The original post for this episode can now be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So Craig uses a few bad words in this episode. Not really very strong bad words. We almost didn’t put a language warning on it, but just in case your kids are in earshot and you don’t want them to hear mild swearing, this is the warning.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 462 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show we’re going to talk about development heck, that weird space that’s not quite heaven but not quite development hell. We’ll also discuss some strategies for breaking down writing projects into more manageable chunks. And look at how many writers are actually working in Hollywood.
John: 12. At least 12.
John: Somewhere between 12 and a million.
John: Yeah. And in our bonus segment for Premium members we are going to talk about wine.
Craig: Ooh. I do like wine.
John: You do like wine. So I thought we’d talk about some wine.
John: But first we have some follow up. So, Craig, on this podcast for the better part of a year we’ve been talking about assistant pay. This last week there was some development on assistant pay at a big agency.
Craig: Yes. So WME and their associated Endeavor Content put out this proposal that’s kind of like a combo improvement in general for the way they pay their assistants and the way they’re going to pay their assistants. And also some relief for assistants that I guess have been kind of laid off or aren’t getting overtime because the offices are closed here and there. And it’s worth mentioning that most of these big agencies like WME or CAA have offices all over the place. They have offices in LA. They have offices in New York. WME has an office in Nashville. I think CAA may have one in London. I don’t know. So, there are many offices, many agents, many, many, many assistants.
So, John, walk us through the numbers here.
John: So they’re going to start the minimum hourly rate for LA, New York, and Nashville they’re raising from $15 an hour to $18 an hour with additional $2 an hour increase, up to $20 an hour rate at the first anniversary of the hire date. So basically you’ve been working there for a year you get that $2/hour bump. And so current assistants get their hourly rate raised from $18/hour, the additional $2/hour increase to $20/hour. That happens in August 2021.
So, this is kind of in line with what we saw happening at Verve which was the first agency that sort of announced some changes. I think CAA also announced some changes before the lockdown.
Craig: Yup. These aren’t as good. Look, it’s a weird thing. You don’t want to necessarily greet someone’s improvement with an eye roll or even worse anger. But this feels insufficient. First of all, the fact that WME was paying people $15 an hour to begin with is shocking and wrong given what the assistants do and how hard they work. Frankly they ought to do some sort of retroactive pay for a number of their assistants. OK, they’re not, so be it.
I have no idea why the starting minimum hourly rate in New York would be the same as Nashville. That’s bananas. Nashville is a great town. It’s a real city. But it’s not–
John: It’s not as expensive. No.
Craig: Are you kidding me? The cost of living difference between Nashville and New York is, well, it’s rather severe. So I don’t understand that at all. New York and LA should be getting more. I think $18 for Nashville – I still think it should be $20, but OK. But to have $18/hour your starting salary in New York, come on.
I just don’t get it. I really don’t understand. It feel like nickel and diming. You’re going to make them wait a year to give them $20 which is what you should have been giving them anyway per hour. Eh. I’m sorry. These guys are incredibly rich. The people who run this company, they’re incredibly rich. I don’t like it.
John: So, I want to both acknowledge that progress is good and that better is better, but this is probably not getting us to where we need to get to. So as we talked about before on the show when we actually talk with people who are working in these jobs the numbers that come back to us most regularly is that to really have a sustainable job in Los Angeles it’s $20/hour if you’re working a 60-hour guaranteed week. It’s $25/hour if you’re working a 40-hour guaranteed week.
Now, in the case of WME they’re saying there’s 10 hours of overtime pay per week without supervisor pre-approval. So, OK, let’s figure that you’re actually working 50 hours at this $18 or the $20. It’s better than it was, but it’s probably not where you need to be.
John: Now, we should also acknowledge that they announced medical benefits, to cover monthly medical premiums for the first two years of employment at the company. That’s good.
John: That helps because that is a big expense for a lot of these assistants.
Craig: It is.
John: And one of those things that makes it easier for kids of wealthy parents who can still stay on their parent’s insurance for a while. It helps with equity in addition to this being the right thing to do.
Craig: So right. So if you are paying that monthly medical premium they’re going to pick that up for you. But I don’t know what that is. So that’s the other thing. I just don’t know what their plan is. If the plan is kind of bare-bone – a lot of times people who are 22 years old are getting these bare bones medical plans because honestly the odds of you soaking up a whole lot of money and getting treated for chronic arthritis is fairly low. So your monthly medical premiums are not particularly high because your plan is not particularly good.
And so I don’t know exactly how much they’re actually picking up there. And also I don’t understand why it only covers the full monthly medical premium for the first two years of their employment. So what happens in year three? They just don’t deserve it anymore?
John: Or maybe they’re actually on the corporate plan at that point. There may be something we don’t understand about why on year three that you’d be moving up.
Craig: Well, I assume that they’re on the plan because I don’t know how they’d be able to pay third party medical premiums. I’m not quite sure how that’s working. There is a student loan relief that they’re offering. A student loan relief of $1,000 after the first anniversary of hire. And an additional $2,000 after the second anniversary of hire, which is not insignificant. But it seems like in a weird way reading through this the thing that felt the nicest was that they get – I got an illustrative of what it’s like being an assistant at these places. Assistants at WME and Endeavor Content, their email said, “Assistant.” That’s what it said.
So if you were working for Jane Doe than your email would be Jane.Doe.Assistant@wme.whatever the hell they are. Now you get to have a name. Aw.
John: Aw. That’s sweet. Yeah.
Craig: So I mean it’s not really – I mean, all of this is really standing to illustrate how bad it has been. I don’t necessarily think I can look at these things and say, “It’s solved.” It’s not. But like you say better is better.
John: Better is better. And I want to give Liz Alper credit because she’s actually been the one who has been talking to WME for the last six months about this stuff.
John: So, she needs credit for the progress that’s been made. All credit to Liz on this. But, looking as I prepped this segment, looking back at where things were at, I went on Deadline and did a search for “WME assistant” and I found this article from 2009 that Nikki Finke wrote.
Craig: Oh, remember here?
John: So Nikki Finke who was the creator of Deadline Hollywood. So we’ll put a link in the show notes for that. But she writes, “So here’s what begins August 1. And so under one year you got $11/hour. One to two years is $12/hour. Two to three years, $13/hour. Over three years, $14/hour.” And so she was writing about this back in 2009 and how there was talk of people walking off the job because the pay was just too low at WME back in 2009. So not exactly a new problem.
Craig: Yeah. So what happened, and again, it just sort of shows you how these guys work. This was back when William Morris merged with Endeavor to become WME. And when they did William Morris assistants were getting about $13.50/hour. And the Endeavor assistants were getting about $9.50/hour, which is like McDonald’s money.
And what happened when they merged? The William Morris people were like, oh good, a chance to reduce, get closer to that $9.50. So they basically just split the difference. They were like, yeah, $11. $11/hour. It’s embarrassing. The whole thing is cultural, by the way. The whole thing. Anyone who tells you it’s economic is full of shit. It’s not economic, it’s cultural. And the culture is similar to that culture of medical interns having to sleep two hours a night in hospitals when they’re starting out. It’s like you–
John: It’s hazing.
Craig: Yeah. You should just be happy you’re here. Basically it’s Hunger Games, and then if you win you get to be an agent and get all this money and stuff. It’s just no good.
John: No good.
Craig: No good.
John: And obviously we don’t even know what things are going to be like six months from now in sort of what degree people are going to be back in the offices, to what degree these people are going to have jobs. So obviously there’s a whole bunch of unknowns.
But what is also unknown is when movie theaters will actually start showing movies again. That was another development this past week. Basically all the movies said like, oh, you know what, we’re actually not coming out. So Tenet which is a Christopher Nolan movie that kept getting pushed back and pushed back and pushed back is now off the schedule, at least in the US.
Craig: Of course.
John: Mulan is pushed back. All the Avatar sequels are pushed back. I just think we should have done this a long time ago. It was unrealistic to think we were going to be able to put these things in theaters and that anyone would see them.
Craig: Well, it didn’t cost the studios anything to be hopeful. It wasn’t like they were spending money. But, yeah, I mean, there is no – even if tomorrow for whatever reason all the governors lost their collective minds and said the movie theaters are now open, the movie theaters won’t open anyway. Because not enough people are going to show up. It won’t cover their costs of running the place. And they won’t get movies, because even if movie theaters were open tomorrow they’re not putting Tenet in movie theaters now. That movie cost a lot of money to make. And they need to pack theaters or they’re not making their money back.
John: I mean, I felt like we need to just call a mulligan on 2020 for theatrical movies and just let 2021 be when we start doing this stuff again.
Craig: Yeah. Pretty much. And maybe, by the way. I mean–
John: I mean, it won’t be right at the start of it, but I think by next Christmas, not this Christmas, the next Christmas I suspect we’ll be back to a more normal situation.
Craig: That would be good.
John: It’s not going to be a lot before then.
Craig: Well, you know, in the normal theatrical release calendar was always kind of jammed up. Even though there are fewer movies than there were when you and I were growing up, the movies that come out are all big movies, so every weekend is like this big movie versus that big movie. And I have a feeling that when vaccines make their way through and COVID moves away from life-threatening to nuisance every weekend is going to be the “Holy Shit.” There’s 15 huge movies. Because they can’t hold them off forever.
John: No. What I find so fascinating is that there’s already all this press that’s been done for some of these releases. So you think of like Black Widow. I’m sure they already did their junket for Black Widow and it’ll be like two years later that you’re looking at this junket footage you did–
Craig: They’ll do it again.
John: They’ll all do it again.
Craig: Yeah. They’ll re-junket it.
John: Yup. Last week on the show we asked listeners what is the first movie that is genuinely good if you watch it today. Basically back in cinematic history, looking back to like the silent era, what is the first movie you can watch and say like, oh, that’s a genuinely good movie. And so our listeners are great and a lot of them are film historians. Some sent in these really long lists.
Christopher Tyler wrote in with one that was on a lot of the lists. He says, “It has to be Buster Keaton’s The General from 1926. It’s still legitimately amazing to this very day.”
Craig: Well, I buy that.
John: I buy that.
Craig: Yeah, I buy it.
John: I have a really hard time watching silent films. And so I’m not going to race out and see The General tomorrow, but sure, I bet it’s both impressive and entertaining.
Craig: Well, the thing about Buster Keaton was that he was so physical, so there wasn’t like a need for dialogue. It’s a little bit like when you’re on a plane and you’re reading a book or something and you glance over and someone else is watching a movie. You can’t hear it. But if you see it and you’re like, oh, they’re watching some action movie. You’re going to kind of start watching because it’s just – the visuals is what matter.
He’s fun to watch, Buster Keaton. Well, you know what? He was fun to watch. He’s dead.
John: He is dead now.
John: Craig, we have some follow up about our How Would This Be a Movie topics as well.
Craig: So we had been talking about K129, this is the CIA project to use the Global Marine Expedition or Glomar Expedition to cover up the fact that they were not really trying to mine the sea floor for minerals. In fact, they were trying to recover a lost Russian nuclear submarine. Anonymous writes, “I’m happy to say that there are two competing K129 projects out there, both at big name production companies.” In fact, Anonymous had a chance to pitch on one of them last summer. And then parenthetically she or he says, “They went with an A-lister.” It wasn’t me or John, so.
John: It was not one of us.
Craig: Nobody even called me. “As I dug in deeper I found the real life events wonderfully cinematic and the key to me is that it’s also a deep character study. I do think the price point would likely be north of $75 million which makes it tough given the subject matter.” And that alone, John, is kind of a sign of the times. Because there was a time when $75 million for a big kind of international spy thriller-y kind of thing wouldn’t be a big deal. And, yeah, I think $75 million for a theatrical project about Glomar.
John: Feels like a lot.
Craig: It feels like a lot. I mean, Netflix seemingly spends that every day on things that are less cinematic, so it feels like it probably would end up being more of a Netflix kind of thing.
John: Yeah, it could happen. But you had said that the expense was going to be a factor from the beginning, and yeah, I agree. Because it’s one of those sort of between-er things where it has to be big and entertaining at $75 million but also probably has to be award-worthy at $75 million. And getting both of those things to line up just right is tough. And basically all the studios make one or maybe two of those a year because it’s what is going to be their Oscar slot. So, yeah, it’s tough.
Craig: It is. It’s a tough one. I don’t think we’re going to see the big, huge version of it. I think maybe there is a more narrow kind of medium budget version that we might see. I wouldn’t be surprised. As Anonymous writes they’re trying.
John: They’re trying.
Craig: We know that.
John: We also talked about the UNO movie as an example of pitching on a board game IP. Frank from LA wrote, “I, too, was approached to write the UNO movie. And the log line given to me by the studio is a gem that I thought would be helpful for young screenwriters to hear, so they can better understand the ‘jumping off’ point that potentially paid gigs really get at.” So this is the quote.
Craig: Oh man.
John: “The UNO movie series lives in a world of diverse character relationships, high stakes, and unexpected turn of events.” Should be turns of event, but OK. “Where anyone could be a wild card.” Really have to underline that. “Where anyone could be a wild card.”
John: “It’s a fun four-quadrant PG-13 film that races from beginning to end with themes that are social and culturally relevant and totally like Ocean’s 11 or Now You See Me.”
Craig: That is a dumpster fire of nonsense.
John: Yes. But, I mean, Frank, thank you for writing in with this, because it’s such a great example of exactly what this movie looks like at this stage. Also, four-quadrant PG-13 film is exactly what they would describe this as. Because it’s fun for the whole family, like everyone gets to go see this movie.
Craig: It is the definition – literally everything they said is something that you cannot do for an UNO movie. Let’s review. Diverse character relationships. There are no character. They’re cards.
John: Well there are four colors.
Craig: [laughs] Oh, the blue people are getting along with the greens. So there are no characters, much less diverse character relationships. High stakes? It is a card game for children. Unexpected turn of events? It’s a random deck of cards. Where anyone could be a wild card. Shut up. It is a four quadrant, no it’s not, it’s a zero quadrant film.
Just to be clear, in case you don’t know, the quadrants are 0-25, and 25 and up.
John: And male and female.
Craig: And men and women. So men under and over 25, women under and over 25. A four quadrant movie is the kind of movie that people of all ages and all genders want to see. I am sorry, 48-year-old men aren’t going to see the UNO movie. You’re on crack. Neither is a 35-year-old woman. No one–
John: There’s actually very few kind of four quadrant movies. Like the Marvel movies are genuinely four quadrant.
John: Jurassic Park is genuinely four quadrant.
John: But a lot of times what they really mean is the Trolls Movie, or Angry Birds which is that–
Craig: Two quadrant.
John: It’s a two quadrant and parents.
Craig: And parents.
John: Basically you’re willing to go see it.
Craig: The parents are just chauffeurs. Everybody knows that. You know, moms and dads don’t want to be sitting there in a movie for eight year olds. Pixar movies are four quadrant films. Because Pixar movies are good enough, their quality enough. Or like Lord and Miller animation is four quadrant.
John: The Lego Movie became genuinely four quadrant, even though it really would be a children’s film at the start.
Craig: Yeah. And it wasn’t like they all sat around going, “It’s going to be a fun four quadrant.” I mean, I’m sure somebody said that, but Chris and Phil wouldn’t. “That races from beginning to end. With themes” – there are not themes – “that are socially and culturally relevant.” There are none. “And tonally like Ocean’s 11 or Now You See Me,” two films that did not have social or culturally relevant themes.
John: No, they did not.
Craig: They were heists.
John: They were heist films.
Craig: They were fun heist movies.
John: So if you get sent this description you’re like, OK, well they’re looking for a heist film that somehow ties into UNO. That’s really all I can sort of take from this. And it has to be a fun four quadrant thing.
Now, I mentioned Angry Birds. I mentioned Trolls. Not to disparage them. I think they were actually very successful at what they were doing. But look at that IP. At least those characters had faces.
Craig: Yeah. There were eyeballs.
John: They had eyeballs. Nothing here has a face.
Craig: Nothing. Even the Emoji had eyeballs, right?
John: Monopoly, you have the dude in Monopoly.
Craig: There’s a man. There’s a dog. There’s a jail. Right? UNO is numbers.
John: There are places.
Craig: It’s literally numbers and colors.
John: Making Chess the Movie.
Craig: No, Chess the Movie there are people. [laughs]
John: There are people. There’s a king and a queen. There’s armies.
Craig: I mean, UNO, it’s insane. And what happens when you get this as a writer and you look at this and you need money, and so your heart sinks, and you’re like, “Well, here we go.” And you read this as basically code.
Craig: And the code is, OK, it’s going to be a heist movie. There’s going to be set pieces and action. The game will probably have to have some sort of – the game will be magic. The cards will be magically. Diverse character relationships, there’s going to have to be four groups, like there are four colors in UNO. And each group is after some magical UNO card, like whatever the UNO card is. The fun one. But one girl from green team is going to fall in love with a boy from the blue team, and so we’ll just grab some old boring Shakespeare stuff and throw it in there. And then COMEDY. Because there’s going to be a wacky character. It’s a dog with feathers. Blech. [laughs]
And all for naught. Literally all for naught.
John: It won’t get made.
Craig: You know it will never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen. Ever. Ever.
John: Now, so on the topic of never getting made is our sort of marquee thing we’re talking about today which is development heck. And so this is a project that would end up in really development hell, but development heck we’ll say for right now. And this is being kicked off by a letter we got in from Mark from LA. Do you want to read what Mark writes?
Craig: Mark writes, “My writing partner and I sold our first screenplay just over a year ago. Since then executives take us a lot more seriously. And we’ve had the opportunity to development several projects with different production companies in both the feature and TV space. As far as we have been able to tell thus far it seems like all this development is always for free, even at very successful production companies. With one of our projects in particular we are now entering the seventh month of developing a pitch to go out with. And we’re nearing the end of our rope. We have put more time and energy into this pitch than we even did the completed script we sold.
“Is this the reality of development? Or are we doing something wrong?”
John: It is both. And so let us talk about the reality of where you are in the development process. So let’s talk about development as a very general term is going from an idea to a finished property. And really from a script into something that’s in production. So a project will be described as being in development which is any part of that state from here’s an idea to we have begun rolling cameras to film this thing. That’s all described as development. And as screenwriters you will spend a tremendous amount of your time stuck in some purgatory of development. You are trying to push this rock up this hill and you’re doing rewrites, you’re doing all this work. You are pitching this project. You are trying to get elements attached. That’s all what is considered development in Hollywood.
Craig: Yeah. There are two kinds of ways of approaching making money with developed material. One way is you are entrepreneurial and so your job is to develop something, eventually gets made, and you get a big windfall from that. And the other way is to be employed. You don’t get a huge windfall at the end. You get paid up front. So it’s the difference between like real estate development speculation as opposed to the people who build the homes. Right?
We’re the people who build the homes. The producers are the people who are real estate speculating. And somehow in our business they’ve got us to share their risk without sharing their reward.
John: So let’s talk about the projects that Mark and his writing partner may be going out for. So it might be the UNO movie. So the UNO movie is a case of there’s IP and Mark and his writing partner get the call saying like, “Hey, there’s an UNO movie, do you want to pitch on it.” And so they go in, they take a meeting with the executives on the UNO project, along with 30 other writers and they figure out their take. And so they go in for another meeting, and another meeting, and eventually they get to pitch at high levels and hopefully land the job writing the UNO movie. That is one kind of development.
What Mark and his writing partner might also be doing is they go in and they sort of pitch an idea of their own to these producers. And the producers say like, “That’s pretty good. Let’s work on this a little bit more. Then we’ll take it out on the town and we’ll pitch to a bunch of places.” And it’s really Mark and his writing partner’s idea, but then they’re going out to places to set it up somewhere. Both are valid. Both can take forever.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I do remember early in my career, and this wasn’t even producers, this was meeting with studio people. The studio people will say, “Listen, we have a script. We want to just start over. We like the idea of it, so we own that. Pitch your take on how you would rewrite it.”
Craig: You end up kind of doing the work of planning out a movie. And then coming back in and sort of pitching out a movie and you may not get that job. That work is hard to do and it’s entirely speculative to try and get work. You’re not handing them written stuff, although, you know, then they started asking for that, too. Against the rules.
But you’re doing a ton of work. And it is frustrating. And, Mark, the thing is it is the reality of development a lot of the time. Your competition is not the best way of doing things. Your competition is the way other writers are going about doing it. And when everybody at a certain rung is fighting for these small few jobs people are going to work really, really hard and take on a lot of risk.
John: So this morning I was going through my Dropbox folder and I have a subfolder called Older Projects. And it’s basically everything I’ve ever sort of pitched on, worked on, you know, the things that never happened basically. And so like Cat Woman was one of those situations. And there’s one called Black Monday and I’m like what is Black Monday? And so I had to pull it up and read through it to even know what it was. And I remembered like, oh wow, I spent months on this.
So it was a project over at Paramount. I met with the producer who had a vague idea about this situation where – it was actually not a bad scenario. Equivalent of like a virus, but a thing gets released that basically destroys gasoline, and it destroys oil. And so essentially what happens when all the oil goes away. And this was right at the time of peak oil. And there really was a genuine concern that we’re going to run out of oil.
And so it was how to do that as a catastrophe thriller kind of situation. So, vague idea. So I’m like, OK, this is what would be interesting for me. I went back and pitched on that. Pitched again to him with actual characters and beats. We pitched to the junior executive.
John: We pitched to the senior executive. And then just nothing happened. There was just no traction for it and it goes away. And it really became clear that the studio never wanted to do it. And that is by far the rule rather than the exception. A lot of these projects they just kind of go away even if there was ten writers pitching on it. There was never really interest in making that movie. Or even hiring someone to write a script for that movie.
Craig: That’s the part that’s the scariest. When we are doing this stuff in concert with producers a lot of times what’s happening is the producers are desperate to get projects in development and then projects onscreen or on the television. Because that’s how they really make their money. And sometimes they say to a studio, “Look, this is a great idea. You’re going to love it.” And the studio is like, “Meh, I don’t think so.” And they’re like, “We’ll prove it to you.”
Well how are we going to prove it to them? I know, let’s go tell 500 screenwriters that the studio is desperate for this. They won’t know. The studio is not going to stop us from doing it because, why? And everybody is going to come in and pitch on this thing that the studio absolutely wants to make and then we’re going to get a great idea and someone is going to come up with this amazing pitch. We’ll walk it in and the studio will finally get it. They’ll get how great this is. But sometimes the studio is like, “No, like we said before. We don’t want to do that. We have no interest in that whatsoever.”
And all that’s happened here is the producers have leveraged your time, your energy, your labor–
John: And really your hunger. Your ambition.
Craig: That’s right. Your hunger and ambition on something that costs them $0 to do and costs you a lot to do in time and energy. Why not? Great system for them. I mean, truly great system. Terrible system for us.
John: Now, let’s keep in mind the other people who are involved in the situation would be the executives at the studio, the executives at the producer’s company, but also the studio. They all need to look busy. They all need to justify their having their jobs. So taking these meetings, it shows that they’re working because they can point to this is the work that I am doing.
Your representatives, your agents and your managers, well, they are getting you into meetings. That’s sort of their job. And they can’t know which things are going to become real and which things are not going to become real. They should have some sense, but they don’t necessarily know what things are going to be real. They don’t know who you’re going to click with, what things are going to lead to other stuff.
And if they deny, you know, every producer or every studio executive access to their clients they’re going to stop getting calls. And they’re going to stop getting incoming calls for their clients. So they need you to go out there and be available or at least take these meetings. So there’s a whole ecosystem that’s built up on sending Mark and his writing partner out for these jobs.
Craig: Right. And when you talk about this hierarchy there are multiple opportunities for people to play this game with you. So, development heck is around the corner everywhere you go. Studio executives trying to convince their boss. A producer is trying to convince that studio executive. The producer’s junior, like the junior partner, is trying to convince the producer that they’ve got something going. Your agent is trying to convince the junior producer that the client has something going. Everybody is snow-jobbing everybody in a huge Ponzi scheme of interest that eventually comes due when you, the writer, finally face off with the studio executive who is going to make a decision. And that studio executive says, “Um, yeah, no, there was never anything here. In fact, this entire meeting I did to just be politically appropriate with the producer I have a deal with. And that producer I don’t even like. And that producer in fact only has a deal here because they made an agreement with the person whose job I just took.
“That guy is gone. I’m here. I don’t even like this producer.” The things that we don’t know are infinite. We are told one thing and it is almost never the truth. There’s a thousand other facts behind it that are hidden from us.
John: Now, so we’re talking about the development heck that happens before you’ve ever been hired to do a job. But we should also keep in mind that sometimes development heck can be you’ve been hired to write a draft and it just never sort of stops. Basically nothing ever proceeds to production and you’re like what is even happening here.
And some of the things that are the common factors I’ve noticed with that is there’s a change in leadership at the studio. So, the person who brought you on that thing is no longer there and the new person has really no interest in that project at all. That happens frequently.
John: If there was a director who was involved, but then that director goes off and does another project, a lot of the momentum has dissipated from that project. I would say of the projects in active development at studios, 75%/80% of those had a director onboard at some point and that director is doing other stuff. And so it’s neither alive nor dead. They’re sort of hoping maybe that director will come back, but that director is never going to come back. Because that director is going to go at the next thing.
That’s a commonplace for writers to find their scripts sort of stuck there.
Craig: Yup. Sometimes actors get interest because they’ve been in a hit. And then while you’re working on your pitch with them. You know, the actor is doing this with you. The actor doesn’t know, often, how to development something. What they know is how to act. And so certain actors become hot, they get the ability to development material. They have writers running in circles for a year and a half. Meanwhile the actor’s newest movie comes out, bombs, and no one cares about what they think anymore. [laughs] This happens all the time.
Craig: It’s awful. It’s really, really hard to deal with. And it’s why now more than ever controlling your own material is kind of your best bet early on. Because, I mean, and I don’t mean this to sound cruel. If you’re new and they’re coming to you and saying we’d love to hear what you think about this, that means they’re in trouble. Because that means A-listers aren’t interested. B-listers aren’t interested. C-listers aren’t interested. Now they’re looking for rookies they can work. They can work to the bone for nothing.
Craig: And that’s not great.
John: That’s not good. So let’s talk some strategies for Mark and his writing partner and other folks who find themselves in this situation.
My first baseline strategy is to try to decide up front how much you actually want this and what it’s worth to you. And so some of the things that may play into that decision is are a bunch of other writers going for it. And if a bunch of writers are going for it that’s a sign that you probably are less likely to get it and this could be a situation where it’s a bakeoff where a bunch of people are competing for the same thing and they really are going to hire somebody. Or it could be really what my agent used to call a “fishing trip” where they’re just seeing if anybody has a take for this. They’re not actually serious about it. They’re just seeing like does anyone have a way to do this.
If it’s that and you’re not passionate about it, take the meeting. Maybe you go in and you spend the day sort of working up one pitch on it, just to show that you actually can develop a story. And that intellectual exercise is actually really good and gets you a little bit more experience pitching. But don’t set your heart on it. Don’t take 19 follow up meetings about it because it’s clearly not a thing that’s actually going to happen.
Craig: Yeah. Part of what representatives can do is just suss out like what’s real here. You know, a producer comes and represents certain things to you and then they kind of need to look around and go, “Yeah, but is this real?” They can drop a line to somebody they know at the studio and that person can be like, “It’s not something that we think we’re interested in. But they’ll always waffle. I mean, if they come up with an amazing pitch, blah-blah-blah, of course.” Well, duh.
John: But that’s why you’re paying your agent and your manager is to do that stuff and to make those uncomfortable phone calls.
John: So it’s fine. And they can always play that you’re too busy doing another thing. And that’s a general strategy I would urge people to consider here, both on this pitching to get a project, and on being strung along deep in development. Like, oh, if we could just think through this thing a little bit more. Is to always have something else that you need to be going off to do so that you can set some time limits around stuff.
It’s like, oh, you know, I would love to sort of keep talking through this, but I got to go off and do this next thing. Or I’m being hired onto this thing and it’s going to be exclusive. Those excuses are helpful at every stage in your career because it just gets people to actually make some decisions. Because so much I think of what ends up becoming development heck is just people postponing and making hard decisions about whether a thing is real or not real.
Craig: Yup. And being busy is an indication to those people that you’re wanted. And unfortunately that’s how humans function. I’m the same person that I’ve always been. But there are people now that I think assign a meaning to me that is 180 degrees from the meaning they assigned to me 10 years ago. I can assure them I was me 10 years ago. I’m the same person. But it’s not how it works.
Craig: That’s the deal.
John: Let’s talk just one second about mini-rooms. Because as you and I were coming up in the industry this idea of we’re just going to meet with writers one at a time and sort of just see if there’s anything out there, increasingly what someone like the UNO movie would do is they might put together a room of writers to try to figure out an UNO movie.
And there’s huge downsides to this mini-rooms, especially in terms of figuring out credit if you’re actually going to make a thing. What I will say is good about the idea of a mini-room is that at least they’re spending some money. At least they’re serious enough that they’re actually going to spend some money on this project. And some people are going to get some payment for their time and energy. So, I’m not a huge fan of mini-rooms overall. I think they’re problematic in so many ways, but I do like that it’s forcing people to say like is this a thing that we actually are at all serious about trying to make into a feature film.
Craig: Yeah. That actually weirdly I also find indicative of a problem. Because if they’re willing to spend money that means they’re willing – that is what development is. It’s almost like they’re trying to develop development now. So, if they’re willing to spend money should hire somebody to figure out how to tell the story and let’s see how that person does.
I will not do these roundtables for features where the point is let’s figure out a movie together. Absolutely not. I get paid a lot of money to do that. In fact, all writers get paid a lot of money to do that. Relative to the wages that are pulled down in the United States our minimums are quite solid for writing a treatment and a first draft of a feature film.
So, they should be doing that. And it’s a different story – if they hired somebody and they’re just looking for advice, well honestly if a writer just called me I would just sit down with them over lunch and just talk about it. That’s what we do with each other. But an official kind of room to team come up with a solution for something that will ultimately earn a corporation potentially hundreds of millions of dollars for $2,500 and some snacks? Nah. Nah, I ain’t going to do it.
John: I’m not going to do it either. But what I’m saying is that they’ve essentially done that for the last 30 years, except they’ve not paid anybody anything.
Craig: Well I don’t think they’ve done that. I mean, we’ve had roundtables where the movie has been made.
John: Oh no, I’m not saying they weren’t doing roundtables, but they were just doing the one-on-one meetings and then they were sort of cherry-picking the best ideas out of some of those people who were pitching their thing. So essentially Mark and his writing partner were going in and pitching their take on the UNO movie and they’re like, “Yeah, no,” but in the back of their heads they’re remembering like, oh, that was a pretty good way of doing this one thing. So they were getting a lot of just completely free involvement rather than really cheap development.
Craig: Yeah. I can see that point. There’s an argument to be made that if people are going to come in and pitch on open writing assignments they should be paid.
Craig: That I would be like, great, everybody that comes in and pitches their take gets $2,000, or whatever. You know? Because it’s a thing and you just shouldn’t be able to do this to people over and over and over and over and over, especially when you know it’s not real. By the way, that’s how you figure out if it’s real. It takes as little as $50 to find out if something is real. I kid you not. You say, OK, you want me to come in and pitch, it’s $50. “No, actually, we don’t.” OK, well then this was never going to happen.
John: Yeah, there’s been an ongoing idea of a meeting log. Essentially when actors go in to audition for things they have to sign in a log and that way SAG can keep track of who is going in on things. It’s tougher to do with writers but it’s not impossible to do with writers for keeping track of who is going in on projects and just getting a sense of is there exploitation happening here.
Craig: It’s way harder for us because the near appearance of the actor indicates that they are discussing a part or perhaps auditioning for a part. But they can’t – the work that an actor does is not usable until it’s done in front of the actual camera. You can’t take an audition tape and stick it in a film. Not so with us. So, who knows what we’re saying in those meetings.
I remember there was one nut job, we’ve had a few in the Writers Guild, and there was one cuckoo bird who his solution to the problem of free rewrites or this sort of thing with endless fishing expeditions and development was to require through negotiation that every conversation a writer had with a producer or a studio executive, be it in person or on the phone, be recorded and then transcripts made and studied by the guild.
John: Yeah. I don’t think that’s a workable solution. No.
Craig: It doesn’t seem workable.
John: Even in the age of computer-assisted transcription that’s just not going to happen.
Craig: Yeah. Like I almost want the companies to be like, “You know what? Yes. Yes. Do it.” [laughs]
John: Do it. Do it. All right. On the subject of the WGA this last week the WGA put out its 2020 Annual Report. We’ve talked about this on every year of the podcast. We’ll put a link in the show notes so you can download it. It has the financials but what we always find most interesting is how many writers are actually working in a given year and how much they’re earning.
This past year more than 6,300 writers reported employment in all work areas. Total writer earnings for the dues period rosé 3.1% to $1.68 billion, which is a big number.
Craig: It’s a lot. That’s a lot of money earned by writers. In the aggregate.
John: In the aggregate. Yes. And so those writers, there were 5,118 working in TV or digital, so streamers. And 2,188 in screen or features. So if you add those together that totals 7,300. But people work in both, so about 1,000 people worked in both TV and features, including Craig Mazin.
Craig: That is true. And I wish there were different statistics. Part of the issue with the annual report is that when it comes out it’s coming out per the constitution. So it has to come out at a certain time. But that time is too soon to collect all of the information for the past year. So, for instance, it’s hard to tell how screenwriters are doing. The number of screenwriters employed went up. It looks like it did not go up commensurate or rather the earnings didn’t go up commensurate with the amount. Meaning that screenwriters are earning less per screenwriter than before. That’s bad.
But, we’re not quite sure because the final numbers aren’t really in yet. So, it’s hard to say. I also would love median averages as opposed to average-averages.
John: 100% agree. So, when you just divide it out you don’t know if you’re actually looking at a real number. Especially because we’re the only union that has writing partners and so you’re counting of those as two separate writers for the purposes of this count, but they’re splitting a salary. You just don’t know what the numbers really are. So I think median would be so much more helpful to understand how people are really doing rather than average.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, in features for instance, I mean obviously in television the enormous numbers are earned under the heading of producing. So they don’t go into this report. They’re not counted by this report. But if you look at features for instance the highest paid feature writer is doing like production rewrites or being paid about $300,000 a week. OK. And they probably do let’s say four weeks like that a year.
John: That skews things a lot.
Craig: That skews things dramatically. That’s on top of the fact that probably that writer who makes $300,000 a week is probably also making about $2 million to write a script or a script and a revision. So, those writers and there’s probably at this point about 30 of them are skewing the average dramatically.
So, median averages would be really, really helpful, I think, to get a better sense of what, you know, the rank and file is earning. Because honestly that’s the only value this report has is to figure out how your rank and file is doing and not the slim edge on the right side of the bell curve.
John: Yeah. I mean, I think the number of writers working in features is higher than I would have guessed. It’s the highest it’s ever been which doesn’t comport with my expectation about sort of the shrinking nature of the theatrical business, it’s remembering that features that are written for streaming count.
John: And so that’s what is making up some of the gap. But those people who may not be paying paid especially well. So, yeah, I agree that a push towards better reporting that actually shows what people are earing is going to be really helpful.
Craig: I mean, we live in a time where statistics are manipulated in four billion ways, right? There’s no reason for us to continually get this blunt report. It’s a blunt instrument.
John: It’s constitutionally-required.
Craig: We should actually be doing better. If they don’t want to issue that to the membership as a whole, totally fine, because a lot of those kind of trend analyses maybe they might think could be used against us in negotiations. But at least internally there should be a very complicated data analysis going on.
John: Yeah. So I will say as a person who has been in those committees, it’s there. So they do have some of those things that actually show where the lines are and where things are headed. And so some decision-making is based on that. But I can see your point that you may not want to put some of that stuff out because it could skew things in ways you don’t want to know. But I do think there’s a value to publically reporting.
I think trying to not talk about money only leads to wages getting pushed down. That’s my belief.
Craig: I agree with you. And I think it would be helpful for us if we trended towards more transparency and more information. Especially because it’s important for writers to know going out there what is real. So, a writer who is starting out and looks to this report to figure out well what does a writer actually make doing feature work has no clue. This report tells them literally nothing.
John: Absolutely nothing. And even on the TV level it’s only showing the scale that they’re being paid for writing TV scripts. It’s not showing their producer money at all. So, not especially useful.
What is real numbers is residuals. And so this report also shows that the residuals collected by the WGA in 2019 grew to an all-time high of $471 million. That’s 1.9% up over 2018. Residuals increased 1.4% in TV, 2.7% in screen. And this is a case where screen residuals are bigger than TV residuals. So screen residuals were $471 million, which were mostly the category of new media reuse, which is basically streaming, and that’s the only area that’s growing. It grew from $15 million in 2014 to $54 million in 2019. So that’s where the money is.
Craig: Yeah. Also not super useful. Like it’s useful from the guild’s point of view as an aggregate, but here’s what I want to know – and I’ve always wanted to know. What is the trend between, for instance, box office performance and residuals collected? That would be good to know. It would be good to know what the trend is between ratings and TV residuals collected. It would be good to know what the average amount of residuals are, the median – again – the median residual collection by individual members. Because if you are David Koepp, for instance, who has been on our show and has written many enormous films–
John: Jurassic Park.
Craig: Yeah. Among other. Like there’s an Indiana Jones in there. He’s collecting a very large – J.J. Abrams is collecting a very large chunk of the feature residuals because they’re based on credits.
Craig: So, again, not hugely useful to figure out our real standing. And the factor that we’ve always kind of – there was an old rule of thumb. If your movie made $100 million domestically at the box office you would get $1 million lifetime in residuals. But nobody knows what that – that was always a guess. And we could figure it out once movies come back. But we don’t have those numbers. So it would be good if we did.
John: I agree.
Lastly, the report also talks about contract enforcement which is basically the guild has people whose whole job it is is to shake trees and make money fall out for things that are owed to members. So, this last year they collected $52 million in owed residuals to people and $5 million in legal collections, which is basically late fees, interest, contract stuff that wasn’t getting paid. They’ve already collected $8 million in 2020. That is a way that the guild should be spending its money is to get money in for members.
Craig: Spending money to make money. That’s a fascinating trend line in as much as there is no trend line. I look at the way we collect on a year against year basis for legal actions and it’s sometimes really high, and then it’s really low, and then it’s really high, and then it’s really low. I don’t know what–
John: Big decisions come down that are sort of a windfall in certain years, and in other years it’s not.
Craig: Exactly. So I can’t necessarily tell if – well, the data does not indicate a trend reflecting legal aggression or restraint.
John: Yeah. So with contracts coming in now with the agency campaign it will be interesting to see whether enforcement is up. It theoretically should be up because we’ll actually know when invoices were sent out. But it will also be really fascinating to see next year’s report what impact the pandemic and the shutdown has had on writers’ employment and writers’ salaries. Because we were the only group in Hollywood who was still working during all of this. TV shows were still getting written. Features were still getting written. All that happened.
But, if production doesn’t start up pretty soon there could be just this backlog where there’s too much written and they sort of stop writing for a while so they can actually shoot this stuff. And I’ll be curious whether our numbers fall. I feel like they have to, but I’ll curious how much they fall.
Craig: It seems like they would. I mean, you can’t really cheat this kind of shutdown. You can defer it. So, in a sense we have deferred our shutdown while the actors and directors are taking their shutdown now. But then once the backlog of scripts is in place and the actors and directors are back at work their shutdown ends and ours will kind of start. It’s sort of inevitable.
I mean, a lot of things will still keep going. Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying that it’s suddenly like tumbleweeds. But it’s going to slow down because they’re going to have to mulch through the backlog of work before they’re going to need you to create more.
John: Yeah. I have no idea what the actual percentages will be, but if DGA is down 50% because of the pandemic are we down 30%? Are we down 20%? I don’t know. So, check in next year on this podcast and we’ll see where we’re at.
Craig: I mean, it will be very hard to know because so much of the money that we make in the television business is not as writers. And so–
John: Yeah. But in terms of total numbers employed – well, yeah, but people were employed for part of the year, then they still count as employed. It will be interesting to try to suss that out.
Craig: Yeah. Because what will happen is you’ll be like, OK, well we have enough scripts. We don’t need any more scripts. But we definitely need you on set. Right? It’s your show and we need your second-in-command on the other set. And then you’re going to be in editing. So, you’re working as a producer. And those overall deals are paying out, you know. But, yeah, I don’t know, we’ll see. But I agree with you that there’s – it’s inevitable. There’s going to be some slow down.
John: Yeah. There couldn’t not be. All right. This topic I had planned for a bigger thing, but we don’t have a lot of time. But my question for you, Craig, is you’re working on plotting out a TV show. How are you breaking that down into manageable chunks? Because you could be thinking about, OK, this is the whole season we’re going to do. How are you working through breaking that down into actionable chunks of stuff you can write in a day?
Craig: It’s all kind of the same process. The only thing that changes from day to day is how far back you are in terms of your point of view. Step one is, OK, there’s probably a story of this season, because I don’t write procedurals for instance. And even in procedurals like on Chicago Fire they have, I think, three stories that are multi-episode arcs. So you start with that. OK, what’s the story of the season and how would we imagine dividing that up into chunks that will become episodes?
What feels like the right sort of inflection point to end and then re-begin? And you do that and then once that feels right then you reposition your map and you zoom in and now you’re looking at the episode. Great. Same process. We have a beginning and an end. But there are going to be inflection points. Those are scenes. What roughly are the scenes? How is it going to break out? Great. Zoom in.
New point. Scenes or sequences. And it’s just that.
John: There’s a fractal quality.
Craig: It’s a fractal quality.
John: Yeah. So I’m finding that same thing, too. There’s a TV thing that I’m working on but there’s also a feature I’m working on. And it’s one of the few things that I’ve needed to write with a partner. And so we talk about it in the biggest, broadest strokes, but then as we sort of zoom on it or we sequence it really is finding what is the shape of this and then what are the scenes within this and trying to get it down to the point where we know the individual scenes well enough that in this outline we can actually number them and say like, OK, you work on 36 and I’ll work on 24 and then be able to sort of swap pages and make sure we’re hopefully writing characters who have existed in the same movie.
But it is that process of always as you’re zooming in tighter remembering what the overall goal is and what the feeling of the overall piece is so that it’s all going to tie back into this thing at the end.
Craig: That’s kind of the mastermind part of the television process. And it’s a different job than just writing a movie. There is this other aspect to it that is – when we’re writing movies we do have to kind of move between our pure writerly brain and our planning brain and sometimes our business brain a little bit. But with television there is way more of a demand on that kind of mastermind battle plan aspect of it. Because there are just more levels of analysis you have to do.
John: Yeah. As a family over this quarantine we watched Game of Thrones. So I had seen it all, but my husband and my daughter had not seen it, so we watched the whole thing together. And it’s been great to watch it, but it’s such a different experience watching it all as one thing, like watching an episode a day versus over the course of eight years or whatever that was.
John: With gaps in between. And I was much more appreciative of the hard work Dan and Dave and everyone was doing in terms of setting up little things that are going to be paying off so much later. And when I’m watching an episode a night it feels like, oh, well that’s a clear line and a clear trajectory, but in their case that was three years ago that you did that thing. And that kind of master planning is something that is kind of new as a writing art form. It’s a thing that hasn’t existed – there hasn’t been a need to have that kind of giant out planning because Shakespeare’s plays don’t need to do that.
Even novels, you know, like the books these are based on, yes, the novelist is thinking about those things and setups and payoffs, but they’re all within his or her own brain. And it doesn’t have to be communicated as a team of like let’s remember to do this here because we’re going to need that moment to pay off two seasons later.
Craig: Yeah. This is why Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is still mind-blowing to me. Because it felt like he had plans that he sort of went, ooh, I think in four years I’m going to do something with that, so let’s plant that little slow-growing seed here. It is mind-blowing when those things circulate back around.
There’s I think an additional aspect of complexity that has been introduced into this system by the enormous flexibility that we now have. There is no guard rail of there will be 22 episodes, or there will be 10 episodes, or even whatever number of episodes each one will be 59:30 long. There’s nothing, right? You can talk – I mean, I talk about this with HBO all the time now. How many episodes? There isn’t a season number, right?
Craig: Watchmen had nine. We had five. Westworld I think would do eight. Game of Thrones sometimes did 12, sometimes did six. Right? And as the years went on some of the episodes are an hour and 30 minutes, and some of the episodes are 48 minutes. And because of that the flexibility means you have way more complexity. You just – you don’t have limitations of form the way you used to.
In movies time will always be a limitation. It’s just set there. You can only go so long before they say, “Yeah, we’re not paying for that,” and the theater won’t run it.
John: And classic television, of course, with its five-act structure or six-act structure as it moved into, you knew you were writing towards a specific formula and therefore while it was sometimes challenging to fit that weird structure you knew what your job was. And when you don’t know what the bigger pieces are it can be tougher.
But in terms of breaking it into little chunks, classic television had its act breaks to make those chunks really obvious.
John: And it’s harder now with the things that you’re writing to figure out, OK, what is the chunk that feels meaningful. How do I make sure that this is a meaningful episode and enjoyable episode of this series that’s actually going to tie in and become a meaningful and enjoyable episode of the whole project?
Craig: And it’s happily also why I think you’re seeing more creativity and more satisfying creativity in television than you are in features these days, in general, not always, because that kind of freedom does unleash creators to do things that are unexpected. No matter what, if you know that your hour is going to be in four chunks with commercials in between there’s a regularity to that you will not be able to escape. It’s just form does dictate content at times.
John: Yeah. For sure. All right, it’s time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is D&D related. It is the Mythic Odysseys of Theros which is a new supplement for D&D. We had Alison Luhrs on the program a bunch of episodes ago. She was a designer at Wizards of the Coast who makes D&D.
This is a new sort of source book. It looks like the Player’s Handbook but it’s just about reframing the game in terms of the myths of ancient Greece. And it’s really, really well done. I think they’ve just done an outstanding job with this book and the other sort of expansion things they’ve made. In this version of D&D there’s no elves, there’s no gnomes or dwarves. You have humans. You have centaurs, minotaurs, satyrs, these lion creatures, little leonins, who are great. You have the gods meddling in sort of mortal affairs a lot. And this new concept of piety which is sort of these boons and blessings you get for acting as a champion of your gods.
It’s just really, really well done. And such a smart way of using existing sort of cultural IP in the sense of like we all know what the Greek gods are, but not using any of the names of those Greek gods and really sort of reframing them in this sort of made up world. Just very smartly done.
So if you like D&D and you’re curious about ancient Greek mythology, which you probably are, I suggest you check it out.
Craig: Yeah. It’s like a reskinning. You know?
John: Yeah. That’s what it is.
Craig: So now I’m going to have to buy this thing, obviously. Because when you’re a DM and somebody comes to you and says, “Yeah, so I’ve got this idea for somebody and it’s going to be a paladin with the new oath of heroism that’s in the Mythic Odysseys of Theros I’m like I’ve got to buy the Mythic Odysseys of Theros.
John: And so become our game has become completely online with the pandemic, we’re not using our physical books so much. What’s so fascinating about these books is they’re just kind of fun to read and not just sort of like the stats in them. There’s cool stuff you can do when you actually see the mythology fit in together.
Craig: And obviously Wizards has become very good at thinking of these probably primarily as digital content and then secondarily books. So they’re getting really good at creating these things so that they’re already to go for online platforms like Beyond D&D or Roll 20 and so on and so forth.
John, what is the font that D&D uses for all their titles? It reminds me so much of the font in Zelda, like when you face off against a boss.
John: I do not know, but maybe as you’re giving your One Cool Thing I’ll look it up.
Craig: OK. Because I know you love fonts.
Craig: My One Cool Thing ties a little bit back to our discussion about UNO. It’s an article in Sports Illustrated and it is Caddyshack 2: The Inside Story of one of the Worst Sequels Ever.
Now, I, as you know, am a big fan of comedy. And I’m a big fan of broad comedy. And I have written plenty of broad comedy sequels myself. So, why would I recommend this? Because it is a great window into how things can go wrong. And it is easy for people I think to just imagine like, “Oh, it was a cash grab and everything went wrong, because they didn’t care.” Some of them didn’t care, like Chevy Chase apparently. And it was definitely a cash grab for Rodney Dangerfield who was unhappy with the way things were going and in fact he was unhappy creatively so he actually abandoned the cash grab.
And Harold Ramis was doing it mostly out of a sense of obligation and trying to help Dangerfield. So it wasn’t a cash grab for him. And the director, it wasn’t a cash grab for him. He was like, “I love Caddyshack. Let’s see if we can make this work. It seems like a good idea.” Everybody’s heart was probably in the right place. And then so many things went wrong. And then bad choices were made.
And it wasn’t like Dan Aykroyd made his performance choices because he was cynical or doing a cash grab. He made a choice that people didn’t like, which happens sometimes. And so I thought it was a really good window into how things go wrong, and also how hard it is to do sequels to these movies. And all of it predicated on this very interesting fact that a lot of people don’t know which is that when Caddyshack first came out it was not a hit initially. And critics hated it.
So, we remember Caddyshack as a comedy classic that much have just descended from the heavens and pleased us all. But it wasn’t. And then Caddyshack 2 really went off the rails. So, a fascinating article for you to understand how things actually function. Studying the way things go wrong. It’s an interesting investigation. It certainly provides good context so you understand how somebody like Harold Ramis for instance, who was a brilliant guy and who was nowhere near done being brilliant at the time of Caddyshack2, wrote Caddyshack 2. It happens. You know?
John: Cool. I will look forward to that. While you were talking I was looking up what the fonts are for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. And there is a list of what the basic fonts are. Because the books are very, very consistent in terms of how they work.
Craig: Yeah. I want that title font. Like where it says Mythic Odysseys of Theros. What’s that one?
John: I cannot find that.
John: Oftentimes title fonts are actually really art work. So they can be based on existing fonts, but they’re really done as individual glyphs. And so they’re put together sort of a character at a time. So I have not found that. But I have found a list of things like Scala Sans, Scala Sans Caps, Modesto Bold Condensed, Mrs. Eaves Small Caps, Bookmania, and [Delvernan] are the main text faces that you see inside a fifth edition book.
Craig: What about Modesto Bold Condensed? Oh, no, it is.
John: Is it?
Craig: Modesto Bold Condensed is the font that is used in the title.
John: Oh, yeah. So here’s what I’ll say. You see those on the interior headlines within. But I suspect what you’re actually seeing on the cover is based around that but had a lot of sort of artistic flair being applied to it.
Craig: That may be true.
John: But that’s the basic [crosstalk].
Craig: If I had to fake a Dungeons & Dragons title I would use that font. Which you can purchase I believe for the low, low price of–
John: On My Fonts.
Craig: Yeah. Worth it.
John: Worth it. That is our show for this week. So if you are a Premium member stick around because we’re going to talk about wine. But otherwise Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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Craig, thanks for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Craig, let’s talk about wine. So, sometimes as we’re playing D&D you will open a bottle of wine. Increasingly you’ve not been opening a bottle of wine but you’ve been injecting a mechanism into a bottle of wine to push out a single glass of wine. Talk to me about your experience with wine and when did you first start drinking it and what do you look for in a wine?
Craig: Well, I wasn’t a wine drinker for a long, long time. You know, it wasn’t – I guess if I was going to have a drink it would be a beer, maybe, or a cocktail. When you’re young you drink beer. That’s basically what’s available, or god forbid those disgusting wine coolers. And then at some point you feel the need to be grown up and so you copy someone and their choice of cocktail, so it ends up being something boring like a vodka and soda or a gin and tonic or something like that.
But, you know, and then you try wine. You know, I think my first encounters were probably with white wine which I still do not like at all. I just don’t like it. But red wine, big fan.
John: Yeah, so I’m a fan of all wines. As a family, like my husband Mike does not like red wines, and so it’s only whites and rosés for him.
Craig: Same over here with Melissa.
John: So I like whites and rosés just fine. But I do – the complexity of a good red wine is terrific. But I will say that as I’ve grown up I’ve had the opportunity to drink expensive wines and fancy wines and go to wine tastings and do stuff. And I’ve not found it worthwhile to get deeply, deeply into wine. And so I think there’s a – you can sort of pick a level which you enjoy wine and just buy those wines and you’ll be very, very happy.
Craig: Agreed. I’m like you. I have a little wine fridge that holds maybe 30 bottles of wine or something like that. Where I live there happen to be just a lot of wine people, like I have one friend who has a full walk-in wine storage refrigerator room, I’m sure there’s a name for it.
John: Like a wine cellar, but not in the basement.
Craig: A cellar, there you go. It’s a cellar. And it’s extraordinary. And he has an enormous amount of wine in there and a lot of it is incredibly expensive. I’m not that guy. But I definitely appreciate good ones, which aren’t always the most expensive ones. I’ve learned enough – I find Cellar Tracker is very helpful, at the very least so that I know which ones I should be drinking before other ones. And I know enough to let them open up if they’re a certain kind.
So I’ve learned some things. But I’m never going to be – I mean, I know the kind of wine I like. If anyone is buying me a bottle of wine they know what to buy me.
John: Craig, my take is that Craig likes a big wine that has a strong character to it. Nothing subtle about a wine for Craig. Is that correct?
Craig: I like to be hit in the face with a big cabernet. That’s my deal. That’s what I’ve liked. I’ve always liked that. And so, like a Caymus is sort of like a great example. Like a Caymus Cabernet, or PlumpJack. These are good wines. They’re not like stupid. But I’m not like necessarily a pinot noir guy as much. It’s just I like things that are bit bolder. So, you know, that’s my stupid taste. But, yeah.
John: Yeah. So 2016 and 2017 I was living in Paris and living in Paris you think like, oh, you must have found great wines all the time. And the truth is that the wine you get at the supermarket in Paris is delightful and super cheap and as good as a $15 or $20 bottle that you’d here. But it was like $3 there. Everything is just really, really cheap.
Craig: Yeah, I’m not going to drink $3 wine. I don’t care. It’s not going to happen.
John: Well, you’d be hard-pressed to know the difference. You’d be hard-pressed to tell.
Craig: Three Euro wine maybe. I would drink Three Euro wine, but not $3 wine.
John: Fine. And so that year was actually helpful for me in terms of being able to understand what I was looking for even though I couldn’t look for a certain name, or sort of a certain grape because things are just identified differently there. So I got a sense of what that all feels like.
It also gave me a little bit more appreciation for buying local wine. And so I would say overall I try to purchase things that are from the LA region, or Santa Ynez Valley, or someplace kind of close because that way I’m not trucking wine from the other side of the world to drink when I kind of don’t really care or would notice the difference.
Craig: And happily I’m probably a bigger fan just in terms of my natural taste of California cabs than Bordeaux and stuff like that. I’m great with a California wine. And here we are.
If you ever get a chance to – if you like wine and you can visit Napa it’s beautiful. So is Sonoma. But I’m more fond of Napa for whatever reason. And a wine buddy is always a good thing. Like Chris Morgan who we play Dungeons & Dragons with and who does all the Fast & Furious movies is a neighbor of mine and I think a more educated wine guy than I am. And every now and then we’ll go out to dinner and get something that’s well, just, silly. We’ll spend some of the money. We’ll get like a bottle of Scarecrow or something like that. And it’s awesome. It’s great. And it’s great to drink with somebody that kind of appreciates it as well and can teach you a little bit about it, too.
So, that stuff is always fun to do. But like anything else I’m always wary of passions turning into like second jobs. You know?
Craig: And I think for a lot of people wine becomes a second job. It’s never going to be that for me.
John: So, some advice for people who don’t know much about wine or sort of scared to even get started. First off, don’t worry about your palate. Don’t worry about having the appropriate adjective to describe a little bit of things on all the notes. It doesn’t matter. Do you enjoy it? That’s phenomenal.
If you’re looking for a white wine that is actually kind of interesting and is not just a big, dumb chardonnay, Albariños are a really good varietal that are often really interesting. So I would say go for that.
People often sneer at rosés because I think they are thinking of white zinfandel. They are thinking of a really cheap kind of wine cooler wine that they had way back in the day. But rosés are actually delightful on a hot summer day in lieu of a cocktail. So try a classical rosé on a hot summer day. Delightful. And a lovely thing to drink.
Craig: Yeah. Melissa, she likes all the white. She likes the rosés. Then there’s a whole world of sparkling stuff. There’s sparkling wines, and then if they’re from Champagne then they’re champagnes. And then there’s also Lambrusco which is a sparkling red wine which became super popular a couple years ago.
Yeah, you know, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. And Cellar Tracker is a really cool app. I think it’s been a One Cool Thing before. Where you can take a picture of the label and it will give you all sorts of information that’s useful like what’s the average price of this bottle of wine, so are you getting ripped off or not. And what do people think of it? And when would it drink best? There’s certain phrases you pick up like pop and pour. If you ever see P&P that’s a great wine that’s like open it, pour it, drink it. Other wines need an hour or two. And other wines are not ready yet at all and just lay them down.
John: I use a similar app called Vivino which is helpful for like when someone brings you a bottle of wine if you don’t know if it’s a fancy bottle of wine or not a fancy bottle of wine, or if you really like a bottle of wine and you want to remember it, you snap a photo of it and that’s great.
The other thing I would encourage people to do is if you find a winemaker that you like a lot, just go to your local neighborhood liquor store and have them order a case for you just so you have all one bottle. Because there’s something really reassuring about not having to wonder will I like this bottle of wine I’m going to open. I know I’m going to like it because I have 12 of them and that’s going to be useful.
For our wedding we got a white and a red. And so we ended up with 50 bottles of each of them. And it was really lovely to have a year later, two years later, to be able to open up one of those bottles and remember what our wedding felt like because like, oh, this is the same bottle of wine.
Craig: Aw. You guys.
John: Yeah. And then of course one of them will be corked. And you’ve lost it.
Craig: Oh that’s right. I hate you. [laughs]
John: Yeah. What in life is like being corked? It’s one of those weird things. You just don’t know? Every time you open up a bottle it’s like there’s a chance that it’s actually going to be disastrously wrong.
Craig: There is. Sometimes you get that weird cork rot. So there’s corked which is a nasty cork rot flavor that gets in there. And then sometimes oxygen gets in and it turns it all to vinegar. Then there’s also a fungus that gives a weird like flavor that some people actually like.
John: Like a dirty sock flavor?
Craig: Could be. If that’s happened to you. I don’t recall. But generally speaking if I taste dirty sock or something–
John: You’re not going to enjoy that wine.
Craig: No, if I taste something – and I think we popped a bottle at one point or another where we were like, oh no, wrong. No. Into the sink it goes.
John: So here’s the closest equivalent to corked I can think of is every time you cut open an avocado there’s a chance it’s going to be disastrously wrong inside.
John: You just don’t know. You don’t know.
Craig: Yeah. That sounds about right. It just could be – or like you bite into an apple. Is it mealy inside? Or is it crisp? You’ll find out.
John: You’ll find out soon. All right. Thanks for talking wine.
Craig: You got it man.
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