The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig, Craig, fo-feg, fonana-fana fo-bleg – I don’t even know how that works – Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 422 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. And Hollywood assistants.
Last we asked for listeners to tell us how much assistants in this town are getting paid and the impact of those wages. And oh boy.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: Oh yeah. It’s the most mail we’ve ever received on a topic. More than 50 of you wrote in. So we’re going to assess where we’re at with assistant pay. And the challenges ahead. So buckle up.
Craig: Let me tell you. There is umbrage coming the likes of which few have ever seen. Few have ever seen. You are about to take a raft ride down umbrage river my friends.
John: We’ll also be looking at videogame writing.
Craig: More umbrage.
John: Spec features. And thesauri. Craig, are you ready?
Craig: Nah, I love thesauri. I can’t be mad at you, thesaurus.
John: Let’s start with some follow up though. Craig, will you help us out with Heidi who wrote in about things to watch out for?
Craig: Sure. Heidi wrote, “It’s not as horrifying as sexual abuse, but I think and hope we will talk about the long hours that writers, especially comedy writers, are required to be in TV writer’s rooms. It’s commonly known that on certain shows writers have sleeping bags in their offices. They’re in the room till early morning, get a couple of hours of sleep, then buy new clothes to change into at the studio store. Even without technically sleeping over, comedy writers are sometimes expected to work until after midnight for days at a time.” Yikes. I have heard these stories.
John: Yes. And it was a thing I associate more with previous generations but I think it still happens now. I think it’s very much show by show. And one of the first questions you ask when you talk to a TV writer is what is the room like. And is it a room that is crazy or is it a room that actually has reasonable hours? And you kind of don’t know until you’ve talked to people who have been in that room.
Craig: Yeah. Like you, I had heard this mostly as a story of in the past when you were in a world of 14 sitcoms, each of which were churning out 22 episodes that people would go through these processes. I think if it’s happening now it’s because the show is poorly run. I don’t know what else to say. There is no intrinsic value in running a show like that. If you’ve fallen that far behind it’s because the show is being poorly run.
Now, there are certain times I know when showrunners – I did a panel at the WGA with Rob McElhenney who is the showrunner and star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And he says sometimes you’re hoping that a staff writer’s draft is going to get you in the ballpark. And every now and then it just doesn’t. And you’re behind. But to have an entire room of people there all night until early morning routinely is madness. And also frankly if you’ve got your staff there overnight why are you sending them to buy new clothing at the studio store? Shouldn’t you be as the showrunner be, I don’t know, supplying them with amenities? Find a hotel room somewhere for them to shower? It just seems crazy. I don’t understand this.
John: Yeah. The other big challenge with this, in addition to being unhealthy, it makes it impossible for some writers to work on a show like that. So people with kids. It makes it impossible to have a sustainable life when you’re doing those things.
Now, we’re talking about writers here, but of course there’s an industry-wide problem with long hours. And so we’ll put links in the show notes to other articles that talked about the long hours worked on set and how dangerous that can be for cast and crew. So KJ Apa obviously of Riverdale was an example of that.
Industry-wide we need to look at the unsustainably long hours and look for what the solutions are. One example is French hours that sort of make it so you’re only working a certain number of hours per day. You might work through lunch but you’re actually getting home at a reasonable time. We need to be thinking smarter and more sustainably about how we’re making our film and television.
Craig: Well, here’s a shocking bit of information for people. They’re always surprised when I say this. There is no, as far as I know, there is no real hard limit that anyone recognizes for working. So when you’re in production I’ve worked 21-hour days. And no one should be allowed to work 21-hour days. It doesn’t matter whether they’re paying people or not. It shouldn’t be allowed. It’s dangerous. It’s just dangerous. We need to have some kind of legislation that caps the amount of days.
Now, what is the cost to doing that? Money. Money. So, this is the theme for today. And now let me begin my anger at our oh-so-progressive business, which is populated almost entirely by Democrats, you know, people that vote the Democratic Party. People who believe in progressive policies and social policies and people who profess to be as woke as woked can be. And yet when it comes to this stuff, hypocrisy. Hypocrisy. So this is going to come up over and over and over. And easy calls to just say it doesn’t matter if working people to the bone for 21 hours straight puts more money in your pocket. Don’t do it. It’s wrong, with a capital W.
John: I also think there’s an overlap between Hollywood hours and startup culture hours. Because every film and television project kind of starts as a startup. It’s this new idea you’re struggling to work hard to make this thing come to life. And there’s the excitement and the joy, but recognizing how unhealthy that is in the long term is something we all have to keep in mind as we work on these projects that we hopefully love. So, yes.
And that could be the mantle that we’re taking up. It could be the charge that we’re leading, but apparently it’s not the charge that we’re going to be leading this year on Scriptnotes.
Craig: No, no. We have more important fish to fry. We have one more important fish to fry.
John: But, Craig, I want you to stretch before you get into full umbrage. So this I think is a good warm up umbrage here.
Craig: OK, cool.
John: Martin from Detroit writes, “My question is more of a concern. It’s regarding your segment How Would This Be a Movie. Have you ever—“
Craig: Hold on. I just want to interrupt. So this is already bad. Because do you know what a concerned troll is, John?
John: I know what a concerned troll is. This is actually definitional concerned troll which is why I left it in the outline.
Craig: Wonderful. Go on my friend from Detroit.
John: “Have you guys ever thought about all the screenwriters out there who may be affected by this segment. I mean, I know you guys don’t personally care about ideas being ‘discovered or stolen’ as I’m sure you get offered high profile assignments from existing IP all the time. But so many of us don’t. We have to search and find our own IP and it tears us apart after we spend so much time in research and development of the idea to only realize that a ‘bigger fish’ is also making the same project.
“It’s happened to almost all of us and it sucks every time. I think with all the great stuff that you guys do for screenwriters this segment of how could this be a movie is a detriment to working screenwriters. Sure, it helps all the studios and bigwigs to go out and grab one of your proposed ideas, but it does nothing for us. Each time you do one of these segments I feel like Obi-Wan when Alderaan was destroyed. I grow faint and need to sit down as I feel other screenwriters’ pain across the world.”
John: “All the while praying that you don’t mention any of my ideas that I have spent months, even years, researching and prepping. I thought this was a podcast for screenwriters, not for bank-rolled producers. I know you guys love the segment and think it’s fun, but well, just think about it. Signed, Concerned Screenwriter.”
Craig: Hmm. Let me think about it. Let me think about it. Well, I guess Martin what I would say is that you use a lot of words incorrectly. There’s so many fundamental flaws with what you’re saying here. For starters, I don’t know what you’re calling IP. I have no idea what you mean by that. Do you mean a book, a novel? Do you mean something that actually is intellectual property, because that’s what I and P stand for? If that’s what you mean then I don’t know what you’re talking about because we can all talk about it all day long. I can tell you all about the new Joe Hill book. Doesn’t matter. I don’t have the rights to it. Do you have the rights to it, Martin? If you do, it doesn’t matter what John and I do, because you have the rights.
But I don’t think that’s what you mean. When you say IP, I think what you just mean is topic. I think that’s what you’re saying. And Martin I have terrible, terrible news for you. When John and I do that segment we’re reading about topics that are in the newspaper. And they’re on the Internets, which means everybody already knows. It’s out there.
Now here’s another thing you need to know, Martin. You can’t own any of that. And you’re a fool to think that if John and I merely refrain from talking about it on our one podcast that no one else in Hollywood has noticed. Let me explain how it works, Martin. Every single thing we’ve ever seen has also been dumped into a hopper in front of an assistant – and we’ll get to them shortly – who have to go through all of this. These are all compiled and submitted every day, minute by minute, second by second. You have found nothing – you hear me? – that they don’t know about.
The only thing you can do if you’re talking about stuff that isn’t actually IP but just topic is to find something that they know about but don’t care about because they don’t see in it what you see in it. Which, by the way, would define say me and Chernobyl. It’s not like people didn’t know about Chernobyl. They just didn’t, I don’t know, they just didn’t care that much. I did. There you go. That’s how it works, Martin.
We don’t do this show for bank-rolled producers. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Nor do I think anyone is growing faint and screaming out in pain as we blow up Alderaan on a week-by-week basis. I don’t know what to tell you, Martin. I disagree with everything you’ve said here completely. But maybe nothing more than the way you’ve phrased this all as a concern.
Thank you for your concern.
John: I think the most crucial word that Martin is missing is How. And the idea of the topic is How Would This Be a Movie. So it’s not saying like there’s an idea out here and we’re going to make this into a movie. It’s really talking through what are the opportunities and challenges of this idea in turning it into a movie. And what are the many different avenues you could take?
Because you and I often don’t agree on sort of what the way into a story is. And that is the job of a screenwriter is to figure out given this idea, given this notion, how are you going to approach it. Who are the characters? How do you think about this idea as a screenwriter? That’s really the purpose. So, while we might brag about how many of the things we picked ended up becoming movies, it’s just because those are ideas that could become movies. We really are focused on the how. Like what are the actual mechanics, the characters, the storyline, the tone. What is it suited for? That is the purpose of the exercise. And that is what screenwriters do every single day.
Craig: Yeah. Martin, why don’t you just write something that other people can’t write?
John: Do that.
Craig: There’s a thought. Just do that.
John: Good. All right. Craig, are you properly stretched?
Craig: Dude, I woke up stretched for this. I don’t need stretching for this.
John: We’ve got another question. Matt writes about narrative games. “I’m a writer/narrative designer in the videogame industry who has worked at many well-known story-driven studios throughout the years. I heard a rumor about the WGA awards dropping the videogame writing category for 2020. My question is simply what gives?”
Craig, what gives?
Craig: Well, the guild has done it again. Well done Writers Guild. So here’s how this goes. The Writers Guild in the mid-2000s decided in its wisdom that one of the ways it could maybe help organize videogame writing would be to include videogame writing as a category in its awards. So they were going to use awards as sort of bait. And the way you could qualify for those awards ultimately became signing onto a kind of a Writers Guild – it’s not even like a real – it’s like a side agreement. It’s not like a full agreement. And so they did this for a while. And what happened was – big shock – big videogame companies did not – they did not unionize. Their members did not vote to join the Writers Guild. But we still hand out the awards.
And so then the Writers Guild said, oh, we have a great idea. Let’s just stop giving the awards. Because I can only presume the Writers Guild trophy costs thousands of dollars to forge in the fires of Mt. Doom. And we have to save that money. So now they’ve just given a huge middle finger to the videogame writing industry.
And here’s my problem. We have the worst of both worlds now. The writers that appreciated recognition for their writing are angry because all they see from their side is, oh, I guess we’re not writers in the eyes of the Writers Guild anymore. And on the Writers Guild side they’ve gotten nothing from this, except bad press. And again whatever they saved from the forging of the trophies in the fires of Mt. Doom.
I personally believe that videogame writing is essential. I think that a lot of videogames are vastly bigger than the movies and television shows that we write. I would love to see certain videogame shops unionize for the Writers Guild. We haven’t actually done the work to do it. All we’ve done is offer awards. Waited for something to flop out of the skies in our laps. It didn’t happen and now we’re taking our ball and going home.
It was a bad strategy. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why they did it this way. This was something that I was urging Patric Verrone to do, oh god, all the way back in 2006, starting with Bethesda. I thought that was a good place to start. But I can think of a number of companies where switching them to a proper Writers Guild agreement and getting them into the fold would be amazing for us. And we just haven’t done it. We don’t have the right inroads to that business. We’re not talking to the right people. It’s not a priority.
We have other priorities right now apparently, which I also don’t agree with. So, this is angering to me. And on behalf of all of my brethren and sister-en in the videogame business, all I can say is yeah this is a screw job. I hate it.
John: All right. Counter point. First let me validate the things you said that I think are absolutely true. Which is that videogame writing is truly writing and it is writing that is analogous to what screenwriters do. If you look through some of these narrative games they’re literally written in screenplay format, especially for cut scenes. It is very much the same kind of writing. And so the same way that I wish we had the foresight back in the ‘30s to cover animation writing, we should be looking at how we cover videogame writing. So you were right back then when you talked to Patric Verrone about wanting to make sure that videogame writing got covered. You’re still right now to say that videogame should be covered.
Craig, how often do you go to the Writers Guild Awards?
Craig: Well, John, as you know until recently I was not a heavily nominated writer. But I have gone to the Writers Guild Awards most recently to support our mutual friend John Gatins who was nominated for an award for his fine screenplay for Flight.
John: Very good. At those awards you took careful note of all the awards given out and at no point did you say, huh, that is funny that they are giving out an award to an area of business that they do not even represent writers in that field?
Craig: I’ve got to be honest with you. I didn’t pay heavy attention to that. I was having a good time. I was drinking a little. You know, sometimes you have a – and for me you know what that means. It means I had a full two glasses of wine.
John: Yes. Because 1.5 we have stipulated is enough for a podcast, but two is too much.
Craig: Right. Two is a party. But, no, it didn’t bother me.
John: All right. So I was not part of this decision to remove this category from the awards this year. There have been other awards that we decided to over the years award or not award based on sort of what seems to make sense. And giving out awards is a continuously flexible thing. I would not be surprised if the videogame award comes back in the future.
The challenge is that often the number of eligible entries for something will be like two. And so when you’re giving an award and there are only two possible things you can give it to it becomes a little less meaningful of an award. And so I think that all factored into the decision not to award the videogame category this year.
I do hear your frustration that this was not messaged properly and that you saw this as a rebuke of videogame writing, which I think you and I both agree is cinematic writing.
Craig: I’m just waiting for when the Writers Guild does message something properly. It’s been a while. It’s been a while. Just sort of set your watch to this. I don’t understand why they do these things.
John: So Craig here’s my frustration. Here’s my genuine frustration with your approach here is that I honestly could have flipped a coin and it could have – if they had awarded this award I could have imagined or some other screenwriting-ish kind of award but for an area that we don’t cover, I could imagine you saying, “What a stupid choice for the WGA to be offering an award for a category of writing that they don’t even cover.”
So, something like Best Writing for Reality Competition Shows. And that’s my frustration. I do think that you perceive anything the Writers Guild does as a stupid bad choice when sometimes it’s just a choice.
Craig: Well, I don’t think that’s true. The Writers Guild does make some stupid, bad choices from time to time. No question about that. If the Writers Guild had made a awarding reality shows awards, like Writers Guild Awards while they were trying to pull them into the fold, which they did for a while. I mean, they were trying to organize reality writing for a while. I think that would have made sense. I would have understood that.
The problem with giving people awards is once you start giving them to stop giving them is a bit of a slap in the face. I don’t think I would have had a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with everything the Writers Guild does. I have a problem with almost every kind of way the Writers Guild handles messaging about touchy things. Particularly in the last six months where it just seems to be one blunder after another. I don’t know who is in charge of that. It’s not the individual writers on the board. They don’t write press releases. But somebody is bungling this over and over and over. And, so no, I don’t think it’s fair to say that I just decide a la Republican Senators and anything that comes out of a Democrat’s mouth is bad.
No, I’m thinking critically about this. I assure you. I feel like they just – I can’t remember the last time they said something and I went, “Well done.” I really can’t. I’m an annoyed member of my union. What can I say?
John: All right. Let’s move on to a topic where I think we will find much more agreement. This is the issue of assistant pay. So to remind everybody, in a previous episode we asked – this was in relation to the #MeToo movement – what issue do you think we’re not paying enough attention to now that in a few years we’ll look back and say, oh my god, how did we not focus on this thing as being a huge problem? And someone wrote in to say I think you should be paying much closer attention to how little assistants in Hollywood are being paid and how that is a huge barrier to increasing representation, diversity, and just sustainability within this business.
So we in the last episode asked, hey, if you are somebody who has experience as an assistant in Hollywood tell us about your experience. Tell us what you’re making if you feel like telling us that. And what needs to change. By far it was the most email we ever got in on a topic. And the person who had to read all those emails is our producer, Megana Rao. So Megana Rao, welcome to the podcast.
Megana Rao: Hi guys.
Craig: Hi Megana.
Megana: Hi Craig.
John: So, we got a zillion emails that came in. So if we’re going to quote anybody from these emails we should stipulate that all the names have been changed. We’ve removed anything that can individually identify a person. And I should also say that some people were concerned that even by saying that “some assistants are getting paid as low as X dollar figure” that we could actually force wages down. And we’ll get to why that can be a problem is that even people who were able to unionize it sometimes had a negative effect on how much they were actually bringing home each week.
So this is complicated. And so this is not going to be the episode where we fix all these problems. This is going to be an episode where we describe the nature of these problems and invite discussion on how to improve things for everybody.
But I thought we might start with some context because a lot of the assistants who wrote in were writing in about television. And Craig has made a television show. He won an Emmy for it. But it was not a traditional television show. And so I wanted a better sense of what traditional TV assistants were like. So I emailed Aline. She wrote:
“On a show there’s typically a writer’s production assistant who gets lunch and runs errands.” So a writer’s production assistant. “Then there’s the EP assistant who works for the showrunner,” so who works for Aline. “Then a writer’s assistant who is in the room and works with all the writers, but especially the showrunner. There’s also a script coordinator who handles the mechanics of getting a script properly distributed.” So she’s describing four people.
And she says that some shows combine these roles in various ways but that’s how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did it. So, we’re looking a showrunner’s assistant, a writers’ room assistant, a writers’ room PA, and a script coordinator. And the script coordinator is the one that classically has been a union job. Megana, can you tell us about Lance?
Megana: Lance says, “I’m a script coordinator on a network show. The IATSE union minimum for a script coordinator is $16.63 per hour. That means that even with overtime and a 60-hour week guarantee I make about $44,000 a year after taxes. And that’s if I work all 52 weeks out of the year, which as anyone who works in TV can tell you basically never happens. $44,000 a year is pathetic for any full-time worker trying to pay their rent is Los Angeles. But it’s downright laughable considering what a script coordinator is responsible for.
“We manage and distribute the scripts, act as the liaison between the writers’ room and the other departments of the show and process the guild union paperwork to ensure that writers are properly credited and paid.”
John: So Craig, working full-time 60 hours a week bringing home $44,000 a year.
Craig: Yes. That’s bullshit. That’s just absolute bullshit. And we haven’t even gotten to – and we will – get to what we’ll call the assistant-assistants, right, like the classic assistants. Now we’re talking about somebody that’s actually doing a job that has even more responsibility or authority than a number of assistants.
What’s happening here essentially is theft. OK? It’s theft. Because any normal business – any normal industry that was relying on somebody to do the things that Lance is describing here would have to pay them more than that. More importantly, the way they’re doing this, and this is a theme that’s going to come up over and over, is essentially relying on the fact that they can get rid of Lance. And somebody else will be there. They’ll shove them in. They’ll train them and make them do it. And then they’ll get rid of them.
It comes down to just a callous disregard for people. They don’t care. They don’t care about Lance when he’s not there, or she’s not there. They don’t care what’s going on in the morning and what’s going on in the evening. They don’t care if they’re trying to start a family. They don’t care if they have bills or medical problems. They don’t care at all. They just want what they want. And if you can’t give them what they want then they get rid of you. And I will say it again. In our business it is disgusting to think that this is how companies treat our lowest paid people.
Think of this. Lance, Script Coordinator, is sitting there on a network show where I presume at some point or another there was a storyline about how hard it was to work in today’s economy, or get laid off, or be underpaid or overworked. And Lance is there with his 60-hour work week getting paid $16.63 an hour. Working for a company where no doubt the CEO has tens, 20s, 30s, and 40s of millions of dollars or more. It’s sick. It’s a sick business. This is honestly a sickness.
And you and I, John, we’re going to change this. I swear to god. As god is my witness. The god that I do not believe in. We are going to change this. I swear. I swear it.
John: All right. Let’s set the table a little bit more. So we talked about assistants in television. So there’s four different kinds of roles you might look for there. We also heard from agency assistants. We heard some real horror stories from agency assistants.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: Evelyn wrote that she currently makes $16 an hour working at a talent agency which she is told among the higher numbers. Man, we got some horror stories there.
We heard from studio assistants. We also heard from temps, which I found was fascinating. Megana, can you tell us about Miguel?
Megana: Yeah, so Miguel says, “To preface I’m currently working as a temp going between HBO Max, Skydance, and Disney+. And temping pays more than any assistant job I’ve seen or had. I’m currently covering for another temp that has been on the same desk for eight months and we both make $20 an hour. When you factor in the temp company my employers end up paying $30 an hour and $45 an hour when it hits overtime. I’m constantly asking how companies can pay $30 an hour for a temp for eight months, yet I’ve never made more than $17 an hour as a full-time assistant for four years. I’m pretty sure I get paid more than the person I’m covering for, even without the premium the temp company takes which is 33%.
“Short term, it’s actually better for me to stay a temp right now than to work full-time.”
Craig: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
John: That illustrates the hypocrisy that’s happening here. Because if a company can pay $30 or $45 an hour for a person in that job they can pay the actual person that money. They’re paying for the convenience of having a temp that they can just not think about or worry about. But it’s crazy.
Craig: See, OK, so what they’re doing is they’re saying if we hire somebody permanently we take on certain burdens. We have all this payroll tax we have to pay. We have to pay for some fringes like healthcare, which we don’t want to pay for. But even worse, we’re stuck with them. Because it’s hard to fire people unfairly. And I know the laws are so awful. You can’t just fire people willy-nilly because you don’t like their face. Or maybe, oh my god, what if a woman gets pregnant. Dun-dun. What do we do then?
You know what the best thing to do would be? Let’s not hire anybody ever. Let’s just use temps. Let’s just rent human beings. And maybe it comes out to be a little bit more, but that’s OK because we have the convenience of just getting rid of them whenever we want. And that is essentially the Uber-ification of the assistant business.
If you go back to Evelyn, our agency assistant who wrote in, what she is saying is essentially she comes home with roughly $480 a week. That’s about $1,900 a month. That’s including overtime. OK. That’s the difference, right? So, they’re “stuck” with Evelyn because they’re employing her in a traditional normal way that it’s supposed to work in America. And they’re giving her what amounts to about $22,000 a year.
When I moved here in 1992 my first job paid me $20,000 a year. OK, she’s talking about take home. Fine. It’s roughly then, you know what, it’s the equivalent. $20,000 a year, it was barely survivable. It’s even less survivable now. And it’s unconscionable. And more to the point, and this is what blows my mind, these people – Miguel, Evelyn, everyone writing in – these people are at the heart of this enormous pillar of our economy, of our American economy. Our entertainment industry is enormous and it is one of the few exporting industries we have. And all of these people know everyone’s phone number, address, credit card number, Social Security number, the gate code to the house, the alarm code to the alarm. They know everything. They see financial statements. They handle scripts that are confidential. There are a thousand Evelyns out there who are being terribly underpaid and all of them can destroy every secret we have in Hollywood.
So is this how we’re going to run our business? To save those dollars because we can while CEOs. And even forget CEOs. Even just like the senior vice president of something is making so much money. No. You can’t do it. I’m not saying that you have to pay Evelyn $300,000. But I think $20 an hour is a pretty reasonable place to start, don’t you?
John: I do. So, Evelyn actually wrote more about this, so let’s go on to – she talked about the expenses of living in Los Angeles and how she’s being paid the same amount as she would have in 1993.
Megana: So Evelyn says, “I’ve had this conversation with our head of HR,” and Evelyn also works at one of the big four agencies. She says, “I’ve specifically asked how companies can justify paying assistants this low. And the response was not the greatest. I mentioned that agency assistants made the same amount of money in 1993 that we make now in 2019. The response was that our working conditions have improved since then. And they were salaried and abused working 16-hour days. We are hourly now.”
Craig: Oh my god.
Megana: “The amount of money however still comes out to the same and in addition the response was the value of the dollar is much different. In 1993 everything was cheaper. Cars. Gas. Apartments. Bills. Food.”
Megana: “My apartment would have been a third of the price 25 years ago.”
Craig: Yeah. Did they say it’s better now because they’re not abused? Is that what they said?
Megana: I think that was the point. But this was the real kicker. This HR person responded to her, “Low wages should push people to work harder, to get more experience in order to make the next step and make more money.”
Craig: OK. Now we get to the heart of the stupidity and the greed. Which is this ugly puritanism. You’re being paid less, they say, because it’s good for you. Let me tell you dear friends at home that nobody succeeds simply because they were being underpaid. There is not one person that is powerful and rich today that is powerful and rich because they were super freaking angry at their low pay when they started. Nobody works at McDonald’s says, “Oh my god, this sucks so much. I have to be the CEO of a company.”
People who are going to be successful are successful because they want to be successful. They have a drive and ambition and a talent and a work ethic. And sometimes they just have dumb luck. But one thing I know for sure is getting underpaid doesn’t make you want to be successful more. What it does is sap your energy, demotivate you, make you believe you’re working in an unfair system, because you are, and it makes you resentful. It is bad for your health. It’s bad for your family. It’s bad for your relationships.
And that person who said that is just wrong. I want to believe that they weren’t actually saying something they believed but rather they were lying. Because I feel better about them. I’d rather that they be an evil greedy liar than someone so stupid as the think that paying people less than what they deserve is good for them.
John: The other challenge here is that if you were making that same money working at In-and-Out you walk away from In-and-Out and you have no other expenses or needs related to that In-and-Out career. But the career that Evelyn wants is very different. So she goes through her budget and sort of like how she breaks out her expenses. She says she has $208 left at the end of the month. “But as an assistant I should also be going to comedy show, script reading, networking events that may cost money, so there’s another $20 gone each time.” So the networking expenses. The clothes expenses. Or a car.
Christian writes in about how important it is to have a car as a writer’s production assistant.
Megana: Yes. Christian says, “I want to point out the fact that it’s nearly impossible to do a writer’s production assistant job, keep in mind it’s supposed to be entry level, or any other assistant job with elements of personal duties without a car. And that the wages we make god knows none of us can afford car payments. So that’s just another way our wages, combined with the requirements of the jobs, ‘Must have car,’ has been listed on so many job descriptions I’ve seen. It keeps those who come from underprivileged backgrounds from breaking in.”
Craig: I’m going to lose my mind. So these folks like Christian are writer’s production assistants. That means they’re working for a show. Right?
Craig: Give them a car. It’s a TV show. It has a budget in the millions. In the millions. Go out, buy an $8,000 used piece of crap and there. Now you have a show car. It’s disgusting. I just don’t understand. Like come on. Why would you do this to them? Why would you do this? Some people, if you’re not going to pay them a proper salary then you can’t also penalize them for other things that you need from them. It’s all backwards. And it’s disgusting. The only way – I really believe this – the only way we’re going to fix this is by continuing to talk about this and shaming somebody interesting doing the right thing and going, “You know what? I don’t know what we were thinking here. Duh. Let’s just get a car so the writer’s production assistant has a car that they can use during the day that we pay the insurance for and we put gas in and we wash.”
Oh my god. I’m going to lose my crap.
John: So a car is obviously a huge expense, but rent is a huge expense, too. And so we had people who wrote in sort of what rent is like. But, Megana you recently moved to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is not an inexpensive city to live in. So, what was your experience like trying to find a place to live? And how do you find a place to live in Los Angeles as an assistant?
Megana: Woof. OK. So I joined a few Facebook groups and reached out to a bunch of friends. I ended up finding my current apartment through Craig’s assistant, Bo. But every time I was looking for an apartment and I would find something sort of reasonable maybe around the $1,000 range it was always a shared—
John: So $1,000 that you’re sharing?
Megana: Yes. $1,000 and it was like $1,000 would be my monthly rent. It was always a shared bedroom or like a hostel sort of situation where I would be like in a bunk bed. Or just probably an hour commute to get to the office. So, it was rough.
John: Well, also, you’re single. You’re in your 20s. I think there’s an expectation that you can get by with a little bit less for that now.
John: But like if you had a kid. If you had other expenses it makes it impossible to be an assistant if your rent is going to be that high for you. It rules out a huge number of people who could be working in that job because they simply couldn’t afford to work in that job.
Megana: Totally. Or finding roommates who would be OK with me coming in with a family or a partner just adds a totally extra layer of difficulty.
Craig: I mean, not to mention a lot of people in this position have student debt that they have to pay off. It just blows my mind. The reality is such that where we’re going is the only people who can do these jobs in Hollywood are people that have independent sources of money. They come from money. That’s who we’re going to get. We’re going to get people with money already. Well I don’t want those people. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I wasn’t one of them. And I think it’s best if we open the door wide for all sorts of people. That’s kind of the point. And, again, liberal progressive Hollywood, these cities are attractive places to live and to work. So the rents are going to go up and up and up.
And if you as a boss don’t understand what these numbers are and you still think it’s OK to pay your assistant $15 an hour and not help them out in any other way and force them to work ridiculous hours, you’re a dick. You’re a dick.
And you’re company is a dick. And I’ll say UTA, ICM, CAA, WME, if this is what you’re doing you’re dicks. And Universal and Sony and Disney and Warner Bros and Lions Gate and Fox, dicks. There. I’ll light my whole career on fire. I don’t care. It’s wrong. They have to stop this. It’s just wrong.
John: To that point let’s hear from Kyle. So Kyle is working at a management company.
Megana: So Kyle says, “While working for a miniature golf course in 2015 I was making $14 an hour. That is in 2015 dollars. So I assume the pay rate there is even higher today. I now make $15 an hour at my current job as an assistant to a talent manager. That is after renegotiating it up after a year of working here. I had asked for more money when it came time to evaluate my performance, but my boss found that he could not afford to pay the extra $5 a day I had asked for.”
Craig: Oh my god.
Megana: “This is while I have to listen to him making deals for his clients for hundreds of thousands of dollars from their jobs. Jobs that I submit them for. Jobs that I work 45 hours a week on making sure that they are happy and satisfied with. I currently have to share a bedroom in a house with six people because I do not make enough money to have my own room.”
Craig: There’s going to be a war.
John: A revolution of some kind.
Craig: You can’t keep this going. This is disgusting. It has to stop. And what we’re doing is creating an entire generation in this business that is disgusted by this business. And who looks at their own bosses as gross hypocrites, which they are. Which they are. Not that, you know, when you and I started John I’m sure we both looked around and saw a lot of disgusting crap, too. This has been going on for a long time. But I feel like the economic portion of this has gotten ridiculously bad. There is no excuse for it. None. It’s not like we’re in lean times economically in Hollywood. We are not. The compensation packages are outrageous.
How do these people look these 25 year olds in the eye and say, “I need you to take my Tesla to the car wash, take my Armani to the dry cleaners, take my $5,000 designer dog to the vet. I need you to then drop my kid off at her $50,000 preschool. And then I need you to come back and do all the work I demand that you do and here’s $15 an hour. Enjoy the taxes on top of that. And, no, I can’t afford to give you an extra $5 a day.”
John: No, Craig, you and I think back to when we had those entry level jobs. Because you were saying you started – you were working for nearly nothing. It was a marketing company. I was a reader, not getting paid very much at all. And I think the reason why I was OK doing it is because obviously I always had my parents I could fall back on, but I also had a sense that this was only going to be for a year or two. That there was clearly a path up. There was a way to sort of move forward. And as I would talk to folks who worked as like a PA, like a writers’ room PA, there was a path. There was a ladder to move forward and to move up.
And one of the things we heard consistently in these emails is that I think a lot of times employers believe that ladder is still there, that there’s still a clear trajectory, and that trajectory doesn’t exist anymore. And one of the reasons it doesn’t exist is the systemic changes in the business, specifically short seasons and small rooms.
If we can jump down, take a look at what Barry writes about how short seasons and long breaks affect how he can move up in the business.
Megana: So Barry says, “I currently work on a successful TV show. I worked for five months on the first season. Then we took nine months off. Then I worked for five months on the second season. Then we took an entire year off before the third season started. It should be pretty clear why the folks who make the least amount of money and have the fewest contacts and don’t have agents or managers repping them for other jobs are going to be hit the hardest in this scenario where the new world order is that the majority of jobs only last a couple of months.
“This is a huge difference even from when I started in the industry, where getting a job on a hit show would at least mean that you had a few years of steady work before you had to start looking again.”
John: So what he’s describing is traditionally if Barry had been employed on an old fashioned TV show that had 22 episodes a season he would have been employed basically the whole year. And he would have had a whole year to prove how good he is at his job and attract the attention of the showrunner and might get a script in the second year. There would be a way to sort of move forward and move up.
But if it’s just, OK, we’re going to write a bunch of scripts and then we’re going to go off eventually and shoot the show and then we’re going to take these giant times off, Barry is hopping from show to show to show to show. And can never get to prove his worth to the people who are supposed to be there noticing how good he is and sort of give him that next step. And so this system that we set up makes it so hard to do what was pretty easy for me and Craig and other folks who came into the industry 20 years ago.
And I think so many employers still think we’re in that system of 20 years ago.
Craig: Well yeah. I mean, look. What a great deal for them. They can run these shows this way and then they can hire people for a ridiculously small amount of money. They don’t even have to pay for their cars or pay for their gas or any of that stuff. They can work them to the bone when they need them. Kick them out the door when they don’t. And when they finally show up and say I’m sorry I can’t afford to live this way they go, “Fine, bye. We’ll just get the next person that is excited to do this and they’ll do it.”
There is this feeling see that if they pay you more, like what you’re worth, that you will be demotivated. I really believe that like a lot of these people believe this stupid notion. You know, when I started and I was paid my $20,000 a year my share of rent was $700. And that $700 was for my own – I had own little bedroom that I could close the door to. And it wasn’t in a great neighborhood, but it wasn’t, you know, in a bombed-out zone or anything.
And $20,000 with $700 a month rent was doable. It wasn’t great but it was doable. I could handle my expenses.
Now, that place, which was not exactly Fox or Warner Bros or anything, still had an opportunity for me to prove myself and soon enough I was making $28,000 a year. In other words, there was a sense that there was growth. I think a lot of these places go, “Why would we offer you growth? We don’t care about you. We just want you to do this job. If you don’t want to do it, go away. We’re a McDonald’s now. There’s no growth at McDonald’s. Just come here. Do the job. If you don’t like it, F-off. We’ll get another sucker. There’s like people knocking on our door.”
Just because a lot of people want these jobs doesn’t mean you can get away with paying people little for them. There’s going to be a riot. And again I will just say to them, I will say to all of you that are underpaying these people, you are playing with fire. They have your emails. They have your information. Wizen up. If you don’t want to do the right thing because you’re a good person, do the right thing because you’re a prudent person.
John: Yeah. We heard many stories about folks feeling that supply and demand made it impossible to negotiate on their own behalf. And one writer wrote in and she said that – she was working on a show and the studio was trying to basically pay her less than she’d been paid on her previous job. And it wasn’t until friend of the show Aline Brosh McKenna stepped in and said, “No, you have to pay her this amount.” She was able to keep her very low hourly salary.
The other thing which I was not as aware of until we got all of these emails is the idea of 60-hour work weeks. And so we were just talking about how people work too long. But for many of the assistants who were writing in they are working under the assumption – they’re hoping to get a 60-hour week. Because they’re paid at a certain rate and they go into overtime after 40 hours. And without that guaranteed overtime there’s no way for their life to be sustainable.
But sometimes that can backfire. We had situations where time sheets were doctored to hide overtime or basically there were blanket statements that you cannot possibly do overtime. So weekend reading, well that does not count as part of your work.
Craig: Yeah. So this is an area where they can screw around all they want, right? And there’s not much you can do to prevent people from wriggling around rules. But what you can do is prevent them from just generally not paying you enough, right? We know – this is a little bit like with screenwriters and producers and free passes. It’s hard to stop bad people from getting what they want if they want to wriggle around rules and spin on technicalities. But what you can’t do is fudge an overall number.
So, in reality no matter how these companies are managing these hours with their employees, they know what they’re paying them. They know. They know exactly what the average salary is for every single person in that position. In every single position. They have the data. Easy enough to run. That includes how they actually effectively spend for overtime or for not overtime. Take that number and make it bigger. It’s as simple as that. Because what they’re doing is wrong. We have a moral requirement as far as I’m concerned as people who are well-off in this business – you and me – to speak out on behalf of those who are not. Because we’re not seeing – I don’t think – anything remotely close to fair treatment. And it makes me feel gross. And I and you can’t solve this problem. Not with our own pocketbooks. But every single company can.
So the real question is how much would it cost. How much would it cost a company like say WME to guarantee that every single one of their assistants is making $20 an hour and that’s across the same amount of hours they were working before. The same amount of paid hours. I don’t know what it would cost them. Maybe it would cost them like, I don’t know, $20 million. They have it. That’s not a problem. I know exactly what they have. I saw their stupid IPO. I saw the stupid amount of money that the guys in charge make.
And I also know that they’re also happy to host big fundraisers when Elizabeth Warren comes to town. Well, I guess not her. She doesn’t take their money. Pete Buttigieg? I don’t know. But when people come to town to talk about the death of the American dream and income inequality these mega millionaires show up and applaud. And I’m telling you that they know where to go because their assistant reminded them. And the assistant handled the RSVP. And they’re not paying the assistant enough. So, why don’t you take a good long look in the mirror if you’re paying your assistant less than that amount?
Right now take a good long look in the mirror, dickhead, and then pay them more.
John: So, I don’t want to stop at the assumption that $20 an hour would actually solve anything. I don’t want to anchor that as the set point, because I think it’s really dangerous when we put a number out there and say, oh, as long as we hit that then all the problems are solved.
Craig: I mean, it’s a place to start.
John: Yeah. So let’s talk about solutions overall and the range of things that are going to need to happen for this problem to be improved. So increasing pay to some number would be a start. Just the way there’s a movement towards a national minimum wage. Some sort of realistic minimum for Los Angeles that factors in how expensive it is to live in Los Angeles. And the requirements for putting on these people in terms of how they have to dress, especially if you’re at an agency. You know, that you’re supposed to have a car if that’s a requirement. If those things, even if it’s just like kit rentals or something that sort of really reflects the true cost of trying to do this job.
Craig: Kit rentals? So if people don’t know what kit rental is, if you’re working as like the key grip on a movie you may charge them a kit rental which is there’s equipment that needs to be used on the movie that you own and you rent to the production. It’s one of the ways that a lot of people make money. Sometimes they’ll call it as a box rental for computers. If you need somebody to use their own computer you pay them a box rental. You’re renting their computer from them while they work for you.
I think it’s a brilliant idea, John, to say that there should be kit rental for clothing. If you require a certain kind of clothing level at your company you should put in an amount that is essentially compensation for the clothing that that person has to purchase. Of course.
John: Yeah. Unions. So classically when workers are not able to demand the things individually unions are a way to gather up all those workers and demand more things. And so some of the people who wrote in are members of IATSE. So IATSE is International Alliance of – oh, god, I’m going to mess up what it actually stands up for.
Craig: Television and Stage Employees.
John: Employees? Great. IATSE is a giant umbrella union that covers lots of different things. So some of the folks who wrote in are members of IATSE, which originally represented script coordinators and also represents some writer’s assistants on certain projects. It doesn’t sound like it’s been a blanket wonderful solution. Some people talked about how it actually forced their wages down because the overtime things that kicked in.
IATSE is not a great union. It’s kind of not. But the idea of union representation is not the wrong one in the sense that it hopefully can raise the floor for everybody. It’s just it’s not going to sort of solve the problem I think by itself.
Craig: Yeah. I’m not sure that the union is going to be the answer here. The union meaning it would – because it’s not going to be the Writers Guild. It’s not going to be the Directors Guild. It’s not going to be SAG. It’s not going to be a creative guild. It would be some kind of service union kind of thing. And it would be a long and expensive war. And it could make things possibly worse. But it could make things amazing. I mean, in its best incarnation it would solve the problem completely. But you will get there faster, I think, if you use shame and start calling out places.
But I guess also my favorite is reverse shame. What I would love as a result of this, honestly, is for a major company – meaning a big agency, a major agency, like one of the big four agencies, or one of the major studios, or one of the major networks – to stand up and say, “We’re actually going to do this. We are going to improve across the board all assistant pay. And we’re not going to do it with games to take it away on the other side. We’re legitimately going to put more money in the pockets of our assistants.” Because once one place starts it will spread. That’s what it will take. It will take one brave company to look their stupid shareholders in the eye and say stop being greedy for five seconds and realize this is good for us. We can’t push everything in a race to the bottom. That is not the answer.
John: Agreed. So in addition to the companies actually stepping up and taking more responsibility for this, I’ve really been heartened to see how many assistants have gathered together and started to share their own information about how much they’re making. So, in the process of putting this episode together we got a look at a lot of this secret spreadsheets that have been passed around where assistants are talking about how much they’re actually earning which gives people a sense of what the ranges are or sort of you can actually get this much at a certain place and can help these assistants make better choices about where they’re working and sort of what is reasonable to ask for and how hard to push.
One of the things that was really helpful to see from the emails that we got in was some guidance for showrunners. And Boris I thought actually had a really great point which I’d never considered. So Megana can you tell us what Boris wrote about assistant’s scripts?
Megana: So Boris says, “Read your assistant’s scripts before you hire them so that you know what kind of writer they are. And if there’s something about them or their writing that will make it impossible for them to advance on your show I think a lot of showrunners in this industry don’t want to be the bad guy. So they avoid these kind of tough conversations with their assistants. But they are so necessary to have. Most assistants want to move up. And if we’re working sometimes up to 90 hours per week on your show everyone has to be on the same page about what the payoff for that work could be. Because I can tell you from experience it is really hard to hear from a boss who you have spent years working for that they never had any intention to promote you, or do much of anything to help you professionally. And their assumption was that you just figure out your career on your own somewhere else.”
John: Yeah. So that relationship between showrunners and assistants is crucial. I mean, that showrunner is trusting that assistant with so much information about not just their lives but their vision for the show. And what Boris is asking for is to just be a little bit more honest at the front about what you potentially actually see in this person.
And I think there’s actually potential for showrunners to make a big difference here. I can imagine some showrunners really stepping up and saying, “Hey, look, let’s go through all of our budgets and really take a look at how much our assistants are getting paid. And how we can prioritize paying them a true living wage so that person can make a living doing this job.” They can still have the same aspirations of moving up through, but it’s not going to be survival until they can actually get a staff writing job or a script on a show.
Craig: And you know where that money can come from, right?
John: It’s going to come from the massive overall deals they’ve signed with streamers?
Craig: Voila. And even if you’re not at a massive overall deal that you signed with a streamer, even if you just have your one show on basic cable and you’re the showrunner, you got enough. Take care of your people. They’re your people. They work for you. OK? And if you want to go fight the fight with the studio and say, “Hey, you guys got to give me more money to pay my assistants,” and you want to argue with them that they shouldn’t take that money out of your salary, do it. I don’t care. Have that argument. Or, just give them money. Either way, don’t stop until your people are taken care of. If your people under you are not making a reasonable amount of money and you need to ask them if they are. You really do.
Have the conversation. And find out how they’re doing. I guarantee you that if you’re a halfway decent person and you have that discussion with them and you hear about what their deal is you’re going to hear something that makes you go, “I think I might need to vomit now. I think I screwed up. And I think I need to take care of you better.” And then do it. Figure out how to do it and then do it. It’s how it starts. It’s got to start somewhere, right?
John: Be the change you’re seeking in the world.
Craig: Well, also seek the change. Because, look, a lot of people, they’re busy and they have their lives. And the assistant comes along as somebody to say, “I’m here to help you.” And that’s incredibly wonderful. And if you haven’t had an assistant and suddenly you do and they’re taking care of things for you, you feel like wow. And it’s easy to take that person for granted. Do not. Listen to them.
Because a lot of times they’re terrified of you, whether you know it or not. The way I was terrified of every boss I ever had when I was 22.
John: So let’s talk about the way forward for assistants and also for our discussion of this topic on the podcast. So we read aloud some bits from this, but truly there is a book of stuff that people wrote in. So we’re going to look for some way to form a document that can actually be downloaded or looked at on the site to get more of these anecdotes in there, because we really just scratched the surface of what people wrote in.
Keep writing in as more stuff comes up. As you get ideas listening to this. Or reading other stuff about how to fix this and sort of the parts of this conversation that we’re probably missing. Because there is a lot to talk about here clearly. Off-mic Craig and I will be doing work talking with folks as well about how to fix this situation. So, I just want to thank everyone who did write in.
Craig: Thank you guys.
John: Even if we didn’t read any of your stuff, it helped inform all this discussion and will help us moving forward.
Craig: I want to be your Che Guevara. [laughs] Seriously. I do. I’m so angry. I’m so angry about this. It’s just not fair.
John: And Megana thank you for all the hard reading you did this week.
Megana: Of course. And thank you to everyone who wrote in. I read all of them and it was tough.
Craig: I bet. I bet.
John: All right. Let’s get to some simpler questions. Craig, Rob asks, “My agent tells me that no one is spending on feature development. So the only solution is to spec. I have concepts in light treatment form about five pages, but it seems crazy to invest months of work taking them further without clear interest. To me if there’s enough interest for me to write it there should be enough interest for someone to pay to develop it. I get why companies want things to be a certain way, but surely this can’t be the only way?”
Craig, what’s your feeling in terms of writing out that spec versus essentially I think Rob is talking about pitching the thing for someone to develop?
Craig: Sure. Well, Rob, first of all you have to understand that what your agent is saying is that no one that talks to him is spending on feature development. Meaning no one that’s willing to take his call or her call. OK? So, your agent sucks. Because of course they have feature development money. They have entire funds that are there for nothing but feature development. They do take pitches. They do develop things.
Now, if you are new and you don’t have much of a track record, taking a pitch from you is a high risk endeavor for them because they just don’t know what they’re going to get. If you have original concepts in light treatment form then putting aside your agent’s utter failure, it probably is in your economic interest to write it if you can. It doesn’t matter what the interest is. You make interest with the writing. No one is going to say, “We can’t wait to see your script about blankety-blank.” If they are, well, it costs them that much breath to say it but little else. It doesn’t mean anything.
John: Yeah. So some context on this question which I realized as I pasted it in. Rob is British, so he has a British agent, which is why he still has an agent at this moment. I agree that there is feature development that is happening off of pitches. Pitches do sell. Katie Silberman was on the show talking about the pitch that she sold recently.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And she did another one after that. So, it does still happen. It happens with people that they’re excited to work with. And so if you happen to be a person they’re excited to work with that can happen for you.
I think the crucial thing to be thinking about is in this period of time where you have these five pages of ideas, you’ve got to be writing. You have to always be writing. And so you need to pick one of those ideas Rob. The one that you’re most excited to see as a movie. And write that script. Because if you stop writing scripts because you’re not sure that they’re going to sell that’s not being a writer. That’s not moving your career forward. You always need to be writing something. And if they’re not paying you to write it, then you’re going to need to write it yourself.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, when you say, “To me if there’s enough interest for me to write it that should be enough interest to pay to develop it.” It will be once they know that you can write to their satisfaction. It will be. I guarantee you. But until that point it’s not. And therefore you should write it and, I mean, hopefully you know this, Rob. The amount of money they’ll pay you to develop something is vastly less than the amount of money they’ll pay for the actual script of that thing, if they don’t own it. So, if they love what you write they will pay a lot for it. If they love what you might be able to write they’ll pay a little for it.
So the question for you is do you know what that is. How much effort would it take to write it? And then bet on yourself. There is a certain entrepreneurial aspect to this job. There’s no way around it.
John: The other thing I want to challenge is no one spends on feature development. Well, Rob, why does it need to be feature development? Because you know where they do spend money in development? Is in television. All television is is development. And so it’s coming in with an idea, a writer they’re excited about, and then paying that writer to write the script and decide if they want to shoot a pilot. It’s the way television has always worked. It’s the way it works in streamers right now.
So, take a look at some of those ideas and ask yourself does this have to be a feature idea, or could this be a television idea? Could this be an idea for a streamer? Because that may be the way that you get paid to write that thing you really want to write.
John: Jack asks, “Just wanted to ask if you could recommend a good thesaurus website. I get stuck on emotional descriptions sometimes and find myself frequenting the Internet for synonyms and the like.” Craig, do you have a favorite synonym site?
Craig: You know, I bounce around all sorts of them. Merriam-Webster, m-w.com – maybe just mw.com now – is quite good. But I bop around all over the place. It’s not like there’s one great one or anything. The nice thing is they’re all freely available to you. So, no need to rank them. Just type in a word and then type synonym and then see what pops up.
John: That’s always a good way to do it. When I’m in the middle of a sentence in Highland and I just need to find an alternate word because I’m repeating a word, I’ll right click on a work and pop up the thesaurus that’s there. So that’s Apple’s built-in thesaurus, which is pretty good. So for finding that matching word that can swap in.
For more in depth searches it’s probably been a One Cool Thing before. But Rhyme Zone is a really amazing website that I mostly go to when I’m doing song lyrics and need to find what could possibly rhyme with this word. It’s great for that. But its thesaurus ability is also really smart.
It was developed in a really strange way in that rather than sort of relying on experts to find synonyms, it’s just going through and figuring out with all the text in the Internet trying to figure out what words match up to each other. And so it’s really a weird way to get to thesaurus, but I find it works really, really well. It finds words that sort of cluster in meaning that aren’t necessarily direct synonyms which could sometimes be more useful. So, Rhyme Zone is the place to go.
Craig: That’s a good one. And another one, if you ever find yourself suffering from tip of the tongue syndrome, where you are trying to remember what a word is. Like weirdly yesterday I just needed the word digression. And it was one of those weird mental blocks where I’m like what is the word again? You know, the word that’s like D-something and it means wandering off from your conversational topic. I’m just having one of those gear locks.
So there’s a terrific website that a lot of puzzle solvers will use called onelook.com. And it’s got all sorts of wonderful uses, but one of my favorites is it can search for words based on criteria you enter including wild cards and question marks. An asterisk means any number of letters could go here. A question mark means any letter could go here.
And so you can say for instance, D and then asterisk. That means it’s going to return every single word that’s D and then some amount of letters after, which obviously that would be too many. But if you hit colon, then you can type in a word that you’re saying limits this search by definition. So I can say D-asterisk-colon “conversation.” And then it will just find all the D-words that are vaguely related to the concept of conversation. And, voila, there’s digression.
So, very, very useful website for me.
John: And I just looked it up. One Look is by the same people who make Rhyme Zone.
Craig: There you go.
John: So it’s all fitting together here nicely.
John: It is time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is Untitled Goose Game.
Craig: This is everywhere.
John: From Panic. Oh, it’s so good. I’m just so delighted. So, now I think I’ve talked about it on the show before, is like I refuse to install games on my computer because then I’ll be playing games on my computer rather than doing work on my computer. And so this game is available for Mac, PC, or Switch. So I bought myself a Nintendo Switch just so I could play Untitled Goose Game. And it was worth the purchase. So I’m greatly enjoying it.
In this game you play a goose who is trying to do things and just annoy people. And you just feel like a small child who is an annoying brat and it’s just a delightfully fun little game.
Craig: Yeah. It’s basically the story of my life, man. It’s how I move through the world. It’s Untitled Craig Game. It’s me. I’m just wandering around honking at people.
John: You are that goose. You are honking at the world.
Craig: Honking at the world. Certainly honked at them in this episode.
My One Cool Thing is a repeat but it’s the second year, so it’s all new. This is Queer Qrosswords. So this is a pack of 32 crosswords. They are all LGBTQ+ themed. They are all by LGBTQ+ constructors. They did it last year. They’ve done it again. It’s out today as of this recording. We are recording on National Coming Out Day, October 11.
John: Happy National Coming Out Day, Craig.
Craig: Happy National Coming Out Day to you, John. And last year they raised nearly $25,000 for LGBTQ+ charities. So here’s how this works. They don’t take money from you. Rather, you prove that you have donated at least $10 or more to one of eight suggested charities, all the ones you might imagine are on there. You send in your proof of your fresh new charitable contribution, and they send you a packet of 32 crosswords. And the constructors are terrific. A lot of the constructors are people whose names if you are a crossword puzzle solver like myself you have seen time and time again in the New York Times. There’s also my most preferred escape room cohorts Trip Payne. And then most importantly, most importantly, my – you know I’m absolutely obsessed with the puzzles of Mark Halpin. I talk about them all the time. He, I think, is the best cryptic crossword puzzle constructor in the universe. And he had an amazing one last year. And he has, of course, another one in this packet. His crossword alone is worth a $10 or more contribution to an LGBTQ+ charity.
So, Queer Qrosswords. We’ll put a link in the show notes. But that’s Queer and then Qrosswords. They cutely spell Qrosswords.
John: Very nice. And that’s our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. Thank you, Megana. It was edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Naomi Randall. 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’m @johnaugust.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts.
You can find all the back episodes of the show at Scriptnotes.net, or you can download 50-episode seasons at store.johnaugust.com.
Craig, thank you for all the umbrage.
Craig: Thank you, John. And Viva la revolución.
John: All right. See you.
- Hollywood’s Grueling Hours & Drowsy-Driving Problem: Crew Members Speak Out Despite Threat To Careers
- WGA Will No Longer Award Video Game Writing
- John’s Post on Assistant Pay
- Untitled Goose Game
- Queer Qrosswords
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
- Outro by Naomi Randall (send us yours!)
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here