The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 436 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast it’s a new installment of How Would This Be a Movie, where we take a look at stories in the news and figure out how they can become entertainment, because real life is deeply unsettling, and even in circumstances where someone’s guilt is incontrovertibly established traditional rules of not just storytelling but actual democracy are shattered one after the other making you wonder whether anything actually matters. And if there’s even going to be an election in November, which is why we retreat to what-if scenarios and imagine a world in which choices have consequences, and the bad guys sometimes lose.
To do so we have a special guest this week. Liz Hannah—
Liz Hannah: No pressure.
John: She is a writer whose credits include The Post, Long Shot, and the upcoming All the Bright Places. Welcome back, Liz.
Liz: Thanks guys.
Craig: Welcome back, Liz. Third time?
Liz: Third time. Need the jacket.
Craig: You got the jacket. We have a burgundy jacket for you.
Liz: Oh, that’s nice.
Craig: At five. It’s gold-stripe.
Liz: Oh wow.
John: Later on we give scarves. There’s a whole sort of Scriptnotes wardrobe.
Liz: I was like do you start with like a jean jacket, then you get to a leather jacket?
Craig: All of it from Goodwill.
Craig: Rest assured, someone died in that jacket.
Liz: If it’s XXXL, that’s exactly the way I want it.
Craig: At minimum.
Liz: Yes, obviously. Either that or like petite.
John: That’s how it works.
Liz: Those are the ranges.
Craig: From a child.
Liz: Yeah. [laughs]
John: And if you’re a Premium member stick around because at the end of the show there will be a bonus segment, and Liz hopefully you’ll stick around for this, too. I would like to talk about books and what it’s OK to do in or with a book. So, are you allowed to dog your pages? Are you allowed to markup books? What is permissible to do with an actual physical book?
Craig: That will be our bonus topic?
John: Bonus topic.
John: All right. Craig Mazin, you just won a WGA award.
Craig: I sure did. I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for some of the people from the guild that were there. I realized when I walked in, because I ran into Sally Burmester who is the kind of second in command of the credits department who I’ve had a lot of years working with, and then just some other people that I know from the guild that I’ve always been very friendly with. And I had such a nice hugs and all the rest of it. And then I realized like there’s only really two kinds of people that work at the guild. People that are like, yay, but then most of them who are like you son of a bitch. So, I was like–
Liz: Do you feel like it’s just the guild that feels that way about you?
Craig: No, no, obviously the rest of the world. I’m aware of my polarizing nature.
John: Well congratulations on another award for Chernobyl.
Craig: Thank you.
John: So there’s very few awards left, but it’s been a good run.
Craig: It’s been a great run. And honestly because we all love each other – I feel like there are probably shows that do, or movies that do really well where there’s a lot of enmity between people. I think there was like something in the air when was it 12 Years a Slave, when that movie won? There was like the writer and the director didn’t like each other. There was something in the air. We all love each other. All of us. Like everybody. So when all these things, like Johan Renck won the DGA award last weekend. So, we were loving on him. And our production designers won. And our sound people won. And so everybody sends each other these lovey-dovey emails. And I’m, you know, that part is wonderful. We all actually like each other so we’re happy.
Liz: Such a rarity.
Craig: I think it is.
Liz: It is.
Craig: I think it legitimately is. Ah, if people could see the misery that goes on. But, yeah, it’s been great. And I’m very grateful. And the Writers Guild, you know, my relationship with the Writers Guild is complicated in that I’m always kind of just a fuse-budgety policy questioner, but obviously a loyal member of the guild for a quarter of a century. And, you know, that award last night actually was emotional. It was nice.
Liz: It’s really nice to be in a room with other writers. And it’s nice to be recognized by your peers who you respect and who you are either internally or externally competing with. You know, you’re all trying to make each other better, or be better than somebody else. And so to be recognized like that I think is really wonderful.
John: Yeah. Some news and some follow up before we get to our main topics. My third book, Arlo Finch, comes out Tuesday, the day this episode drops.
Craig: I’m looking at it.
John: So Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows is the third book in the installment.
Craig: OK. I just want to describe for people–
John: Describe it.
Craig: So Arlo Finch and his friends are staring into what appears to be two centurions, but statues with wings, but the wings are it looks like stone. And it’s like but the centurion statue stone goliaths are facing each other and in between them is a crevice of light.
Craig: And something good or bad is coming out of it. And you know what I feel? I feel like they’re about to leave something and enter something new.
John: That is absolutely true and accurate. They are headed into the world beyond the woods. The realm.
Craig: Yes. The Kingdom of Shadows.
John: Yes. That is in fact the Kingdom of Shadows. All three books have an “in the” thing. It’s all geographically based.
John: So “in the Valley of Fire,” “in the Lake of the Moon,” and now “in the Kingdom of Shadows.” It is actually truly a trilogy. This last week I put out a long medium post which you can read about the experience of writing a trilogy, because as screenwriters we always write like one movie. And it was really cool to actually get the chance to write the whole trilogy and do the whole thing. But unlike your Chernobyl experience where you could plan out the whole series in advance, I really kind of couldn’t do that. And so one of the things I wanted to get into in this post is the degree to which you can make a plan but there’s just a lot of discovery along the way. And the villain of this series was not the villain who I thought was going to be the real villain as I started writing the first book.
Craig: The real villain I presume is capitalism.
John: It is capitalism. [laughs] It’s funny how it all comes back to that.
Craig: I’m in a Bernie State of Mind.
John: If you want to come see me and get your book signed I’m doing an event at Chevaliers on Larchmont this Sunday at 2pm.
Liz: Love that bookstore.
John: So good.
Craig: I do want to read this blurb on the back of the book. It’s pretty amazing. This is Ransom Riggs who is a number one New York Times bestselling author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a book that my children both read, and thus I read and loved. And he writes, god I hope Ransom Riggs is a man, because I just said he writes.
John: He does. He is a man and he does write.
Craig: It could be – Ransom is a gender-neutral name.
Liz: That’s true. It’s sort of a human-neutral name.
Craig: It’s human-neutral. It’s actually a word. It’s a noun. Ransom Riggs says, “John August is a master storyteller.” That’s pretty impressive.
John: It’s nice. Yeah.
John: Yeah. I got some good reviews on this.
Craig: Yeah man. That’s awesome. Congratulations.
John: Thank you.
Craig: Are you going to do another one by the way? Not another one of these, but another thing?
John: At some point.
Liz: A book series.
John: Well, at least a book. I don’t think I would do another series right away. It was a lot to undertake right at the start and it was kind of foolish in a way, just because to do a book a year is just a huge commitment.
Craig: Derek Haas does a book a minute.
John: He does a book a minute.
Liz: That’s right. He does.
John: And his books are ultimately a series, but they’re not a trilogy in that way. Like it’s another installment. This was a lot.
Craig: I wish I had – so our friend, Derek Haas, who does all the Chicago shows, Chicago Fire, all the rest of it, has more confidence as a writer than anybody I know. And because of that he’s free, like he doesn’t do that thing that I’m always doing which is just going, “You know what? I suck. And actually today would be best spent playing a videogame.” He doesn’t do that.
Liz: Oh, that’s every day.
Craig: Yeah. Right.
Liz: Every day opening the computer, and particularly when it’s a blank page you’re like, no, not good enough for that. Just no.
Craig: No, I can’t. Derek is like, “Awesome, blank page. Let’s fill it. Woo!”
Craig: God, I wish I had that.
John: He gets up at five in the morning and just does it.
Craig: He gets up at five in the morning. I go to bed at five in the morning because my mind won’t shut up. Ugh.
Liz: I had to open a blank page on Thursday. I was writing an outline for something and it was luckily like the 15th draft of it that I had been doing, or 15th break of it, and so had kind of an idea of where I was going. But man opening that blank page, even knowing like I’ve got the notes, I know where I’m supposed to head, I was just like there’s so much more interesting things happening on Twitter right now. Or Instagram. Or The New York Times. Or quite literally anything else possible.
Craig: Anything. Can I tell you also as I get older there’s this new thing that’s been happening – I don’t’ know if you experience this, John, because we’re older than you, Liz. I’ll start a new project. It’s the beginning. I look at it and I go, “My god, am I still doing this?”
Craig: Oh my god. Have I gotten nowhere? [laughs] You just realize that you’ve been driving a car in a circle forever.
Craig: And you’re like I have to do this again? Here we go.
Liz: My favorite thing is to revise my title page.
Craig: Oh, that’s a classic.
Liz: I’m really into that.
Craig: Oh yeah.
Liz: I’m like, um, is this where you put – is it centered? Is this the font that I want to use for the title? What are the other title pages I’ve used for other movies I’ve written? And then you go down that wormhole. Maybe I’ll just read this. We’ll see–
Craig: I’ve got a new thing for you if you want. This is my new jam. So I’m adapting this thing that’s based on another existing work. And that existing work has a very specific font it uses. So I’m like, oh, I’ll use that font for the title page. Well, that font was specifically for that thing. But then other people have made similar. So now I’m on a font hunt.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Oh, font hunt. That was so much fun. And then you get to download the font and install the font. But that’s a day. You’re exhausted.
Liz: I was doing a look book for something recently and really got into the font world. And I was like, you know, I really think I want this to look like a neon sign. Guess how many neon sign fonts there are?
Liz: A million. Just a million.
Craig: There we go. I knew it.
Liz: And so then you’re like what color is it if I’m doing this in neon sign?
Liz: It was a great day. It was a great day.
Craig: That’s a good day.
John: And really when you’re being paid a daily rate to do this, well, my pages aren’t done yet but I did fit the font for the–
Craig: What we’re saying is their nightmare come true.
Liz: Actually every producer listening to this right now is like, “Ugh, that was why it was on Tuesday and not Wednesday.”
Craig: Exactly. “Because of the font? You piece of shit.” [laughs] What can we do? We’re humans. We can only do what we can do, unless we’re Derek Haas.
John: A script from this past year which did use a custom font on its title page–
Craig: Segue Man.
John: Was Knives Out. And we talked about Knives Out in Episode 436. I got a bit of follow up here. It says, “John and Craig, you guys were talking about the specificity in scripts and referenced the Knives Out script. I was excited to read it but I noticed there was very little if any description given to the characters. Starting on page one with Fran and then within the first three pages Marta, Mom, and Alice are also introduced, but Marta was the only character with any description whatsoever. And this description was only given as 20s. I’d have to believe that if this was a three-pager sent in by an unknown you would have mentioned that and Craig would have had some umbrage.”
Craig: Yes. I would have.
John: “So is this because the script is written by an established writer, or it’s a style that some writers can either do or not do as long as it’s consistent?”
John: Tell us what you think, Craig?
Craig: Rian Johnson was writing a script for himself to direct.
Liz: That’s what I was going to say.
Craig: So there’s no question that when it was time to cast, I mean, well first of all that movie is cast almost exclusively with stars. Well-known actors. Meaning there wasn’t going to be an audition process as much as we think this kind of person – I imagine this sort of person, this sort of person. For those actors when the script was sent without question Rian must have included – I mean, I’ll ask him – but he must have included, or just called them and said, “This is who you are. This is what you look like. This is how I see it.” But there was no reason for him to put all that in there because all it would do would be to limit the description for the actors that would be reading it. So he could tailor that to them.
Yes, if he were not directing it, or if there were any chance that anybody else would be working on it, or that there would be a lot of open auditions then, yeah, no, he would have to do something.
John: He’d write, “Ruggedly handsome, but doesn’t know it.” Or any of those classic things.
Craig: Papa doesn’t know it. Ruggedly handsome but doesn’t know it.
Liz: She’s the girl next door, but…”
Craig: But. Yeah. Exactly. Because the girl next door sucks.
Liz: Yeah, exactly. She looks great without her glasses on.
Craig: Oh, yes, the glasses.
Liz: That’s my favorite. I’m also wearing glasses right now ironically. So there you go.
Craig: Wait, take them off. Let’s see what happens.
Liz: Well, it’s like Clark Kent. I can’t.
Craig: Of course. Wait, oh my god. Liz Hannah is–
Craig: Superman. She’s Superman.
John: That’s a good disguise. I was talking with a friend of the show, I had lunch with her a week ago, and she was talking about the process of going out to a major star and so the character is written a certain way in the script but you also write a top page letter that sort of says this is why this is the role for you. And that’s a whole process we should talk about in a future episode, because it’s a very specific thing that happens.
Craig: Yes. I did those. I did those. They’re nerve-wracking. I don’t like doing them.
Liz: It’s horrifying. You do it for directors, too. You know, like if you’re trying to attach somebody and why is it you and why is it that person and blah-blah-blah. And then when they pass 12 times then you really just get to the letter and you’re like this letter isn’t good. This is why they’re passing.
Craig: Also I feel like, oh my god, I’m just – if they say yes I feel like I just sold somebody—
Liz: A really bad [crosstalk]–
Craig: Like a defective product. Yeah. But that’s me and that’s my sad brain.
John: Craig, some shocking and sad news this past week. MoviePass fell to zero. The stock fell to zero. So it had ceased operations in September. We had talked about MoviePass over the past two or three years.
John: MoviePassed. Craig, any surprises? Any last words for MoviePass?
Craig: The surprise was that it took this long. It’s actually amazing how long a venture with no logical prospect for success can actually last. Neither you nor I are business geniuses, but we saw fairly clearly what I think a lot of business geniuses just did not want to see. Which is that that was just not a functioning workable concept. And hopefully people will learn their lesson. But they won’t. Because capitalism is the villain, man.
John: Since this is probably the last time we’ll ever talk about MoviePass–
Liz: Fingers crossed.
John: I want to say that I think there is something underlying the idea in terms of like encouraging people to go see movies at theaters which was a good thing that happened for a short period of time. And so I was talking with Megana, our producer, and she was saying like it was kind of great for a while because it made going to movies with your friends so cheap that they went to more movies.
Craig: Of course.
John: And that’s a good thing. So, if the movie theater chains themselves, or other people who actually have a financial interest and an understanding of how movies work could bolster that kind of frequent movie-going I think that’s only to the betterment of everybody.
Liz: I agree. I had friends who had it and the thing was that they wouldn’t just go see like Star Wars or whatever the big movie was. They were like well because we can go to the movies we’re going to go see anything that’s in the theater. So they would see small independent movies that like I didn’t even know were in theaters. And so I think that encouragement was really great. Because it’s not really the Star Wars of the world that need the butts in seats.
Liz: We’re all there.
Craig: We’re all there.
Liz: It’s the other movies that are getting the theatrical release that are really looking for the butts in seats. And so I agree. I think encouraging people to go to theaters is great. I think it just has to be sustainable in any form.
Craig: It was great for us. It was great for people that like movies to see as many movies as they wanted for the price of one movie. If restaurants did that more people would definitely eat out. And experience new foods. Unfortunately never could quite – I mean, remember there was that one point where they were like, “No, we’re playing three-dimensional chess. You don’t understand. We’re in the data business.” And for a moment I was like, oh, well, OK. Maybe I’m dumb and that’s a thing?
John: I don’t really get how Facebook works either, so maybe.
Craig: Right. Exactly. But then I was like Facebook has ads. I can understand that. But what is MoviePass going to do with their data of people that go to movies? Really the only data they had was that people that were smart enough to take advantage of this insane thing. RIP MoviePass.
John: Yeah. The point you made, Liz, about sustainability I think is really crucial. Whenever you look at a bunch of money spilling into something it can stir stuff up. But like can it really build a sustainable business model out of things? And that’s always the question whenever I see venture capital coming into something I’m like, oh, are they going to ruin something and try to change it?
Craig: Yeah. The probably will.
John: They probably will. All right. Liz, you have just made a new movie, All the Bright Places. It is coming out on Netflix. What was the process of you getting this movie put together and making this movie? Because this is one of the – you were hands-on in actually making this movie. So talk to us about it.
Liz: Yeah. It started a while ago. Actually I think I started the first draft of it right after I sold The Post. So it was before we started shooting The Post. So this would have been 2016/2017. And it’s based on a book by Jennifer Niven called All the Bright Places. I got sent the book by my manager who is a producer on it. And Elle Fanning had been attached for a long time. I’ve known Elle for a long time. We wanted to work together. And I read this book and found it emotionally very moving, but also it dealt with things that we don’t always talk about really openly. I think we don’t always talk about mental health as openly as we can. And we don’t talk about tragedy and sort of trauma and how we recover from that, or don’t recover from that.
And it was also a story about teenagers, but it wasn’t a story just about teenagers. It was sort of when we talked about making the movie we were like let’s make a movie where the two leads happen to be 17, not a movie about them being 17.
Liz: And so I started a draft in 2016/2017. And then everybody was busy, couldn’t really find time. Couldn’t find the right director. And then I was doing rehearsals for Mindhunter in Pittsburgh in 2018 I guess, what year is it? No, yeah, 2018. And I got a call that this guy Brett Haley wanted to direct it. Brett had directed a movie Hearts Beat Loud, which was really wonderful and sweet. And he had read the script and everybody somehow was available. Like it’s one of those crazy things, like everybody had sort of six weeks to shoot this movie in two months. And so we all went to Cleveland and made this movie. And got really the wonderful weather of both steaming hot and icy cold winter.
John: That’s why Cleveland is such an in-demand filming spot is because of the climate and its accessibility to everyplace else you want to be.
Liz: Yeah. It was beautiful for us to shoot there. It gave us everything. The movie takes place in Indiana originally and so we were shooting Cleveland for Indiana.
Craig: That’s good enough. That’s close enough.
Liz: It was pretty close. But it was great. And Justice Smith is the co-lead. And he’s phenomenal. I had not seen him do work outside of Jurassic World and Pikachu and stuff like that. And what he did in this movie and what he and Elle did together was really phenomenal.
John: So as I was putting together the outline for this I was looking for the trailer for it. And so I find this trailer that’s Elle Fanning and some other dude and it was like a fan cut trailer from 2015.
Liz: Oh boy. Yeah.
John: And so it was crazy to me that like apparently right from when the book sold people were like, oh, this should be a movie and Elle Fanning should star in it. And it’s like the universe wanted this movie to exist.
Liz: The fans of the book are ravenous. They love this book. Jennifer Niven, again who is the author of the book, my cowriter on the screenplay, she just has this amazing fan base. I think because it’s real. And it’s also not talking down to teenagers. I think that was really, you know, when I grew up the movies I watched were like Say Anything and John Hughes movies that were not saying that your feelings that you’re having because you’re 17 are any dumber because you’re 17 when you’re having them. And I thought that was an important sort of thing to put out in the world.
I have two teenager half-siblings. I have a brother who is 18 and a sister who is 14. Making things for them I think is now something that I think about. And I don’t want them to watch something and be like, “You totally got it wrong because you’re old.” And I was like well that’s fair.
So, anyways, yeah, honestly Netflix came in and helped us make the movie. And they’ve been amazing partners. But it was a really interesting experience to just sort of have – actually what you were talking about with Chernobyl. It’s like we all kind of lived in Cleveland for eight weeks and became super close. And kind of making a movie with your friends about something you all feel so passionate about is really – I’ve never had something that was that kind of communal in a way.
Craig: And now how do you go back to the other way? Where you’re making a movie which is already a war and then you have more wars?
Craig: Which is brutal on you.
Liz: And if you don’t like the people you’re doing it with and you don’t – it’s funny, at the time that I was doing Bright Places I was talking to an actress-producer about doing another movie, about doing a movie together. And we were kind of just having big talks about what do we want to do, where are we at in our careers, and things like that. And both of us sort of right before, she made a little movie and I made Bright Places, and right before that we were both just so burned out and we were like, “I don’t know, man. Like I don’t know if we can do this. This just feels really hard. Maybe we should just take breaks.” Both of us were just kind of totally burned out.
And then she went and made this little movie with an ensemble cast where they all basically lived in a house together for six weeks. And I went and made this movie with a bunch of people and we basically all lived in a hotel together for eight weeks. And I called her when I got off and I was like, OK, I think I know how to do a movie again, because it’s like this is actually how you should do it, which is with people you love who are going to push you.
Brett and I, the director, got super close during filming. That does not mean that we didn’t fight and argue and disagree. But I think in good ways. You know, I think the writer/director relationship on set is super unique and super different from every project. It sometimes doesn’t exist. Sometimes the writer isn’t there. And I believe that’s very unfortunate because I think that relationship can really push the material and push the movie to be so much better.
Craig: It’s the best thing. When it works it’s the best. I mean, Johan and I would – we would have our disagreements, but even as we were having them we had this absolute confidence and faith that we would agree. At the end of the discussion agreement would happen. There was never this like paranoia that OK I’m just going to get rolled over.
Craig: On his part or on my part. We were just like we’ll figure it out. It’s cool. We figure things out. That’s what we do. And we’re going to be fine. And I’ve been in so many situations where that’s not even a question. There’s no availability for any kind of consensus because consensus is considered insulting to the director that they would have to even have consensus with the writer.
Liz: Yeah. Well, and I think you’re talking about the respect of it, too. Like the mutual respect. I have been super fortunate about the directors I’ve worked with. There’s been that mutual respect. But I’ve also been around and it hasn’t.
Craig: Oh yeah.
Liz: And obviously we all know those stories, or unfortunately been a part of those stories, but when you have the mutual respect where it’s like I’m not disagreeing with you because I just want to be right, I’m disagreeing with you because I think this might be a right way to go. And then you talk about it. And then you make a decision together about what the right way to go is. And I think there’s no – people I think get really afraid of stepping on other people’s toes or that as the writer you’re trying to encroach on the director and things like that. It’s like, no, I don’t really give a shit. I just want it to be good. And I don’t care who is right. It just has to be good.
Craig: They have no problem encroaching on the script.
Craig: So I just see a whole like encroaching thing, I just laugh at.
Liz: It’s crazy. I mean, I’ve worked with producers who have never worked with onset writers before. And I’m like what do you think – I’m here to help. That’s what my job is on set as a writer. I’m just here to help. And with Bright Places we were really lucky. And Justice and Elle and Brett and I would just kind of like go over the script every morning. And we were rewriting every day to be better.
You know, I’ve been in situations, I’m sure we all have, where you’re rewriting it because you’re like we just have to have words. There’s no words. So we just need them. This was like we had the words, but we were just like let’s take a couple hours and make them better.
Liz: And it was a really lovely experience.
Craig: That is great. And correct me if I’m wrong, you now make a movie every 14 days. Is that right? You’ve got one in the theater every 14 days.
Craig: You’re becoming very prolific. I have to say. You are.
Liz: Oh, no. That’s silly.
Craig: No, you are. This is exciting.
Liz: I appreciate it. Yeah, actually this year I’ll have two things out.
Craig: How about that? And last year how many did you have?
Craig: Thank you.
Liz: Yeah. I do a movie and a TV show a year it sounds like.
Craig: I like that you were like I wrote this thing all the way back in like 2018. And like it’s taken almost a year for it be like…
There’s a movie that I’m hoping to get made at Universal that I wrote in 2014. And that was after it took Lindsay Doran and I, I think, seven years to get the rights to this book. I mean, so that’s fast.
Liz: Oh, no. It’s very fast.
Craig: You fast. You fast.
Liz: It’s very fast. I’m very lucky. I’ve had really great partners in this, too. I mean, I think that’s the other thing. Because I’ve written scripts that haven’t been made. And I’ve tried to get things made that haven’t gotten made, be in TV or in features. But I think the thing about the ones that get made, or sometimes they just don’t work. Sometimes it’s just not the right time. So it’s not anyone’s fault. But the ones that do work is because I have great partners on it who are willing to just do it. And I think that’s – there’s so much overthinking. There’s so much questioning. There’s so much doubt in all of it. I mean, just talking about the blank page. And when you’re kind of just like let’s go make a movie, or let’s go do this because it’s something we really care about—
Craig: That’s awesome.
Liz: You know, that’s what I’ve been really fortunate to do. And I’ve also – talking about this other conversation I was having about what I was going to do, you know, a movie to do next and stuff like that. I’ve also just like, you know, I’ve gotten to a place where I just don’t like making things with people I don’t like.
John: Oh yeah. It’s the luxury of some choice about who you’re working with. And we all have those choices, but we don’t sort of recognize we have those choices early on, especially in our careers.
Craig: We do not.
Craig: I did not.
Liz: But I also think it’s how – what are you willing to give up? Like I think one of the things that I was really lucky about of The Post happening not when I was 22 years old is that I had a life. I was married. I knew what was important. I had really close friends, really close family who didn’t care really about – they were excited for me, but that didn’t change their perspective of me. Well, hopefully. I guess I’ll find out.
So I was like I’ll go work in a coffee shop. You know, I’ll go be a librarian. My priorities are not based really on the success of my career. They’re based on the happiness of the people in my life and that I hope my job helps that, doesn’t hinder it. And so I try and make choices that it’s like, you know, would I rather go work in a library in the Pacific Northwest than make this movie? Then maybe I shouldn’t make this movie.
Craig: Ooh, I don’t know if I should be applying that test because I think I might pick the library every time at this point.
John: But you don’t want to make fear-based choices about the things you’re doing. Like I better take this project or else I won’t get another project. So, I think as you get through your career you can recognize like am I making this choice to do this project because it is something that I actually want to do, or is it something I fear if I don’t do that there will be a consequence?
Craig: I mean, tell me I’m wrong, but I always felt like you were actually really good about that. That you weren’t somebody that made choices out of fear. Whereas I only made choices out of fear for so long.
John: Well, sometimes I wouldn’t make choices out of fear, but make choices out of envy. Like I knew somebody else was going to make that movie. I know that movie is going to get made. And I want to make that movie.
Craig: I’ll be walking by the theater going why did I not?
John: There was a major book series that I passed on just on concept and then it became like one of the biggest book series of all time.
Liz: 50 Shades of Grey?
Craig: 50 Shades.
John: And it’s like, no, I wouldn’t want to do that.
Craig: I would love to see your 50 Shades by the way. Now I really want to see your 50 Shades of Grey. It would be amazing.
John: It was not 50 Shades of Grey.
Craig: That would be so great.
John: Liz, when do we get to see your movie?
Liz: All the Bright Places comes out on Netflix February 28th. I think there is a trailer dropping the first week of February, so you can actually watch a trailer that has–
John: That’s not fan-made but actually made by professionals.
Liz: Not fan made. A real trailer. And super excited. And then I guess you watch it forever because it’s on Netflix. So–
Liz: Would love for people to watch it the opening weekend. Opening I guess is so–
Craig: Opening minute. Opening second.
Liz: Opening minute. Yeah. And also if you’re in LA I’m going to host a screening at the Alamo Draft House the Sunday after the release.
John: Oh great.
Craig: Love that. That’s great.
John: That will be nice. All right. Before we get into our How Would This Be a Movies, I wanted to take a look at an article by James Pogue in The Baffler which was called They Made a Movie Out of it, which is sort of the other side of this whole story. And so this article takes a look at how nonfiction journalism, especially long-form nonfiction journalism, has become such a pipeline for movies to get made. And that source of IP has become incredibly important. And Pogue really rails against it. And to kind of comedic effect also in a way. I found it kind of hilarious at a certain point.
But he talks about war time romance, unlikely savants, deranged detectives, gentlemen thieves, love-struck killers. Stories that tap into the thrill of being alive as being the mandate behind these companies that are sort of essentially packaging together, not literally packaging in the way that agencies do, but they are creating these stories with the intention that they will become movies down the road.
So, it was the first time I saw someone actually writing up about this phenomenon which I think we’ve all kind of seen. And it’s really there. So, Craig, what was your first take on this article?
Craig: I was very glad that he wrote it. I am currently subsumed by people who are like here’s a podcast, here’s a book, here’s an article about some horrible thing that happened, because obviously that’s what you do. And every single time I think to myself why would I need this? It’s facts. So, what I think is going on is that there is this world of producers, and I don’t mean to tar them with an evil brush. They’re doing their jobs. But what they’re doing is they’re trying to present to Hollywood ownership of something, an exclusivity. I got a book out of galleys that is about this event. Now I own the rights to it. And we can now make something of it and no one else can. And I’m just like, oh yes we can. Oh yes we can.
And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, like my lawyer will call and will say, “OK, I got this submission. This producer has this thing.” And I’m like, OK, but what are they for? So they just planted a flag on a thing that is community property, like they went to a fire hydrant and said my fire hydrant. It’s not your fire hydrant.
And the worst part of this, and he really does such a good job of pointing this out, is that it’s distorting the way journalists do their work.
Craig: Because they know how this works. They can see what sells. And the money they get from selling the rights is vastly more than the money they get to do their actual jobs, which is a shame.
Liz: Yeah. We should definitely pay journalists better.
Craig: Yes. So it’s distorting the way we are now receiving information. And that part is the scariest of them all. I always say like, hey, the reason you’re sending me – I never say this to them – but I’m like the reason you’re sending me this book that is a bunch of facts that nobody owns is because you saw a show I did and you think I will do good with this. But there was no producers with books and properties back then. You know, in fact we were in “competition” with a project that Scott Rudin had because he bought a book out of galleys. Which, by the way, was an excellent book. But that book came out when our show came out. So they’re waiting around for a book to be published. Do you know what I mean?
Anyway, so I thought this was a great article. And I would just say to people like to writers if you love some bit of history don’t be afraid to talk to those people, but you don’t get boxed out of anything just because somebody has the rights to nonfiction.
John: So let’s talk about the money for a second because what Pogue says is that a long-form piece in something like The New Yorker is about $9,000 is what a top tier writer could expect to make out of this. Versus like options could be $300,000. It could be more than that. And so they’re definitely looking at a paycheck. And so even while on a screenwriter level, like a top tier screenwriter, that’s not a ton of money, for a journalist that is a ton of money.
Mark Harris had a tweet this last week where he was saying, “I talked to a writer today who told me her goal is to establish a Twitter persona—“
Liz: Oh right. I saw this.
John: “—that she can leverage into a deal for a book of identity-driven essays that she can sell as a streaming series that she will consult on and kick off her TV creator-producer career.” And so it is that sense of like if I’m going to be a journalist I have to be thinking about what stories I’m going to tell that can actually carry on to the next thing. And that’s not what journalism was supposed to be about.
Liz: Well, it’s also complicated because we’re living in a world of IP. We live in this world where everything has to be based on IP. Everything. You can’t, you know, do this – I mean, genuinely one of the reasons everybody freaked out about Knives Out, I mean, I think it’s a really great movie, but it’s also because it was original. It felt different. It felt like there wasn’t some underlying anything for it.
And so I think it’s really hard as – by the way, any version of writers, journalists, screenwriters, anybody – is going into a study and selling something and just being like, no, I made it up. Or, no, it’s about this time in history. And by the way it’s real. And I don’t need to back it up with a novel or a book or a nonfiction book. So I think that’s really hard.
Whereas when you say like here’s the book that this is based on everybody’s eyes sort of light up and they’re more excited. And they see the Time cover.
Craig: They shouldn’t be.
Liz: By the way, there is a tie-in book cover for All the Bright Places that has just been released for the fifth anniversary of the book.
Craig: But that’s fiction. Like I get that. But for nonfiction, everybody is just staring at this book, thinking that the book is going to get them through. It’s not. Especially if it’s nonfiction.
Liz: Well, by the way, The Post.
John: I was going to say The Post is based on real stories but it’s not based on any specific book, correct?
Liz: No, it’s not. It was never based on one specific book.
Craig: There you go.
Liz: It’s based on about a dozen different people’s stories. And actively Katharine Graham never wanted her memoir optioned, which was one of the issues everybody felt of adapting it. But in reality you don’t need that specific book to write a story about her life.
Craig: You don’t need it. Right.
Liz: And in fact that book is – by the way, personal history. Everybody should read it. But it’s specific to her perspective. And it’s her story.
Craig: That’s the other problem with this is that when you get these books you’re getting a point of view that you’re now locked into. If I had to pick one book about Chernobyl that show would not be what the show is because everybody has their focus. In fact, that’s how they end up selling the book. There is no event. Pick anything in – let’s just pick something. Vietnam War. There’s been 4,000 books about the Vietnam War. If you’re going to sell one now that somebody is going to option it has to be from a point of view that no one is like – this is a Vietnam War from the view of Viet Cong. He’s 16 years old. And he’s got to get from here to here. It’s his real story.
I get books like this now all the time. And I’m like that’s great. But, again, I’m only writing about that? That’s what I’m doing? Really?
Liz: Well, I mean, I think this is also 1917 which was a movie that I frankly was like dreading watching because I was like it’s another war movie.
John: And it was very specific.
Liz: I’ve seen this before. But, then I sat down and within five minutes I was like, oh, this is completely different because this is so specific. And it’s so personal.
Craig: It’s personal. It’s not a book.
Liz: First of all, I think it’s genius. But it’s so personal. And so that – I think there’s this dread of watching historical movies because you’re like it’s just going to be the same thing, or I’ve done all these, blah-blah-blah. If you’re encompassing one big story, you kind of have to do it either way. You’re either encompassing a huge story from multiple perspectives, or you’re doing the one. And I think that’s how you can do it now.
Craig: And you get to choose.
Liz: And you get to choose.
Craig: Whereas the book is choosing for you. And then when you show up as a writer, this is the other problem with these books, and these articles, and these podcasts, which I hate, is that you show up as a writer as an employee from the jump. Right? If you go and you say I have an idea, I want to write a history of the Washington Post and Katharine Graham and Ben Bradley and all these things that happened.
John: Or if you just go and do it yourself as a spec.
Craig: Or you do it yourself, exactly. I am the property. The writer is the thing that matters. As opposed to would you like to rent a room in my book house for a while, employee? And I just think we lose power from the jump with this stuff.
Liz: It’s interesting. Because I just adapted a podcast as a limited and I had never done that before. It’s a true story. And what I found interesting was actually–
John: It wasn’t Scriptnotes, was it?
John: Oh yeah. Who is playing me is what I want to know.
Craig: I am.
Liz: Yeah, sorry.
Craig: It’s the weirdest thing.
John: That’s such a bold choice.
Craig: It’s so weird. Well she said that I knew you well enough and that I could do it.
Liz: I wrote him a cover letter and I was describing his character. And that’s how he agreed to do it.
But so I adapted this podcast and it was really interesting because it was kind of the best version of what we’re talking about because it actually was multitudes of perspectives. It was a podcast that was done by journalists and so there were dozens of people that they interviewed. And so what it was, they had done all the research for me.
Liz: And so it was in one way for me the most freeing way to do that because I had all these different perspectives. Not just me, obviously. The team that I was working with. And that I think is really freeing. If that had been one person and that had been one person’s perspective on this story I don’t think there was any way to do it. And that’s very limiting. But because it’s IP everybody is really excited.
Craig: I’m with you on that. There was a podcast that I was considering adapting and it was very much like the one you’re saying. It was very broad in its scope and it was so brilliantly researched and done. And so I felt like, OK, this is the most amazing research partner of a general world of stuff. But these things where they’ll come to you, “We have a podcast about one family and their war against another family in this little town. And it’s crazy the things that happen.” I’m like, great, but that’s like, ugh. So it’s all real and it’s very narrow. And can I just listen to the podcast and then do my version?
Why do I actually need? You know? Anyway.
Liz: Why does every episode have to follow the episode of that? Yeah.
John: So Pogue’s article I think very smartly points to Argo as being really a key point in the progression of this. Because Argo is based on this Wire piece by the guy who founded this journalism company, Joshuah Bearman. And that became sort of the platonic ideal of sort of like what the true life story turned into good Hollywood entertainment. It had all of the pieces and beats that you sort of want to see. And I think we’ve referenced Argo a lot as we’ve done these How Would This Be a Movie segments. It’s like you’re taking a real life story and how you’re transforming it. But I really wasn’t thinking about the underlying piece of IP. I was just thinking about the actual events and assuming that a great script was written because it was a great script.
Craig: Well we will watch these things and appreciate them when they’re done really, really well. But the business layer in our industry looks at process. And they’re trying to duplicate a process. So a writer sent me an email this morning and he said, “I want you to know that I was meeting at a place,” he wouldn’t tell me where, “and they have asked their executives to just start compiling lists of industrial disasters.”
John: That’s amazing.
Craig: And I just was like you dumb–
John: Taking the wrong lesson.
Craig: Dumb, dumb dodos. Like you dopes. But this is what they do. So Argo is a remarkable story that, you know, as we do ours and we’ll do some today, some of these resist and some of these as you know just blossom in front of you. Argo is one that just like any one of us I think could have looked at that and said we know what to do. It was one of those. And not to take anything away from the brilliance of what they did do, but you could see how it could be something. And they don’t understand that.
They just see a process. Buy article. Sell article. Make money. Because so many of them make money from just things being made. Not from them being made correctly or interestingly or, yeah.
Liz: Well, I think it’s also what you’re talking about is the specificity of a writer’s voice, too. Because I think there’s also the version where the three of us see all of the events of what takes place in Argo and there are three different movies and none of them are actually Argo that Chris Terrio wrote.
Craig: That’s right.
Liz: And so I think that, you know, The Post was a movie that wasn’t a remarkable and a unique idea to be like I want to make a movie about the Pentagon Papers and Katharine Graham. People have been sort of talking about it. When I was writing it I heard there were two other scripts going on at the same time that were, by the way, very different, that were much more focused on – I haven’t obviously read any of them but I was told much more focused on the Pentagon Papers.
So my unique vision on what to do was to follow Kay. And so that’s really specific. A dozen other movies could have been made about Ben Bradley. About The New York Times. About any other version of those stories, of those events. So I think like to people listening who are wondering like well I want to make a movie about the Vietnam War. I want to make a movie about this, but like every movie has been made about this, everything has ever been said. Well what are you saying that’s different? What are you bringing to it that’s going to be unique?
John: Yep. So, I asked on Twitter saying what stories should we talk about for a How Would This Be a Movie. And so here’s what I did not pick, but I want to single them out because they were some really, really great stories that I didn’t pick for this one. People asked like, oh, an adaptation of the book She Said, the Harvey Weinstein story. Sure. Great.
The History of the Vibrator. The Secret History of the Vibrator. It’s different than you expect. It was not actually done by a medical professionals for hysterical women. It was actually a very different origin.
A stripper named [Tanka Ray] who had a great backstory.
Craig: [Tanka Ray].
Liz: Love it.
John: What actually is happening in the Chevy/JD Power commercials, the ones where they keep revealing all these real life people.
Craig: Oh yes.
John: And JD Power. Like what the hell is JD Power?
Craig: And Associates.
John: The demon ZoZo who often shows up with Ouija Boards.
Craig: Oh, OK.
Liz: Wow, that was not a twist I saw coming.
John: Outsourcing of hitmen, so hitmen who keep hiring a subcontractor and a subcontractor.
Craig: Oh yeah.
Liz: Is that like Barry season four?
Craig: It will be.
John: It is. This woman who falls in love thanks to being catfished. She actually falls in love with the guy whose photos were being used by the cat-fisher. And they actually–
Liz: That’s awesome.
Craig: She fell in love with the stock photo guy.
John: Yeah. Stock photo.
Craig: I love that. That’s amazing.
Liz: That’s great.
John: Ronald Reagan’s October surprise. Bic vs. Gillette. Could be the new Ford vs. Ferrari.
Liz: That’s the one we’ve been waiting for.
John: Yes. Firefighters who are saving the dinosaur trees of Australia. Tuna price-fixing. Ships frozen in ice at the North Pole. Soldiers battling wolves in WWI.
John: There’s some good stuff here. But for today I picked political stories. Things that have a good political angle because I feel like we’re in a political moment. Liz, you’re a person who writes movies with politics involved.
Liz: Unfortunately. Sorry everybody.
John: The first one I want to talk about is Jeff Bezos and his phone getting hacked. Because this was a really complicated saga also with some iconic characters. It’s still kind of happening in real-time in front of us. Very short version of this. Everyone knows Jeff Bezos. This is a summary that John Gruber did. And so John Gruber has a site called Daring Fireball. And I really liked his pitch for what this saga was. I’m going to summarize it a bit here.
The richest man in the world, a billionaire a hundred times over, meets and exchanges phone numbers with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, the most powerful dictator in the Middle East. The richest man in the world happens to own as a mere side business The Washington Post, a newspaper whose news coverage and opinion columns have been highly critical of the Saudi Arabian royal family’s brutal and aggressive regime. The crown prince uses this superficial personal relationship with the richest man in the world to hack his phone by an infected attachment sent by WhatsApp using military grade technology seemingly crafted by a secretive firm from Israel that supposedly only offers its services to trusted governments.
With the information they extract they end up revealing an affair that he’s been having. His marriage falls apart. He brings in Gavin de Becker, a world-famous sort of researcher and protector to figure out what’s happening. The president of the United States is involved in the saga. The president’s son-in-law is involved in the saga. A team of Saudi agents brutally murder and dismember Jamal Khashoggi, who was a reporter for The Washington Post.
There’s just a lot of pieces here. So, the Jeff Bezos MBS saga, how do we start this movie?
Liz: Well, if it’s Craig there is a natural disaster or a manmade disaster probably.
John: Well let’s take a look at this on—
Liz: This is the article. This is the one you’ve been looking for.
Craig: This is it.
John: Let’s take a look at this on two fronts. First off, the actual story. And then I think we should also talk realistically about how challenging it will be to make this movie given the people involved.
Craig: Well, so weirdly I don’t think it would be hugely challenging depending on the company. There are some companies that are tied up with money from the Middle East, but generally not from Saudi Arabia. Look, I think one of the competitors to Amazon, whether it be Netflix or Hulu would be thrilled to maybe poke Bezos. It’s not like he’s going to kick their stuff off of Amazon here and there. But when I read through this story the challenge I see it as is that other than the Khashoggi story which was just terrible and shocking, I’m not sure I care that much.
In other words, it’s a billionaire who is getting poked back by another billionaire and his marriage falls apart. But he’s OK. And he continues to own that business and The Washington Post. It is concerning that Saudi Arabia is in possession of technology that can do this. But that’s it. It’s sort of like so it happens and then it’s like and how what. And did it change the world? Did it crack the earth open in any significant way? I don’t really think so.
So, weirdly my problem with dramatizing this is I’m not sure that it’s dramatic in any significant way. That’s kind of – yeah.
John: All right. Liz, you made another movie about The Washington Post.
Liz: I did do that.
Craig: Which was dramatic.
John: So I’m wondering where do you see – what characters would you focus on if you were doing this movie?
Liz: That I think was my initial reaction reading it was like who is the POV character in this? Because I agree. I didn’t have, again, I think aside from Khashoggi which that I think in this story and the way this article is laid out is almost an afterthought to what happened. And that for me is the emotional crux and the tragedy of this whole story. And so I wonder if there’s something there of that you’re telling the story when billionaires fight there are consequences. And it’s not just done over text message. There are actual legitimate fatal consequences to this power play and to whomever is in the White House currently.
And I think – so that for me was like I don’t know that this article is the story, but if this is the backdrop there’s probably a deeper emotional conversation to be had about the side effects of billionaires trying to play each other.
John: Yeah. So we’ll link to a couple different articles. And this to me of all – we were talking about sort of like whether things need to be based on IP or based on articles – I don’t think there has to be anything based on an article here at all.
Craig: No way. Yeah.
John: That question of POV, I would have generally said like I don’t care about rich people’s problems, and then I watched Succession. And I guess it turns out I really do care about rich people’s problems.
Liz: I love rich people’s problems on Succession.
Craig: Although, are they rich people’s problems? Because my obsession with Succession is that the richness exacerbates family problems. And that they’re everyone’s family problems.
Liz: Well it’s basically King Lear.
Craig: Yes. It’s King Lear.
John: But the degree to which Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, that it is a classic affair but taken to such a weirdly Titanic level. And so I think what might be possibly interesting about doing this story is that you have these characters who are almost like Olympian gods at this sort of Titanic level up here. And then you have the contrast of that with sort of ordinary people. And so I don’t know there’s ways you get down to the Amazon fulfillment worker and the researcher, or the hacker who is doing this one little bit of code, but there may be some way of just looking at how disparate these people’s lives are. The scale at which they’re playing. Because it’s true that also I think national/international policies is happening partly because of this affair. And this weird text message being sent back and forth has triggered something huge in the world over what should be something kind of inconsequential. I think that might be the way you get over the scale problem.
Liz: Yeah. It’s also a little bit like The Laundromat. It’s kind of the story of the little guys that are affected. You know, it’s the people who are not involved in the power plays and not involved in those conversations and not involved in the affair and they’re getting totally screwed.
John: Yeah. Let’s talk about some of the dangers about trying to tackle this story at all. Because you said that you felt like a Netflix or an HBO might be willing to some of this. I come back to thinking of Sony and North Korea. And I do wonder if you’re the company that’s trying to this thing you may be looking at not just legal challenges from Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, but also a government who is trying to destroy things.
Craig: Yeah. And they’ve proven that they have some technologies there. So, that is an issue. And it’s going to become more of an issue because we know for instance that it’s not possible to tell certain stories about China. This has been coming up a lot because I’ve been getting a lot of tweets and things about Wuhan and coronavirus and what the Chinese government is doing, which sounds very, very familiar to anybody that’s looked at the way other certain communist governments have handled these kinds of things. And the fact remains that I just don’t see how you could make a movie that is critical of the Chinese government in Hollywood today because of the intertwining of finances. It’s just not possible. I just don’t think it’s possible.
And that’s obviously of great concern. It’s going to become of more concern. This is not the first time Hollywood has had this problem. Curiously they did in the 30s. The Nazi government started basically pressuring Hollywood to not make certain kinds of things or they wouldn’t show the movies in Germany. And Hollywood in its typical way said, “OK.” Because Hollywood is cowardly and loves money.
So, despite all of the wonderful speeches that people in Hollywood seem to make about progress and freedom and liberty and so forth, it’s going to become harder and harder to do this because of globalization and the globalization of the marketplace. And more importantly the globalization of financing turns everything into a tricky mess. And sooner or later you just end up with whatever the safest villain is when we start making these movies.
So, famously the Red Dawn remake, right? It’s like, yeah, North Korea, what are they going to do, right? So I think in 20 years the only villains that we’ll have in movies will be the North Koreans. We’re telling some story about what happened when the United States invaded Grenada, it will still be North Korea. We’ll just change it to North Korea.
John: We’ll just have to invent some random country. Some island nation.
Liz: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s interesting talking about globalization and things like that because look at what happened with the NBA when Daryl Morey tweeted about Hong Kong.
Craig: Oh yeah. And the cowardliness was just kneejerk, right?
Liz: And I think there’s also the problem of people being undereducated to actually the things that are happening. I think people will just say kind of a blanket statement of like, oh, well this is what’s happening. But not knowing and not understanding. Frankly, I think the fact that the Houston Rockets didn’t fire Daryl Morey is a big statement and I think is good that they did not take it to that level and they didn’t fine him and things like that.
Liz: But it is really this conversation of fear and it is a conversation of, you know, look, I’ve not done a project because I was genuinely afraid that the people that I was writing about would take over my car and make me crash into the side of the building. There are those things.
Craig: Those thoughts have crossed my mind as well.
Liz: Yeah. There are those stories that there is a legitimate fear. And do I really want to write that one or am I OK just turning my car on and leaving that one on the side? So, Saudi Arabia is a little scary. That’s a little, you know.
Craig: It is.
Liz: I would prefer not to have them hack my phone.
John: All right. Also looking at globalization and probably the single person who most embodies globalization at this moment would be Carlos Ghosn. So this all happened while I was in Japan. I was there for the holidays. And so I was there as all this stuff happened. So, if you don’t know who Carlos Ghosn is he was born in Brazil to Lebanese parents, raised in Lebanon. He attended some of France’s best schools. He was working for the tire-maker Michelin. He worked on his English and became head of the North American company, for Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi, that alliance.
He was arrested in Tokyo for basically hiding money, not declaring money that he’d gotten in. On December 29th he escaped and made his way all the way back to Lebanon, which should have been impossible, and he somehow did it. So, this feels like – what I love about this story is I can completely imagine a version of this where he is the hero and this remarkable, daring escape he’s made, or that he is a great villain who has fled from Japan.
Craig: Or a MacGuffin.
Craig: Like he’s like the light in the briefcase. First of all, Carlos Ghosn’s last name for a word puzzle nerd is such a gift.
Liz: Phenomenal. It’s great.
Craig: Like I’m looking at Carlos Ghosn. I’m like, OK, is there a puzzle where other names I can just remove. I can change one letter in the first name and one letter in the last name, both to T, and make a phrase like car lot ghost. So now I have a whole Carlos Ghosn puzzle I’m going to try and work on.
But, my take on this would be like you get hired by a company that’s like here’s the deal, we got to figure out how to get this dude out of this country over there.
Craig: It’s logistics. And it’s a comedy.
John: A heist in a way.
Craig: It’s a heist where you’re moving a human through. And it’s really hard. And you have to make money. And maybe you kind of get to know him while he’s talking through the box or whatever. But I love the idea of kind of a logistics-based black comedy.
Liz: I think we should get the Ocean’s crew back for this one.
John: Totally. So, at one point in order to get into a plane he’s basically smuggled inside a box, because it was just too big to go through the normal scanner. So they don’t detect that a human being is inside that.
Craig: I don’t know. When you read it, because the thing is when you look at him it’s just kind of funny. Like I’m not scared of this guy.
Craig: He seems kind of like a goof.
Liz: He threw a Marie Antoinette-themed birthday party for his wife.
Craig: He’s a goof, right?
Liz: Like it sounds amazing.
Craig: Yeah. So it smells like a comedy to me also because his crime is financial. And while we know that financial crimes have impacts on real people, he’s not a murderer. He wasn’t like polluting the air with some evil chemical. He just, you know. And, look, he also kind of has a point. I mean, his point was I got arrested in Japan for this crime and their conviction rate is 99%. That’s a huge problem. Like that is legitimately a problem.
Craig: It doesn’t appear that there’s such a thing as a fair trial in Japan if everyone is guilty. So I kind of got like a little bit of sympathy.
Craig: You know? Look, he’s probably a total criminal. But, I don’t know, I just thought it was fun.
Liz: Do you think the Japanese government was like, “We got to lose that one case so it’s not 100%.” Do you think they have that conversation?
John: A ringer.
Liz: We’ve got to keep it just at 99% guys. Because otherwise we’ve got issues.
Craig: I think they need to adjust that number. I’ve got to be honest with you. 99 is not–
Liz: I have questions.
Craig: Like I think the federal government has like a 90% conviction rate here in the US.
John: Which you could argue like–
Craig: They pick the winners.
John: They only try the cases that they know they can win.
Craig: But even there like, you know, like one out of ten. That feels like we’re normal. If you win every game as a pitcher you’re probably juicing, you know? So lose one.
John: I will put a link in the show notes to an article that talks about the Hollywood connection behind all this because – actually both of these stories have Hollywood connections.
Craig: That was the craziest.
John: Yeah. So Ghosn was talking with a producer about sort of like that his life felt like a movie in this way. And so this was before he had actually done this great escape. So I think that’s funny.
Going back to the previous story, there’s a Hollywood connection there, too, because the way the party at which Jeff Bezos and MBS met was here in Hollywood. Brian Grazer was throwing this party and Iger was there and other folks were there. So it’s so–
Craig: Never go to a Brian Grazer party. Never go.
John: That’s what tends to happen.
Craig: I mean, I’ve never been invited.
Liz: Yeah, I was like how many of those invitations have you shot down, Craig?
Liz: There you go.
Craig: Zero. But I’m just saying prospectively I’m not doing it.
Liz: You have a 99% of not going to a Brian Grazer party.
Craig: Of not going to a Brian Grazer party.
John: All right. Our third and final story is also political. This is about Holly Cairns—
Liz: Love this one.
John: Standing against partner Christopher O’Sullivan. This is in rural Cork. She is a candidate for the Social Democrats. He is a candidate for some other political party whose name I can’t pronounce.
Craig: But they’re like a moderate, moderate-left versus left-left.
John: Yes. But they’re both running for the same spot. It feels like a classic setup, but I was trying to remember what other movies had the male and female—
Craig: The Competition.
John: What other rom-com has the couple against each other?
Craig: The Competition is a great movie, Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving are both competitive pianists. And they’re falling in love while they’re at a competition. They’re not like already together. That’s a new one. Hmm?
Liz: I can’t pull any.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t think so.
Liz: I mean, I really – reading this I was like – can we just do the sequel to Long Shot with this? Because it’s such a great story. I also liked that there’s also three seats available. So the two of them could–
Craig: Which kind of takes away the—
Liz: Takes a little bit.
John: The stakes.
Craig: The reality has lowered the stakes.
Liz: And also the article left that to be like the last line of the article.
Craig: Which I was like oh you people.
Liz: Yeah. You just got me.
Craig: And also but like the danger is the article, or at least one of the articles starts off with, “It sounds like a bad romantic comedy.” And you’re like that’s the problem. It kind of sounds like a bad romantic comedy. So how do you make the good romantic comedy version out of it? Because the two of them seem actually lovely. And they’re married and they’re staying married, which means there’s actually not a ton of conflict there it seems.
Liz: No. And you can tell they’re not Americans because they’re so just casual and like, well, we agree about everything except politics. So it’s fine. And I was like I’ve never – I don’t understand that. That’s not a sentence that’s ever been said in the United States.
Craig: And also like they’re both super good-looking. It’s actually really annoying. I hate them.
John: All right. So let’s talk about the challenges. If you get hired to do this story what are the things you’re going to be looking for in order to create the conflict, the challenge that you need? And so we’ve had other writers come on talking about the romantic comedy engine. What are we looking for in a comedy and in here that’s going to make this possible so it doesn’t just stall out?
Liz: I mean, for me I think comedy is always best when it’s organic and relatable. Like I think when you – character flaws are inherently comedic. Particularly if you see a reflection of yourself in them. So, I think this feels like a relationship comedy to me. This feels like two people who like the only reason they’re not together is because they disagree about everything. You know, so, it feels a little like a comedy version of like War of the Roses. And you get two really dynamic people who – and passionate people.
My only thing is I don’t know if the conflict of the movie can be sustained about two people arguing about politics.
Liz: That feels like a–
John: But here’s where I think the upcoming election gives you a real benefit in this story that you don’t normally get in a romantic comedy. It’s like there is a deadline. There is going to be a decision reached. And normally when a couple has conflict about when do we have kids, are we staying here or are we moving, there’s never a decision. And actually it can feel like the population is getting to vote on some of these things.
Craig: Right. My gut is that there’s no way to do this story if they’re happily married in the beginning.
Craig: It’s not a good marriage. It’s falling apart. And the fact that one of them chooses to run against the other is the ultimate shot across the bow. And then what they find, and this is a very romantic comedy sort of way of looking at it, is as they compete with each other they just start getting hotter and hotter to each other.
Liz: It’s a little Mr. and Mrs. Smith meets like The American President.
John: Yes. There you go.
Craig: Exactly. And so what happens is they are back together again and then one of them discovers that the other one has kind of screwed them over campaign wise. It’s that phrase all’s fair in love and war. No. There is an interesting movie where you say that’s nonsense. All is not fair in love at the very least. Right? And so it was like it started bad, it got good, it went terrible, and then there’s the election and obviously something good happens at the end you would hope.
The problem with these movies, and when I say these movies – movies where the climax is leading up to a competition. Sports movies have this all the time. Election movies have this. Someone has to win and someone has to lose. And there’s only so many permutations. The least interesting one is like the person that we thought would win would win. So you see in like, sports movies got smart. They used to be like “we win” and then they were like “we win the semi-final, who knows what will happen next.”
Liz: We got the emotional win. We got the character win.
Craig: And then they were like “we lose but we lose with honor.” So they’ve done so many permutations. And when you’re dealing with a man and a woman it’s like, well, if the man wins it just feels like, ugh, men win, cliché. But if the woman wins it also feels quite like, ugh, they had to let the woman win. You know?
All the nonsense gears-turning of people misinterpreting. So then what do you do at the end? Do they both lose? But then you feel like, ugh, they both lost. Screw this movie. What do you do?
Liz: Or do you do the version – and this is not the romantic comedy version – but this is like the romantic drama version where somebody wins and they breakup.
Craig: Oh, that’s so sad.
Liz: I know. Sorry guys. I brought you down.
Craig: Oh, and then there’s also the whole like Gift of the Magi version where it’s a tie and they each voted for each other. You know, like there could be something sweet. I’m such a sentimentalist.
Liz: Yeah, that doesn’t happen.
Craig: I know. I know.
Liz: That’s not happening. That’s not a thing that happens. Sorry. I think them breaking up actually is probably like the more interesting version if you’re going to do this. You basically do kind of like a high concept updated War of the Roses. And that like maybe the fighting has like pushed one of them to realize something they didn’t, but also realize we’re not supposed to be together.
Craig: I’m so old-fashioned. I want them to be together.
Liz: But maybe one of them is like, “I’m president, you’re vice-president, but we’re not going to be together. We’re the best functional as partners, but not romantically.” I don’t know.
Craig: Maybe there’s a way that they have to like – you know, like sometimes you can run for an office while you have an office. So let’s say she’s running for this office and he already has an office that he can keep. She wins. But she has to now work with him like as a coalition thing? Like I want them to be in love at the end.
John: Yeah. I do, too. A coalition government. That’s what we want.
Craig: Yeah. The Coalition is a good title, by the way.
John: Every relationship is a coalition government.
Liz: It’s true.
Liz: That is accurate.
John: Every marriage is a coalition government.
Craig: Absolutely. Yes, I’ve been in the minority coalition my entire marriage.
John: It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is Trick Mirror. It’s a book by Jia Tolentino. The subtitle is Reflections on Self-Delusion. I thought it was great. Megana, our producer, had recommended it. And I read the first essay, The I in Internet, and thought it was so good I just reread the whole essay again. It was terrific.
She talks about growing up in a Houston megachurch. The sororities of UVA. The Peace Corps. Being on an early reality television show. She’s just a really good writer. You know there’s some writers who you’re like I’ll read whatever essay you write. I don’t care what it’s about. I’ll read that essay. And it was just great. So Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino.
Craig: Awesome. What about you, Liz?
Liz: Me? I’m going to do a health thing, which is really—
Craig: Ooh, health.
Liz: I know. So I’ve spent the last eight months in a room, which basically means I’ve stopped taking care of myself. And a friend of mine recently was like you need to drink more water because it’s going to make you healthier.
Craig: Oh, the water people.
Liz: I know, those water people.
John: They come. They come at you.
Liz: But she upped the stakes for it. Superior electrolytes. They are electrolytes you put into your water. It changed my life, genuinely.
Craig: Salt. So she sold you salt.
Liz: She sold me watermelon flavored salt.
Craig: OK. [laughs]
Liz: But here’s the thing. Genuinely I’ve been, again, this goes back to what we sort of always talk about which is taking care of yourself, and none of us do that. And particularly writers. It’s just so much easier not to. To stay sitting rather than get up. It’s a lot nice than having to walk around or exercise. But I’ve decided that I’m supposed to take care of myself now. And so superior electrolytes. They’re fantastic. I’ve actually genuinely in the ten days of doing it I found out I feel better when I’m hydrated.
Craig: Hydration is important.
John: That I totally believe.
Craig: Yeah, it turns out we do actually need – we are mostly water and we need the thing that we are.
Liz: Well, and if you work out you end up sweating, which is also horrible because that’s another reason we don’t work out.
Craig: It’s gross.
Liz: Yeah, it’s gross.
Craig: You’re peeing out of your skin. It’s disgusting.
Liz: It’s just a horrible thing.
Craig: It’s terrible.
Liz: But I highly recommend. This is a broader spectrum of things to say which is like take care of yourself. It is an important thing to do.
Craig: Always. Always, always, always. We’re big fans of that.
My One Cool Thing is a kind of a puzzle that I knew about for a couple of years because I’m a puzzle dork. I learned these little niche puzzles. Usually because I’ll get a puzzle and I’ll look at it and I’ll go what the hell is this. And then Dave Shukan who is my puzzle mentor will go, “Oh, that’s a this kind of puzzle.” I didn’t hear – what’s a that kind of puzzle?
So, a couple of years ago I was doing this puzzle and I’m like I don’t understand what I’m even looking at. And he goes, “Oh, oh, oh. Yeah. That’s called a star battle. It’s a certain kind of puzzle.” In the New York Times they do these big puzzle inserts at the end of the year and they included star battles. And they explained what they are. And people are very, very excited.
It’s such a fun puzzle to do. Very simple. It’s basically a grid. It’s like 10×10. And your job is to put two stars in every row and every column. But there can only be two stars in every row and every column. To make things a little trickier, but also a little easier, they also have these squiggly lines inside of the grid that are regions. In every region there must be exactly two stars.
So it’s this very elegant, very simple logic puzzle. And you’re like, OK, well I guess that shouldn’t be, and then it just absolutely possesses your mind. You can play them on the Internet for free if you just Google star battle puzzle. Like the very first hit should be one of those little online. And you can generate different sized grids and amounts of stars.
John: I love it.
Liz: Have you ever played Wit’s End?
John: I have played Wit’s End.
Craig: What’s Wit’s End?
John: That’s the one where you have the little wooden walls that you put up?
Liz: No, no, no.
John: A different one. Tell us.
Liz: OK. So I’ll do one more quick thing. I’m a huge Trivial Pursuit nerd. We play Trivial Pursuit a lot in my house. The problem is we’ve run out of questions.
John: Oh! We call Wit’s End “smart people game.”
Liz: Well, Wit’s End is like an updated version of Trivial Pursuit. You can play with two more people. But the questions are very different. They’re not just trivia questions. There’s like word puzzle questions.
Craig: Oh I love this.
Liz: And there’s like ranking things. So you have to rank like the five countries that start with L from largest to smallest. And so—
Craig: I’m buying this thing right now.
Liz: It’s excellent. You can buy it on Amazon. It’s called Wit’s, like I’m witty, although I’m not, Wit’s End. Highly recommend. Really fun. Also goes very fast. Like we played two rounds in an hour. It’s great.
John: Great. Very nice. That is our show for this week. A reminder for our Premium members that we are going to do a bonus segment about books. If you are not a Premium member you can sign up at Scriptnotes.net. You can also give a gift membership if you want to give a gift membership to somebody. There’s a little button that says “send a gift.” So you can do that.
Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. With production assistance this week by Stuart Friedel and Dustin Vox.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro is by Lachlan Marks. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust.
Liz, you are?
John: Excellent. You can find show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts. And reminder, Scriptnotes.net is where you sign up to get the Premium goodness. Liz Hannah, thank you so much for joining us here.
Liz: Thanks guys.
Craig: Thank you, Liz.
Liz: I want the jacket next time.
John: All right. It’s time for our bonus segment. I want to talk about books and specifically what you’re allowed to do to a physical printed book.
Craig: Burn them!
Liz: I was going to say there’s one thing you’re really not allowed to do.
John: On Twitter this past someone showed a picture of like I find a way to make Ulysses more portable, basically they ripped it down the spine so you just take half of it with you at any point.
Craig: But people lost their shit. I mean, they went bananas.
Liz: That’s a tough one.
John: That’s a tough one.
Craig: I think book people think books are alive. [laughs]
John: And I grew up, I remember watching—
Liz: They have feelings.
John: They have feelings. I don’t know if it was a film or probably a film strip with like a [doop] that advanced to the next thing, we were talking about like when you get a library book or a new book you have to open it carefully and bend all the pages and how you don’t mark anything in it. And I’ve increasingly just started just writing in books or dog-earing pages.
Craig and Liz, what do you think is OK to do with a printed book?
Liz: I think anything except burning it. I really feel like that’s the one that you don’t do. I mean, I adapt a lot of books, so even in my professional career I have to highlight things. And have to underline things and stuff like that. So, I don’t know how I would begin to do my job without being able to do that.
I don’t think I’ve ever used a bookmark in my entire life.
Liz: So dog ear. Or if like it’s a hardcover sometimes I’ll try and do like the book cover–
John: Oh, the jacket.
Liz: The jacket into the page. But that inevitably, then the book jacket is gone.
Craig: It falls out.
Liz: And so inevitably it doesn’t happen. So, yeah, I think there’s just like one really big thing you don’t do with books, and then everything else feels OK.
Craig: And there’s one really big thing you do do with them, which is read them. So as long as you’re reading them, read them the way you want to read them. That’s what they’re there for.
John: Here’s a question for you. If I lend you a book, should I have any expectation that you’re going to give me the book back? That printed book?
Craig: Well, I mean, the word lend implies yes.
Liz: Yes. If I’m giving you a book then, no. But, what’s funny is I did recently give a friend of mine a book because I was like this book is great. And then he brought it back and I was like I really didn’t want it back. Like I don’t have enough space for this.
John: It’s not a boomerang.
Craig: Did you use the word gift?
Liz: No, this was yours. I gave it to you.
Craig: I’m giving you this book.
Liz: Yes. This is for you.
Craig: If someone says lend I immediately feel guilty and I’m in a panic and I want to send it back.
Liz: I also take care of it. I don’t mark it. I would say that’s something you don’t do. When somebody lends you a book do not highlight it. Do not dog ear it. That kind of stuff.
Craig: Well at that point what I usually say is because of the way I sometimes physically handle my books I’ll just buy it. Or, you know, get the e-book version which then I can do whatever I want.
Liz: Right. Who is reading Ulysses and needs to carry – we live with e-books and iPads in our world. By the way, you don’t have to tear anything off. And it’s lighter.
Craig: By the way, you don’t have to buy Ulysses. Isn’t it in public domain anyway?
Liz: I’m sure. I’m confused.
John: I’m confused, too. Well, I will say let’s talk about e-books versus printed books. Because like a previous recommendation was Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, which is an 800-page book. And so I bought the book at Chevaliers where they’re doing the Arlo Finch book reading. Everyone should come to that. And you should go and support local bookstores and buy physical books, which is fantastic. So I bought this book at Chevaliers and I was like, oh my god, this book is so big and so heavy. It’s like uncomfortable to read. It’s just too big of a book. So I also bought the Kindle version. So, Chuck Wendig got paid twice.
Liz: There you go.
John: Which is good. But it was much easier to read that book. And Jia Tolentino’s book I just recommended, I did read the e-book version, although I had the printed version here at the office.
Liz: I do that a lot. I do the double purchase a lot.
Craig: I’ll do the double purchase.
Liz: Because I love having – I am a tactile person, so like actual reading of a book I enjoy. And like, you know, I keep a book in my bag whenever I’m traveling around waiting for meetings and stuff like that. You just have kind of a book.
But, you know, if I’m going on vacation I bring my iPad.
John: I hate reading off the iPad. You’ll read a book on the iPad?
Craig: I do. But you read better from a book I think.
Liz: Yes, I do, too.
Craig: A proper book.
John: I read better from a Kindle.
Liz: I process it better.
Craig: I’ll get both versions for research purposes. Because you can search–
Liz: It’s so great.
Craig: Which is amazing, right? You can search, which is brilliant. And of course you can highlight if you wish, which is a little clunky, although the new pencil makes it a lot easier. But I still, a physical book I just find easier to deal with and easier – because that’s how I was raised. My daughter I don’t think ever reads a physical book unless it’s required for school or something. Everything is online. I mean, that’s how they’ve learned. It’s over, John.
John: It’s over.
Craig: It’s over. It’s over.
Liz: Well, we all knew that. Yeah, the only thing that I really actively read on my iPad are screenplays. Like I don’t read screenplays printed out anymore. I don’t do notes on printed out screenplays anymore. I do it on the iPad. And I just bought the big iPad.
Craig: Oh, the big-big.
Liz: The big-big one, which felt like an aggressive move until my husband was like, “No, it’s the size of a piece of paper.” And I was like, oh, well that changes everything.
Craig: Is that right?
Craig: Oh wow.
Liz: So one screenplay page is one–
Craig: That’s the one my daughter has. Oh, that’s actually kind of – is it heavy or?
Liz: Nope. It’s wonderful. Because you can do notes. And it’s not cramming them.
John: Is it the size of this one? Or is it bigger than this?
Liz: No, it’s bigger than that.
Craig: It’s the big-big.
John: Oh, I find that too big. But it works for you.
Liz: I thought it was going to be too big. And now I’m obsessed with it.
Craig: This is the one I have. I have the one that you have which is the standard size.
John: Which works well. But Craig, you and I used to – we grew up in D&D with physical books. And you’ve really transitioned to e-books for that.
Craig: OK, so like D&D wise, just having gone through the – so I’ve switched over pretty recently to just using the source books, because you can search. But the new revelation was I just built this new character with their character builder. It’s spectacular. It’s so good. And the best part is you never want to print it out. You always want to have it on your iPad because now you tap on something and it tells you exactly what it is. Like you never have to wonder or flip through. It is freaking great.
Obviously hugely relevant to your life, Liz. Hugely relevant to your life.
Liz: I just fell asleep for a couple minutes. No. No.
Craig: Once again, the light went out in her eyes.
Liz: There is just a little clicking off. No, you know, I tried. I tried.
Craig: Listen, that’s all anyone could ever ask. You don’t have to like things. You know, sometimes – I know I’m supposed to like kale. Right? It’s bad.
Liz: I feel the same way about kale as you do. Or you feel the same way about kale as I do about D&D. How about that?
Craig: I hear you.
Liz: That sounds good.
Craig: I hear you.
- Liz Hannah on Twitter and IMDb, and Scriptnotes episodes 242 and 359
- The 2020 WGA Award nominees and winners
- Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows will be having a Launch Event: February 9, 2pm at Chevalier’s on Larchmont
- Scriptnotes, Episode 434 in which we discuss Knives Out
- MoviePass parent Helios and Matheson files for Chapter 7 and stock falls to zero, on MarketWatch
- All the Bright Places comes to Netflix on February 28
- They Made a Movie Out of It by James Pogue
- John Gruber on the Jeff Bezos phone hack
- The New York Times on Carlos Ghosn’s escape and the Hollywood connection
- ‘Like a bad romcom’: couple run against each other in Irish election from The Guardian
- Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
- Superieur Electrolytes
- Star Battle puzzles
- Wit’s End on Amazon
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Lachlan Marks (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here.