The original post for this episode can be found here.
Craig Mazin: Hi folks. This episode does contain some strong language so put in those ear buds, put on those headphones. Keep those children safe.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig: Oh, my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 447 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show it’s another round of the Three Page Challenge where we take a look at the first three pages of listener’s scripts and look at what’s working and what could be improved. And because we are live on Zoom we will be talking to those writers in person. To help us out we have a very special guest. Dana Fox is a screenwriter and TV writer-producer whose credits include – Dana, I did not preapprove these with you, so let’s see.
Dana Fox: You know what? Let’s not.
John: Her credits include Ben and Kate, Couples Retreat, What Happens in Vegas, and the brand new show on Apple TV+, Home Before Dark, which was co-created with another Scriptnotes producer, Dara Resnik. Dana Fox, welcome to the show.
Dana: Hi! I’m so happy to be here, mostly because I miss your faces.
Craig: Ooh. We were talking about your beautiful shade of lipstick and the fact that you put lipstick on because you read that people need to have lipstick on or else you can’t see your mouth moving on Zoom.
Dana: The fact that I somehow fell for this ad – I’m sure it was an ad.
Craig: It was an ad. It was the lipstick industry that put that rumor out. No question. Because otherwise if you’re not wearing lipstick it’s just like where is their voice coming from. Their ear?
Dana: I see their face moving, but what?
John: Yeah. The beauty industry must really be suffering in this time of staying in home, because people are not using as much makeup as they would otherwise be using.
Dana: You would think that. But I have so much more time. It used to be that I did not wear makeup at all because I had no time and now I’m just in my house, opening drawers, trying things on. I’m not buying new things, so yes you’re right. The beauty industry is not benefiting from it. Oh boy, guys.
John: Oh boy.
Craig: Yeah. Boy.
John: Dana, you were the first person we’ve talked to who has actually had to launch a show in the middle of a stay at home pandemic.
Dana: Super fun.
John: So talk to us about your show Home Before Dark. I was recalling this morning that I had a long conversation with you about this almost two years ago. It was summer. I was in New York. I was unpacking a bag and we had like a 45-minute conversation about the difficult deal-making you were going through on your show. So, it’s now finally here, but it’s been a very long road.
Dana: It’s been like 2.5 years or so, or three years. I can’t remember when I first started talking to Joy Gorman about it. She’s our amazing producer. But it was a very long time ago. Feels like 500 years at this point.
The show is a labor of love by a lot of awesome people, Joy Gorman, Dara Resnik as you said, John Chu, amazing. We wanted to try to do something that we had never seen before which is like a very sophisticated show that felt like a four-quadrant movie but that starred a young girl that took her really seriously, that gave her a stage as big as any Amblin movie would have given a young male character. And that was something that we had never seen before.
And it sounds like sort of obvious, but along the way it was very, very hard to convince people that it was going to work. Because everybody was like, “But who is it for?” And we just didn’t say–
Craig: What is that? Who is it for…?
Dana: We just kept saying it’s for everybody.
Craig: It’s for human beings. I don’t understand.
Dana: It’s for humans. Yeah. “But why will men care?” And I’m like, well, because it’s good. We’re hoping.
Craig: Yeah. Also do you need to have 50-year-old guys watching this show for it to be successful? I don’t understand.
Dana: I mean, you know that they’re the only ones whose attention I truly crave. [laughs] Dad?
Dana: Daddy, tell me I did it.
Craig: Daddy, I’m here. [Unintelligible] I’m here.
John: Now Dana when you were pitching the show did you say Amblin a lot because having watched the show like Amblin is a really good vibe for it. Because even though it’s present day it does feel like early Spielberg. It just has that kind of spirit. Was that a word you said a lot in pitching it?
Dana: It was. We said it a lot in pitching it. John Chu and I put together this crazy, incredibly visual presentation that had so much information in it and a lot of specific visual imagery because we wanted it to feel like an Amblin movie but we wanted it to be through the lens of today and who we are today so that it felt fresh, while at the same time feeling kind of timeless. I’m sort of obsessed in movies or TV not having people dressed or like have weird hair or things that are going to make things feel very dated. So, you know, on our show you’re like when is this? And, you know, that’s purposeful. It’s partly because I just want – god-willing we’re lucky enough to have people still like this show and want to watch it in five years you don’t want them to go, oh, that feels old. I mean, like for example I was just rewatching The West Wing and it’s like it could be today. Everybody is just wearing suits. It kind of looks like today.
And so it feels like it’s relevant still. So that was one of the things we really cared about. And I just wanted to get that feeling back honestly. I think TV is very much about a feeling. It’s what you want to feel. I don’t choose things based on who is in them. I don’t choose things to watch the way that I think executives think people choose things to watch. I just go what do I want to feel tonight and what is going to make me feel that?
Craig: Does anyone do anything the way that executives think they’re going to do it? I mean, does anyone behave that way?
Dana: It would be funny to get a camera in an executive’s house.
Craig: Right. Like they get home and they pull their human suit off and underneath is this “we are studying humanity.”
Dana: And they put three kinds of cereal in front of their children and investigate how their kids choose which cereal.
John: They turn the little knob. How much are you enjoying this cereal? Now, Dana, before the show even launched you got an order for a second season. So you were writing scripts, you were starting to shoot things, and then you all had to stop production because of everything that’s going on right now. So how far were you into your second season when you had to pull the plug?
Dana: We were so lucky to get the second season before anyone had even laid eyes on the show. So it’s so exciting that people actually like the show. I was like phew. And I’m sure Apple was feeling that was well. They were amazing to even give it to us. But we had written about eight of our episodes. We had a ninth one that I was sort of working on and hadn’t handed in yet. And we had just finished shooting our third episode. We were two days into our second episode. And I remember when it became very clear what was going to happen and we were sort of trying to figure out the exact moment. I didn’t really know that far in advance because we were on the pandemic’s timeline, as well we should be.
So nobody had information and wasn’t telling you. It was just kind of like when are these cities going to shut down. Sort of a city by city thing. And I remember finding out about an hour before we ended up telling people. And we were trying to figure out exactly when to say stuff because it’s like obviously no one was going to get coronavirus from an extra four minutes of shooting, so we were just trying to figure out when to do it.
Craig: Well, but they could.
Dana: There was a scene we were shooting and they finished the scene and they were going to start rehearsing the next scene but they were going to go to lunch and then start the other scene after lunch. And I was like maybe don’t make them rehearse the other scene. Because it’s going to be 42 years until they get to do that scene. So, we’ll rehearse it in 42 years. So we just said, “We’re done.”
John: You also have a young star who is probably growing every day.
Dana: She’s 142. I FaceTime with her all the time and I’m like she’s a full-blown adult. We’re going to have some really weird continuity issues in that one episode where we have the two days shot. It’s going to be like, oh, look at Brooklynn Prince, this extraordinary nine-year-old, and then it’s going to be in another scene she’s going to be 42, and then nine, and then 42, with the martini.
John: Yeah. Little CG action. Little Benjamin Button happening.
Dana: Haggard, gray-haired lady. I know. Ugh, she’s so incredible though. I’m really just–
Craig: She’s nine?
Dana: She was eight years old the whole first season that we shot. And, Craig, you know, and John I was talking to you about it, and I’m sure Dara was talking to you about it as well, John. Like while we were shooting I was just going I have to tell people about this girl. Like Craig I called you and I was like I’ve met the best actress on planet earth.
Craig: Well, I mean, The Florida Project was incredible. But you never know if somebody can replicate that or was that just a very specific thing. But I’ve just seen interviews with her where I just think – it’s that same thing with Millie Bobby Brown or Emily Watson had it where you’re like you seem like you were finished by eight.
Dana: When you came out. Yeah, when you came out of your mom’s vag. It was just done.
Craig: Can we say that? Are we allowed to say that? Yeah, we can say that.
Dana: Are we allowed to say that? I don’t know.
John: Sure, yeah.
Dana: Am I allowed to swear on YouTube? What’s that?
John: Yeah, you can.
Craig: We decided last time that you could.
Dana: OK. Because that would have been hard for me, because you know I swear like—
Craig: Vag is not a swear. That’s a perfectly good part of the body.
Dana: It’s a beautiful anatomical thing.
Craig: Delivery system.
Dana: [laughs] Both intake and output.
Craig: You have 12 kids we just want to remind everybody.
Dana: Yeah, Brooklynn, she has this incredibly empathetic soul. She’s so deeply feeling that when you talk to her about what her character would be going through or you sort of try and describe what you think she’s feeling in that moment you don’t even have to talk to her about what she’s feeling. I just say to her I don’t want you to cry on purpose. I don’t want you to do anything. I want you to just think about who Hilde is to you – to you, Brooklynn – and do the scene.
And she is so good that whatever the thing is that comes out of her it’s her real feelings. She’s feeling them on camera. And so you’re not watching, you know, an actress try to show you what a feeling would look like. You’re watching an actress feel a feeling in front of you. It’s a miracle to me that she can even memorize her lines. And her mom is so amazing.
Craig: I know. Memorizing is hard.
Dana: I think it’s so hard. It’s what I talk to you about, Craig, because you’re like a famous actor now.
Dana: And so I have to talk to you about how do you memorize the stuff. I think I’d be like—
Craig: It’s hard.
Dana: I’d be out there. I’d be trying to Tina Fey myself if I could memorize more than three things. I’d try. But I can’t.
Craig: No, but you could. You know you could.
Dana: No, I cannot. Thank you so much.
Craig: You know what? Jason Bateman has a great system.
Dana: What does he do?
Craig: It’s something like the first word, the last word. He’s got some system. I didn’t really study it that much.
Dana: You’re such a good listener, Craig.
Craig: I use my own system. He said something literally and then I fell asleep and when I woke up I remembered that he said something.
Dana: Is it weird to like plug another podcast on your podcast?
Craig: No, do it.
Dana: Because I started listening to the Oh Hello podcast. And if anybody needs to learn how to laugh again, like this pandemic made it very challenging for me to laugh. And I found the podcast. And they’re very short. And it’s Nick Kroll and John What’s-his-face?
Dana: Oh, I love them so much. And please–
Craig: Not enough to know his name, but OK.
Dana: Not enough to learn how to say – this is what I’m saying, Craig. This is why I couldn’t be an actor.
Craig: You got a point. You know what? I take it back. You can’t be.
Dana: I’ve seen the name so many times written and I’m like that’s a read-only for me. I can’t say that.
Craig: Right. That’s different. Remembering is different than memorizing. You can’t do either of those which is sad.
Dana: I want to be out of my own skin right now. Yes. Can you tell that I haven’t been around humans much lately?
Craig: This is exciting.
John: You are the parent of three small children as well, so that’s got to be a factor in your mental state at this moment as well.
Dana: I have too many kids. Mistakes were made. I love them so much. They’re all so young. I have 7, 5, and 4. And as it turns out you would think – I’m so dorky, I went to college, I went to another college, I got all the degrees. You would think I’d be good at home schooling because I like school so much and I’m such a nerd and such a dork. I’m so bad at it. Because day one I was like, oh, this is the day I figure out my kids are a little dumb, or have no attention span. I can’t figure out how to get them to focus.
I’m like, you guys, back to the thing. We’ve got to do the thing. But then I remember they’re small children. So teachers are angels.
Craig: Well, it doesn’t help that you’ve got your three kids and you can’t get them to do anything and then you know this other nine-year-old who can do everything.
Dana: I’m like you guys can’t sit at the dinner table. This girl just memorized four pages of dialogue for me. Like you can’t sit?
Craig: Good dialogue.
Dana: And by the way hit her marks and crushed it. [laughs] Yeah, but these idiots, they can’t remember to watch their hands after they go to the bathroom.
Craig: Why can’t you be more like that television star that mommy loves more than you.
Dana: But by the way they love her so much. And that’s the other thing about Brooklynn is like during the pandemic she just FaceTime’s our children and tries to make them happy, because she’s such a good person. I love this human child.
John: Now Dana you are a good person as well because this last week you were helping to promote the It Takes Our Village campaign which is to raise money for crews that are out of work because of this pandemic. Can you briefly hype what It Takes Our Village is about?
Dana: Thank you so much, John. You’re an angel. Yes. So part of the way that I’m trying to deal with this weird time is to spend a lot of time trying to help other people because it takes me out of my own skin. So, if you can get on let’s say GoFundMe and look up It Takes Our Village. There is an amazing fundraising effort that we put together with a bunch of cool people. Bruno Papandrea is who – and yet that last name I can say. Not John Mulaney. Bruno Papandrea, no problem. So obviously I’m choosing to not say John’s last name.
So we put it together. We’re trying to raise money for crews. Crews are the people that are there the earliest. They’re out the latest. It’s like I show up. I’m a disaster because in my mind it’s early. I have coffee. I have been rolling out of bed. And I’m showing up and I look around me and there’s people who have been there for like two hours before the incredibly early time that I got there.
And then at the end of the day when I’m completely exhausted and I think I can’t stand up anymore, I can’t talk to anyone anymore, my back is killing me, I’m dying, I say good night to everybody. And then they pack up all of the stuff and they’re still there for more hours. So these are really the people that need to feel our love and support right now because they’re the ones that crush everything that anybody is watching right now on television to keep them from going completely insane. These are the people that actually make it possible and make it happen. And they will not have a job until we get back into production again.
There are people in the business who can make money during this time period. These people cannot. So, for me it’s sort of a moral imperative that we help them. And any amount that you can give would be amazing. Some people have given some really big donations which is really exciting. And we’re trying to get to $2.5 million so that we can give individual crew members $1,000 to help support them with their bills. And we’re going to try to keep it going as long as we can.
John: Cool. Dana: So please help. That would be amazing.
John: It Takes Our Village is the GoFundMe and we’ll have a link to that in our show notes.
Dana: Ah, love you.
Craig: Good cause.
John: All right. Let’s get to our Three Page Challenge. So for folks who are new listeners we occasionally do this segment called Three Page Challenge where we invite our listeners to send in the first three pages of their script. It could be a pilot. It could be a screenplay. We look through of all of them. Megana and I went through 160 entries this week to pick four that we thought were really interesting that we could talk about.
This isn’t the four best things we read but probably the scripts that had the most interesting things for us to discuss and we can actually have these people join us here and we can talk to them about what they wrote and why they wrote it and it’s exciting. So we’re going to start off with one of these. Let’s begin with Hampton by Ali Imran Zaidi.
I’m going to give you a quick summary here. But if you want to read these things they’re already up at johnaugust.com. It’s the first post that you will see there. So you can download the PDF and read through them with us.
So we’re going to start with Hampton. Here’s a quick summary. We start with a phone call to 911. There’s been a major accident on the highway. We see scenes of the first responders mobilizing. We then cut to Kamal Shah. He’s sorting oxy in a dimly lit bedroom. He answers his radio and it’s clear that he works in emergency services. He’s talking with a woman named Mina who tells him there’s been this accident and he confirms his post.
We see that Nat is this woman lying next to Kamal. She runs his hand down his chest. Kamal says he’s going off to work. And he gives Nat a last bit of drugs.
We cut to the alleged accident but it turns out there really wasn’t an accident. It was all a hoax. And the firefighters and paramedics are packing up. We cut back to Kamal as he finds his way to his police car. But before Kamal can get the engine started a shadowy figure appears and shoots him through the dashboard. And then the car backs up into a mailbox and that’s where we’re at at the bottom of three pages.
Craig, could you start us off with your first take on Hampton by Ali Imran Zaidi?
Craig: It’s garbage! No. I thought this was really good. I had a good time reading it. And I thought it did a ton of stuff in three pages. So I’m a big fan of using the real estate of the first three pages, the first ten pages I think are the most precious real estate you have. And a lot of times we get these things and I just feel like people are squandering it. Like they don’t realize they’re wasting the most precious opportunity.
So in the first three pages you need to establish tone and you need to establish a certain kind of visual setting and a pace. And so the good news is that Ali does all of that. The dispatcher – there’s a bit of confusion in the beginning that I think is an easy confusion to solve. The very first person who speaks is Mina/Dispatcher. Our eyes will probably go past that. So what we’ll see is just Dispatcher and we’ll see, “911, what’s your emergency?” Because we’re not used to noticing or caring about what a dispatcher’s name is. But as it turns out the dispatcher is actually going to come back and be important.
So, one suggestion is to just have that be Mina (VO), “911, what’s your emergency.” Or say dispatcher and then when Mina calls in down the page say it’s the same voice as the dispatcher, or she was the dispatcher. Just make a point of that. But what I think is really good is when we meet – this is the way you meet somebody, right? It’s like introductions are important. And a lot of times we’ll meet people and they’re just sitting there, or they’re walking somewhere. This guy is crushing and snorting oxy. He’s high. Love these descriptions.
“Sexy hands glide down his chest, leading to a not-as-sexy face and dirty blonde hair.” There’s your hair. “He NUDGES her off to GRAB THE RADIO from a hanging, dark green POLICE SHIRT. She snags the leftover Oxy, spilling some on her Hulk Hogan Tee.” There’s your wardrobe. Love the Hulk Hogan tee. Says a lot about what’s going on there. Their relationship is interesting. And just a nice way to kind of introduce that Kamal is, A, a bad police officer, B, a drug addict, C, cheating on his girlfriend/wife who happens to be the dispatcher. All of this is happening without him making a point of telling us any of it. We’re just learning it as we go. He has this really interesting – Nat, who I hope stays in the picture as this drug-addicted girlfriend of his. Could just be a drug-addicted girlfriend number two. And, in fact, she’s really interesting.
She quotes Babe which is the weirdest thing to do.
Dana: The best thing ever. I love it.
Craig: So cool. And then there’s the surprise that it was a fake 911 call which I wasn’t expecting. And what a great contrast to go from fake 911 call to very real murder. I have nothing to complain about here. I thought these were really tight, really good pages. I liked the way they looked on the page. There was space between things. The way the gunshot happened was exciting and read viscerally.
I think it was really good. I’m disappointed in how happy I am with this.
John: I agree with Craig. I really did enjoy this and I felt like Imran did a lot of great stuff in these three pages. The three pages open with On Black and we hear this voiceover before we get to the first image. You see On Black in screenplays a lot. I think you don’t actually see it that often in movies and TV shows because I think we realize that like, wow, looking at nothing is actually not that interesting. And so I think you’re going to want to find some sort of image to open this, rather than just being on black. That’s my guess.
You know, obviously we don’t want to portray the caller because we don’t want to set up that this is a fake thing, but On Black is sometimes a problem.
I love how Imran’s scene description is short and punchy. “Sirens burst to life. An ambulance roars through a stop sign.” Everything is quick and there. There’s no extra adjectives that you don’t need there.
Where I did think we had an opportunity here was between the hospital and the bedroom. We have all this like quick-paced stuff. We have vehicles moving and stuff like that. And then we’re cutting to “a scarf over a lamp bathes the room in red.” There’s nothing active there. It’s just scene description. I felt like if you were to start with crushing pills and lines and snorting, to have some action to start that thing could keep the momentum going. Keep this feel.
Move the scarf back a few lines so that then you’re setting up what the space is. But if we’re in action keep that action happening in parallel.
I got a little confused about Kamal, who he was talking to at the start. I just needed to have a parenthetical to say like “on radio” basically to tell us that he is not talking to the woman in the room, but that he’s talking on the radio. What I loved most about these three pages is I got a sense of what this world was like. I got a sense of who the characters I was supposed to be following. And then at the end of three pages I was really surprised that the guy I thought was going to be the protagonist is apparently dead. And so that’s exciting for me.
Dana, talk us through what you saw in these three pages.
Dana: So I thought all of your comments were great. I had similar ones. I think maybe one of the ways to solve the On Black, I would say Over Black, but then I don’t usually use it so I might be wrong. But I think maybe the way to solve it is to just have “911, what’s your emergency” be the only thing over black. Because that’s basically how much black time you’re going to want. And then I would get into this other bit and hearing this over this other bit.
I think that the introduction to Nat, you know, the fact that the “sexy hands glide down his chest leading to a not-as-sexy face” and that reveals Nat, that’s like the good version of giving camera direction, not the bad version. That showed me what I was going to be seeing in a way that I thought was filmic but not sort of hitting you over the head. So I really loved that about it. He nudges her off and grabs the radio from a hanging dark green police shirt. Full disclosure, I think I might be a little dyslexic and have like a little bit of a learning disability, so take this with a grain of salt. But I don’t like anything in scripts that stops my brain for one second, because it takes me a long time to restart my brain. So I would just say CB radio or police radio. Because I didn’t understand the word radio until I got to police shirt. And then I had to go back.
John: Yeah. And I got confused what I was actually seeing there. I’m just seeing the handset piece of that or the actual bulk of it. Because the handset piece I can see being attached to the shirt, but I got confused what I was looking at.
Dana: Then I’m like where is the bottom part? Where the thing or what’s it connected to? He took off his shirt. Where’s the radio? So, yeah, I think just a skosh more detail there. And then what I loved about this whole piece, you know, the oxy and the police shirt being the reveal and the girl and what not, I thought this told a much bigger story with really small details. I loved that about it. There’s like a Hemingway quote or something about showing the thing. You don’t have to show the whole shark. I forget what the thing is. But this is the perfect example of showing just enough that I felt like—
Craig: That was it. It was just you don’t have to show the whole shark. You don’t have to.
Dana: Yeah. [gives impression] If you just show the tip of the fin we know the shark is down there. You know, that famous quote.
Craig: Right. Hemingway is now an old Jew.
Dana: Somebody please look that up online.
John: Dana, can you do more Hemingway impersonations because I really think your Hemingway impression is ideal. I can really see him sitting in that café in Pamplona—
Dana: Welcome to my show about writing books in Havana.
No, that was really not an impression. It was a very bad impression. But if one of you guys could look up that quote just to–
Craig: I’ll do it right now.
Dana: Just to save me from myself. That would be great.
Yeah, so I loved that it told such an evocative longer story. I felt like I got both backstory and story out of just your lines of description there which I loved. I also really loved the line when he’s talking to her on the dispatch thing. He says, “I’m sorry Mina.” And then he says, “Code red.” And she replies, “I love you, too.” I also thought that was weirdly evocative. I didn’t totally understand it but I liked it. I thought maybe it implied that he was undercover so that kind of piqued my interest that he can’t say I love you maybe meant he was undercover. Maybe it didn’t. But I just liked that about it. And also I thought “That’ll do, pig” was amazing.
A vibrator kicks on behind him. I just wanted it to be like “clicks on” or something. Because again that was one of those moments my brain stopped and was like, wait, what is this saying? And I was like, oh, she’s turning on the vibrator. And I loved it but my brain went “kicks on?” What? And then I went back. So maybe clicks on, or just a different way of describing that.
And I got to the end and I was like, oh, end of page three and I would completely keep reading. I want to know what happened next. I don’t understand some of the stuff, but I’m totally intrigued by it. This feels like a very lean in and yet there’s a lot of momentum to it and yet I’m leaning in which is sometimes hard to do when things are kind of fast paced. You don’t lean in quite as much.
But this does both, so I loved it.
Craig: Yeah. This was really well orchestrated. It was well balanced. There was harmony between things. Things were feeding into each other.
I do have a quote from Hemingway.
Dana: Oh, OK.
Craig: It says show the readers everything, tell them nothing.
Dana: Yeah, fuck. That’s not it. Somebody else said the thing.
Craig: Show the readers everything. Tell them nothing.
Dana: And he talked with the cigar.
Craig: [makes cartoon noises]
John: I do want to show one thing on page three here. “Kamal walks out under flickering amber lamp light.” I think that lamplight should probably be a streetlight. But the amber gets used again about six lines later. So, amber is such a specific word. If amber light is being used twice – just you don’t need it the second time.
Dana: I think that’s important because it makes people feel – I always say I don’t want to feel the writing. You don’t want to be feeling somebody going like click-clack-click-clack. And so the repetitions of words you sometimes notice and go, oh, someone wrote this. Blech.
Craig: I mean, you can connect these things together if you want. You just have to be a little bit more purposeful about it so you can say Kamal walks out under the flickering street lamp, or the flickering amber streetlight. And then a shiny pistol and glove hand twinkles under the amber light of the street lamp, or under the street lamps. If you wanted to make a point of it. Because I don’t know if that’s important or not.
John: Yeah. I can’t imagine it’s – it doesn’t feel like it’s especially important or you’d underline it. You’d highlight in some other way if it really were important. I just feel like in both cases probably you’re feeling like, oh, this light should be this color and you forgot that you actually just a few lines above used that same color.
Craig: That may very well be the case.
John: Here’s an example of a recognition that’s so important is “Blood splatters on that CANVAS ZIP BAG now sitting shotgun.” Just using that rather than the canvas zip bag just reminded like, oh yeah, I did call that out a page before and this is a reward for having noticed that I called it out. So really nicely done.
Let’s invite Imran on to talk about this. Imran, if you could please join us here on stage.
Ali Imran Zaidi: Hello.
Craig: Hey man, sorry about the way we just beat you up there. I mean, geez, did you enjoy that? God.
Imran: Man, I was sweating, but thank you so much.
John: So talk to us about who you are and how you came to write this.
Craig: Who are you?
Imran: So I used to – this is set in a real town called Hampton, Florida in North Florida. The pilot’s name is Got to Go North to Go South because that’s kind of the thing about Florida. You go north to go to the south. And I used to travel to a lot of these kinds of towns. And then at one point I read about this town and all the kind of underpinnings of the crime going on are real. They’re true. I read the state’s forensics report analysis about everything that this town was up to.
You know, it’s a story that in a weird way appealed to me as like a brown immigrant in Florida, the experiences I had I kind of in a way I’ve translated into what Kamal is going to go through in this place where he’s somewhere he really shouldn’t be. A South Asian guy in North Florida is not a common sight. And so it just personally really appealed to me.
And I love genre storytelling. You know, honestly when I take generals and stuff a lot of times I feel like I get the meeting where, you know, what’s the brown family story you can tell, which those are fine but I’m not really interested in family stories really. I’m interested in sci-fi and crime and things like that. So, I try to un-gentrify genre storytelling with what I do. So that’s basically why I wrote Hampton.
John: Talk to us about what happens in the rest of this pilot and sort of what is the franchise you’re sort of setting up out of here.
Imran: Essentially this town, Hampton, in a weird sort of way it’s sort of like that idea of Fargo, but it’s one specific town and one specific story. There’s a lot of people who are not very bright in this town. This is the kind of town, and we see it later, where the police department, the water, and like city hall are all like one small office building which is like a converted house. And so there’s a lot of this kind of – essentially Hampton created a speed trap that started out the money coming in, an illegal speed trap. They annexed a piece of land on a passing highway which is shown at the beginning. And they basically started taking in that money.
And then of course you need to funnel money which means you need to launder it somehow and you need to find other ways to bring in money into this system. And so they took control and they required cash payments from water because the city was providing water. So anyway it goes kind of deep.
So the idea of this is Kamal and his wife are basically helping them launder, because they themselves are not necessarily that good at this whole, you know, the numbers game of this whole thing. And so I follow Kamal and then also his wife gradually through the series who is really – his wife who is a dispatcher, because everybody has multiple jobs in this town. She’s actually helping launder this money. And, of course, they’re trying to get out of it and they’re also at the same time because of the racial implications of the town they’re essentially being scapegoated. And so what I’m trying to do in the version of this story is I’m kind of putting fiction in the dark corners of this story that don’t exist to tell the story of the people that – because a lot of money went missing. And I’m trying to show with my version of this story, this fictional aspect, of what happened to the million some dollars that kind of somehow disappeared out of the town.
Dana: For you, what are the touchstones? What are the shows that you loved watching as just an audience member?
Imran: I mean lately, obviously, I love Ozark. I’m tearing through the new season that just dropped. I love the rural town kind of story. Like I just love that. I watch a lot of crime – I mean, whether it’s something like Fargo which I thought was amazing, like beyond amazing. As far as crime goes those are like my – whether it’s the old feature Fargo, the original Coen Fargo, or the new one.
What the Coen brothers do where they kind of somehow balance something that makes dramatic sense while at the same time you find yourself laughing at some of these idiot characters that kind of go along the way. And that’s the kind of thing that I really love. Because we’re all kind of geniuses and idiots depending on the day. And so that’s kind of what I like exploring. Like when are we at our best and when are we at our worst.
Craig: Great. Well thank you.
John: And Imran, where are you at in your career? So you say you’re taking generals and I also saw on IMDb that you’ve worked as a cinematographer. Where are you at right now?
Imran: I mean, essentially I’m at the place where I am taking staffing meetings now and then to try to get stuff, because I have not been staffed. I was writing features more before, but obviously because the way the world has turned, you know, it became more about television. So I’ve been working on more television pilots and I haven’t been staffed. That’s basically my next step. I’m trying to get there. Of course, there’s the Catch-22 of if you haven’t been in a room sometimes you can’t get in a room. So, I’m trying to work that as best I can.
John: Great. I think people will read your script. I think you’re going to get more of those meetings. So good luck.
Imran: Thank you.
John: Great. Thank you very much for sending in your pages.
Craig: Good work. Thanks Imran.
Imran: Thank you so much.
Dana: Thank you.
John: All right. Let us go next to Sunbeam by Heidi Lewis. I’ll give you a quick summary for people who don’t have it in front of them. We hear a deep breath as we open on 12-year-old Mabel in Normanhurst House, Victorian England. She’s standing on a landing and Mabel watches as a horse-drawn carriage arrives with two doctors. The butler greets the doctors. As a child cries for air, the doctors rush up the stairs past the butler and Mabel. We watch the scene from Mabel’s point of view as she looks into a bedroom and watches an elegantly dressed couple, apparently her parents. Lady Anna and Lord Thomas tend to a feverish girl. The couple and the doctors debate whether Lady Anna should stay in the room and what is the best course of treatment for the girl. Cupping? Or arsenic and bleeding?
Meanwhile the little girl struggles for air until she’s finally propped up, just in time for the child to draw her last breath and for the audience to see the girl, Sunbeam, for the first time. That’s where we’re at at the bottom of three pages.
Craig: All right.
John: Dana, can you tell us your first impressions on this?
Dana: So, I really liked this. I’m big fan of sort of period pieces, especially in the world that we’re living in. I kind of want to think about other time periods.
John: Where people could touch each other?
Dana: Where everyone can touch each other and cough on each other. And open doors, you know, just with the handles. Just open them. Just go right for it.
John: No elbows required, yeah.
Dana: So I long for that. So I really love a period piece. I love a costume thing. This was just a fun kind of world to feel like I was in for – especially I loved the detail of the feeling of the snow falling and then you realize that that’s the feathers in the pillow. I thought that was really beautiful. Really evocative. I can imagine a filmmaker really wanting to make a meal out of that, which is good. And, you know, my only question was is there a way to a little earlier, you know, we started with the 12-year-old girl in a night dress. And I think this is a good lesson. I’m a really good reader and I skipped the first slug line somehow. Like I just didn’t read it.
So, I was like on the 12-year-old girl in the nightdress holding her breath. I’m like I’m in, I love this. And then there wasn’t a period detail in that first section. So I didn’t realize it was a period piece until the four black horses came and the coach came. So I was wondering if – in a way there’s an opportunity there to reveal the period in an interesting way.
You know, period pieces and costume dramas, they’ve been done so many times before that you sort of have to ask yourself what do you want to do that’s either different or if it’s the same as what’s been done before maybe that feels like something that won’t get you as much notice if you’re starting out your career. So I might sort of look at this and say, OK, what makes this different? Are the people talking in a way that I wasn’t expecting? Does it surprise me in that way that Hamilton did because it was a mashup of genres that I wasn’t expecting?
This feels a little bit more straightforward and so if it’s going to be straightforward I think it has to make itself known a little bit more clearly what it’s doing in these first three pages. Because I was just not quite sure what I was reading. But I liked it and I was like I’m on board. This person can clearly write. I’m excited. I want to read more. I feel like if there is a way to think more meta. I like to kind of step back from it a second and sort of go you know how to write, you’re a good writer, that’s great. Why do you want to do this? Why do you want to do this particularly? And let’s dig in maybe when we get to the talking directly to you part of it about what do you love about period pieces, why do you feel that you’re the person that has to tell the period piece story.
Just for me personally, you know, I am obsessed with World War II stuff. It’s like 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell psychotic reading of stories about that. But for me it’s very specific. I want a story about a woman who is a spy in like a very specific time period. I’m like, ooh, let me get my hands on that 1946. Oh yeah.
So, I have some stories that I’ve been toying around with doing and for me it’s not like, oh, I want to talk about World War II because it’s like, yeah, but why, everybody has talked about World War II. It’s like I want to talk about a time period when women were allowed to work and then could fall in love with something and fall in love and get passionate about their work. And then the minute the war is over everybody says, great, we fought for you to be able to go back to the kitchen and take your shoes off and be pregnant again. And I’m like but what about my work? I’m in love with my work. And they’re like, yeah, well you can’t do that anymore.
So, for me that’s why I’m interested in that particular story and that’s why I want to tell that particular story. And so I’m interested in talking to you about why you want to tell that particular story and then trying to help you kind of bring more of that into these pages.
John: Craig, what was your read on these three pages?
Craig: Well, I quite liked them.
Dana: Oh, oh, you quite like them?
Craig: I quite liked them.
Dana: Shall I light you a candle?
Craig: It’s 1946.
Dana: I quite like this Victorian story.
Craig: I got to go back into the kitchen and take my shoes off.
Dana: Where they can’t even just turn on the light switches. They got to light a candle.
Craig: I quite like – but it’s funny that you mention turn on light switches and light a candle, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about. It’s the very first thing. I had the same moment that you did where I was a little bit confused about period because like you I kind of sort of glided past Victorian England. But it’s night. Now it’s night in a mansion in Victorian England. I suspect that we’re dealing with candlelight here. The butler later is going to have a candle in hand.
A 12-year-old girl in a night dress stands in a shadowy landing holding her breath. How do I see her? Is she holding a candle? Is there a lit candle? Do we start on the candle?
John: Is there moonlight?
Craig: Is there moonlight? Do we see a match light a candle? I mean, somehow or another I think that’s a great way to kind of bring us in. Look, it’s a preference thing with me that I’m not a big fan of “right now she’s wondering what it’s like to have no more air in her lungs like a sailboat has gone flat.” It’s a little bit of a purple prose thing. And I can’t shoot it. And no one can act it. So, I’m not sure what the great value is of that kind of thing.
But I’m just kind of wondering what is she doing there. Is she just standing randomly on a balcony? She is thoughtful and curious and she is wondering about air, but why is she there? Is she waiting? That’s a different thing. If she’s waiting then–
John: I think she’s at the window. Because when she exhales her hot breath fogs the frosty pain. But I didn’t know she was at a window. So if she’s at a window waiting for the doctors to arrive and that actually tracks and makes sense. But I didn’t get that from the initial image.
Craig: Well, because she’s not doing what waiting people do. Because waiting people aren’t thinking about what it’s like to have no more air in their lungs. What waiting people are doing is looking and waiting and hoping. So that’s a different kind of anticipation. That’s the kind of thing where if you breathe you wipe it away because you need to see. They’re not there. You breathe again. You wipe it away again. These are things that you can do.
We get these doctors coming out. They come on in. Pearson, now, OK, just a general dialogue note. A lot of this fell into the category of this is how TV or movies make us think these people spoke. But then there are other examples. I’m thinking of Taboo for instance, the Tom Hardy series, where you go they didn’t talk like this. This all feels a little too Downton Abby. A little too precious and formal for these things.
“She seems so discomforted! Is there nothing you can do for her?” doesn’t seem like panic to me. It seems very rigid and formal. I love the down pillow snow thing, but I don’t know why the pillow has been exploded. Did the girl rip it apart in a feverish fit? I just didn’t understand why that was that way.
Similarly the doctors do this thing that I call bad man speech. So bad man speech is, “My dear woman, you are merely a woman. I am a man. Step aside for in this year women have no rights.” And there is a more interesting way to get across the kind of endemic sexism of a time. And it’s particularly important because you have Anna doing what I think is the “no, no, no, I am a woman and I will not take that crap, sir” speech. And similarly “yet I shall not set one foot from this chamber until I’ve seen her through the worst of it.” It’s like, ma’am, stop giving speeches. Grab somebody. Your child is literally a breath away from dying. Everybody is talking so much.
And I love, I am such a sucker for old medicine. Old failure medicine I call it. It’s wonderful. I love failure medicine. But that’s all anyone ever knew. So, she would be like where are the leeches? Or do the thing? Or do you have arsenic? And everyone is like scrambling and trying to do something because she’s literally dying in front of them.
A child dying in front of you is what I call an overwhelmer. When you have an overwhelmer in a scene everyone has to shut up and no one can talk about anything else. There’s no time to talk about what you want to do, how you feel about your rights as a woman. Your disagreement with another doctor. A child is dying. So there’s just panic. And when she does die, Thomas – who is Thomas? Oh, is the husband. I forgot the husband was there. And here’s why. Because the husband, by the way, he’s in a formal white tie which is spectacular because his child is dying.
Again, I don’t quite get that. But he says, “Dr. North, Hughes,” his daughter is dying. And then he doesn’t say anything? Or do anything ever again. Which is crazy, to me.
So, overwhelmers have to really be respected. However, where we end is really beautiful I think. Because it’s hard to make a kid die and make me go, ooh, because they died. And I went, ooh, because I saw this and I liked that Mabel was there. I think there’s a point of view problem here because the point of view doesn’t really feel like it’s Mabel’s point of view. It feels like it’s more Anna’s point of view. But this dawn comes in and we have our first clear view of the child. And she has golden curls, dimple chin, cherubic. Her name is Sunbeam. She’s dead, or is she? Ooh.
So, anyway, I loved where it ended up. I think there’s really good visuals involved. I think you have an overwhelmer problem that you have to deal with and I think you’ve got to dial down the sort of written period of it all and just get more into humans, because we actually only care about the human part, not so much the stilted stuff.
John: I agree with especially the emphasis on the images, because the images are what really worked for me. So as I went through the script I found myself scratching out lines that I felt we didn’t need. And in those omissions I thought we actually could make some progress. So, like you I cut “right now she’s wondering what it’s like to have no more air in her lungs.” I cut out the door chimes. I cut out Dr. North’s dialogue in a lot of places. Basically just getting to the next thing, because in these moments of crisis people don’t stop to say those lines. They just actually rush through to the next thing.
There’s even moments for when you’re taking out blocks of dialogue very naturally you got to the next thing and people just said the thing that has to happen. A bigger thing that we haven’t discussed really is that this is all from Mabel’s point of view but I don’t know anything about Mabel in the course of this. And I feel like at the end of three pages if she is our character I want to know something specific about her. Why we’re entering this story from her point of view.
And so giving us some image or some connection between her parents, between apparently that’s her sister, what it is that she’s here rather than just being a camera through which we’re watching all this. And so by the end of three pages I wanted to have a little bit better sense of why we’re experiencing this through Mabel.
Luckily because we’re doing this with Heidi here she can come on and answer these questions because generally we couldn’t do this. Heidi, step out on stage here and talk to us about what you’ve written here.
Heidi Lewis: Hi.
John: Heidi, hi.
Craig: Hey. Hey.
Heidi: Thank you so much.
Craig: All right. No problem. You took a couple of shots there. You took a couple of shots, so hopefully you’re not feeling too rattled.
Dana: By the way, that’s like all of trying to do this job. [laughs]
Craig: It’s literally all we experience all day.
Dana: It’s 100% that all day long. No matter whether it works out or not, you’re just like, oh, everyone is saying horrible shit to me all the time.
Heidi: You’re generous. I mean, this is generosity because your knowledge is so helpful. So, what I love about this story is that this is a true story. It’s a little – do you want me to go into the background?
Craig: Yeah, yeah, just tell us what it is.
John: Please, please.
Heidi: So, I was at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England a few years ago and I saw this massive golden figurehead. And it was the image of a child. It was just haunting. It was so beautiful. And I went over and looked at the little plaque and all it said was this belonged to the ship the Sunbeam. The first family to sail around the world in 1856 went on this ship and I went down this whole rabbit hole studying all of the journals that they wrote. And Anna Brassey, the mom, was this like – she was this strong explorer naturalist adventurer.
And then her daughter dies. And so they decided to build this ship and sail around the world. And the thing that interested me about it was that grief is just something that’s universal, first of all, and that this family went to such great lengths to escape their grief. And they actually brought the daughter with them who died in the form of this figurehead in the name of the ship.
And so it is a ghost story.
Craig: Ah, good.
Heidi: Yeah, so it’s a ghost story where, I don’t know, I was just kind of looking at how all of us in a family might approach grief. Maybe the mother is distracted and Mabel, the surviving daughter, just when she needs her mom the most has her mom completely just separate from her. So that’s what the story is. It’s a ghost adventure story, true story. And a female story, because it’s the mom and the daughter. So, yeah.
Dana: Can I jump in and you can take any of this for what it’s worth. But I love what you’re saying there and I think that you have the potential for a really, really cool story. Maybe think about, sometimes what I do with my stuff is like I write the kind of linear version of it and I look at it and I go there’s something not quite working here. This is the sort of like this is what happened version of it. And I realize like, oh, there’s this thing that in my mind is backstory and it has to become story. So I end up moving around pieces.
I think maybe this isn’t the right way to start your story. I think maybe if you started the story on the ship with the family and you’re with these people and they’re out there and you’re like what the fuck are they doing out there. That’s crazy. And you see the thing on the figurehead, the masthead. And then you basically use the daughter’s death as a mystery that you’re solving to kind of explain why the behavior of them present day is what it is. That could be an interesting way of thinking about it. And, again, you can throw all this away if you don’t like it. But that’s something that’s sort of appealing to me because I know somebody whose child did die and it gave me a window into that profound deep grief of like a mother over their child. And like Craig said, it’s all encompassing. It smashes everything in the room. Like there’s no version of people being like, “We’re talking about stuff.”
But what I found so fascinating about it was as she started to go through it like it was a mystery – it was like a mystery she had to solve. Because her brain could not process it and get over it until she understood every single piece that led up to it. How it happened. Why it happened. Who was there? When the thing? How they got the thing?
So, maybe it’s an interesting way of looking at it as more of like the death is more of a mystery because right now we’re experiencing and we don’t care about the characters yet, so we of course care about a child dying because everybody does. You intuitively sort of know that. But it just might be a slightly more interesting way into it so that if I meet them and I know them and then you bring me back to this and I get to see for example Mabel in happier times. Like I’d go even further back, you know. And Mabel in happier times being a completely different person than the Mabel I’m watching in present day. Then I sort of care about both time periods in a way that could be kind of interesting.
I don’t know. John and Craig, is that terrible advice or is that–?
John: I think it’s actually really good advice. Because what you’re doing is you’re trying to find a way to make sure that the franchise of the show, which is really sort of what we’re emotionally invested in, is set up very early on. We’re sort of establishing what kind of show it is that we’re watching which is not going to be a haunted house. It’s not going to be a Victorian house show. It’s going to be a cool ship show. And the mystery of like we won’t know at the start of the show that she’s actually died. And that could be really compelling.
And if this were kind of the last scene of the first episode that would be really cool. Like we didn’t know that this girl who we’ve been following over the course of the story is actually already dead. That’s kind of neat.
Dana: Yeah, then I’d be like, ooh, I’m hooked, I’ve got to watch the second episode.
Craig: Yeah. These are great ideas. I think that Heidi what Dana and John are suggesting is a kind of advice that helps you take a little bit of the I’ve seen it before kind of feeling off of this. Because while grief is a profound emotion and human condition that we do empathize with and feel and need to discuss and understand through art, when you serve it up straight ahead it’s just – it feels a little kind of like, oh, right. She’s going to have to go through the stages of grief.
And then they will be over. So I guess I’ll be watching that thing. Do you know what I mean?
Craig: and how you begin things really does frame how this can evolve. I mean, you’ve probably seen the Nicole Kidman film The Others?
Heidi: Yes. Definitely.
Craig: So that’s a fascinating exploration of grief and it does so in a way that does not say, right, first a kid dies, then [unintelligible] dies, then you get sad, then you – do you know what I mean? So you don’t have to do any of the things that Dana and John are suggesting. And, in fact, you could even start in the house if you wanted. But what you do need to do is say how can I surprise people who are going to think, oh, OK, so this is going to be a this – how do I surprise them? How do I keep them off-balance so that when the emotion comes it comes in an unexpected way, in an unexpected direction because that’s what grabs us.
The audience, see, people are protective of their hearts. They will try and protect their heart from you. As somebody who is trying to break it, so you have to surprise them.
Heidi: Yeah. I love that. I think it’s great advice. It gives me a lot to think about. I love it.
Craig: Awesome. Well thank you.
John: Heidi, thank you so much for sending these pages in and for joining us.
Craig: Thank you, Heidi.
Heidi: Thank you.
John: All right. Next let’s look at Find Him by Dylan Guerra. This is episode one, Atlas Didn’t Shrug He Actually Had a Pretty Strong Opinion.
We start in a rundown apartment building in Harlem in the middle of a thunderstorm. Dylan, our main character narrator, desperately bangs on a door. Dylan calls for David, begging him to open up. They open up the door. Then through voiceover Dylan steps back and lets us know that the scene didn’t actually happen this way at all. Instead Dylan takes us to his apartment where he sits in his underwear and types David a series of increasingly passive-aggressive texts. Dylan takes us back and forth between the scene in the hallway and to his bedroom.
Until we arrive at a happy medium with Dylan wearing clothes and texting David from his bed. Dylan admits to the audience that he struggles with being clear. Dylan realizes that he hasn’t yet given us enough context on the scene so he shows us David’s dating profile and describes David through the description on the profile. Dylan steps through the scene and addresses the audience directly telling us that this is the story of David, a guy he met and sort of dated who then went missing and this is Dylan’s search for him.
Let me start off with this because I really dug a lot of what I read in Dylan’s script for Find Him. This script as we look at it has the most formatting issues. It feels like the least screenplay ready of all of these. I liked the control over the writing that Dylan really showed and his ability to inhabit the space and really have a clear point of view and tone that came through from the very start.
So, we had Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the show last week and so she is a character who is turning to the character and addressing us directly. That’s a thing that Dylan is doing. Mostly it’s working really, really well.
On the bottom of page one when we switch to more of what really happened there’s a lot of texting. We’ve talked about texting on the show before and it can be a tricky thing to show. This is just a big block of text which is not going to really work. I think you’re going to want to break it up into some different ways so that we can really sense like this is what we’re actually seeing on screen. This is the flow of how we’re getting to this stuff.
As we’re going back and forth between the various incarnations of this it felt – I can picture it. I can imagine what this is going to feel like as we’re seeing these shifting realities of sort of what actually happened here. If I could change a few things, I might sort of move the tenses a little bit. Right now on page three it says, “And David is important because he went missing.” Well, we’ll talk to Dylan about this, but David is missing. I feel like when you say “went missing” it felt like well this was a thing that all happened in the past.
I want a sense that this is a thing that is still ongoing as we’re setting up the story. If it’s at all possible I would love for David to have a different name because Dylan and David gets so confusing to have two D-words. So if we could rename that character. But I would say I’m very curious to see what happens next at the end of three pages.
Craig or Dana, what did you take out of these pages?
Craig: I enjoyed them as well. These are all about Dylan and about his tone. So either you’re going to enjoy the Dylan ride, or you’re not. By the way, I agree with you on the David thing. We do need to change one of their names. And since Dylan has written this I’m going to say Dylan keep your name and change David’s name.
It’s exciting to read things like this when you think, OK, I’m never going to quite know where I stand with my unreliable narrator. They’re going to keep pulling the rug out from under me. For a bit. And then it’s going to become an issue.
So talking to the audience and side comments and contradicting yourself, all of that I think is interesting and fine. I’m a little nervous about what happens on page three. When you actually now start talking about the techniques of the film that you’re in, or the show that you’re in. “That was cool right? The screen blacked out and I then I stepped into it. You thought you were staring at an image and then the image went out and I stepped into the darkness.”
So that is clever, but it’s annoying. It’s annoying because it’s unfair. You’re kind of cheating. In a sense that like I like it – I don’t mind being fooled as an audience member, I just mind being fooled and then having you say, “Ha, I fooled. Did you notice that I fooled you? Wasn’t that interesting how I fooled you?” That can get a little annoying because you are going to start to disconnect a little bit. So that’s always the danger of the fourth wall.
We talked about it on our last live show with Phoebe and with Ryan. That’s the area where you’ve got to be careful. One of the things that Phoebe did so brilliantly was use her moments to the camera – sometimes they were just a quick glance without a single word. But they never said, OK, actually what you just saw, wasn’t that an interesting camera angle? Because then I start to get a little too deconstructed.
It’s OK to do – I’m not saying you can’t do it. Just be aware that a little bit of that in particular goes a massively long way.
And I’m kind of fascinated to see, OK, will I want to keep watching Dylan? Especially if Dylan is narrating his own story. It’s hard for me to say, but I definitely enjoyed the shit out of him for three pages. So, I mean, I’m on board. Given that you can do anything, the only other challenge is you’re going to have to keep that up. Right? You can’t do all these fun tricks in three minutes and then just get bored with them and just start doing your regular linear story. So lots of challenges here.
But, I mean, it was funny. And he was so specific. And I think it might be, so that helps. The voice was consistent. So well done.
John: Dana, what did you think?
Dana: I really liked it a lot. I had a lot of little check marks, which that just means I’m happy, on a little different lines. And there wasn’t a thunderstorm. And I don’t remember what I was wearing. And he changes outfits and the thing. I was down with it.
I’m always intrigued by things where people are missing, because I think it drives you. It feels like it has a cool, forward momentum to it.
My thing is very much your same thing that you guys were talking about which is kind of like I definitely want to know more. I wanted to be a little more sure of what the tone was of this, in the sense of like are you going for streaming or are you going for broadcast? Because right now I kind of can’t tell and I think it’s important that you make it very clear in the first three pages who you’re for at this particular time.
Craig: Isn’t everybody going for streaming? Does anybody go network at this point?
John: There’s no such thing as network anymore.
Craig: I don’t think so. Like, unless you’re a procedural. I just don’t think so.
Dana: On the TV, where they watch the TV? I don’t know how the people do it on the TV.
Craig: The TV.
John: Derek Haas has all the remaining broadcast shows and everything else is streaming.
Craig: Everything else is streaming. Exactly.
Dana: But I guess to that end, if this is definitely streaming, which you know I think it’s super fun and you should lean a little bit more into that in the sense that like, you know, Phoebe, you guys were talking about her. I can’t even believe we’re just using her first name like that, like all cas [casual] like. She made a pretty R-rated version of the direct-to-camera address stuff and the stuff that she’s saying is pretty hardcore. Like there’s a lot of sexual stuff in it. And it was super funny because it sort of leaned into tone a little bit more.
This felt like kind of in between like a thing I would expect to see on NBC and a thing I would expect to see on streaming. So I would kind of go a little bit more heavily into that direction if streaming is what you’re thinking of.
You know, the line on page one where it says, “Is Dylan the real Dylan? The Dylan who wrote this script?” That kind of stuff I usually absolutely hate, like with every fiber of my being. And the reason I usually hate it, and I didn’t actually hate it here, so yay, but what it did make me think is number one do you want to star in this, which is going to be in my head the whole time. Does this guy want to star in this? What are we talking about? Who is this guy?
So I don’t know that you want to do that. It gave me pause in sort of not a good way. I might take that line out. I don’t know. Those kinds of like cocky lines that we sometimes want to write in these lines of description, your script better be an A++ or else I’m annoyed that I’ve seen it in the script. So, when I get stuff from writers that has like a cheeky like, “Yeah, because we’re going to get a season three for sure,” I’m like [groans] take it out. It just really bugs me.
Again, because it makes me go like this better be A+ in order for that cheeky tone to pay off. So I’d be a little careful with that. And then I also have a thing on page two, “Why I was banging on this door, which again I didn’t do. Let me explain.” I have a weird rule which is like don’t say anything the audience might actually be thinking. So if a character of yours is saying something like, “Ugh, I’m getting really bored by talking to you right now.” No. Don’t say that. Because the audience might be like, yeah, I’m getting really bored watching you talk to him right now.
So if you’re saying that you have a problem. This was one of those moments where I was like that started to get into what Craig is talking about in terms of like don’t remind me so much that I’m watching a thing that is made by people because I’m trying to get into the thing that is made by people that you’re doing really well. So, let me get into it. Stop reminding me that there are people making it.
Yeah. But I really liked it. And I’m pushing hard on it because I really liked it and because I think you’re close. And I’d love to hear from you where the rest of it goes and if this kind of conceit is going on like Craig said for the whole thing. And how you’re going to do your storytelling in terms of how we’re going to understand the mystery of where this guy went. But I was in. I liked it a lot. I thought it was great.
John: Dylan, come up on stage and let’s answer these questions.
Dana: Dylan! Dylan!
Dylan Guerra: Hi.
Dana: Woohoo. Hi.
John: Hi Dylan.
Dana: Yay Dylan.
Dylan: Thank you.
Dana: Great Job.
John: So I’m going to disagree with Craig here a bit in terms of some of the tone and the talking to the audience. What I enjoyed about this is that I thought you were kind of deconstructing in some ways the actual talking to the audience of it all. It reminded me a little bit of the pilot for Mr. Robot which sets up this weird relationship between the central character and the audience. And so it’s like your character that seems very eager to please, but also a little cocky. And that combination is actually fascinating.
So, tell us about the origin of this. Because from what I was quickly able to Google it sounded like this was a play before this was something you were writing here. Tell us about this.
Dylan: So Find Him, it’s all a true story, which also a big I have with the show in general is to sort of also deconstruct what it means for something to be a true story. Is the reality we construct for ourselves more real than the reality that we actually experienced? And that’s sort of the ongoing theme and sort of why the camera interruptions happened.
So it started because it was a true story. And then I turned it into a one-person show and I’ve been doing it periodically at Ars Nova and some other theaters in New York City. And then I wanted to continue to sort of push the boundary of the narrative that the story was able to tell. And so I crafted it into a pilot. And so the deconstructing aspect or the hyper-awareness is sort of like the thing that will maintain throughout the show.
John: Now, the pilot that we’re reading, the first three pages we’re reading of this, is it a 30-minute pilot? A 60-minute?
Dylan: It’s a 30-minute.
John: So in some ways this reminded me of Search Party—
Dana: So great.
John: Which was a show I love which is about a bunch of 20-somethings who are ostensibly looking for this missing girl but really it’s just an excuse to have anything interesting happening in their lives. And it does feel like there’s an aspect of that to this story, too. Which is that you’re trying to figure out what this whole story means to yourself as you’re trying to do this investigation.
Dylan: Yeah. Totally. And I think throughout the pilot what starts to happen is you sort of – the end of the pilot episode you find out that I don’t actually have as much control of the situation as I thought I did. So the screen blacking out, like what begins to happen towards the end is scenes start to be shown that I don’t intend to show.
Dana: I really like that.
Dylan: Thank you. I do hear and it is always a concern is that I don’t want it to come across – it is written for me be the main person in because it’s a true story and I’m trying deconstruct true narratives. And so the most heightened that I feel like I can get that is if I was playing myself. And I do come from a wholly theatrical background. So I feel like I’m still trying to figure out the formatting in the way – it’s my nightmare for someone to read this and to be like, “Oh, this guy sucks.”
Craig: No, no, nobody would – it’s really good. I’m actually glad to know that it came from a stage background. It’s starting to explain a lot. But all the more reason then – I’m even more concerned in a little bit of a way because there is an experience that you can have as an artist on stage with an audience that is very different from being on a television screen. Because when you are there performing it you are there. It is happening. So the moments where you’re like, “Oh did you see that, the lights just went off, or did you see this, you thought it was this but it’s this,” they’re with you in it. They’re experiencing it with you.
When we watch television we understand somebody sat down, thought of it, contrived it, shot it, did five takes, edited it, and put it on there. It’s sort of the difference between watching a magician do magic in front of you and watching one of those things like a magic special where it’s so rigged. It’s harder when it’s rigged.
So, that’s number one to just think about. And number two, I love the idea that you’re going to start to lose control over this thing that you think you’re in control over. It’s very Pirandello. I love this. All the more reason to be sparing about how much you do in the beginning because if you don’t establish a certain kind of rules in the beginning, like OK, I can tell, OK, I liked about this, I lied about this. But the more you break down in the beginning the less shocking it will be when we find out later that you’re not completely in control of it. It’s like you showed too many tricks early.
So, I think Six Characters in Search of an Author do not understand they’re in a play in the beginning of the play. They come to understand they’re in a play. So, it’s different obviously here. But just think about that dial because that’s such a fascinating concept. And I want you to blow people’s minds with it as opposed to them going, oh, geez, another trick. Do you know what I mean? That’s the difference, right? So that’s the thing to keep in mind as you go because the medium – it’s different. It’s different. And I like the fact that you’re transporting it, but as you transport it you are going to have to do some things.
Dana: One of the things that’s great about you when I get to like see your face and talk to you is this – I can tell you that you can bring a sense of intimacy to this. And so I would also hope that there would be a moment where you are actually real in the pilot. So that all of the sort of the sort of artifice means something to me. Like that’s one of the things that I think I loved so much about Fleabag is it’s like taking on this ride and it’s funny and fun and cool and cocky, and then all of a sudden you’re like I have the feelings. I hurt – my heart and also my stomach. Oh god. And I’m sobbing.
And then I’m so onboard for any of the other stuff because I know that this character is actually feeling real feelings and is capable of feeling pain or being hurt. To me, you know, all comedy comes from pain, personally just to me that’s how it’s always been. So I always want to know that there’s some pain underlying the comedy or the breeziness or the fun or the crazy, because then I’m like 100% onboard for the other stuff.
John: Dylan, thank you so much for sending these pages in.
Craig: Good job.
Dylan: Thank you so much.
John: You’re going to see what happens next. Cool. All right, our last script is by a familiar name. James Llonch has written many of the outros for Scriptnotes, but we’ve never actually met him. And so he sent through these pages and they were a delight. So let me give you a quick synopsis of Nights Never Over. We met Lett, a European woman in her late 20s, as she leafs through her sketch book on a flight to New York. While everyone else on the flight watches breaking news about an event in Times Square, Lett reviews a mug shot of a nun and an old map of New York City. The map is overlaid with symbols and sigils.
A Frenchman unsuccessfully tries to flirt with her. Then as the New York skyline comes into view outside the flight we see a nine-foot-tall shadow demon sitting a few rows behind Lett. As we watch Lett walk through customs and get a taxi we hear snippets from talking heads on the news. They debate Article Eight. Through conversations on the news we learn that the country has been divided into domains and murder rituals are acceptable. The shadow demon follows Lett until she gets into her taxi. And that’s where we’re at at the bottom of three pages.
Craig, do you want to start us off?
Craig: Sure. Well, I’m a sucker for this genre. One of the world’s great fans of Constantine. I love the movie Constantine. I assume that this is Constantine-ish in that it appears that–
John: Is it Constantinople?
Craig: It’s Constantinoples in that the demon world seems to meshing with our world. I’m not quite sure who knows it and who doesn’t know it. This was my big confusion because – so she is clearly looking at something and she has some sort of magical access to something. The mug shot that she’s looking at with the skull and gate seal seems very arcane and occult-ish.
The guy next to her can’t see what she sees. All he sees is sketches of flowers. So there’s some sort of glamoring or magic going on there. There is also a demon sitting ten rows behind them which no one seems to notice or care about. And I’m not sure if it’s notice or care about. I don’t know if she knows that he’s back there. I don’t know, but that’s fine.
There is a lot of talking head debate as we’re moving through an airport and I think the talking head debate is basically referring to – it seems like it’s referring to some sort of law that governed the meshing of the demon domain with ours. That’s my guess. Otherwise I don’t understand what it is. But on the other hand I still don’t know if anybody else notices this other demon moving around, so I’m confused. Can they or can they not see the demons? Are the demons here or are they not here? I am so onboard for a show where it’s District 9 but it’s demons instead of aliens. I’m so onboard with that.
I am so confused by who knows what based on the presentation here. And I am generally concerned about using the talking heads in the background format to deliver exposition. It just never feels good. And I’m not sure it’s super necessary anyway.
John: Yeah. As I went through page two and page three I found myself scratching out a lot of lines in the talking heads and you just didn’t need them. Giving us less gave us a better sense of what was going on. James has really good branded ads we’re seeing in the background for In-Mind Retreats, Inter-generational séances, 5th Domain luxury living. I sense that this world is heightened in a way that feels really great. I think the District 9 comparison is really apt here in terms of the demon world stuff.
I mostly picked this one because of the world building and sort of just like establishing the rules for a new world and a new universe. And I think it’s done really, really well in these first three pages. I’m very much intrigued.
One of the consequences though, there’s so much world-building happening here I really didn’t know anything about Lett, this main character we’re following, except that she’s in this cool, strange world. And so that is one of the real challenges of these kind of situations is that you’re doing so much work to establish what this universe is like that we’re not spending time understanding what is special about our central character that we’re meeting here. Because really all we’ve seen her do is look through a notebook, go through customs, and get in a taxi by the end of these three pages.
Dana, what was your instinct on what we just—
Dana: I agree with a lot of what you guys were saying. I mean, because I don’t read a lot of stuff like this. You guys probably read a lot more stuff like this. I was just overall kind of confused about the rules of the world as Craig was saying. Like if the demon can pass through people at the airport why is he going above customs and down, like just walk through customs because nobody could see you.
On the airplane when we see the demon, I loved that reveal. I was like, ooh, fun. And yet I didn’t cut to a stewardess walking by and then we see there’s nothing there, so that we know that nobody else can see. And then I think even if you reveal that there you definitely have to also reveal somewhere whether Lett can see that person, the demon or not.
I actually didn’t understand the magical thing Craig that you were talking about. I literally thought it was just that from his perspective the only thing he had a view of was drawings – that he saw something from his perspective that was different than what she was seeing. So I would just say, normally I’m not a fan of, as Craig calls it, like writing something you can’t shoot. But I think in these situations it’s helpful to kind of like ground me a little bit. You know, at some point when we land in the terminal I wouldn’t mind hearing it’s clear we’re in a dystopian…just say maybe one line about what it is that I’m in, this world that I’m in.
Even if it’s like a world that’s 20 degrees off from our own where we see demons and blah-blah-blah living in the blah-blah-blah. Like that would have helped me a little bit.
John: Dana, back to that moment. I misread the French guy looking at her notebook the same way, too. And what I really needed was just some underlining or some sort of bolding to sort of say like he sees something different than what we just saw. And that’s what – I just needed some clarity right there.
Craig: Unless I’m wrong. I mean, I could be wrong.
Dana: Or a description. And we’re going to get it.
John: Oh, I think you’re right.
Dana: I think you might be right.
John: We’ll ask him.
Dana: Or even just a description of what the actual visual effect is going to look like. Like what am I going to see when I’m watching it? That would have helped me.
I agreed with John and Craig. I’d cut out all of the righteous anger talking point talking head stuff. I basically took out all of it except for maybe the very last sentence about “make all the morality arguments you want, the founding fathers never intended murder rituals to be welcomed within our border” because that was like, oh, now I sort of understand what this world is that I’m in.
The thing about the demon going over the ceiling and looking down was – it was a very cool idea, but the way it was written was kind of confusing. I think you have to think about if you’re going to be shifting perspectives, if I’m in Lett and I’m a normal world customs agent, then you’re going to take me to the ceiling and I’m looking down from the POV of the demon, you have to make it a little more clear that I’m in demon POV. Because I had to read that a couple times to kind of go, oh, I’m up there looking down. OK, that’s cool.
Craig: Yeah. There was a weird phrasing here. Shadow Black eyes Lett. So eyes is a really tough verb generally to throw in there like that as a transitive verb, because we look at it as a noun usually, especially with Shadow Black eyes. But Shadow Black watches Lett from above as its face skims across the terminal ceiling. If its face is skimming across the ceiling then–
Dana: And I’m looking at it, not—
Craig: Correct. Exactly. It’s looking up at the ceiling, not looking down. As it skims across – skims is also a strange verb there, too. It’s tricky. These things seem so tiny and dinky compared to the larger things, except that when people are confused, especially in something like this where a lot of it you know is going to be sort of novel and world-building you have to be so careful about how people are taking it in and how much they’re capable of taking in. The talking points, the problem with the talking points thing is that it’s a setup. It’s obviously a setup.
Oh, so we happen to be watching this in the background? If you started the show with just these two guys talking, then I would go, OK, fine. The point is we’re watching a show and these two guys are talking and this is what they’re debating. But when you throw it all in the background while Lett is walking by and you’re like, oh, how convenient that in the background of this other scene there’s the world’s most expository discussion happening on TV. That’s the problem.
John: All right. Let’s welcome James on stage and we can talk about what he’s written and where it came from.
James Llonch: Hey everybody, hey.
Craig: How much of that is going to become an outro, by the way? [laughs]
James: Quite a bit. Quite a bit.
John: James, tell us about the origin of this story.
James: Well, I always wanted to place a high fantasy show in New York City. I mean, through the three pages, I mean, you can’t pick up on it through the three pages, but the domains are relegated strictly to Manhattan Island. So there’s 13 domains within Manhattan Island.
John: So like boroughs but like—?
James: Right. Much smaller. And various supernatural groups kind of have control of these domains and they act as sovereign entities within the state and the country.
Craig: Got it. So like reservations for demons, vampires, werewolves, whatever it may be?
James: Yes. And there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in the domains.
Craig: Clearly. Clearly. Some questions that we had, I’m curious if you could clear up for us. Is Lett aware of the demon on the plane?
James: Yes. That’s actually a sort of coworker.
James: An antagonistic coworker that she is not very fond of. That’s why she’s not sitting with it.
Craig: OK. Well there’s a huge opportunity there.
Dana: That’s a super fun idea. It’s not coming through, but I love it.
Craig: Right. So a demon is stalking a woman and then finally she turns to him and says, “I just spent three days with you in meetings. I’m going home now. Why don’t you go that way? I’m going that way. No, we’re not sharing a cab, how about that?” And then she goes away. And then I go, wow, I was not expecting that that was the relationship going on here.
So, because the way it’s set up he’s stalking her in such a manner that we think she cannot see him. Can everybody else see him?
James: No. Lett is a witch, so only witches can see him.
Craig: Got it. OK.
James: Everybody in the terminals, they can’t see him.
John: That clarifies then the French guy, he couldn’t see the stuff in the notebook because it was a charm. It was like a magic thing that happens, right?
James: Exactly. But I will say, Dana, I know – the paint is a little wet on this draft. I knew that I cheated at that reveal and that’s like on my list of things to change. But thank you for pointing that out again.
Dana: Oh, please, don’t worry. This is all just fun. So the thing I was going to say is what it feels like it wants to be in this first chunk, so the Air France flight, what I loved was starting off and having everybody be watching something on their TVs that seems sort of awful. So I would get rid of all the language and I would show what it is that you want people to see. Because this is a visual medium. So you have the opportunity for there.
And by the way there’s no sound because everyone just has their fucking TVs on. So that’s cool, too. That works for you. And that means you can have a map of Manhattan. You can see the districts. You can see how it’s illustrated and what’s going on.
Craig: That’s a great idea. That’s a great idea.
Dana: And watch some of the chaos and the madness. What I loved about this was I’ve been on planes where I’m like, you know, something bad is happening on earth and you’re on a plane and it’s a really fucking disconcerting feeling. That’s like a cool, fun energy. And so what I think you want to do is I think you want to start out in a few lines here. We meet Lett. She’s doing this thing. We think she’s just in like normal human world, on a plane, and then we’re like, oh, something is going on down on earth. That’s disconcerting. Everybody else seems to be stressed out about it except for her. That makes her different from everybody else and I’m going like, ooh, now I know why I’m watching this specific lady.
And then you kind of want to have a normal human moment, which is like more drink, more drink. I need more vodka, let’s go. And then vodka comes and then it’s like reveal demon and I’m like what am I watching? I love this show. And, you know, do the Craig thing where she turns to him and is like, “Bob, I’m not fucking talking to you anymore. We went through meetings. It’s like you’re always talking over me. You demon-splained me through that whole meeting.” Or whatever that thing is that’s within your tone. And then I’m like 100% onboard. And just make it very clear that this moment is magic. She is a witch and that what she’s writing and doing nobody else can see. And so the guy looks and we watch it change before our very eyes. It turns into a…
I think all of this can be really great.
Craig: James, think of a trailer for this thing and think of the little tiny moments that have no words to them that tell you so much. So like you’re on a plane and all of these people are staring at their screens. They’re all watching the same thing. There’s no audio. But we can tell it’s a tragedy. Someone is even like getting teary. And then there’s one woman who just glances over and rolls her eyes and then just goes back to what she’s doing. Rolls her eyes.
If everybody was watching 9/11 on their screens and someone was like, ugh, idiots, you’d be like who are you and what is your deal and what do you know, and where are you from?
Craig: So little things that draw character out and put us – so that rather than facts coming through we get humanity/character coming through that helps juxtapose how things are.
The demon is stalking her because as it turns out he does not want to spend money on his own Uber. He wants to share the Uber. He always does. He’s cheap. She doesn’t want to have it. If you’re saving the reveal for later of what their relationship is, the problem is that you’ve cheated here because you’re getting fake suspense out of us. And then later saying, “Oh, that wasn’t really suspense.” You have to undermine it in the same movement or it’s cheating.
James: Right. OK, I mean, I reveal their relationship maybe ten pages later, 12 pages later.
Craig: Yeah. But it’s cheating here because he was stalking her and then it turns out he wasn’t stalking her. So you get the freebie of him stalking her. What will happen later is people are going to be like, well, why did you make me think that? That doesn’t even – why was he even doing that? You know what I mean?
James: I actually do the same exact thing again 12 pages later. But then I like reveal–
Craig: Stop cheating.
Dana: Well I think that’s one of the things that I think is good to say to yourself for all of the people that we’ve talked to today. One of the things I always try to say to myself is what would really happen. It doesn’t matter what you’re actually showing or what world you’re in, or even if you’re in demon world. Because if you’re in demon world what would really happen given your rules and your world? What would really actually happen?
And what would actually happen is that she would turn to him and say something to him at some point. Or she would see him or acknowledge him or whatever. And so you’ve got to do that, because that’s the world you’ve set up.
Craig: Awesome work, man. Thank you.
John: James, thank you so much for sending this in and thank you for all of the outros.
Craig: Yeah, seriously. And honestly I’ll watch this because – I’m serious – I love the genre.
James: Yeah, I have some crazy shit in this.
Craig: Good. I love crazy shit.
John: Thanks. This is normally the time on the show when we would do our One Cool Things but the show has been going on for about 19 years. And so I propose we cut One Cool Things, unless you had something you especially wanted to share?
Dana: No, last time I did my breast pump. So, I really don’t feel like I can top that.
Craig: Oh, and that was mine for this time was breast pump.
Dana: OK, perfect.
Craig: We’re covered.
John: It’s crucial. That is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Special thanks this week to Nima Yousefi and Dustin Box and especially Quinn Emmitt for helping us out.
Dana: My baby.
John: Our outro this week is by James Llonch.
Craig: How about that?
John: If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Dana, you are @inthehenhouse.
Dana: Oh my god, you’re amazing. Yes. And please give to the support our crews fund.
John: Absolutely. So the support our crews fund, just search GoFundMe. It is It Takes Our Village. We’ll have a link to that in the show notes.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’re find the three pages that our four wonderful people sent in. If you want to send in your own three pages you can do it. Go to johnaugust.com/threepage. It’s all spelled out.
You’ll find the transcripts up about four days after we get the episode up on the air.
You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes, bonus segments, and if you’re in this situation you had to be a Premium member to send in your three pages, so thank you to all 160 who sent in for that.
Craig, Dana, thank you so very much.
Dana: I love you guys so much.
Craig: Thanks guy. We love you, too.
John: And thank you to our entrants. Thank you so much. Bye.
- Home Before Dark
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