The original post for this episode can be found here
Craig Mazin: Hi folks. All of you I presume are listening at home, which means that children are about. Unfortunately for them this episode does contain some strong language, so put in those ear buds, put in those headphones. Keep those children safe.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 443 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we’re going to be talking about working from home, a subject Craig and I know very well. We’ll talk about what works for us and what might work for you if you find yourself in this situation. Then we’ll be hearing from some of our favorite guests about what they’ve been up to during this period of uncertainty. Not surprisingly they’ve had a range of experiences and some surprises.
And in our bonus segment for Premium members we’re going to talk about math. What we remember from school and what we actually use.
John: Woo-hoo! Craig, this is not any different from our normal recording situation. We are usually on Skype. We are back on Skype. It’s just nothing is different.
Craig: Yeah. You and I have been social distancing from each other since the very beginning. And so I’m at home, so the microphone is not quite as professional but hopefully is holding up OK. And, I mean, technically my office is safe because I’ve sent my employees home. Bo is working from home and Jack is working from home. But I don’t think technically I’m supposed to be going there now because we have this full shutdown other than essential workers and people that are staffing stores with essential supplies.
John: Exactly. So, Megana is also home. She’s going to be getting this episode together. Matthew is cutting this at home as he usually does. So it’s all going to work out. It’s just some differences and changes along the edges. But this is not unusual for us and we can share our experiences and some tips for folks at home.
But first and most importantly we should talk about what did happen this past week, because actually a bunch of stuff did go down. Last Saturday I was texting with you, Craig, about this Go Fund Me that Liz Alper was setting up. Liz Alper is the woman behind #PayUpHollywood and that whole movement.
John: So as we started talking about assistant stuff she started talking about assistant stuff. We did a town hall together. She was trying to raise $100,000 for assistants, readers, and other support staff laid off because of COVID-19. I proposed to you that maybe you and I could each agree to match the first $25,000 that were raised. So together we raised $50,000. Hopefully we could get the rest of the industry to kick in $50,000. And it went really well.
Craig: It did. So we reached out to all of our friends that we thought that were of the sorts of means that could make significant contributions. And pretty much they all came through and did, which was amazing. Currently we’re looking at over a half a million dollars that we raised in basically a week to distribute to the assistants and I think readers and support staff as you said who have been laid off.
Now, that’s amazing. And congrats to us and everything. But there is a message I’d like to send out to the world through our podcast which is simply this. You and I and our friends are after all employees in Hollywood. And the companies that employ us have enormous resources, billions of dollars of resources. Now I’m not suggesting that they can deplete all of their money. I don’t really know how money works. I’m going to be totally honest. They can’t just dump it all out there. But it does seem to me that they could be doing more. And at the very least they could be contributing to funds like this one, or creating their own for that matter.
So I am calling upon Warner Bros and Universal and Paramount and Sony and Disney/Fox and all their associated businesses to put some money toward this and if you can’t keep people on the payroll at least help support them during this time, because this is going to go on for a while. And you’re going to want those people back when it’s over.
John: Yeah. So when Craig says put some money towards this we don’t mean towards this Go Fund Me. No, we mean actually continuing to pay the people who had been working for you. And when at all possible to not lay them off. So, in this Go Fund Me it was really structured around those workers in Hollywood who are not kind of full time employees. Those people who are like between jobs, those folks who were hired on to work on a production and then production just went away because everything got closed down. Or folks who had been laid off.
And so this was really targeting the most vulnerable population and trying to get some money into their hands as quickly as possible. So, again, support staff, PAs, folks who are really vulnerable for this. But Craig and me, our job is to remind people listening to this podcast who do employ others, find a way to keep them employed. Find a way to keep them protected because we will need these people when we come out of this situation.
Craig: Absolutely. And the fact of the matter is for a lot of folks there is a way to actually keep these people working, like I’m keeping my staff working. Now, it’s a little easier for folks like you and me, John, because we’re writers. And we can do a lot of our work without lots of people around us. It’s a little more difficult when you’re carrying a lot of folks that are specifically connected to something that cannot happen, that cannot continue to go on. But do your best. Argue with your employers to hold as many of those folks on the payroll as possible for as long as possible.
This business has made a lot of money off of a lot of people. And it would be nice in a moment like this if they could give some back. Just give some back. That would be really good for a moment if maybe profit wasn’t the most important thing. Just give a little bit back.
John: Absolutely. One of the things I want to stress as well is that over the past few years we’ve been trying to make more and more efforts on equity and inclusion, making sure that we have people working in this business who better represent the wholeness of America. And that includes people who don’t have the economic background to be able to weather this storm without outside help.
As we do these surveys for the situation with assistants before all this started everyone was living paycheck to paycheck. So these people are the most vulnerable. If we don’t step in right now and tide them over through the storm a bunch of them are going to move back to wherever they came from. They’re going to leave. And we’re going to lose out on a generation of talent who should be here. The people who are going to be winning Oscars in 2035, well right now they are PAs. So the next Shonda Rhimes, she is probably a script coordinator on some show who might have to move back to Texas. We need to make sure that we are protecting them at this time.
Craig: And when this is all over I think there’s going to be a long discussion, a very long discussion, about why people have been living paycheck to paycheck in a business that generates so much money and has generated so much money so consistently for so long. And I’d like to point out that while a ton of other businesses and industries in our nation are shut down, you can still rent or buy just about every single movie or television show that has ever been made.
Craig: It doesn’t stop. Right? The production has stopped momentarily, but as someone once said to me, “If you want to make money in Hollywood have a big library of stuff and don’t make new stuff.” So it’s all money coming in now and very little going out. So it would be really great if these corporations rose to this moment and did something good for people. It would be great.
John: Now I would say what we were able to do this last week was the best I’ve felt since this whole thing began. And so as we were able to hit those numbers and we saw over a thousand donors chip in money on this campaign it was phenomenal and it was the best I’ve felt throughout this whole experience.
The next steps for this is getting the money out the door. So we’ve hired on a production accountant to sort of go through and make sure we’re rigorous in sort of how we’re tracking the money that comes in, the money that goes out. But the goal is to start getting money out the door by the time this episode drops so people can actually know that they’ll be able to make their rent or get through this next week or two of troubles.
So, that’s the goal. I want to thank everybody who chipped in. It was sort of weird that we couldn’t – we didn’t have time to get an episode out to sort of encourage people to do the Go Fund Me. So, enough people followed us on Twitter and other places, so thank you to all our listeners who chipped in. It was a good thing.
Craig: And of course a huge thank you to all of the writers that we know who stepped up and made these very significant contributions. And we should probably say all of their names, but I don’t have the list in front of me, do I?
John: I don’t have the list in front of me, either. And there’s a few more who might still be coming in. So, maybe next week we’ll do it.
Craig: Next week we will do the honor roll. For sure.
John: Great. All right. We still have some trappings of a normal show. So this will be the follow up segment. Mitch from Marvel, Tennessee wrote in, “In the recent How to Listen episode I heard John say Appalachian. This is certainly an acceptable pronunciation but I wanted to point out for your possible future usage that most who live in this region tend to pronounce it Appal-ah-chian. There are those around here who will argue the other way is correct and they’re not flat out wrong, but I moved to East Tennessee 30 years ago and have noticed over the years that most people I know who are native Appal-ah-chians pronounce it the latter way. That’s also what you’ll hear on local TV news outlets who pronounce it.”
Craig: That is true.
John: So, Appal-ah-chian.
Craig: Appal-ah-chia. Appal-ah-chian. Yeah. That’s how they do it.
John: Great. And so that’s kind of the distinction that is really hard to make in a script. You generally wouldn’t make it in the script. And so it got me thinking back to when we were doing Big Fish and Big Fish is set in Alabama. The past elements of it are sort of a storybook Alabama. And we had to make decisions about how all these actors, most of the British actors, what accent we were going to do. And so we brought in a dialect coach who was working with each of them. And I had to work with her about sort of are we pronouncing Rs. Like did Edward Bloom go fight in a wah or in a war? And the rhotic R was important. So we had to sort of get everyone on the same page.
Generally in the script you won’t do that. You might get a sense of like the rhythm of speech, but you won’t get down to the details of Appalachian versus Appal-ah-chian. So, it would generally be a dialect coach or someone else who is working with production in preproduction to figure out exactly what the accent is going to be for everyone who is speaking.
Craig: Yeah. Really the only time I draw any attention to specific pronunciation is if it’s part of the moment. That it’s important for people to know that the character – for instance it’s very common for people to mispronounce the word Nevada. They will say Ne-vah-da. But in Nevada, Nevadans call it Nevada. They don’t like it when you call it Ne-vah-da. OK.
So if somebody is going to say Ne-vah-da that way you might have to say they pronounce Ne-vah-da as opposed to the way – and everybody stares. That kind of thing.
John: Exactly. So if it is an important story point then you do call it out in the script. Generally you won’t call it out in the script. Those kind of regional pronunciation differences.
John: Cool. All right, now to our marquee topic – working from home. Something I’ve been doing for 20 years or so. In thinking about this segment an article I read this last week actually laid out a lot of really good points. So I’m going to start with this article by Alice Goldfuss about working from home.
Some of the points she makes are to recreate your rhythm, to get dressed, to separate your desk from your sleeping space. To keep your stuff tidy. To think about social spaces. Think about not just working from home but the degree to which when you are working in an office there’s a social component there, so not to neglect that social component. And most importantly to put some boundaries on things. Recognize a time when you stop working and actually to start living your life because that can be one of the toughest things, especially if you’re dealing with people overseas is that there’s no boundary between being at work and being at home.
Craig: Yeah. And, listen, it is hard. When I first started working at home I think I was, yeah, 23 years ago maybe. And there is an adjustment period. And one of the things about working from home that’s tricky if you haven’t it before is you don’t quite know if you’re doing it well. Meaning, am I working too much? Am I working not enough? There’s a little bit of a sense that you had when you were first off to college and suddenly there were no report cards and no parents over your shoulder. Am I studying enough? Too much?
There’s going to be an adjustment period. Give yourself a little bit of a break because you’re not going to know for a while how you’re doing.
John: Absolutely. And I think when I first started working at home it was just me in my studio apartment. And I could – as a writer I could write all night. I could sleep all day. That was sort of the life I was in. But most people’s jobs now do involve some interaction with people. And so you’re going to have to find something approaching a work day to make, OK, this is the time at which I can actually get this people to email me back or sort of get word back on sort of the projects I’m working on. That becomes an aspect that wasn’t true when it was just me as bachelor guy writing.
I think my working at home also changed a lot when I moved in with Mike, when we had a kid. Things got much more routinized because I couldn’t stay up all night suddenly because then I couldn’t actually be a responsible father. So, you find yourself getting into a rhythm that actually makes sense for your current life situation. And given the pandemic everyone’s current life situation is just understandably confusing.
Craig: Yeah. And by the way I don’t know about you, I’m scared to ask you this question. But I don’t have necessarily any more or less time per day to do the writing that I’m supposed to do. These last couple of weeks, it’s been hard. Really hard. I mean, I’ve done work. I’ve written. I’ve moved the ball forward. I’m not like falling terribly behind or anything. But it seems so much harder. And I wonder if that’s true for you. And then I also wonder by extension if it’s true for everybody, no matter what their job is, because we’re all upset.
John: Yeah. We’re going to hear from a bunch of our previous guests and I think that’s a common refrain. It’s been difficult to sort of get the work done. Even though the format of the work changes, the actual getting writing done has been more difficult. I fall back on my writing sprints a lot, which is just I’m blocking out an hour of time in chunks and I’m only going to write during that time. And doing that has gotten me back into a place where I can head down focus on the thing I’m writing. But the chaos of every day has been a big factor.
Having my daughter home from school is a big factor. So it feels like we’re on a spring break or a summer vacation, but there’s no sort of relaxation/enjoyment quality to it all. It’s all just a big stirred up.
Craig: Yeah. And this is also probably a particularly difficult time for extroverts. There are people who need – I know this is going to sound weird, but just hear me out, John. There are people that need to be around people. Like they need it. [laughs]
Craig: And I feel bad for them.
John: Absolutely. And you know if you’ve worked in an office, you know who those people are. They’re the people who will come over and sort of linger by your desk. And those people who linger by your desk that is just sort of how they’re wired. And so how they linger by your desk if they can’t do that? And so those people probably need to recognize that in themselves and plan to take some walks. Even though you can’t actually hang out with – you should maintain that six-feet distance between people, you need to see some other people. You need to sense you’re in the world or you feel like just too floaty and disconnected. That’s definitely something I’ve been noticing.
I mean, I haven’t left the house in a week and there is a weird unreality that does set in. I remember I was reading this new D&D book that I got which is great. And I had this strange moment where I realized, wait, am I actually married with a kid and living in a pandemic? Or am I some other person? And just for a moment it did all sort of – this seems very unlikely. It seems strange that this is who I am and this is where I am. So, yes, acknowledging that this is a strange moment is important. And yet even within this strange moment there are some basic principles we can remind you of.
So, when I was living in France for the year we moved into this apartment and it was so hot. It was like 100 degrees. I was writing the first Arlo Finch which is all a winter book. And we didn’t have our desks. We didn’t have any place. But I knew I needed to get those hours of writing in. So what I would do is I would put on my headphones, I would play this ambient track from YouTube of like winter storm sounds. And I would just sit there and listen and I would sort of psychologically make myself cold. And then I could just write.
And there was something really calming about just being able to do the work. And so I would say that even though this is a stressful time and you should forgive yourself if it’s hard to get work done, I would say do try to do some work because you may find rather than it being frustrating it’s actually sort of calming to get back into a place where you can focus on something that is not the outside world.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a good idea. We are going to need to kind of astral project a little bit.
Yeah, especially if you live in a neighborhood where it’s going to be tough. I happen to live in the relative sticks of Los Angeles County. So, you know, I took the dog for a walk today. I saw some people from a distance. But, you know, mostly I could just be alone and not worry about being on top of people. That’s not going to be true if you’re in a really tight urban environment. So, yeah, you’re just going to have to astral project.
John: So, one thing that’s been different in this experience is Zoom. So this was my first week using Zoom. I had two directors meetings and a meeting on a different project. And it all actually went really well. And it made me realize that when this is all over I think there’s a bunch of meetings that I’m going to ask to take place online versus going in person. Because if I never have to go to a five o’clock meeting on the west side again, hooray. Because some of what I was willing to put up with in terms of getting face time in a room with people just it wasn’t worth it. And these two directors meetings I had on Zoom, they were productive. And we got through stuff. And these people were on different continents and it was a pretty good experience.
So, I don’t want to say there’s any silver linings to what we’re going through, but it was a good lesson that you can adapt and sometimes in adapting you actually get to some smarter choices.
Craig: I mean, you know I love me some HBO. But they’re in Santa Monica and I’m near Pasadena. So five o’clock isn’t – forget five o’clock. I can’t even go there if it’s two o’clock. So, yeah, I mean, I think I’m going to be requesting Zooms frequently. It works really well.
The first kind of group video chat I had when this all started was on Google Hangout. Not a fan. Got to be honest.
John: It’s not as good.
Craig: No. The Zoom people have figured something out. I don’t know what it is, but hats off to them. So, anyway, point being, yeah, I’m with you. I don’t want to drive to the west side ever again either.
John: I will tell honestly there was a project that I was considering doing with a company that was on the west side. And it was going to be a TV thing that I knew was going to be a ton of meetings. And I did not go with that company because it was on the west side. I liked the people involved, but I just knew that I would need to be at that office and, no. My life is worth more. And the number of hours that I’d spend in the car getting there are hours I could spend writing or doing other stuff. So, yes. The more Zoom the better. I will take it.
Craig: More Zoom the better.
John: So, Craig, other tips for people in terms of working at home? Things you think might be helpful.
Craig: Sure. So, a few things that are going to come up that you probably weren’t expecting. Well one is a bit specific to the time we’re in now. Suddenly I’m getting a lot of calls from people that are just calling to say, “Hey, how you doing?” Because they want to talk. Because they are probably people that like talking to people. And I’m, you know, I’m fine with that, but I’m not really that person. And more importantly some people may not understand that you’re still at work.
There are some people who cannot work right now. They are essentially on a forced furlough. And so they’re not working. And they may make the mistake of presuming that you’re not working. So, you’re just going to have to figure out how to boundary that off. Maybe just not answer the phone for a while. Like John said, carve out some time. And I think it’s important for you to – if you can – get some exercise. If you can get outside.
I mean, even here in California where we’re on essentially a statewide lockdown, exercise is allowable. Walking the dog is allowable. You’ve just got to practice Safe Six. Do you like that? Safe Six. I didn’t come up with that.
John: I like Safe Six a lot.
Craig: Yeah. That was Jeanine Tesori. Tony award winning Jeanine Tesori was the first person that used that near my ear. And I was like, ooh, I’m using that. I’m going to steal it.
I do think that if you can support local businesses, ordering in is a nice thing to do. It’s not something you have to do for every meal. You’re not obligated to hold up an industry at the expense of your own waistline. But ordering in is fine. Food safety wise, from everything I’ve read, food does not appear to be a major vector of COVID-19. That said, to be on the safe side when we order in we’re sticking to food that has been cooked. And we’re taking it out of the containers and doing some reheating which should be enough to kill any microbes.
If you have time on your hands and you’re at home, take a look at that room that’s got a lot of clutter in it. Get to work.
Craig: This is a good chance for some COVID cleaning.
John: My daughter’s spring break is not this week but next week. And we are looking forward to – there’s shelves in our library which we’ve never actually dusted the shelves. So it’s taking all the books off and actually dusting those shelves. Getting to the places that you never actually get to. This feels like a good time.
We pulled all of the various Arlo Finches in different languages off, and so they’re all on the office table now. And we will find something to do with all these Arlo Finches because I don’t need four copies of the second book in Swedish. One will be plenty.
Craig: I think so. I think you should be OK with one. And for people who are fortunate enough to be able to employ housecleaners, well they’re not coming to you right now. So, this is a chance for you to dig in and use a little elbow grease. For everybody else, maybe just pick a project. Even if it’s just once a week pick a project, do a little tidying.
John: On the housekeeper front is that if you have somebody who normally cleans your house and you don’t want them coming to your house to clean your house, they shouldn’t. For your safety and for their safety. Pay them anyway.
John: Find a way to pay them through this time. Because they rely on the money that you’re giving them to make a living. So, help them make their living. Pay them. And then what we did is we just made a schedule of like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, this is the thing we clean on those days. So Thursday is bathrooms day. It sucks. But it’s just one day. And it’s 30 minutes and we’re done. So, making yourself a cleaning schedule feels very Little House on the Prairie, but it does also provide some structure. Because that’s one of the most frustrating things about being home when you’re not expecting to be home is that there is just no structure.
John: And every day feels like a Sunday.
Craig: That’s right. So without a doubt if you can continue to pay – if you can afford a housekeeper I’m guessing you can afford to keep paying your housekeeper for a bit. There are quite a few people who pay their housekeepers under the table as it is. I don’t. My housekeepers are actually on a salary with the payroll service that I use. Either way, if you can – if you can – please do keep paying them. And it was really important for us to say, before the lockdown happened where it wasn’t even a possibility for them to come by, to say to them you don’t need to come. If you have even the slightest whiff of a bad feeling you don’t need to come because you have a job still. You’re getting paid.
And that leads me into my final thing. Which is give. While we are locked down and you’re working from home and we’re all inside our homes, try and give. That doesn’t necessarily mean money. If you have means and you can give money that would be great. If you have items that you can donate that would be great. For instance, I have a friend who knows someone who works in the prop business. And he happened to have boxes of masks. Hospital masks. Because, you know, if you’re doing a hospital show you need them. He donated them all. Dug them up out of storage. Donated them all to a hospital.
If you can give somebody one-on-one attention. If you can offer somebody an ear to cry into. If you can teach somebody something online. If all you do is just give thanks to somebody that would be great.
But please think about going outwards with the technology that we have that allows you to do it. It’s going to make you feel better. I guarantee it.
John: Absolutely. My mom is in a senior living place in Boulder. And one of the things they’re starting to do is have the residents call all the other residents every day just to check in and see how they’re doing and have those conversations. Because isolation is a really necessary thing for this pandemic that we’re in, but it’s a really unhealthy thing overall for people and their mental health and their physical health. So anything you can do to keep people from feeling so isolated and so lonely during this time will pay off dividends. And you will feel better for having done it.
John: Great. Let’s take a listen to what some of our previous guests are up to this week. And so I emailed out to a bunch of our previous guests and asked if they would record a minute or two about what they’ve been doing since this all went down. I was not surprised that they had a whole range of experiences and that they were really generous sharing what they’re feeling and what they think our listeners can take from what they’re encountering out there in the world.
So, this is going to be an usual segment because we’re not going to be coming in between all these people speaking. I’m going to start off with Emily Zulauf who joined us for our live show in Seattle. And we’ll just let them introduce themselves as we go through this. Also I should clarify that a lot of these were recorded on Wednesday before the official lockdown sort of happened in Los Angeles. So, if you hear people talk about going from house to house that’s not really happening right now. So, here we’ll start with Emily Zulauf.
Emily Zulauf: Hi John. Hi Craig. I hope you guys are well. I am…not sure where to start when, John when I got your email asking for an update on how we’re all faring in this. So I live in Seattle. [laughs] That probably doesn’t need a lot more explanation. I work a block from the Kirkland border. So I think we have been in triage mode a little bit longer than everybody else.
My office has been pseudo closed now for a couple weeks. My daughter’s school was canceled. We are on our second week of that. It’s surreal. It’s completely surreal here. I think I’m feeling the same level of helplessness that a lot of people are feeling right now. Wanting to help and literally physically not being able to go out there and help is paralyzing and scary and I find myself reaching out to my friends and trying to sort of feeling this sort of ache to connect with people and just make sure that people I love are OK. And feeling scared for all of us and feeling also so connected to everyone in the same breath. So isolated and so connected. And I want to hug everyone. [laughs] Although hugs are not something that we do anymore.
But I am thinking about you guys. I’m thinking about all of my friends. And just, you know, sending love and wanting to connect with everyone and tell everyone that I love them and that somehow this is going to – this is going to work out. And that I’m here for anything that they need.
Mike Birbiglia: Hey, it’s Mike Birbiglia. Friend of Scriptnotes. Writer. Comedian. I just want to say hey. I’m holed up in Brooklyn with my wife and daughter. And on the screenwriting front I’m not doing much because the screenplay I was writing I’m not kidding or exaggerating is about a global pandemic. [laughs] It’s a comedy about a comedy pandemic. That’s the backdrop for the whole plot. And so we have to sort of see how things go before I figure out how the movie makes sense and in the new normal. What is the new normal and how does the movie differ from that?
And so what I’m doing on a comedy front is I’m trying to figure out who is in need in the comedy space. And so on my Instagram, which is @birbigs, I’m doing live livestreams where me and another comedian – this week it was Roy Wood Jr. and John Mulaney, Gary Gulman, Jacqueline Novak, and others. Next week Nicky Glazer and a bunch of other comics. And I do a chat where we pitch new jokes to each other. And then give feedback in real time. And then people watch the livestream and then can contribute to a site called tipyourwaitstaff.com.
And it’s a way to help comedy club wait staff that is currently not working because all the clubs are shut down across America. Because the restaurant and bar industry is obviously really struggling. So, I’m just trying to sort of be positive and be creative but also look around for who needs help right now.
That’s it for me. Continue doing this great, great podcast. Love you guys.
Megana Rao: Hey John and Craig and our Scriptnotes friends. This is Megana Rao, Scriptnotes producer. I’m currently socially distancing or safer at home in Los Angeles. And I guess a lot of us feel a bit like the “everything is fine” dog in that meme where the room is on fire. I’ve been working from home, sitting at my dining table. I really miss going into the office and seeing John and our office pup Lambert. But I’m so grateful I have a job where I’m able to work from home.
We’ve also been working with #PayUpHollywood and our support staff initiative. So, this is for those in our industry who have lost their jobs because of the shutdowns. I’ll definitely put a link so look in the show notes for information on how to donate or reach out for assistance if this fund applies to your situation.
Otherwise I’ve been rereading the books on my shelves. Going for walks. Checking in on my parents. Facetiming with friends. And generally trying to be as optimistic as possible. Normally it feels like social media creates this digital barrier between us, but right now I’m so happy that I can see my friends and my mom’s face. You know, it’s just so comforting because I think our instinct or mine at least when I’m worried or processing crisis is to be with loved ones, to be with people and gather a community. So, something I have to keep reminding myself of when I’m driving down a street like La Brea and it’s empty and completely surreal is that the way we’re coming through this and looking out for one another is by staying home. And as someone with family who works in medicine it’s heartening and encouraging that in what I’m saying seeing is this negative space, you know, we actually are united and doing our part to support the medical community, allowing those who need treatment to get it, and our healthcare providers a fighting chance in an already under-staffed and under-supplied situation.
So, you know, even though it’s hard for us to see it, I’m taking solace in that we’re each doing our part to contain the virus and protect our community. So thank you to everyone who is staying at home and thank you to all of the people who are going to work with essential functions. I’m especially grateful for the ways we’re adapting and able to stay connected.
I’m personally relying on my podcasts for a sense of normalcy. So if you think there’s anything we can do to support the Scriptnotes community please let us know and thank you to each of you for doing your part. Stay safe and be well. Thanks.
BJ Novak: Hi. This is one-time Scriptnotes guest BJ Novak responding to the request to share with listeners how I’m spending the time. I will say that although I am feeling very appreciative and lucky that my creative profession is one where I can do things at my own pace and I feel for producers, actors, let alone people not in our field who need to be more collaborative. I do feel very lucky.
In addition to having a long list of things that I want to watch and write, I am also making a point to be open to the moment, which I think is natural in a moment like this to just be overwhelmed. And there’s one instinct to think, oh no, I’m not pursuing things on my own schedule like I said I would. But there’s something very important to being an artist that is just being open to the moment and letting things surprise you and responding from somewhere deep in your subconscious to whatever is going on and creating something that you hadn’t expected to do. And that can be hard for writers like myself who are kind of more Type A.
So I think relaxing, not doing anything, and worrying, and thinking, and waiting for something to come to you out of necessity and truth rather than self-drive might be something really important.
Chris Nee: Hi. This is Chris Nee. And I’m the creator and executive producer and Doc McStuffins and Vampirina. And about a year ago I moved over to Netflix where I’m on an overall deal. We got sent home last Thursday. My staff is primarily the writing staff, so we were one of the first ones out. Obviously Netflix has been shut down about a week.
The weird thing about animation is that we are oddly situated to be able to keep going. You don’t have to shut down production. So Netflix has been really working overtime to get kind of kits and computer stations installed in all of the animator’s homes. Same thing is happening for my overseas studios. The biggest problem we’re having is voiceover records. That’s a little bit more of [the stumbling]. So I will be doing a lot of scratch that will live with our animatics and animation for quite some time until we can get our cast back in, which of course is totally fun for me.
And other than that it’s weird because everyone suddenly has all this time and they’re knitting and they’re learning to play the banjo and to be honest my days have been completely full. I have four shows that are going. And they’re all still going. You just get this very weird version of now seeing inside everyone’s homes. Seeing their pets. Seeing their wives and boyfriends and girlfriends. And that is a really funny version of it. I have found the need for people to chat more, doing a lot of emotionally trying to take care of my staff, and do check-ins and make sure that we have like a good texting feed going.
So all of that. Also, you know, there’s some hearts of darkness shit going on. I have spent some time recording all three parts of like English Madrigals that I remember from my childhood on Garage Band and I’ve spent hours doing that. And no one will ever hear that. That will never make the light of day for god’s sakes. And, you know, anyone who follows me on Twitter @chrisdocnee knows that my son is also home with me most of the time and is very much a 13-year-old boy. So his favorite thing is connecting to my Sonos with this which is just the opening licks of Eye of the Tiger. Here I go. So that will just show up on my Sonos very loud and very long by the way. This is half an hour. And no the beat never drops.
So, that’s kind of what I’m up to. It’s a little bit of business as usual without it not being business as usual at all. And I think kind of like finding that middle ground of taking care of people, giving them a purpose. So that’s what I’m up to. Animation continues. I wish it could come out faster. But around the world everyone has moved home and they are animating in their kitchens, their bathrooms, their bedrooms, their living rooms. Onward in these very, very strange times.
Charlie Brooker: Hello John and Craig and all your listeners. This is Charlie Brooker. Black Mirror person. And Londoner. And that’s where I am. I’m in London. Indoors, like lots of people are. Quite sensibly at the moment. I’m supposed to be focusing on doing a script. Quite a comedy script actually, which is both a challenge in the current climate, but also a welcome distraction at the same time.
Now I’ve also been an anxious person and a catastrophizing kind of person. Who would have thought that the brain behind Black Mirror was a paranoid flipping prick?
And oddly when things like this actually happen in the real world I find sometimes I’m kind of calm almost like I expected it. And I don’t know if that’s just me, or if there’s other – any of your other more anxious listeners feel like that. And I think strangely what that does mean is I’m staying optimistic. I’m sure that when this epidemic is over – I would like to be sure that when this epidemic is over we all will have had quite a wakeup call about our interdependence on one another about the need for investment in healthcare and each other. And, you know, I’m sure we’ll all get through it and I hope that we see a better world on the other side of it.
Now that’s the uncharacteristic, optimistic bit. Another weird thing that happened was quite a few people alerted to me to the fact that in Germany there’s a series of the reality show Big Brother where the contestants didn’t know anything about the coronavirus happening outside. Because they’ve been kept away from the real world. And people pointed out that this was very similar to the storyline of a show that I wrote before Black Mirror. A show called Dead Set which you can see on Netflix in the US and elsewhere I think in the UK.
And it’s a zombie show based around the real Big Brother house in Britain. And it does have eerie parallels. So, there’s been lots of things we’ve done in Black Mirror which have sort of come true. So if I am going to be – if it turns out I am Nostradamus, first of all I apologize. And secondly I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that I made a positive prediction a few moments ago. And let’s hope that comes true.
I hope everyone stays safe and well. Washes their hands. And let’s try and set up some virtual writer’s rooms worldwide. I don’t know. Write a fucking sketch show or something. Because otherwise, you know, what else are we going to do? Grow our hair? Take care. I’d say peace out, but that makes me feel like Ringo Starr. Bye!
David Iserson: Hi Scriptnotes. This is David Iserson.
Susanna Fogel: And this is Susanna Fogel.
David: And this is how we’ve been spending our quarantine. So, yeah, we had scheduled what we assumed was going to be like the last in person pitch at Netflix on two Thursdays ago.
Susanna: And brownnosers that we are, we got there an hour early and we were excited to get ready to really knock them dead.
David: And then we got like an email, or a phone call like ten minutes before we walked in that said, “Oh, yeah, they found somebody in the building who tested positive.”
Susanna: Oh, we had walked in. We had walked into the building.
David: No, we’d walked into the building. Before we walked into the pitch. Yeah. Ten minutes before they found somebody in the building who tested positive for coronavirus so get out. And then just like the flee and the flood of people heading to their cars. And we got mixed into that.
Susanna: So we figure that now they owe us a sale. They owe it to us to buy this high concept and rather mid-budget to high budget movie that they may or may not want to make. But now they really should.
David: So since then we’ve kept the sort of pod of people we interact with small, but we have chosen to continue to interact in person with ourselves. So, Susanna will come over to my house most days. And, you know, we try to get our work done.
Susanna: Yeah. You know, I think like most people we spend some time actually getting things done and some time dicking around on the Internet, which is not really any sort of change from what we were used to doing. Only now we’ve saved several hours a day in traffic that are now spent staring into space, indulging my Etsy obsession.
David: Yeah. We’ve found a lot of time not taken up driving from place to place. I’ve been posing my dog in like elaborate photographs, like a photo series of how we’ve been spending our time in quarantine, which I would not be able to do if I was busy trying to commute to things.
Susanna: Or busy being judged or how productive and employed you are. So, yeah, we spent some time talking about the end of the world like we all do. We spent some time then talking about what scripts we can write about the end of the world. Then we spent some time wondering if anyone else is writing about the end of the world and how many other people, particularly people that we feel competitive with, and whether they’re writing about the end of the world, and if they’ve already got a three-picture deal to write three scripts about the end of the world.
And lastly if people are listening to this podcast now and stealing our very unique idea to write about the end of the world.
David: Yeah. Someone like was I should write about the apocalypse that’s going on right now. That’s what our week in social distancing has been. Thanks guys.
Damon Lindelof: Hey John and Craig. Damon Lindelof here. How are you guys? I’m great. Just awesome. Fantastic. I’m just treating this whole thing as an opportunity for self-reflection. And I know I’m going to come out of this the other side as a better human. But seriously I’m scared and I’m worried. And I’m wondering how much I should project confidence that everything is going to be OK. Because I think being scared and worried is the more appropriate headspace for all of us to have in terms of just being safe right now. I guess the point is I’m Jewish.
I’m catching up on a lot of reading. I recommend Dave Eggers’ short new satire, The Captain and the Glory. It’s delightful. It made me laugh a lot. I’m listening to way too many podcasts about politics which are now kind of about the pandemic and I have to stop doing that. And the thing I’m enjoying most is that I’m finally binging The Crown. I don’t really care about the monarchy and I’m not an anglophile, but I love The Crown. And it’s excellent. And it’s actually gotten me to care about the monarchy and why the monarchy is important. And more importantly I guess it’s gotten me to care about the people in the monarchy. They’re quite miserable.
If you’ve seen anything that I’ve written I like writing about miserable people. And it is not easy being the Queen. I just started the third season a couple nights ago. I’m into the third season. And Olivia Colman has taking the rein – the reign – from Claire Foy. That’s reign, Craig. It’s a pun. Because taking the reins is when you hand over control. But it’s like reins when you’re steering a horse cart. But this is the kind of reign, R-E-I-G-N, that a royal person has, which is why it’s so, so clever.
I’m going insane. I love you guys. I’m glad you’re doing your Scriptnotes. Please stay safe. Bye.
David Wain: Hi, this is David Wain. I am spending my time in quarantine doing a series of things like solving jigsaw puzzles, going for walks, trying to read books, making YouTube videos, drawing, playing the piano, thinking of ways to make a whole movie starring myself in the house. Thinking about if I should start a dating website just for the COVID-19 infected. Throwing out everything in my house. Going through to-do lists from 2008. Putting on my own episode of Cutthroat Kitchen in my home with my children. Taking my bicycle apart and putting it back together. Writing thank you notes to people who have helped me out with things over the last 40 years. Checking out Breaking Bad for the first time. Answering emails from the ‘90s. Catching up on the college admissions scandal. Meditating. Binging General Hospital from the beginning. Planning a dinner party for August. Practicing magic tricks. Playing poker with friends online. Thinking about the record number of screenplays that are probably being written right now. Practicing the Rubik’s Cube. Watching The Wire. And conceiving of a new career path that involves not leaving my house.
Mari Heller: Hi. This is Mari Heller. I am surviving the coronavirus isolation as best I can. I’m with my kid and my husband out in the country in Connecticut with another family and we have been self-isolating since middle of last week. And we’re home-schooling our kids together. And the way we’re trying to get work done, because we’re all in the middle of writing scripts, is the dads are taking the morning of school, the moms are taking the afternoon shifts. We’re trading off working. And we’re sticking to a pretty strict schedule. Trying to keep the kids in a routine and give them a lot of outdoor time, but also give them expectations that they can trust in. And then we’re all trying to get work done.
And none of us are getting enough work done. Isn’t that a huge surprise? It’s pretty hard to concentrate when the world feels like it’s falling apart. But we’re trying. And that’s my update. Also next week I’m going to start trying to edit a project remotely with my editor, Anne, who is in a different part of the state and we’re going to see if we can figure out some kind of an Evercast or some system like that where we remotely edit. So we’ll see how that works.
All right. Hope everybody is staying safe out there.
Rawson Thurber: Hey Scriptnotes, it’s Rawson Thurber checking in from Atlanta, Georgia. Down here making my movie. We got put on hiatus for a couple weeks. Looks like it might be a bit longer than that. I’m here with my lovely kid, our two girls, or brand new baby boy, our dog, couple other folks. And we’re hunkered down and holed up here in Ainsley Park. And we’re using this period as sort of an ad-hoc vacation, looking at it as sort of forced time to not work. Spend time with each other. Read books. Watch movies. Catch up on the little things that maybe we don’t quite pay attention when we’re so busy all the time working, working, working.
So, kind of a strangely welcomed respite from the grind of shooting a movie. We were about halfway through when the plug got pulled. So it’s sort of interesting to be sprinting a marathon and suddenly have the finish line about halfway through it. Anyhow, looking forward to getting back to work. Please everybody out there stay safe. Wash your hands. And try not to lick any doorknobs. OK. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.
Liz Hannah: Hey guys. It’s Liz Hannah. I hope everybody is safe and healthy over there. It’s been a very weird week. For my part, you know, my husband and I are trying to just stay active, stay positive, and for me a lot of that is staying off of the news and social media as much as I can. That doesn’t mean that I don’t check it out or try and stay informed, but when this started I just found myself spending all day watching MSNBC and that was not healthy for me physically, mentally, or emotionally.
So I’ve tried to tune that out. We go on long walks with our dog. And obviously in practicing social distancing in all of the parameters that we’re instructed to do, but try and get some vitamin D in there. And then, you know, I’ve honestly found it really hard to focus. I think a lot of it was at first feeling this pressure that because we’re all stuck inside we should be writing that next great American screenplay. And there’s enough pressure to just put a cohesive sentence down on a piece of people that somebody can read.
So, I think, you know, kind of the end of this week I’ve found myself getting into a better place, of being able to remove that pressure and remove that instinct to make everything perfect. And I’m writing again and trying to give myself kind of a routine. Trying to stay healthy. Trying to watch something new so it’s not just the same ten minutes of the last ten minutes of a movie I’ve seen 47 times on HBO. Read a new book. I’m reading Kurosawa’s autobiography right now which I couldn’t recommend more. And I’m watching a lot of stuff on the Criterion Channel.
There’s the puppy. Yeah, so I don’t know. I think the only thing I can recommend is try not to put pressure on yourself to make this situation perfect. Just do your best to stay healthy mentally and physically. And get outside if you can. And if you can write, you can write. And just know we’re all in the same boat and we’re all doing this together.
Malcolm Spellman: John August and Craig Mazin and the Scriptnotes people this is Malcolm Spellman, arguably the greatest guest in the history of Scriptnotes, and most underrated for sure of all time. Dealing with corona on Thursday. The update is writer’s rooms are being handled through Zoom. It works. It’s definitely not as good as being in the room with people. There’s just a thing that’s lost with it. But it’s way, way – it’s closer to being right than it is being wrong. Dealing with a lot of fear from the people around us. We still got a lot of folks that are dealing with, you know, real shit. People with regular jobs, not in Hollywood. And you can already see some of that shit falling apart which is very, very sad and, you know, this is just starting. So, we kind of feel like we’re getting a preclude – me being me and Nichelle. Getting a preclude to what’s coming.
Our mood is good though. My dog – I’m in a battle right now where I bought my dog like a leather chew toy, not toy, but kind of thing that’s leather that you – whatever. I’m fighting with my dog over this thing. He doesn’t want to eat it, but he bites if you try and take his shit from him. So, it’s a deadly dance right now up in here.
Let me think. Music wise, Nichelle controls the music. It’s a music of hip-hop and ‘80s rock. That’s the norm over here. Sometimes some blues. We’re watching War of the Worlds on EPIX. Our mood is good though. And, you know man.
Alison McDonald: Hello Scriptnotes. Alison McDonald here. Prisoner of Second Avenue. Actually I have a deadline today but wanted to fire off this dispatch because I adore John and have a saint-like tolerance of Craig. Social distancing has always existed on the continuum of being a writer in my experience at any rate. So, the plague redux hasn’t been all that disruptive to my daily routine. And fortunately New York City has just made it legal for bars to deliver cocktails, so look for the silver lining people.
Apart from becoming Tennessee Williams – not in terms of talent or career, obviously, just temperament – I have been mainlining books. And I think most writers would agree that reading is the most purposeful form of procrastination. I read three books this week and have two on tap for the weekend. And because there’s such a great deal of economic peril for small businesses as entire cities shut down I have made it a point to purchase from independent online booksellers as much as possible and encourage you to do the same.
Ryan Knighton: Hey Scriptnotes. It’s Ryan Knighton. Unscripted in the quarantine. Where am I now? I’m actually back up in Canada and it was a very strange couple weeks as it has been for everybody. I was in the writer’s room on the third season of In the Dark. We had just started when the room was dissolved and we moved to working remotely. So, I went back up to Canada to try that instead of being in Los Angeles. So, I’m in my house in Ucluelet which is a small fishing village on the coast and has naturally enforced social distancing because there’s no people.
And that’s where this blind guy is. I’m in the woods. And so what am I doing? I am on Zoom a lot doing the writer’s room through Zoom these days. And writing in the day. And then, you know, basically killing time by going for walks on the beach and in the woods and things in between. So far so good. I’ve got my white cane with me and I haven’t gotten too lost yet, unless this isn’t my house. But, I think it is.
And in the evenings what do we do around here? Well my teenage daughter and I kill time in a horrible way. She’s been trying to teach me TikTok dances which is horrible if you can’t see. It’s sort of like doing origami but you can only describe, you know, how to fold things. So, that’s what Tess and I have been doing. And she’s sitting beside me right now and she can tell you that I’ve been doing an amazing job at it.
Tess Knighton: To be honest I really love to watch you fail because it’s really, really funny for me. It just makes me laugh in the evening.
Ryan: So that’s how we do the quarantine. She laughs at me failing. [laughs] I hope you guys are well.
Riki Lindhome: Hi John and Craig. It’s Riki Lindhome. I’m just here at home like everyone else. What I decided to do was I took out my idea board, which is just this corkboard I have of every idea. Every time I think of something I just put it on the board. And I looked at it and was like which idea have I been sitting on the longest. And I saw this one that’s kind of been on there for probably ten years. I never take it off because I’m always like, oh, maybe I could crack that someday. And I figured right now is the time to try. So, I’ve decided to tackle it.
And basically I just write first thing in the morning. I wake up. Have coffee. And I start. And I try to write for three or four hours. And then after that I’ve got the rest of the day off and I just watch movies or do whatever. But yeah, so that’s what I’m doing. I hope everyone is staying safe. Bye guys.
Chris Keyser: Hey John and Craig. This is Chris Keyser. Thank you for inviting me back to Scriptnotes on this, I guess, somewhat inauspicious occasion. I don’t think I’ve really settled into any kind of rhythm yet to be honest with you. I just got back into town just a few days ago. Top of the week. I was in Boston shutting down a couple of productions and saying goodbye to people which I guess is sort of par for the course now but nonetheless.
And now I’m trying to figure out what to do. I usually begin my day the same way. I have a friend, Glenn Sonnenberg, who has been putting out this kind of newsletter-y thing via email called Notes from the Bunker, which is a combination of stories and suggestions about movies and TV and things like that. And it’s been a great way to actually connect to people and hear what people are thinking about in quite the same way as you’re doing right here. That’s been nice. That’s probably the best thing about everything which is I’ve been spending a lot of time getting back in touch with people from as far as back as high school and college and law school and obviously writers that I know, particularly important because I just got into town, so I have to stay away from my own wife which is kind of strange.
We’ve been arranging virtual dinners with friends. We haven’t done it yet, but I think that will be fun when we get around to it. And I’ve been working somewhat. I’m lucky to have some work left to do on some of these projects. So I’ve been talking to the writers on my show and some producers on the other shows that I’m working on. And that’s been good. Not because any of the work actually needs to get done, but because I just actually need something to do every day and feel like I’m productive.
And then we try to go for a walk about once a day. An hour or so. And then usually at the end of the day we do a FaceTime call with our kids who are far away on the East Coast. And that’s the nicest but also the hardest part of all of this, not being able to touch or see my kids, knowing I won’t see them for months.
But, everyone is safe and fine and trying to be productive and reconnecting and that’s the new life for a while. So, I hope everyone who is listening is OK as well and I appreciate you guys doing this. So, thank you.
Lulu Wang: Hi John. Hi Craig. It’s Lulu. I have been thinking about what to say about what I’ve been up to because the truth is I think I’ve mostly just been trying to adjust to this new reality. Except that the reality seems to shift every day, every few hours. And so much develops in such a short period of time.
You know, tonight a friend of mine her sister is a doctor in the ER at a hospital and she and many other healthcare workers have been asked to procure their own masks because the hospital doesn’t have a supply, or enough of a supply. It’s one of the few times that social media has actually been really wonderful because so many people replied to my request for N95 masks that they might be willing to donate. And my friend spent the night driving around the city picking up these donations. And it really made me think about how important it is for us to be creative right now and to think about what skills we might have, what resources we might have that we can contribute because so much of what happens in the next few months in this country is going to depend on the choices that we make as a community and as individuals that make up that community.
Well, thank you. It’s one o’clock in the morning and I hope everyone stays safe and healthy. OK, bye.
John: Great. So our editor Matthew Chilelli was the one who cut all that together. Matthew had a big week himself. And so I wanted him to have the last word in terms of things that went down this week. Here’s Matthew Chilelli.
Matthew Chilelli: Hi, my name is Matthew Chilelli and this is what my boyfriend Tao and I have been doing during this lockdown. I’ve read a lot of stories about how some people are already running out of shows to watch, or getting bored while practicing social distancing. One activity that I can recommend that is definitely not boring is trying to get married during a quarantine.
So, Tao and I have been together for four years and on Wednesday, March 18, we were planning to get married. It was going to be a small civil ceremony at the Beverly Hills Courthouse with family and friends flying in from out of town. Then a nice dinner. Then drinks with friends at a rooftop bar. We thought this would be a nice, cozy wedding day and that was the plan. Right up until March 12 when things started to change.
Now Tao and I had a lot of conversations back and forth. Should we cancel the drinks? Should we cancel the dinner? Should we ask our family not to come here? We spent so much time going back and forth on each of these questions that a lot of the questions were answered for us. First, the bars and clubs closed. We sent out a sad email to our friends. Then the restaurants closed. We sent out another email. Our family wisely canceled their flights. Instead they asked us to record the ceremony so they could see it. And we promised we would.
The celebration was canceled but the wedding was still on because surely they wouldn’t close down the courthouses this soon, right? Well, on Monday March 16 just to be sure I checked the Beverly Hills Courthouse website and they closed it. And so just like everything else our courthouse wedding was canceled.
Now, when I was on the phone with them they did mention that we could still get married somewhere else if we had an officiant. But finding an officiant right away in the middle of a quarantine seemed impossible. Tao and I spent a few moments just staring into space.
Maybe we weren’t going to get married on the 18th after all. Maybe it was going to be weeks, or months, or who knows how long before we could marry each other. It felt like we had lost. We had tried so hard to get one step ahead of the coronavirus. We pared down the wedding. We limited the number of guests. But the coronavirus was one step ahead of us. All our plans had been canceled.
Now eventually we shook ourselves out of our funk. Tao reminded me that eight is a lucky number in China, so the 18th must be somewhat lucky so something has to go right with the wedding eventually. And eventually something did. I remembered I know an officiant. John Bassinger-Flores works for my alma mater Ithaca College. And in his spare time he’s a professional officiant. I gave him a call and he’s such a great guy that even though this was ridiculously short notice he agreed to marry us on the 18th. We just had to find a place. So we thought instead of getting married indoors we could use social distancing to our advantage and get married outside in a park.
Once again, luck was on our side. We held our ceremony at eight in the morning on the 18th at the Lake Hollywood Park right below the Hollywood sign. So with the sun rising over the Hollywood Hills, the smell of morning dew in the air, and no one but us at the park, Tao and I got married. John performed a wonderful ceremony witnessed by our best friend who also took pictures and video so we could share it with our family later.
This ceremony was so different from the courthouse wedding we were expecting just a week earlier. Instead of a large group there were four of us. Instead of being in a courthouse we were in a park. It wasn’t what we were expecting. It was better. Tao described it to one of his friends like this. Our wedding was so quiet and peaceful. We were able to just enjoy each other and focus on each other during this moment that was meant for just the two of us. At the same time we had all of nature as our witness. It felt like the whole world was just quietly listening while we both said I do.
Craig: I mean, my heart. Right?
John: Yeah, my heart just breaks. Matthew is one of the kindest, most gentlest wonderful people I’ve met. And I met him through Scriptnotes. So he was coming to our Scriptnotes Live shows. He was a video editor. I had a hunch he could probably cut podcasts so I asked him to cut a demo podcast. He did a great job and he’s been cutting ever since. I’m so happy for him.
Craig: Yeah. Congrats guys.
John: Matthew was in Japan for a year. They made it through all of that. So it’s just great when great things happen during challenging times, so I’m so happy for the two of them.
Craig: Yes. Yes. Yes. Love still blossoms.
John: All right. Now it is time for our One Cool Things. I listened to a lot of podcasts, a lot of political podcasts, news podcasts, and you’d guess what they’re probably about. They’re about this pandemic that we’re in. And sometimes as I’m walking my dog in the morning I just don’t want to hear more about it. So I’ve started looking for other podcasts I can listen to that don’t freak me out as much. And so one thing I’m starting to listen to is Dead Pilot Society. So this is a not weekly show but an occasional show that goes through and they bring in people that have written pilots that never aired or never sort of got shot, but they were good pilots. And they bring them in and they do readings of pilots that never made it to air.
So, it’s a good thing that has nothing to do with this current moment, but is just good writing from good writers. So Dead Pilot Society is a thing to check out.
Craig: Yeah. That’s awesome. We’ve been talking to a bunch of our friends to try and get some more dead pilots over there. So let’s see how that goes.
My One Cool Thing this week really is cool. Now, word of fair warning, hopefully you’ve all played the game Codenames. It’s great.
John: It’s phenomenal. So describe Codenames for people who haven’t played it before.
Craig: Super simple game. You have these cards with words on them. And you make an array, a five-by-five array. So you have 25 cards out on a table. And there are two clue givers and everybody else is a receiver. So you divide everybody into two teams. You have two captains that are giving clues. My job – and I can see on a little grid which one of the words on the table, there’s seven or eight that belong, or eight or nine that belong to my team. And the other clue giver has another eight or nine.
So our job as clue givers is to say one word to our teammates and then a number. That’s the amount of words that we’re asking them to guess on our one clue word. And then they have to figure out which are the words on this table that they are clueing us toward with their one single word.
It’s so much fun. It takes about ten seconds to learn. It’s really fun. And there is a fantastic way to play this now online. But I don’t think that this is some sort of official sanctioned thing. So what I’m asking is if you have not purchased the physical Codenames game do it. Then you can do this. OK? Be fair and kind to the geniuses that made Codenames. The website is horsepaste.com. That’s right. Horsepaste.com.
It works brilliantly. So we’ve already done this once. We’re going to do it again tonight. The best way to play is by combining a laptop with Zoom so you can see everybody and then keep the game running maybe on a tablet. And everybody is all looking at the same words. It’s quite brilliant the way it functions. Super fun. Online Codenames, horsepaste.com.
John: Excellent. I’m looking forward to trying that. I like Ticket to Ride the game a lot. I like the board game. And the iPad version is quite good and you can do shared games on that. So we are making some play dates with friends to do a game night with Ticket to Ride and other things like that.
John: We’ll make it work. And a reminder that our Premium subscribers are going to be listening to me and Craig talk about math after this. But this is our show for the week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: Our outro this week is by Ryan Dunn. 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 am @johnaugust. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. We try to get them out about four days after the episode airs.
You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scripnotes.net where you can get all the back episodes and bonus segments.
I want to thank all of our previous guests who sent in their updates on what they’ve been up to this week. There are a few more trickling in so we might save those for next week. But we love you all. We miss you. And we hope you are doing great.
Craig, thank you for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John. See you next time.
John: OK, Craig. Math. This is two screenwriters talking about math.
John: So, I thought about this because over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading two books by Matt Parker who is a British mathematician and comedian. Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension and Humble Pi. They’re both good. I’ll have links in the show notes to both of those. But it also got me thinking how much or how little I use math on a daily basis. My daughter is home from – she’s obviously doing school at home right now. And she is in algebra 2 honors right now. And she’s doing stuff that I kind of half recognize, but I’ve never done anything like that since high school. What’s been your experience of math as an adult?
Craig: Well, and I was a pretty mathematically-inclined guy. Yeah, I was a Mathlete. And I went as far as calculus. I didn’t go any further than that. I other than obviously simple arithmetic, generally I will use geometry more than anything else. Geometry actually does come in handy when you’re measuring things or trying to figure out the distance between things. If you need to know the hypotenuse because you’re like, well, if I hold this up high how long will it go there. Radius and diameter, often very helpful to know. Oh, statistics. Understanding how statistic generally function is a good thing.
Craig: I’m not sure I use it for much more than simple averaging and ratios, also very useful.
John: Yeah. I would say like when we did the Kickstarter for Writer Emergency Pack I had to deal with a lot of big numbers. And so I guess you should probably distinguish between like building spreadsheets of things versus sort of like the real figuring out math and figuring out variables.
Every once and a while I’ll come into a situation where like, oh, this is two equations and two variables. But that’s every like two or three years I’ll come into a situation where like, oh, there actually is an X and a Y and there are two formulas. There’s a reason why this thing in the real world requires this kind of math. I’ve not needed the quadratic formula in a really, really long time. I get it. I know why it works. But I’ve not needed to use it.
Now calculus I never actually had. So I stopped at algebra 2 honors and as a journalism major, this is kind of embarrassing, I never had to take any more math beyond that. So I took a physics for majors class my freshman year of college and it required that you be concurrently enrolled in calculus or already had it, so I kind of faked my way through it. And so I understood that calculus is about rates of change and higher functions, but I never really got it.
Craig: So many mathematicians just started screaming. [laughs]
John: Well, OK, it’s fair for me to say that calculus is about rates of change. That’s fair.
Craig: Yes, I mean, that is definitely part of what’s going on. How do I – geez, I’m trying to figure out how to say it. It is. Certainly change is an enormous part of it. No question. But, yeah, there’s differential and there’s integral and they’re two different things. So integral is more about the kind of growth of variables, quantities and things. And also a huge part of calculus is just figuring out how much is under a curve.
It turns out that–
John: That’s complicated.
Craig: Yeah. So figuring out the area of a triangle is easy. One-half the base times height I believe.
John: Height. Yeah. Because if you think about it a triangle is just half of a rectangle. So therefore you just, yeah.
Craig: Half of a – yes, that’s assuming that–
John: Half a quadrilateral. Yeah.
Craig: Yes. If it’s like a weird scaling one I guess it still works.
John: It works.
Craig: It still works somehow. But, yeah, I’ve already forgotten that one. But figuring out the area under a curve is hard. Until they came across calculus. But super helpful when you’re working in physics. I mean, really what it comes down to is calculus has great application for people who are mathematicians and it has great application for people who are working in physics.
John: Yeah. Or engineers. People who need to send rockets up. All that stuff does track and make sense.
John: Now people always define themselves as being algebra people or geometry people? I guess I define myself as a geometry person because the thing I got most out of probably all my mathematical education was how to do proofs and just the importance of like what is an actual logical proof and how you sort of make a thing happen.
And I’m guessing that you are also that kind of person because as a puzzle solver that really is kind of what proofs are, isn’t it?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, proofs, well yes. They are exercises in logic. And it is true that there are a number of puzzles that I’ve thought about are very much like geometric proofs in that they rely on certain axioms. So in geometry an axiom is just something we know is true. Well, in the way that geometry works is every axiom is something that had to be proved first. Really simple. Simple things like A plus B equals B plus A. That had to be proved.
And so everything is built on a series of proofs. So if you’re playing Sudoku you may know, well, if there’s one number here and one number there and you can make a square out of those little pairs that are exclusive and everything else. Then you get rid of the other ones. Yes, it becomes another axiom that you can figure out how to prove. Geometry was fun. I liked it.
John: I liked geometry, too. And I think people had a bad experience with geometry because they weren’t introduced to it at the right time, the right speed. They might have had a bad teacher. And so they throw it all out. And I do feel like that sort of rigorous thinking was incredibly important for just being a logical person sort of going forward and recognizing fallacies. And recognizing unsupported conclusions which people can fall into even if they don’t – you might not think they’re gullible people, but they will jump from A to F without actually thinking are B, C, D, and E all really supported along the way.
Craig: I mean, I will go out on a limb and say something that is probably going to get me screamed at. But it seems to me that we have inflicted an amount of math upon children that in many cases is just not purposeful. It is incredibly important for any kid who has a general interest or affinity for it even, the STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering, math. But if you’re looking at someone who wants to be a musician, well, I mean there’s some math involved in music I suppose, more on the engineering side. But if somebody wants to be an actor I’m not sure they need math.
If somebody wants to be a salesman, I mean, there’s some math involved. Again, everybody should know basic arithmetic, of course. But algebra 2 where you’re sitting there trying to figure out how to reduce down fractions with square roots in them, that’s simply not relevant to 90% of the children in that school.
And there are other things that we don’t teach that are. And I sometimes think that we are saddled with a kind of system that is that way because it’s always been that way. And it would be better, I think, if we started including things like critical thinking.
Craig: That would be incredibly useful to us.
John: So while you get all the negative email about your rant there, I’m going to stick up for common core. Because one of the things I’ve noticed when my daughter was going through her public elementary school is that the common core math and English stuff that they were doing was smart in the sense that it built off of each other. And like those critical thinking skills in terms of like is that a supported argument did fit well back and forth together.
Now, the common core math worksheet she got when she was in kindergarten, first grade, some of them were sort of inscrutable. Like why are we doing this thing? But once you understood the underlying logic it’s making sure kids understood numbers are counting things but numbers are not just counting things. That they actually have placeholders. How place values work and all that stuff. They were doing a very rigorous job explaining all of that stuff so that you could get to the other math and you could really have a foundation for understanding the more complicated math.
And I think when people struggle with math it’s generally because some important step along the way just wasn’t made fully clear for them.
Craig: Well, and of all the things that kids reasonably say, “I will never use this. Why do I need to learn this,” math is way up there. Because for a lot of it they’re right. I mean, honestly – look, I am glad that I know how to multiply fractions. And I am glad that I know how to add fractions. And if you’re cooking sometimes it comes in very, very handy.
But for a lot of people, especially now, they’re just going to type it into a calculator. And, in fact, they will say it. They will say, “Hey, blankety-blank, tell me what the such and such.” And their favorite PDA is going to speak it back to them.
John: Yeah. And I’m not so worried about that. The fact that I will use a tool like that to do division or multiplication or other things just because it’s faster, I don’t think that’s actually a crisis. As long as they understand what the process is that’s going on behind the scenes, that I could do it by hand if I needed to do it by hand, I’m really not so freaked out about that.
Craig: Yeah. Neither am I. It’s an interesting thing. And, look, the reason I’m saying this is not because I’m grouchy about – I love math. I legitimately love math. I also recognize that a lot of people don’t. I also recognize that it’s a massive problem for kids who have certain learning disabilities. And it is traumatic for kids that don’t have learning disabilities. They’re just no good at it.
We excuse the tone deaf from music classes. They don’t have to attend. They are not forced to sing in front of everybody. But there are people who are a little bit number deaf and they are forced to go on this somewhat humiliating march.
And when – look, look. I was an excellent math student. And then I got to Princeton and I was pre-med. And one of the deals with pre-med is that you had to take physics 103. Not physics 101, which was physics for poets. Physics 103. Physics for physics people.
John: I took that, too.
Craig: So off I went. And I’m in the lecture hall where Einstein used to be. And I’m surrounded by, you know, geniuses. [laughs] And for the first time in my life I knew what it meant to be utterly lost. I fought – and when I say I fought I mean I’ve never fought harder academically – fought my way to a B. That’s a B at Princeton, which is basically the equivalent of a C. Right? I fought. But I remember distinctly thinking, oh, this is what it’s like. When the teacher says something everybody goes, “Well of course, but what about this?” And he says, “Great question.” And you’re thinking, no, I’m still stuck on the “oh of course part.” Why is that of course? What are you even talking about? I’m drowning and with every additional sentence I’m further and further behind to the point where I just go limp. It’s scary and it’s upsetting and we have to just be aware that there are a lot of kids that are experiencing that every day. And I’m not sure they need to.
John: So my experience in freshman year Physics for Majors, which I took out of pure hubris. I didn’t need to take that science class but I took it. And there was some sort of like physics picnic at the start of the year. And so we were all invited to this thing. And it was at this playground thing and there was a spinning thing. And I thought, oh, centrifugal force. And I got these looks form people like, “Wait, did you just say centrifugal force?” And I’m like, yeah. They’re like that’s not a thing.
Craig: That’s not a thing, man. It’s centripetal.
John: Yeah. And I’m like, oh. And from that moment forward, oh wow, I don’t belong here. These are lovely people and I’m so glad they have the skills they have, but I’m not one of those people.
Craig: Yeah. I just remember thinking, oh god. Because what had happened was I had come out of a high school where the best you could do with math was to get to calculus. That was it. Well, wonderful public high school in New Jersey. And a lot of these kids had come from private schools where they were already taking Calc 2. They were in AP Calc. Their math skills were really far beyond mine. And the thing about math is like you said, it’s a pyramid. You build on it. So, that’s my big sort of plea to the world of education to maybe ease up on the math stuff because the kids that love math and excel at math are going to gobble it up anyway. And if you see a kid drowning, just back off. Back off.
John: Or build out classes that are actually practical applications of math. Because, I mean, teaching kids how to balance their budget is much more important than teaching them how to do high level things. And sine, cosine, and tangents, which they will never, ever touch again in their lives.
Craig: I mean, honestly, it is a rare thing. The only time I ever think of Sohcahtoa, you know what Sohcahtoa is, right?
John: I don’t know what that is.
Craig: Ok. So you once did. Sohcahtoa is the all-purpose pneumonic for figuring out how to calculate the sine, the cosine, and the tangent. So, Soh, is sine is opposite over hypotenuse. Cah, cosine is angle over hypotenuse. And Toa, Tan, tangent, is opposite over angle. Sohcahtoa.
The only time I ever use Sohcahtoa is when I’m helping either – well, Jack is now, he’s graduated so he’s no more math for him. But Jessica is in 9th grade and the 9th grade math they’re getting into it. That’s why I use it. To help teach my kids. And then I think WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS? We’re on this wheel. This purposeless wheel. Like they’re learning it, why? So they can teach it to their kids?
John: Indeed. So they can share the story with their children.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly.
John: It’s a generational gift.
John: Craig, thanks for the math talk.
Craig: Thanks John. Stay safe.
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