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 438 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast we’re going to be talking about dialogue and specifically about listening. Then we’ll be answering listener questions about submission agreements, strikes, and character POV. And in our bonus segment for Premium subscribers Craig and I are going to talk about the state of the Democratic primary.
John: Because Craig I was realizing that there are not enough podcasts that talk about politics. It’s really a gap that’s out there in the media landscape. And so I thought maybe we’d do that and we’ll do it just for Premium subscribers so that the rest of the Internet can’t hear it.
Craig: Yeah and they won’t. I’m sure it will never get out. RIP our mentions. It’s my new favorite phrase. [laughs]
John: Oy. Oy.
Craig: Yeah, oy.
John: Oh, something to look forward to at the end of the show, but first some follow up. Some follow up from Episode 436. That was the one where Liz Hannah was on. We were talking about How Would This Be a Movie.
John: The last of those was how would this be a rom-com and Craig tell us about the happy endings.
Craig: So, you know, you had this married couple, both of them quite beautiful. This was a very good-looking Irish couple. And they were both running for the same office. They were running kind of against each other, so that was the, as the article said, “It sounds like a bad rom-com.” The slight anti-dramatic circumstance of this was that actually there were two seats available and three people were running, so you and I and Liz, I think all three of us thought, you know, of course the movie ends with the two of them winning. And sure enough the two of them won. They were both elected. So they get to go to work together and represent the people of Ireland together. And then they get to go home together. Boy, if they have children those kids are going to look great. God.
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Craig: Pretty people.
John: Good for them. Apparently it was a squeaker of an outcome. And so it was only on a recount or sort of like the subsequent counting of things that she got her seat here. But congratulations to them. Yeah, some version of this kind of story will happen I predict within the next five years. It won’t be based on them specifically but you will see a couple running against each other for political office within five years. I guarantee it.
Craig: Ooh, I like where you’re going with this. Well, we kind of have a slight preview of it with the weird relationship between married couple Kellyanne Conway and George Conway.
Craig: Kellyanne Conway the – I don’t know what her job is, Trump Flack I’ll call her – and George Conway, erstwhile conservative, Never Trumper. But they’re married. So, he attacks Trump on Twitter daily. She defends Trump on Twitter daily. And then they go home and just do it like weasels.
John: Apparently so. Things we don’t understand but leave them to their relationship.
Craig: Whatever it takes, man. You know, I mean, marriage is tough. [laughs] When you’ve been married for a while you’ve got to spice it up.
John: Another bit of follow up, Yurian from the Netherlands is a Premium subscriber and he was just listening to Episode 241 in the back catalog. In this episode you and I were discussing a How Would This Be a Movie idea. And I said the following, so let’s play a clip.
“I think the idea of somebody living in your basement is a good starting place for either a thriller or a horror movie, where like somebody in the family thinks there’s something happening in the basement, or the kid sort of sees the person living in the basement and no one else believes him. And like the secret door that he’s hiding behind is so good that you can go down there and you’d swear there’s nobody in your basement. And so you think you’re paranoid. And, of course, there actually is somebody in your basement. And it’s kind of like Panic Room but in reverse.”
John: Yeah. So, Craig, I predicted Parasite apparently.
Craig: You didn’t just predict it. Prediction doesn’t give that justice. You did it. [laughs]
John: I did it.
Craig: That’s it. I mean, of course Parasite is more than the function of its main plot twist, but you even got down to like the secret door that is so good no one knows it’s there. You got it.
Craig: You got it.
John: Yeah, this is crazy. And so Episode 241, this is like three, or five years ago? This is a long time back.
Craig: Is there any chance that director Bong listens to Scriptnotes and was like, “Hmm…” No.
John: No. Of course there’s not. And honestly of course we were talking about a How Would This Be a Movie which was based on a story in the news which actually turned out to be fake about this scientist who was living in the basement. So, absolutely did not come from me. March 16, 2016 was when the episode aired. So, it did not come from that. But it is a good movie idea twist and I was right then and I was right because that movie won Best Picture.
Craig: It’s almost like you yourself are some kind of professional writer.
John: Maybe so. Maybe like after all of these years of doing Scriptnotes I’ve come to appreciate what makes a good movie idea.
Craig: Apparently you had it halfway through all these years of doing Scriptnotes. This is really good. 241. That’s like 30 years ago. Yeah, we were 12 when you did that.
John: We were so young. God, I remember – god, do you remember as we were riding our Penny-farthings down the cobblestone streets?
John: And we kept talking about if only there were a way that we could have these conversations but people who weren’t here with us in the room could hear these conversations. And you said, “Listen, Hitler is rising in Germany. That’s really what we’ve got to focus on.”
Craig: I was concerned about that. But mostly I just remember that I was delighted by my stick and hoop. Ah, the stick and hoop.
John: Nothing really beats a good stick and a hoop.
Craig: No. That was the best-selling toy of that year. Stick and Hoop. That’s what kids had. They had a stick and a hoop.
Craig: Oh god.
John: And you know what? I bet it was actually really fun.
Craig: It probably was. Probably was pretty good.
John: And we’ve not given enough thought to stick and hoop technology.
Craig: Yeah. Stick and hoop tech.
John: Last week we were talking about treatments. And this week I actually had follow up on sort of the treatment that I had to write that sort of motivated the whole segment. I had the meeting at the studio to talk through stuff. And I will say that like it was actually a little bit easier getting the notes and processing some of the notes because I wasn’t defensive at all about sort of the script I’d written, because I hadn’t written the script yet. We were just talking about the treatment.
John: So, in some defense of the stage of writing a treatment and discussing it that way, it was easier for me to think through stuff because I could just say like, OK, so what we need before I actually implement this note and I wasn’t destroying everything I’d actually already done. I was just not doing work I had not done yet. And so that was helpful and constructive on that front.
Craig: It is. And I find, too, that when they give notes on these detailed treatments they themselves are less likely to give you the kind of note that would unravel a ton of things because they can see it themselves how it would unravel a ton of things. As opposed to when you’re sort of in a verbal pitch situation and they might not see those ramifications. So I think it helps everybody. I really do.
I was in a situation where I found myself revising the treatment, which I did not love doing, mostly because I just think like, OK, I agree on points A through C. I don’t agree with D. And then E through H sound great. So, I’m going to do those in the script. And then it was sort of like, “Then can you also just do it in the treatment?” OK.
John: I actually have a step in this deal where do I have to turn in a revised treatment. So I’m going to do that and it’s going to be great.
Craig: It’s going to be great.
John: So it’ll be an even more detailed plan for writing the screenplay hopefully that I’ll get to write.
Craig: But this is good. This is a good thing. I like this. I welcome you to the treatment family.
John: But I do want to point out a downside, because this is something I’ve heard from several former Scriptnotes producers who are now writers, people tell tale of getting trapped in treatment for forever.
John: Where you’re constantly revising this document which is not the actual thing you’re trying to make in order please different audiences. And so while I was happy about today’s meeting I definitely can see situations in which it could come into like you never actually get to write a script because you’re always trying to rewrite this treatment.
Craig: This is an area where your representative, whether they’re a lawyer or a manager, or a legal agent, should be picking up a phone and saying, “Right, so my client is the most lovely person in the world. They begged me to let them to continue to revise this treatment for you and the 15 other stakeholders in this project. And I said I’m so sorry but no. I’m not going to let them do that. So they’ve gotten all the notes, they get it, it’s time to commence them on the script per the contract.”
I wish that more representatives would do their job.
John: That would be fantastic.
John: So unfortunately sometimes it does fall to you as the actual writer to say enough and I’m done. It’s time to move onto the next step. Advocating for yourself is a tricky thing. It’s a hard thing to learn but it’s also a thing you end up doing at every stage in your career.
Craig: Yeah. Pretty much. And part of the job unfortunately of being a screenwriter in Hollywood, it’s not anything that should be part of our job, it certainly has nothing to do with writing, is the ability to determine exactly where you stand and then apply an amount of leverage and self-advocacy that is concomitant with your standing at that moment. Because a lot of writers push too hard when people actually want to get rid of them. And a lot of writers don’t push hard enough when people are desperate to keep them.
John: Yep. It’s absolutely true. And I do have to single out your use of concomitant, because again a word I’ve read and never tried to use in conversation. Well done, Craig Mazin.
Craig: Thank you. And I give it as a gift to you.
John: Aw. Thank you. We have talked a lot about assistants and assistant pay this last year on Scriptnotes. A thing we’re going to put out this week, Megana before she left on vacation she reached out to a bunch of people who had written into the show and other assistants she knew asking for their advice to showrunners who are staffing up rooms for the new television season. And so this is advice that assistants, so writer’s assistants, script coordinators, what their advice is for these showrunners and for these rooms as they’re being put together.
We put it together as a little PDF and so people can download it. I’ll also have it up on the website to take a look. But Craig I thought you and I might take a quick look through here and just highlight some of the things that assistants have said.
Craig: This is great. First of all, no surprise, it looks beautiful. So well done on the fonts.
John: Thank you. That was me.
Craig: Yeah, you did a great job there. And I like the fact that you’ve got the headers are Sans-serif and then the actual body text is – I like it when things break up like that. So this looks like the kind of thing that should go on the wall, sort of like the Heimlich poster that goes on the wall in restaurants. So this is great.
The first category is Respect Boundaries. Basically don’t treat your employees like they don’t have a life beyond the job they’re doing.
John: Yeah. One piece of advice here I like is don’t procrastinate and stay late and make your staff stay late too. Yeah, you know what? That’s true. As a writer I do procrastinate, but I shouldn’t procrastinate in a way that makes everybody else suffer.
Craig: Yeah. And I also like this: don’t use your assistants as emotional support and therapy. Don’t overshare about your life and feelings. So, there’s a show that I’m a consulting producer on called Mythic Quest, which is on the air right now on Apple–
John: Congratulations, Craig. I meant to single you out on that. Nicely done.
Craig: Is it called Apple Plus? Apple TV? Apple TV Plus? I should probably know this.
John: Apple TV Plus.
Craig: Apple TV Plus. It’s a really funny show. Rob McElhenney and his team have done a great job. Megan Ganz, among others. And there’s a character Carol who is the head of HR at this videogame company. And everybody treats her as their therapist. She’s like, “I’m not – I’m in HR.” People come to her and they’re like, “I’m in love with one of my coworkers. I don’t know how to tell them.” And she’s like, “My god.” “I’m worried that someone is going to report me.” And she’s like, “If they did, I would be the person they would be reporting to. I am not your therapist.”
This is one of those boundary lines that people blithely cross all the time. This is excellent advice.
John: I want to say if we keep watching future episodes of the show will we see more of your influence and presence in the show?
Craig: You will see my character, Lou, I think he’s in almost every episode in the second half of the season, and I have been told and have no reason to disbelieve that he’s going to be back for quite a few episodes in season two which is currently underway. And, yes, and there’s some other stuff that, yeah, I’ve been helping with with those guys there. They’re great. So, there may be more influence.
My character will never have more than one or two lines. [laughs] I like those characters that just pop in, have one or two lines.
John: Yeah. You’re like a Creed.
Craig: Yeah. Like Glenn the Demon on The Good Place. Ah, The Good Place. That was such a nice ending. I really loved it.
John: That was so lovely. Yeah.
So, to wrap up with our assistant pay stuff, because we got a little sidetracked there, just really simple advice and we tried to keep it as just short quotes from the actual people. There are 20 assistants who wrote in with their opinions. We sort of chopped it all up and put it into categories. But hopefully this will be useful for assistants to be thinking about, but more importantly for shows to be thinking about as they’re ramping up for this next – shouldn’t even really call it a season. Like, TV just never stops now.
John: But more rooms are being put together in this period than last month.
Craig: This is a great document. Just sample headline, “Set Expectations. Tell Us Who is in Charge. Delegate Thoughtfully. Solicit Diverse Perspectives. Give Appropriate Credit. Know How Much We Make. Keep People Healthy. Invite Assistants Inside.” These are all really good things.
And this is an eminently reasonable document. This is not some kind of revolutionary screed. This is something that any decent showrunner would want to do I should think. So, it is well-written and it is followable which is the most important thing. I can’t imagine anybody looking at this and going, “No.”
John: “No, none of this.”
Craig: Yeah. It’s just like wake up. Get yourself – be a woke showrunner when it comes to your assistants.
John: Great. All right, let’s transition to a discussion of dialogue. So this is going to be a craft episode. This is where we’re going to talk about the things that characters say in movies, which is what people outside of the industry think all screenwriters do is just to write the dialogue. That’s all we do, right Craig? We just write the words the pretty people say.
Craig: I thought the actors wrote that. I thought they came up with what they say. [laughs]
John: Oh, that’s right.
Craig: I don’t know what we do.
John: We write down what they’ve said.
John: Just so that there’s a record of it. Yeah.
Craig: Of course. We write down what the director wants to do. You know, in the old movies the director would walk up to the actors and say, “OK, in this scene you’re coming in and you want her to do this. And she’s going to say no to that.” So there’s no script at all and in fact on any given day what you’re shooting is whatever the director imagined. And then the actors make up their dialogue and the director goes, “Cut. Print. Moving on.” Mm-hmm.
John: Mm-hmm. So when Greta Gerwig was on the show a couple episodes back we were talking about mumblecore which was the movement that she was an important part of. And classically in mumblecore it’s very under-scripted. There’s a plan for sort of what the movie is about. There might be a plan for what the scenes are. But they’re not detailed plans for who is saying what and what’s happening. And so she came out of that movement and I was surprised that as someone who emerged from that movement that she’s so fastidious and meticulous about what the words are on the page and exactly when overlapping dialogue is going to overlap.
And she said that really did come out of the experience of like being an actor who was not given lines to say. She kind of felt boxed in by not knowing what was going to come next. There was not a plan for how to get through stuff. And that she really loves having written dialogue that she can work from so that she can actually find everything else in the scene and not to be worried about, ah, what am I going to say.
Craig: I am not surprised by that at all because when you think about the way conversations work in the real world a lot of times one person is just dominating the other. And if you put two characters in a room without a script that has not been balanced and thought through carefully by a screenwriter, one actor may very well dominate the other. And that’s – how is that good for anybody?
John: It’s probably not good for anybody. So in this discussion of dialogue I want to start by looking at realistic dialogue. Really how people would speak in the real world. And the way you find out how people speak in the real world is to listen to them. And, you know, you can eavesdrop on people. You can just be paying attention to conversations happening around you. But to really notice people don’t talk in real life the way they do in movies. And when you see movie dialogue that feels artificial, it’s because it’s as if they’re talking in a movie rather than actually how people could speak in real life.
And movie dialogue tends to be an optimization. A synthesized version of real speech. But it has to be based on some real speech. So I thought we’d take a listen to some real life speakers and how they’re doing things. Listen to them and then after each clip talk through what we’re hearing and sort of how we could do that on the page and sort of what lessons we could take from the clip we’ve heard and apply it to the actual dialogue we’re writing.
Craig: I love this so much.
John: Great. It was actually harder to find some of the stuff than I would have guessed. So, online you can find a lot of examples of recordings of people about their accent and where they’re reading the same text so you can hear specifically how they’re doing diphthongs and upspeak and stuff. But I wanted to hear people talk in sort of more natural conversation. This first one is from a clip about Appalachian English or mountain talk. And so let’s take a listen to this.
Male Voice: Everybody hears about Graham County, don’t they? And how good the people is, how they’re happy. I run into people I don’t know, ever seen them in my life. And I help them in any way I can. Somebody the other day said you’ll get knocked in the head. And I said, well, if I do I’m just knocked. It’s just good-hearted. Everybody you meet, just 99% of them. If I didn’t live here I’d move, wouldn’t you?
Male Voice: Where you going to go on vacation? If I was going to go on a vacation I’d just stay right on here.
Male Voice: Oh yes.
Male Voice: On my days off I’m in here.
John: All right. So there’s so much to unpack there. And so obviously we should spend a long time on his accent, which is fascinating. But I really want to look at his choice of words and sort of how he’s putting his thoughts together.
That question at the end, like “don’t they” at the end of something. It’s an emphasis. It’s a softener. You know, he’s not speaking in straightforward sentences that end in periods. There’s question marks at the end of things that’s not kind of classically uptalk. You know, his use of the verb to be, he’s using is where we would traditionally use a different form. There’s a lot there that you could write down and it would give you a very good sense of his voice as a character.
Craig: Yeah. His sentences, let’s just call them phrases, because sentences is really a function of prose. When we talk we talk in phrases. And his phrases are usually built around a word. So they’re not balanced phrases. They’re leading up to a thing. Like wood. Like carrying wood. Like I’m going to say something about a garbage bag. I’m going to say something about blah-blah. Mountain talk. I love talk by the way. Talk.
Craig: Talk. So there’s a certain staccato element to it. And they’re built around a single thing. They’re not complicated in terms of structure. There’s no internal clauses. The sentences are very direct. Very clipped. Love that.
John: Yeah. So, if you were to write this kind of character into your script, my instinct would be if he’s using alternate words for places, use those alternate words to reflect what he’s actually doing, but don’t go crazy trying to indicate the dialect and to try to spell things the way he’s saying them. Because that’s only going to be frustrating for the reader. And it’s not actually going to be helpful for the actor or anyone else down the road. Craig, what do you think?
Craig: I completely agree. So, what you don’t want to do is get into that weird, because it almost looks like you’re just making fun of it or something. Use the words. I’m a big believer of the flexibility of language when it comes to these things. Obviously I wrote a show where people in Soviet Ukraine were speaking English with English accents. I just think what is the most natural thing to convey – intent. But with a character like this I think it’s fair to use vocabulary, like you say, that we might not know. And then I think about the reader as somebody that just like you when you’re listening to somebody like this instead of stopping them every single time they say a word you’re not quite sure of, you wait. And you try and figure it out yourself using context. And generally speaking we kind of can. So, the point is you got the basic idea, right?
And if you were totally confused then that’s an interesting thing to happen. So you just think how would I actually receive this. Would I be able to piece it together and get the basic idea? Or would I be utterly lost? That’s a good decision that you should make as a writer.
John: Another thing to listen for is how a speaker will incorporate other people’s speech into what they’re saying. And so people don’t say like “and then he says blah-blah-blah.” They will actually just shift their voice a little bit to indicate that it’s a different person speaking within their own speech. And so listen for how characters do that in movies, but also how folks do that in the real world. And that a person will be speaking as two different people without necessarily making it crystal clear on the page what they’re doing.
And so what you might end up doing in a block of dialogue is putting some of that stuff into italics to indicate that you’re speaking as the other person. Or sometimes you need to break that out as a parenthetical. But people can convey a surprisingly dense amount of information in what’s actually a very short bit of dialogue there.
Craig: My grandparents did this very Brooklyn thing. When they would tell a story about something that happened to them in the past, even like a day earlier, “Oh, I ran into Rose at the market and she says…and I says…and she says…” It was always she says, I says. So says, sez, became this all-purpose describer of her turn to talk, my turn to talk. But it was always there. It was never we’re just going to shift with voices. And it was never I said and she said. It’s the weirdest thing. I remember as a kid just thinking that is bizarre. But they all did it.
John: They’re staying in the present tense as they’re narrating a past event. And that’s really common.
Craig: But also violating the conjugation of the verb to say.
John: Oh, of course.
Craig: Because it’s not “I says.” It was like says became a new way of saying said.
Craig: Yeah. It’s very interesting.
John: Vernacular is great. Let’s take a listen to this is a woman who has moved to Austin, Texas. I’m not clear where actually she moved from. She’s being interviewed by a person, so it is a little bit more – it’s not a natural conversation, but it reminded me sort of if you were being deposed as a witness. Or often in movie scenes someone has to sort of tell a history of something. And it feels more like that. So, let’s take a listen to this lady from Austin.
Female Voice: About eight years ago we picked Austin. We didn’t know anything about Austin. None of us had ever been to Texas. We didn’t even honestly know it was the capitol of Texas. I mean, I’m embarrassed to say, but I didn’t know anything. I thought it was a small town actually. And so we flew to Austin, my husband and I flew to Austin, and we really liked it. And we came here for about a week on our own for our little vacation and then we flew our boys in. They both lived in different places. And we flew our boys in. And so we had a family vacation for a week with just my husband and myself and then a week with our boys.
Male Voice: Great.
Female Voice: And we all really liked Austin, but yeah, we just thought oh well, Austin. It was just another place we’d, you know, gone. And we went to a lot of the different sites. You know, Lady Bird Lake. And the wildflowers. And we took a tour of the capitol. And we did all kinds of things like that.
Craig: So this is not actually a lady from Austin.
John: No. It’s a lady who has moved to Austin.
Craig: She has moved to Austin. Interesting. So she doesn’t have that classic Texan accent. Even the Austin accent which is quite a bit more muted than like a Houston accent or a Dallas accent. Very singsong-y. Very kind of rambly tale-telling. I like it. Not an efficient talker.
John: Well, there is an efficiency, but there’s no periods in that whole clip. She basically–
John: It’s as if she never wants to actually finish a thought so somebody else could interject. I also think it’s really interesting how she is continuously clarifying what she just said.
John: So when we moved to Austin, we moved to Austin, my husband and my boys and I, blah-blah-blah. It’s commas, and commas, and commas. She sort of clarified the thing she just said. Not to soften it but just to paint out the whole picture of stuff.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a kind of indecisiveness going on in there, even the details of the story are somewhat indecisive. We got to Austin and it was just another place. It was just Austin. But as she’s telling it you can kind of feel like she’s building it as she goes and revising it as she goes. And when she makes a list it’s like a this, and then a this, and then a this, and then a this.
Because efficient is not a term of judgment. Efficient would be I visited Austin with my husband. I loved it. I thought perhaps I could live here. I invited my sons. We looked around. And we decided, yes, we want to live her. That is efficient. This is more of a kind of exploration, you know, kind of verbal discovery. Some people discover as they go. And I do think you’ve pointed out something really smart. Some people do speak with a kind of grammatical integrity. I’m aware that I’m one of those people that speaks with a certain grammatical integrity. Most people do not. Most people will stick sentences inside of sentences and then abruptly cut it off and begin something new. And that’s an important part of understanding the music of dialogue.
John: A thing that frustrates me often as I read interviews that I’ve done for people is they will try to transcribe literally what I said, which has a lot of ands. Basically one continuous thought that never really stops. And so I will tell people, no, no, it’s OK. You can put in periods in places. Because otherwise it will feel sort of like what this lady was talking about where it just keeps going, and keeps going, and keeps going. You do sometimes want to provide some structure here.
The other thing I think is important to understand about the context of this, she seems a little bit nervous.
John: During this interview. I think that’s part of her rambling is her being nervous. But it’s also a weirdly artificial thing for it to not be a true conversation. If she was doing that and she was in a conversation with somebody, they would talk over the other person, or give “uh-huhs” or affirmatives to keep the flow going. And so she’s trying to keep the flow going by herself and it’s a little bit like dancing by yourself. It’s a little bit awkward what she’s doing.
Craig: Yes. There are people that are not comfortable leading a conversation. Just like we were saying some actors could easily dominate another actor if they were all left to their own devices. I suspect that this woman is not comfortable leading a conversation solo like that. This is not somebody practiced in the art of soliloquy.
So, there are moments where I suspect she’s waiting for somebody to jump in and they don’t. And she’s filling space to kind of be able to get to the next thing because she was not necessarily prepared to immediately go to the next thing or explain herself. It can be eerie when somebody asks you a question and then never interrupts you. You start to feel like perhaps you’re slowly hanging yourself because you just keep talking. Because you’re waiting for an interruption that never comes.
John: That’s a very classic technique, especially in documentary interviews, where they’ll just let you be silent for a moment. You’ll answer a question and they just won’t put another question back. And so therefore you’re just like I’ve got to keep talking. I’ve got to get stuff out there. It’s a very natural instinct. I remember I had to do a deposition for this legal case and at first I was trying to explain everything. And then in a break the lawyers on my side said you’re trying to explain this as if you’re on a DVD commentary. Don’t do that. Just answer the question in an efficient way as you can and move on.
John: And it’s all about context. I’m sure in other situations she could be much more what we’re saying efficient and direct and not try to keep the conversation going.
Craig: But there is a beauty to it. Again, the poetry of somebody stringing it all together in one long melody is really useful. This is very useful. People really should be listening carefully to this. Just so we’re clear about what happens when we read things, and when people in Hollywood receive scripts, the very first thing that will stick out is bad dialogue.
It is not the worst sin that you can commit. Dialogue can be repaired. The worst sin you can commit is a boring story about nothing that matters. But, no one will realize it’s a boring story about nothing that matters on page one. What they will recognize maybe even halfway down the page is that no one sounds like a human being. So this is really important for people to hopefully absorb.
John: One thing I should point out here is if you were to put what she said into your script it would be terrible. It would be terrible because it’s not interesting at all. Because I don’t care about anything that she’s saying right there.
John: But if she were talking about something interesting and she was talking about it in the way that she’s talking about it there, that could be great. If she had to describe the events of a night, like a horrible thing had happened and she had to describe it and she was using some of that stuff. That would be fantastic. Or if she was trying to conceal something. Love it. That could be great.
Craig: Yes. There’s a tendency writers have to convert every human being into a grand orator when it is time to talk about something that is important or hurtful or emotional. Suddenly they become these beautiful speechmakers. That is not how people tell these stories. I’ve listened to people tell heartbreaking stories. And that is when they’re at their most inefficient. And stilting. And self-interruptive. And self-denying and contradicting and fixing and repairing.
It’s what makes us human in those moments. Emotion does not make us more eloquent. It makes us less eloquent.
John: Yeah. A great example is the scene in Marriage Story where Scarlett Johansson’s character, she has an incredibly long speech where she’s in the office with Laura Dern. Laura Dern, everything she’s saying is practiced because she’s given that exact same talk a hundred times. Scarlett Johansson’s character is discovering these things for the first time and it’s going to be inefficient, but it’s also going to be emotional and have this ability to cycle back on itself. So both kinds of speech can happen in the same scene.
Craig: Yeah. There are characters, like I think of the character that Jared Harris plays in Chernobyl. He is a scientist and he is someone whose emotions are very bottled up. He’s an emotionally constipated man. And he’s very intellectual. And when it comes time for him to say something important at long last when he does it does have a sort of speech integrity to it because he’s that kind of person. I believe it from him. I don’t think I would believe it from say Stellan Skarsgård’s character. When Stellan Skarsgård’s character, Boris Shcherbina, has a moment where he is emotional and needs to declare something, it comes out as a series of outrageous cursing and then just violence towards a phone. Because he is not an intellectual man. And he does not speak in that way.
It’s just important. It’s one of the ways that we help defeat the most dreaded of notes. “All of your characters sound the same.”
John: The worst. So, these were two examples of people speaking by themselves. I was looking for better examples of dialogue and interaction between characters which was surprisingly hard to find until I remembered, oh that’s right, there are podcasts. So this first clip I want to play is from the Las Culturistas podcast is by Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers. It’s a weekly podcast or semi-weekly podcast. They had Ben Platt on. And so this is the three of them talking. So just notice how they talk over each other. How they acknowledge what the other person is saying. How thoughts don’t get completed and sort of get clarified before the full thing was done. How they know you’re a little bit ahead of where they’re going so they don’t feel like they have to finish thoughts. I thought it was just an interesting clip. So let’s take a listen to this clip with Ben Platt.
Matt Rogers: You’re telling me like when you’re like doing a show on a Friday night, are you giving it a little bit more than you are on a Sunday? On a matinee? Tell me.
Ben Platt: Uh, it depends. It’s like very specific to the actual night. It depends who I know is in the audience. It depends how many shows are left in the week. Because sometimes, obviously because it’s a Friday night it’s exciting, it is like easier to give more than on Sunday. But also Sunday you have 36 hours ahead of you that are free, so you can kind of give abandon. So it depends. I would say like a Wednesday Matt is not ideal.
Matt: Not the best.
Ben: To come to, unless you’re like 65 and up.
Matt: Yeah. Yeah. And you get that little discount ticket.
Ben: There’s definitely like an A, B, C version of the show that you have to have.
Bowen Yang: Yes.
Ben: This is what I’m doing if I feel completely healthy and I have all of the faculties. And then B is like I’m trying to save a little for something exciting at the end of the week. And C is like I can barely be bothered to be here.
Bowen: Oh wow. You’ve like very clearly delineated all of these scenarios though.
Ben: Oh yeah. I’ve spent a lot of time in that wonderful show.
Matt: In that show. So basically, wait, hold on. So do you usually know when someone notable is coming? And do you prefer to know?
Ben: I ask to know. So I would receive like literally like an itemized list before like a half hour every night of everyone that was there. Because at the beginning it was–
Matt: You don’t want to go out on stage and then see Beyoncé.
Ben: One million percent. Like I don’t want to clock Meryl like mid-number. And also like in that show in particular like I spend so much time out at the fourth wall or whatever.
Ben: So like I’m going to see. And it’s a small house, so I’m going to see whoever it is. And they’re always in the same like nice house seats. So I love to have all the information. That’s like a theme in my life in general is I like to have all the information.
Matt: Please. Beforehand.
Ben: Because anything unknown is far more anxiety-provoking to me than just like dealing with what the actual reality is going to be.
John: All right. So this feels like three people around a table. You can imagine they’re in a diner and they’re having this conversation. So, it’s a little bit heightened because it’s a podcast and there’s microphones in front of them, but it feels pretty genuine to what they would actually be, how they would actually be talking as a group. And you notice there at the very end Ben Platt starts a word and stops it and just keeps going on. He knows you know what he’s going to say and he can just sort of keep moving on to the next thought.
I also really want to point out how much along the way the other two guys are acknowledging and sort of affirming what he’s saying. They’re checking in that they’re actually hearing and they’re listening to him.
Craig: That’s the thing that I picked up on the most. So, first of all, these three guys are young. I mean, they’re not young like children, but they’re younger than we are. So there’s a certain youth to their discussion and it is indicated by energy. They are all three of them very energetic. They are listening intently to each other and their conversation is a little bit, I’m not going to say combat, it’s not competition, but it’s a group sport. They understand, each one of them, that they’re supposed to be talking. Right? No one is just going to be quiet for a while.
John: It feels like they’re all learning forward.
Craig: Yes. They’re all leaning forward. So, what that means is, and you can tell Ben Platt understands they’re leaning forward and he’s used to it. He’s fine with it. But that means he has to speak really quickly. Listen how fast he’s talking. Because he knows they’re fast. They’re on everything he says. There’s no chance for him to slow down, because immediately one or two of them, Bowen or Matt, or both at the same time will go “Yes.” Which as you point out is affirming. They themselves are playing a role of supportive interviewer who wants to play.
So, they don’t just say yes and then ask a question. They also notice the kinds of things he’s saying and then they kind of kick it back and make a little observation, a slightly humorous observation. This is very naturalistic. Count how many times all of them say the word like. A billion. But it’s not dreadful. It’s not caricature. It’s just a natural sort of use of the vernacular like. And they have no problem interrupting each other. Interruption is almost essential to that kind of discussion.
John: Yeah. So I think when we’re talking about natural dialogue I think too often we’re assuming it means slow. That it means it’s paced down and it’s very sort of stuff just comes out when it sort of comes out. This is natural dialogue. People are doing kind of what they would naturally do. But it is pretty fast. It’s like it’s Sorkin-level speed. And the conversation they’re having isn’t exactly sort of what you’d expect in an Aaron Sorkin movie. You can imagine having this kind of discussion in an Aaron Sorkin script.
Now, think about what this would actually look like on the page. You wouldn’t have all of those affirmations being put in as dual dialogue or interruptions there along the way. It would be far too much. But you would need to have some indication that people are freely able to speak over each other and that we’re able to process both conversations happening at the same time. This would be a great example of Greta Gerwig’s script where she does the little slashes in the dialogue to indicate where overlaps are supposed to happen.
John: This would be great for that.
Craig: Yeah. And it implies a certain kind of direction as well. Because when you are shooting a scene like this, if I’m making a movie and in the movie there’s a scene where Ben Platt, Bowen Yang, and Matt Rogers are discussing how Ben Platt either does or doesn’t go full out on a given performance based on the day, and how he reacts or wants to react when famous people are in the audience, their conversation is so simultaneous and fast and Bowen and Matt are so interactive with Ben. And we understand that the ground rules of their discussion are such that anyone at any point can jump in and talk and not stop the train. You need to shoot it where all three of them are visible.
Craig: Because what happens when you’re shooting and there’s only one person on camera you can’t have anyone overlap with them because it won’t cut together with the master shot where they all are. So, it implies, in my mind at least, it implies you want a master shot and you almost – there’s a version of this where you just move the camera slowly around the table. And the camera doesn’t necessarily respond to what anyone is doing. You’re just absorbing the speed and the rhythm of it.
John: Yeah. The other option of course here is that you’re shooting multiple cameras at once. You could be on singles on people as long as you were actually doing the same shot.
John: That’s the other option to sort of get into that situation. But it does feel very – it’s very live, very present. This is rat-a-tat-tat stuff happening here. And the whole show is pitched up at that speed.
Craig: Yes. I love the speed of it.
John: So here’s a different example. And this one feels a little bit more sitting back rather than leaning forward into the conversation. This is from a podcast called F-Work, But I’m Going to Go. This one is just two women. They have this podcast every week. They’re friends. They’re having a conversation. But let’s take a listen to their clip.
Female Voice: I would love to travel and work.
Female Voice: I would say I would – I would trade anything to have that life again. Letting the company pay for everything.
Female Voice: Everything.
Female Voice: On my travel. True. Oh my gosh, like and you just go a couple of seminars, you know. You work with a couple of teams. That’s it. And then after that you’re good. You got a day, a day and a half, or two days to chill.
Female Voice: Especially when I used to travel back and forth to Houston like it was just great. Because I’m like [unintelligible], tour the Budweiser facility, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that. And get to hang out with my friends down there. You can really make places a second home at that point when your job is paying them for—
Female Voice: Hey I’m going to be in the city on so-and-so, so-and-so date.
Female Voice: Right.
Female Voice: And then especially if you know somebody there, you can take that. I could use this little hotel money for some more food and drink. Give me that American Express card.
Female Voice: Right.
Female Voice: So, yeah.
Female Voice: Cash me out.
Female Voice: But the people that don’t have that work-life balance, I couldn’t imagine like just the money sacrifice for your mental health. Like does that money, does your pay rate, does your salary sacrifice for you not having a life?
Female Voice: But see I’m just trying to think about what millennials that I know that I don’t know have a work-life balance.
Female Voice: I don’t know none, but you know it’s some out there.
Female Voice: Of course. Of course.
John: So, as opposed to the other conversation which felt very leaned forward, this one felt leaned back to me. This feels like people who are comfortable in their chairs having this conversation. So they’re very actively listening, but there’s not that frenzied pitch of sort of like got to get on the next thing, got to get on the next thing. And there’s no hunger to be funny, or to score a point.
Craig: Correct. So the difference here contextually is what happens when you’re dealing with a conversation where three people who don’t necessarily know each other are conducting an interview and being hyper engaged or two people who know each other really well. These two women know each other really well. It almost seems like what’s happening is they share a brain. And they’re having thoughts and they’re just alternating which one of them is going to say the shared brain’s thoughts. Because they’re in utter agreement and there’s no inquisition. It’s just a complete commiseration, celebration of agreement. The pace of it slows down because they’re in no rush to kind of impress or keep anyone’s interest, by the way.
They don’t seem to be aware that anybody would be listening. They are literally there for each other. It’s wonderful.
John: Yes. But I need to point out this is Episode 404, so this podcast has been going on for a very long time.
Craig: There you go.
John: Which I think is also great. So they have such a long history. You know, as long a history as you and I do basically. And they know each other so well, so they can sort of anticipate the brain.
Now let’s think about this kind of conversation in your script. And talk about first what they’re talking about. They’re talking about work-life balance. They’re talking about taking business trips. Their conversation is so terrific and specific to sort of what they’re looking for in a business trip and sort of what is important. And how they would describe it versus two other people would describe it versus two other people is what makes these characters’ voices seem distinct and different. So it’s not about, yes, these are two young black women and they have millennial voices. There’s vocal fry. There’s all these sort of like very specific things about the actual audio tone of the language which is so great and worth studying.
But just the words on the page and sort of how they are framing their thoughts about it is what makes their conversation unique and specific.
Craig: Yeah. For something like this if I were trying to build a scene with these two women having a conversation about this topic my concentration would be on the woman who is listening. Because the interesting parts in a weird way between these two, at least in terms of their dialogue, is when the moment of agreement and hand-off occurs. “Yes.” I love – I mean, there’s this drawn out thing that happens which is much different than when Bowen and Matt go, “Right,” together. “Right.” This is like, “Yes!” It’s like a relief. You just said something true.
And I love the person listening and it’s like they’re hearing this wonderful – it’s like eating delicious food and then going, “Yes, this is so good.” And now let me talk. And then I want to switch over to the other one. And I would be describing them. And even editorially I would constantly be on the person listening, because that’s where to me at least that’s the fun part of these two is how much they – it’s their agreement. It’s their joy of agreement.
John: It’s easy to imagine characters who are like these two women in your story and finding great things for them to talk about. And I sort of like keep wanting to give them stories to hear how they would talk through it and how they would wrestle with a problem. So I kind of want to see them solving mysteries. I want to see them doing stuff because I think they actually have a really cool relationship with each other and it’s exciting to think about how they would talk about the stuff they’re encountering.
Craig: There’s something also very comic about agreement. I don’t know why. It’s just funny. When you imagine a scene where someone is explaining something to another person. Maybe they’re in opposition. But they have an ally with them. So they’re delivering a speech. And their ally occasionally goes, “That’s right. Damn straight. Amen. Sure said something there.” And at some point the person is going to turn to them and go, “Would you shut up? Stop agreeing.” Agreeing is funny. I don’t know why. It’s just the notion of just full agreement is amusing to me.
So, when I’m listening to them I have a smile on my face just from how happy they are to agree. And it’s a different kind of, like I said, there is a purity and an intimacy to these two because they don’t have any motives here. They’re not trying to get somebody to open up and inform them or educate them about their process or anything. There’s no guest. It’s just the two of them. It’s lovely.
John: We often think about well scenes have to have conflict and if there’s no conflict then there’s no scene. That is still largely true. But the conflict doesn’t have to become between the two characters who are talking in the scene. The conflict can be about what is happening in this situation. A conflict could be an outside party. But like it doesn’t mean that the two characters in any scene have to be directly in conflict. That’s not at all a goal.
Something about their relationship also reminded me about Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn in Swingers. And like, yes, they have contrasting styles, but they’re also buds and they can hang out. And the ability to hang out with interesting people is something that dialogue should give us.
Craig: There’s also the potential for – if we know you have a conflict, right, there may be an instinct to just get to the conflict. Jane shows up and tells Sheila, “I’m angry at you. Here’s why.” But sometimes the best way to introduce conflict is to just have an agreement fest and then suddenly on point seven someone says this and the other woman goes…
There’s a great sketch if you want to talk about dialogue and how much you can do with one word, there’s a great Key and Peele sketch where they play two women and one of them, Key, is going on and on about how she’s done with her man. And Peele is playing her friend. And all she says is, “OK.” And she has a thousand different Okays for like exactly, completely, I totally agree, right, oh that’s so true. And then Key’s character starts to say some things that are a little off and the OK becomes O-kay. And she never says anything else except OK. But there’s I think 50 different Okays. They each mean a different thing. It’s brilliant.
John: That’s great. And again in your script that probably is a good example of like a parenthetical where you’re going to have to put what is the actual shading of that OK in the situation.
John: Yes. Great. Well that was a fun exercise. So let’s maybe try to do this again on some future occasion.
Craig: I would love to.
John: Because that was lovely to do.
Let’s do some questions. Matt from Massachusetts asks, “As I write a feature screenplay I am periodically trapped up by a vestigial thought from my novel writing days about first person versus third person omniscient perspective. In a novel it’s pretty obvious. But do you ever think about this in terms of screenplays, particularly if they don’t have voiceover? If your main character is in a situation where they can’t possibly know something we have to decide whether or not to become omniscient and share that information with the viewer.”
Craig, what is your thinking about limited perspective and omniscience as you’re coming up with a story? And do you always have a plan from the start, or is it situational?
Craig: It’s situational. So you make choices about perspective all the time. And I think we’ve done, certainly we’ve done at least an episode about perspective as a specific tool in our tool belt. You want to know from whose perspective and there are choices. It’s either from a character’s perspective or it is from the omniscient camera’s perspective. And if it’s from the camera’s perspective the point is we’re going to see something that the people don’t. Or, that we are seeing something that is a shared perspective by a lot of people. A crowd scene for instance.
So, you want to choose those moments carefully. Typically the kind of omniscient we’re going to see something but nobody else will, it’s the bailiwick of mysteries, thrillers, twisty kind of things. They are associated with the dum-dum-dum kind of sound in your head. And it needs to be used carefully I think. A little goes a long way.
John: My daughter has started watching Criminal Intent. Not, Criminal Intent. She’s started watching one of the CBS procedurals that’s been on for like 20 years. And so she’s watching an episode from the first season and I was so surprised because it opens with this scene that’s from the point of view from none of the actual main characters of the show. And it basically shows the crime but hides who the killer was in the crime. And then the rest of the episode is trying to figure out who the killer was. And it’s just not a format that I’m used to at all. But it was a very common format for a long time in procedurals.
So, I agree with Craig that you’re going to be making choices based on the situation you’re going to find yourself in and sort of whether it’s going to be most effective for us as the audience to have information that the protagonist doesn’t have. You’re also going to make some fundamental choices about how your story is told. And so this thing I was writing the treatment on I had to very explicitly from the start say we are not cutting away to this villain’s point of view. This is not going to be a movie where we ever see what the villain is doing independent of the hero.
Craig: And you’re allowed to set those ground rules. Just know that if you are going to make a point of saying here’s a thing that someone doesn’t know but now I’m telling it to you, it will always threaten artifice. It disrupts our verisimilitude. Because life doesn’t work that way.
In life we have a perspective. It’s through our two eyes. That’s what we get. So, it’s a little artificial. It can be wonderful. It can also be slightly cheaty. It’s one of those things.
John: Yeah. 1917 which was a great movie from this past year had incredibly limited POV where you only follow those guys as they’re walking through the trenches and doing everything. That’s an extreme example. But Parasite also does limited POV. And it could have cutaway to any of those character’s perspective on what they thought was going on. And director and writers really figured out what would be the most effective way to tell their specific story.
Craig: Exactly. All right. MJ writes, “Last year I made it to the second round of Austin Film Festival.” I assume that’s the screenwriting contest portion of that. “And after receiving the feedback and making changes I felt that my script was ready to submit to my company as a prospective buyer.” Hmm, they have their own company? Maybe they mean another company. “After reading the submission agreement, which they make every submitter sign, I became wary of signing it. My fiancé’s dad is a lawyer. And he said he became unhinged after reading the agreement. There’s one section in particular that concerns us.” And I think what MJ is saying is this is the agreement with the Austin Film Festival? I don’t know. Or with the company?
John: So he’s submitting it to a company it looks like. And so the submission agreement had some clauses in it.
Craig: OK. So their submission agreement is the problem. “Section five in short states that any damages awarded through arbitration shall not exceed $10,000 for film or $40,000 for television series. I have two questions regarding this. One, is this sort of agreement common? Two, what’s the likelihood that I could be screwed over by signing something like this?”
John? You have a law degree. I mean—[laughs]
John: As a lawyer…so what I will say is from other folks that I’ve talked to, some places do have you sign submission agreements. They’re not absolutely all that uncommon. I’m not particularly freaked out by this. I think if you’re approaching everything from a defensive posture like oh my god they’re going to steal my stuff and take my work and it’s all going to be a disaster, you’re not going to have a very good, happy time in this industry.
So, submission agreements are there because the company is trying to protect themselves from claims that someone stole – that their movie was stolen. This blockbuster was actually based on this thing that I sent into the company. So that’s why companies have submission agreements. Studios have them. Other places have them. I’m not actually not worried about it.
But I would ask is the place you’re submitting to have they made movies? Have they actually done things that are out there in the world? If it’s just some person you’ve never heard of, then I don’t know that it’s worth signing any submission agreement because I’m not sure that they’re worth anything at all.
And when you do have an adhesion contract there is a possibility that a court – let’s say this company did somehow do something damaging to you then a court would say, yeah, the fact that this poor writer had to sign your dumb agreement does not mean that it’s actually enforceable to the extent that you wish it would be.
That’s something that a lawyer would have to go through. And it’s not anything I think that anybody could ever count on. But just be aware that that is a concept in law. So, we’re held I guess to the standards of these boilerplate definitions maybe not quite as strongly as we think we are.
John: Yeah. So I think I’m speaking for both of us saying I’m not especially worried about this thing, but just any place you’re sending this to just keep an eye out for are they really a reputable place.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. And, I mean, just remember that some of these things are signs of who they are. You know? Are they worried that people are going to be suing – have other people sued them? Is that why this is in there? Because they’ve…
By and large, again, you know, our position is people aren’t really actively ripping other people off actively. But there are a lot of bad actors in the world who do fuzzy – that gray area stuff. That’s where it gets gross. And if they’re all wired up on avoiding lawsuits and going to arbitration and limiting damages it makes me wonder why. So, anyway, something – food for thought.
John: Food for thought. Justin in Pasadena writes, “If a writers strike does end up happening, what advice can you give to us non-WGA writers? Are there any unique opportunities we should know about? Or might there be some workarounds we should use to our advantage? And, of course, how can we not step on any toes in the process?”
So prefacing all of this by saying we can talk through hypotheticals about a writers strike, but there’s nothing saying that’s going to happen. But Craig you and I were both around in the 2008 strike and I remember we both interacted with some folks who were not WGA members who were coming out to the picket lines and stuff like that, too. So, let’s talk through at least what we remember from the 2007-2008 strike.
Craig: Sure. Well, just as a matter of law, if you’re not a member of the Writers Guild, and the Writers Guild is on strike, that means there’s no current contract between the companies and the union. And you can certainly legally work for them. There used to be a thing, and maybe it’s still there, when you apply for a membership to the Writers Guild it says, “Did you work during the strike?” And you’re supposed to say “yeah I did” if you did. And then they in theory could kind of imply that you can never be a member here, but they’re actually not allowed to do that at all. I remember that came up in a boardroom discussion.
But that’s the legal reality. The ethical reality is, you know, the world does not look kindly on replacement players. Because what you’re doing is making it harder for the union to end the strike and ideally to end the strike in favor of the union that you want to want to be part of. Because one thing is for sure, Justin. The strike will end. And when it ends then you’re going to want to be part of that union. And you’re going to want to be part of a union that has made the best possible deal for its members. So, the question is were you making that easier or harder to do by taking this replacement writer job?
And also what do you think the companies are going to be paying you? Do they think they’re going to be paying you union stuff? You’re not going to be getting pension. You’re not going to be getting health. You’re not going to be getting residuals. You’re not going to be getting credit protections. So, do you want to know how to not step on any toes in the process, don’t take those jobs.
John: Yeah. Don’t take those jobs. I would also say back in 2008 it was sort of hard to find screenwriters and actually talk with them. And so one of the nice things about picketing, maybe the only nice thing about picketing is you got to meet a lot of other people. And so I got to meet a lot of other writers who I’d only sort of seen their credits. But I also got to meet a lot of writers who were not yet WGA members who’d come out at Paramount at 6:30 in the morning when I was picketing there. And I would talk to them as we walked in small circles. And some of them have gone on to become brand name writers in this industry.
So, it was a chance to be out there and talk with folks. But that was 2008. This is not 2008. I mean, there’s so many more opportunities to meet writers in person.
Craig: Way more.
John: Now than there ever were before. So that’s not a good cause for a work stoppage. Hopefully the situation will not come up at all, but if it were to come up I agree with Craig. You’re doing yourself and no one any favors by looking at this as an opportunity for you to advance your career.
Craig: Yeah, it’s pretty shortsighted. I have a side question. I mean, what is the value of the actual act of picketing for us? I’ve always wondered this. Traditionally the point of a picket line would be to picket the institution you were striking against. A factory. A hospital. A hotel. And then if scabs were coming into work they would have to go through the picket line and the people picketing would go “boo” and shame them. But just make it hard for other unions – so a lot of unions, we’re respecting the picket line. We’re not going through. We don’t really have that ability. It’s not like the trucks stopped rolling into these lots, or anybody else stopped rolling into the lots. We wouldn’t even picket every single thing.
In our circumstance, isn’t the best tool we have to just not work? I’m just curious. What do we get from the picketing other than the kind of meeting other writers and getting exercise, which for us honestly as a group super important?
John: I would say, top of my head I would say visibility just to make it clear that this is an actual thing that’s happened. Something that news cameras can point out is kind of useful. A reminder that a thing is actually happening so that people who work inside a studio on a daily basis can see like, oh that’s right, this is actually a thing that’s happening, even if they’re not in a development role. If they’re an accountant they say like, ah, this is a thing that’s happening. So that the president of the studio has to drive past that picket line every day is not probably a great thing for them.
But I think there’s also an aspect of solidarity and just sort of – because what is different about a person who is working on a factory line is that they see their coworkers every day. Screenwriters don’t see each other every day. I mean, TV writers do see each other every day. And so there is probably a solidarity and we’re all in this together thing which is I’m guessing important about picketing classically. But I think it’s fair to ask. This is a different time now than 20 years ago. Things do change.
Craig: Yeah. I’m just kind of curious if there’s some other less industrial revolution way of doing this. Because I don’t perceive that in the 2007-2008 strike that the act of picketing itself had a dramatic impact on what we did. I could be wildly wrong on that. There’s a certain performative aspect to it that I’m just wondering. Like is there something better? I guess really I’m not saying don’t do something, but rather is there a better version or a more impactful modern version?
John: If you have thoughts about that as listeners you can write in and tell us what you think.
Craig: Neo-picketing. What would it look like?
John: All right. It is time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is this website called Travel Time. And so often with Google Maps and other things you can figure out how long it will take you to get from point A to point B. So like from my house to Disney, how long will it take for me to get there as I’m getting my picketing sign ready to march there? This is the opposite of that. So this basically says given a certain amount of time from a certain location how far could you get. This is based on usual traffic or how transit lines work. And it’s really fascinating to look at different cities and say like, OK, from the center of London in one hour I can get through to basically anywhere in London. Center of Los Angeles, how far can I get to somewhere in the Los Angeles region? And it’s disappointingly small in number.
Craig: Well, I would love to see how far you can get in London in one hour, because I feel like there was one point where I think I went three blocks in an hour.
John: Oh, certainly not driving. But like through the Tube and other ways.
Craig: Through the Tube, yes. Or walking even, yeah.
John: Yeah. Walking. So it’s an interesting way of comparing cities and sort of the choices cities have made. Also just how geography sometimes constrains the ability of cities to function certain ways.
Craig: That sounds excellent. I love any tool that makes traveling easier. I have to travel a lot more than I ever thought I would. And so I’ve become like super fussy about making it easier for myself.
My One Cool Thing is another person. So I think two weeks in a row that my One Cool Thing is a person. And this is slightly political. Not even slightly. It’s completely political. My One Cool Thing this week is a man named Mark Kelly. Mark Kelly is running for the Senate in Arizona. He’s the Democratic Party candidate for the Senate in Arizona. This is going to be a special election because of the death of John McCain. So when John McCain died the Governor of Arizona appointed Republican Martha McSally who is not good.
And so Mark Kelly is running. Mark Kelly, I’ve met him, he is fascinating. He is a former astronaut. And he is a combat veteran as well with the navy. And he is also the husband of Gabby Giffords, who was the former congresswoman from Arizona until she was shot by a deranged gunman. And, you know, went through traumatic brain injury. And he’s had one hell of a life.
And he is just a remarkably decent guy and kind of a reminder that there are still these wonderfully principled people who have dedicated their lives to this country. And who have also suffered personally because of the way some of our laws work in this country and have not given up. If anything else they have tripled down and said I want to fix it. And sometimes there are days when I think I don’t want to be here anymore. [laughs] And then I look at – and I talk to a guy like Mark Kelly who says of course you do. And we fix it. That’s what we do.
So my One Cool Thing this week is Mark Kelly. And, of course, if you want to – he doesn’t do PACs or anything like that. He’s just taking personal donations. So if you want to donate to him just look up I think – what’s the website? Think Blue? Act Blue?
John: Act Blue.
Craig: Act Blue. Think Blue is the Dodgers slogan. Sorry. Act Blue is the header organization that collects individual donations for democratic candidates. And you can Google up Mark Kelly and find his Act Blue site and make a donation if you so desire.
John: Fantastic. We’ll have a link in the show notes to that as well. Stick around after the credits because we will be talking much more politics. But for now, Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao with production assistance this week by Stuart Friedel and Dustin Bocks. It was edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is again by James Launch and Jim Bond.
If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. In those show notes you’ll have the links to all the clips that we used. Thank you to the people who put that stuff online. That’s great. It helps us figure out how people talk in real life.
You’ll find the transcript for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. We get them usually within the week the episode airs. And remember you can sign up to become a Premium member of Scriptnotes at Scriptnotes.net. That gets you all the back episodes and the bonus segments like the one we’re going to do right now. Craig, thanks for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Craig, more politics.
Craig: Oh goodie.
John: Oh goodie. Good stuff. So, here’s a thing that I’ve been doing recently, and I think this was a suggestion from Jon Lovett on Pod Save America. Is when someone says, “Oh, you know Trump is going to get reelected,” the response should be what are you doing today to stop that.
Craig: Love that.
John: Basically to throw that back at it. So, on my daily to do list I have this sort of quarter sheet that I use as my to-do list of what I’m going to do every day. And at breakfast I fill it out. I have a new entry in there and it’s Defeat Trump. And every day I have to do something that will actually advance that goal. And so generally it is donating to political candidates, but sometimes it’s actually reading up about things. It’s filling out my California ballot. It’s researching sort of who I want in certain offices. So, I’m trying to do something every day to make sure that I don’t wake up a year from now in an actual fascist nation.
Craig: Well I think that’s a great plan. Have you considered somehow destroying the orange makeup factory? How deep do you go?
Yes, I also do not want to – look, I think we are actually every day waking up in a country that is – I’m not going to be an alarmist and say that we are currently living in a fascist state. But we are living in something that is in between what we were and a fascist state.
John: Yeah. It’s trending in a bad direction.
Craig: Oh yeah. And particularly this latest thing. I mean, the wall between the Justice Department and the White House has always been a kind of necessary check and balance to power. It’s gone. That is terrifying. And the rule of law is breaking down. And one of the reasons why it’s just as important to me that if you have to put all your money on one bet, and it’s a proposition bet, yes or no, you’re always going to be incurring a lot of risk, even if the odds are in your favor you’re incurring risk. So, if the big bet is get rid of Trump that is incurring risk that you will fail.
What you do to hedge that is actively support people who are running for the Senate in particular. I don’t think the makeup of the House of Representatives is going to change dramatically. I think if anything it will even get better, I hope, in terms of people who are opposed to Trump. If the Senate can swing over and be opposed to Trump that is a big deal. Then it is a different situation. It is a wildly different situation.
So, I’m working on that as well. But I think that you’re right. People who sit there and go, “Well you know…” Look, no. Because, OK, fine, then what are we supposed to do? Just curl up and die? I mean, you fight. You rage, rage against the dying of the light.
John: Yes. I think back to the special episode we recorded right after Trump was elected called Everything is Going to be OK.
Craig: Is it? Were we right?
John: But here’s what I’ll say. The fear I was feeling at that moment was so intense. And I sort of thought we would get to this place that we’re at right now. I thought we would get there within a few weeks. And so I guess I was surprised that it’s actually taken this long to do it and the sort of level of incompetence with evil is sort of what’s taken so long to do that.
John: That Stephen Miller didn’t know how to do all the terrible things he wanted to do so clearly.
Craig: Ted Cruz would have done way more damage by now.
John: Oh yeah. Absolutely. So I can take some comfort in that and also in the great successes that happened in the 2018 elections where you saw like, oh, people will actually show up and vote the smart people in. So that gives me a lot of hope.
What’s been frustrating I would say, especially the last three weeks, is looking at the Democratic primaries and the degree to which the people who should be most outraged about what’s happening, the Justice Department things, are directing all of their vitriol at Democratic candidates, which is ridiculous and pointless.
Craig: So stupid.
John: Let me stipulate, the Democratic nominee is very likely going to be Jewish, gay, or a woman.
Craig: Good lord.
John: Almost a guarantee. Unless Biden somehow magically pulls out, it’s going to be one of those three things.
Craig: That’s awesome.
John: But it’s true though, right?
Craig: Yeah, it does seem – well, the one thing I will say–
John: Oh, Bloomberg.
Craig: Yeah. And Biden, we are pretty early. So we’re going to run into these other states. We don’t know.
John: Or it’s going to either be–
John: It’s either going to be Jewish, gay, woman, or it’s going to be Joe Biden.
Craig: Yes. Correct.
John: So we have to be prepared for those scenarios. And in preparing for those scenarios let’s be more mindful about the things we are saying about those groups and Joe Biden, because that may be who we are running. So you and I recorded a segment we actually snipped out of the show because it was just goodbye mentions where I ranted about sort of the homophobia and sort of antigay stuff I was seeing being directed towards Pete Buttigieg which was really happening. And I was so frustrated that it was from these people who claim to be giant liberal supporters and that I wasn’t seeing it being called out.
You could say the same about the sexism. You could say the same about anti-Bidenism. Whatever you want to call that.
Craig: Antisemitism appears to be missing, which is I guess good? I mean, it is good. Of course it’s good. It’s just kind of curious.
John: If we end up with Sanders as the nominee–
Craig: Then it will come roaring back.
John: It’ll come roaring back and it’s going to be harder to claim the moral high ground when you went after the gay guy fine, you went after the woman fine. So, let’s just, I mean, let’s all be better.
Craig: I know. I’m bracing for that. I never forget like how – well, I do. Sometimes I forget. And then America reminds me how many people in America just hate Jewish people and believe that they’re some sort of weird devils in charge of everything. And so I’m bracing for that. If Bernie Sanders is the nominee I just feel like oh boy here we go. Which is a very – you know, it’s a pretty Jewish thing of me think. It’s the way we are.
But, I have been so just – I guess like a dum-dum, just simply focused on doing what needs to be done to get rid of Trump, and I’m happy to make positive arguments, and I could I think make positive arguments for all of those candidates. Maybe not Mike Bloomberg. But all the other ones. But the idea of tearing any of them down right now seems virtually insane.
John: Yeah. It does.
Craig: What? What? I mean, love who you love. It’s a little bit like my attitude towards movies and television. Like I talk about the things that I love because I think that’s where you actually get the most information. I mean, when they attack each other I feel sick right now, truly sick, in a way I never did before because I just think like, no, we can’t – we can’t. My god.
John: We can’t slice each other up over really what are minor differences in what we’re trying to do. The idea that this candidate who is not as progressive or this candidate who is more progressive is going to destroy everything if they become elected is a tremendous fallacy. And so dangerous and so feeds into exactly what the disinformation campaigns are hoping for, where you can’t even tell who are the bots and who are the people who just aren’t thinking this through very well.
Craig: Yeah. And, look, we know that social media is designed to amplify the extremes. It’s just what it does. Because the only way to rise above a kind of large averaged point of view is to be extreme. And then by getting amplified the extremes begin to pull more people to the extremes.
You want to know who I want to vote for? Whoever is running against Donald Trump.
Craig: That’s who I want to vote for.
John: And I do like that the candidates will repeatedly say that. They’ll say after each primary they’ll say of course we’re going to support whoever. That’s great. But I think it’s also a good moment to call out like and don’t be assholes to everyone else online because we need everybody here and we need to all be rowing in the same direction.
Craig: All hands on deck. All hands on deck. And, look, do I have a preference right now? I mean, I have some. Because, look, California we don’t have to vote just yet. So, I’ve been thinking about it because I don’t feel a great need to decide in this moment right now and commit to a team and be Team Blank or Team Blank. I’m just thinking about it and reading. And that’s how that’s going to go. But I will say that the argument that we have to vote for A or you cannot vote for B because they can’t beat Trump is horseshit.
Craig: Every single one of these candidates can beat Donald Trump. Every single one of them. I believe that at the bottom of my heart. Anybody that says Bernie Sanders can’t beat Donald Trump is nuts. And anybody that says that Pete Buttigieg can’t beat Donald Trump is nuts. And the same for Amy Klobuchar and the same for Joe Biden. And by the way, the same even for Mike Bloomberg. Honestly I do believe that in the end what’s going to happen is the great majority of people are going to be voting against Donald Trump.
John: Yep. It has to happen.
Craig: Let’s not cripple our candidate before they get in there. Let’s not hobble them, you know.
John: Yeah. So let’s look at these as competitors for that spot, but not as opponents. Not as villains. We are trying to pick who it is that we think can run this race the best. But that does not mean that we are going to cede any ground to the person who is already in that office.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, look, I think that because I believe that all of them are capable of beating Donald Trump, then I can also actually then I who would I like to be president of these people. Who would be my preferred candidate? And there are all sorts of reasons to say one or the other. But my god the thought of going out there and saying something cruel about another one of these candidates, I mean, at times I lose my patience with the supporters of a certain candidate because they just are, you know, a handful.
Craig: But that’s not going to translate to me tearing that candidate down.
John: 100%. And I will knock on doors for whoever that person is who is running against Donald Trump.
Craig: Yeah. Absolutely. I will donate the maximum amount that I can as an individual. I presume that my wife will as well. And, yeah, I’ll knock on doors and I’ll do what I have to do. I think we’ll all just line up. I mean, that’s the thing. We have to line up and do what needs to be done. And accept that there is no perfect answer. There’s just a better answer. So can we please just choose our better answer with respect for each other and advocate as hard as we can? And I could be wrong, but again with the exception of Mayor Bloomberg who I’m a little concerned about, which is fair, I’m allowed to be concerned, I don’t think that any of the candidates pose an existential threat in the way that Donald Trump does to everyone. But particularly Donald Trump poses an existential threat to immigrants, to people of color, to trans people. Generally to LGBTQ people, I think. And to journalists. And to the law.
Now, what else do I need to say?
John: To the notion of democracy. Yes.
Craig: Correct. To our existence. It is an existential threat to us and our standing in the world and our place in the world and our future. And in the end – oh, I forgot the biggest one – to our ability to live on this planet.
Craig: Because he is not helping solve the coming climate crisis. He’s like how can we speed it up.
Craig: So really we’re going to tear down any of these candidates while we’re – here comes a car. The car is about to hit you. Who would you like to stop that person in the car? Only this person, no one else.
John: No one else.
Craig: OK. So what if that person, you don’t get that person? Then I’m getting run over. O-kay. Cool. Cool man. Cool. Good for you.
John: Good plan. Craig, thanks.
Craig: Thanks John.
- Victory for both partnered Irish election opponents we discussed in episode 436
- Scriptnotes, episode 241, in which John predicts Parasite
- Assistants’ Advice to Showrunners
- Mythic Quest on Apple TV+
- California Penal Code 632 and the legality of eavesdropping
- Scriptnotes, episode 433 with Greta Gerwig
- Appalachian English from Mountain Talk
- The Austin History Center’s accounts from visitors and an interview with architect Tom Hatch
- Ben Platt on Las Culturistas with Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang
- Fck Work But Ima Go, episode 404
- Key & Peele’s OK (uncensored)
- Scriptnotes, episode 45, in which we discuss perspective
- Adhesion contracts
- Travel Time
- Mark Kelly is running for Senate in Arizona
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by James Llonch (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
Email us at email@example.com
You can download the episode here.