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 465 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show we’re going to talk about not the heroes, not the villains, but the villains’ accomplices and how to write them more believably.
We’ll also answer some listener questions and give an update on what’s happening between the agencies and the WGA.
Plus, in our bonus segment for Premium members we will talk about travel tips during the pandemic.
Craig: That’ll be fun. Don’t do it. Is that it? It’s a short bonus episode. Stay home.
John: Yes. Stay home. Stay home everyone.
Craig: Stay home.
John: We’re going to start with some follow up. And you know my favorite kind of follow up is deep, deep follow up. So we’re going to reach all the way back to Episode 101.
Craig: Good lord.
John: Which as Craig will remember is the questions from Episode 100 which was our 100th Anniversary Episode, it was our first sort of big live show in Hollywood.
John: So in that Episode 101 we took a listener question and this is me and Aline talking in Episode 101. Important context that Aline and I had this conversation. Let’s take a listen.
Aline, do you want to do Winds of War for ABC?
Aline Brosh McKenna: I love Winds of War.
John: We should do that.
Aline: Who was the one – there was a blonde that was in it.
John: I don’t know.
Aline: Victoria something.
Craig: Herman Wouk wrote the novel.
Aline: Herman Wouk. Oh, that was so good.
John: So thank you for a great idea.
Audience Member: You’re welcome.
John: We’ll name a character for you. It’s going to be great.
So, Craig, that was so many years ago. That was 350 episodes ago.
Craig: We were children.
John: That we had this great idea. So some follow up on that is Aline and I actually did send each other the Kindle versions of The Winds of War and we talked about maybe twice again. So, you can understand my outrage, my absolute outrage this last week when it was announced that Seth MacFarlane is doing a redo of The Winds of War.
Craig: What? What? Dude. He stole your idea from 20 years ago. [laughs]
John: Yeah, so how dare he? After all, Aline and I did basically nothing to advance the project. For him to just swoop in and do it is just absolutely outrageous.
Craig: You said something that happened out loud and when you say a thing that happened it’s yours.
John: Yes. I mean, I basically called shotgun on the idea.
Craig: Right. It’s yours. I mean, that’s just a fact. Everybody knows that. What’s something happening right now? Oh, there’s this, in Belarus there’s these protests. I just said it. So, only I can write a show about it now. Because I said it. It’s mine.
John: I mean, he absolutely declared – just basic rules that once you see a thing, put your hand on it, and then it’s yours.
Craig: It’s like in cartoons when you would land on some weird planet and stick a flag in it. That’s it. The flag is there, so it’s our planet.
John: Marvin the Martian.
Craig: I claim this planet.
John: Mm-hmm. That actually ties very well into our first listener question. This is from Sadness Jackson. So he wrote a long email. I compressed it a little bit here. But let me read to you what Sadness Jackson writes.
“I’ve listened to you guys since day one and I knew this day would come. I spent the last few months researching and writing a story revolving around the Battle of Blair Mountain. And now you’ve shed a light on it and announced it on your podcast. Now, I like the segment of How Would This Be a Movie, but you had to use real instances and moments, we are all writers, it would be fun for us to toss imaginary scenarios at you and see what you would do with them. But I know you won’t do that because you hope some studio will listen to your show and this could be the movie suggested that gets you working on this project and you can gloat about how you were right.
“However, there are so many writers like me that are looking for that one great idea. I felt I had it. And now I might as well give that one up. I know what Craig will say. He will say that I’m a fool and that every idea and moment in the history of the world is already thought about by the studios.”
Craig: Pretty close.
John: “Which is wrong. If that were so, they would have no need to do constant research for good stories. But let me ask you something, Craig, why did you never use the moment of Chernobyl as a topic for the show? When you were first thinking about writing it and you were putting in the research why not shine the light on that in a How Would This Be a Movie segment? I know the answer because you thought it was a great idea and you didn’t want anyone else doing it.
“Please just know that there are struggling writers out there working on these stories that you do. And it’s hard enough out there without getting the rug pulled out from under you. I love your show. I think you guys are great and do a lot of wonderful things for writers in the community as a whole.”
Craig: [laughs] Does that work? Does that even work? Where you say stuff and then at the end you go, “By the way, I think you’re wonderful and I love you.”
John: So, Craig, so much to unpack here. And I hadn’t really meant to lead in with The Winds of War thing, but of course that’s exactly the same kind of scenario is that I had this great idea, like you know what, we should do Winds of War. And then someone else had a similarly great idea that they should do Winds of War. Separated by many, many years.
John: You had the idea to do Chernobyl and as I understand you were not the only Chernobyl project out there.
Craig: Not at all. When I was working on Chernobyl there was another project in active development I think with Scott Rudin who is a producer of great note. So the question, or at least your premise here, Sadness Jackson, is just not true. I was not at all concerned about somebody else doing it, that I didn’t want anybody else doing it. Somebody else already was doing it. And that was just that version. There were also other things that had already been done.
So, how can I be worried when there had already been a number of things that had been done about Chernobyl? That makes no sense at all. And also I’m sorry but Blair Mountain has been done, because that’s Matewan. Right? It’s already out there. What are you talking about, dude?
John: So, going back to this general idea of How Would This Be a Movie as a segment that we’ve been doing not since the beginning, but we’ve done it for quite a long time here. The reason why we pick real life events is because we can all be looking at the same set of facts and say like out of this set of facts, out of this true story that’s out there, what are the interesting movie stories to be telling. It’s useful for us to be taking a look at actual real things that happened in history or that are happening in the news because there are some objective facts behind there.
If we just said a movie about a tiny dragon and a shoe fall in love, well, we could talk about that but there’s no common set of things for us to discuss.
John: This last week the trailer came out for the Zola movie. Remember way back when you and I talked–
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: So way back at the Austin live show we were sitting down with Steve Zissis and Jane Espenson and we did a How Would This Be a Movie segment. We talked about Zola who had this amazing Twitter thread about how she was hustling and it was great and we watched sort of how much was real and how much was invented, but it was cool. So like this could be a movie. It would be challenging to make. That movie got made. And if we didn’t have that common set of things for all to be looking at we couldn’t be having a meaningful conversation.
Craig: Yeah. I literally don’t understand this. I don’t think you get it that you’ve spent the past few months – OK, so this is hardly years of your life – but regardless the past few months researching and writing a story revolving on the Battle of Blair Mountain. If it’s good then people are going to love it. No one is going to say, “No, sorry, we’re all full up on Battle of Blair Mountain stuff.” That’s not how it works, at all by the way. Unless, I mean, it seems to me, I mean you do say that you are struggling writer and I guess like an up and comer, so if you write a great script the good news is now all these people will know how good of a writer you are and they will want to both talk to you about the making of that script and also the making of other stories, all of which is part of history.
You cannot put your arm around a piece of history and say, “Mine.” It doesn’t work that way. Nor does it need to work that way. The most remarkable stories about history, the ones about things I already knew but just from some beautiful interesting angle and done splendidly. You know? The premise here is so confusing. I think you thought that just putting the words Battle of Blair Mountain on a cover page was going to be the deal. It’s zero percent of the deal.
The quality of the script is 100 percent of the deal.
John: To be fully transparent here, when we were putting together that last episode we did of How Would This Be a Movie one of the other stories in it was the nuclear sub that had gone down and sort of the whole CIA plot to make it seem like there’s a whole different thing happening, the Manganese. And so in the staff meeting I was describing it to everybody else and Nima who works for me said, “Oh man, you shouldn’t put that on the show. You should do that yourself.”
And I had this moment of hesitation of like, wait, should I just do this movie? Should I just pitch this movie? And then I was like, no, we’ll just leave it in the segment. And you know what? I’m really glad I did because the first emails we got back saying like, “Oh, by the way, there’s three of those movies in development right now.”
John: Am I not so much happier that I didn’t try to take out and shop this movie because other people were trying to do it, because you know what, it’s a good idea. It’s an actual thing that happened. The cinematic possibilities are really clear. So, I am sort of in the same situation where it’s like I’m a tiny bit bummed that I wouldn’t be working on this movie, but also relieved that I know now that this thing is out there.
Sadness Jackson, I would also stress I think because you’re living in this cocoon where you thought you were the only person who knew about the Battle of Blair Mountain you would naturally assume that you are the only person to have the idea of making a movie about it. But I guarantee you there were at least five other people out there working on Battle of Blair Mountain movies at the moment. So someone will probably write in listening to this segment saying like, “Oh, you should know there’s one in development at this studio right now.”
So, it’s not the first time this has happened.
Craig: No. And by the way if you had wanted to do the story of the Glomar Expedition then you could have done How Would This Be a Movie and then just turned around and called your agent and said, you know what, I’ve got a pitch on how I think this could be a movie. And if nobody else is working on it, or maybe one other place was but another place was looking for their Glomar movie, then you could go in and pitch it, or you could write one yourself.
Because here’s the other thing. They can develop 20 Glomar movies.
John: 100 percent.
Craig: And maybe none of them go. And then you write one script where everybody goes, “Oh my god, John August cracked it. This is how you do this.”
There were two animated films about ants in movie theaters months apart. And they both were hits.
John: Remarkable that.
Craig: Sadness, if you love your story and you are writing and I hope to god you love it for some reason other than the fact that you thought it was some unique, undiscovered thing. It’s not. And if the story is terrific the story will be terrific nonetheless.
John: All right. Now onto a marquee topic here. This actually was going to be my One Cool Thing, but as I thought about it more I realized like, oh, it’s actually kind of a segment for the show itself. So, the inspiration behind this is this book I’m reading based on a blog by Keith Ammann called The Monsters Know What They’re Doing. So I’ll put a link in the show notes to that.
It is a book that is really intended for people playing the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. So it’s not a general interest book for everyone out there. It’s just to me and to Craig.
Craig: Yeah. Great blog. I love that blog.
John: So, why I thought that this could be generalized into a topic for discussion overall is one of the things I liked so much about Keith’s book is that he talks about the monsters that you’re fighting and how they would actually think and how they would strategize in combat. And one of the points he really makes very clearly is that they have a self-preservation instinct. They’re going to do things, they will fight, but then they will run away and they will flee when it makes sense for them to run away and flee, because they exist in this world and they’ve evolved to survive. And so that survival instinct is very, very important.
It got me thinking about movies I’ve seen. I rewatched Inception recently which is great. It holds up really well. The third section of Inception, or the fourth or the fifth, however many levels deep we are in Inception, there’s a sequence which very much feels like a James Bond movie where this mountain alpine sequence. And in there there are a bunch of just faceless lackeys who just sort of keep getting killed and offed. And it struck me that, wait, no one is acting – like why are they doing what they’re doing? And you can see this in a lot of movies. A lot of action movies but also I think a lot of comedies you see them in where the people who are not the hero, not the villain, but are working for the villain do things that don’t actually make any sense. And they will fight to the death for no good reason. They don’t seem to exist in any sort of normal universe or world.
And so I want to talk through this. I don’t necessarily have great suggestions for this, but I think we need to sort of point it out and maybe nudge people to be thinking more fully about the choices they’re making with these henchmen characters.
Craig: That’s probably the best we can do is just be aware of it. Because it’s more than a trope. It is bizarre. All right, so here’s a movie that did it fairly well, and for a reason. In Die Hard there are all sorts of lackeys.
Craig: There are some lackeys that are front and forward, and then there are some lackeys that are in the back. But one of the things you understand from this whole thing is that this organization is a worker-owned business. So, they’re all going to split the money. Sure, maybe Hans Gruber gets a little bit extra because he master-minded it, but they’re all splitting it. So, they’re all the heroes of this job. If John McClane gets away with his shenanigans they’re not going to get their money. So I understand why they fight. And then if someone’s brother happens to be killed, now it’s personal.
But when it is not a worker-owned collective but rather a standard boss and employees it is odd that they seemingly fight as if they were trying to protect their own dad or something.
John: Yeah. And so they will fight and fight and they will get thrown over the edge and get the Wilhelm scream as they fall and it will move in. They’re basically just cannon fodder there to be shot at, to be taken down.
John: So you see this most obviously in Bond movies. The Spy Who Loved Me has the whole crew of that tanker at the end, the Liparus. Moonraker, Drax Industries has all these people who are doing these space shuttles and like who are they? Why are they doing this? Are they zealots? Are they science zealots? You just don’t know. And this is really very well parodied of course in The Simpsons. There’s a whole episode with Hank Scorpio where he recruits Homer and he sees sort of like why these people are working there because he’s a really good boss and he’s really caring and considerate.
So, I would just say pay special attention to those minor characters, those guards, those watchmen, and really be thinking about why are they doing what they’re doing. And you don’t necessarily – you may not be able to give dialogue or even a lot more time to those characters, but do think about what their motivations are.
John: And sometimes if you do that you can come upon some surprising choices. Like Iron Man 3, one of the henchmen just says like, “Oh, no, I’m not being paid enough,” and just walks away. Or just runs. And those can be surprises that let the audience and the reader know that you’re really being paid attention and that can be great.
Craig: There is a really funny parody of the henchmen syndrome in Austin Powers, I want to say is it in the first one? Yeah, I think it’s the first one. So, everybody remembers – I think most people remember the scene where Austin Powers is driving a steamroller very slowly at a henchman who doesn’t seem to be able to get out of the way. And then he rolls him over. There’s a deleted scene, I think you can watch it on YouTube, where they actually go to that henchmen’s home and you see his wife and child mourning the loss of the henchmen. And it’s like he was a person.
It’s true. One of the things that that stuff does is both limit our interest and also in and the capacity – or the impact of death in a movie, or a TV show. And it also I think makes the world seem less real and therefore the stakes less important.
John: I agree.
Craig: Because, look, if everybody is dying that easily, it’s the Storm Trooper problem, right? Who is afraid of Storm Troopers anymore? If you make a Star Wars movie now, I think just your hero being actually killed by a rando Storm Trooper like in scene one would be amazing. That’s it. We’ve got to find a new hero because one of those randos – they can’t all miss all the time.
John: No. And I think one of the good choices The Force Awakens made was to have one of the heroes be a Storm Trooper. And he takes off his helmet and you realize like, oh, there’s an actual person there. John Boyega is an actual person.
Craig: He’s the only one. [laughs]
John: Yup. And he’s special but I think the point is that he’s not special. That actually all of those people that you’ve seen die in all of these movies were actually people as well.
John: In the Mandalorian in a later episode there’s a long conversation happening between two Storm Troopers and they’re just talking. And it’s recognizing like, oh, they are there for not just the plot reasons. They actually were doing something before the camera turned on them.
Craig: So it’s the red versus blue, you know, the Halo. Generally speaking when we do see henchmen talking to each other they’re talking about henchmen stuff. So it’s like purposefully pointless and banal. And then they die. They die every time. They don’t go on. They do not live on. So, yeah, just be aware of it I guess, right?
John: Yeah. And so the henchmen problem is a variety of the Redshirt problem which we’ll also link to there. John Scalzi’s book, Redshirts, talks about sort of in the Star Trek series notoriously the people with the red uniforms who beam down to the alien planet are the first ones to die. There’s actually statistics about how often they die versus people in other color uniforms. I think we’re all a lot more mindful of that now with sort of the good guys. And I think we see lot less Redshirting happening. You still see some of it.
I just rewatched Aliens and there’s a little bit of Redshirting there, but not as bad as the classic.
John: I would just urge us to be thinking the same way on the villain side and always ask ourselves is there a smarter choice we can make about those people who would otherwise just be faceless deaths.
Craig: Yeah. And that’s why the Bill Paxton character was so great in Aliens because it was an acknowledgment that not everybody is brave in a psychotic way. I mean, some of those characters are nuts for engaging the way they do with this incredibly scary thing. They don’t seem to have fear. They don’t seem to be thinking ahead like, “I had plans for my life. I have investments. I have a girlfriend, a boyfriend. I’ve got things I want to do.” They’re just like, screw it, if I die, I die.
Well that’s crazy. That’s just a dangerous way of thinking. Bill Paxton was like, “No way, man.” He was the only person that was sane and he was correct. They should have gotten the hell out of there.
John: And nuked her from space.
Craig: Yeah. “Nuke her from orbit, man.” There’s nothing wrong with being afraid and rational. Because that is in fact how people are. And as we – it’s not that every – look, a lot of it is tonal. So some things are going to have henchmen. That’s just the way it is because the show or the movie is pushed a little bit. For instance, Snowpiercer, which I love, they’re henchmen. They don’t have faces. I don’t know what the arrangement is exactly. I assume they get a slightly better car maybe. But they’re going in there and people are getting shot and they’re like, “Oh, OK. Well I guess it’s our turn to go in there and get into a shooting—“
I would be terrified. They never look scared. But that’s also a movie about everybody on the planet living on a train that’s going around a frozen earth. And they’re eating bugs. It’s sci-fi. It’s different. But if you’re talking about Breaking Bad, you’re not going to see a ton of henchmen there because people live in the world where they can get scared.
John: Yeah. And so in TV obviously you have more time to sort of build out universes and scenarios, so it would be more likely you’d be able to understand the supporting characters. On The Sopranos you have a good sense of who they are. And so that’s all built out. In feature films it’s tough because you cannot divide focus so much. In a Robert Altman movie you really could see everyone’s point of view, but you’re not going to encounter that in a more traditional feature. That’s just not sort of how it works.
So I guess I’m just asking you to be mindful of it. If you’re writing in a pushed universe in science fiction or fantasy or an action movie, yes, some stuff is going to be a little bit more common. But I also see this in comedies, especially high concept comedies, where everyone just seems to be there to service this plot, this sort of high concept plot. And I don’t see a lot of attention being paid to, wait, how would a real person in the real world respond to this? And is there anything useful to be taken from that? Because people just accept the premise a little too easily.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of amusing that they’re like “this job is so good, I need to die.” [laughs] Well it’s not that great if you’re dead.
John: No. No. Defend your own interests first.
John: Everyone is selfish enough and wants to survive enough that they’re going to pull back and defend themselves when they need to. So just be thinking about that for your characters.
Craig: Yeah. Probably if you’re writing Guard 3 and Next Guard and Tall Guard, then yeah, there’s trouble.
John: There’s trouble. All right, shifting gears completely, let’s talk about the agency situation. So it’s two or three episodes ago we talked about how UTA had signed a deal with the WGA which was largely like the deals before it. In that was a sunset provision on packaging that required that one of the other agencies had signed. That agency has signed. So ICM signed. That sunset provision is now in effect. Starting in 2022 there will not be packaging from any of the agencies that have signed, which basically means all of the agencies except for the two that are left, which is CAA and WME. So that’s sort of the first big thing that happened since we last spoke.
There’s also news on the lawsuit front, and this is confusing even for me who is sort of being subpoenaed by one of the lawsuits. There are sort of two things happening simultaneously. One is that the WGA has sued CAA and WME and then CAA has sued the WGA. And so they’re kind of the same lawsuit but they’re sort of different lawsuits and they work on different time tables. And there were developments on both of those fronts this past week as well.
Craig: OK. Well, I’m all ears because I don’t know.
John: OK. So the first is that the trial in the agency lawsuit, so the agency is suing the WGA, that got pushed back to next summer. So the actual trial dates are like August of 2021.
Craig: Are they pushing trials because of COVID?
John: Yup. Basically it’s impossible to sort of get people in person.
Craig: Makes sense.
John: And everything has just really slowed down because of all of this. So, if the trial ends up happening it would be next summer that that would happen.
Craig: There is not going to be a trial.
John: I think it seems unlikely that we would get to all that space, but then again unlikely things happen on a daily basis.
Craig: True. But there won’t be a trial is sort of my version of the “it’s not Lupus” line from House. There won’t be a trial.
John: The second development was that the Writers Guild prevailed. They can seek an injunction over packaging fees. And so this is confusing, but so back in April the judge ruled that the WGA did not have standing to pursue anti-trust and fiduciary duty claims. The complaint was amended. The agencies moved to just dismiss the whole thing. And the judge said no. So basically the guild has standing to bring their part of the lawsuit against the two remaining agencies, so CAA and WME saying that the practices of packaging negatively impact the WGA because they negatively impact the money that members get.
So, that’s what has happened there.
Craig: Which is a fact. That is true. Legally whether it’s true or not is one thing, obviously. But effectively whether it’s true, I believe it is true. Just trying to get a little clarity here. Was it that the judge said, OK, you don’t have standing to pursue anti-trust or fiduciary duty claims, but you do have standing to pursue this new claim? Or, is it that the WGA amended the way they were pursuing the anti-trust and fiduciary duty claims and the judge said, OK, now you have standing?
John: I could not tell you the exact precise things. I do know that the thing that is proceeding forward relies more on some state law stuff versus federal RICO. But I don’t know at what point that amendment had happened to the complaint. So I’m not sure whether this latest wrinkle was because of that. But I know that basically new paperwork came in, the motion to dismiss came and was denied. So that will proceed along that track.
Craig: I mean, just from what you said it sounds like it’s probably the former of what I said. That there’s a, OK, those two things the WGA said, fine, we’ll let those go. But we want to do this one. The agencies said we don’t want them to do that. And then the judge said, no, that one they can do.
By the way, RICO, another thing. It’s not RICO. It’s not Lupus and it’s not RICO. It’s almost never RICO. Ken White, former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, who tweets as Popehat on Twitter is basically anytime somebody uses the word RICO it’s like a bat signal to him. He’s drawn to it the way I’m drawn to managers telling you what you can and can’t do. It’s like, uhhhh.
So not surprising there. But all of this, of course, practically speaking was always about trying to pressure a result, which did occur. So the good news here is that the result that we had with UTA was a dependent result. It needed one other company, one other of three companies to sign on for it to be real. And one of them did. At this point it is now real. At this point effectively I think packaging is done.
Well, it’s going to take some time. Packaging, by the way, was going to be done anyway, just because of the way the world is changing. But we have accelerated that time table happily. What happens between now and when CAA and WME figure out how to settle with the guild I don’t know. I don’t know what’s required. I don’t know what they’re looking for. I don’t know what they’re waiting for. I don’t know what else there is to do.
In my mind it’s kind of over. It’s all over except for the shouting, as they say.
John: Yeah. We’ll see. We’ll link to a story where CAA’s Bryan Lourd said that obviously we want to get this resolved, so we’ll see if that comes to pass. CAA counsel Richard Kendall wrote, “This is simply the court saying the guild has the right to try to prove their false allegations. We remain confident we will prevail at that time.”
John: So they’re still talking as if the lawsuit is going to happen.
John: Realistically the next steps in the lawsuit is going to be discovery which is where people turn over a bunch of documents. I get to turn over a bunch of Scriptnotes transcripts, so that’s kind of fun.
Craig: They’re already there, out there for people to read.
John: They’re already there and they’re emailed. So that will continue.
Craig: Well, I’ll tell you, man, lawyers are real good at keeping on billing. Keep on billing. They have to keep playing chicken, obviously, until such day it is all dropped. The Writers Guild must insist that its case is winnable and CAA must insist that its case is winnable. And, again, I will eat my Lupus-covered hat if either of those end up in a trial.
John: Yeah. We’ll see. We will mark this podcast. We will check back in a year from now to see whether Craig needs to eat his Lupus hat.
Craig: [laughs] I probably will.
John: Here’s a really simple question. Andy wrote in to ask, “Can a project from a collaboration be used in my own portfolio? For example, can I use a project with a cowriter to get an agent for myself? My collaborator already has his own agent. I come from the musical theater world where writers can be polyamorous when it comes to collaborations. Does this make sense in screenwriting?”
Craig: Sure. This comes up quite a bit. Yes, you can. I have some guidelines to suggest. I think the most important of them is get permission from your cowriter. You want to at least let them know so that they don’t find out that you’re doing that. I mean, you can say do you mind if I include this in my portfolio, obviously fairly crediting you as the cowriter, because that’s only fair. At that point I don’t see a problem with it. Just be aware, Andy, that people are going to look at that differently than they would look at a singular credit. And they will adjudicate accordingly because, you know, who can say who did what. That’s the problem there.
John: Yeah. So, Andy, probably don’t say the word portfolio because that’s actually not a term we use for screenplays a lot. So just like samples is really what you’re saying. Can I use that as a sample? And the answer is yes you can use it as a sample, but it does get dinged a bit just because they don’t know what it is that you’re writing versus another person’s writing. I know writing teams, and obviously there are many writing teams in Hollywood, but when writing teams split apart one of the first things both those members have to do is write their own scripts so that people can say, “Oh, it turns out that she really was the writer and he was not the writer.”
John: So you can use that as one of your samples, but you’re going to have to have some stuff that shows you writing by yourself because that’s the only way they know that you, Andy, can write the thing they want to hire you to write.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a bit of conventional wisdom in Hollywood which I don’t think is always true, of course, but the idea is in every partnership one is the real one. I think there are plenty of partnerships where that’s not true at all. Neither of them are real. [laughs] And some where both are. I wonder, this is just a usage term, do we have any sense if Andy is from the US or from overseas? Because now I’m curious about portfolio.
John: Yeah. I think he’s British. That’s my guess.
Craig: So maybe in the UK portfolio is what they call it. I don’t know.
John: Entirely possible.
Craig: Yeah. Or maybe he’s just wrong.
John: Yeah. You never know.
Craig: Andy, let us know.
John: Lastly, someone on Twitter asked this past week, “Hey, how do you and Craig record Scriptnotes? What software do you use? How is your setup?” And I was like, oh, I have a blog post about it, but the blog post was from 12 years ago. And enough stuff had changed that I updated the blog post. So if you’re curious about how Craig and I actually record this show there’s an updated blog post. We’ll put the link in the show notes.
The very short version is Craig and I are almost never in the same room together. As we’re recording this he is in his office in Pasadena. I am here at my office in Los Angeles. We are talking over Skype. And that’s how we’ve done it since the very start. And so even when I was living in Paris we would just Skype and we each record our own separate sides of the conversation. Matthew, our editor, puts the two sides together. And it makes it seem like we are together.
It’s more challenging than you’d think to actually keep the conversation going a little bit. Like that takes some practice. But it’s a really good way to record a podcast in that by having separate audio for both of us Matthew can edit out all of my fumbles much more easily.
Craig: So we have been socially distancing for 10 years now.
John: We are experts.
Craig: We are so good at this. So nothing new there. I think that the way we do it, although yes takes a little bit of time and effort to master, does lead to more interesting podcast conversation. Because the way we do it forces one person to wait and be patient and listen. I’ve noticed when we’ve done some other things together or with other people when everybody is in a room together it can get a little overlapped, which is fun. Overlappy and conversational and everything. But week after week that can be exhausting because it’s audio only. And audio only in general is harder to follow when you can’t see all the people jumping all over each other. So, every now and then it’s fun, but for a week after week after week thing I like the way we do it.
John: I do, too. And so I think it would be natural to assume that we’re doing this on Zoom or on FaceTime so we can see each other. We’re not. So we don’t look at each other. And I think that also helps with the flow of the audio because there’s no visual cue. So we really do have to listen to each other and figure out when is it an appropriate time for the other person to speak.
Craig: Yes. And so we also miss out on those nonverbal things that make no sense to the people at home. You will never hear us say, OK, for those of you at home listening who can’t see what we’re seeing. We don’t do that because we don’t see a goddamn thing.
John: No, we certainly don’t. All right. Now it is time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is something that we’re bringing back which I did a long time ago. It’s called Inneresting. So this is all based on Aline Brosh McKenna making fun of how I leave the T out of interesting.
Craig: Gently noting is all she did.
John: Gently noting. That’s really just a feather top of gently noting. Oh, it’s so interesting that you don’t say the T there. So I had this newsletter called Inneresting which it was about a year ago I was doing. And I enjoyed doing it. It was sort of like a bunch of One Cool Things and other links. And I was enjoying it and then it just got to be way too much work. And so I sort of put it on hold.
Chris Sond who works for us now is now taking over Inneresting, so it is sort of a newsletter about writing and things that are interesting to writers. It comes out once a week, usually on Fridays. It’s just a bunch of links to interesting stuff and also like blog posts and articles that writers will find enjoyable, interesting. So if you’re curious about that there’s a link in the show notes. It’s a very low commitment thing. You just sign up and you get a newsletter once a week.
Craig: That is interesting. My One Cool Thing this week, short and simple, Leonard Mazin, my dad, passed away last week. So, adieu. Adieu to Len.
John: Yeah. I’m so sorry for you, Craig.
Craig: It happens. It happened to you. It’s happened to me. And it will happen to us all.
John: Hard to bring us up joyfully out of that.
Craig: No, no, I want you to. Now do it. [laughs] I want you to come right out of that into Scriptnotes. In fact, I’m going to do it. Scriptnotes is produced – I’m saving you. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Outro this week by Michael Karman. As always, 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 shorter questions on Twitter, I am @clmazin and John is @johnaugust.
John, we have t-shirts and they’re great. Did you know this?
John: I did. I wear almost nothing but our own t-shirts.
Craig: I’ve got to tell you, I do too now. Cotton Bureau which makes the t-shirts. All of those t-shirts are as Stuart Friedel once said, “The softest shirts in the world.” They really are. I love them. And this is not an ad. I’m not doing an ad for them. I should get money, but as we all know I won’t. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you will find the transcripts. We try to get them up about four days after the episode airs.
You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you can get all the back episodes and bonus segments. And, John, we do have some Scriptnotes membership gifts.
John: We do. So if you want to give Scriptnotes to somebody, like let’s say there’s somebody in your life you can say like I really want you to have the Premium version of Scriptnotes. Go to Scriptnotes.net and you can actually buy it for somebody else. So people asked us to be able to do that and you can now do that.
Craig: And if you are one of those Premium members you will hear our upcoming bonus segment about travel during a pandemic.
John: Craig, thank you for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Craig, so since the pandemic struck have you taken any trips, any vacations? Have you gone anywhere outside of your home turf?
Craig: No. I had one trip at the very beginning right before everything shutdown. This would be early March I want to say. Like maybe the first week of March. I was visiting my son and when I got back to LA maybe a few days later the wall came down. But, no, I have not been in a plane, in a bus. I haven’t even been in an Uber.
John: I would not want to be in an Uber. So when the lockdown happened we took it really seriously and we still take all of it really seriously. And I do remember there was a point where you just got so stir crazy that we just got in the car and drove to Angeles Forest and just looked at nature and drove right back. So we interacted with nobody, but just literally getting out of the city for two hours was terrific. And I took Matthew Chilelli’s suggestion. He found us a great hike and so my family and I took a great hike in Angeles Forest a few weeks after that. And small, safe escapes felt really good and reasonable.
I also needed to see my mom who lives in Boulder, Colorado, and whose health is – knock wood – good, but there was no guarantee that it was going to stay good. And so we decided to take a trip to Colorado and normally we would fly there. Flying felt like not a smart choice to be making. So we’ve taken two car trips this summer, both of which we drove from Los Angeles to the place and back.
And so I have some suggestions for people who might be considering a car trip. All under the umbrella of like also consider not taking a car trip. Also consider just staying put. But if you do need to go someplace here is what I would suggest.
Drive if you can drive. Driving is good. If you’re going to book hotels we looked for brands whose reputation we sort of trusted. We looked for low floors. We looked for maybe not the highest end, but an advantage to the thing that’s the kind of hotel that is above a motel but not super fancy is that they tend to have their own air-conditioning unit which is actually part of the room. And so therefore you’re not getting the whole–
Craig: The centrally circulated. The Legionnaire’s Disease problem. And now it’s the COVID problem.
John: Avoiding the cruise ship problem. Obviously we were not eating in restaurants. We were ordering takeout. We were off and using whatever that restaurant’s app was to have it curbside so we were interacting with as few people as possible.
My job in this was to be the wiper down of rooms. And so when we get a room before anybody unloads anything spray bottle and rags and wipe everything down.
I think we’re going to ultimately learn that surfaces are less of a big deal with COVID-19 than we might have thought at the beginning.
John: But it also felt like a smart choice to be doing. And then we followed protocols and really thought about our own safety at all moments. So, that means using a mask, all the time. Keeping distance from people. And in situations where you say like in the back of your mind thinking, hey, is this safe for me to be in this place, if it doesn’t feel safe to be in this place don’t be in that place.
There were situations where I said, oh you know what, we made this reservation thinking we would be outside. And you say we can be inside. And we are not going to be inside. This does not feel safe or good. And just leaving. And recognizing that momentary awkwardness and inconvenience is much better than putting yourself at risk.
Craig: We do struggle with that. We don’t want to come off as, you know, unreasonable people. The problem is sometimes situations are such that you do – it’s reasonable to do something that is borderline impolite, like not staying somewhere. I mean, it is awkward. Most of us are programmed to avoid it. Then there’s the world of Karens and what’s the male Karen?
John: It’s not Ken. I forget what it is. Is it Todd?
Craig: OK. I like it. Karens and Todds are constantly demanding the manager. But for most of us we don’t want to be that guy, that woman. And it is important to say, oh yeah, you know what, I’m just not comfortable with that right now. And if there were ever a time where you could say that phrase and have people say I understand, it’s right now. If somebody says, “Really? Really” Yeah, then you definitely don’t want to be there because that culture is pervasive from top to bottom.
So, I mean, it sounds like you did everything right. The tricky part is that you’re traveling and you’re still – but the family is still together. So it’s like Conestoga Wagon. You’re in it. And you can’t get out of it.
John: Our pod is our pod and our pod has moved from being at this house to being in this hotel room, but we are still this pod.
Craig: You’re still the pod.
John: And I will say the second trip was a year ago we booked reservations at Yosemite for my birthday. And so this was a trip there. Yosemite closed. It reopened at half-capacity. It ended up being sort of a weirdly perfect time to be at Yosemite because Yosemite gets really crowded. It was not crowded. And so it was lovely to be there at a time when most nobody was there.
Was it a hassle? Yes. A lot of things you would like to be able to do were not possible. And that’s just the reality. So you can’t both have safety and perfect convenience. Those just aren’t reasonable choices. And so you just had to accept that lots of things were closed. Some things were more difficult. You couldn’t get to some things you wanted to get to.
The choices that are better for everyone’s safety I am 100 percent for. And if there were a new lockdown order saying like, “Oh, no, no, everyone literally has to stay home all the time now,” that’s also fine by me.
Craig: Yeah. We’re all adapting. I’ve noticed that everyone is starting to make presumptions about what next year will look like in terms of COVID. Talking to everybody in our business. Production and all the rest of it. It just seems like there’s a presumption that a vaccine is around the corner. And COVID will be a thing of the past. I don’t know if that’s correct. I mean, I think there are vaccines around the corner. I don’t know if it’s going to be as soon as January. And I don’t know how fast it’s going to take for them to work. And we don’t know how effective. We got to wait this one out. And I’m trying to make peace with the uncertainty of it.
But a huge part of it is avoiding high risk activities. What I will say that I have loosened up on is if I know people and know them to be generally responsible people. For instance, you and Mike, generally responsible. That’s not to say that you couldn’t get COVID through some mishap, because you could.
John: Totally. 100 percent.
Craig: Generally you’re responsible. Generally Melissa and I are responsible. So people who we feel that way about we can have a backyard – we can be in their backyard. We stay 10 feet apart. Use a mask when you’re moving through inside and through close spaces. But otherwise if you’re 10 feet over there and I’m 10 feet over here in the backyard and we want to have a drink, I don’t see a problem with that.
And so you do need to loosen the pressure valve a little bit, especially with kids. Because you do have to balance the kind of need for other people. I don’t have it, but I’ve been told it’s a thing. That’s what I’ve been told at least.
John: Yeah. So we do the same with our family in Colorado. We wear masks outdoors the entire time we were around them. It was nice to be able to see them in person, but I didn’t have the expectation that I was going to be able to hug them.
Craig: Right. Hugs are out.
John: Yeah. It’s not where we’re at. And that’s sad but it’s also the reality of what we’re at. To the point about this assumption that we’ll have a vaccine and it will all get better, I think it’s important that we sort of step away from that idea a little bit. That it’s going to be a simple thing. As quickly as we shut down we can just reopen and everything is going to magically be OK. It’s going to be a ramp out of this. And it won’t be as quick. It will be frustrating. We won’t kind of know how to deal with it.
We won’t know how to handle people who have had vaccinations and who haven’t had a vaccination. When we stop requiring masks for people, I don’t know. So, that’s all going to be a struggle. I just hope that it’s a struggle that we have under a different administration and sort of consistent – in which scientific decisions are being made by scientists rather than just sort of popular opinion.
Craig: Well, why would that ever happen?
John: Who knows? So my travel tip is if you need to travel just be smart about it. Be outside. And avoid situations you can avoid.
Craig: What else can we do?
John: That’s all you can do. Craig, thanks.
Craig: Thanks John.
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