The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Yo, my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 439 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast we’re going to talk about how to grow old as a writer. We’ll also discuss tips for general readings and answer listener questions about character quirks and improv. Then in our bonus segment for Premium members Craig is going to talk about his experience as an actor on the new show Mythic Quest.
Craig: Well this is the first time I’m hearing of that, but I’m all for it.
John: Oh, I thought you said last week you were going to do this.
Craig: Then it’s not the first I’m hearing of it. It’s just that I forgot. So, you know, when you forget something it’s like you get to hear it all over again for the first time.
John: It’s a little surprise. Memory loss can be a really great thing because then everything you find in a drawer is like a present.
Craig: My every day is Awakenings. [laughs] I’m so happy to be here.
John: It’s like, wait, I’m married? I have children? This is so exciting.
Craig: Right. I know how long time has been simply by the number you say of the podcast. So as far as I’m concerned this is the first one we’ve ever done.
John: Yes. Goldfish memory.
Craig: You claim it’s 439. Well, all right. Well, we’ll see.
John: Who is to argue? In news, I’m doing two live events this week. The first is today, Tuesday February 25. I’m doing a Q&A with showrunner Sam Esmail to talk about Mr. Robot, Homecoming, and other things. That got moved to the Guild Theater. So we have more space, we have more seats. So if you want to come there’s still probably seats available. You can find tickets at wgafoundation.org. There’s a link in the show notes. Then tomorrow, February 26, I’m leading a panel on portrayals of criminal justice on screen. That one is at the SAG building. So it’s the same kind of thing when I did the addiction and mental health panel. It is that kind of thing.
There will probably be a livestream but there’s also some seats in that place, so if you want to ask your question come out to that thing tomorrow.
So, two times to see me, ask questions of people this week in Los Angeles.
Craig: Brilliant. People should avail themselves of this.
John: Cool. A bit of follow up. Monica Beletsky wrote in. Do you want to talk about this, Craig?
Craig: Yeah, Monica Beletsky, a very, very talented television writer, who has worked on all sorts of your favorite shows, wrote in when we were talking about treatments and outlines and the difference. And she said that “in television an outline is a very common document and is probably more like what we call a treatment in features.” So, if you are a television writer or you’ve not yet become one, just be aware that our discussion of outlines and treatments the nomenclature was applying to the way it’s divided up in features. But in television it sounds like there’s not much of a treatment per se. It’s that there is an outline and it’s a very, very detailed thing.
John: Yes. So our biases really are kind of towards features. We try to be aware of our biases, but in that conversation we really weren’t. Even though Craig got an Emmy for his TV writing, we both kind of come at this from a feature background. So sometimes we will say things that mean a different thing in TV and features.
Craig: I got an Emmy? [laughs]
John: It’s so exciting when Craig doesn’t remember anything.
Craig: Every day is a new day.
John: Another great example of words that mean different things in TV and features is spec. And so in features a spec script is a script that you’re writing completely on your own that is entirely original. It’s an idea that is your own. And you’re writing it without being beholden to anybody else. No one else is involved in the project. So, a spec script is that thing that you write which can also be a writing sample.
In television a spec generally is a script you are writing for yourself of an existing TV show. I can write funny like in The Office. And so you’d say I have a spec Office episode. It’s frustrating that we use the same word for both things, but you’ve just got to get used to it.
Craig: Yeah. This is the problem with the way language evolves in general. And it’s an interesting indication that the television business and the feature business have been weirdly bifurcated for so long, which must be confusing for, I don’t know, someone who is graduating right now from college and coming to LA to be a writer. Because they’re like, wait, there’s a difference between TV and film? It’s all sort of mushed together.
I mean, we live in a time now where things that are made for Netflix are getting nominated for Oscars for feature film work. So, I think eventually that will all go away. I mean, actually weirdly business practices have probably started to retire the word spec for television because it’s not too common anymore that people write them.
John: Yeah. Some showrunners who are staffing up shows enjoy reading a spec of an existing show because they know that this writer can write the voices of an existing character and that can be useful. But more commonly showrunners want to read original stuff just to see what this person can do with no limitations on them.
Craig: Yeah. They’re just trying to kick the tires and see how good of a writer you are in general.
John: Yeah. Other bit of follow up. A couple episodes back we talked about the upcoming negotiations for the MBA, which is the general contract that regulates sort of how WGA members work with the studios. Where we’re at in that process, we talked there would be a survey. There was a survey. There was a vote on a pattern of demands, which is this very broad laundry list of the things you’re going after in this negotiation.
The next step in this process is membership meetings. So they’ve already started in the east. They are coming up in the west. So if you’re a WGA West member, check your email because there will be a list of upcoming meetings where you can talk with leadership about what your goals are in this negotiation. There will also be special meetings just for feature writers. Sometimes they have different things that are interesting to them. So, check your email. Come to these membership meetings. It is the best chance to hear from leadership but also to communicate what you would like to see happen in this upcoming negotiation.
Craig: Yeah. They should be real fun this time around. [laughs]
John: There’s a lot going on. People have noticed that it’s been a busy year at the WGA. It’s going to be a busy year coming up here. So, I will be at several of these meetings. I won’t be at all of them. But come say hi.
Craig: You will be there I assume in your role as a member of the negotiating committee dealing with both the agency thing and the upcoming MBA negotiation.
John: Absolutely. So, I’m on both of those committees. So I’ll be there to talk about those things.
Craig: Great. Hey, can you do me one favor?
Craig: Is there a way – I don’t think there is a way – but somehow if people could just, on their way in somebody could hand them a lovely pamphlet that says we know you’re angry, excited, thrilled, upset, emotional. Take deep breaths and be nice to your fellow union members, no matter what they say. Is there a way that people could just be nice?
John: Be respectful? Yeah.
Craig: Be respectful. Yeah. There is going to be somebody who is going to get up and say we have to strike. And other people are going to go crazy and say you’re an idiot. If we could just avoid that that would be lovely.
John: I think that would be a terrific goal. I would say that my function on a lot of these big membership meetings, which I don’t think you’ve been at, is I’m generally the person who is that person saying like just calm down. So I will probably just be that guy who says just calm down a bit.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t know if I’m going to go to any of them because I’ve gone limp and I’m allowing myself to be borne by the tides of the current.
John: Well, you’ve also–
Craig: Tides are currents. [laughs]
John: Tides are currents. You are a goldfish, Craig. But also I think one of the things your sort of stated goals for this year though was to acknowledge frustration but not always act on frustration.
John: So maybe–
Craig: I am frustrated. But I don’t have to act on it. Wait, I’m in the WGA?
John: Holy cow.
John: Craig, so we have two big topics this week. This one you proposed, so I’m going to let you take leadership on this topic of growing old as a writer.
Craig: Well I was just thinking about because we’ve been doing this for a while, you and I, and when we started there was actually quite a lot of concern about ageism in our business. The general idea was that somewhere after 50 the business started kicking people out. And, in fact, when you look at what the Writers Guild considers a protected class, writers over the age of 40 are considered a protected class. The world has changed drastically since the mid-90s. And I was talking to some people the other day who were pointing out that the writers who are being employed as showrunners and we’ll call them sort of major feature film writers generally are older than they’ve ever been before.
And I thought well this is interesting. There must be some sort of lessons that we can learn since you and I are among the people that are still here about how to keep yourself fresh and motivated and relevant as the years go on. Because we are not kids no more.
John: No. Craig, do we want to talk about how to have a long career, or how to be comfortable with aging in your career? Are we talking both? What are the edges of this conversation?
Craig: Well I feel like they’re intertwined. So, rather than talk in a very practical way about something that is applicable to about 80 people, I want to talk about something that’s applicable to everybody. Everybody who pursues any kind of creative concern, whether you are a visual artist, or an actor, or a writer, or a producer-director. Whatever it is that you do, as you get older your relationship to your own art and your own creative process does need to change or you’re going to suffer. A reflection of that may be in terms of the industry around you and people’s interest in you, or an audience’s response to you.
So, rather than view it through the lens of industry I just want to talk about how to keep ourselves in a kind of good place with our own creative minds.
John: Great. So the artistic side of growing older and how that relates to the craft and the thing that you’re trying to make on a daily basis.
Craig: And ideally that would be, you know, reflected back at you with some sort of industrial success if that’s what you’re looking for as the years go on. So, I mean, first let’s just consider it all in terms of strategies, because I do think like anything else there’s just practical things that you can apply to yourself as time goes on. And these are good thoughts and questions to just – even every birthday take a ten minute walk and think about it.
First, you have to think about what your task actually is. Because it changes over time. You may start as someone who for instance in the mid-90s you are “I want to write sitcoms. I’m going to be a sitcom guy that works on network sitcoms.” And there are hundreds of them. Over time that changes. The tasks that are available that match what you think you do can change. Also, formats can change. We think of television as a certain thing now. It’s all over the place. But when we started it was something else.
Chernobyl, for instance, couldn’t have been really done until a certain format change occurred. But that meant paying attention to what was going on with formats.
So there are two kinds of challenges that you can make to yourself. The first is is the thing that I’m doing the only thing I can be doing. Or could I be writing a different kind of thing, like a short story, or like you did a novel, or like we’ve both done some songs? Or, nonfiction work? Also are we working within a format that is maybe dying out or just getting boring to us? And what other formats might expand our own personal expression? If we don’t rotate the crops as it were then we will end up with a field that isn’t doing too well.
John: Well, let’s talk about rotating the crops, because I think that ties into a thing that happens with age which is this burnout. Which is that you’ve done one thing for so long that it’s boring to you. It’s just not interesting to you. And it’s hard to work up the enthusiasm to do it again.
I was talking with a writer recently. She was just starting on a new script. And she’s like, oh wow, wait, I’m back doing this again. I’m having to start a whole new script again. And she was ready to. She knew how to write a script. But also she didn’t have the same enthusiasm for it she would have had five years, ten years earlier in her career.
And I think that’s one of the reasons why I was attracted to write the Arlo Finch books or to write the Big Fish musical is it gave me a chance to be a beginner again. To be someone who is brand new to things and be curious and eager to explore and willing to make mistakes as I’m figuring out this new art form. And when you have mastery over something it’s nice, it’s helpful, things are easier for you, but they’re also less exciting. And so picking a new thing to try to do, just challenge yourself on a regular basis to try something that you haven’t done before as a writer so that you get that experience of being new at things.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, getting yourself in that rut is the function of a good thing, I think. We know that you need to focus and you need to practice and perfect. That’s part of how you get good at any creative pursuit. But there is a point where, and a little bit like when you get into a videogame you’ve maxed out your level, you’re now just walking around all the areas of Skyrim and beating everyone’s brains in with ease.
John: [laughs] Yeah. You’re just doing a little side quest.
Craig: And there’s no challenge because you are perfection. And it gets boring. You’re absolutely right. Being a beginner again is a wonderful thing. And it’s a little scary, so it’s also a function of fear. You know, trying new things is scary. But the thing that I’m scared of the most is actually at this point now in my life being bored. So, challenge yourself to reconsider the nature of the formats you do work in, that you’re willing to work in, that you’re willing to try. Take a look at some formats that you didn’t maybe know even existed before. Because there are new ones all the time. And challenge yourself to even break out of a genre and into another genre.
John: You’re really saying stay curious. And really look at the world around you and see, OK, what is out there. What is a thing I could make out there that is interesting to me. And it doesn’t mean you have to pursue everything. Like, you know, you don’t have to become a social media influencer. You don’t have to master TikTok. It’s OK to sort of leave some stuff by the side. But also recognize that if these things are coming online they’re serving some need. And so what is it you can bring to this need and what can you do that could fit into this bigger universe of new content that’s being made?
Craig: And you’ve mentioned the key to all of this which is stay curious and be connected with the world. The biggest complaint people will make about we’ll call them aging artists is that they’re out of touch. Well, how do we get out of touch? We get out of touch by essentially ignoring the world around us because we feel like we figured it out in a moment and then we stay there. The world will move past that moment. If you don’t, you will be out of touch.
Sometimes people engage with the world simply in opposition. Kids these days. Let me just boil it down to that, right? The world, you know, I don’t understand the world today. Everyone is on their phones. Anybody who ever says, “You know what the problem is with the world today? Look around you man. Everyone is staring at their phones. They’re not looking at each other.” You go ahead and tell that person they’re an idiot. Because the world changes. They are interacting in fact with more people faster than you could have ever done in your life.
Is it true that sometimes uninterrupted eye-to-eye contact is wonderful? Absolutely. Is it a cliché out of touch thing to say, “They’re all looking at their phones?” Absolutely out of touch.
So, rather than instinctively saying, “In my day everything was perfect and now it stinks,” listen. Just listen to the world. Even if you disagree with it, listen to it. Because perhaps in your experience of the world around you and your differences of opinions with it, you may find grist for the creative mill. Defensiveness isn’t going to get you anywhere.
John: Yeah. Being defensive is never a good look. You know, when you say no to something people stop engaging with you. I would say over this last 20 years one of the most helpful ways I’ve been able to stay caught up with how things are for screenwriters and just for general people making creative things, well I’ve always had an assistant. My assistants have always been younger than me. They’ve always been at the start of their careers and doing stuff that people at the start of their careers do. And it’s been fascinating to see how the starts of careers have changed over the last 20 years because just the industry has changed around them.
Also just engaging with the people who originally were writing into the website who are now Scriptnotes listeners. You see what they’re doing. And sort of what the challenges they’re facing, but also what is exciting to them. And I may not be excited about the same things, but what they’re into is valid. And listening to what it is that they are going after is great. I always try to remember that the people I’m interacting with are the people who are going to be running this town in 10, 20, 30 years. And so it’s worth hearing what’s sparking for them because those are the kinds of movies and TV shows that we will be making the next couple decades.
Craig: I mean, inherently you are not jealous of the young, nor am I. I think a lot of older people get quietly subconsciously jealous of young people. But my feeling is that when we judge them, well, remember what it was like when we were judged by older people because in my memory my feelings were not hurt at all. I just kind of rolled my eyes and made fun of them because soon they were going to be dead and I was not. And they were old and out of it and not vital. And so my feeling is judging people who are younger and thinking that they “all they do, they’re obsessed with their influencers and their TikTok,” and you’re like you’re not having any impact on them. They’re laughing at you.
So, maybe just listen to them and observe them. What’s wrong with that?
John: Well, you can also ask advice. Which I think a lot of times older people have a hard time asking advice of younger people because it sort of reveals something that they don’t know. Well, the fact is you just don’t know some things, so again, be curious. Ask the questions. And don’t ask the questions in a way that feels judgmental like, “Why are you doing it this crazy, stupid way?” It’s like what is it that’s interesting to you about this thing, or why did you decide to make that choice? Again, when you get to move into new fields that’s very natural because you just actually just don’t know. And so you’re in a much better position to ask kind of naïve questions because you don’t know what that thing is versus us as screenwriters we have a good sense of sort of like how all the stuff fits together.
John: That said, when I talked with a writer – Liz Hannah who just did a movie for Netflix, I am genuinely curious about what the experience is like making a movie for Netflix. What are the deliverables like on that movie? Are they expecting the same things that we’d expect in a theatrical feature delivery system where they want – are they cutting negative? Are they doing all the stuff that we used to do for normal, traditional features? Or is it more like a TV delivery system?
So ask those questions and realize that like the different kinds of things people are making these days are more likely the future than sort of what we knew.
Craig: Well, the things around us that happen that we can lose touch with in a dangerous way are not just the kinds of things that I guess the different experiences that younger people are having, but also the general viewpoint of the world. Attitudes change. And it’s very hard for us to keep up with it. It really is. I understand that.
And I remember a friend once told me like – he was like I’m going to keep listening to whatever the pop music station is, like the current hits station, because I never want to be one of the old people that doesn’t know current music. But inevitably you will be. It’s not possible, right? There are some things that are going to leave you behind. But general attitudes and vibes and feelings are things you need to be in touch with. Because what was once funny may not be anymore. Things like funny and dramatic and scary and shocking are not absolute values. They are relative to the time in which you live. And if you’re not paying attention to the kinds of things that are shocking people or making them laugh you’re going to flop because you’re out of touch and out of time.
John: Let’s talk about authenticity, because one of the things I see which can be kind of embarrassing is when an older person is trying to seem younger than they are and is not acknowledging the fact that they are in a different generation than people they’re talking to.
Craig: Hello fellow kids.
John: So language is one where they’re trying to use slang and they’re using it improperly. That’s sort of a tell. And it’s not just that it’s embarrassing that they’re using it wrong. It’s that it’s clear that they’re not being authentic to who they are. I think one of the reasons why young people spark so clearly to Bernie Sanders is he feels very much himself. And that is true of any generation. When we were in our 20s we didn’t want the old person who was trying to be like us. We wanted the old person who felt like themselves. And so don’t reach too far in terms of your own voice trying to sound young.
In terms of your writing voice, though, you are going to be writing characters of all different ages, all different backgrounds. And you have to be listening for sort of how those things sound so that your character’s voices don’t drift away.
So our example in last week’s episode where we were listening to how people speak, that’s I think even more important as you age into your career because your assumptions, your memory of what twenty-somethings sounded like is not going to match how twenty-somethings sound right now.
Craig: Yeah. And then we kind of come to our last point which is just language. Just the realities of language. Because you’re right. There is something terribly inauthentic about someone who is chasing language. They will always be five steps behind anyway. They will always be your dad walking in saying, “Oh, chill out. Oh wow, this is fresh.” Shut up, dad. Right?
That’s so old and lame. And it’s faster now. So whatever is cool five seconds will not be cool five seconds from now because that’s what youth is. It’s a churn. So, don’t chase it, but do let yourself be carried along by it. Be aware of it. And let yourself be old authentically without either chasing something, which is inauthentic, or denying the reality of it, which is just as terrible.
Just be aware of the way that the world is changing and be aware of the way you’re changing. And if you are those things and you are willing and open to evolving then it doesn’t really matter how old you get. I mean, you’ll just be cool. Dr. Ruth Westheimer is 4,000 years old.
John: Good lord, yes.
Craig: And she’s cool.
John: Yeah, she’s a lich, but she’s really cool.
Craig: She is a lich.
John: There’s a [unintelligible] hidden away someplace.
Craig: Yeah, she’s a lawful good lich. Very rare. Very rare.
John: But special when you find them.
Craig: She’s a lich. [laughs]
John: Let’s talk about some advantages of age, because a thing I have found over time is we’ve talked about how with mastery some things that used to be really difficult for me are actually very simple for me. And I can sort of figure out narrative problems way in advance just from the experience. But a thing in terms of a career that I’ve been able to take with me and hopefully share is that you have a memory of what’s been done before and sort of where things used to be. And people who are new to the industry won’t have that. And so that’s not like everything should be the way it always was, but pointing out what’s been lost or what’s changed where people new to an industry might not know.
So to me an important thing to always point out is that residuals used to be kind of great and they used to actually be worth something. And someone who is starting in the business right now might not be aware of that. And so I think sometimes as an older person you need to make sure people know what has happened before, what you fought for, what you got. The way things used to be just so that people acknowledge that things could go back to a better place, or to a worse place if you’re trying to avoid bad things that happened before.
Craig: Yep. And similarly it’s really good to listen to those people when they tell you what actually – what the boots on the ground reality is for them. Because I remember when we were starting out in the union like the obsession was over DVD residuals. And I didn’t feel really that connected to that. Didn’t have many DVDs out there. And soon enough those went away. So, it’s a two-way street. But there is a beautiful thing that comes with time and that is the release of pressure to define who you are and become a thing.
Craig: We are who we are. There is no confusion anymore about who either one of us is. And at least in our own minds we’ve accomplished enough where we don’t feel like everything is a test of our worth and every problem is an existential crisis. You do get to relax, which, you know, you have more work than ever in these days, but you can psychologically relax because not everything is a kind of a life and death moment where it can all be taken away.
John: Yeah. So some of that is economic security, but I would say even when I was in my 30s and doing really well there was still that sort of career insecurity, that artistic insecurity, like you know the imposter syndrome. And I think you and I have both moved past our imposter syndrome, which is lovely, but with that wisdom you want to make sure you don’t just become settled into a rut. Now that you know who you are you’re unwilling to change or unwilling to grow or unwilling to adapt into the next good thing.
Craig: Yeah. You know, David Zucker always used to say, “Beware the day that they give you the lifetime achievement award.”
John: Lifetime achievement. Yeah.
Craig: “It means you’re done.” They don’t give that to you if you’re still like rolling like kind of hard. I mean, they do. And every time I say rolling my daughter looks at me like, “Don’t say rolling, dad. It’s a whole other thing.” And I’m like, oh yeah, that’s right, that’s right, I’m sorry. But I guess the nice thing is that – I don’t know what I was saying, so you can just – Matthew, I apologize. I’m old. [laughs] My mind just wanders. In fact, don’t edit that out. I think that’s important for people to know.
John: All right. Well, we talked about sort of growing old as a writer, let’s move all the way back to the start of your career. Let’s talk about your first general meetings. So this is a suggestion from Aline Brosh McKenna.
John: Aline has been listening back to the early episodes of the show, which apparently exist Craig.
John: Yes. Goldfish Craig.
Craig: There’s more of these?
John: There’s more of these. So she’s been back listening to the first season where we talk about stuff. And she says it’s still good, but we’re much less comfortable in our podcasting voices in those early episodes.
Craig: Well, that’s good. Amnesia Craig is startled by all of this.
John: So, I want to talk through the experience of your first general meeting. So a general meeting as we’ve talked about before on the show, we often describe the water bottle tour of Los Angeles where you go in, you meet with an executive, and you talk about stuff. And we’ve described them in a very general sense, but we haven’t given any real practical advice for sort of what you do on those general meetings, so this is going to be a little sort of step by step thinking about a general meeting.
So, Craig, I would like you to pretend that you are a screenwriter with no produced credits. You have a manager and they have scheduled a meeting with an executive on the Paramount lot. And now let’s walk through what you do to prepare for this general meeting with an executive on the Paramount lot.
Think back like a day or two before, what kind of stuff is on your mind as you’re preparing for this meeting?
Craig: So there’s two ways. There’s the modern way and then there’s the old school way. I would strongly recommend a combination of the two. The first thing is to just figure out, OK, who is this person. Ideally what do they look like? Very important, what have they done? So in the old way what would happen is you would talk to your manager and say describe the person to me. Paint me a visual picture because there is no Internet. And what have they worked on that I need to know about? The new way is to just Google. The problem with just Googling is you don’t get that insight from a person who says, “They are very intellectual. You might find them cold, but they’re not cold. That’s just the way they are.” Or, “this person is a militant vegan, so maybe don’t tell the story about how you won the rib-eating contest.” All of that is important.
The most important kind of research is to find out what it is they’ve done so that you don’t walk in there and say in the midst of a great conversation how much you hated this thing that it turns out they produced.
John: Absolutely. And that’s so much easier to research now. So just spend your 20 minutes Googling. Figure out what they’ve worked on and what they’re working on just so you have some guardrails around it. But I agree with Craig that you do need to talk to your manager, whoever set up the meeting, just so you know why are you meeting with them. What is the purpose of this meeting? What are the possibilities in this meeting? So you can go in there with some knowledge. It’s just not a complete blind date there.
John: Also, figure out where the meeting is because Los Angeles is giant, and sometimes you could get scheduled in meetings that are much further away than you think they are. So just knowing where the meeting is in relation to where you live is very important.
Craig: And this is something that is much easier to do now than you and I–
John: Yeah. Google Maps.
Craig: So you and I in our early days would have to figure out where a place was if you had never been there. We’d pull out our trusty old Thomas Guide. We’d look at it and then we’d freaking guess. How should I get there? And, man, sometimes you guess wrong.
John: I remember going to a general meeting. I showed up 40 minutes late.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: It was horribly embarrassing. But that’s as fast as I could get there.
Craig: Went the wrong way. There were two ways to go, and the way I went a car smashed into a tree and that’s that. And also I didn’t have a phone, so there’s no way for me to tell you. That happened all the time. Now we have Waze. We have Google Maps. There’s all sorts of ways to arrive on time. Do try and get there early. Of course you don’t want to be sitting there for 20 minutes, but try and time it. Worst comes to worst, just hang out outside the lot parked on the side street or something and then go in when you need to go in.
John: Absolutely. So we got to the day of the meeting. So let’s talk about confirming meetings because this is a thing that I don’t know happens in other industries, but it’s pretty important in Hollywood. So, a meeting gets scheduled but a meeting is then confirmed, which is usually the night before or the day of if it’s like an afternoon meeting. Basically everyone gets kind of an out, especially executives, because they get pulled into other stuff. So, generally you don’t could on a meeting happening unless it’s confirmed the night before or the morning of.
If a manager set it up, generally the manager’s assistant will confirm the meeting. If you have an assistant they will confirm the meeting. Sometimes you will actually call and confirm with that assistant. But it’s a good idea to confirm, especially if the meeting has been made like two weeks in advance.
Craig: Right. That said, if you don’t hear from anyone, presume it’s confirmed.
John: Aline wants us to talk about clothes. And so let’s talk about it. I will say dress appropriately. And that is such generic advice, but I don’t want to be so specific that it precludes one way of dressing or not. So I would say I would never wear a tie to one of these things, and yet sometimes people dress really cool and that’s part of their look. And so I would say kind of dress your look is a useful way to think about it. Dress the way that a writer who they’re meeting with should dress, if that makes sense.
Craig: Well, the garb of the artist is wide ranging. Johan Renck would show up at all of these award shows in the strangest outfits. Sometimes I don’t even know if he was wearing a shirt. He always had some strange hat on. Many rings. He’s like a pirate director. And he’s awesome. And that’s cool, because that’s the way he is.
My feeling about clothing is this. If you in the meeting are an impressive human being, if you say and think things that they like, then your clothes, whatever they are, are going to be cool. And if you don’t, then they’re going to be awful. That’s the way it goes. If you are dressed gorgeously and you say dumb things, they’re going to be like, ugh, like I guess all this person does is shop, because they’re stupid. And if you dress like a slob and you’re brilliant they’re going to go, oh my god, the bohemian Mozart. That’s the way our minds – in the end as writers the value that we’re bringing ultimately is what we’re saying and thinking. And the rest kind of goes along with it.
The one thing you don’t want to ever be is unhygienic. That’s just a zero for everybody.
John: Agreed. All right. So now you are arriving at the studio. So, first we’re going to say this is Paramount. Let’s talk about the process of actually getting on the lot, because I remember the first time I did this I was a little unnerved. And so you’re driving up to the gate, so generally they’ll tell you which gate you’re going onto for the studio. It’s usually the same, but sometimes they will send you in different ways, so do look at the email about which gate they want you to go in.
There you’ll stop at the guard gate. You will show them photo ID. This happened 9-11 that they asked for photo ID of everyone going onto a lot. Now, Craig, do you remember like before 9-11 often you’d have to stop to leave a lot, and basically they might search your car, but they wouldn’t stop you on the way in? Do you remember back in those days?
Craig: I don’t remember ever not being stopped on the way in.
John: I guess that’s not true. I guess I was stopped on the way in, but I was always stopped on the way out. And now they just seem to be happy to let you just leave.
Craig: Fox will still ask you to show the pass. So, save your pass, because it changes from studio to studio. And it’s pretty rare that a studio will require you to show the pass that they gave you to get in to get out. But don’t chuck it. I’ve made that mistake. And then in Fox in particular on your way out there’s nobody manning it, you just have to scan it, so that it knows that you’ve left. And if you’ve chucked it then, you know, basically people behind you are going to get annoyed.
John: Let’s talk about the pass. So generally on a studio lot there actually are two passes. So there’s one pass which is for you as a person, and there’s one for your car. So the one for your car stays on your dashboard, or sometimes they’ll tape it in your window. Sometimes that will have a parking space assigned to it. But there will be one that you carry around. At Disney they want you to clip this little thing on your belt, on your shirt. It’s a hassle. Other places won’t make you do that. But you will have some piece of paper that indicates that you are supposed to be on that lot and also that your car is supposed to be on that lot. So, both are important.
Craig: I don’t clip the thing at Disney. I hold it. And then I put it in my pocket.
John: I hold it, too.
Craig: You just need to get past the guy at Team Disney and then you’re like here’s my thing and he goes, “Go there,” and then I just shove it in my pocket. I’m done.
John: Craig just said Team Disney. So Team Disney is the big dwarf building on the Disney lot.
John: Yeah. The big dwarf building. It’s the building with the dwarfs holding up the roof. It is designed by I think Venturi. He’s a famous architect. It is really a kind of dumb building.
Craig: It’s a shame. It is beautiful.
John: It is beautiful. But it has this useless interior courtyard.
Craig: Massively useless.
John: It’s dark and weird.
Craig: Yeah. And the office layout, I mean, no one who has ever worked in it has said, “Awesome.” It is definitely a challenging building to work in. As opposed to the old animation building which is where they put all the producers and all their suites which is really cool because it’s like this old art deco – ‘30s?
Craig: Something like that. ‘40s?
John: It’s cool.
Craig: It’s just a cool building. I like an old building. Anyway, each studio will have its own kind of thing. Figuring out where you’re going is sometimes difficult. It depends on the lot. Some lots are pretty easy. For instance Disney, you’re usually going to one of two places – Team Disney, or the old animation building. That’s where the people are that you meet. Paramount, usually you’re going to that one building where all the executives are.
John: The executives building.
Craig: But god help you if you’re going to Universal or Fox or Sony where stuff is scattered around across 400 different buildings. And they give you a map with tiny little numbers on them. The numbers are not in sequence. I remember the first lot I was ever on was Fox. And I was like why are these numbers like this. First of all, where is number three? And why is 88 next to 120 next to 46? Who did this?
John: A mad man did this.
Craig: A mad man did it. So, take a little moment to see if there’s a studio map online. See which building you’re going to and actually figure out your walking route from where you’re going to be parking if at all possible.
John: So, back in the day when you drove up to the guard gate they’d say, “Who are you meeting with?” And then they would call that person and there’d be a whole system for that. That happens less often now because they just scan your license and they see, OK, this person is in the system. They have a meeting. So they’re not asking you those questions anymore. But they will still ask like do you know where you’re going. And the best response is generally, “No, I don’t.” And so they will take a moment and actually pull out the little map and highlight where it is that you’re supposed to be going. Because that’s really helpful on a big lot.
Now, we should also say that you’re just as likely to have a meeting at Netflix, and Craig have you met at Netflix yet?
Craig: No. I’m not allowed to. [laughs]
John: I get it. The HBO deal.
John: So Netflix the process is very, very different. There is still a guard gate you go through. But then you pull into this garage, you give the keys to the valet. Some places have valet. We should talk about valets in a second. But then you go into this giant sort of open area courtyard thing, interior courtyard, and sign in at the front desk, or check in at the front desk. And then it’s just – it’s like the school cafeteria in a way. There literally is food that you can help yourself to. But you see everybody you kind of know. Other actors and writers and directors. And everyone waits down in the main area until your executive comes and gets you and takes you up to your place. So it’s a very different experience.
Generally on most studio lots you go directly to the executive’s office, or at least to the lobby of that executive building. Here at Netflix you wait downstairs until they come get you. And generally they won’t take you to their office, because their offices are tiny. They will take you to some meeting room where you have your small meeting.
Craig: And this is probably the way of the future because these companies don’t require large real estate and sound stages. These things are just rented as needed. I mean, HBO for instance is pretty similar in that regard to Netflix. I mean, you pull into a garage. There’s a valet. You go up to HBO. You check in. You wait in the waiting room. It’s like the nicest doctor’s office waiting room. And then someone comes and gets you. And you walk through the rabbit warren of HBO offices. I mean, let me explain for anyone who has not been. Have you ever been to HBO?
John: I’ve never been inside HBO, no.
Craig: So they’re going to be moving I’m pretty sure. That’s at least what I thought. But the existing offices at HBO, if you bring me to an office there and then walk away, close my eyes and turn me around three times, I will die there. I will never get out. It’s really a maze.
John: Netflix has the kind of elevators where if you’re calling an elevator you tell what floor you’re going to, rather than up or down. And so then you have to wait and see which elevator – they’ll show you which elevator you’re supposed to get into.
Craig: So fancy. So there are places that have valet and places that don’t have valet. Places that have valet, let me run it down real quick. Paramount. Not Fox. Sony.
John: Sony has it.
Craig: Definitely. Not Universal. Not Disney. Warner Bros.
John: Warners does it.
Craig: I think that’s it, right?
John: Yeah. Warners sometimes it depends on where you’re going to at Warners. But, yes, they have a valet. So let’s talk about sort of protocol with valet, which is a little bit different on studio lots than sort of at a restaurant. You go up, you tell them – I often say how long I’m going to be because that will influence where they want me to park, or where they’re going to park my car. If it is a short meeting I may just ask is it OK if I park myself, because sometimes it is OK if you park yourself. Or they’ll steer you to a space.
The issue of whether to tip or not to tip is complicated and based on the lot. Sometimes there will be a sign which will make it really clear that you’re not supposed to tip. When there’s not a sign I do tip. I tip a couple bucks. Craig, what do you do?
Craig: Yeah. I do tip but it’s always – I never quite know. It’s a weird thing. Because the thing about tipping is if you don’t tip you might feel like you’ve done something wrong and insulted this person. Then in that situation sometimes I think if I do tip am I insulting them? Like they need a tip because they’re not being paid by the studio? Because at a restaurant you know they don’t pay those guys anything. It’s all tips, right? But I don’t know how it works at a studio. I can’t imagine that a studio is treating them like that. Although come to think of it, they probably are.
John: [laughs] Talk about assistant pay, so just imagine what the valet pay is.
Craig: That’s a great point actually. So, in any case I’ll usually do five bucks. These days by the way I’ve had one of those moments where I’m like I’m adjusting all tips upward. There’s a general sense of what tips are. So, probably I would go to ten at this point.
Craig: Because, you know, honestly, it relates back to our “we’re getting older” thing. Like as there’s less and less life, you know, it’s like spend more. And I like spending money on human beings. I do. It makes me feel good more than other stuff. And at some point I’m not going to get to the end of my life and go thank god I didn’t tip more. I just – I’m not gonna.
John: Quickly let’s say that sometimes you’re having a meeting at a place that is not at a studio and where it is just an office someplace. That’s fine and great, too. Figure out where you can park. If you’re going to be at a meter pay for much more time than you think you’re going to need because you don’t know if the meeting is going to run long. You don’t want to be antsy to get out of your meeting because your meter is about to expire.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: That’s not a good look at all.
Craig: Frankly, if your meter is going to expire just shut up and take the ticket. Just take the ticket, because whatever. So it’s going to be $50. Unless you are really, really scraping for dough – honestly – and by the way call your manager and tell them, listen, I would have thought you would have wanted me to stay in there. I can’t afford this. I need $50. I mean, literally. It’s just a weird thing. Because the problem is once you get up at that point to say, “Oh, you know what? I’m just going to run outside and feed the meter.” They’ll be like, “No, no, no, you know what…”
John: Oh, the meeting is over.
Craig: “Yeah, no, we’ve been here long enough.” And then you’ll get a ticket anyway. [laughs] And it will be over.
John: So you’ve arrived at this executive’s office. Generally there will be an assistant or somebody in the lobby who says, “Can I get you something?” And by get you something they mean a drink. That’s all they mean is a drink. The appropriate choices are water, coffee, Diet Coke, or I’m all good. Craig, would you add anything to that list?
Craig: Prime rib.
John: Prime rib. I want some prime rib.
Craig: I would love a plate – by the way, prime rib horrifies me. I don’t know, like people get so excited by it. And I look at it and I just want to barf. It doesn’t look like anyone has cooked anything with prime rib. I don’t know what the prime means. Prime barf material.
John: I’ve not had beef in 30 years, so I wouldn’t know.
Craig: Oh my god. Well, you’re missing nothing on the prime rib. Yeah, it’s water, coffee, tea, or Diet Coke. And generally speaking over time I’ve defaulted to, “Nope, I’m good,” because if I drink stuff in the meeting I’m just going to have to pee. And I don’t want to pee.
John: I generally bring my Arlo Finch water bottle with me to everything. So, I just have my water bottle and therefore I’m all good.
John: Advertising. While you’re waiting for the meeting to start, it’s worth studying the outer office. It’ll give you some sense of the vibe. The posters they have on the wall for the movies they’ve made could be useful. Obviously you’ve done your research beforehand, but just get a sense of the vibe. Also, if the assistant is talking with you, talk with the assistant. That assistant is probably very much in the same spot that you are. Try to learn that assistant’s name. That may be a person that you’re emailing back and forth with in the future. That person will probably end up running the studio at some point, so it’s good to be friendly with those assistants.
Craig: For sure. Treat them well. Especially if you’re starting out and you’re young, they’re looking at you thinking why am I not there? Why are you not in my seat and why am I not in your seat? So, treat them well because sooner or later they will be where you’re standing and it’s good to just – you know, talk to them like they’re humans. Notice that they’re alive. It will make a huge difference to them. And it is human decency. I mean, we don’t really deserve points for doing what we’re supposed to do. But do what you’re supposed to do.
John: Agreed. So, you finally made it through the door. You are in the meeting. Craig, talk us through the protocol of that first minute or two the meeting.
Craig: Usually it’s going to be about the person that you’re meeting with saying, “So, yeah, I came across,” they’re going to basically give you a quick log line of why you’re there at all. They’ve seen something of yours, read something of yours. They talked to your manager. You have a mutual friend. Whatever it is, there is some reason they agreed to this. And so that’s kind of the intro. Very quickly it will turn into where’d you grow up, where’d you go to school, how long have been doing this, how did you get started here. “Let me tell you a little bit about what we do here” is a very common thing. They will explain.
And I always laugh. It’s a little bit like when you go to a restaurant and the waiter says, “Have you eaten with us before?” Ugh, no, but go ahead.
John: It’s tapas, which are small plates.
Craig: Oh god. Because literally if they don’t say – right. So, here what we do is we load the food into a cannon and we fire it into your face. If they don’t say that, I’m like, guys, I mean, yeah. OK. Just say we’re small plates, family style, small to large on the menu, whatever it is. But it’s that thing of like well let me explain a little bit of what we do here. And then they’re going to start talking. A lot of times this will be boring to you. Because what they’re not doing is telling you how specifically money is going to end up in your pocket, which is probably what you’re imagining or hoping for when you’re starting out at the very least. So you just have to kind of nod and be engaged and feign interest as best you can in how their production company came to be. And ask questions. You know, everybody likes to be shown interest in.
John: Agreed. So in that first minute you are really trying to establish some pattern of mutual interest. I really liked that thing you made that just came out. I have that same – you’re trying to find areas of commonality just to sort of ground you a little bit. But it’s important to remember it’s not an audition. It’s not a job interview. It’s not a first date. It is really more imagine you have a mutual friend who said like you two should get together and talk. It’s sort of that vibe.
John: And so there’s a transactional quality to it. You’re both looking for how you can help each other. And in that listening that Craig describes, I actually find that really useful because people will stake out a very general area of kind of the things they’re looking at, and more importantly the things they’re not looking for. So when I moved over to Verve I went out on a bunch of general meetings for places that I just had never met before. And so I met at Working Title. And so I thought I had an idea of what a Working Title movie was, and I was basically right, but even within the Working Title framework I got a much better sense of like, OK, they’re very much looking for this kind of thing.
I met at Tristar and Tristar was a different mandate than what it was when I was a reader at Tristar, definitely. So, I got to hear what they’re looking for. I had a meeting at Monkey Paw and it’s a really specific mandate of the kinds of things they’re trying to do.
I had a meeting a studio and they said, “We’re looking for non-IP IP.” Which is like, OK, that’s weird.
Craig: Public domain stuff.
John: Public domain stuff. They want unicorns or Greek mythology. I’m like, oh, OK. So if I have things–
Craig: Why are they looking for it? It’s there. [laughs] It’s all there.
John: They want people to come in with non-IP IP basically.
Craig: I see.
John: Or they’re trying to develop things based on that stuff. So if you had a Medusa story that would be a place to do a Medusa story.
Craig: I do not.
Craig: But that is good. You’re getting a sense of what they want and you’re listening to them. Because it is kind of a two-way evaluation process, right? I mean, you may walk out of there, you don’t want to say it in the moment, but you may walk out of there thinking well I have no interest in doing non-IP IP. That’s not what I’m interested in right now. And then you know, OK, so I guess not them for now.
John: Yeah. So you’re also getting a vibe on like would I want to work with this person. And I would say trust your instincts there. If they give you a bad vibe, maybe you’re not going to really enjoy working there. So maybe that’s not the right place to take that pitch down the road or to–
Craig: Oh yeah, you won’t.
John: Or to go after that open writing assignment, because if you’re not going to be up for it that’s cool.
Now, let’s talk about open writing assignments because at some point in a meeting they may pull out a buck slip which is a narrow card that lists these are the things we’re looking to hire writers for. These are projects that are open for discussion. Listen to those. That’s great. But this is also an opportunity to talk, sort of pitch broad areas of things that you’re interested in. This is not your elevator pitch. This is not your sort of concise pitch. This is just I’ll often describe general areas. So if I wanted to say like I can be doing a lot of research on Outward Bound programs and I think there’s a real opportunity to do a horror movie centered around the Outward Bound experience.
That’s not a pitch, but it’s describing an area. And if what they told me was that they’re looking for horror movies and I pitched that back, I can see in the room are we on the same wavelength there. And if we are on the same wavelength then I could come back later in later on with an actual prepared pitch for it. But I’m just getting a sense of like is this the kind of thing that we should be talking about.
Craig: That’s exactly right. It’s good to also listen in that list, if they pull out the buck slip and they give you their – be aware of two things. One, what you’re hearing are slightly distressed properties. So, first question is with whom am I meeting? If I am meeting the president of something, and they pull out that list, that’s a real list.
Craig: That’s real. If I’m meeting with anybody under that that list is their list. That is a list of stuff that they are in charge of. That they want to get going because it will move them up internally. It doesn’t mean that any of those things will ever actually get made at that company. That said, sometimes they do.
When you hear that list, if you do spark to something engage on it. Just start talking about it. What will happen is they will hear in you maybe the ability to be smart. It’s really what they’re – oh, this person said a lot of smart things. They’re smart. My boss will literally never let me make this movie, but now I have a writer who I know is smart, who if I vouch for for something else will not embarrass me.
To that extent, when you are in there with these people if there is some way – if you’re vibing, right. If they’re NG, then beat it, it’s never going to happen. But if you’re vibing with them try and have some way to express that you were excited to be there in the first place. That you didn’t drag yourself there because your manager said go here, go here, go here, meet a person, go home. You wanted to meet them. You were interested in them because of A, B, or C.
It will make them feel like this isn’t just one of those things you have to slog through, yet another reminder that they are not in charge and have to take general meetings with the likes of you.
John: Craig, what is your opinion of giving them your email address or getting their email address? Do you do that after a good general meeting?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I just assume that if they want my email address then they can get it from my lawyer. If you have a manager, they’ll get it from your manager. If you are at one of the code of conduct agencies they can get it from your agent. So, yeah, no, of course. My feeling is that the privacy of contact information, talking about how you grow old in this business, that’s gone. There is no privacy of contact information. Everyone is contactable at every moment. The thought of withholding that would be I think the most offensive possible thing ever. No, you may not have my email address. Good day, sir.
John: Good day, sir. I would say that in this last year I’ve been much more forthright about just giving them my email address and say you can email me that directly. So I’m not trying to cut my reps out of it, but basically saying you don’t have to go through the reps for every little thing anymore. And that we have a relationship that is independent of my relationship through Verve or through my attorney. Just because if it’s somebody I actually do spark with and think like, oh you know what, actually I could see myself working with her on projects, just emailing directly is nice. And also if I have the email I can do the etiquette thing of following up and saying like, “Hey, I really enjoyed meeting with you about this thing, or, “we talked about this thing, I’d love to come in and talk with you more about that.”
I traditionally did not do those follow up kind of emails because I didn’t have those emails. And now I tend to do them.
Craig: For whatever reason I have always been someone that everyone thought they should just talk to directly. I have actually bemoaned this. Like I would say sometimes why – is this really – people just call me directly, even about stuff that isn’t great. They’ll just call directly and I’m like shouldn’t you be talking to someone? [sighs] Never mind. Never mind.
John: Never mind.
Craig: Never mind.
John: Craig, I have this new invention. So, let me pitch this for you. So it’s a bell that you have in your house and it has a nine-digit number, I’m thinking maybe a 10-digit number. And anybody with that 10-digit number can make that bell ring at any time. Would that be good?
Craig: Yeah, I would be OK with that.
John: I mean, the idea that we have phones is crazy. The idea that any stranger can call me on the phone at any point. So that’s why I kind of don’t answer my phone anymore. Like I’ll answer it if you were to call.
Craig: Well, we don’t answer when somebody we don’t – so, every phone call was a roll of the dice. And now none are. The worst comes to worst is you get a number, it’s unknown number, or from some town you don’t know because somebody moved out here and didn’t change their number. And then they leave a voicemail and you go, oh, that was that person. Let me add them to my contacts. That won’t happen again. That’s it basically. But, yeah, we always know who is calling.
John: Wrapping up the general meeting discussion, I want to say that my first 10 to 15 general meetings were kind of terrible. I was not good at general meetings. It took a while to get used to them.
Craig: Define terrible.
John: Take our advice–
Craig: Like what would happen?
John: They weren’t productive. I wasn’t getting to the next stage after them. I was awkward in them.
John: I didn’t feel comfortable about it. I wasn’t comfortable sort of in my writer-self skin. But I did get a lot better with practice. And so I would say take our advice, but also don’t be hard on yourself if you find it weird and sort of uncomfortable being in those meetings, especially at the start, because it is a weird thing to be doing.
Craig: And as it happens this is one of the few jobs where you can actually be weird and awkward. It’s just that you have to be that much better at your job. But you are allowed to be weird and awkward. You know, some of the greatest screenwriters out there are weird and awkward. And what happens is the executives will go, “Yeah, I’m working with so and so.” “Oh my god, he’s a genius.” “I know. He’s weird. God, he’s weird.”
Craig: “But he’s a genius so it’s OK.” Or like, “Oh yeah, she is kind of a shut in. Like she’s a recluse. She doesn’t actually leave her house. But the pages have been amazing.” So it’s actually kind of like the legend grows of this weirdo lady that’s pumping out these great scripts. They’ll do that all the time because this business loves a narrative. They love to characterize everybody. The danger zone is when you’re fine, and you’re also super boring, or awkward or weird in a room. That can be an issue.
John: In a future episode we’ll talk about the process of going in and meeting with a showrunner, like if you’re trying to get hired on a show. Some things will apply, but some things won’t apply. So we’ll try to get a really good showrunner on to talk about those meetings as well.
Craig: Sounds like a good idea.
John: Let’s answer some questions. Craig, do you want to take Zack’s question?
Craig: Yeah, Zack asks, “I was wondering if you guys had any suggestions on character mannerisms, specifically on the best way to go about formatting them. For example, if a character has a nervous tick of laughing to relieve inner anxiety,” huh, I think I’ve seen a movie with that, “should you write, ha-ha, or parenthesis chuckles in the dialogue, or parenthesis every time it comes up? Another example would be a physical tick like an eye twitch, more than just a normal occurrence, something that is psychological or neurological. I’ve recently seen this done in a script when the character is introduced as, ‘Note, Eric nervously chuckles throughout the script when nervous or feels out of place in social situations.’ But I feel like readers will forget something like this with everything else they’re supposed to be paying attention to, especially closer to the end of the script when the introduction was back on page one. Any thoughts?”
John, what do you think?
John: I think it’s a really good question and honestly a difficult thing to make a blanket statement for. But what Zack is pointing towards is that the experience of watching the movie, we’re going to see all this nervous behavior, we’re going to see these ticks, we’re going to see these mannerisms. But on the page it’s so easy to miss them and to forget them, especially if he said it on page one and he didn’t say it again. So, I think you’re going to have to remind us over the course of the script that you’re doing it. But I wouldn’t do it a parenthesis kind of thing every time it happens. And I wouldn’t try to call it out in action every time. I would find reasons why what he’s doing is either noticeable to other characters or if he’s alone in the scene that his nervous behavior or whatever that mannerism is is worth calling out in the action because it is the main thing that we’re seeing at this moment.
Craig, what would you do?
Craig: I agree with you. I think the first time you experience this it’s important to describe it in action and to describe it in a way that is connected to character. So it’s not simply he chuckles when nervous. I can’t think of a more boring way to describe a very complicated thing. In the moment let us experience it as it happens for the first time. Let us feel like the other people in the room who are confused. Is he laughing at us? Is he laughing at that character? Is this just covering something up? We can tell something from his eyes that he has no control over this.
And then throughout that scene he laughs, he laughs again. Show other people reacting. Make a meal of it the first time it happens. Later in subsequent scenes you can say it’s happening again. Right? Like the laughing thing happens again, so that we understand how it’s happening. I would not do parenthesis. That would get very annoying. And I would certainly not just dump it in the beginning like some random boring note. That’s not how we paint human beings.
John: Yeah. So if a character had a larger physical thing that was important to call out at the start, certainly call this out. If a character uses a wheelchair we’ve got to know that. But we’re also going to hopefully see reasons why that is a factor in other story points along the way. And so it’s going to be a thing that is going to affect the story as it goes along.
Something that is more subtle like this or that has an influence on dialogue, yeah, look at your dialogue and see how it’s going to possibly impact that. But what Craig said about how other characters react to it is equally important to what the actual character itself is feeling about the mannerism.
Craig: Yeah. It’s there for a reason. You can’t just dust it on an actor. It will be the first person to tell you how much am I doing this? Am I doing it every line? Am I loud? Am I quiet? What do other people hear and notice? So you cannot bullet point it. You have to bake it in.
John: All right. One more question. Rebecca asks, “I want to write a screenplay using improv through a Second City style approach. I come in with a detailed written outline of what each scene is. The actors improvise it in a rehearsal space. As the writer-director I offer feedback, then they improvise it again. The process repeats until each scene is set. If I go home and turn the exact dialogue they came up with into a shooting script are they still actors who improvised their lines, or have I basically turned the rehearsal room into a writing room and now everyone would need to be credited and paid as a writer?”
Craig: Oh, that’s a really good question. I got to be honest. I don’t know. I know that for instance the Larry David shows do work in this kind of script-provisational style. But there isn’t this thing where the outlines are written and then actors gather together. They perform like a stage play. Someone transcribes it. And then three days later they act it out. And repeat the things that they said. It’s rather on the day they improvise. Improvising on the day in front of cameras is not – so there is no transcript being made. There is a kind of freedom to just act on camera.
The writers of Curb Your Enthusiasm are the writers who wrote those outlines. And they usually have specific lines of dialogue that they need to get out. In this case I am concerned that if you’re just writing down all the things they said that it is a little – it’s like a roundtable kind of thing. I’m not quite sure.
John: Yeah. We can talk about sort of the actual WGA sort of legally kind of definitions of who is a writer and who is not a writer. I would say, Rebecca, you are the writer because you are making ultimately the editorial decisions about what is being written on that page. And you’re actually creating a script that reflects this thing. So if your rehearsal process is getting you to that point, OK. What I would stress is that all of your actors need to come into this with a clear understanding and maybe even sort of write down in the contract saying this is how we are doing this. And you won’t be credited as a writer but we will acknowledge that you contributed to the storytelling.
I mean, an option might be to sort of give story credit, to share story credit with all these people who are doing the thing.
Craig: I don’t know. It’s really messy. Because if you go through these rehearsals and one person is just awful, except for this one brilliant line, so you replace them as an actor but you keep their line? It’s weird. I’m not quite sure how – I’m sure this has been done many different ways. The part that’s a little nerve-wracking for me is that there is no script to begin with. There’s just an outline. So if there were a script to begin with and then you go into rehearsals with actors, I mean, we all do this. We listen. We watch. Things come out. You then go back and put those in the script because they work and they feel good. But that’s different. These people are creating all of the dialogue. So, I’m not sure. The answer Rebecca is I don’t know.
John: I don’t know. But going back to our growing old discussion, this is a way of working. And so there are other filmmakers in the past who have done this. There are many filmmakers in the future who will do this. So you are going into some ground that has been tilled but there’s not a set pattern for how this is supposed to work. So, just try to be respectful of the patterns you’re trying to set here.
Craig: That makes absolute sense to me.
John: All right. It is time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a book by Mark Miodownik called Stuff Matters. He is a material scientist. He is a person who studies how we make things, things of metal, things of plastic. I thought it was actually just a great exploration of sort of how the modern world sort of makes our stuff. Craig, for example, if you are eating with a fork why are you not tasting the metal of that fork? Because you know what iron tastes like. Why are you not tasting it when you eat with a fork?
Craig: Uh, I don’t know. [laughs]
John: So stainless steel is this remarkable substance that they’ve been able to make which shoves extra atoms of other things in there. And when you scratch stainless steel it reacts with oxygen to form a coating around it. So you are never actually touching the metal of the fork. You are touching the outside coating of it. And it’s a self-healing kind of coating.
So, if you enjoy any of the physical sciences or sort of like it ties into recycling and how we make things that we make today, I thought it was y really great. It even gets into chocolate and how we’re able to take this weird being which is not useful at all and turn it into chocolate which is delicious.
Craig: Chocolate is delicious. That sounds terrific. My One Cool Thing this week I have not yet had a chance to use but I picked this up, I think this was written about in Wired. It’s a website called DoNotPay. And there’s a bunch of things that it does, but the thing that I’m kind of most curious about is what they call Robo Revenge. The idea is you get a phone call and maybe you’ve been getting a lot of robo calls, spam calls from a particular number or service and you’re tired of it. And presumably you have registered for the National Do Not Call Registry, which no one seems to pay attention to.
So, the idea here is that you see that call and you’re like, oh, here we go. And you’re like in the movies when you’re going to trace someone’s call. You answer the call and you also at the same time click on the DoNotPay website. And there’s a very easy way, literally one click button that creates a credit card. And you say, great, I’m totally into that. Let me give you my credit card information. And you give them the credit card number, expiration date, and security code and zip code that have been generated by this website. It will go through on their end. It will not ever send them funds, of course. But it will go through as an actual card.
What then DoNotPay does is they get the number of the vendor, because it comes through to their information, and they go, ah-ha, and then they call them and go, surprise, Mother-F-er. You just violated the Do Not Call Registry. We are sending you a demand letter for compensation. Also you can never call that person again.
I mean, it sounds pretty great. Will I ever be in the right place and time to make it work? God, I would love to.
John: All right. Stick around after the credits because we will be talking about Craig’s turn as an actor on the show Mythic Quest. But for now that’s our show. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro is also by Matthew. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place 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. You’ll see the transcripts there. We get them up about four days after the episode airs.
You can sign up to become a Premium member of Scriptnotes at Scriptnotes.net where you can get all the back episodes and bonus segments like the one we’re just about to do. Craig, thanks for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Craig, I have not watched all of Mythic Quest, but I have watched your debut on the TV show Mythic Quest. So, for folks who don’t know this is a new show created by Rob McElhenney and Megan Ganz and Charlie Day.
Craig: That is correct.
John: And it is set at a game development company. If you like Silicon Valley you will like it. If you like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia you will probably like it as well. I really enjoyed the episodes I’ve seen, but I did watch your debut which happens in episode five I believe.
Craig: Maybe? [laughs] I can’t remember. It was one of those.
John: Let’s take a listen to Craig’s debut on this television program.
Craig: Close the door. I can’t see with the glare on the screen.
Female Voice: Sorry, who are you?
Craig: I’m Lou. They brought me up from the third floor tester pool to replace some chick who quit or died or something.
Female Voice: Her name is Dana and you can’t replace her.
Craig: I’m sure she was a saint, god rest her soul. Anyway, I’m up her from now on.
Female Voice: OK. You know what? Let’s maybe not talk for the rest of the day. I’m kind of chomping at the bit to test out these new maps.
Craig: It’s actually champing.
Female Voice: Sorry, what?
Craig: You said chomping at the bit. It’s actually champing at the bit. Don’t worry about it. It’s a common mistake.
Female Voice: Great. Excellent.
John: Craig Mazin, tell us how you came to be an actor on this program.
Craig: This was a show that Rob and I had been talking about before I think he – not creatively – he expressed that he wanted to do this show. So I knew that it was kind of on his radar. And he and I had worked together briefly on another project just for a couple of weeks, but we were fast friends. He’s an awesome guy and he’s a very, very smart guy along with being talented and working in the hardest genre there is which is serialized situational comedy. And I believe It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the longest-running live action sitcom in history, in television history.
Craig: Which is incredible. I mean, they should be in the Television – do we have a Television Hall of Fame?
John: We do.
Craig: Well they should be in it. And then when he actually did set up the show he said do you want to just come and consult, just be a consulting producer and hang in the room and just talk about the shape of the season and stuff for the first week or so. And I said, yeah, of course. And I did. And it’s a terrific room and I got to meet some awesome writers, including Megan Ganz and David Hornsby who are both outstanding at what they do and they’re kind of like the brain trust over there with Rob and Charlie. And also Ashly Burch who is the person acting in that scene with me.
John: OK. Great.
Craig: Who plays Rachel, one of the game testers. And I’m not exactly sure how this came about. It’s not like I was calling him up saying, “Can I please?” I wasn’t like Lucy going, “Desi, please let me be in the show.” But they did create a character who was a total dick. [laughs] And I don’t know why I came to mind. But I did. Rob had asked me to initially audition for the part of Brad, who is one of the major characters, which I was fairly certain I was never going to be. But it was fun to even audition. I had never done it before. I’ve been on the other side of the audition a billion times. I’d never actually done an audition. It was cool.
So, anyway, yeah. So I became Lou. And initially it was supposed to be I think just one episode. And I ended up in I think four maybe. Four of them. Usually with two lines. I’m like one of those two-line guys, which is fine by me. But that first day I had a lot. There’s a lot more than that because there was a part of Lou’s character that ultimately got cut for I think smart reasons, but it was like two pages of dialogue. It was brutal.
John: So, tell us about preparing for filming your role. And sort of how much did you know about Lou? How much were you just basing it on like, OK, this is me and I’m just doing a slightly – because it feels like a slightly more asshole-ish version of you.
John: And so tell us about how you prepared for it.
Craig: Well, it was clearly a slightly more asshole-ish version of me and that was the whole point. So that part I wasn’t concerned about. Had that down. Preparing was, I mean, there are certain practical things. You have to go to a costume fitting and have wardrobe and hair take a look at you and pick out some things to wear. So there’s a little bit of a well what do you think, and here’s what we think. And then you end up with what it is, which is fine. And obviously I’m not a particularly picky guy being number 16 on the call sheet.
Craig: So, yeah, so that was fine. And then you get the pages. You get them very late in the game and then, of course, they change them. So like I do have an appreciation for what it’s like to be an actor and learn your lines and then have them change them at the last minute and go, D’oh, but I already learned these. And so you memorize the day before. You memorize your lines. You work on them and you have to both memorize your lines and then also memorize the beginnings and ends of the other person’s lines at a minimum. I mean, ideally, you know, everything, so you can be reacting and responding in real time. And then knowing when to come in without feeling like you’re waiting.
You also have to be, I mean, the nice thing is because I’ve been around production a long time I also know the difference between when you’re both on camera as opposed to being individually on camera. And then really honestly the big part was not freaking thinking about it too much. Because I wanted to. I wanted to just, you know, run it a billion times and come up with the funniest way of doing things. And then you realize what am I doing? I’m doing the thing that I hate when actors do. Just shut up brain. Show up on the day. And just freaking do it. And less is more. And that’s that. You know?
John: Talk to me about your prop handling. So in the scene that we’re listening to you have popcorn. You’re matching is not perfect but also editorially it was probably the right choice to do sort of what they did. Were you thinking about like, oh shit, I have to eat all this popcorn as I’m doing this?
Craig: There was a bunch of things going on. There was actually a dog in the scene that you don’t see.
John: That’s a good choice.
Craig: Yes. So I was working with a dog. I was working with a bag of popcorn. Yeah, the dog in many ways was wild. That stuff just isn’t there. But you get pretty good, I mean, you get pretty good at repeating. No matter how good you are at consistency, if they want to make an editorial choice that is discontinuous because they don’t want to include the bit with the dog or something, there’s going to be a matching problem.
In the moment they’ll let you know if you picked it up with the wrong hand or something. There were a couple of times where I was like, wait, did I – especially after the first time you do something. Did I reach over this way with this hand or like that? And they let you know.
John: Let’s talk about it. So, it’s the script supervisor who lets you know. Correct?
Craig: Yes. Sometimes because in that particular space, it’s a very small space that we were in there in that little testing room, and so very few people can fit in there. It’s basically me and Ashly and then the camera folks and they’re shooting three cameras, so that’s a lot of camera people in there and cameras.
John: Is it a four wall set? Or is that just walls will fly out?
Craig: Those are walls that fly. But not too much. I believe the back wall flies. Well, you know what? I’m not sure now. I think it does. I think the back wall flies and that’s about it.
It’s tight. So that means that the script supervisor is not in there with you. So sometimes, especially if it we were already deep into and I was just curious about something I would ask the camera op because they’re watching the whole thing the whole time. And he’s like, oh yeah, you totally did it with that. But if he’s like, uh, then I would go, hey, can someone tell me. And so as an actor you’re actually talking more with the camera operator and the script supervisor than with the director. Unless the director is really unhappy with what you’re doing. But mostly I mean–
John: You’re checking in with the folks who are sort of helping you get your stuff. Did hair and makeup come in and pat you down and touch you at times when it was uncomfortable?
Craig: Not much. I mean, my hair and makeup is very simple. I get a little bit of a trim and then a little bit – they pat the makeup on so that as always the light isn’t beaming off my bald head. If you act they’re going to come in there with some sort of spray gun.
John: Oh yeah. 100%. Just put a matte finish on me.
Craig: It’s just shine is the problem. But, yeah, every now and then somebody would pop in there and be like blot-blot-blot. But that was about it. It’s not super fancy in that regard. And this is classic kind of television shooting where they’re doing seven, eight pages a day. So things are moving quickly.
John: So the scene we listened to, did that take a half an hour to shoot?
Craig: No, much longer. Because again there was a dog. [laughs] There was a dog.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: And they have to shoot – even with three cameras they’re doing multiple setups and a character is entering. Entrances and exits take time. So there were a couple of scenes later on where I’m entering. Those take time. There’s a scene where I’m catching up and going to an elevator. A scene where I stop into somebody else’s office. And for those things then it’s very much about the physicality of hitting your mark.
John: Let’s talk about marks because people might not know them. But on a set if a character needs to arrive at a place or is standing at a place there will be tape marks on the floor or some other way to indicate where that character is supposed to end up so that lighting and camera and everything is properly set up.
Craig: Yeah. The most important thing is focus. Because there isn’t some sort of auto focus for regular film and television cameras. You have to pull focus so that the focus is instantaneous. Auto focus takes time to adjust. You need instant focus all the time when you’re shooting. So the focus puller is adjusting the focus on the fly depending on the distance between you and the camera. So what they do is they say, OK, he is going to enter that door there, so that’s that focal distance. And he’s going to walk to this spot and stop. That’s your arrival. So, you start at that number and then as I move from A to B they move their thing and land on a number. And it generally works great, as long as I hit that number, that mark.
I had no problem with this. I don’t know why actors do. Because the thing is in your blocking rehearsal which is what you do at the very beginning that’s when you’re figuring out where you stop and stand. So the director will come in say I think you should enter this way and move to here. And I’m like, great, do you want me to go around this thing or this way. And she goes, oh great point, why don’t you come around this way and stop here. So then I do it a few times and I just have to remember where I stop.
John: Yeah. Do you remember how many steps it took you to get from one place to the other?
Craig: No, I just use a visual cue. I just go, OK, I’m going to roughly stop here. So how hard is that? [laughs] It’s not hard. That’s the one thing where – so much of acting did increase my regard and respect for what actual actors, I know I’m not a real actor, what real actors do. That was one thing where I lost respect. [laughs] I was just like if any actor on one of my sets misses their mark I’m going to be like, “Come on, it’s not hard.”
But one of the things I learned that very first day was how important it is to think of the person you’re acting with and to know whose scene it is, and in that case it was her scene. It’s clearly her perspective. So as a writer know whose perspective – don’t fall into the trap of thinking that I’m acting so it’s about me. And do whatever is needed for her so that she can get where she’s going and needs to go because she is an important character, she’s a main character. I am a little bit of garlic salt for the French fries.
John: Sounds good. Finally, last question, when did you shoot this? Because people know sort of your history with Chernobyl. So, were you already shooting Chernobyl when you shot this, because I have no sense of like when these episodes were actually filmed?
Craig: I believe that I was shooting this I think it was after Chernobyl, pretty sure it was Chernobyl was wrapped. Yeah, it had to be after Chernobyl wrapped. I was in Lithuania. But it was before we were done editing. So I think it was in, I think, I want to say it was in the fall of 2018. I think. Yeah. It’s been out there for a while. But it was fun. It was a lot of fun. And I am in season two. I know that, yeah, I do something bad. [laughs] But that’s all my character ever does is stuff that’s bad. So, anyway, yeah.
John: Cool. Craig, congrats.
Craig: Thanks man.
- Tuesday Feb 25th, John hosts Q&A with showrunner Sam Esmail to talk about Mr. Robot, Homecoming and other things. Click here for tickets.
- Wednesday Feb 26th, Join John at Beyond Bars, a panel on potrayals of criminal justice on screen. Get your ticket here
- Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik
- Watch Craig on Mythic Quest!
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