The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 469 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show when two screenwriters uncover provocative research on loglines they must confront an industry determined to keep them silent.
Craig: I’d buy that.
John: Yeah. It’s a good logline. Plus, we’ll have questions and answers about lawyers, options, and ASL.
Craig: And in our bonus segment for Premium members, all of whose money goes to you, we will discuss gaming consoles. Oh, I’m so excited about that bonus segment.
John: Yeah. Because I know nothing and you’re going to teach me everything I need to know about gaming consoles and the next generation of gaming consoles.
John: But there’s even more. So, since Craig missed out on last week’s pitch versus spec episode we’re going to do a bonus episode of extra listener dilemmas that were sent in because we got like 50 of these in and so this is a backlog here. So, if you’re a premium subscriber look for a bonus episode that’s going to drop in your feed that has more of those pitch versus spec dilemmas.
Craig: That’s great. We will sort through all of them.
John: Yup. Craig, what a week. So 10:42am on Monday morning I got a text from our friend Aline Brosh McKenna. And she asked, “Is CAA a done deal or does WGA still have to agree? I am confused?” And I was really confused because I had no idea what Aline was talking about.
Craig: And then you saw it. Yes.
John: Get us up to speed, Craig.
Craig: You know how it goes. The way I got engaged was I called all of my friends and I said I’m getting married to Melissa. And then later that day I told her. [laughs] No, that’s not how it works. At all.
Craig: No. Now, there was some good news sort of baked into this.
John: 100 percent. But let’s go through how it actually sort of broke and then we can talk about what the good news is. Because I think there is good news underneath this overall. So, CAA sent a letter to its staff that also went out to the trades and we can figure out what the order of that was, but in the letter it said, “Today we signed the same deal the WGA made with ICM several weeks ago. We delivered the signed agreement to the WGA and we assume it will be circulated to the appropriate members of the negotiating committee as well as the membership shortly.”
So it sounds like, oh, so they signed the ICM deal. And what it turned out is that they literally just changed ICM to CAA and sent that through, but they also put other stuff in there, too. So it says there, “There’s one change we have provided that we think the WGA will be able to agree to. With regard to our investment in the affiliated production company, Wiip, we are providing for a commercially practical time to come into compliance with the 20 percent ownership limitation contained in the agreement. We are unequivocally committed to achieving compliance.”
So basically they added one thing to that deal they signed.
Craig: Yes. That’s right. And they did so unilaterally. Now, in looking at it, I mean, the good news of course is that the stuff that we were generally arguing about and have been arguing about for well over a year they’ve agreed to. They are going to I think once ICM and UTA signed on and essentially said we’re out of the packaging business CAA understood that the packaging business was over. It was going to end anyway. That was the conventional wisdom. My guess is that, you know, maybe in five years there wasn’t going to be much in the way of packaging. But, OK, we get it done quicker and that’s fine. This is a good thing. Because going all the way back to our very first episode on this topic with Chris Keyser it’s pretty clear that you and I and Chris Keyser were in violent agreement that packaging is terrible.
So, it’s good that that is over. And also they are agreeing to reduce their ownership of their affiliated production company down to this 20 percent ceiling. Now, this may have been somewhat surprising even to people inside the Writers Guild, I don’t know, because what CAA didn’t do is say we’re will to get down but we want to see if we can make that ceiling go a little higher. Because that percentage of ownership had kind of crept up from zero to five to ten to 20. But they said, no, 20 is good.
What they are asking for also I’ve got to be honest seems a bit reasonable which is to say we can’t just do that tomorrow because it involves divestment of a corporation. So, can we come up with a timeframe for that that seems reasonable? Now, whatever they’ve proposed, I don’t know what their timeframe is. There’s a – what is it, a year and a half timeframe for–?
John: The sunset on packaging, yeah.
Craig: So perhaps it’s a similar kind of thing. I don’t know. But some sort of timeframe makes sense. So what they’re saying is good. And what they asked for, at least as far as I could tell, seemed fairly reasonable. The way in which they did it – why did they do it this way? I have theories.
Craig: I have theories.
John: So there really are two things to talk through. Why did they do it this way? Let’s have that as one topic. And then we’ll talk about the getting down to 20% and sort of like what is actually reasonable and what the concerns are about getting down to 20%. So let’s first talk about why they did it this way. I don’t genuinely know why they did it this way. And I’ve asked a bunch of people and there’s a lot of different theories. I don’t know that we can know. Craig, what’s your hunch on why they sent out this letter/press release without actually engaging the WGA?
Craig: I think that after ICM and UTA signed the deal the problem for CAA and WME was that it was a problem of face-saving. I mean, if you’re one of those organizations you can see where this is all going. You know how it has to end. What you don’t want to be is the person who then just says, “Well, OK, I will l just eat the sandwich everybody else made. You want to feel like you are somehow in control of it, driving it, in charge of it. And I suspect that whatever the communication was between the union and CAA it was not at a level that could have precluded something like this. So I think CAA decided we are going to announce this as if we had full choice in this matter. It’s actually quite savvy in that regard I think. Because otherwise you just kind of get stuck with it. And then one day you just passively agree to it.
So it seems like a very face-saving kind of thing. It sort of seems like, no, no, no, you’re not cutting my finger off. I’ve cut my own finger off. I didn’t want this finger.
Now, I’m happy about it. I think that this is the right thing to do. I’m so frustrated with the length of the process, obviously. But it’s not over yet. So, we do have to follow through now and get this done. I don’t see anything structurally based on what has happened here that would stand in the way unless this was somehow down in bad faith. I don’t think it was, but that’s just a hunch.
John: Yeah. So, the WGA did respond after this thing went out. And I think the WGA sort came forward saying we were surprised as anybody that they did this thing, because CAA sent a statement to the press and communicated with former clients saying they signed this franchise deal. This is not accurate. CAA has proposed changes as we’ve talked through. The WGA will assess CAA’s offer but not through the press. And basically CAA is unfranchised. Working Rule 23 is still in effect basically saying you can’t sign with CAA and so don’t think that you can magically today sign with CAA.
Also within that email the WGA sent out saying like, yeah, it is good news that they basically just agreed to the ICM deal, which is fantastic. The remaining issue, though, which is a good segue to this is how do you get down to 20% and do you let CAA sign writers again with this promise that they’ll get down to the 20%? Because how do you actually hold them to that promise? And who determines what is a commercially practical time to do that? What are the safeguards? Because one of the things, you know, you and I both encountered as the guild negotiates things is you have to get things in writing that are enforceable. Because as contracts have been negotiated if things are just verbal agreements or things are sort of vague, vague always hurts us.
And so I’m going to be really curious to see how do we get to a place where it’s clearly codified what this timeline would be because if it’s not clearly codified I also have the alternative perspective of just like, OK, well sell down the 20% and then you can sign your clients again. So, what do you think? What makes you feel confident that they will really get down to 20%?
Craig: I have the same confidence in that that I have that UTA will cease packaging when the packaging sunset period is over. I don’t see anything in the agreement that is particularly ironclad about that other than trust. You know, so if UTA and ICM have said that they will stop packaging on this date, I presume they will stop packaging on that date. And if they don’t then you have to, you know, pull the cord again and everybody at UTA has to fire their agent there again. Or at ICM. And it’s the same thing with CAA. Pick a date and if it’s not done by then per some sort of – you know, obviously you want some kind of independent what do they call those people, accountants or something? Forensic? I don’t know. Whoever decides how much a company owns–
John: An auditor.
Craig: Yeah. An auditor. Right. So some auditor will at that date look at it and go, yeah, they did it, or no, they didn’t. And then the WGA – but I don’t see the difference. I mean, is there a reason that the guild is more nervous about faith in that as opposed to faith in the sunset of the packaging?
John: That’s a good question. I think – let’s take a look at it. Sort of where is the information and how do we find out the information about ownership of the company versus involvement in a packaging deal. Yeah, I guess you do need some outside way to assess both situations. And so they’re similar in that way.
Craig: Yeah. I would be infuriated – so my normal position is just anger. But that’s I wake up angry. That’s no big deal. But I would be infuriated if CAA agreed to all of these things and said that they would reduce down to 20% and would be willing to do so in some reasonable amount of time a la the packaging sunset. Because, I mean, changing the ownership of a company is a fairly complicated thing to do.
John: No, TikTok, simple.
Craig: You just need the president to write a thing. If the guild said, yeah, well come back in two years when it’s done and then you can have your clients back I would be infuriated. And that would seem unfair and punitive. Like a singling out. I don’t think we want to be in that business personally.
John: And you need a date and you also need really clearly defined terms of what ownership means. And so there can’t be hanky-panky in terms of, oh, it’s a shell company that does all this crazy stuff. That’s why I do feel like you need some sort of outside auditor who is looking at this thing and really setting–
Craig: Well can I ask you – I’m going to flip the question around a little bit. We at the union have had a year and a half to be thinking about this. This is a term that we’ve asked for since the beginning. Do we not have already a kind of written up definition of how that would work since it’s a term that we’ve been asking for all this time?
John: We do have very specific language in terms of what we’re looking for.
Craig: Great. Terrific. Well, hopefully that works.
John: But also I think in the guild communications it has been very clear that it’s not sort of the guild’s responsibility to tell you how to wind down this thing. So the actual process of how you’re going from where you are is kind of [unintelligible] to the state you need to be at. That’s not our job to sort of solve your problems.
Craig: Seems pretty simple to me. But I’m merely a caveman.
John: So it feels like it’s up to the people sitting around tables figuring all that stuff out now.
Craig: And this would be – I think people are desperate for some reclamation of normalcy in their lives. A lot of us, I include myself, were CAA clients who would like to return. It’s not so much that we have this great fondness for the building or the corporation, but rather we have individual longstanding year-long, decades-long relationships with our individual agents that we want to return to. So, this is something that a lot of people would just like to have back, or at least would love the choice to have their agent back. And the same goes for all of the people represented by WME. I have no idea what the deal is with WME at this point. I assume that they are on the same track. I don’t know how they couldn’t be because this is the track. There’s one track.
John: One track.
Craig: There’s one track.
John: Let’s do some follow up. So last week in the episode you missed we have a listener named Niko. He pitched an idea for a series and then the day the episode dropped we got some follow up from another listener. So, let me play Niko’s follow up.
Niko: Hi John and Craig. It’s Niko Jacques, the Weezer guy from last week. Thanks for having me back on the show to follow up. Shortly after Episode 468 aired screenwriter Ian Sobel linked a Deadline article from August 2014 with the then Breaking News that Rivers and Psych creator Steve Franks sold a pilot to Fox called Detour. It set up a fictionalized account of Rivers’ return to college via character insert with a different name. It was completely shot but was never picked up by Fox.
It’s an unfortunate but common occurrence in the TV world. This actually bodes well for my idea because it shows Rivers’ interest and openness to a depiction of that part of his life. And the description of the pilot is so different from what I’m getting out of the real life story.
Detour’s punny title alone indicates a tone closer to Community, while I’m going for something like The Social Network meets 8 ½. Key differences are that my spec isn’t serialized like Detour. I’m writing to feature the character, Rivers Cuomo, himself. And I want to portray his creative process that led to the abandoning of his ambitious but ill-fated rock opera written on dining hall napkins. You can say it’s a bit different.
I’ve concluded that I’m going to finish it on spec and keep it as a writing sample. Although the rights ultimately belong to Rivers and Fox you guys have made it abundantly clear that I have a right to tell this story and I will. Odds are slim to none that my idea’s fate is any better than Detour’s, but I’m going to write a series that I’d like to see. That is why we write after all. Hashtag Weeze Writing. Thank you.
John: All right. So, Craig, I don’t know that you actually listened to last week’s episode.
Craig: You know I didn’t.
John: So, Niko’s pitch was for something that both Ryan and I really, really loved. So this is the front man for Weezer. He goes back to college to finish college. And so he’s already a rock star but he’s living in dorms again and sort of what that life is like. And so Niko was asking is this a thing that he should write as a spec or is this a thing that he should try to pitch. And so we said spec the hell out of this unless you actually have Rivers Cuomo there with you to go out and do that pitch.
So, what I love about this is he got some real time follow up that like, oh, that is a good idea. They actually already pitched that idea. It was actually already shot as a pilot. And what I like about Niko’s reaction is like, OK, yeah, that’s great. Even if this thing can’t sell I think it’s something that is going to show my writing well and can be a really good sample.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, this is a song that we’ve been singing for god knows – how long have we been doing this, like in years?
John: A zillion years.
Craig: A zillion years. So somewhere around year 50 of a zillion we started saying this and I think it is still true, you are writing to be noticed. You are writing to attract interest in you as a writer. It is not necessarily going to work the way it used to back in the day where it is the writing itself that will be bought and made. It sometimes is. And I would also say that if it’s so good, if it’s so undeniably brilliant, then they’ll be like, “We’ve got to go figure out how to get the rights and work this out.” But really it is about the writing and you. And a great calling card for yourself. So it makes total sense.
And certainly it helps that you know going in that this is something I’m not confused about. I know how this functions.
John: Absolutely. And another thing we brought up is that this feels like the thing that if the good version of this script ends up on the Black List at the end of the year because people like it a lot, there’s a long tradition of biopics where you don’t have the underlying rights showing up on the Black List and getting passed around. So there was a Matt Drudge script. There’s a Madonna script. There’s a history of this. So this feels like it’s part of that trend. I say go for it Niko.
Craig: I mean, you can write a biopic about anybody without any rights as long as you stick to what is public knowledge, public information. You want to go a little further than that then, yeah, you could run into trouble. And of course the other issue is you just got to watch out for defamation and so on and so forth.
But as we have also said somewhere around year 70 of a zillion if there’s any kind of legal ambiguity and a studio or network or streamer wants to make it, they will assume that risk. As long as you’ve disclosed it to them clearly they’ll make a legal judgment and then it will be their issue because they will be the writer of record. They will be the author.
John: Speaking of biopics and Madonna, this last week it was also announced that Diablo Cody is writing a Madonna biopic that Madonna herself will direct. I’m absolutely fascinated. Diablo Cody is–
Craig: I just want to chart my reaction to this. If there were a little line chart as you spoke, so on the bottom axis is time and the top axis is interest level, my interest level with Diablo Cody it went up, is writing a biopic, up, of Madonna, way up, that Madonna is directing, straight down.
John: Yeah. It’s a challenging combination of things. And Amy Pascal is producing it. So, a very talented producer. A lot of complicated things all together and we’ll see how it goes. I am absolutely fascinated to see what’s going to become of this because Madonna’s life and her rise is so fascinating and spectacular and we were kids during it, so we got to sort of see the whole thing happen. And it does feel very resonant to a social media star of today. I think it could be fantastic.
So, the difference though between the Black List script of Madonna where she didn’t sign on to it and this one is that the person can get all the music rights. Access to things in Madonna’s life that would not be public knowledge and you could just do things you couldn’t otherwise do.
John: And so it’s going to be great to see. And I mean Diablo Cody is such a great writer. We just watched Juno – my daughter wanted to watch Juno this last week and we watched it again. And it’s just so smartly done. And so smartly written. I’m fascinated to see what Diablo can do to a biopic story like this.
Craig: Yeah, you’ve got a big plus and a big minus. The big plus is that like you say you have access to all of this stuff of Madonna’s life that you wouldn’t otherwise get from public record. The downside is it will all be filtered through Madonna. So, A, who knows if she’s going to be – I don’t know what a version of her own life. We are all somewhat fabulous when it comes to ourselves. But also it can, you know, the trick is how do you keep somebody from making their own hagiography and just essentially making a movie about how they’re great.
So I’ve never seen, I don’t think, a good – anything like this that’s good that is directed by and controlled by the actual subject of it. That is fascinating.
John: Yeah. The closest is probably the Queen, the Freddie Mercury biopic this last year, because Queen actually had a lot of control over it. But they weren’t directing it.
Craig: OK. That’s right. But they weren’t directing it. That’s fascinating.
John: And also Elton John had a lot of control over Rocket Man. And that–
Craig: Yup. But wasn’t directing it.
John: Was not directing it. And so that definitely is a thing. So, you’ve got to balance out the Amy Pascal/Diablo Cody factors and Madonna directing it. Challenging. Really challenging.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, well, we’ll see how it goes.
John: I want to see the documentary behind the scenes. That would be just as fascinating.
Craig: That would be good. And if Diablo would direct that, please kindly. Thank you. That would be amazing.
John: That would be so, so good. All right, big topic for this week is loglines. And so loglines are a thing we’ve kind of avoided talking about on the show for 468 episodes because they’re just not that interesting to us and they’re not a thing that screenwriters actually write. So, I did a blog post this last week about loglines and basically defined them. So loglines are the one or two sentence description of a story or a screenplay. And the very classic form is when inciting incident occurs the hero must face a challenge against this antagonistic force for the stakes. That’s a really classic sort of like pattern to what loglines are.
They’re a thing that I wrote a ton when I was a reader. So that first page of coverage there’s just a logline there that just describes what it is. It’s like a TV guide sort of description of things. Once I became a professional screenwriter I never wrote them again.
John: But aspiring screenwriters often write in saying like, hey, talk about loglines or what’s a good logline.
Craig: I know.
John: And it’s like I don’t know. I don’t write those things.
Craig: I know.
John: But aspiring screenwriters are writing them I think because they are applying for competitions or they are emailing producers or potential managers and they’re supposed to put in these one sentence loglines for things. So I thought we’d actually talk through what loglines are and what they aren’t.
Craig: Yeah. I had to sort of write one recently. When we were putting the press release for The Last of Us HBO said can you – we’ll take a stab at it, but what’s your version of how we actually describe this. Without saying logline they were basically saying what’s the logline of this thing. I mean, the nice thing is when you’re doing it for a press release you don’t have to structure it in this very formal way. Because you’re right. There’s something so weirdly concrete about how loglines have functioned. When blank…or blah-blah-blah-blah. That’s kind of the weird – it’s like the way newscasters speak in that strange cadence. Loglines have their own cadence. They are artificial. And they’re essentially nonsense.
For some bizarre reason the kind of thumbnail sketch summary that people probably filled into a log as if to say we have received–
John: Oh it really was a log.
Craig: Yeah. It was just like we have received this about this. People now think that that somehow is going to determine whether somebody reads something or not. I think we probably are beyond that at this point. Loglines are stupid. In fact, the better the logline the worse I suspect the script will be.
John: So, getting back to this idea that loglines were literally written down into a thing, as I was going back through my stuff to figure out what loglines did I write I have these spreadsheets of the coverage I did. And so it was a database that would print the title page but also can just show it as a spreadsheet. And so I just have lists of these loglines for different things.
And so this was the first one I think I ever wrote. Which is when a prize-winning journalist makes up a source she pays an ex-con to be her supposed poet laureate. That was for a script called Pulitzer Prize by Sam Hamm who wrote Batman.
Craig: Sam Hamm.
John: So that was a piece of coverage I wrote for Laura Ziskin way back in the day when she was teaching one of my first screenwriting classes. That logline which is a very classically structured logline, when hero and antagonist situation. I don’t want to completely dismiss it because it gives you some sense of what it’s about. But it’s not story. It’s not a pitch. It’s basically just like an arrow pointing towards there’s a story here somewhere without any details, without any specifics really. It’s pointing towards a general story area. And that’s really all a logline can do.
Craig: Yeah. I’m not sure why everybody gets so worked up over it. Well, the same reason I think they get worked up over query letters. It’s all very out of date.
Craig: We live in a time where the way we transmit media information to each other is faster, it is plastic, meaning it changes constantly. And somehow people who are aspiring to be screenwriters insist on obsessing over these methods that date back to mimeographs. And it makes no sense. And I can only presume it is because a lot of the people that are doing this have learned to do it from people who did it that way once or who just keep passing this along as received wisdom when it’s no longer really a thing. If I were writing a spec script today I would not write a logline at all. I would make a trailer. And it wouldn’t even have to be a trailer of like I’m going out with my phone and I’m showing fake explosions. Maybe it’s just text. Maybe it’s a single scene with somebody reading it. I would just try and be creative. And then make people be interested.
And then just say, here, read the first ten pages now. If I can get you to read ten pages that’s so much better than you reading a logline I can’t even explain.
John: Absolutely. Because it’s the thing itself.
John: You’re able to tell does this person actually have writing talent. Can this person tell a story on the page?
John: Visual communication ability. All those things which are so crucial a logline doesn’t do. And so I would say like as you are trying to get staffed on a TV show the producers aren’t looking through your loglines. They’re looking through can this person write.
And so while – and people are going to write in saying like, oh, the logline was super important for me signing my manager, all that stuff. So I do want to talk about loglines in the sense that they may be a necessary evil for some people in certain circumstances. But they’re not the real thing. Professional writers aren’t writing query letters.
John: They’re not writing loglines. It’s just not a thing you’re going to do after this first stage, so maybe don’t stress out so much about it because it’s not – just because it’s a thing you’re doing right now doesn’t mean it’s actually the thing itself.
Craig: That’s right. And don’t be afraid to be brash, to be ambitious, to be meta, to be sneaky about it. Because your logline if you are writing a traditional longline, well, it is competing against every other molecule of logline water in the ocean. And I don’t know how it could possibly stand up. I legitimately don’t understand how any of these loglines rise above any other since they are essentially empty advertisements for some reductive version of a story.
So maybe there’s – what’s the anti-logline? What’s a weird logline? I’m going to give you three words and you’re going to have to read for the rest. Be creative. I mean, that’s what people are looking for. Are they not? I assume so.
John: So I’m thinking back to last week’s episode, let’s talk about Niko’s pitch for – it wasn’t even really a pitch, but Weezer front man goes back to college. And that could be a logline. There’s a logline version of that. That’s a good idea. And so there is something about some ideas synthesize down to say like oh that is intriguing, I see what that is, I’d be curious to read that. I don’t want to go so far to say if you cannot summarize your story down to one or two sentences that you have a problem. I don’t think that’s actually true. Many of the things I’ve written don’t summarize down to one or two sentences especially well.
But there are certain, especially high concept ideas, that are hooky in one sentence because – where the premise is essentially why you would read this thing.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, this is the Sushi Nozawa method. So here in Los Angeles there’s a group of restaurants, Chef Nozawa. If you like it it’s delicious. And he popularized a kind of Omakase where it’s just called Trust Me. That’s what it’s called. Trust me.
Now, at the time that Trust Me came along menus in Los Angeles were turning into small novels. Novellas. With paragraphs describing every freaking ingredient. And it was so refreshing to not only not have that, but to not even have a choice. Hey, trust me. Sit down and trust me. You’ll get food and then you’ll go home and you’ll be happy. And that may be your best move on certain loglines. You can just say this is a story of Coal Country. Trust me, you’re going to want to read this. That’s a better logline to me than when a down on his luck union laborer finds that the mine has closed he needs to raise money to save his blah-blah-blah before such-and-such and the blah-de-dah.
Ugh. God. Get me my noose. I need to end it. I do not want to read anymore.
John: Let’s talk about the other use of loglines which is really the situation you’re describing which is you have to announce something in the trades. You have to basically publically sort of say this is a movie about this. And Keith Calder and other previous guests on Twitter were talking about, oh yeah, it’s totally the thing the producer is doing at 10pm the night before the press release goes out is trying to hammer out some logline for what the thing is. And I’ve definitely encountered that myself.
So it’s a tough thing because you’re trying to describe a future movie in a way that is interesting and exciting and makes it clear why you’re doing this thing without giving away crucial points, crucial details. It’s tough. And you’re trying to finesse things. And everyone has opinions. It’s hard to find what that is.
What was your process in terms of figuring out the essentially logline for Last of Us when that announcement went out?
Craig: First of all, it’s a good thing for the writers to be involved in this. I always tense up a little bit when I hear that it’s the producer, the non-writing producer doing this late at night. I just want to go just let the writer do the words. You certainly can have input. That’s the nice thing about in television you are the producer. So I’m looking online at the Hollywood Reporter. This is the paragraph that includes – I think what they did is they rolled the logline-ish that I wrote along with HBO into this paragraph. So it says, “Sony and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us which bowed in 2013 garnered critical praise for its engrossing tale of the post-apocalypse centering on the relationship between Joel, a smuggler in this new world, and Ellie, a teenager who may be key to a cure for a deadly pandemic.” Then I think they switch over to what we did, “Joel, a hardened survivor, is hired to smuggle the 14-year-old girl out of an oppressive quarantine zone. What starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal, heartbreaking journey as they traverse the United States and depend on each other for survival.” And mostly I think what I was concerned about was making sure the word heartbreaking was in there. Because I don’t care about the rest of it. The rest of it sounds awful. I’m going to be honest with you. Like if I’m reading this and I’m like, oh, it’s a pandemic and it’s post-apocalypse, and he’s a survivor, and they have to struggle? Who cares? Legitimately who cares?
The word heartbreaking signals that none of that is actually the point. That there is something else going on that is far more interesting. And it’s the reason why people care about that story. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. No offense to post-apocalyptic hardened survivor stories, but that’s ultimately I’m not necessarily into survivalist porn. It’s not my thing. What’s my thing is character and relationship. And that’s what I needed to kind of be there to let somebody out there know it’s not just like – this is not what you think.
So, in that regard I probably should have done the logline I described. Trust me. It’s not that. Trust me.
John: But what you’re talking about though, that logline is for somebody who is not you. And so the point I’m trying to make is loglines are for other people. And they are just there to provide a handle for other people to grab onto this idea, this story, so they have just some sense in their mind about what this thing is. Because without that it’s just a title. They really can’t do anything with it.
So, you’re trying to give just enough that they can hold onto, but it’s not – I don’t want to conflate or confuse them with a pitch. Because a pitch is really, like when you’ve done the pitch competitions at Austin, you can really tell the people who can sell you a story and really get you engaged into a movie and really make you feel like who those characters are and what their situation is. A logline is just not going to do that. A logline is only, again, just an arrow pointing towards what that pitch might be.
Craig: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.
John: So we got a question from Kate. She writes, “After reading your article on loglines and listening to the pitch or spec episode of your podcast I wanted to ask your opinion on one of my projects please. There are two options for the logline. Option one, for most winning the lottery is a dream come true, but for one shy retiring social worker money can’t buy her true desire. In fact, the win brings death and despair to her door. That’s option one. Option two, after spending millions, Charlotte Eames discovers her husband’s big lottery win was a lie. And now her husband has disappeared.”
Craig: OK. I have a strong preference.
John: I have a very strong preference. My strong preference is for number two.
Craig: Is it really?
Craig: My strong preference is for number one.
John: That’s so amazing. That’s so great. So tell me about why your strong preference is for number one?
Craig: I liked the fact that I don’t know this person’s name, weirdly. I get this weird thing about names as like somehow it’s like fake information. The name Charlotte Eames means absolutely nothing to me. But I do like that I know that she’s a shy retiring social worker. But I like that it brings death and despair to her door. I have no idea what comes next and I don’t know necessarily what she’s going to do or why. But death and despair to her door, that could be – is this a supernatural story? There’s so many possibilities of what this thing could be that I’m intrigued beyond what I hope it’s not, which is another kind of – I mean, we’ve seen a thousand monkey paw stories about how the lottery backfires on you.
John: The things you like about the first one are the things that drive me crazy about the first one.
Craig: See, this is why loglines suck.
John: So it’s so vague and hand-wavy. It’s like death and despair. I don’t know. So, things I do like about the first one, a shy social worker, I think that’s more helpful to me than Charlotte Eames. Because Charlotte Eames, that’s not information that’s actually useful to me in the second one. But after reading the second one I have a sense of what the story is. And that is helpful to me. That I know like, OK, I can see the ways that this story can go. Versus the first one is just so vague. It could be anything.
Craig: It occurs to me that maybe I like the first one because I don’t like the story of the second one.
John: That’s fair.
Craig: The second one when I read through it I think so this is a story basically about filling out bankruptcy paperwork. Because that’s what would happen. Just like, OK, so it turns out I overspent money, I’m maxed out my credit cards, I need to go ahead–
John: No, no, it’s about a shy retiring social worker tracking down that ex-husband and making him pay.
Craig: But how? He doesn’t have it either. It’s going to be bankruptcy. [laughs]
John: Maybe it’s not really about the money.
Craig: H&R Block Presents the Charlotte Eames Story. What happens when one woman–
John: So unfortunately for Kate–
Craig: We have no answer.
John: We have no answer. We have no firm answer.
John: Other than the fact that perhaps loglines are not the panacea that you might think in terms of being able to lockdown one clear vision of what you’re trying to say.
Craig: I will say this much at least Kate. It’s not like if my job were to pick these things that either one of these loglines would move me one way or the other. I would just sort of go, OK, lottery story. Let’s read and see what it actually is.
John: Yeah. Trust me.
Craig: Trust me.
John: All right. Let’s get to some more questions. So this was a question from Nicole. Do you want to read this?
Craig: Sure. Nicole says, “I’m teaching undergrad screenwriting this semester and a student has a formatting question on researching. The student’s first language is ASL. He is hearing but his parents are both deaf. And he is writing a short with one deaf character that he will shoot at some point.” I think Nicole points that the film will be shot, and not the deaf character. So we got to talk about sentence structure here. [laughs] This is really important. I’m going to rewrite your sentence. The student’s first language is ASL. He is hearing but his parents are both deaf. And he is writing a short that he will shoot at some point with a deaf character. “He will also be writing a feature horror with deaf leads later in the semester. He would like to write versions of his scripts with the deaf character’s dialogue written in ASL Gloss. Meaning the dialogue would be written the way the actors would sign it for auditions and/or for going out to talent.
“Here’s a quick breakdown of what ASL Gloss looks like and how it works.” And we’ll have a link in the show notes for that. “I gave him the standard advice for when some of the dialogue will be performed in a non-English language to use in the all-English written version but now we’re wondering if there’s precedent for ASL Gloss in written dialogue. Since you have such a wide reach I thought maybe you could boost the signal and help me find somebody to connect with about it.”
John: Indeed we can. So first off I would recommend everybody do click through this link in the show notes. It’s what ASL Gloss looks like. Because it’s really cool. It’s a little slide show that describes what ASL Gloss looks like. And so there’s lines over certain words to indicate eyebrows going up. Because that changes the meaning of certain things in ASL. Also word order is different in ASL. So, I mean, ASL is its own thing. And it’s super cool language that doesn’t track one to one to English which is great. It’s designed for a very specific purpose.
But, yes, we do actually have the resource to go to, Shoshannah Stern, who was on our Christmas episode is a deaf writer and actor. So I emailed her and she says, “Sure. I wouldn’t encourage it for writers who aren’t fluent in ASL themselves. Or if there isn’t a clear rationale behind the inclusion. Most people wouldn’t know what it is, so the Gloss would probably need to be addresses/explained in the script at some point, which is why most of the time I just italicize signed dialogue and have the ASL master handle the translation with the actor.” So the ASL master is the person who is working with the actor to decide how the ASL is going to be handled.
John: She says, “If the writer decides to include it they also probably need to make sure that it’s accessible to the non-ASL using reader. For example, on the couple of occasions I have used Gloss in my scripts I have made sure it’s accompanied by an English version for the purposes of an easier read.” So, a thing you can do if it’s helpful, great. But it seems like Shoshannah’s advice is because everyone else is going to be reading this script, too, maybe just do the English version and maybe do a special version with Gloss if there’s really specific ways you want that Gloss to be handled.
Craig: Yes. I completely agree with Shoshannah. And it seems like the most practical method. There are times when I will include a foreign language in a script meaning in the dialogue itself italicized. I will have words that are not English. And the reason I have those there is very specifically because I don’t want the audience to have the translation. That’s why. Meaning your experience watching this will be that somebody is speaking English and then they’re going to turn to their friend and say something in for instance Arabic. And you unless you happen to speak Arabic won’t know what it is and that’s OK. Not required for you. That’s why I do that.
If the point is that this will be translated through subtitle or by somebody who is translating ASL into verbal speech. I don’t see the point of doing it this way other than to kind of flex and say, look, I know this other thing. But that’s not really – I mean, always remember that the purpose of a screenplay is to be as functional as possible while being as artistic as possible. So I think Shoshannah’s method makes the most sense. I would use ASL Gloss only in situations where the point was that somebody who was not an ASL speaker was trying to follow along an ASL conversation between two deaf ASL speakers and failing completely and that we are in their perspective and we don’t know what’s being said. Then I would use it.
John: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And again that’s the same thing you would do for a foreign language. If the point was the character who doesn’t speak the language is trying to keep up with it.
John: All right. Questions about lawyers. So two of them sort of came back to back. Anonymous in LA writes, “Recently I’ve optioned two of my projects back to back and found it difficult to get a good lawyer. I first turned to Reddit. Was recommended a young LA attorney who offered a flat rate of $540 for a red line and review. Let’s just say he took a poorly written copy—“
John: “Let’s just say he took a poorly written copy and paste agreement and made it worse.”
Craig: That’s awesome.
John: “In between I spoke to a few lawyers who claimed they could do it but had not film industry experience. After that I went through my limited network and found a ‘good’ LA lawyer at a reputable firm. A solid $600+ an hour.”
Craig: Wait, what?
John: “With someone who understood where I was coming from when we spoke once on the phone. It worked out, but I question whether someone else would be better in the future. Being a non-WGA, not represented or managed writer, trying to turn in scripts into films, what advice do you have for first time writers looking to find good legal representation?”
Craig: Don’t turn to Reddit.
John: Yeah. Reddit feels like a bad place to start for me.
Craig: Yeah, like what? Why? And nothing against Reddit. I don’t want Reddit to turn against me and destroy me. I really don’t. There’s all sorts of good purposes for Reddit. I’m just not sure that this is one of them. So, with all things you get what you pay for. I don’t have any particularly good advice other than to look around at some of the better known entertainment law firms in Los Angeles and call around and see who might be willing to take on a prospective client. You would certainly get an associate. You wouldn’t need more than an associate it sounds like to me. Options are generally speaking not complicated agreements. There’s a billion examples. And the nice thing about going to a place that’s a large entertainment law film is that that associate can always check through the files of all their other deals to make sure that something obvious is not going wrong or has been left out.
And, yeah, presume that you’re going to spend maybe a thousand bucks or something like that. The purpose is to protect yourself, of course. But, yeah, I don’t understand why you would go to Reddit, because who is recommending this young LA attorney to you? Do you know the person or are they just a rando on Reddit saying oh I love this person. It could be them saying that. You know how it is. That just seems a little nuts. Like I don’t go looking for doctors on Reddit.
Craig: Maybe I should.
John: I wish I had fantastic advice for Anonymous, but I really don’t. But I feel like we may have some listeners who do have some good advice. Who may have gone through this more recently and actually have a sense of how they found a lawyer who was right.
So I don’t need specific names of people, but I really would like to hear what was your process. Because I signed my lawyer more than 20 years ago, and you’ve had your lawyer for forever I’m sure, too.
Craig: Since the beginning.
John: It’s not the same process. But I would have had the exact same questions. And I got my lawyer through my agents. It was a recommendation there. So, there’s got to be other ways that people are finding lawyers right now, especially folks who don’t have other reps. So, write in. Tell us how you got your lawyer and if you’ve been happy and any other tips or advice you might have for anonymous and our other listeners.
Craig: That sounds great.
John: Cool. The question about options. We may have opinions on this.
Craig: OK. Matt writes, “I’m a budding screenwriter and I have an option agreement from my producer in my inbox. Some of the wording seems off to me and I was hoping you could shed some light on it. Just to start off on the right foot the spoken agreement we have is the gold old James Cameron Terminator style option. I give them the script with the provision that I direct it, give it to them for a dollar. My worries are they want the right to ‘use any part of the film or sequel in future works or promotionals.’ Shouldn’t that wait for the purchase agreement? Especially the part about the sequels? There’s an article that says ‘should preproduction be halted or interrupted by epidemic fire, action of the elements, public enemy, strikes, labor disputes, governmental action, or court order, act of god, wars, riots, or civil commotion.’” So in other words 2020. [laughs]
John: Yeah. Indeed. Should 2020 happen…
Craig: “’Then the time lost during those actions will be added to the end of the option thus extending it.’ Is that normal? They want to be able to set up copyright in their production company’s name. Shouldn’t it stay with the writer unless it’s purchased? They have a provision that reads, ‘The writer will indemnify and hold harmless the production company, its directors, officers, employees, agents, licensees, and signs from any claims, actions, losses, and expenses including legal expenses occasioned either directly or indirectly by the breach or alleged breach to any of the above representations, warranties, or covenants.’
“This feels like I’m giving up my right to do anything should they breach the contract. Is that right?”
John: Yeah. So, all of your concerns are understandable and valid. Let’s talk about what option agreements are. So options are you’re buying a thing but sort of not paying for the whole thing right then. So it’s a purchase but it’s not a purchase. There’s a time limit. They’re not paying the full amount right then. So it’s not weird for some of this stuff to be in there. But you’re going to want to listen to the episode where we actually had people talk about how they got their lawyers because I do feel like you’re going to want to have a lawyer look through this.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t generally like what I’m hearing. The stuff that concerns me the most is the idea that they’re going to set up copyright in their name. Yes, it should stay with the writer unless it’s purchased. Typically the option is for the producer to have the exclusive right to shop this to people that would then become the copyright owners, meaning studios, networks, and streamers. So I don’t understand that.
John: There’s a shopping agreement and then there’s an option. So the option is really they can at any point sort of exercise their option to fully purchase the thing.
John: That is probably more of what this is.
John: And if they fully do that then, yes, transfer the copyright to them is going to be part of that because that’s your chain of title. That’s a thing they actually do need to do.
Craig: But there’s a big number attached to that. And you haven’t told us what that is. You just told us about the dollar which is generally speaking that’s that thing. It’s the kind of exclusivity where they don’t have to give you any money. Yeah, I don’t know about this indemnification. That seems like a lawyer thing to look at.
The halted or interrupted by acts of god and all that other stuff, yeah, yeah.
John: Force majeure. I don’t know that it makes sense in this thing. In other agreements you will see stuff that does postpone and extend.
Craig: I’m not sure it matters. I don’t love it. I mean, so halted or interrupted by epidemic, well, F-U man. Because you can do your job in your place with your mask on. And, no, you can’t use things like COVID to say oh now we’re going to extend our agreement for five years. Well, you can pick up your phone and do your job as the selling producer at any point during an epidemic. So, no.
John: All right. A question about formatting. Wendy writes, “Several of us are wondering what is the best way to format a Zoom call in our scripts. This can get very complicated when there are 16 or more windows/characters onscreen.” This actually feels very addressable and very relevant to today’s world.
Craig: Yeah. Probably lots of different ways to do it. I mean, my instinct is that I would do it pretty much the way I would do any meeting scene, the only difference is that I would leave out anything that would happen in a meat space meeting scene. Meat space.
So, Zoom call. And everybody is on. The camera will move essentially just like coverage, right? We did this on Mythic Quest. There’s the grid view, which is sort of like your wide shot or your master. And then it just occasionally will go into coverage, meaning speaker view. And then the meeting proceeds. That seems pretty much the way I would do it.
John: Absolutely. So really you’re thinking about an extra space. So, you know, if you are in the room with some of these characters and sort of we’re in their bedroom as they’re talking on Zoom, or in Mythic Quest when we were in Craig’s office, for some of that stuff there probably was a slug line for his living room or his dining room table where he was at. But there’s also probably a slug line that is just basically the Zoom call, or the grid view, and the characters are just in that space together. And that tracks and makes sense.
Just don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Ultimately if characters are having conversation they’re just having conversation. And you can use – if there’s special Zoom stuff that happens you can call that out, but most stuff is just kind of normal people talking.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t even think – I mean, depending on what it is and how you want to do it, it’s all about perspective. If the idea is that a character is going to walk into a room, sit down, set up their laptop, take a breath, prepare for a difficult Zoom meeting, and then log on, then yes, you’re going to want to establish that in that room, in that space, and then you go into the Zoom. For something like just we cut to a Zoom screen, then where people are individually within the Zoom is not relevant. You can describe it. If their background is relevant you can mention it. But otherwise you’re just in the Zoom meeting.
John: Yeah. But like in Craig’s episode of Mythic Quest the actual layout of the final big Zoom call was important because there was stuff that was happening frame to frame to frame. So that’s a thing you would describe. But most movies, most times you’re doing a Zoom kind of thing you’re not going to describe what quadrant people are in Brady Bunch style. That’s just not going to be useful information.
Craig: Chandler in New York City writes, “How would you go about determining if a screen adaptation of a true and high profile event from recent US history is already being adapted for the screen? The event I’m interested in adapting was the subject of much news coverage in the ‘80s,” so what is it, the girl down the well you think? “And a few award-winning docs.” Probably not. “And in-depth newspaper pieces, but none of my Googling IMDb searches or asking around has revealed anyone adapting it for scripted film or TV.”
Do you think it’s Chernobyl? Maybe it’s Chernobyl. And Chandler just doesn’t know.
“It would be very timely given our current political climate. So it could just be happening now. Any tips on how best to research this before undertaking the endeavor?”
John, what do you think about Chandler’s query?
John: I think you are just Googling. And I would say Google all the different parts of it and just try to look for any news that someone has optioned a book about this, has optioned any people’s life rights. People aren’t really all that good about keeping stuff like that quiet. And so if some major place was going to try to do it, if [unintelligible] was trying to make some version of that it likely would be out there somewhere and you could find it.
But you might not. And that’s also the reality of it. I’m thinking again back to Niko. If Niko had Googled he probably would have been able to find like, oh, the Weezer guy did set up a pilot that shot about his life and he might have known that and might have decided not to write the thing. But he wrote the thing and it’s good that he’s writing the thing. So, I would say it’s useful for you Chandler right now to do some Googling and see what other people are doing, see if there’s any big books about this topic that have been optioned to get a sense of what the landscape is. But don’t waste a week of your time doing this. Just do a little research on that.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, the answer generally speaking to your question is an event from recent US history being adapted for the screen, the answer is generally yeah. Yes. It has been already. And it’s being done again. Maybe you haven’t seen it actually come to fruition. Certainly when I was writing Chernobyl there was at least one other high profile Chernobyl project in development. And it doesn’t matter. Because there have been multiple Edward Snowden movies. There have been multiple – everything gets multiple coverage on these things. And so, yeah, I mean, I’ve seen more than one Hoffa movie and you just go about doing it. Your version of it is the value.
And, yeah, look, at any one given time can you have two movies in the theater about the US Hockey Olympic team Miracle on Ice? No. But there was a terrific movie. Could you do another one now? Yup. You could.
John: You could.
Craig: You could. So just do it. Just do it and do it as best you can. Because if that other project is super-hot or interesting somebody might just want to grab it to beat them to the punch. Or, as we always say zillions of times it would be a great writing sample.
Yeah, so no real way other than Googling around. But even if you Google around and you’re like oh my god somebody is doing it, you don’t know if they’re doing it at all. People announce stuff all the time. The trades are 98% nonsense.
John: Yeah. As is pointed out by this running with the news that CAA signed the deal and they had reached an agreement with the WGA. I love that headline. Oh, reached an agreement. Is it an agreement? It’s you proposing to your wife without – it’s your wife agreeing to marry you without actually agreeing to marry you.
Craig: Yeah. I have agreed that my wife will marry me. [laughs]
John: Ah, unilateral.
John: Let’s end on a higher note. Aisha from Los Angeles writes, “The Black List recently announced the Muslim List which is the same vein as their Indigenous List and their Disability List. I’ve been seeing some hate online where people insist that these lists, especially the Muslim list, are only being made because Muslim writers otherwise won’t be able to get any attention because apparently Muslim writers are mediocre. I don’t know what to tell them. It’s not my job to educate them. But it’s 2020 and people still think these lists/programs/labs for minorities will only hurt their chances of success. Stop being racist is the obvious response. Any other details I should throw in there?”
Craig: Well, I think – “I’ve been seeing some hate online” and I was like yup. So, look, there is a lot of good things that are happening in Hollywood. There are a lot of positive things that are happening in our world and in our culture. So, in Hollywood a lot of groups of people have been underrepresented and ignored and I would absolutely include Muslim writers in there. The fact that somebody like the Black List is paying attention by doing the Muslim list is a good thing.
And I think that you deserve, Aisha, to enjoy that. Meaning the rest of it, the haters, you can’t fix those people. And first of all a lot of them aren’t even – this is what’s so hard to grasp about some of these people online. They don’t even believe the stuff they’re saying. They’re just barfing. They’re literally barfing out. And they don’t know that you’re a real person. And they don’t know that any of this is actually landing on anyone’s ears.
It is profoundly consistent when I respond to some nut job troll 99 times out of 100 they will say some version of “I can’t believe you’re taking the time to respond to me.” That I’m an idiot for even taking them seriously. That’s how low their self-esteem is while they’re attacking me. And so what I would say to you is concentrate on the positive thing here. There’s nothing you’re going to be able to say to some idiot who is complaining about the Muslim List as if the Muslim List is going to ruin their job prospects which is insane. There’s nothing you can say. The best thing you can do is in your brain hit a big delete button and they’re gone.
Craig: They’re gone. Because these people will write something and stop thinking about it one second later. You will read it and not stop thinking about it for weeks. And that’s the power they have. So my advice to you is don’t worry about what to tell them. There is nothing you should tell them. You are not responsible to educate them, to correct them, to change them. You should enjoy this.
John: Yup. And what I’ll say about lists like these is the reason they exist, the reason why Franklin and company do them is because showrunners and other people who hire writers are looking for – they would love to include more people. Find me some great indigenous writers. Well it’s tough sometimes to find those indigenous writers. And so if you have a list of, oh, you want some really good indigenous writers, some really good Muslim writers, some really good writers with disabilities, here. Here’s a list. That’s helpful for them. And it’s because they want to hire these people, or at least meet with them.
So, that’s only a good thing.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, we do this all the time in everything else. It’s not like we go, oh OK, well because there’s something like what are the ten best movies of the year. Here they are. List is done. We are obsessed with lists. You know I hate lists. But Americans are obsessed with lists. So if you go on IMDb there’s not just what’s my favorite ten movies of the year. What are my favorite comedies of the year? What are my favorite rom-coms of the year? What are my favorite action movies that star exactly three women and one men of the year?
This is what people do. They break things out into lists. And it’s nice to see that at least there’s some interest in creating lists around underrepresented people. And you know inherently that that’s not hurting anyone. You know all that is is just a nice thing that’s helping people. So like I say enjoy that fuzzy feeling. Feel good about it. Know that – and it’s just one of the unfortunate realities. Decent people aren’t going to say much. They’re going to look at something like the Muslim List and they’re going to think well that’s good. And then move about their day. And if they see the Muslim List come out they will read it and go, ah, I should think about hiring some of these writers.
And then idiots will go, ah-ha, here we go. Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. And that’s what you see. So turn them off. Like a light switch just go click. It’s a nifty little Mormon trick. I think I could do that much before getting sued.
John: I was going to say. The stopwatch was going there. All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing, we’re not a very political show, but sometimes you have to get a little political. And my One Cool Thing I would urge you to save democracy itself. So this is as we approach this election one scary scenario that could come and because it’s 2020 anything could happen. Is that let’s say neither candidate actually gets to 270 electoral college votes, something like let’s say Florida never certifies it’s results. Stuff can happen. And we sort of all know that stuff can happen. And stuff probably will happen in 2020.
In that scenario where neither candidate gets to 270 votes it goes to the House where each state delegation gets one vote. And so right now democrats control 22 state delegations. The GOP controls 26. So in that scenario the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, would win. Which is just crazy.
And so the good news is that it’s actually not too hard to actually flip those state delegations. And so me and a bunch of other folks and other former Scriptnotes guests are throwing a fundraiser for seven specific House racings for those candidates to try to flip those seats. For Alaska, Montana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. So, there’s a fundraiser we’re doing October 4, 1pm Pacific Daylight Time. There’s a link in the show notes. It’s not one of those crazy expensive ones like the basic I’m a supporter thing is $100. So, if you are a US citizen who wants to spend $100 as some kind of insurance hopefully to not have one nightmare scenario happen on Election Day come join us for this fundraiser October 4.
Craig: Yeah. I believe this was the scenario that occurred in the election of 1800. Where there was a tie and it was thrown to the delegates. If you had to choose, if you had to choose…it’s up to the delegates.
John: I’m trying to remember like Veep was a similar situation, too. Veep ends in a tie. And it goes to the House if I recall correctly.
Craig: Yes. When I was a kid, which was around the same time you were a kid, we used to get Newsweek. And Newsweek after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, well, technically 1979, yes, the fall of 1979, they showed the three different covers they had to prepare ahead of time. And one was Carter wins. And one was Reagan wins, which was the one that turned out. And then the other one was Deadlocked. They had a cover that they created for deadlocked.
Now, in a normal circumstance the deadlock that you consider is just because there’s a mathematical deadlock the way that the electoral votes break out it’s 269-269. And that’s not what this is. What this is is, yes, is it possible? Yes. I don’t like the underpinning panic behind this in the sense that I never like accepting ahead of time that somebody could do something wildly illegal.
Craig: However, these days I guess we kind of have to presume that somebody is going to do something wildly illegal because that’s the way it’s going. So in that regard he’s correct. And in general I don’t need much of a reason. Right now if he said here is a scary but possible scenario, here is a lovely but possible scenario, here’s just something that I think we should do, I’ll do it. Because that’s where we are. We’re in a situation now where – I have never in my life been in a situation where I could just go, OK, legitimately there is only one rational choice. There is nothing I can say accept you either do this or you’re out of your damn mind.
I have never been like that in my life. At all. You know that. But this isn’t close. So, hopefully you are not out of your damn mind.
John: I hope not to be.
Craig: Yeah. Oh, and I have a Cool Thing. My Cool Thing has nothing to do with politics.
Craig: My Cool Thing, you know, every now and then I like to say oh here’s somebody interesting on Twitter. And you know who I follow on Twitter who I find fascinating? A guy named Chris Stein. Do you know who Chris Stein is?
John: I don’t.
Craig: If I said music’s Chris Stein? Rock and roll’s Chris Stein?
John: I don’t.
Craig: Chris Stein, one of the major songwriters/guitarists for Blondie.
John: Oh nice.
Craig: The great Blondie. And he has a very cool account. He’s a cool guy, obviously. He’s in freaking Blondie. Oh, I love Blondie so much. And by the way huge crush on Debbie Harry. Like as a kid, because that was, you know, they sort of came up in the late ‘70s. I’m like nine. And I’m just starting to look at girls and stuff. And I remember Blondie being like that. I want that. I think that’s a thing now.
So, anyway, and Chris Stein I believe dated Blondie for a long time. So, hats off to Chris Stein for that as well. But he also publishes these old photos that he took of himself and other people around that time, that kind of new wave era, New York City, CBGBs, late ‘70s. And it’s so cool. And there is actually just tying back into the mention of the Madonna biopic, there was just a random photo he had and in it is a very young Madonna who is just part of the scene.
John: That’s great.
Craig: And you look at her and you’re like, oh man, she looks like she’s 16. And nothing has happened yet to the face or the eyebrows or anything. It’s just a natural human being. It’s a hell of a thing. And so anyway he’s just a great guy. Really smart. And he puts these wonderful photos up. So, well worth a follow.
John: Cool. That is our show for this week. So Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro is by Michael Karman. 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 or recommendations for where people should find lawyers.
For short questions on Twitter Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.
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Craig, thank you for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Craig, I am so confused about the gaming consoles and I know there’s a new generation coming out. There’s a new PlayStation. There’s a new Xbox.
John: I don’t want to buy both. Which one do I buy? Just tell me. Craig, help me out.
Craig: Sure. Well, so first of all what’s so special about these consoles to begin with? Because the gaming world has changed quite a bit. It used to be that you basically had two deals. You had the PC where you would buy a game that was designed to play on your PC, not really your Mac. Or a console where it’s just the console was a computer, and that’s all a console is is a computer that does nothing except process the game. That’s it. It has no other purpose so it can devote all of its resources, graphics, memory, everything to the game.
So, generally speaking your consoles are much better computers for gaming than your PCs except some people would take their PCs and go bananas, soup them up, and turn them into gaming engines that were even better than the consoles, because PCs are very customizable. So that was kind of the way it worked. And then you had this whole online gaming explosion with Steam and all the rest.
So the line between console and PC-based gaming systems has blurred quite a bit because of the way people have souped up some gaming PCs. And generally speaking if you’re like a hardcore gamer you’re going to have one of those.
I’m not that person. I’m more of the guy that plays what they call triple A video games. The large video game franchises. So I’m talking about Elder Scrolls, Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto, Ghosts of Tsushima. These big, big games. And those are–
John: Titles that cost – the games are $50 or more.
Craig: Exactly. They generally are going to run about $60. Assassin’s Creed. All those things. And those are console games. I can’t quite recall how many years we’ve been in this particular cycle. There was the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox. Those were kind of like the beginning of the big wars between Sony and Microsoft. And that turned into the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox 360. And now we are heading – for many years, many years. I think about seven, I think, is where we’re at. We have finally generation’d up. Which is a long amount of time because in the computer world things generation up much faster. But in the console world not so much.
So PlayStation 5 is coming and Xbox Series X is coming. They are both coming by the end of this year, in time for Christmas. They will both sell a lot. PlayStation will sell much, much more I predict because it’s more popular.
The differences between these things. Very little Very, very little in terms of hardware. They are both going to be pumping out – they use almost the same chips inside, with like little tiny differences. Oh, this one uses an AMD Zen 2 with an eight-core 2.5 GHz. And this one uses an AMD Zen 2 eight-core 3.8 GHz. But then the other one has more IO throughput. It’s got a 5.5 gig IO throughput and this one has got a 2.4 gig IO throughput. Whatever.
They’re both going to look amazing. They’re both going to have solid state drives, which are going to go faster than the traditional spin-y drives that we were using before. The output resolution will be gorgeous at 4K, probably 60 frames a second, maybe even 120 frames per second. I mean, it’s all being figured out, I guess.
So, they’re both going to look amazing. What’s the big difference then? Which one should you buy? It comes down to the availability of certain games. A lot of the games are for both. You can buy certain games and it will work on both of them. But then there a number of games that are exclusive to each system.
John: For example Halo was an exclusive Xbox I know.
Craig: Halo was the big like – that was the reason that you wanted an Xbox, if you really loved Halo. And similarly on PlayStation, PlayStation has more exclusives. The Last of Us is a PlayStation exclusive. PlayStation, just Sony in general seems to make more specific stuff. But then there are plenty that you can play on both. Look, MLB the Show is exclusive to Sony PlayStation and that’s kind of how it works.
In general if I were to recommend, if you could only have one you should get the PlayStation 5 because it’s going to have the exclusives. There will be more exclusives, I think, and it’s more likely that they will be exclusives that you will want. But you know I’m going to get both. You know that.
John: So right now I have an Xbox 360 which I haven’t used in years.
Craig: Oh god, yeah.
John: And a PlayStation which I do use some. I’m just back playing old Diablo 3. I started The Last of Us and it was just way too stressful for me. So, I needed to go back to something really comforting like Diablo where I can just run around and smash things. So that will probably be the one that gets replaced, at least with the 5.
The PlayStation 4 that I have still has the ability to insert a disk in it, but I’ve not inserted a disk in it for a very long time. So it looks like one of the options I have with the Sony PlayStation, there’s just no disk at all.
Craig: Yeah. The disks are kind of going away. So people are generally – a lot of people. It’s actually, I’ll take that back. There are a ton of disks. I mean, one of the reasons that The Last of Us 2 was delayed was because they had to deal with the manufacture of disks during the pandemic situation. And, you know, I asked Neil, people still buy disks? And he goes an enormous amount. Particularly overseas where for instance in Europe the PlayStation Network which is the system you would use to download a game was throttled and may still be throttled because during the pandemic essentially the European Union said yeah, yeah we’re not going to let Netflix and Sony just soak up all of our bandwidth while we’re trying to pump out information to people and–
John: Schools were online and all that stuff.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. So, a lot of people do still want those physical disks which they can use to install. So, looking at some exclusives on the horizon, there’s going to be a new Halo. So if you’re into that, huzzah. Xbox has Forza Motorsport, so if you’re a big car race guy and you like Forza Motorsport as opposed to Gran Turismo which is the PlayStation one, then fine. PlayStation 5 will have Spider Man Miles Morales and right there I can tell you that’s going to be a massive–
John: That looks great.
Craig: That will be massive. But then I think Xbox will also have I think it’s the new game from the guys who did Witcher I think, Cyber – should know what it is but I don’t. There’s a new Harry Potter Open World game that I believe will be coming to both platforms next year.
Here’s what’s exciting. Apparently one of the big limitations of the consoles was how they created light. You would enter a scene and essentially as a game creator you would set a light, like a fixed lamp, in place and that was the light for the room. And if you moved around it didn’t matter because the light didn’t move around. The light was fixed no matter where you go and no matter what happens. And for a videogame author like Naughty Dog that makes The Last of Us, if they want to make it cool, like they want to have somebody – as somebody crosses a window they want to create a shadow, they need to specifically animate a shadow in. But now with these new systems they’re using essentially live ray tracing. So, now people walk through the room and the light knows what to do.
John: That’s great.
Craig: And so it’ll look pretty great. But it already looks pretty great, you know, so. It’s going to be cool.
John: So we haven’t mentioned the Nintendo Switch. So I have a Switch that I got at the start of the pandemic. I really love it. It’s a delightful system. I like that it’s just not trying to play in that same space.
John: They have exclusive titles that are just their thing and they’re great for that. Honestly I mostly play on my iPad. I’m playing Hearthstone on an iPad which just doesn’t matter that you don’t have a great system. You don’t need a gaming PC to be playing Hearthstone.
John: But for actual real videogames I probably will upgrade. It sounds like on your advice I will go for the PlayStation 5.
Craig: I think so.
John: And any existing games that I have, will my PS4 games be playable on the PlayStation 5?
Craig: Yes. So there will be backwards compatibility for both of them.
Craig: That’s kind of always part of how they roll. You will also see some of the older popular games get remastered.
John: One thing I’m definitely looking forward to when I get a new system is that my PlayStation 4 I bought in France and it is region-locked to French for certain things. And so there are times where I’ll get to a place where everything else is in English. I get to screens that are just completely in French. And of course it’s really technical gamey French. It just breaks my brain to try to figure this out. So like Witcher 3 I got there and no matter what you do you cannot get it out of French. It’s a really tough game when you’re trying to follow it that in French.
Craig: Witcher Trois. Oui. Yeah, you know, the English in Witcher is also kind of French. It’s strange – there are strange terms–
John: Layers stacking on top of layers.
Craig: Yes indeed. But Nintendo, yeah, they will keep doing what they do. They’re sort of like you guys fight over there. We’ll be over here. One day I suspect Disney is just going to buy Nintendo.
John: Yeah. Nintendo is big now.
Craig: They’re huge.
John: Disney is huge now, too.
John: Everyone is huge.
Craig: Everyone is huge. It just seems like talk about a marriage made in heaven.
John: Getting really off-topic, Apple had its announcements this last week where they announced the new watch and the new iPad. It’s great. Lovely.
I always thought that Apple should just buy Peloton because Peloton is a really good product and feels very, very Apple-y. And so what Apple did is just like, oh no, we’re just going to make our own Peloton. And they spent clearly a fortune to basically duplicate what Peloton is already doing.
Craig: Yup. And they’ll win.
Craig: That’ll happen. I mean, that’s kind of the way it goes. It just – Apple came out with the watch, I don’t know when it was, five years ago. And I think a lot of people were like what? Oh, Apple, stupid. They sell so many watches. They are not just the largest watch manufacturer in the world. It’s not even close.
John: Yeah. If the Apple Watch were the only product Apple made it would be a giant top tier company.
Craig: Absolutely. Yeah.
John: And so, again, looking at Sony, looking at Microsoft, when Microsoft was trying to buy TikTok I’m thinking that’s weird. Microsoft, they make Windows. Oh, no, no, they make Xbox, too. They actually do have a big consumer-facing brand. It would have made sense for them to do it. Sony I think of being an electronics manufacturer, but like PlayStation must be such a huge profit center for that company.
Craig: Massive. And whereas Xbox has always been tricky for Microsoft because it isn’t their core business. Microsoft has generally stumbled when they’ve made objects other than–
Craig: Computers. So they tried the Microsoft phone. LOL. The Zune. [Unintelligible]. And the Xbox has stuck around. The Xbox is a really good product. Don’t get me wrong. I have owned every version of the Xbox and I will buy the new one. I like the Xbox controller generally more than the Sony controller. Oh, the controllers I should add are also changing. There’s going to be more haptic stuff going on.
Craig: Vibrations and stuff. Yeah.
John: Yeah. Cool. Craig, thank you for talking me through this.
Craig: Thank you, John. Anytime.
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