The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Today’s episode of Scriptnotes contains some explicit language. Also, for this live show we have three guests, one of whom uses sign language. So you’ll be hearing the voice of her interpreter. It will make sense in context, I promise. Enjoy.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: And my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is the Holiday Live Show 2019 for Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Craig, tell the listeners at home where we are.
Craig: We are currently recording live in Hollywood – I was about to say that, live in Hollywood – live in Hollywood at the LA Film School.
John: It’s nice. So we do this benefit every year for the Writers Guild Foundation which is a fantastic foundation which does a lot of great work throughout the year. A question though for the folks here in this audience. It’s a very packed house. Do we have any assistants in the house? Oh my god, look at all those hands going up. That’s really nice.
Craig: Why aren’t you at work?
John: So, we have heard from a ton of assistants over this last couple of months, and so it’s so great to see so many folks here.
A tiny bit of news happened this past week. Verve, the agency, stepped up and decided to pay its assistants more, which is great. We are always happy to congratulate the folks who are doing better, so we don’t have to chastise the folks who are doing worse.
Craig: Yes. Although, well, I actually love that.
John: Because they’re not a bad guy.
Craig: I feel like that’s not the last.
John: I hope it’s not the last.
Craig: Of the important organizations that employ assistants.
John: Absolutely. So, hopefully we’ll be also applauding the second, the third, the fourth, and the 15th places that do step up and start paying assistants better. It’s certainly a goal for 2020.
Craig: And then we collect a little piece, just a little taste. Whatever your increase is, just, you know.
John: Is that called a Vig? I don’t know.
John: All right.
Craig: A little something.
John: A little something.
Craig: You know, wet my beak.
John: It works out. Now, Craig, while we’re talking numbers, I think it’s important at the end of the year for us to sort of review our numbers and really take a look at where we’re at and sort of where we’ve been and where we’re coming to. So let’s take a quick look at the numbers here.
John: Statistics. So Scriptnotes, where are we at in terms of the numbers? You’re the guy who crunches the numbers, so tell us.
Craig: Yeah, yeah, I’ve worked real hard on this. We are currently at 430 episodes of Scriptnotes.
John: Nice. That’s good.
Craig: Yes. For which I have been paid zero dollars.
John: Not a cent.
Craig: We have every week an average of 80,000 listeners.
John: 80,000 listeners across the world.
John: We have listeners here from Germany, which is awesome.
Craig: Fantastic. Our staff is you, it’s me, it’s Megana, our producer, and it’s Matthew our editor.
John: Yeah, that’s good. Every week that’s what we get it done with, four people.
Craig: Although I do notice a former staff person here.
John: Aw, Stuart Friedel is here.
Craig: Stuart. You know, we used to talk about the Stuart Special, but it’s our Special Stuart.
Every week we receive on average 103 emails.
John: That’s a lot of emails. Megana is reading a lot of emails. So thank you for sending in–
Craig: 99 of them are stupid, but man, those four. Whew.
John: Some of them are good emails.
Craig: We get some winners. And, of course, we continue to provide transcripts for every single episode.
John: Every single episode. So transcripts are a way for people who can’t listen to the show to experience the show. Also it lets me Google to see how often we’ve mentioned Kevin Feige on the show, which is a ton.
Craig: Yeah. Weirdly. Mostly critical, so we’ll get into it.
John: Yeah. Now.
Craig: Because I want to commit career suicide.
John: That’s a good idea. All right, so last year at this show we were talking – the big thing was about all the mergers, so we had Disney and 20th Century Fox was merging. That was a big, god, remember that?
Craig: I do. For sure. That was crazy.
John: That happened. We had Comcast and AT&T.
Craig: Wait, I thought AT&T was Warner Bros?
John: Oh, I did make that wrong. Somebody else was buying out – it’s so confusing.
Craig: That’s Warner Bros.
John: Who owns who now?
Craig: I don’t know.
John: That’s the thing. We don’t know who owns who.
Craig: I’m pretty sure that that Death Star owns Bugs Bunny.
John: So I got a little freaked out this show last year because I was worried like should we merge with somebody, because we could just be swallowed. So I was thinking we could merge with Pod Save America. I mean, that feels like a good, safe choice.
Craig: It’s a good show.
John: S-Town. S-Town is really popular. I mean, like there’s some problems with it, but it’s a popular show.
John: And then Dirty John. Really the serial killer thing.
Craig: Dirty John.
John: Yes. I could be a serial killer.
Craig: It’s the partner of Sexy Craig. Dirty John.
John: So ultimately though you convinced me. Craig, what did you convince me?
Craig: That we should stay indie, man. Because my indie cred is crazy. Yeah.
John: So this is to announce we’re not merging with anybody. We’re staying the same way we’ve always stayed.
Craig: Which is free.
Craig: With no ads. It’s sad that I have to look at this to tell you I’ve done 430 of these. We come out every Tuesday as you know.
Now, only the most recent 20 episodes are available freely to everyone. And generally speaking we didn’t do a lot of bonus stuff.
John: We didn’t. So we do have a premium feed. For the last couple of years we had a premium feed. And the premium feed has all the back episodes. It has bonus episodes. It requires a really janky app.
Craig: That app was jank. It was called jank.app.
John: So frustrating. At least like 45 of those 100 emails are about the app. And it’s confusing. Signing up for it was confusing. So we asked our listeners what would be better. And they said anything would be better. And so we’re making some changes here.
Craig: We like clear feedback, it’s our favorite feedback.
John: So people wanted things to be simple. People wanted to use their own player rather than the janky player. They wanted more bonus stuff. And they wanted all the back episodes.
Craig: I know what, let’s use Patreon.
John: We talked about Patreon, Craig.
John: I’m sorry.
Craig: No, we didn’t do it.
John: So, here’s the problem. Patreon is simple, kind of.
Craig: Just like me.
John: You use your player. Great.
Craig: Just like me.
John: More bonus stuff.
Craig: Just like me.
John: The problem is we couldn’t get all the back episodes in Patreon.
Craig: Also just like me.
John: There was no way to do it. So, we ended up going with the folks who do Slate. So we partnered up with them. They didn’t buy us out, though. We’re still indie.
Craig: Indie, man.
John: Indie, man.
Craig: No sellouts here.
John: But this is Scriptnotes Premium. Scriptnotes Premium is now the thing. Simple. You can use your own player, whatever you use to listen to normal Scriptnotes in. Listen to it in this. More bonus stuff. And all the back episodes.
Craig: Now, as you know, I’m not great with this. So let’s say I have a way I like to listen to podcasts. First of all, let’s imagine I listen to podcasts.
John: Yeah, Craig who hosts like multiple award-winning podcasts.
Craig: I host them, but listening is–
John: I know.
Craig: So, let’s say I have my favorite app. But now there’s the thing. How do I get it to go to my favorite app?
John: OK. Three steps. First step, you join. You go to Scriptnotes.net. You put in your email address and your credit card. That’s it. There’s no password. There’s no username. Just those two things.
Craig: This is where the money comes to me?
John: You click subscribe. Then you can subscribe to the Scriptnotes Premium feed, any of the back episodes. We broke it down by seasons so you don’t have to download everything at once. Finally you just listen to it in whatever app you like to use.
John: That’s pretty cool.
Craig: That is pretty good.
John: Craig, you get confused sometimes about sort of how stuff works.
John: We made stuff even simpler. So you just put in your phone number and it will send you a link to how you actually install it in the app. So it’s pretty–
Craig: So then I just tell it what I want it to–
John: You don’t have to use Siri at all.
Craig: I text back, “I use this.” So I’m talking to a robot.
John: You tap a link. Can you tap a link?
Craig: I talk to a robot all the time.
John: Ha, you do. You tap a link. You tell it which app to install it in. It’s installed and it’s there.
Craig: This is fantastic.
John: And you subscribe.
Craig: Even I can do that.
John: So you get all the back episodes. All the new episodes. We’re going to do some bonus stuff, too. Craig, talk us through some bonus stuff that we might end up doing.
Craig: Well you know we like to do a deep dive every now and then on a classic film.
John: Absolutely. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Little Mermaid.
John: What should we do first?
Craig: I’m thinking Die Hard.
John: I think Die Hard should be the first episode we do. Let’s have it come out on Christmas.
Craig: Let’s. Shall we? Because it is a Christmas movie.
John: A couple other things. Scriptnotes comes out every Tuesday. Honestly, Megana gets it done on Monday. You get the episodes on Monday afternoon when she’s done.
Craig: That Megana.
John: And we’ll also try to do things like advance tickets for shows like this. Because we now have your email address, which we never had your email address before, which was weird. So that is the–
Craig: To recap, if I may. Nothing is changing about the classic Scriptnotes that theoretically you love.
Craig: Scriptnotes Premium does not require that weird, janky app anymore.
Craig: Huzzah. And there’s a bunch of new stuff, including early episodes and bonus segments. So that’s pretty great. And you can literally subscribe now to it, although again I just want to make it clear I get none of the money.
John: No, Craig will still get nothing.
Craig: None of it.
John: This money will pay for Matthew. It will pay for Megana. And honestly we probably need to hire somebody new because it’s just been a lot. So it will help us pay for–
Craig: The emails alone.
John: The emails on assistant stuff alone has been crushing. So, this is Scriptnotes.net. You can sign up for it on your phone right now. But no one in this room should do that because we are going to draw one ticket and that person is going to get a free lifetime subscription to Scriptnotes Premium.
John: Craig, that box is right behind you.
John: Take a seat and draw one of those cards.
Craig: The price will go up yearly. So, ultimately this will be worth millions of dollars.
John: Now, technically I should say that this has no cash value. I think it’s something about a raffle, you’re not supposed to say–
Craig: I said a million dollars.
John: A million dollars.
Craig: It has absolutely no value. That’s a weird thing to say. We’re raffling off something that is absolutely valueless.
John: Worthless. Last four digits maybe?
Craig: Last four? Got your tickets out? 3-2–
John: Yeah, people sweating there.
Craig: You guys are going to walk out and leave. Raise your hand if you’ve got 3-2. Who has got 3 and 2 so far. Oh god, we’ve got to winnow this down. 7. I know. Who do we have left now?
John: Stuart Friedel has his hand up. If Stuart Friedel wins we’re drawing again.
Craig: Really? We so are. Stuart, with your fingers what do you have? You lost. Again. 1. Yes.
John: Sir, what is your name? James. After the show find me or find Megana and we will sign you up. All right. Hooray. That is the introduction of all this.
Now it is time for our actual show. We are so excited with our guests. We’ve had amazing guests in previous episodes. I’m sort of especially excited by this group of people we have. We have acclaimed writer-directors. We have acclaimed writer-actors. We have a person who created a whole cinematic universe. This is going to be good.
Our first guest is Lorene Scafaria. She is an actress, writer, producer, and director, best known for Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Meddler, and most recently for writing and directing Hustlers starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, and Julia Styles. Welcome back to the program Lorene.
Lorene Scafaria: Thank you so much. Appreciate it. This is very nice and overwhelming.
John: Overwhelming in a person who has had a movie that has played everywhere that has gotten huge acclaim.
Craig: Still overwhelming?
Lorene: Yes. You guys are going to use big words and I’m not going to understand half of them.
Craig: We won’t be sesquipedalian I promise. Oh my god, I’m so sorry.
John: Lorene, I’m going to take a chance here.
Lorene: Oh god.
John: So April 2018 I was in the backyard of Dana Fox’s house. There was a benefit dinner thing. And I was talking with you about a movie that had just fallen apart. Was that this movie?
John: This is Hustlers. It had just fallen apart. You were really frustrated and heartbroken and I felt so bad for you. And now I’m so happy.
Lorene: That’s very nice.
John: That it got back together again.
Lorene: Yeah, thank you.
John: So Hustlers is an amazing achievement. On the show often we talk about How Would This Be a Movie. And this is something that’s based on and inspired by an article. Can you talk us through the How Would This Be a Movie for you? What was it about this story that was the first impetus of like, oh, I see how this could be two hours of amazing entertainment? What was the click for you?
Lorene: I mean, it was an incredible story. It was really compelling. I read the article that it was based on in the summer of 2016. And it just felt like a world that we haven’t really seen through a certain group’s eyes. We haven’t really followed dancers in a strip club in this way before. So, I was really just taken in by the world and the story and these characters who I think are often misunderstood.
And then there was a crime drama. And a friendship story. And it touched on so many themes I was really excited to talk about. Gender as it relates to the economy and women under capitalism. And all that good stuff.
Craig: And when you’re going through that article, the article is just facts. I mean, they create a bit of a narrative but mostly it’s facts. Do you instinctively start to go I’m going to use that, I’m going to use that. That I can’t use. This I got to change. How fast does that happen, that engagement as a writer?
Lorene: I would actually look back at the article every now and then just to see if I could read between the lines, if I missed something. You certainly have to embellish a lot. Have to add a lot. It’s obviously creating scenes and dialogue. But that central relationship between the two characters, in real life I think they were more like business partners and it didn’t run that deep, and it wasn’t that mentor/mentee dynamic.
Craig: Mother/daughter kind of.
Lorene: Yeah, mother/daughter. Whatever kind of love story that is being told. So, yeah, there’d be a sentence that would talk about Christmas. And I would think I can’t wait to see what Christmas looks like for these women. And then my own research, obviously, talking to strippers. Going to clubs. And speaking to people. That all informed a lot. But, yeah, it always felt like the crash, the financial crisis was kind of the end of act one and where to go from there. There is a rise and fall story. There are a couple different timelines. It jumps around. And it’s kind of a reflective story that Constance Wu’s character is telling to this journalist played by Julia Styles. So, there’s some back and forth there. And that was in my original pitch actually for how I would adapt the article.
John: Talk us through that original pitch. So is this an article that you found or someone came to you?
Lorene: No, it was sent to me by the producers, by Gloria Sanchez and Annapurna who was the studio at the time that was making the film. And they sent it to me. It was certainly not my job yet. And they wanted to know what my take was and how I would adapt it to the screen. So I went in for that meeting and, yeah, gave them my whole pitch and talked about why I thought it was an event movie at the end of the day, even though I thought there was a really nuanced conversation to be had and a very specific way to kind of see their world it felt like at the end of the day. You know, we were going to bring the club to the theater.
John: So in that original pitch how closely does that resemble the movie that we saw? So in terms of its central protagonist/antagonist relationship between the Jennifer Lopez character and the Constance Wu character, and in terms of the flashback structure. Did you have all of that when you walked into that room with those producers?
Lorene: I had a lot of it. I mean, I look back at my old notes and we stayed pretty true to what I originally set out to do, so that was certainly nice to realize with a large group of people. So, yeah, it was pretty similar. I knew that the journalist was a really compelling, important part of it, not just a device, but a very integral part of the relationship and the dynamic and the judgment that the audience sort of imposes on these women. There was a lot of that in there. And certainly a tone that I think that the tone was what was shifting a little bit. I think the concentration on that central relationship, that love story between them, that changed a lot.
There was an unreliable narrator in the article that I kind of hung onto for a little too long that no longer felt important at some point. So that was different.
It felt more like a story being told by these two different characters. And it was kind of pitting them against each other in a way. So I did a million drafts. The movie fell apart. We lost a home. We brought the script around town to everybody who hated it. [laughs]
Craig: Hollywood. Always with their finger on the pulse of America.
Lorene: Well, I think maybe a lot of them identified with other characters in the movie.
Craig: Huh. Do you mean Lizzo?
Lorene: Yes. That’s exactly.
Craig: Of course.
Lorene: So, yeah, it took a minute to find the right home and we were certainly questioning a lot. I kind of did this page one rewrite after we found this new home and kind of just smashed the script on the ground and opened up at title page and changed it to Destiny and Ramona, the two main characters. And then wrote this love story, this relationship. And, yeah, it was different. A lot of scenes came out of it. The training sequence that’s there. The sort of dynamic between them. That came out of it, that mother/daughter relationship.
But it ultimately wasn’t the right movie, so had to kind of smash it on the ground again and start from scratch.
Craig: And you get it to a place where you feel like you got it right. You do have a home. They have given you the funding. You have this great cast. And now I’m always fascinated by writer-directors, how did director Lorene handle her relationship with writer Lorene on a day-to-day basis?
Lorene: I did refer to the writer often as—
Craig: An asshole?
Lorene: An asshole. Yeah, painted us into a lot of corners. And wrote really something too ambitious. It was a $20 million budget which sounds like a lot but it’s not. It grew.
John: Oh. For listeners at home she was pointing at Kevin Feige at that moment.
Craig: Kevin earlier asked me if the budget for this was $20 million. So he has no sense whatsoever. None.
Lorene: And shooting in New York for what it was, so we had a seven-week prep, a 29-day shoot, and an eight-week director’s cut. It was all pretty brutal. Don’t recommend it.
Craig: That’s actually a great way to think of it. On any given day you had a plan. And when your writing your plan is perfect. That’s my perfect plan. And now you’re short on money, you’re short on time, you’re dealing with weather I assume occasionally here and there.
Lorene: Yeah. Actually out of those 29 days it rained 26 days.
Craig: Of course it did.
Lorene: Because it was April.
Craig: Yeah. So on those days how do you adjust without losing maybe the heart of what it was that you needed to do that day for that moment between those characters?
Lorene: I mean, it was certainly a race every single day to finish it, but those fights happened in prep. The cast wasn’t fully on board other than Jennifer and Constance before we got there. So that whole journey I remember there were days where they said like, “Well you don’t need to shoot anything on Wall Street.” And I was like I don’t know about that. I think that’s actually a pretty major part of this, something that we really need to see. So you make compromises here and there. But I think part of it was to go in with a really strong plan and to shot list everything. And to sort of continue to make the arguments that we wouldn’t need much in order to achieve this. We need these locations. We need this amount of hair, makeup, and wardrobe. We need to create a period piece. We need to capture the authenticity of this place. We need a real strip club. We need 300 extras.
Craig: Extras are surprisingly expensive.
Lorene: They’re really expensive.
Craig: Bob Weinstein, true story, once looked at a tent full of extras and then turned to me and said, “Do we pay them?”
John: No, Craig, they’re just there for the fun of it.
Craig: No, they’re slaves, Bob. Sicko.
Lorene: I’m sure they were.
Craig: Yeah, they’re expensive.
Lorene: They are. They are. And, I mean, yeah, dressing them is expensive. And dressing them in 2007 clothes requires its own truck. And that truck costs money.
Craig: You could have just come to my closet. That’s what I’m in right now.
Lorene: Well that was just it. Eventually we kind of had to ask these guys to bring your own bad shirts.
Craig: No problem.
John: Now, Lorene because you’re here I get to ask you a question that struck me the moment I saw your film. Which is the moment that Constance Wu comes up on the roof and she sees Jennifer Lopez there in the fur coat is iconic. As you were filming it did you know this is the movie? This is the moment when people will gasp and recognize I’m in the hands of a master.
John: You knew it at that moment? You knew as you were shooting it?
Lorene: Yeah, Jennifer Lopez is in that outfit underneath that coat sitting on that rooftop.
John: To stipulate it’s absurd and absolutely marvelous. It’s such an iconic thing.
Lorene: Oh that’s nice. I mean, I say yes, obviously, just because we were in the throes of it and it was so exciting to finally get there. It was the first scene that I wrote in the whole script. I think the last thing we shot. Or second to last thing we shot. So they had already come full circle their relationship. They were so close by then so there was just that magic in the air. But, you know, a lot of thought went into it because I had thought this was the scene. This was the crux of the whole movie. The moment that Jennifer invites Constance into her fur coat. That really is the moment that everybody’s lives is changing.
So, yeah, it felt really, really important. The rooftop felt important. We built that sky light. That fur coat was a journey to find and to convince people that it was something that we needed. You know, just making sure they sat in the right position. I remember there was a moment where they were sitting next to each other and I was like crumbling inside going like, no, it’s not what I was imagining all this time. So, you know, we just found that rhythm. And, yeah, it felt magical.
Honestly, when she reclined with the cigarette that was not something that I had fully envisioned. That was something that just happened in that moment and I thought, yes, we need to cut to this. We need to – when we found that in the edit we first played it for people, it was this laugh out loud moment. And sometimes an applause break.
John: Oh yeah. In my theater people did applaud. That’s magic.
Lorene: That’s wild. That’s, obviously, but I credit Jennifer Lopez with half of that certainly.
Craig: And I’m going to bring up something from your past slightly.
Lorene: You guys.
Craig: No, but it’s – years ago when they would talk to you, they meaning the press, there was probably something that would come up a lot. Do you remember a name? A special kind of name that would come up frequently? Fempire. Do you remember the Fempire?
Lorene: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: Back in the day female screenwriters were so rare that they had to give you a special name, like Seal Team 6. And it seems like without saying that we are where we should be, as one of the women that was there in the beginning for me, you know, where I was beginning you were beginning, how do you think it’s going in terms of progress? Bad, good, steady?
Lorene: Oh, it’s definitely not steady. I think it’s good and I think it’s muddy. And I think it’s like soup that we’re all kind of sitting in right now and trying to figure it out. So, I don’t know. I think a lot has improved. Obviously the last few years have shed light on a lot of bad behavior and we’ve rooted out some of that. But I think there’s work to do at the root, you know. I think there’s something to just speak to and have nuanced conversations about what the root cause is of all of this and how much of this is unconscious. And not just the broader strokes and the numbers which are important to speak to. But I think also there’s something about female stories and viewing them cinematically. And what does that mean? So there’s something to talk about, the percentage of female directors and all of that, but I don’t know. It’s like I want to get into it a little bit and get a little more nuanced about it. And not just that kind of black and white story.
John: All right. It is time for a game.
Lorene: Oh, good.
John: We are going to read you a list of award shows. You need to tell us if it’s a real award show or if it’s a fake one that I made up.
Lorene: I’m so happy about this.
John: Now, here’s the twist. Several of these you’ve been nominated for.
Lorene: Oh, that’s torture.
Craig: So don’t screw those up.
Lorene: That’s bad.
John: We’ll start with the Gotham Award. Real or fake?
Lorene: That was real. I was really there.
John: Yeah, Hustlers was nominated. Marriage Story won. Chernobyl lost.
Craig: Lost. I like that she got nominated and I got lost. It was the same thing.
Lorene: I didn’t win. You lost. I just didn’t win.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. I lost hard. Viewfinder Award.
Craig: Fake. It’s so fake.
John: The Hollywood Film Award.
Lorene: That sounds real.
John: It is real. Kevin Feige and Victoria Alonzo won this year for Avengers: End Game.
Lorene: Hey, congrats. That’s awesome.
Craig: How about National Film and TV Award?
Lorene: You know what? This, I’m not kidding, I am so confused because I saw one tweet, only one, that said Jennifer Lopez won.
John: You’re right.
Craig: She did.
John: It is from the UK and she did win.
Craig: It’s real.
Lorene: OK. But I only saw one tweet so I was like this could be someone just playing a trick on all of us.
Craig: That’s a pretty generic name for an award, I got to say.
John: Hollywood Critics Association Award.
John: Yeah. You are nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Female Director.
Lorene: Oh, thank you guys so much.
Craig: Houston Online Film Critics Association Award?
Craig: No, there is no online critics association.
John: They merged them. So it’s all one critics association, online and print in Houston.
Lorene: What do you mean? Now what is it?
Craig: It’s just Houston.
Lorene: Houston. Just the city of Houston.
John: The Golden Globes.
Lorene: Oh, I am wracking my brain. They are very real.
Craig: Deeply real.
John: Jennifer Lopez is nominated. Craig is nominated, Chernobyl for four Golden Globes.
Lorene: Oh my gosh. Craig! That’s amazing. Four.
Craig: Well. Golly. The Rose Door? The Golden Rose?
Lorene: Why are there are two names.
John: It’s French.
Craig: I’m just translating it for you. The Rose D’Or. D’Or. Door. The Golden Rose.
Lorene: I mean, it sounds real just because of all this fanfare. But I’m going to say no.
Craig: It’s absolutely real. Chernobyl won two of them.
Craig: I got two Golden Roses, my friend. I’m a double-roser.
John: The Satellite Award.
Lorene: That’s real. And that was the only thing I’ve ever been nominated for before Hustlers.
Lorene: We got one of those somewhere.
Craig: OK. The Palm Dog Award. Palm Dog.
Lorene: No. No, no, no.
Craig: It’s real.
Craig: Yes it is. It’s a yearly alternative award presented by the international film critics during the Cannes Film Festival. And this year it went to Sayuri for her performance as Brandy in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Lorene: So it’s for dogs?
John: It’s an award for dogs.
Craig: It’s for dogs.
Lorene: We had a great dog in Hustlers.
Craig: Not great enough.
John: Something to shoot for, Lorene. Something to shoot for.
Lorene: You have no idea.
Craig: Step your shit up, Lorene.
John: Lorene, the Annie Award?
Craig: Of course.
Craig: Animation. AARP Grownups in Film Award.
John: That’s AARP.
Craig: I say AARP.
Lorene: Hell yeah. It’s real.
Craig: It’s totally real. Jennifer Lopez nominated for an AARP award, which should be pronounced the R-P.
John: The Spotlight Award?
John: Yes, real. Jennifer Lopez won for Hustlers. Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Lorene: Oh yeah.
Craig: The Dorian Awards.
Lorene: I mean, that can’t be real.
Craig: It is.
John: Location Managers Guild Awards.
Lorene: No, no, no.
John: Chernobyl won.
Craig: Yeah, we won.
John: They did.
Craig: Our awesome location manager, Jonas Spokas. Great job, Jonas.
Lorene: Wow. I might have to boycott, because we had a great, great–
Craig: Not great enough. Saturn Awards?
Craig: Yes. Of course.
John: Aladdin was nominated for a Saturn Award.
Craig: Well done Aladdin.
John: Finally, the last one here. The BRAs.
Lorene: It’s real.
John: It is real. It is the Black Real Awards. An annual awards ceremony hosted by the Federation for Augmentation of African Americans in Film. Hustlers is nominated.
Craig: You got a BRA.
Lorene: I didn’t know that. I got a BRA.
Craig: You got a BRA nom.
John: Lorene Scafaria, congratulations on your film. Congratulations on all the nominations and the awards.
Lorene: Thank you. It’s been nice.
John: I’m so, so happy for the journey that’s come from that backyard at Dana Fox’s house. I’m so happy your movie is out there in the world. It’s so damn good. Lorene Scafaria.
Lorene: Thank you. That’s very nice.
John: Craig, introduce our next guest.
Craig: Oh, I’m so excited. I was lucky enough to meet Shoshannah. We were doing a panel at the Television Academy, a place that up until recently would have had me removed by security. Shoshannah is fantastic. She is an actress and a writer, known for her roles in Jericho, Weeds, The Hammer, and Supernatural. You left off my favorite, Another Period. Spectacular on that show.
She currently stars in This Close, a dramedy series about two deaf best friends navigating their 20s in Los Angeles. Shoshannah co-created the show with her actual best friend and fellow deaf writer-actor Josh Feldman. Spectacular work. Shoshannah Stern, come on up.
Shoshannah Stern: I’m disappointed that you have the mic because I want to make – drop the mic. I never actually used a microphone in my whole life, so I wanted to drop it once.
Craig: It turns out they’re expensive actually.
Shoshannah: I’m sure it is.
John: Shoshannah, a thing Craig and I were talking about this afternoon, your show is fantastic. And impossible to watch.
Craig: Not because it’s hard, because you can’t find it.
Shoshannah: Mm-hmm. Yep.
John: So your show is made for Sundance Channel, but it’s hard to find on that. Sometimes you find it on YouTube. Is it frustrating to have made something–?
Shoshannah: It’s on YouTube?
Shoshannah: I mean, I hope it is. I hope it is.
Craig: It is not.
John: So my question, so many of us are making shows for streamers, for other places, and I’m so happy they made your show, but it’s frustrating that you don’t know if someone is going to be able to watch your show. As you’re writing this, as you’re putting it together is that a worry for you?
Shoshannah: It was. I think I’ve made my peace with it, so there’s only so much you can really do – that’s really in your control. And I think it’s like as a woman and as a deaf person creating a show, you know, we’re just reminded that there is no precedent for it. And you sort of have to prioritize what you have to worry about and sometimes you can’t because you just kill yourself over it. So, one of the things that I, you know, unfortunately yes it’s impossible to find the show. But the reason why that happened is because we actually made it for Sundance Now, which is a streaming service for AMC. And then we re-aired it, the first season on Sundance TV while we were shooting season two. I guess we just showed up and we were shooting it and they said your show is doing better than anything. So, we’re like, great, all right. So they were like we’re taking it. And I said, oh, OK, cool, great.
And I thought it would be cool because then I thought people would be able to find the show by just clicking, flipping through their channels, and they might happen across it, and they would find it. Because on Sundance Now you had to buy it, you had to purchase it, in order to find that show.
So, apparently it is now just impossible to find.
Craig: It’s very upsetting to me because I – so you said, “You got to watch my show.” And I said, you’re right, I do have to watch your show. And there’s one episode of the new season that’s available online for free. And so I watched it and I was like this is a great show. I mean, I legitimately got into it immediately and I want to watch the rest of it. So, I kind of did ask you to bring me a USB of bootlegged episodes of the show.
Shoshannah: You said that like I know how to do that.
Craig: I know.
Shoshannah: Biggest Luddite ever.
John: A question for you. So we were talking with Lorene about how she was pitching Hustlers. What was the pitch for This Close? When you were describing the show to people how were you describing it?
Shoshannah: We kind of had to pitch it three times, but in three different iterations. First of all, the idea with my writing partner Josh was about a deaf woman and her hearing gay best friend. And I think I was just so conditioned to seeing a deaf person on screen with a hearing person, a hearing scene partner, a hearing foil, really. You had to have a hearing foil. A deaf person always had to have in order to explain this is my life and it’s different than yours. So really that was what we were used to seeing on the screen.
So we pitched the show that way. And with one production it seemed like it was going pretty well, better than it had in the past. And then finally at the 11th hour they came to us and said, “You know, it’s a great show but we don’t really get why your character has to be deaf. Does she have to be deaf?” And I was like, well really I tried to explain the rationale and I couldn’t tell them. I needed to show it to them. So, I was like, OK, fine, cool. That’s where we’re at.
And we decided just to do it ourselves. It was in that hour that we made a decision over happy hour. We were just like we should just do it ourselves. So we decided to do that. And then just like why don’t we just go balls to the walls and make both of the characters deaf. Because we felt at that point like no one is going to do it anyway. So Josh said to me, “But who is going to play Michael if we do that?” And I just looked at him like, um, and he gave me an expression like, o……kay. And I looked at him and said, ah-ha, that’s who is going to play it.
John: Now, Shoshannah you are an actor. You’ve been acting for years. But Josh was not an actor. He was just a writer. And so he does great on the show. And you guys have a wonderful chemistry. Did you know it was going to work from that initial moment? Was there any fear whether the two of you together could work onscreen?
Shoshannah: No. I didn’t know. We were just drunk.
John: All right. That’s perfect.
Shoshannah: I think I just knew that if the show were going to work that it would have that chemistry. And I just felt like we needed to see two deaf people on the screen and if we’re going to have two deaf people and at the heart of show it’s about a friendship and my friend is sitting right here across from me at happy hour. So yeah.
Craig: That story kind of mirrors I think in a way the tone of the episode that I watched. The only episode that is available.
John: I watched the first season.
Shoshannah: Because it’s impossible to watch. Yes, I am aware of that.
Craig: Correct. We will keep re-traumatizing you about that.
Shoshannah: Thanks Craig.
Craig: No problem. But the show does a beautiful job of tone shifting. It is funny and it is also very, I don’t want to say serious, it’s earnest at times in the sense that it’s real. It’s not a sitcom but it has no problem with somebody fainting and dropping out of screen, which is hysterical in that particular moment because it’s set up beautifully. So, I’m just curious how you guys maneuver that – it’s a very difficult thread to maneuver. You don’t get too broad. You don’t get too sugary. You find this interesting way to move back and forth without feeling like the tone is jarring and the shifts are jarring.
Shoshannah: Mm-hmm. I don’t know.
Craig: You got drunk again?
Shoshannah: Well, yeah. Sure. That’s the answer. We’re drunk pretty much every day during filming. No. I think we just wanted to write things that felt real to us. And we also knew what we didn’t want to write. What we didn’t want to see. I think we knew more about what we didn’t want to show than what we did initially. We wanted to show characters that are centered, not have it be about them being deaf. I felt like that was my problem with the characters that I’d seen before on the screen. Characters that I’ve played to be honest. But the reason why I started writing with Josh is because I had an awful, awful audition and it’s hard to find truth in a character that’s written from somebody else’s perspective about what they think your life is. And you’re trying to find truth in something that’s actually not truthful. So, especially it’s hard when the character is written as a mantle, you know, to carry, you know, like Jesus. You know, Jesus you’re just carrying. I represent all deaf people in the world. It’s impossible.
You can’t write one female character that represents all of the women on the planet. And so there are characters that are underrepresented, misunderstood, and that often happens – it happens more often than we know. So we wanted to write situations that were messy. You know, that were in the gray areas. Deaf characters are messy, too.
John: Can I ask you about process? Because we’ve talked to other writing teams who write stuff together. What is the process with you and Josh? Are you in the same room together writing? Do you write an outline and split up? What is the process for you guys going through a script?
Shoshannah: Josh and I have a very odd process. You know, it’s sort of what the fuck are they thinking is the process. And that works for us. So we sit in a room and we outline it together. And once we have the outline we go off and we write our own version, each of us, of the script. On our own. Separately. Completely. A complete version. A to Z. And people are like, wait, a complete version on your own, separate from one another? Uh-huh. Yeah, that’s what we do.
So we go off and do that. And then we merge together again, which just means that one of us sits at the computer and the other person is breathing over their shoulder pretty much and says, oh, I like this line better than that line and we kind of merge our two versions together and we submit that. And we get 5,000 notes on it. And then we do it again.
Craig: Do you have some epic fights because, man, that sounds like it’s good fuel for arguing?
Shoshannah: You know what? Never.
John: That’s what a gay best friend will do.
Shoshannah: There you go.
Craig: It’s true.
John: Now, we have a game to play and we would love for the two of you to help us out with this game. So this is something that Craig actually introduced at the last show and Craig set us up.
Craig: OK. So this is a game that I originally – it was originally a puzzle that I included as part of a puzzle hunt that I did with David Kwong at the Magic Castle that you attended. And Lorene were you at that one? You were at the one before. Shoshannah, are you a big puzzle solver/crosswords? Oh, OK.
John: She’ll be good at this.
Craig: And we’re going to have you come to the next one then. So the idea here is – well each of us, we’ll all do this in turn, we read a movie quote and we have a contestant trying to figure out what the quote is.
John: We actually have two contestants. So we pre-drew the contestants. Can you come down here to this microphone and re-introduce yourself?
Craig: Come on down contestant one and two.
John: Hi Zoey. I remember you from before. I’m sorry I forgot your name.
Zoey: It’s OK.
John: Do you watch a lot of movies?
Zoey: I watch some.
John: You watch some movies. That’s probably all you need for this competition. And behind you is another person coming up to the microphone. So Lauren and Zoey. Here is what’s going to happen. We are going to read a quote aloud from a movie, except that Craig has–
Craig: I’ve basically just created literal versions of these quotes. You’ll get it from the start. Shoshannah is going to do number one because she said earlier that she liked it, so I’m going to let her do number one.
John: Fantastic. All right. So Shoshannah is going to give a quote and you need to figure out – so whichever one figures it out first raise your hand and then you’re going to say what the actual real quote is. All right.
Craig: OK. So you’re ready to do number one.
John: No one yell out in the audience.
Shoshannah: I am finished in a good way as a result of our relationship.
John: I am finished in a good way as a result of our relationship. Do either of you – Lauren or Zoey, can you name this famous movie quote?
Female Voice: I’m really bad at this.
Craig: You complete me.
John: You complete me. That is what we’re going for. You complete me, from Jerry Maguire.
Craig: You got it. This is going to be bad.
John: This is hard, Craig.
Craig: I mean, that was the easy one.
Shoshannah: We have to work together.
John: Craig, try the next one.
Craig: I’ll do the next one. Strike it from your memory, JJ, or whatever nickname you go by these days. This neighborhood is largely populated by immigrants from Asia’s largest nation.
John: Any – all right? Yes, Zoey.
Zoey: Forget about it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.
Craig: Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.
John: All right. One to nothing right now. We will say first to four.
Craig: Malodorous tokens of authority. None are in our possession, nor are they necessary. Therefore I’m not obligated to display them as such.
John: Do either of you know this?
John: It’s the we don’t need any stinking badges.
Craig: The audience is pretty good. I got to say. All of them together are a little bit better than the two of you.
Female Voice: Yeah, this is embarrassing.
Lorene: OK. None of us came ashore on this famed Massachusetts boulder. Rather we were injured by the boulder metaphorically.
John: Well let’s try it one more time. Laughter was high.
Lorene: None of us came ashore on this famed Massachusetts boulder. Rather we were injured by the boulder metaphorically.
Female Voice: Just give it to the audience.
Craig: Audience. That’s your Malcolm X right there. OK, Shoshannah do you want to do number five?
Shoshannah: The primary directive of this melee association is that the existence thereof must be denied.
Craig: The primary directive of this melee association is that the existence thereof must be denied.
John: So melee – it’s a very D&D word.
Craig: Is it?
John: It is a very D&D word. It’s a melee round.
Craig: I think of it as a French word myself.
John: All right.
Craig: It means fisticuffs. Nothing?
Female Voice: Sorry.
Audience: First rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.
Craig: Again, the audience a little bit better than you guys, I got to say.
Female Voice: It’s pretty obvious afterwards. It’s like you’re standing up here, but then when they say it you’re like, yes, it makes sense. But they’re not standing.
Craig: We’re not accepting your excuses. No, no, no.
John: No, no, no. Zoey and Lauren, what you guys can’t see is I see a lot of people are like moving their mouths as if they’re talking with the crowd. They really didn’t know.
Craig: All right. How about this one. You got this one. They got this one. Ready? Don’t turn away.
Female Voice: I want to watch.
Craig: No, that’s called cheating. Look at me. Here we go. You’ve got this. Early salutations, country once known as French-Indochina. Early salutations country once known as French – oh, they’re just blatantly cheating now. Go ahead. Go ahead.
John: Go ahead. Say it.
Female Voice: Good morning, Vietnam.
Craig: Yes, good morning, Vietnam. Yes! Yes! I do love this one. Lorene, do you want to do number seven, or the next one?
Lorene: Explain your grave nature. Explain your grave nature.
John: I have the answers and I kind of don’t get this one.
Craig: It’s a hard one.
Craig: The speed with which you just gave up was remarkable. Audience? Why so serious? OK. Shoshannah, would you like to do this one?
Shoshannah: Man whose last name is synonymous with sharply defined, my condition is unwell.
Craig: Hmm. Man whose last name is synonymous with sharply defined, my condition is unwell.
Female Voice: Oh.
John: One person got it.
Craig: Audience? Yes, just you?
Female Voice: I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark.
Craig: Yes, Mr. Stark I don’t feel so good. OK, you guys are dismissed. You did a great job.
John: Hey, hey, thank you very much for playing.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Craig, I think this was actually a really good moment for everyone in this room in defining sort of like what you’re like and what I’m like. Because you picked something that was wildly too difficult for this.
Craig: No, I’ll tell you what’s too difficult. It’s the bonus question.
John: All right. Bonus question. See if the audience can get the bonus question.
Craig: Audience, this is for all of you. And this is a TV quote. And I’ll help you out. It’s from a show currently on the air.
John: All right.
Craig: So I’ve limited it to 14,000 television shows.
John: Including This Close.
Craig: Weirdly that one is not, because we can’t find it. OK.
Shoshannah: Oh, you’re killing me. Oh, my heart. I’m stomping on it.
Craig: Sanctified female parent splitting in two like a road. Clothing for a torso. Round objects. Sanctified – you got it? Holy mother forking shirt balls. Nice work.
John: Well done.
Craig: That’s my kind of guy right there.
John: From The Good Place.
Craig: From The Good Place.
John: All right. Thank you for participating in this game. Craig, thank you for putting together this game.
Craig: No, no, the hell with them. I’ll make it harder next time. I’m going deeper.
John: All right. Our next guest, Kevin Feige, has been the driving creative force behind the Marvel cinematic universe. In his current role as producer and president of Marvel Studios Feige is hands-on producer who oversees Marvel Studios’ feature film productions, whose 23 films released have all opened at number one at the box office. And collectively grossed – that can’t be right – $23 billion worldwide.
Craig: $23 billion dollars. That’s the same budget – oh, no, you said million. I’m so sorry.
John: $23 billion dollars. And you have Black Widow coming up next. Kevin Feige, you are the person who has been mentioned most on Scriptnotes without ever actually appearing on Scriptnotes.
Kevin Feige: Is that true? Why is that true? I want to know.
John: Tell him, Craig.
Craig: We actually like you.
Kevin: Oh, phew.
Craig: It would have been weird if it had been like, here we go. You’re like the Final Draft guys. Oh, that was a great one. Kevin, we were talking earlier, and I have an interesting question. I think it’s an interesting question. And maybe you don’t have the answer, but you have such a unique job. And I’m sure that while you have your own kind of definition of what it is, is there anybody else in Hollywood that does the job that you do? Or is it separate and apart from what everyone else does? Because that’s how it seems to me.
Kevin: I produce movies and I oversee movies. And I think there are a lot of people that do that. I think there are a lot of creative producers out there, many of whom I work with at Marvel Studios, who do what I do which is try to shepherd projects to the screen. The nature of the Marvel element of it, which is fun, and which gets a lot of the attention is the interconnectivity of them which is fun and which early on – I’ve been at Marvel almost 20 years. August of 2020 it will be 20 years, which is almost half my life, not quite.
And for the first six years at Marvel we worked with – we were the IP holders that didn’t have a lot of contractual control, but on the other studio films, on the Fox Fantastic Four films and X-Men films and Daredevil films on the Sony Rami Spider Man films. But I was around and wanted to be in the room where it happens as they say and be a part of the brain trust.
I’ve forgotten what the question was now.
Craig: This happens all the time.
Kevin: Oh, nobody does it. Yeah.
Craig: You’re different, right? I mean, it feels like you run a studio of a kind.
Craig: But you’re also a producer. But you’re also planning all of the movies. You are kind of an interesting hub it seems.
Kevin: I’ve been a part of maybe ten Marvel movies by the time we became Marvel Studios. And we knew with Iron Man 1 one of the things that could set us apart, because we didn’t have the “A-list” characters, was that we could start interconnecting them. Like the comics did.
John: We talk a lot to showrunners on our show, and your job is kind of analogous to a showrunner in that you have a bunch of things that have to continue. So it’s not just this one episode, it’s how it’s going to fit into this greater pattern. The knock we sometimes hear when some of our showrunner friends come on is that like, oh, but you didn’t know what you were doing, or you were vamping, you were making up as you were going along. To what degree as you’re starting Iron Man 1 did you have a sense of where you wanted to be three movies in, six movies in, nine movies in? And how much could you anticipate what the plan was?
Kevin: It’s a nice balance. It’s a nice combination of knowing exactly where you want to end up, but changing the ways, being open to changing the ways that you get there. And when we started Iron Man 1 the goal was very simply make Iron Man 1, and also the Incredible Hulk which we were doing at the same time. Go from being fully responsible for zero movies a year to we have to deliver two by summer of 2008. And that was an amazing experience of being like, you know, you take it for granted. I think people still take it for granted that when you see a poster in a movie lobby and there’s a release date on it the movie is coming out on that release date. That is not a given. There are a lot of people that have to work to make that happen.
And there was one terrifying moment during Iron Man 1 where I went that’s us. We’re the ones responsible for making that happen. And the dream was always because we’ve got thousands and thousands of comic books that you make a movie that succeeds and the reward is you get to make another movie. That’s always been the viewpoint that I’ve had. Let’s succeed so we get to do another one. And that was very true with Iron Man because we would not have been a studio if Iron Man didn’t work. And Marvel would have lost the film rights to ten of its characters.
So, we knew midway through Iron Man 1 around the time Sam Jackson agreed to come do a little cameo for us in a tag that we wanted to get to Avengers. That we wanted to do those first five, six films in phase one. After Avengers we started building out towards what became End Game.
Craig: So you have this interesting combination of fear that you won’t even be able to hit a release date for your one movie, but you’re planning for like five movies. And I like that combination. But you did have, of course, the benefit – I was a Marvel kid growing up. There’s Marvel kids and there’s DC kids. I guess there’s some kids that are bi-comical or whatever. But I was a Marvel kid. And there was this big book that was like the Marvel compendium of characters.
John: Oh yeah, it’s great.
Craig: I would just flip through it and there were so many. There’s so many. And so you have this interesting possibility. But I want to read you something. This is I think the first time we brought up, this is without even mentioning your name, but the first time we kind of brought you up. This is all the way back in Episode 44. July 6, 2012, Ah. Remember that?
John: Oh my gosh. What a different world we lived in.
John: Back then Craig didn’t have an Emmy.
Craig: I would trade everything.
John: [laughs] Yeah.
Craig: Everything. OK. So John said, we were talking about Avengers I believe had just come out at that point. And John said, “Joss Whedon was kind of a risky director to pick for that movie. The director hadn’t made anything of that size and that scale. But other studios aren’t going to learn that lesson. They’re just going to learn that it was big and therefore it’s good. Whereas Marvel is smart. Marvel is smart. But that’s not the only lesson to take from that.”
And I said, “No, the lesson to take from that is hire a director and a writer, in this case it was the same person, with a specific point of view and a proven track record with an audience. And have him deliver the goods as best he can. That’s a risk worth taking. It doesn’t always pay off. But to me that’s so much more interesting of a risk and so much more potentially rewarding than the other way of thinking about it with I guarantee you is going on right now where people are sitting around going, ‘OK, please list for me at my studio here all the various heroes we have, create a team for them to be on, and do our version of the Avengers.’ And I guarantee you that that is going on.”
And John says, “Yeah.” And then I say–
John: I say yeah a lot.
Craig: And I say, “And all those movies are going to be annoying. And people are going to smell it.” It does seem like people have tried to copy the model of what you do. Is there any hope for any of them? I mean, legitimately would you say to them, “Please, no, you’re never going to get there. Or yeah, there’s actually a way for you to do this with any of your stuff?”
Kevin: Well, first of all I compliment the transcript because it clearly comes in handy that you do that on every podcast. That’s impressive. The truth is as I just said we set out to make a movie. We didn’t set out to make a universe. We happened to be making movies based on our comics and our comics are an interwoven universe thanks to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and the whole team there that came up with what may be the longest running fictional narrative ever. So it didn’t seem revolutionary to me that I worked at Marvel Studios and wanted to try to emulate what was in the comics. But I wanted to do it slowly because I wanted to make movies. And I wanted to make a lot of movies. And make a lot of different kinds of movies, which is why our first ones were a technological thriller/sci-fi Iron Man film and a crazy outer space Norse god film and a WWII film leading up to – and a monster movie – leading up to The Avengers.
Because what was always cool about Avengers to me in the comics wasn’t that it was a bunch of heroes together, that it was a bunch of heroes that I cared about from other stories interacting with one another. So, I always say we never set out to make a universe. We set out to make movies. And that’s still true today. We set out to do individual stories that have the fun of, a bonus sometimes, of interconnectivity. But we spend as much time going it’s too much. The movie has to stand on its own more, in the development process. The movie has to stand on its own more.
Craig: I mean, essentially your advice is stop doing the thing that you people are doing. Because what they do is they start by saying here’s a bunch of our IP, which is a phrase I hate anyway, and let’s make a universe out of it. Absolutely backwards.
Kevin: When I started working at Marvel people used to talk about IP and I slowly got the nerve to ask what is IP.
Craig: Good for you.
Kevin: What are you talking about?
Craig: It’s sad. People talk about IP – the first time I heard it I was so depressed. But I think of this as art. And you guys are talking about it as intellectual property, like a product. Same thing when I heard franchise. I was like, ugh, now they’re like McDonald’s now. Now everyone says franchise they’re like, yay, it’s our favorite franchise.
John: You will have writers, directors, there’s filmmakers you want to work with. People are coming in to talk with you about doing movies based on your characters, based on movies you want to make. What is it that clicks with you about a certain person to do a certain project for you? What is it that you say when that person comes in the room that makes you say like, OK, that is the right person for me to bring onto this project? What are the things that work for you?
Kevin: It varies. I mean, we always start – we don’t have open auditions, so to speak. We don’t have people coming in and going here’s this character, would you make a movie about this character, would you make a movie about this character. We internally at Marvel Studios decide what movie we want to make, kind of what the movie is. So Thor, we decided we wanted to do a third Thor film because we love the character and we love Hemsworth and we thought there was great potential there.
But we knew we wanted to break the mold a little bit. And I was on the set of Age of Ultron talking to Hemsworth and he was in his full regalia for a big sequence. And he was saying, “May – what are we doing for the next one, May? What are we doing?” And I said, well, the truth is on the first Thor, Thor was blond hair, a red cape, and a hammer. Now Thor is you, Chris Hemsworth. So we can smash the hammer, we can rip off the cape, we can cut off the hair. So that started leading us into a general direction of what we wanted to do with it.
It was Taika Waititi that turned it into what we all know and love as Thor: Ragnarok with those elements. And we wanted to put The Hulk in it. And so we have these discussion documents that we call them, share them with writers or filmmakers, and then have them come in and pitch us a better version of it that sometimes is very similar and is sometimes totally different but way better. And that begins the then two to three year process of working together intensely.
Craig: You guys are drawing from this enormous base of what I consider to be literary work. I mean, comics are drawn, they’re illustrated, but I always read them. No one says I looked at a comic today. I read it. And because we’re writers and this is a show about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters, you know, I’ve had this interesting experience in television and I know you guys are getting into television in a huge way where as a writer they say you are the author here, go and create something. In features, traditionally, the writer has just sort of been a widget. And then the director is viewed as the author.
At Marvel because you seem to be kind of in the, like I said, the hub, in the middle, how do you – and this is not a trap. Don’t worry. They won’t attack you. Feel free to, by the way, if he answers wrong. But how do you balance the authority of the writers and directors that you employ because you do employ a lot of the same ones over and over like Marcus and McFeely and the Russos, etc.
Kevin: Yeah. That’s the perfect case example. And, again, it varies person to person of course. I don’t think writers are widgets. I think that they make the whole thing possible. And when you find great writers like Marcus and McFeely who are willing to dedicate their art and their talent to projects you love and want to do, it’s amazing. And that’s why we got to Infinity War and End Game is because of those two.
You know, we were in either post on Iron Man 1 or prep on Iron Man 2 when we were taking meetings and first met Marcus and McFeely to do what became the first Captain America film. And the relationship with Marcus and McFeely and Joe and Anthony Russo is great. Yes, the Russo brothers are the directors of that film, but the authors of the film are the four of them, myself, Trinh Tran, Lou and Victoria from my team at Marvel who spend years together in a very relatively small conference room with more index cards than you’re ever seen in your entire life, putting together those movies. So it does vary.
When you find writers that are as authorial as Marcus and McFeely you keep them around and the directors will listen to them. When you have writers that you’re just starting out with and it doesn’t work, then you find another writer. That can happen with filmmakers, too.
In television, though, it is different as we’re learning. Because we’re trying to do our shows as close as we can to the way we did our films, which is to say it’s one filmmaker on the entire series. And one head writer on the entire series. They have a room because there’s so many–
Craig: So many scripts to write.
Kevin: Yeah. Although that was the understanding going in. There have been a few moments where that needs to be clarified that in the writer’s room the writer is overseeing much of it. On the set, the director is overseeing it. We haven’t gotten to post yet on those two projects.
Craig: That’s going to be fun. I would like to just come by to watch that. I don’t want to watch what’s on the screen. I just want to watch the people in the room.
John: So you’re now moving into a new phase of things. At the end of Avengers: End Game a lot of the characters and the relationships we built up are done and now we’re moving into a new phase. Is it weird for you that you’re both in this moment, but you’re also many years ahead? So is it hard for you to sort of flip back and forth to like, oh that’s right, the rest of the universe doesn’t know that this is a thing that’s happening? Do you find yourself–?
Kevin: Only when I’m speaking in public like this is it hard to realize, oh, it’s not 2023 yet so I can’t talk about that. But when you’re in it, no. And, again, like with Iron Man 1 the movie that comes out next gets the most attention. Because sort of nothing else matters. So in that case right now it’s Black Widow. And the primary focus is Black Widow, even though we have another film in production, another film about to go into production, two series in production, another one about to go. What comes next is the focus.
Craig: I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Scorsese-gate. But I don’t want to just—
Kevin: Is he here?
Craig: Yes. Huge fan of our podcast.
Kevin: How many times have you mentioned him?
Craig: Way less than we’ve mentioned you.
John: That tells me a lot about our show.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. Which kind of feeds into this question. Because it’s not so much what he said, but rather what I find interesting is that the movies that you guys make have—
Kevin: What he said. And what he said again. And what he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about. And what he said again.
Craig: I see you’re not at all sensitive about it.
Kevin: OK. I understand.
Craig: That aside, so you’re not the only one that I traumatize. I like to do this to everyone. Except Lorene. So, your movies occupy an outsized place in global culture from the time that you started with Iron Man to now. They have made an impression on the world. And they are now interwoven with just our global culture. And I’m kind of curious, rather than talk about what’s cinema and not cinema, because I don’t even know what that word even means. I’d rather just ask you where do you think Marvel films sit in our culture. What do you think they actually mean to people?
And is that what you want them to mean? Or are you airing for a kind of changing place in our culture?
Kevin: I think in ways that are both flattering and not flattering over the past decade the word Marvel has come to mean blockbuster movie. Blockbuster movies, “blockbuster movies,” that have a genre spin to them, or have action to them, or have visual effects to them have been the dominant form of box office entertainment my entire life. And that’s why I wanted to make movies. Those are the movies – I’m going to listen to your Die Hard episode on December 25. That movie I loved. And I remember thinking this is the best regular movie I’ve ever seen. And what I meant by regular was there was no time travel, there was no space, there were no aliens.
Because that was my primary – there were no super heroes, no super powers.
Craig: Best regular.
Kevin: Best regular movie ever. So those have always been the dominant, or maybe just to me, maybe just to my focus. In terms of place in the culture I never, ever think about it. I think about making movies that I always wanted to make with people that I’ve always wanted to work with. And make the movie that we would want to see.
And we have eclectic tastes. And the great thing about the Marvel comics is you can sit down and go, yes, we want to make an Iron Man movie, we want to do another Hulk movie. But we could also say I want to do a WWII movie. We want to do an outer space adventure. I want to do a time travel movie. I want to do a heist film. We want to do a ‘70s political thriller. We want to do a story, which is shooting now, about immortals who have been on earth for years.
All of those genres exist within the Marvel comics. And you can find them and flesh them out. And, again, Black Widow is our 24th film that Marvel Studios has produced in my almost 20 years. We want to keep doing different things. Disney+ has allowed that with the series that are also very different than things we’ve done before. So having the platform to continue to do lots of different types of movies that are shared by two things. One, they originated at some point in our comics. And, two, they have a genre element/sci-fi element to, which I enjoy in movies.
John: Kevin, will you come back on Episode 800 and talk us through how the next couple phases went?
Kevin: We will see. We’ll see if the references go down between now and 800. Yes.
Craig: I think you’re saying you want to keep being mentioned.
John: That’s what we’ll do.
Craig: Not a problem. Keep making those movies and we will keep praising them.
John: All right. We also do a thing on our show called One Cool Thing where we talk through small recommendations. Craig, did you remember One Cool Thing?
Craig: I do. I have a One Cool Thing. I’m an enjoyer of the Twitter. And lately a little bit of an issue with Nazis. Just I encounter them and I say things to them. And they get upset. And so I find myself getting into arguments with Nazis, which is generally bad. But one of the upsides is you start to figure out who the Nazis are.
Kevin: Nazis are not your One Cool Thing?
Kevin: To be sure. Sorry.
Craig: Not since forever. But every now and then you run into a head Nazi, like the head vampire, and just like in movie mythology if you can kill the head vampire – if you can kill the Night King all – all – of the dead people go, right? So I encountered a head Nazi the other day and I was like I’m going to block her but I also want to block every one that follows her.
And there is a way to do it.
John: Oh, tell us.
Craig: It’s called Block Chain. Ah, amazing. So, it’s an extension that you can use in a Chrome browser. So, you know, that’s the only thing you use Chrome for. That’s fine. And you put in the person’s name that you want to block and you also want to block everyone that follows that person. And it’s smart enough to know that it shouldn’t block any of her followers that you follow, because sometimes people follow weird people to see like I’m going to keep tabs on that Nazi, which is fucking bizarre, but regardless. And this particular Nazi had about 80,000 followers.
Craig: Well, she probably had 400 humans and a whole bunch of Russian bots. But regardless, they all got blocked. I just watched the number – it was incredibly satisfying. So, if you do manage to run into a Nazi here and there, block chain. Spectacular.
John: Nice. My One Cool Thing is a very simple little thing. It’s called AI Dungeon. Some people here may have tried it. It’s an AI thing that generates, sort of like a text-based adventure like Zork. Did you ever play Zork? Ah, yes, you played Zork.
Craig: I played ever InfoCom game there was.
John: And so what’s clever about it is you’re doing the same things like, you know, look at door, pick up thing, but it’s all using AI. And so you can tell it to do anything and it will change whatever is happening around it to sort of fold that in. So if you said teach Craig to dance it will generate stuff like, you know, you start playing some music and Craig starts dancing.
Craig: So if I said pick up knife it will just say, ah, there’s a knife there.
Craig: Great game. I’ll play that.
John: Tonight. Kevin Feige. Do you have a One Cool Thing to share with us?
Kevin: I was given this question early and just did nothing but give me anxiety and go what am I going to give – what’s one cool that that’s going to be interesting. Because I knew you guys would have something super cool and interesting. Nazis.
Craig: And AI.
Kevin: And I got in my car on the way over here and put on the album I’ve been listening to time and time again and thought, oh, I’ll just say that.
Kevin: Even though it might not sound like the coolest.
John: Was it MMMBop?
Kevin: Much more obscure than MMMBop.
Craig: That’s Kevin Feige.
Kevin: There was a documentary called Bathtubs Over Broadway that has an accompanying soundtrack about industrial musicals. And I like to listen to the soundtrack of industrial musicals from the Bathtubs Over Broadway documentary.
Craig: Oh wow. That’s awesome.
Kevin: That’s a cool thing that I’m enjoying right now.
Craig: That’s awesome.
John: Thank you very much. Shoshannah Stern, do you have something you would like to recommend to our audience here?
Shoshannah: Yeah. I do. But it requires a backstory. So my daughter is four and three-quarters. And I had an unplanned C-section, which I did not want to have. But it happened very quickly. And I asked if in the OR if I could see her. And they said, yeah, sure.
But at the last minute then I was in the OR and I couldn’t see her. This was the first time that I was really responding to having a physical reaction to sound. Because I heard her cry and I knew that it was my baby and I couldn’t see her. And I had some kind of attack of some sort and I was seeing all of the doctors standing around me looking at me. But I could only see their eyes. I couldn’t read their lips. I couldn’t see anything because they were just looking at me with these masks. And there was this sound but I didn’t know who was talking.
And I just was like, I screamed, “Stop. You’re crucifying me,” because of the IVs and I couldn’t sign. So I was just like grabbing at the IVs. So they brought me my baby. Yes, they did. Thank god. But I was like wow, it’s kind of fucked up to be a deaf person in that situation.
So two months ago the FDA approved a brand new kind of a mask where there’s a clear plastic area on the face mask so that deaf people can actually look and see the lips moving of the people who are wearing them.
Shoshannah: I won’t have to go through that fucked up situation again. Or a fucked up situation like that ever again.
John: Lorene Scafaria, top that.
Lorene: Dolly Parton’s America Podcast.
John: Dolly Parton’s America. Absolutely.
Craig: Almost as good.
Craig: Almost as meaningful.
Lorene: Humiliating. It’s really good.
Craig: Is it that good though?
John: And that is the end of our show. So we want to thank our amazing panelists. Lorene Scafaria. Shoshannah Stern. Kevin Feige. Our producer, Megana Rao. Megana! Our editor, Matthew Chilelli.
Craig: And of course this is all in service of the Writers Guild Foundation and the Writers Guild Foundation has supported us in putting this event on. So of course we want to thank Enid and Dustin and all the volunteers from the Writers Guild Foundation.
John: Tonight I want to extend an extra special thanks to our amazing interpreters, Elizabeth and Robby. Thank you very, very much.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Thank you to LA Film School, especially Hunter and Jared for tonight.
Craig: And finally we’d like to thank you. Our listeners. And a reminder that you can sign up now at Scriptnotes.net. This is why we’re ad-free. You can sign up now at Scripnotes.net. Scriptnotes.net for the Premium Feed. Happy Holidays and good night.
John: Happy Holidays everyone. Thank you all very much.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Thank you.
We have someone lined up here at the microphone.
Male Audience Member: Just to say thank you. This is amazing. My question is to Kevin. But before I do I want to say to the ladies thank you. As a writer-director you guys are an inspiration. Thank you.
Lorene: Thank you.
Male Audience Member: Kevin, last year at the Produced By Conference I asked you about Ms. Marvel movie and you said you’re going to focus on the Captain Marvel and then you’re going to introduce. Now it’s going to Disney+ with Bisha attached to it. I was wondering if you’re ever going to bring it to the movie world or maybe with Wolverine or something. What are the future–?
Kevin: That’s two different questions I think for me. We shifted to Wolverine. Ms. Marvel is coming to Disney+. Yes, Bisha is our head writer on that. And, yes, the intention with that character very much is to introduce her on a Disney+ series and then bring her into the films. And everything we’re doing at Disney+ will start to go back and forth between the streaming service and the movies. Some characters like Falcon, Winter Soldier, and Wanda Maximoff and the Vision and Loki will go from the big screen to Disney+ and back. Some characters starting with Ms. Marvel will be introduced on our Disney+ series and then go into films.
Craig: I honestly thought he was asking about Lorene. I heard Wolverine, I heard Wolverine. I think he’s suggesting that Lorene direct.
Male Audience Member: Why not?
Lorene: That’s what you’re here for. That kind of pressure.
Craig: Just putting that in the world. Put it in the universe, see what happens.
John: Hello, welcome.
Male Audience Member: My question is for Kevin as well.
Craig: Of course.
Male Audience Member: So you said the comics gave you a good framework for the interconnected narrative. But I’m sure there’s some points where you were at a fork in the road deciding to adhere or to depart from what was already given to you. Can you talk about some specific examples and some of the harder decisions you’ve made and how you decided whether to stick or to depart?
Kevin: Well it’s always that decision of how close do you stick to the comics. The comics are both inspiration, sometimes very specifically, sometimes generally. Marcus and McFeely had the task of Civil War when I decided that now was the time to do Civil War. And it was a great comic and ten years before we were developing the movie reading the comic month to month. It was published. It was amazing. Going back and looking at it, it did not apply. It took place, as all the comics do, in the narrative of that moment of the comics’ universe. Did not match up hardly at all with what the Marvel cinematic universe was. But the general idea of Iron Man and Cap representing two different sides of a theological argument was the inspiration. And Marcus and McFeely and Joe and Ant fleshed that out based on where we were in the cinematic universe. So that’s one where it was very specific, even taking the title from a comic, storyline, which we rarely do. But really that was a jumping off point.
Craig: I don’t want to stereotype the group that’s waiting, but—
Male Audience Member: I got you, Craig, don’t worry about it. My question, not actually directed to Kevin at all. I’ve never heard of any Marvel movies. But I know that there’s this whole Pay Up Hollywood thing. And something that’s very new. And the question that I have to John and Craig is where does accountability come into play? Obviously this is a very difficult city to make it in. And everything that we’ve heard is I can’t afford $1,500 rent. OK, well maybe you need a roommate. I can’t afford to put fuel in the car. Well, you have a car. That sounds pretty nice. And I can’t live off $50,000 a year. Well, there’s seven million people who make that happen.
So, where does accountability come into play?
Craig: I have an answer for you. Before I ask people who are making $50,000 to be accountable I’d like to ask the people who are making $50 billion to be accountable. I am, listen, I’m a parent. So I’m always thinking about how to make sure that my kids understand the value of hard work and the value of responsibility. But the fact is that the people who do these jobs, and we know them, and we’ve seen them, are not being treated fairly.
You can extend the argument of accountability down to anything. Well, you’re eating. I mean, a sandwich is a good thing. So, if you get a sandwich a day you should be happy. At some point, right, it’s a slippery slope. So the point is it’s not about subsistence living. It’s about being treated just reasonably.
John: I have a related question. A related question and answer here. So I say that accountability is useful for thinking about it in terms of you can’t direct it back at the person who is asking to be treated fairly to say like so often implicit in the answer is, well, I suffered when I came up through this scenario so it’s not – it’s the same for you.
There’s two problems with that. First off, it wasn’t the same. Second off, just because it did happen that way doesn’t mean it was ever right. And that’s a thing that we learned out of #MeToo. It’s a think we need to be talking about now.
The second thing I want to stress to all of us, and as we go into 2020 to be thinking about. It’s great news that we have a higher hourly wage happening in some places. You don’t pay rent with hours. You pay rent with dollars. And so we need to always be thinking about what is the dollars that people are making every week that is going to make it possible to live in Los Angeles. And for people who are coming to Los Angeles with this dream of moving to Hollywood and working in this industry, so they know what dollar figure actually they need to be making in order to stay and survive here. Because equity of access is the first step before we get to equity of outcome where the people who can come to this industry can actually afford to work in this industry and go up the ranks and thrive and write movies for Kevin Feige.
Craig: Yes. Absolutely. And I would also say that there is a temptation to think that tough love gets results. That deprivation makes people work harder. It doesn’t. As it turns out, treating people fairly and with respect will get more out of them. I do believe that. And this is a general philosophical mistake I think we make.
And so this is something that we’ve been talking about on our show a lot. And we’ve been talking to agencies. Obviously Verve made a big announcement about this. After we stop talking to the agencies I very much want to start talking to the studios about this. So we’ll be coming. We’ll be coming. But not now.
John: Not now.
Craig: Not now.
John: This is a fun night.
Craig: Thank you for your question.
Male Audience Member: Thank you, John.
John: Thank you. One last question. A lot of pressure on your shoulders. You’re wearing the mantle of the final question of the night.
Craig: And surely this is for Shoshannah or Lorene.
Lorene: The Hustlers cinematic universe.
John: Oh, I want to see that universe.
Male Audience Member: This is actually for all three of you. I just wanted to ask very simply what when either you’re going to your computer and you’re trying to break a scene, or you go into your writer’s room and maybe you’re trying to break a film, or a TV show, or you’re on set and you get this wonderful inspirational moment from one of your actors and it inspires a story idea, what are some creative rituals that you do before you go onto set, the writer’s room, or your computer just to kind of get those creative juices flowing? What are some places you go to to get some inspirational ideas from?
Craig: Shoshannah, you want to start?
Shoshannah: Sure. It’s really simple, but I just put my feet on the ground just to carry my weight evenly on my two feet, fold my hands. I’m not so much praying but I’m just feeling the flow. And I just try to remind myself that I’m grateful to be in this moment, right here, right now, doing what I love really. I just center myself and then do it. You know, whatever is blocking me or whatever I feel might block me I let it dissipate. I just let it go away. It’s not a very interesting answer. Sorry.
John: Oh my god, that was fascinating. That’s your ritual, too, right?
Craig: I mean, she’s kind of better than all of us.
Shoshannah: Say that again. I didn’t quite catch that. I didn’t hear it.
Craig: You heard me. I liked your first answer better which was I go with Josh to a bar and we get drunk. I think that’s truer.
John: Lorene, do you have any go-tos?
Lorene: Yeah, I mean I think in my soul I think trying to reframe things like instead of saying I have to do something it’s saying I get to do something. So trying to remind myself of that at the beginning of a day, or a task. On a set I try to have three or four beverages first thing. I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before lunch and then a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after lunch. And no lunch.
Craig: That is so weird.
Lorene: It’s so weird. They got me a big cake on my birthday on Hustlers. It was shaped like a giant peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Humiliating. 41. So, yeah. Those are silly rituals, too.
John: Kevin, any rituals for you?
Kevin: I have relatively severe OCD that I could give you lots of rituals that utterly a waste of time and worthless and I wouldn’t recommend at all. But the notion that I have to keep in mind a lot is when there’s a lot of pressure, when you can’t think of an idea, when there’s a story problem and it gets very frustrating and I’ve pulled all of my hair out already, but you’re realizing no, no, this is a good thing. I remember being an intern and being jealous of anybody there that was employed. Anybody there that had a job. And I would hear them complain. And there was always stuff to complain about. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with complaining.
But I remember being like if I was there I wouldn’t be complaining. So, wherever I am now if I start complaining or start getting – it’s not even about complaining. It’s about just getting agitated. You realize, no, this is – exactly what Lorene said – that we get to do this and we’re very, very lucky.
Craig: That’s a great final answer right there. Thank you.
John: Thank you.
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- Thank you to our incredible guests: Kevin Feige, Lorene Scafaria, and Shoshannah Stern, for joining us! And thanks to Robbie Sutton and Elizabeth Green for interpreting the show.
- Scriptnotes, Ep 44: Endings for Beginnings
- Twitter Block Chain Extension
- AI Dungeon
- Bathtubs Over Broadway Soundtrack
- FDA Approves Transparent Surgical Masks
- Dolly Parton’s America Podcast
- Kevin Feige on Twitter
- Lorene Scafaria on Twitter
- Shoshannah Stern on Twitter
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro and Intro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli
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You can download the episode here.