The original post for this episode is available here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 476 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show we welcome back a writer whose credits include Get Shorty.
Craig: Never heard of it.
John: Out of Sight.
Craig: Don’t like it.
John: Marley and Me.
John: Minority Report.
John: And the new limited series, The Queen’s Gambit, on Netflix.
John: I’m talking of course about Scott Frank. Scott Frank, welcome back to the show.
Scott Frank: Thank you very much for having me back. I really didn’t think you ever would after the last time. But glad to be here.
Craig: We didn’t want to. But I guess there was some sort of popular clamoring, and so we have to respond to our many tens of fans.
John: The real reason I wanted you here today is I’m watching your show and it’s great, but it occurs to me that you may be breaking some longstanding screenwriting rules.
Craig: Oh no.
John: About what you’re allowed to include on the page. So it’s a celebration and also an intervention for you, Scott. Because there’s some stuff you’re doing you’re just not allowed to do.
Craig: Yeah. There are a number of gurus who have never sold a screenplay or much less had a produced credit who are upset. We need to acknowledge their feelings and talk about why you, Scott Frank, are apparently no good. But also while we’re talking about that I do hope that we get into a little bit of a discussion about why you, Scott Frank, are in fact spectacularly good at what you do. And I have questions about it, like how can I be as good as what you do. Things like that.
Scott: [laughs] Drugs.
Craig: Other than those.
Scott: No, it will be a relief to be uncovered as a fraud by these other gurus. Finally we can get it all out today. So, thank you.
John: And we also have some listener questions that I think you are especially well-suited to answer, so we’ll get to those later on. And in our bonus segment for Premium members I want to get an early start on Thanksgiving and talk about some of the things we’re actually thankful for in 2020 because this has been a really crappy year. But I think there’s some things to be thankful for, so maybe we can brainstorm about some things we are grateful for that came about in 2020.
Craig: How much time do we have for that one?
John: It may be a short segment. But, hey, let’s talk about The Queen’s Gambit. So, Scott, give us some backstory here. Because I think I knew it was based on a book. It’s a book from 1983 by Walter Tevis. How did you come to make this as a series? Why a series not a feature? What was your on road to this as a series for Netflix?
Scott: Well I tried and failed to make it as a movie maybe a dozen years ago. Everybody, since it came out, Bernardo Bertolucci I think was the first director who tried to get it made as a movie. Various people were in and out of it over the years. Michael Apted, Tom Tykwer. Heath Ledger was going to direct it as his directorial debut before he died. I think Ellen Page was going to be the star of that. And right before that happened Bill Horberg and I tried to get it made. He’s the producer along with a gentleman named Allan Scott, who is known primarily for being Nic Roeg’s screenwriter. He wrote Don’t Look Now, The Witches, all sorts of things for Nic Roeg back in the day and is also a producer and a theater producer and so on.
He owned the rights outright. And we were getting together with him and trying to get it made and no one was interested. And then after I made Godless I realized, you know, the way to do this as a limited series, not as a movie, because if you do it as a movie it just becomes about the chess matches and does she win or does she lose. And it’s sort of reduced to that. But if I can do it as a limited series I thought I can kind of get into her head space as a character.
And Netflix had passed on a few things since Godless and I figured they would pass on this as well and I gave it to them to read and Cindy Holland just fell in love with it and said let’s do it. And so we ended up doing it. And it came together so fast that I was doing most of the adaptation during prep. So, it was one of those, which is not my normal way of working.
Craig: There’s certain similarities between you and me, not just the irritable bowel syndrome, but also—
Craig: That you and I both came recently from feature world and now find ourselves in limited series world, and I want to talk a little bit about specifically some of the freedoms that you feel in that space. And I also want to talk a little bit about your choice, which is again a choice that I’ve made myself, at least for now, which is to not do what is typical in the limited series space which is to get a room full of writers and have people working on drafts and all the rest of it. You do it all on your own. Is it a case of you can’t take the feature writer completely out of the feature writer? Or is there just something about the freedom of a limited series that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go all the way into TV writer room ville?
Scott: That’s a great question. The answer is simple. I only know how to do it the way I know how to do it. And I don’t know – I’ve written things with other people and that’s fine, where we started and began collaborating, and passed it back and forth. I’ve done that a couple times now. And that was great. Were all great experiences. But for this it seemed like I wouldn’t know how to assign, you know, episodes to people. I write it like a long movie and then carve it up.
In fact, so much so that there were six scripts but seven episodes, because I thought I kind of guessed how it would be carved up in the script phase, but ended up really organizing it in post. And so because I also know I’m going to direct it I have to write it all, you know. I can’t – it seems like make work to give it to somebody and then take it back and make it my own after that. I just wouldn’t know how to do that.
Now, if it were a longer series and a different kind of thing I might want a writer’s room, but even then I would only want a couple of people. The idea of looking at a big whiteboard and sitting there – I know people really enjoy it and ordering lunch and all that sounds like hell to me.
Craig: Ordering lunch is the worst part, I think. That’s the part that would absolutely paralyze me for sure.
Scott: I’m too self-conscious. I take too many naps during the day. And I kind of only see things the way I see them, so it’s tricky. But if something began that way I suppose I could try.
Craig: And do you think that now that you’ve had this experience back to back with Godless and with Queen’s Gambit that – and let’s put aside things like rewrites and things like that, but just actual starting from scratch, building a building – do you think you’re going to go back to features or is this were you live now?
Scott: I don’t know. I mean, I’m doing a few things going forward. Two are like this, and one is a movie. So, I definitely – it just depends on the story and what’s appropriate for the story. And in both cases, with Godless and with The Queen’s Gambit, it just seemed like the limited series was a much better way to serve that kind of story. But there are other ideas and things I want to do that feel more like movies to me.
And the challenge for screenwriters going into the limited series world, at least it’s a challenge I felt, is to be disciplined about it. Just because you have more time doesn’t mean you need as much time as you think you do. And you can kind of spend a lot of time sort of getting in the weeds because you have a lot of episodes to fill, or more episodes to fill, certainly more real estate than a movie. And you have to be very careful about that. You really have to be careful about that. Because people – and also as people watch more and more of these things I find that they’re waiting for it to happen as they’re watching.
John: Now, in prepping for this episode you sent through this really amazing, evocative image that you said sort of inspired the look of The Queen’s Gambit. So can you describe what you sent through here and we’ll put a link to this in the show notes, but it’s a very cool image of a chessboard. So tell me about what we’re looking at here.
Scott: So, it’s from a hotel lobby in Toronto. I’m blanking on the name now but it’s got a chess-themed lobby. There are giant chess pieces in the lobby and this interesting chessboard setup as well. And when we scout the cinematographer and I, Steven Meizler, we always bring the red camera along and we’re always taking both stills with it and moving images with it so that we can see how we might shoot someplace, even if we don’t end up shooting there. And this place we didn’t end up shooting.
But he was taking a still of this chessboard when this little girl ran by in the yellow dress. And the board, the dress, the chair, the wallpaper, all of it was the show for me. I looked at it and I instantly zeroed in on it. And I’d been trying to find an image to give to Uli Hanisch in the art department something, because I like to do that. I like to find an image or two and then they create a kind of larger palette board from that. Because I like to have a super limited palette because then you can control the look of the show so much better. And that along with natural light, I just feel like you have so much more control. Whereas too much color for me starts to feel – unless you’re doing it as a riot of color, but even then it should be just there are only a few in there. It just makes it easier for me to control it all. I may be wrong, but it’s what works.
Craig: I like that idea of control. It’s something that you and I have talked about a lot over the years about the writing as well. And it’s something that I always admire in your writing. Full disclaimer, I’m halfway through, so listen, I don’t know. If you guys want to get into spoilers that’s fine. If it’s awesome, like she kills everybody at the end, don’t tell me that.
Scott: She does.
Craig: I said don’t tell me that.
Craig: But I’m going to assume that there is a big chess match at the end that is either won or lost, or it could be a draw. But as I’m halfway through what I’m doing is I’m watching the episodes and then I’m going back and reading your screenplay after the episode. And what always strikes me about your writing in particular is how there is just such a beautiful amount of control within scenes themselves. And it’s something that I learned really from you. Well, I mean, I try and get there as best I can, but I think that for most professional writers they have some kind of good instinct to start with. That’s why they keep working, I suppose. There’s just a good instinct about what is the scene about, what is supposed to happen in it, what is its greater purpose in the overall narrative.
And then there’s this other thing that I guess I’m just going to call finishing. Which is the far rarer thing. Because when we start to craft scenes and put them together, even if our instincts are right and the scene is where it should be, with who it should be, about what it should be, the pieces, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle where there are gaps and some of the bits are rubbing on each other and it’s not quite perfect. And then there are people like you, and maybe just you in your way singularly, who finish it. Who make sure everything fits perfectly, seamlessly. No gaps. No rubbing. No nothing. It all is machined to within a micron of its life.
And I want to ask you because the effect – the reason I bring it up is because the effect on me, as both the reader and a watcher, is that I am being taken care of. That this car will not wobble and that the control is perfect. So that my experience is solely what you want me to experience. How you want me to experience it. Or at least within the range of acceptable reactions to your material.
Can you talk a little bit about that finishing aspect? The perfection that is required to take what is good instinctive craft and make it something beautiful?
Scott: Whoa. Well, my One Cool Thing today…
Craig: You want to jump right to the end? We can do that. I can do my impression of you for the middle part and no one will notice a difference.
Scott: I mean, thank you. I don’t know what I’m aware of as I’m working in terms of that. I just know – like when we were just talking about the visual stuff a moment ago, I’m just trying to be specific. And I think a lot about tone even as I’m writing. I remember when I was writing Godless I realized, oh, it has to be in a voice that feels like the tone. It has to feel like the old west without being silly or kitschy, or feel ersatz. It just has to feel like it’s both authentic but there’s this tone to the script. And it took me a long time to sort that out and figure out how I was going to do that.
And with every script, you know, if I can’t – this sounds silly – but if I can’t hear it I can’t write it. And if I can’t hear the way people are talking it means I just don’t know anybody. And the character of the screenplay comes through the character that I’m writing about in a way. It’s almost like there’s a subtle point of view change that sometimes happens. So in the case of The Queen’s Gambit I was writing from Beth’s point of view. It’s really always in her point of view. And so that helps me with the tone, because I feel a certain kind of tone there. And it was very unusual. That’s what I loved about the novel. And so I’m trying to keep that in the script.
And what happens is I think many writers embrace the mechanical, or they lean into the mechanical because it’s so much easier to understand and see. If you follow a template, if you write an outline and then follow your outline. If you have all these things that are supposed to be in a good scene then you have a good scene. So, frequently you end up with scripts that look like scripts but read like nothing. And so what I’m always trying to sort out is what is the tone. And so I think what you describe as finished or even perfect as you said is for me more just specific. And what is it that makes this specific?
And in terms of the idea of control, you can tell when you open a novel or you read a script the first page. You don’t know whether you’re going to like the script or not, but you know if it’s somebody’s got you or not. I don’t mean hooked. I mean you know they’re in control.
Craig: Like they’re holding you in their hands. Yeah.
Scott: They’re in control. If they’re doing some generic description of something stupid you know they can’t write. You know they’re not going to spin good yarn for you.
Scott: So you’re looking for what is the kind of specific thing that brings me into it. That tell me what I’m looking at in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s telling me what I’m looking at. And you only do – you really do – only get two senses in a script. You get sight and you get sound. And so you’re using what do we need to see and what don’t we need to see. What’s important? What things will you describe in this room that will tell me what the room is in the least amount of words? And do you even need to describe the room first?
Frequently when you shoot a scene you’re starting close and you don’t know where you are until you need to know where you are. And then that rhythm is a different kind of rhythm and tells a different sort of story from a different – has a different feel to it. So it becomes feel. And so I don’t know if I’m thinking about it so much as I’m aware when I’ve lost specificity. I’m aware when the tone has changed. I kind of come out of my trance and go, wait, what’s wrong here.
John: All right. Well let’s get specific and actually look at your pages here.
Craig: Rip these apart.
John: Let’s take a look at the first two pages.
Scott: Tear them apart.
Craig: Tear them apart.
John: From the first episode. Because they are terrific and I feel like the image that you shared with us is so closely related to how your series is opening. That shallow focus that you’re kind of in a dream space as we’re beginning. So we’ll put a link to these first two pages in the show notes. But we’re opening in this Paris hotel room. A knock on the door. “Mademoiselle?” A splash. Someone stirs in a bathtub. More knocking. And we’re hearing things. We’re seeing some things but it’s mostly a sound experience. “Mademoiselle Harmon? Etes-vous La?” We make out a face in the dark. Breathing. Watching. Frantic pounding on the door followed by, “Mademoiselle! Ils vous attendant!”
Finally in the darkness, “I’m coming.” So we finally get to see Beth here. She’s getting herself out of the water. I remember as I was watching this how you established this room and we’re not quite sure what the space is we’re in, but suddenly the curtains are being pulled back. We establish that we are in a fancy Paris hotel room. She is clearly a mess. She needs to leave but we’re not sure why she needs to leave. Is she trying to just get out? Does she need to go to some place?
Then we’re going downstairs and we’re walking through this crowd as she’s going into this giant ballroom and then we finally get to the chessboard. She sits down and she says, “I’m sorry.”
They are two terrific first pages. We often do a Three Page Challenge on the show and I would say, Craig, I mean, you could have your own opinion but I think we would talk favorably about–
Craig: No. They’re garbage.
John: These pages.
Craig: Let me explain why these are garbage. [laughs]
Scott: Thank you, Craig.
Craig: No, the thing that I love about these on the page is how dynamic they are. Meaning the way that we talk about dynamics in music. Soft. Loud. Quiet. Rest. Play. Fast. Slow. Things keep getting changed. So we’re in the dark and then we’re in the light. And then we’re in more light, because the curtains open. And then we go from disheveled and a mess to beautifully made up and gorgeous. We go from a small space into a large space. We go from silence to then cameras. And when I see, “And now we hear one sound,” and the word one is italicized, “THE WHIR OF CAMERAS. A DOZEN PHOTOGRAPHERS gathered at the entrance snap her picture.” I see it. I hear it.
Not only do I see and hear it. I know where everyone is standing. That’s the beautiful. If you write well it means you saw it and you heard it so clearly that the people reading it can see it and hear it so clearly. That’s the point. And I try as best as I can to emulate this basic method.
And, John, you and I have talked a lot about transitions. And here every single scene number, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, on page one and two, has a transition. Every single one. And it’s a transition – even like for instance the transition between 6 and 7 is not just from a hallway into a giant ballroom. But it’s punctuated by “a hundred heads turning toward her” in that ballroom silently when the doors open. That’s what I’m talking about.
John: But let’s also be clear what you’re not talking about. You’re not talking about literally cut to with a colon or a transition to with a colon.
Craig: You don’t need to.
John: We don’t see any of that on these two pages. Instead it’s just that naturally, logically as the action is flowing we can feel the transitions moving us from this moment to this moment. And it feels natural. Everything is falling forward in a good way.
Craig: Yeah, like cut to is actually not a transition. Cut to is simply an acknowledgment that a transition is about to occur. But the transition itself is defined by the difference of things. And so what Scott does really, really well here, we’ll keep talking about him like he’s not here—
Craig: Is constantly considering – because you’re not – is constantly considering the difference between things as he moves from scene to scene. And this is what I mean about completion. These are complete pages. Every single thing has been thought through. We do say specificity a lot. Sometimes I think that the word specificity becomes too generic in an ironic way because it can be applied in so many different ways. So to just zero in a little bit more on specificity, what he’s doing is thinking constantly about how big or small, how quiet or loud, how full of people, how not full of people. Power dynamics. She is at one moment bigger than a little girl, smaller than a room full of people. Every single moment is completed like this. This is how you write.
All you need to do if you want to be a good screenwriter is be as good as this. No problem.
John: Now, I said at the start this was going to be a celebration of Scott Frank, but also an intervention because one of the things I noticed here on this first page.
Craig: Seriously. My god.
John: And we have to talk about this. “We can just make out a A FACE in the dark.”
John: We. Scott Frank, you’re using “we hear” and “we see” throughout the script. I did a search. 47 times you are doing “we see” or “we hear.”
Craig: Oh my god.
Scott: Oh my god.
John: In one script.
Craig: You’ve done the worst possible thing 47 times.
Scott: I’m so ashamed. I’m so ashamed. A couple of things. I also never write “cut to” ever unless it’s in the slug line because I need it to make the transition felt in a certain way. Cut to is a waste of time and a waste of space on a script because if you don’t know it’s a cut then what. I mean, Tony Gilroy’s scripts are great to read. They’re all cut to. They’re kind of a version of what Bill Goldman used to do. But he doesn’t use slug lines. So it’s OK. I use slug lines and I feel – I mean, it’s whatever conveys the image. Whatever conveys what you’re doing.
And transitions, because I’m so pretentious I will quote Tolstoy.
Craig: Oh god.
Scott: Because like all screenwriters do. Tolstoy said transitions are the most important part of storytelling. And they’re certainly the most important part of movie storytelling because it’s all transitions. It’s not like you’re writing a play where you’ve got to get them off stage and on stage. You’re using transitions to create rhythm. You’re using transitions to create tone. Humor. Horror. Whatever it is, there’s another tool that gets ignored because people just end their scene and they go, OK, where am I now. And they don’t think about where they were. And they don’t think about how they might dovetail.
And you don’t have to get cute every time. But you have to feel like there’s a real transition happening. And good novels do that. Good storytelling does that. And so there is that. And the cut to feels like it’s in the way for me. There’s too many things that people don’t even really read anyway. Why is it in the script? Dissolve. I rarely do it, and if I do need it for a certain reason it’s in the slug line so it doesn’t take up any room.
Scott: And I want you to read it. I actually need you to read it. It’s not a format thing. It’s a storytelling thing. There’s a difference. People, again, lean into format because it’s easy to remember the eight things about formatting.
Craig: Like don’t use “we see.”
Scott: We’ll get to that. So, yeah, and I love using it. And I use “as” as the first word too often after a slug line. As we…whatever it is. It’s just whatever feels right and sounds right is fair game for me or for anyone.
John: Now I want to talk about fair game though, because one of the things you said in your description well this is an audio-visual medium, you can only write what we can see and what we can hear, and that feels true. I mean, we’re probably not cheating specifically on those things. We’re not describing smells. We’re not describing inner mental states like a novelist. Like a novelist has the ability to take you fully inside a character’s experience and describe things that we as screenwriters don’t describe.
But I do wonder whether we are over-learning this lesson in saying that you can only write about what you can see and what you can hear because just looking at your pages here Scott I think we are getting a sense of those other senses through this. The way that her wet clothes are clinging to her. You’re not describing the smells of that room. You’re not describing what the liquor is that she’s using to swallow the pill tastes like. But those are experiences that the character actually has. And so I do wonder if sometimes as we talk about screenwriting as being just what you can see and what you can hear we may be doing ourselves a disservice because good writing actually does involve all the other senses even if a person watching those movies isn’t directly experiencing those.
So I wanted to explore that a little bit.
Scott: So, yes and no. Or no and yes.
Scott: Right train, wrong track. So, I would say what you’re smelling or thinking you’re smelling when you’re reading that is teed up for you by the description. And the tone of it. And what a screenwriter or writer is choosing to describe for you. They don’t have to say what it feels like and what it smells like.
I’m allergic to getting into too much other than sight and sound only because most often it’s done out of lazy writing. Most often it’s done because they haven’t done the job as a screenwriter already. It’s like when you read the introduction of a character and you get this whole thing about their life and he’s ambitious and he wishes – the audience doesn’t get to read that shit. They don’t get to see that. So if we don’t know who they are from their behavior and the first words out of their mouth, or have a good idea at least, then you failed.
And so the same thing happens with the other senses. Writers who try to do that, it becomes purple. They’re doing it because it’s stylistic. And it’s like this thing that we’re going to do and we’re going to describe this.
I find it not helpful and it gets in the way. So, you want to get out of the way. If you want to have rhythm and flow and feel like you’re moving forward, to describe smells and things stops you when you’re writing a movie. It doesn’t when you’re writing a book and you can describe why someone is smelling something or what it makes them think or whatever. Here if you convey enough sense of the scene you’re going to get all the other senses. You’re going to see it all. It’s going to be as I said teed up for you. That’s the trick.
John: So that’s what I want to push towards is that sense of you’re using the tools you have, which are what you can see and what you can hear, to create those senses that you’re not actually describing. So I’m not trying to argue for we should all be describing smells or textures, but I think you are making choices in terms of what the characters are doing, the environments you’re putting them in that naturally lead to those other senses. That give us a sense that these characters exist in a real world where they would be experiencing these things. They’re experiencing heat and texture and smell.
Scott: Yes. But that takes us right back to specificity. And that’s about choosing the right details that throw off enough description and feeling and tone as opposed to saying it’s a well-furnished apartment. You know? So you pick the things, the telling details are everything. And that’s what writers ignore. They kind of race through the description or they over-describe stuff that really has nothing to do with anything.
Craig: I mean, where you find differences is where I’m always fascinated. Where you present things that are different than what I would assume on the default.
John: Well, I want to talk about the senses as sort of my thesis for this episode which is that obviously sight and sound are crucial for screenwriting. Smell, taste, and touch are things we don’t directly put on the page, but they’re things that characters would know about and explore. And those are the five senses we most often think about. But there’s actually a bunch more and I see some of them in your first episode. The sense of movement. The sense of where we are at in a space. You move that camera a lot. And the sense of balance. Is a character standing on her feet or not standing on her feet? You’re finding visual ways to show balance.
Pain. Time. Temperature. Thirst. The sense of hunger or fullness. The sense of tension or stretch. These are all things that we actually feel physically that we have characters in spaces who can do these things. And so I want to make sure that as writers we are not just painting pictures for people, but we’re actually thinking about what it feels like to be that character in that space. I worry if on this podcast and as we talk about screenwriting in general we’re not emphasizing this enough in terms of what does it actually feel like to be in that place. And once you do that how do you find ways, how do you find actions that characters take that can sort of reveal those things. How do you make people feel like they are inhabiting these beautiful rooms that we’re drawing for them?
Scott: If we were in the room together right now I’d hug you, John. Well, actually if we were in the room together I couldn’t hug you because of Covid. But I would bump elbows with you. That is exactly the goal. That’s what you what to feel like. And I think the disconnect comes from how you convey that. How do you write descriptions or write words, the most basic way of putting it, that throw off those other feelings? And that, again, is the thing.
And people – it goes back to a couple of things. It’s a way of thinking. It’s not what Craig said is picking out different details than someone else would. It’s just a way of thinking. And thinking about this stuff is a way of thinking. It’s not a template. It’s not even rules. If people are telling you not to say “we see” or “we this” or “we that” then your script isn’t very good anyway. Because if it’s a really good story–
Craig: Right. No one cares.
Scott: Then no one is going to notice what you did. I mean, I read a Coen brothers’ script recently that was like formatted in Microsoft Word somehow. And I don’t even know – but it was a great read. It was so good. And it was not particularly screenplay-ish. But still because what they were saying was so great to read.
And so people get hung up on the rules in lieu of being creative. And so it’s a way of thinking. It’s a way of thinking. And you can get stuck. You can become so mechanical if you’re writing to the rules all the time. You know, you just have to be able to spin yarn. And what makes a good yarn? What are those things? And you can analyze it backwards from the end of a story. You can say, yes, you need conflict, and you need this, and your character. And you shouldn’t have someone show up on page whatever. But you know what? I have new characters that have shown up on page 90. I’ve had 30-page opening scenes.
Craig: I’ve seen them.
Scott: Melvin and Howard is a 20-minute opening scene. I mean, I’m going back but I always was blown away by that. They’re singing Santa’s Souped Up Sleigh in the front of the truck and he wins an Oscar.
Craig: Star Wars.
Scott: Star Wars. There you go.
Craig: Goes on forever before we meet Luke. It’s 25 minutes or something.
Scott: The Godfather.
Craig: Right. It’s a wedding. It’s a wedding. Absolutely. A lot of these kinds of analyses I always say are like pathologists showing you a corpse and saying this used to be a this, and this used to be a this. But it’s not the same thing as making life. And one of the things that I find fascinating about the way you evoke these things that we’re talking about is whether you are doing it intentionally or not very often you are relating these kind of intangibles through relationship. Rather than just sort of saying this person is now cold. Even in these first two pages there’s a relationship between her and a voice outside that is causing her to emerge from this kind of pseudo drowning state. And then when she’s getting ready there’s a guy in her bed that she doesn’t even know and we don’t even see his face, but that is a relationship. There’s a sense that there are witnesses. That there is a contrast between her and another person.
When she’s coming downstairs that little girl is looking up at her and witnessing her and things are happening between them. There is a relationship. When she gets her period for the first time, you know, a lot of writers I think would just have her in the bathroom going, “Oh no, what do I do? There’s blood everywhere.” And then she would come out and we would see that she had handled it. No. Another girl comes in and they have a discussion. There is a human connection. And from those human connections that you create, whether there’s a conversation, or they’re silent, you are able to convey a lot of these intangibles and just for my money that’s always more interesting.
And it’s always more true than it is when it is just sort of fabricked in there and meant to be evocative for evocation sake.
John: What you’re describing Craig is in addition to sort of like the standard list of senses, we also have – people have cognitive senses. They have the ability to understand how they’re relating to other people. That they’re being watched. They understand connections between things. And we understand connections between things. So we know what it’s like to be that girl in that situation even if we have not actually had our period then. We know what it’s like to feel the need of trust or fear or disgust. We know what those things feel like. And a good writer is able to evoke these things and can put some of that stuff in subtext rather than having to have direct conversations about those things.
Craig: And the relevance therefore is implied. So it’s not just purple. And it’s not just description for description sake. Or look at the lusciousness of my scene. But we understand that there is something with which we can identify. Something that has some universal meaning for us and this is the best fullest use of what we can do.
It is amazing what you can do on a page. You know? It’s amazing. When you read something really well done it’s remarkable how full it is. Which is why I get so lava-incensed when I hear people say don’t direct on the page and all I want to say is that’s all we’re doing. That is literally what we’re doing. We are directing a movie on the page. We are creating a full space. And then the director, whether it is you, Scott, directing your own work, or somebody else directing your work, is hopefully translating that from the space you’ve created on the page to the space in the real world.
But this is what we do. And when it’s done well like you’ve done it here it’s just beautiful. And, congratulations. I mean, it’s a hit. I know Netflix says that five billion people watch it because anyone who watches four seconds of a Netflix show counts, but I know even in real terms it’s a hit. What are they saying, is it up to 78 trillion people?
Scott: I don’t know. Actually if you watch it you have to watch all of it. You have to watch over half of it.
Craig: Well, that’s real.
Scott: They don’t count people who turn it on and turn it off.
Craig: Oh, I thought that they were doing that like two minutes thing.
Scott: No, there’s something they have as part of it. But I don’t know the exact numbers.
Craig: Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter. Netflix is such a black box when it comes to that. But we can tell over on our side. Like I know when people are watching something on Netflix.
John: The discussion you have about it.
Craig: And this is being watched. This is a hit. Which I don’t mean to sound vulgar, but we make these things to be watched and this is being watched in a massive way. And I love that. I love that a show about a lady who plays chess is being watched in this massive way. It wasn’t always like this. You know, television has come a long way.
Scott: It’s very confusing. You know, there’s so much to talk about outlining and this and that. And I don’t know how to write an outline or treatments, but what I do outline are scenes. And if people put that same kind of thought into well what’s going to happen in this scene, and spent a lot of time in the scene and realized, oh, I don’t have enough character here. I don’t know who these people are. What am I going to do with them? I outline scenes before I write them. And then I write about the scene and, you know, do everything but write the scene until I end up suddenly it just starts to become a scene. Unless I hear dialogue right away I’ll start with the dialogue and just write dialogue and then begin to shape it with other things.
And I think that’s really important. The other thing that I would say, if people spent less time worrying about format and anything else and just focused on character, and just focused on who they’re writing about. I get stuck every time around page 60. I don’t know what to do. Because I realize I don’t have enough character. I don’t have enough character to figure out where we go next. So the characters are either behaving because the script says so, which is a pet peeve of mine, or I’m just thinking, OK, and then this happens, and then that happens. I’ve lost all of it.
And so, you know, if you spend a lot of time just thinking about who you’re writing about, every character. Even if they only have a line or two. They should be someone that’s understandable and readable. And so that helps you. Then when you get to your scenes you have all this information that you have that you can use to show, give it an attitude, what’s happening, how would they respond here, what would be the honest way they would respond. And maybe in your outline, they have to disagree here, but if it doesn’t feel like they would disagree then you need to either, A, have them agree and figure out what’s going to happen, or figure out what you did wrong where they’re not disagreeing anymore. It’s no longer true to the person you’ve created as opposed to again what the script says so.
Craig: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Truth to who you have and what would really happen there. I think the biggest mistake that is made by every writer, every writer, I mean, we all do it and then hopefully we catch it and fix it, is writing something that just wouldn’t be what would happen. Sorry, it just wouldn’t happen that way. You wouldn’t say that. You wouldn’t do that. There’s nothing that feels less satisfying than someone making a great sacrifice where you’re like would you though? Would you? Well there goes your big moment. It just doesn’t work.
Scott: Or the boss who doesn’t believe you or whatever just because – or the parents who don’t believe you. I’m telling you. I saw him. He’s a monster. No, he isn’t.
Craig: No, he’s not.
Scott: You know what? You got too much sugar. Whatever it is.
Craig: You’re not going to take even a moment to think maybe?
Scott: And you’re missing really good character filigree and plot stuff you can explore to actually get to that point. Instead of just skipping to it, maybe by earning it you may actually create some interesting character facets or something that would get you there so you believe it. Why don’t they believe me? Why don’t they want to believe Jack Bauer is trying to save the world for the 50th time?
Craig: I know.
Scott: But this time he’s wrong.
Craig: I know. If Jack Bauer shows up, if Jessica Fletcher shows up and says I think it’s murder, it’s murder.
Scott: It’s murder!
Craig: It’s absolutely murder. There’s no question.
John: So Jessica Fletcher is here to solve crimes. Our producer, Megana Rao, is here to answer our listener’s questions.
Craig: Segue Man.
Scott: Nice. Transition.
John: In a segment we like to call Question Time with Megana. Megana, please join us and talk through some questions that our listeners have sent through.
Craig: Hey Megana.
Megana Rao: Hi guys, how are you?
John: Hey Megana.
Scott: Hello Megana.
John: I feel in the mood for some crafty questions since this has become a very crafty episode. So what do you have for us this week?
Megana: OK, awesome. So, Sophie in London asks, “I’m currently writing a TV series based on historical events in 1920s Argentina. I’ve never written any true story scripts before and I’m struggling with the sheer amount of research each thread pulls me into. How do you balance staying true to the history and communicating essential facts while crafting the heart of the story and character’s development? How do you know when you’ve researched enough and when it’s time to start writing pages?”
John: Ah, a crucial thing. So, people can fall into the abyss of research forever and actually never write their things. Scott Frank, so you are setting the story, the ‘50s and ‘60s?
John: And so how much research did you do? How much did you not do? What was the process? When did you stop researching and just do stuff?
Scott: I didn’t do much of any research on this one because I had the novel and I had Gary Kasparov and Bruce Pandolfini to talk to. So I did very little research in, you know, traditional. I have a researcher that I work with. I did a ton of research on say Godless. But research is a trap. It’s a wonderful thing because it gives you, again, telling detail. It gives you these things that you can find story. But if you’re just trying to write to the facts then you’re going to get lost. And the story should come first.
What is the good story? What is the story you want to tell? And you first need to figure out what is the yarn you’re going to spin. And, again, that’s a feeling. It’s not a crafty thing, it’s a feeling. What story do I want to tell here? What characters do I want to write about? And then as you get into that then you start to look to research to answer your questions. As opposed to look to research to sort of find your story. I mean, sometimes you do that. I mean, I did that certainly on Godless. But I didn’t know what I was going to write about. I just knew the genre.
You’re writing about something that’s true, so you have a lot of stuff there already. You need to sort of figure out, I would say, what the story is. And then use research to make sure that you’re being honest and true, but figure out again what yarn are you spinning. I’m going to just keep saying that.
Craig: Yeah. I would say to Sophie what got you interested in this thing in the first place. If it feels like you’ve given yourself a book report then, yeah, you’re going to get lost because what do you write about. How do you stress one aspect of this historical event in this decade in Argentina over another? What characters should you be focusing on? So you’re asking how do you stay true to history and communicate essential facts while crafting the heart of the story and character’s development. Why did you want to do this?
So what were the things that grabbed you? And why did they grab you? And how did they immediately in your mind connect to human beings and a story about human beings that would be relevant to anyone, whether they lived in 1920s Argentina or not? And that should help focus you.
You will probably swing back and forth at times between trying to figure out do I make the history, put these characters in a situation that reveals who they are? Do I make the characters and their relationship guide me towards which aspect of the history I should be focusing on in this moment? That’s a little bit of a push and pull balancing act. But keep coming back to what fascinated you. That will be your lodestone.
John: Yeah. I trip on the essential facts because facts – you’re not a journalist here. And so obviously you want to be truthful, but really emotionally truthful should be your goal. What are the essential themes, the essential questions, dramatic questions you want to explore here? And the true life details, the history, can help get you there, but you’re not trying to tell a history lesson. Or if you are trying to tell a history lesson maybe the screenplay is not the right way to do it.
Craig: All right. Megana, lay another one on us.
Megana: Cool. So Truthy asks, “I’m adapting a first person short story about a young woman struggling with depression. More than external events the story deals with the protagonist’s internal journey with her mental illness. I feel like having first person voice over narration in the screenplay would really help, but I’m concerned that voice over can seem like a writing crutch and that somebody detest the concept entirely. What are your opinions on using voice over narration and what do you think are the common mistakes people make with it?”
Craig: Scott, what do you feel about that?
Scott: I feel like the only thing worse than using voice over in this case is to use depressed voice over in this case.
Craig: I’m so bummed out.
Scott: Don’t yeah. Voice over can be great. It can be really fun. You know, if it’s used as kind of ironic or if it’s used – if it feels like it’s a character, you know. If it feels like there’s something – there’s a good reason for it. Goodfellas had great voice over. But then Casino was wall-to-wall voice over. It felt like they were just fixing something. But I love the voice over in Goodfellas beginning with “I always wanted to be a gangster.” It’s awesome.
And so you have to think about it. And frequently it’s a solve, but usually it works better if it kind of grows organically out of your concept. You haven’t said anything about, I don’t know what the story is that you’re telling. I just know that you have a depressed character. And I would just say that there are three things that get old fast. And I just had to wrestle with it. They get old fast on screen or in anything. Anger. Drinking, getting drunk. Drunkenness. And I would say depression/grief. So, those things.
It’s really hard to have a character wrestling with that unless they’re in some situation that’s really interesting. And, you know, what is – I don’t know where you’ve located this person and so I don’t know. It’s hard to answer the question. But voice over could work, but I don’t know how you’re going to use it. If you’re just going to use it to say how she feels and what she’s going through I think you can solve that better by putting her in situations that show us that. And giving her conversations that help us with that. Behavior that helps us with that. But be careful.
Craig: Yeah, Truthy, I think that the thing that’s maybe most concerning to me is that you’re saying your story deals with a protagonist’s internal journey with her mental illness. I don’t actually know what an internal journey with mental illness is. I’ve had my own mental illness. I know what the process of dealing with it is. I know how it makes me feel. I know how the nature of the discussions I’ve had with a therapist or with friends. And I know how it manifests itself in my relationships with other people. But there is no internal journey per se.
There’s a kind of story that externalizes an internal journey. You know, when Robin Williams goes to heaven/hell to find his dead wife, or one of those things. You know?
A great version of that is The Fisher King that Richard LaGravenese wrote which clearly shows an internal journey with mental illness by externalizing it completely in a kind of fantastical element. But if you’re dealing with a very kind of down to earth wide-eyed, clear-eyed view of mental illness it needs to be, I think, experienced through someone’s relationships and behavior. The first person voice over narration when you say it will really help, help what? Help us understand what she’s thinking? That is not the goal.
The goal is to have us feel for her. And a lot of times clear explanations of how someone is feeling takes away our feeling for them. It becomes more of an essay that we’re reading as opposed to something that we’re feeling heart-wrenched over because we’re seeing somebody struggle. Or somebody – I mean, what’s sadder? Having somebody tell us that they’re terrified but have to keep a smile on? Or watching somebody that we know is terrified trying to keep a smile on? See what I mean?
So, I think you might want to just consider that internal journey part first and interrogate whether or not that is a necessary part of how this story should be told.
John: The other thing I would stress is that if you do a first person narration you’re creating a very different relationship between the audience and that character. We get insight into that character’s thinking and thoughts. And that can be great and powerful. You know, Clueless is a great example of first person narration. And if we didn’t understand what was going on inside her head the movie would not work nearly as well as it does. So it bonds us very closely to that.
But it also can interfere with sort of the natural unfolding of story, particularly based on when is this narration happening. Is it happening simultaneously to what the character is experiencing on screen, or is it something that happened before and you’re basically retelling the story? You’re pitching a yarn, in the Scott Frank sense.
Many of the mafia movies are sort of like this is what happened, this is what happened next, and they’re going back and telling you how a thing happened.
So there’s not one right or wrong answer here. I think we’ve just experienced so many times in movies where something wasn’t working right and they tried to throw a voice over on it and it just made it worse. Make sure that you’re doing it, you’re being very deliberate about it and you’re really thinking how is this going to help the audience really identify with this character’s story rather than just being an easier way to have some things being said.
Scott: And that points out something really, really important, too. Which has two parts to it. The first part is you need to know what story you’re telling. That’s really what it is. Who is this – right now you’ve described almost a type. It’s almost that reductive. It’s a depressed person. So, without knowing where you’ve put that person and what story and what else is about this person it’s very hard to know how to kind of address your question.
But more importantly what John was talking about now about voice over is a lot of times, you know, the studio will ask someone to come fix something. The ending doesn’t work, but we think it will work with voice over. If you add voice over people will understand. And the problem is it isn’t about understanding. And they’ve cut out all the things, by the way, at the beginning that got you invested because it was “slow.” So, the problem is you need to feel something at the end. We can understand, oh, they got together, I’m supposed to be happy. But then there is really feeling happy when they get together. Or feeling sad. It’s a very different thing between understanding what’s supposed to be happening and knowing that, yeah, that’s right but really feeling it.
Your job is to make us really feel it. You know, you have to really feel – when you get to the end it can’t be this perfunctory exercise in paying off the beginning because of screenwriting rules. It has to be something that feels really, to use the overused word, earned. And that’s really what you have to feel.
And so voice over or description or explaining things, that’s sort of looking in the wrong place for a solution. You need to look at the character and the story that grows out of that character. All answers are there. Everything is there.
John: Now Megana while we have you here, one of the things – it’s been a full year since PayUpHollywood started and all that stuff. It seems like another lifetime ago. Are you getting any emails in from assistants, from people who are dealing with that? What’s the status of that right now? Is there any sort of news on that level?
Megana: Yeah actually. We’re just about to launch our next survey. We pushed it back because of the election, so I think it’s like November 16. And I’ll include all of that stuff in the show notes for assistants. I think in particular the survey is interested in how people have been affected by the different Covid shutdowns. But take a look for that survey because things seem to only be getting better.
John: Great. So we’ll have a link to that in the show notes. And if people want to send in questions where should they send them?
Megana: To firstname.lastname@example.org would be fantastic.
John: And we always love when people attach a voice memo because that way we can hear your voice and know who we’re actually talking to. Megana, thanks so much.
Craig: Thanks Megana.
Megana: Thank you guys.
Scott: Thank you, Megana.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a book I’m reading right now called Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox. It is just a book about how light came to be. How humans got to have light. And to be able to push back the darkness.
Craig: God. I mean, isn’t it just god?
John: God did it all. And so here’s a thing that I feel like all the movies I’ve seen and TV shows I’ve seen that were set before like 1900 have been cheating. Because most people just did not have the ability to have real light inside their houses to do things. But we needed to film period things and so we just sort of cheat the light and make it seem like these things were lit when they really weren’t.
And our ability to do things at night is actually very, very recent in human times. I mean, moving beyond campfires, which you can’t do very much by, to electric light we went through this transition where we had candles, and candles were just terrible, and then lanterns were a little bit better, and finally get to electric light. But I’ve just really enjoyed her laying out the history of this stuff and how much human civilization has changed because we’ve been able to control light.
So, Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox.
Craig: Fantastic. Scott, anything on your One Cool Thing list?
Scott: I have a very analog One Cool Thing. Because I’m obsessed with the fact that writing has become so much about screens and looking at screens. Even getting notes on things. It’s just all on screen. And so I have taken to carrying this little teeny tiny Moleskin notebook that has changed my life. It’s tiny. It’s like the size of your Air Pods case, maybe a little bigger.
And what would be great, or what is great, is when you’re out there and I’ll be reading something or I’ll be listening to a podcast and I’ll hear a word that I think is a great word. And I just put that one thought on that page because they’re not huge pages. I don’t feel required, or feel pressured to fill it up with everything. But I think about little thoughts and sentences that I hear and that I want to plug into whatever it is I’m working on or thinking about. And it’s great. You just carry a little pencil stub or they make these great little tiny pens now. And I feel like if we did that more we would kind of find these little things out there in the world that would be better than finding them on screen.
Because I can’t tell you how often I hear something I think, wow, that’s a good use of that word. That’s amazing. I want to remember that. Or, wow, that was a really interesting image I just saw. I want to remember that. And I love notebooks. I have a notebook for every project. But this is something different. You just take it with you and knowing that it’s in your pocket makes you feel strong. [laughs]
Mind blown, right everybody? Yeah.
John: I like it.
Craig: It doesn’t take much to make Scott feel strong. A small amount of paper.
Scott: A little notebook in my pocket. It’s my little secret.
Craig: No one touch my notebook!
Scott: Your little secret.
Craig: Um, Scott can’t find his little notebook and so we can’t get started today. If someone could find his notebook. [laughs]
Scott: [laughs] It’s with his medicine. He left it with his medicine.
Craig: Exactly. Scott, you put your notebook and your wallet in the freezer again. Sweetheart.
Scott: By the way, you can get it on Amazon. The teeniest, tiniest Moleskin. You can get them on Amazon. They sell you like a six-pack or something.
Craig: Yes, of course. We’ve got to keep Amazon’s profit margins up, so here’s another thing you can get on Amazon. We’re heading into Thanksgiving. I don’t think either of you guys are big chefs, but–
John: I cook. But what you’ve posted here I’m fascinated by because it looks so much like a ShamWow kind of commercial.
Craig: No, no, it’s quite beautiful. And it’s cheap which is nice. I always like a nice, cheap thing. And it actually solves a problem. So when you approach Thanksgiving you are going to be making a lot of things with butter. That’s why Thanksgiving tastes so good. And there is a slight annoyance with butter. When you’ve got your sticks of butter you need to maybe grease a pan or something like that. You know how butter is wrapped, like the stick of butter is wrapped in such a way that you can’t unwrap it properly? I don’t know what they do. It’s like an origami thing around it. And then when you need to cut away a tablespoon or whatever you’re never quite cutting evenly. Plus the butter is always super hard.
This is a very simple gadget. It’s called The Butter Twist. You stick your stick of butter in this little plastic thing. Costs $15.49, or I guess the same equivalent as 4,000 of Scott’s little notebooks. Those cost a hay penny a piece. And you put it in there and it obviously holds the butter so if you need to grease a pan or something like that, but also if you need two teaspoons you just set the little dial on a thing and you twist it and it cuts that amount perfectly and drops it out onto your plate which is really nice. Because as you’re cooking like a big meal, like Thanksgiving, you don’t want to just keep screwing up knives and things to cut butter. That’s just a waste of dishwasher time. So, cute little thing. Works real well. $15.49.
The Butter Twist. Spread, cut, measure, dispense, and store your butter.
John: So unfortunately this only takes standard size sticks of butter. We use this weird Irish butter that’s really, really good, but it’s too wide to fit in that thing. So then we’d have to cut it and it would be a lot to do.
Craig: Yeah. This is really for…
Craig: Well, and also for cooking. I mean, I wouldn’t waste the good Irish butter on cooking. Spread that on your toast. But for cooking just throw the crap in there. Your old Land-O-Lakes.
Scott: Craig, does this device fit in your pocket?
Craig: It does fit in your pocket. Yup. It does not come with a little pencil.
Scott: Just wondering. Just wondering if it fits in your pocket.
Craig: If you had a certain kind of small notebook you probably could write a word or two with butter on it.
Scott: There are marks on the butter where you can just slice right through.
Craig: Again, you must not have been listening to me. I mean—
Scott: About the dishwasher. Blah-blah-blah. Don’t you have to throw this in the dishwasher, too?
John: In fact one photo shows it going into a dishwasher.
Craig: Correct. So instead of the multiple things you just have the one thing. You can store your butter in it and, listen, I’m not talking to you. You don’t cook anything. You sit there at Thanksgiving. You’re asleep before Thanksgiving. Then they wake you up. They send you in there to eat. And then you go back to sleep. Sometimes I think–
Scott: They don’t even wake me up.
Scott: They don’t even want me in there. They’re glad I’m asleep.
Craig: They mush some potatoes around your slightly open mouth. I’m actually cooking.
Scott: They dip my hand in hot water, warm water, and leave me alone.
Craig: So that you’ll just get to the inevitable pants-peeing quicker.
Scott: Yeah. Dad’s in his chair.
Craig: We know exactly how it goes in your house. I’ve been there. I’ve seen this. [laughs]
Scott: [laughs] Yeah.
John: And that is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by William Phillipson. If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Scott Frank, are you on Twitter? I don’t think you are.
Scott: I’m on no social media.
Craig: He’s smart.
John: That is smart.
Scott: But I do have a little notebook in my pocket.
John: That’s right.
Craig: He can tweet with his little…he says to himself, “Oh, people would love that.”
Craig: You’re going to like my own thing.
John: We have t-shirts. They’re delightful. They’re at Cotton Bureau. They make a good gift if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for somebody. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts.
You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes including the one where Scott Frank talks about Godless at the Austin Film Festival. We also have bonus segments like the one we’re about to record on Thanksgiving. But, I want to express my gratitude and thanks to Scott Frank for joining us here on this podcast. Great discussion.
Craig: Thank you, Scott. Miss you.
Scott: Thank you guys. It was fun.
Craig: I miss you and I regret to say that once again you’ve done brilliant work. Pisses me off.
Scott: That’s my goal.
Craig: I know.
John: All right. So my thought behind this is that Thanksgiving is coming up. It’s going to be a weird Thanksgiving because of the pandemic. And this has just been a weird kind of generally terrible year. I think this will go down, for the rest of our lives, we’ll know, oh 2020, that was the year that was just awful.
But there were actually some good things that happened this year so I wanted to take a moment to think about the happy things that happened this year and I have a couple things on my little short list. One is that I had a movie that went from like, oh here’s an idea, to oh we’re in production and it all happened in 2020 which was just a delight. It was a fantasy project that I always wanted to do, that I got a chance to do, and weirdly the pandemic was kind of good for it. Because it was animation and nothing else could get made everybody could just focus on, OK, we can do an animated movie. And that was a good thing that happened in this bad year.
Do either of you have some things you’re grateful for in 2020?
Craig: You’re talking to the wrong Jews. A lot of complaining over here.
John: Scott Frank, you had an acclaimed series that you were able to finish post-production on.
Craig: But he’ll never do that well again. [laughs]
Scott: No. I never will. I’m very grateful that I peaked in 2020. I’m very grateful that the show got the response that it did which is surprising and yet lovely at the same time. I am grateful that we finished shooting last year. And am grateful that the technology caught up so that I could do all of post from my house in Connecticut. So that was – I’m very lucky that way. I know a lot of people who had to abandon production in the middle and then go back to it and I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have to.
I also feel lucky that the whole Covid thing forced everyone to kind of, in terms of family at least, to be a little more connected. And it got me to settle down a little bit that way. And it was nice to just be kind of in the quiet and enjoying – I wouldn’t say enjoying because there’s a lot of anxiety, but just kind of being with my family. I really like that. Who would have thought? They didn’t like it, but I did.
Craig: No. They like being with me. I know that.
Scott: They do. They love you. Especially Jennifer.
Craig: And I love them.
Scott: Yeah, they know.
Craig: They know. We all know. Everyone knows. That’s mostly what I’m thankful is the time I get to spend with Scott’s family.
Scott: Yes. [laughs]
John: I will say as the parent of a teenager, you know, in general I would not see her kind of at all, but for this last year we’ve had every meal together. We’ve been with each other this whole time. And it’s been actually really good. So I am also grateful for the sort of chance to hang out with her for this last year when she normally would have been off with friends and I would have been doing meetings and I would have been doing things in person. And I just wasn’t doing those things so we were all just together all this time. And I’m really grateful that it well.
Scott: It’s nice. And my kids are out of the house, but still they would, when we were in the city we would see them, or they would come up here. Because two of them live in New York. And my son came out from California and stayed here and wrote music. And every weekend we would come up and see him and we never would have seen him so much.
And even with Jennifer, you know, we’re married 32 years. Just to kind of cook at home and be at home and just, you know, hang out. There’s something that felt like a reset. It’s a little confusing given that not everybody has that experience.
John: Craig, there’s nothing we’re going to get out of you?
Craig: No, no, that’s not true. I am thankful about things. This is a pretty rough year just for the world and it is a weird thing to think about what’s gone well, because a lot of people have been suffering. But here’s a couple things that went well in 2020 for me, or at least me and the family.
My wife had breast cancer. And the treatment went really well. There’s a little surgery in there that was not too drastic and kind of just went well. And then the radiation after went really well. She didn’t need chemo, which I was really happy about. Because I think both of us were just sort of dreading that. Because, OK, Scott you’ve been married for 32 years. I’ve been married for 24 years. And I always say like any change after that amount of time is a positive. What, lose your hair? You’re going to be bald? Hot. That’s so great. I’m down. Let’s do this.
Any change is exciting. But she didn’t have to lose her hair, so I was a little bummed about that. But she didn’t have to get sick or anything like that from chemo which was really nice. And it looks like it’s all clear.
You know, you feel like you dodge a huge bullet with something like that. My son has Crohn’s disease and he was in the hospital again last week, because he had had some emergency surgery a couple years ago. And then he had a following surgery a year later because when you have stomach surgery there can be these adhesions in your colon that will sometimes just block everything and then they have to do another operation. Which is why the only good thing about him getting an abdominal obstruction and having a second emergency abdominal surgery was that it got me out of running for Vice President of the Writers Guild. So that was great.
I was in the hospital with him while that was going on. But it happened again last week. But this time happily they just – they kind of put him in the hospital and put him on fluids and just waited. And he did not need surgery. And so that was – it was sort of like dodging these bullets. When there are bullets flying all around I guess at some point you’re like, OK, people are dropping like flies so mostly I’m just looking at where the bullets don’t connect and saying, there. That’s a very good thing.
So I’m really happy about that.
Here’s another strange, like you try and find these little upsides to Covid which has killed nearly or more than a quarter of a million Americans and is on its way to ultimately being the deadliest thing America has faced since WWII. In fact, I think it will overcome WWII and be the worst deadliest thing we faced since the Civil War I guess.
My dad died and we couldn’t have a funeral or a memorial thing because of Covid and everything, so we have to wait. But it occurred to me that when we finally do have it, let’s say after vaccines and things it will be summer or something, I don’t know, that we will have a memorial service maybe eight months or a year after he died. And in doing so I think can have the experience that we’re supposed to have when people die. Like I think this should be a thing anyway. Somebody dies, you should wait a year and then have the memorial service. Because then it’s fun and it’s positive and you can actually do the whole thing of like remember. All the things they tell you you’re supposed to do you can do them. Because you’ve had time.
Why do we make ourselves do this when we’re in the lowest point and in the most wretched grievous state? Everybody should get time. And then have a memorial and it can be fun. It can be the kind of memorial the person who died would like to have been at. So, there’s a weird silver lining to that.
So those are the things for which I’m thankful this year. And I would argue that all of those things are more important and better than the things that you guys are thankful for.
Scott: Without question. Just one big ray of sunshine. Thank you, Craig.
Craig: And I’m also thankful for Jennifer, Scott’s wife.
Scott: Of course you are. And she for you.
Craig: I know. I know. I know. I know.
John: All right. Thank you, Scott. Thank you, Craig.
Craig: Thanks guys.
Scott: Thank you.
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