught up on the tragic flaw because of the way we’re taught. We’re taught – well just classic pedagogy we’re taught Shakespeare, we’re taught the Greeks, we’re taught tragic flaw. And again very useful for analyzing work. Not incredibly useful for creating work. It is easy to extract a tragic flaw after the creation of a story. I don’t think it’s a particularly good way to go about building one in the first place.
John: Cool. Episode 420. That was last week. This was the one with Seth Rogen. I brought up Dana Fox’s observation that audiences will laugh when they see male nudity, but they won’t laugh when they see female nudity. We had two listeners write in about that. Anna from London wrote, “The point Seth made about the actress and her post-coital breasts was only considering 50% of the film’s viewership. If as you say male viewers would have found it too distracting to see her breasts, I can assure you that most of the female viewers would have spent the whole scene distractingly asking why the hell does she still have her bra on? As the actress in question pointed out, women, especially those who have any kind of sexual contact with men, know that having her bra on would be highly unrealistic given that men love breasts so much they find it impossible to digest comedic dialogue at the same time as looking at them.”
Craig: Well, I haven’t seen this scene. And I could be wrong. My sense of it was that the choice wasn’t bra or no bra, the choice was visible breasts or not visible breasts.
John: Yeah. So sheet up or sheet down.
Craig: Correct. Sheet up or sheet down. Exactly. And, yes, just to overshare, it’s like when my wife and I are done having sex she then immediately covers her chest with a sheet. That’s not how it works in our house at all. Of course not. But it is – the question then is where do you lose the most? So in terms of I’m judging as somebody writing like, OK, I need this to be funny. If the sheet is down then I think men are going to be – the boobs will upstage the jokes. And I think for women they might say, oh that’s interesting, they’re doing it the way we do it in our house. But also I think some women would say, oh, this movie is just gratuitously showing boobs for boys.
There’s a lot of ways where you can lose. So there is a safe choice there which is just to have the sheet up. Is it accurate? No. As you and I have talked about a million times neither is the fact that cars don’t have rearview mirrors in movies. It’s like a thousand things we do that are inaccurate in movies because as much as we want to be true to life sometimes it just doesn’t work as well.
I would agree with you Anna completely that when I see women in bed with their bras on I’m like what is this. Like I don’t understand what’s happening. Just put the sheet over. Because, yeah, the bra is the first thing that comes off. That’s bizarre.
John: Abby writes, “I’ve been around plenty of women who find their bodies and other women’s bodies consentingly hilarious. They’ll definitely laugh at boobs, booties, and other bits quicker than they’ll laugh at another dong flopped in their face.”
And that’s absolutely fair and true. I want to sort of step back from that sense that male bodies are innately funny and female bodies are innately not funny. Because I think context is really important here. And if you create a context in a movie where women consentingly laugh at bodies, that’s great.
What I do find though in most of the movies I see, or most of the American movies I see is that when a man is portrayed naked it’s a powerlessness, there’s a shame and humiliation thing that’s happening there. And so that makes it OK to laugh or with that character. When you see a woman in that situation so often there’s not that sense – it doesn’t feel OK to laugh her or at the situation because it feels like, ugh, there’s a crazy power imbalance here that makes me really uncomfortable.
I think context is key here. And I can totally imagine the scene that Abby is describing where it is funny that this woman is nude in the scene and that is OK because the scene in the movie has made it OK.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a certain aspect of the whole punch up/punch down thing. You know? When we live in a society that is patriarchal, where men have more power than women. Exposing men and laughing at their nudity is a punch up kind of thing. And laughing at a woman’s naked body feels like a punch down kind of thing. And this is where modern discourse fascinates me. Because I feel like there are circumstances where – probably only circumstances where you will dissatisfy somebody. Because if you do show women’s bodies in a way that is consentingly hilarious as Abby is describing, and therefore do so within the mode of as she says writing from the female gaze, some women will laugh and some men will laugh, and then some women and some men will be outraged that you are, you know, mocking a woman’s appearance. You’re body-shaming. You’re punching down. You are exploiting for the male gaze. I mean, the male gaze isn’t going anywhere, so we know it’s always there.
Some of these are just kind of really hard things to thread because it’s not enough – your intentions aren’t enough. Because on the one hand I’m saying, look, my intention is this. And on the other hand your intention disappears once the action hits the airwaves and it’s going to strike people in different ways.
You are not capable of hitting it correctly with 100% of people. Some people are going to say you have done something offensive to me. I’m not one of those people who is like everyone is offensive. Not at all. But the reality is you can see how sometimes you get caught because you may be trying to be respectful in this manner and then someone says well you actually were weirdly disrespectful in this manner. It’s an interesting time.
Craig: For all of us.
John: What I will say is I think it’s an interesting time to make the movie that does what Abby and Anna are describing which is to be realistic about those moments and actually figure out what’s funny in those moments. And I think you’re going to find the people who can write and direct those moments are going to be women. And I think we have more female filmmakers happening now than ever. So I think we’re likely to see great examples of those moments coming in the years to come because we have more women working than ever.
Craig: That’s the key. Right, so because I think a lot of guys will say, “It’s not fair. If I do this then they get mad at me. And if I do that then they get made at me.” And I understand that that doesn’t seem fair. But also part of the problem is that it’s the what this is. And there are certain areas where we just know, look, if you’re going to make certain interesting insights and comments about race and some of those comments are self-deprecating or touch a nerve, I would rather have the underpowered party doing that. I don’t want the white guy doing that. I’d rather see a black woman doing that because then I understand that there is a certain purity of intention there.
I don’t have to wonder if somebody was punching down or punching up or ignoring or this or that. So the key is different people coming in to tell these stories. It is one thing to say to a guy, “You should show women’s bodies as funny,” but I would argue it’s probably going to be much more effective – meaning funny – and interesting to an audience if a woman is doing that. Because I think they just have a better insight on it. So different voices, more different voices, is going to help unravel a lot of this. And expand what we consider to be fun and funny.
These are good arguments to have.
John: Yeah, I like them.
Craig: Some of us are afraid to have them because we know that inevitably we’re going to get yelled at. And we’ll get yelled at for some of this. But I’m OK to get yelled at by some people. I think it’s important that we talk about these things without feeling like everything has to be, “Ugh, PC, blah.” You know, there’s a way to talk about it where we can be a little risky but also, you know, kind of acknowledge that there’s certain difficulties we’re dealing with as we navigate a changing cultural landscape.
Craig: OK, John, we’re running a little bit long. We were going to be talking about the fact that the WGA has canceled the WGA awards for videogame writing. And I have a lot to say about that. All of which is in favor of my videogame sisterin’ and brotherin’. But we don’t have time for this one, so let’s push it off to next week. But if you’re listening and you are wondering what we think, it’s coming. Don’t worry.
John: Cool. All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a website for the City of Los Angeles. If you notice a traffic light is out, if you notice a walk signal is out, like a walk button is out, your temptation is probably to say like, oh, there’s no way to really do that or fix that. You can try to call 311 but it’s a whole phone tree to get to stuff.
It turns out there’s actually a pretty good website with like a map you pull up and you just report like at this corner, at this intersection, this walk button is not working right. And so you might think like, oh, if I report it is it actually going to get fixed. But I would say, yes, it actually does get fixed. Because as I was walking my dog these past few months I’ve noticed two things that were out. I reported them and within days they were fixed and corrected.
So if you notice that a traffic signal is out or even a walk button is not working properly, report it. Because the system actually does work. It’s one of those rare cases where I can report a good governmental thing happening in my life.
Craig: God, you’re going to be that guy when you’re old that writes letters to the local paper.
John: I’m not going to be that guy. I’m never that guy.
Craig: You’re going to be that. I feel like you’re going to be that guy.
John: I’m never going to be that guy. Nope. But I will report things that are out on this website. Absolutely.
Craig: I love that. My One Cool Thing this week is an app-maker. As you know I love escape rooms. That’s my thing. And there are all these interesting small apps that are basically escape rooms for your iPad or your iPhone. And a lot of them are terrible. The vast majority of them, these little kind of mini ones, are coming from Asia, usually from China but sometimes from Japan. And some of them are great. Some of them are just annoying because they’re poorly done and really are there just to pipe ads at you.
But there is one developer that has come up with a bunch of them. They’re quick to play. They’re very clever. They’re beautifully designed. They’re kind of gorgeous looking. And you can disable ads on them I believe which is always nice.
So the developer’s name is Goro Sato. Goro Sato. I believe if you just search for that in the app store some of his escape rooms will come up. So go under G Sato soft. But he or she – I think Goro is a he – I think it’s a masculine name. Regardless, Goro has done a lovely job. These are not expensive games. I think they’re free and then maybe you spend $0.99 to make the ads go away or something like that.
John: Cool. It sounds great. I love escape rooms. Megana our producer was asking about corn mazes. And our friend Nima proposed that maybe corn mazes were the original escape rooms.
Craig: No. [laughs]
John: You don’t think so?
Craig: No, they’re garbage. They’re garbage.
John: You think corn mazes are garbage? Wow.
Craig: They’re garbage. Yeah.
John: So I think we’re going to try to do a corn maze here these next two weeks.
Craig: Where is the skill in that? Oh my god, dead end. Go the other way. Corn maze. Corn maze.
John: We’ll see what happens. But that is our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megana Rao, edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by James Launch and features our own Aline Brosh McKenna with samples of her from episodes 152 and 182.
John: It’s a really good one. It’s a dance party.
If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. But for short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts.
You can find all the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net. Stuff may change in the future, but Scriptnotes.net will not change so you’ll always be able to go there to find the back catalog. Right now we still have the app for Android for iOS that lets you listen to the back episodes. If something changes there will still be a way to listen to those back episodes. I promise.
Craig, 420 episodes. Not a mistake among them. All flawless. We were right the first time.
Craig: Yeah. But the good news is that we’re getting canceled for this one. So, it’s finally over. Thank god.
John: [laughs] Ah, the end.
Craig: Ah, freedom.
John: Cool. See you next week.
Craig: See you next week.
- Scriptnotes, Ep 5, Copyright and Work for Hire
- Real-Life ‘Terminator’: Major Studios Face Sweeping Loss of Iconic ‘80s Film Franchise Rights by Eriq Gardner
- Copyright Section 203
- Friday 13th Screenwriter Wins Rights Battle by Eriq Gardner
- Scriptnotes, Ep 2, How to get an agent and/or manager
- Scriptnotes, Ep 389, The Future of the Industry
- How Ari Emanuel’s Outsize IPO Dreams Were Dashed by Kim Masters
- Why Endeavor’s IPO U-Turn Was a Surprisingly Brilliant Move by Lawrence Meyers
- WeWork: At What Point Does Malfeasance Become Fraud by Scott Galloway
- Scriptnotes, Ep 42, Verbs are what’s happening
- Extra, This Feeling Will End
- Ep 335, Introducing Launch
- Launch Podcast
- Scriptnotes Ep 419, Professionalism
- Scriptnotes Ep 403, How to Write A Movie
- Scriptnotes Ep 420, The One with Seth Rogen
- LA Report Broken Lights and Crosswalk Buttons
- Escape Room Apps by Goro Sato
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
- Outro by Jim Bond (send us yours!)
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here