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 467 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we’re going to talk about the words we use when referring to people or groups of people and why those words keep changing. We’ll also discuss single use characters and the WGA elections, plus some listener questions.
Craig: And in our bonus segment for Premium members we will tackle one more question – if the standards for breaking into the screenwriting industry are so high why are so many bad movies made? Provocative.
John: Provocative question. I think the answer is Chris McQuarrie, but you’ll only know why I say that–
Craig: Oh my god. What a shot against Chris.
John: If you listen to the bonus segment. Oh, a shocking twist. But first some follow up. Last week on the program we talked about the new management company in town. We were calling it Moxie, but the name is apparently Range Media, so that was all announced officially this week.
John: So, the initial focus as we expected was going to be on film and television talent, which means actors, but the company said Wednesday that they’re also going to have a music division at some point, so that will be another thing. There really aren’t names to be announced yet. Apparently Taron Egerton, Keira Knightly, and Michael Fassbender are some of the folks who left CAA are going to be hanging over there. We’ll see how that works. But it seems like a lot of our assumptions about the kinds of things this management company were going to be doing were accurate and that it’s really – it sounds like they’re going to be focused on the kinds of things we were talking about which is basically A-list talent and getting value out of A-list talent beyond just their ability to act in projects.
Craig: Yeah. They’re going to try and milk them for all their worth. It is interesting to see that they’re framing this as some of these people are leaving CAA to head to Range Management, when in fact they don’t have to leave an agency to join a management company, but it is clear that for a lot of these folks who do make quite a bit of money they don’t want to pay more than 10 percent. And in certain circumstances a lot of them are used to – particularly with television actors – are used to paying zero percent. So one of the interesting things about the agency campaign is as it puts pressure on the elimination of talent agency packaging, which was one of the ways that high earning actors paid no commission, now some of those high earning actors are going, “Well where do I go now to pay no commission? Because I don’t like paying commission.”
And so Range Media sprouts up like a mushroom. And I get it. It is strategically a brilliant move. Hats off to them.
John: Some of this is the reporting I read, but also just conversations I’ve had with other people this last week. It seems like the vision for what this company, it changed a bit from where it initially started. That the initial conversations were much more about an agency that was like a CAA or a WME, and it became this management company sort of over the course of discussions and time.
And one of the reasons that might be behind that is some of the folks who are going to be joining this company were agents who were leaving these other big agencies and contractually or for other reasons it was problematic for them to join another agency or to start a new agency. But the same stipulations weren’t in place if they were going to be transitioning to becoming managers. And so it sounds like there’s kind of a Jerry Maguire kind of mission statement that sort of got the movement happening. But the actual form of it came a little bit down the road.
Craig: I get, I mean, if you have a choice between being handcuffed by regulations and restrictions, or doing whatever the hell you want, probably you’re going to want to do whatever the hell you want. And that’s what management is. It essentially is an unregulated side business where people are “representing” talent, but not allowed to actually procure or negotiate employment for them by law. So, if the agencies aren’t going to put pressure on these management companies to stop negotiating and procuring employment for their clients and I don’t know how they’re going to do that, then I don’t see why you would want to just hang out with the agency versus going to one of these enormous – if the management company can be as large and as octopus like as a CAA or a WME then, yeah, I mean unregulated wild west versus regulated–
Craig: That’s an easy one.
John: Well, and coming along with unregulated is also flexible or the ability to pivot, which sounds like the idea behind this kind of change and pivoted over the course of its inception, but also the money that’s coming into this is kind of more like what we associate with Silicon Valley money. And the thing about these startup companies is they might begin with one goal, but they recognize that, oh, that’s not working so we’re going to pivot towards this. And a management company is probably a little bit more flexible and able to roll with it in ways that a company that was based on we’re going to get X percentage of the money coming into our clients might not be.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, the people who are represented by a firm like this are that firm’s products. They are not that firm’s clients. They may be called the clients, but they’re the products. If you’re represented at a talent agency you are a client and the talent agency is supposed to make money off of your work. So you’re not the product, you’re the client. That’s where we really had a huge problem with packaging because it short-circuited that.
But these management companies, they’re not even making a secret of it. They’re saying, “Yeah, they’re going to be products and they’re going to make products and we’re going to own the products that are products they’re making.”
John: Well, they’re products/partners. Like we are going to be investing in them.
Well, let’s talk about, it’s a natural segue into talking about the agency campaign, because also this last week WGA East and West members got an update email saying that the guild has had “cordial discussions with the two remaining unsigned agencies,” which are WME and CAA. But that a deal was not imminent. Or to frame it differently you might say that the deal reached with UTA and ICM over this last month was kind of “the deal.”
And so there wasn’t a lot of ground to give. Specifically the email said there’s no plan to push back the sunset on packaging. And they don’t want to go above 20 percent ownership of affiliated production companies.
John: Drawing a line in the sand may be a little too strong to say, but basically saying this is where we’re at and don’t expect next week suddenly one of these two agencies is going to sign.
Craig: Yeah. Which, I mean, I would assume that that would be the case. I mean, once you have those two agencies locked in and thus those terms locked in for them because those terms would only lock in if there were one other one, OK, well you got the other one. So now there’s UTA and ICM. That’s locked in. That’s it. End of story. I don’t see where there is more wiggle room. And this is a dangerous time for everybody to playing chicken like this, particularly because I think if the Writers Guild has showed one thing it’s that it apparently has a kind of endless tolerance for pain when it comes to this particular area because there are a lot of writers that were represented by CAA and WME who would like to be represented once again by the agents, the specific personal agents they have relationships with and who are waiting, still.
And so as one of them all I can say is I don’t see why the WGA would change anything at this point. And CAA and WME should stop. That’s my opinion. They should just stop. If they want to keep the lawsuits – I guess the lawsuits have to get dropped as part of the deal, right? You can’t sign this deal and also keep the lawsuits going I would imagine.
John: I would imagine it would be a challenging thing to do. So definitely we saw UTA stop its lawsuit when it signed the deal. So, that seems like a reasonable thing to do.
John: Let’s talk about on the individual writers’ perspective, because you said that as a person who had been represented at CAA you’d like this to end. I guess if you are any person in that situation and you’re waiting for them to sign this email is telling you don’t assume that’s happening tomorrow.
John: And don’t assume that they’re on the one yard line and it’s about to get done. We’re saying it’s not done.
Craig: Yeah. It was a little bit more. I mean, the letter basically said think about going to somewhere else, because we don’t think it’s going to happen with these guys, or at least that’s a strong possibility that it will never happen with them.
John: So a person in this situation would need to make a decision like, OK, am I going to go without an agent? Am I going to just use a manager? Or am I going to go to one of the signed agencies? And if you were at CAA or WME and you wanted to stay at a big agency there’s UTA or there’s ICM, or there’s the possibility that some of these other agents – if you wanted that personal relationship with your former agent there it’s a question of like are those agents going to stay put at CAA or WME if they’re not representing writers? And that’s a big open question.
Craig: It is. I don’t know what’s going to happen. The value of my relationship with my agent is more – that is the value. It’s not so much the value between myself and an agency. It’s different for everybody. But when you build a career alongside somebody and they’re in partnership with you and you can look back and point to specific areas and go that was where he made a huge difference for me. That is where he made a huge difference for me, and so on and so on and so on. Then, I mean, look, I’m that kind of a person. If I have a functioning productive relationship with somebody I, you know, I don’t walk away from that easily. I’m a committing kind of person.
How many episodes of this show have we done so far? [laughs]
John: [laughs] 476. So yeah.
Craig: Yeah. So you called and you’re like, “Do you want to do a podcast?” And I was like OK. 476 episodes later. I mean, I’ve been married for almost 25 years. We’ve been doing this podcast for a long time. And I had my agent for a long time. And so I would like to continue that. And so I’m waiting. But don’t think I haven’t sent emails saying, “Uh, hello. Let’s just wrap this up.”
John: As we talk about agency stuff obviously being on the agency negotiating committee I have sort of that perspective. But if you’ll humor me I want to think about this from CAA and WME’s perspective. Because this is harder for me to sort of get into their mindset and maybe you can help me out thinking about this.
John: So, they’ve got to be thinking what is the cost benefit analysis on their side. Basically what is packaging worth to them this year, next year, five years from now? What is ownership of affiliated production companies worth to us now, two years from now, ten years from now? And basically is it worth it for us to not be able to represent writers because of the upside we think we’re going to get from the way stuff is currently structured?
Craig: I don’t that they’re – what you’re asking is what is the rational explanation for their position at this point and I’m not sure there is one. I don’t know if this is a rational position or if this is just at this point about saving face. When you are the first guy to go in there, if you’re UTA or ICM and you can improve the numbers slightly then you can say, “There. That was my ration. I wanted the numbers to be better. I got them to be better. I agreed.”
But if the numbers aren’t going to move, if the needle never moves, then you have a face-saving problem. Now, do I respect face-saving problems? Not particularly. Are they real? Absolutely. Do face-saving problems literally cause wars? Yes. So, one thing, if I were on the committee over there at the WGA I would be sort of sitting there going what can we do to give them a slight face-saving exit without actually giving them anything. Because I agree. At this point there’s no reason to improve the dates on packaging sunsets or the percentage on ownership. Is there some kind of window, is there something that we can do so that there is some sense of face-saving that they can feel like they improved it somewhat and now they can agree to do this?
Come together. Figure out what that is. Let them have some minor victory so that you can climb the rail of victory and end this. That’s what I would be kind of thinking about. But, in order to get there you have to be dealing with somebody that you think you can actually get there with. And I don’t know how that relationship is going. It doesn’t sound like it’s going well.
John: Yeah. The other thing I feel like I don’t have real transparency is about the structure of WME and CAA in terms of they are different from the other agencies in the sense of the degree to which there’s outside investment, outside ownership. And so the degree that they may not be able to make some of the decisions themselves the way that closer held agencies could. And so the same investors who are behind the production entity of WME and Endeavor Content, part of their value statement was that they do have this – that they are combined as one thing. And so the people who own them may not be eager to make that deal, too.
So, I would just say I understand that their corporate structure is complicated, but I also don’t know that the WGA is going to be able to solve that problem for them. So, acknowledging it, but not necessarily being able to address it directly.
Craig: That may be the thing that we don’t know about. That there’s this hidden thing. And so they will complain and come up with all sorts of reasons when the real reason is they are not able to. And if that’s the case then they should just say so, because if they really aren’t able to ever then at that point a lot of writers do need to make a decision. Right now CAA and WME’s position as far as I can tell is hang on, we’ll get this figured out.
If I were over there in the boardroom of CAA I would be saying to any of them figure it out quickly, and before the end of the year. Because I think if we roll over into another year, into 2021, and this has not been resolved people are going to make moves. I just don’t think anybody – it’s like, OK, you’ve had time. Nothing is changing. If you can’t figure it out between now and the end of the year then people are going to vote with their feet, because it won’t seem realistic anymore.
So, maybe me saying that and then Deadline republishing it as their own exclusive will have some influence on what they do.
John: Everything will change because of that.
Craig: Of course.
John: This season is also WGA election season. So, members in the West and the East are picking new members for their board. Traditionally Craig and I at this segment in our podcast would walk through all the candidates and talk about our favorites and people that we have picks and people who we endorse. You can look at the people we’ve endorsed in the last election cycle. We had completely divergent lists. We absolutely agreed on sort of none of the people who should have been running.
This year it’s actually – I don’t think we actually have those great differences. I think one of the points of agreement we definitely have is that representation of feature writers is so important and there’s only one person who is running who is primarily a feature writer, so I want to just call him out. Daniel Kunka is running. He’s a person you should look at if you’re going to vote.
I have worked with all the incumbents. I think they’re terrific. I also think it’s really important to get new people in there and new voices and new perspectives. So, I don’t want to endorse the incumbents to the degree that we miss out on some other great new people coming into it.
I think every WGA election is important, but in this one I don’t have as strongly held opinions as I usually would. Craig?
Craig: Yeah. The only opinion I have is that Daniel Kunka absolutely needs to be elected because we are suffering as a union because of the strange bifurcation of our membership, and particularly the gulf between leadership and membership. There are so many feature writers who essentially are nearly unrepresented in that room. That is ridiculous. And it has to change. And we can see it directly reflected in the way our negotiations are conducted. Our last negotiation got for screenwriters nothing. And before, nothing. And before that, nothing. And so it will continue to go unless there are very strong and insistent screenwriting voices on that board.
So, Daniel is the only one running here and we need him there. A big fan of Travis Donnelly who has been there for a while. Travis is a very rational guy. And don’t vote for Patric Verrone. [laughs] Because it’s enough already.
John: I was going to say, it was actually in my outline that Craig would say, “Don’t vote for Patric Verrone,” because it wouldn’t be a podcast if Craig wasn’t saying not to vote for him.
Craig: It’s enough already. It’s enough. New blood is the least of it. I mean, come on.
John: One thing I want to stress is that I’ve had conversations separately with some of the new folks who are running and obviously many incumbents and while underlining the importance of actually having screenwriter representation on the board, every single person I’ve spoken to has demonstrated a desire to understand the issues facing screenwriters and a desire to create the kinds of changes that Craig and I both feel need to happen. So, it’s not for lack of information about sort of why the screenwriter issues are so important.
We also have Michele Mulroney who is on the exec council there who is pushing those issues as much as possible. So it’s important to have another screenwriter on there, but I don’t want to say no one else on the board cares, because they deeply do.
Craig: I’m not going to say that, but I do think there’s a difference between not being in a group but caring about that group, and being in a group and caring about that group. There is a difference. And we need people who not only are willing to understand and listen and talk about these things. We need people who feel them. And who live and breathe them. It is a real significant difference.
Craig: And that rolls for obviously if you’re a screenwriter, but also that applies to women, that applies to writers of color, that applies to LGBT writers. It applies to every category of underrepresented writer and god knows almost every category has been underrepresented on our board for a long time.
John: But I want to make sure we’re also taking this moment to acknowledge comedy variety writers are super underrepresented in the West. And so they have good representation in the East. They don’t have strong representation here in the West just because they’re rarely getting elected for the board. They have it worse than feature writers do. And so we need to make sure–
Craig: Is anybody currently running?
John: None of the people who are currently running are I believe primarily comedy variety writers. So we need to get those people. Those people were represented well on the negotiating committee which is how I got to know so many of their issues. So just I really appreciate the work that people are putting in to try to understand feature issues. We all need to put the work in to understand comedy variety issues because many of those writers are really struggling and suffering in ways that other TV writers aren’t.
John: Agreed. All right, let’s get to our marquee topic. So 2020 was a big year for many, many things, but it was also a big year for words.
Craig: I love words.
John: So this year we’ve seen a pretty abrupt change in the use of the word Black in place of African American. I did some panels this past year on the criminal justice system and addiction and we were definitely using terms like incarcerated people rather than prisoners. People with substance abuse disorders rather than addicts. But it’s not just about avoiding negative terms for things, or negative connotations.
I saw a lot of new specificity in how people talked about their gender identity. So, Craig, I felt like I’ve just been much more mindful over the last 12 months about trying to use appropriate words for things. But also cautious at times. A little paranoid that I was going to misstep. Do you feel this ever?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, it’s understandable. Because the language is evolving rapidly and things that were corrective words have now been sort of pushed aside. There was a time in the ‘90s where African American was, it seemed to me, a preferred term, particularly in academic settings, as opposed to Black. And now it has been pushed aside and Black has returned.
And of course one of the classic examples is people of color were once called colored people. Colored people is considered a very offensive term. People of color is considered a fairly woke and progressive term. Are they linguistically that different? No. Who uses those words? Very different. How they were used? Very different.
So, it’s about kind of keeping up with this quickly morphing language and being, well, I would say I’m not paranoid as much as I am careful. And what sort of predicates that care is just a general concern that I don’t hurt someone’s feelings.
Craig: I mean, really it’s just as simple as that. I know some people think it’s like, “Oh, PC, blah-blah-blah.” Well, I just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I mean, like if you said to me, “Listen, man, I know my name is John but I really like to go by Jack, so please call me Jack,” and I kept calling you John I would be a jerk. Just like, you know, just be nice. That’s basically what I’m trying to do.
John: Yeah. So let’s learn about how not to be jerks and how to sort of use terms that are appropriate for the people that we’re talking about. And let’s focus on one part of that today. Let’s talk about people living with disabilities. And to help us out with this we are so happy to welcome Nic Novicki. He is a writer, actor, and comedian. He’s also the founder and director of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Nic, welcome to the show.
Nic Novicki: Hey, thanks so much for having me.
John: It is a pleasure to have you on the show. And we catch you while you’re on vacation. You’re apparently in Colorado. So thank you for Skyping in.
Nic: Oh, yes, thank you. That’s the beauty of the new world we’re in. Just do it from anywhere.
John: So, I first interacted with you because this movie I wrote, The Shadows, which has a blind protagonist, you were helping me do outreach for that. So thank you for that. But even as I say that the word blind is complicated because there’s a range of conditions and abilities in different communities and I had to be mindful of that as we were sort of talking about that.
And so as a person who works with these communities a lot, just get us started. Can you talk about some general advice about how we refer to and talk about characters in our scripts or people we’re referring to as groups. What are some general best practices we need to keep in mind referring to people who are living with disabilities?
Nic: Yeah. Well, thanks so much. And first of all as this is a podcast many of you don’t know, but I’m also a little person. So, as somebody who is 38 years old and I’ve grown up around little people my whole life. My wife is a little person. I’m very comfortable in that and being a little person. But really I started this Easterseals Disability Film Challenge to create opportunities for other people with disabilities. And so now I interact with hundreds of different people with disabilities.
I will say first and foremost that there is a lot of pride in the disability community. There’s a really smart guy named Lawrence Carter-Long who had a whole campaign about say the word, disability. So let’s not hide it. Let’s be proud of it. And really with the film challenge that’s really what we’re embracing. It’s about bringing our own content together.
So a lot of times we’ve seen that many different people with disabilities, I interact with as I said hundreds, and all different types of disabilities. And you hit the nail on the head. With the blind community there’s low vision, there’s legally blind, there’s fully blind. So, when we’re talking about say wheelchair user, we like to say wheelchair user because that person is not bound to their wheelchair. But there was a time when it was wheelchair-bound was the preferred terminology. And even within little people, Little People of America was started as Midgets of America, which at the time was the word that was just known and now it’s highly offensive to people in the little people community.
John: Well, let’s go back to even that word disability because I felt like you’re using that word and I see the Easterseals site uses it, so it talks about Americans living with disability, so I’m feeling good saying that in this podcast. But I also remember a time not so long ago where I felt like differently abled was a thing. There was a whole range of other terms I felt like we were supposed to be using around things. Do you feel like right now in 2020 a person with a disability is the right way to talk about a general grouping of people who might have special needs, special requirements?
Nic: Yeah, I think that really, I mean, for me I started the disability film challenge in 2013, partnering with Easterseals, Southern California, which is the nation’s largest disability services organization in 2017. And ultimately for me I was like, look, let’s just say the word disability. And this is even before Lawrence Carter-Long I had heard that. You know, for me it was about pride. It’s about pride in disability. And also just for myself I like to not focus so much on the terminology but let’s just get past it. I’m a little person. I have a disability. And I’m a comedian. I’m an actor. I’m a jerk. I’m a whatever. You know?
Just not spending too much time on the label but really getting to it. You know, that’s what I think is the most important.
Craig: It does seem like one of the places where people sometimes stumble and fall is that they think of these words as the way we refer to people as some kind of blanket permission. Like, OK, good, I figured out this is what I call these people. I’m safe now. And in a sense they sort of are just – they are engaging with people as a label and not individuals. And when I’m listening to you talk and you say, OK, I’m somebody who has a disability and I’m proud of it, it reminds me of how we are emotional creatures. All of us.
And whether we are being emotional about some advantage or some disadvantage we may have, it’s personal and there is pride, or in some cases there is a shame or guilt. And so these words are not just random labels. They have meaning for people. And sometimes I think when people learn that they have mislabeled someone they get annoyed because they just think it’s like, ugh, well who cares. It’s a package. What did I say, it was a carton but it’s really a box? Who cares?
Well, I think these words do have emotional value for everyone, not just people who are disabled, but everyone.
Nic: I agree. I agree. And I will say the one thing is that I know if you were to come to me and say, “Nic, what do I call you?” I’m willing to join the conversation and say, hey, I like being called a little person. So I think that there’s so much within in the community. You know, as I said, it’s really going to pride about the disability community. Because when you talk about the disability community there’s 61 million Americans with some form of disability, whether that’s [unintelligible], that’s cognitive. So that intersects amongst a different race, gender, ethnicity, religion, you know, you name it.
So, really as a little person we have a bond with just being little. But I also feel that same bond from a wheelchair user, or somebody with spina bifida or CP or autism and vice versa. So I think that there’s really kind of a movement of pride and I think, you know, really I’m blessed that that’s been partially happening through the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge of people creating their own content.
But we’re seeing that a lot. People with disabilities creating their own content and kind of telling their story from their point of view. A lot of times, you know, for me I’ve been very blessed and I’ve been in over 40 TV shows and movies. And I’ve gotten the chance to work with Martin Scorsese and the Farrelly brothers. But a lot of it has been work leading to work. And people knowing me and being like, ah, he’s good at negotiating to get us a discount at the bill. And so it’s like that becomes my character versus somebody struggling to reach something.
Nic: So I think it’s about exposure is a big thing, too. To where it doesn’t turn into an issue with people really spending so much time about the labels, but then getting to like well what’s the second layer of this character.
Craig: You mean like the human being part. [laughs] Which people really seem to struggle with, which is remarkable. But I wonder since you are so directly involved in trying to improve participation and representation onscreen, how do you think it’s going? Are things getting better, the same, or worse?
Nic: Well, I think they’re getting better in a big way. And I’m very optimistic that it’s going to continue to get better. But if you look at the percentages, as I said 61 million Americans have some form of disability. There’s less than two percent of characters portrayed as having disabilities. And out of that 95 percent of those characters are portrayed by non-disabled actors.
So, really there’s nowhere to go but up. And having seen so many people with disabilities, so talented, telling their own story. Writing their own projects. Now with DSLR cameras. The ability to create your own project from your house. And I’m honored that that’s really happened a lot through the film challenge. And really I’ve made my whole career out of that. Just doing it myself. And writing it. And kind of putting it out there in the world. So, I’m seeing a lot of those percentages changing.
And even I’ve been blessed to get certain roles. I was on The Good Doctor where I played a character this year that had almost nothing to do with me being a little person. I had two girlfriends. So, again it was a flaw and I was a flawed character, but it really wasn’t about me being a little person.
Craig: Right. It was about you being a cad.
Nic: Yeah. And I think that there’s – so a lot of the focus is about actors with disabilities, which is important. But there’s so many roles behind the camera in terms of you could be working as an editor, as a writer, as a producer. So, that I feel like we do need much more of a focus on as an industry. And we’ve seen the industry reaching out to us. And I think that there’s a lot of ambition from studios and networks saying we better get a little better about this.
So, I think if you’re a person with a disability out there and especially if you have an invisible disability, please put it out there in the world. Because I think that networks and studios and writers and producers want to have a fully inclusive in front of but behind the camera as well.
John: Question for you, Nic. Have you noticed any differences between our perception and exposure to people with disabilities in the United States versus how things are internationally? Because when I was living in Paris I noticed that not just accommodations for blind people but sort of like how blind people moved through the city was very different. How busses worked for different – do you find that you can assume that how things work in the US are the same overseas?
And maybe coming back down to terms for things as well.
Nic: Yeah, well that’s a great question. And I uniquely have had the opportunity to travel the world a lot. I traveled with a play called Doll House where it was all little people portraying the role. And I’ve done USO tours for the troops as a comedian. So I’ve gotten a chance to see, you know, perform in six continents. And I will say that although the US is not perfect, the accommodations are so much better here as a whole.
Nic: And I will say that people are very open to a lot of areas. Now, overseas people are very open, but I think disability there’s still a bit of a stigma depending on where you are on disability. And so I think in some senses they’re not as progressive as they are here. I feel like England though there’s so much amazing TV that is portraying people with disabilities. And they’re ahead of us in some senses and other countries they are as a whole. But I feel like in terms of accessibility with the Americans with Disabilities Act, you know, in many ways we’re leading the world in this movement for a fully accessible society.
Craig: Well, you know, in the UK one of the writers who has been at the forefront of advocating for the representation of disabled people onscreen and also the inclusion of disabled people behind the screen is Jack Thorne. My beloved Jack Thorne. One of the greatest writers in the world, who himself has an invisible disability. And who has been such a great advocate. So I’m not surprised to hear that that is that way in London or in the UK. I think that’s wonderful. But I’m also – I’ve got to tell you, Nic, it’s been a long time since someone said something about the United States where it wasn’t like, “We’re way behind.” [laughs]
Nic: Yeah. Well, we are. I mean, we still are in some senses. There’s definitely a fight going. Certain places do not abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act. I feel like we could still have a more inclusive entertainment industry, which ultimately destigmatizes disability. But I feel like we’re going in the right direction. And I think that also as a little person there are other countries around the world where you’re almost living in fear going outside as a little person.
Craig: Wow. Yeah.
Nic: So I do feel privileged in a sense to be living in a society where we do not have to worry about certain things.
Craig: Right on.
John: Yeah. Shoshannah Stern who was a guest on Scriptnotes—
Nic: She’s great.
John: Who is a deaf writer and actress who is phenomenal.
Nic: I love Shoshannah.
Craig: She’s our beloved Shoshannah Stern. She also gets beloved. She’s beloved.
John: You have to have the adjective in front of her name.
John: I saw her tweeting about sort of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that was a groundbreaking piece of legislation. While imperfect, it did formally acknowledge that our systems have to be set up so that people have the ability to succeed. And that people aren’t kept out of places they need to go. So, a small success.
Nic: Yeah. No, it’s been a huge success, honestly, in many ways. And I’ve seen firsthand so many people that have benefited from it. And it’s really important legislation that needs to continue to be in the forefront, and especially as we move into a new presidential cycle I’m hoping that continues to be brought up and in people’s minds. Because it’s really important and it makes people live a fully inclusive life. And I’m proud that we have it.
John: So, let’s get back to the words. And so the words we’re using for things. We got a question in from a listener and I thought you’d be the perfect person to help us talk through this. Craig, do you want to read what Anita wrote?
Craig: I absolutely do. Anita from Sydney writes, “On a recent episode in the One Cool Thing section I heard you talking about a D&D game and you mentioned dwarves in the same breath as elves and gnomes. My daughter has dwarfism and it’s always bothered me that onscreen dwarves get lumped in with mythical creatures. Dwarves are real people who have a very tough time living in the real world. They are constantly stared out, shouted out from cars, and are often subjected to the very worst human behaviors.
“Probably as a result, unfortunately people with dwarfism have one of the highest suicide rates of all conditions. I would love this group of people to receive the empathy they truly deserve. Imagine how weird it would be if people with spina bifida or MS sufferers were associated with elves and gnomes. Please consider shining a light on this topic as screenwriters can begin to change people’s perception about dwarves, firstly ceasing with the magical character attributes.”
So, Nic, where do you come down on this one? Because Wizards of the Coast which runs D&D has been sort of engaging across the board with a lot of these things, including the fact that there is an entire category in D&D called race, and there are racial attributes. And they seem to be kind of thinking through how they’re using words. What do you feel about this?
Nic: Well, I mean, I feel like this is definitely a really interesting point that she brings up. There’s a couple things here. One, in terms of suicide, you know, mental illness, there’s more people with invisible disabilities than physical disabilities by percentage. So, I mean, I feel like that’s an issue that needs to not be taken lightly. But I will say if that parent is listening there’s so many successful little people and happy little people that grow up, myself being married to another amazing little person who works in development, working for Mattel.
So, I feel like there are a lot of role models to look to. But in terms of identifying in different categories, one, I am a real life dwarf. So I am not an elf. I am not, you know, so I feel like that is an interesting thing in terms of categorizing. Going a step further to that, though, it’s really about authentic representation. So it’s about having more little people on TV and I think really of all disabilities little people are probably the most represented. I mean, with Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones around the world, I mean, that’s one of the most successful shows kind of of all time.
So, there’s so much amazing powerful representation. You know, as I said earlier I was able to be on The Good Doctor in a guest-starring role this year. And it was such a cool role. And something to add to that is that the writer of that episode, David Renaud, is a wheelchair user. So you’re really getting full inclusion when you’re bringing people in with disabilities, to not just consult but also be involved in the writing. And I think a step further is you’re talking about other disabilities, you know, really we need more representation of other disabilities. Spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism. Having more authentic representation of having actors with that disability portray these roles and also to have, you know, people with those disabilities involved in the consulting.
But my last thing to say on this is, you know, it’s important to have the visibility. And in three dimensional characters. So I feel like as little people we shouldn’t not be able to be in a fantasy role if there’s a three-dimensional character. I think the difference is sometimes if it’s just a troll just pops up and is the joke rather than involved in the joke and is now kind of – that’s where we get the difference.
Craig: Got it.
Nic: You know, the history of dwarfism is very complex, too, though. We were jesters and a lot of real things in the past. We were never elves. Even though if you look at my IMDb you could find the work in there somewhere.
John: The North Pole version.
Nic: But I think for me I’m all about what more can I be doing for the situation. So I think it’s mostly how this changes and how this parent and this child of dwarfism in Australia becomes more comfortable with their dwarfism and their community becomes more comfortable is when they’re able to see characters authentically portrayed and cool or interesting or just three-dimensional characters in general. So, I feel like more authentic representation is where this changes. And, yeah, society changes, too.
I mean, Australia, I’ve been there but for a week. You know, so I don’t have enough of a say of what the society is like there. But there may be more bullying going on. And that may not just be for little people. That may be for all kinds of different people aside from disabilities. I don’t know.
Craig: I mean, it does seem like we have various levers to try and influence people’s behavior and how they look at each other and look at people who are different than them. And empathizing with another human being who has a condition that you don’t have is probably a more effective lever than just sort of blanket saying we have decided to no longer call this thing this thing. There’s a lexica graphic solution to things, but what I love about what you’re saying in particular as it ties into what all three of us do as artists is that we use the power of portrayal to create empathy. And in that regard what Peter Dinklage was able to do on Game of Thrones I suspect was a larger lever push on behalf of people with dwarfism than just about anything else short of massive legislation like the ADA.
Nic: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that’s – you also get pride in that.
Nic: That little girl when she’s in school and they’re talking about it, it’s like yeah, well he just won the Golden Globe last week.
Nic: Not to name drop, but you know, we’re doing OK as little people.
Craig: That’s right. Great.
John: This conversation is getting me to think back to times when I’ve used words that now looking back it’s like I would not use that word now. But it is recognizing that things do change and things move on. So I’m thinking back to my script for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There’s a hateful little kid named Mike TV who said like, “It’s so easy, a retarded person could use it.” Basically he uses the word retard. And I would absolutely not use that word now. But at the time I was using it for a hateful little kid to say it was believable. It was common. And it wasn’t considered unempathetic for it to be included in the script.
And it gets me thinking about there’s a term that Steven Pinker coined called the Euphemism Treadmill, which is that sometimes you’ll pick a term that is neutral or meant to be kind of positive and that it just wears down, it sort of morphs into becoming the bad version of it. So mental retardation was meant to be a kind, gentle word to describe people with certain conditions. And as it got made into an epithet anything associated with it became negative and bad.
And it’s such a natural cycle that does sort of happen. And so as we look back to things that were written five years, ten years, 20 years ago, things do – I can’t believe people said “colored people” rather than “people of color.” It’s a very natural process that happens. And so we should be mindful that even the choices we make right now may seem weird five years, ten years, 20 years down the road.
John: They may seem unempathetic.
Nic: Yeah. You hit the nail on the head. I mean, with little people, as I said, we were Midgets of America. And the word midget actually derived from the word midge which was an insect. And it was created during the PT Barnum circus time to separate little people and categorizations of dwarfism.
But even as little people of the ‘50s and ‘40s we were like, “I’m a midget.” And they wouldn’t say that like I’m less. That was the term. So, it evolved as, hey, wait a minute, we should be little people. And I think that that’s happening for all different disabilities. There’s so many different, from as I said earlier wheelchair-bound versus wheelchair user. Autism, neuro-diverse, person with autism. There’s person-first language. I mean, for me I’m always all about let’s focus less on the terminology and more about the person, the job, the work. Forget what to call me. Just call me Nic.
But it is important because this is something that I think even beyond the entertainment world I think for big companies and, you know, they get so nervous of saying things wrong that they think they’re like, oh, wait a minute, I don’t want to bring that person in. And I think it’s like the more we can just normalize and use terms, and be OK with the fact that we may be using a term that in five years is going to be not the right term anymore.
John: Yeah. And the same way that companies may be nervous to hire that employee because they’re worried about those issues, my concern is that sometimes writers are afraid to include that character, that specific character, because they’re worried about doing something wrong. And so I think we’re all urging people to be brave, be smart, and this might be a great way to wrap up by saying like if people want to find out more about what you do with Easterseals or issues of representation and talking about the community of people with disabilities, where should they start? Where would you recommend people go first?
Nic: Well, one, you can go to disabilityfilmchallenge.com. We have seven years of hundreds of films that were created by people with disabilities. Each film has to have somebody with a disability in front of or behind the camera. This year we had to do documentary film. So these are all people with disabilities telling their story. But I feel like even beyond the film challenge if you go to YouTube you can search a certain person with a disability. Cerebral palsy. And you can see somebody with cerebral palsy talking about themselves. Or a little person. And you can kind of see how they want to be labeled. And a lot of times they’re self-labeling themselves either in the video or in the speech.
But also, you know, people reach out to us, networks, writers, executives, all the time. Hey, I’m looking to talk to somebody with cerebral palsy, a wheelchair user. I think the community as a whole, you know, this is the most important thing. The disability community is a community. And we’re there to be partners in making the world more inclusive. So I would say don’t be afraid to reach out to us. And then on the flip side as writers, especially in TV, in many senses you guys are also the producers. So in some senses just write a cool character and don’t even worry so much about the description of the character. Just bring that into casting and being like, hey, let’s make this an African American wheelchair user. And then having that same three-dimensional character that’s a jerk, or funny, or cool, or smart. But I think that there are so many people with disabilities that are willing to join the conversation and be there. And we want a seat at the table.
And I know myself included I’m willing to do whatever I can to help.
Craig: I think that’s fantastic. I’m working on a movie script and there’s a character in it who is a wheelchair user. So the director and I reached out to somebody who is a wheelchair user who specifically works in the theater community and had made herself available to have these discussions. And it’s the homework we need to do with each other. All of us. It’s really important. Just talk to each other. And to listen.
And if you are just being selfish, if all you care about is being a better artist, it will make you a better artist. You will do a better job. For that reason alone. Even if you have no concern for your fellow human being, and you just want to be a better writer, better actor, better director, this is a great thing to do. And so I’m so pleased that we got a chance to talk to you. And I’m also just super impressed with the work that you’ve already done. It’s pretty amazing. So awesome job, Nic.
Nic: Well thank you. I’m a huge fan of this podcast and both of you guys as artists. So this was an honor. Thank you.
Craig: Awesome. Thank you.
John: Nic, thank you so much for coming on.
Nic: Thank you.
John: OK, so Craig, this last week I was writing on a scene and I recognized that this was a scene where I created a character who is essentially single use. This character only appears in this scene. He’s very memorable and distinctive and hopefully very funny within this scene, but story wise this character is never going to reappear again. And not only is there not a natural reason for them to reappear again, they really can’t reappear again.
John: And it got me thinking about the situations in which I do have a single use character and times when I want to make sure the characters can come back. And what our expectation is as writers and as readers and audiences when there’s a character who appears in only one scene.
Craig: And generally we’re going to try and avoid this. Meaning when we do engage a single use character we’re doing so very carefully and very intentionally. Because every actor that we bring on board that’s an expense to the production and somebody to get wardrobed and costumed. And it also demands the audience’s attention. They are just going to presume that when they meet people those people are in the movie. And the more people they meet who show up once and leave the more frustrated they get.
You keep throwing new people at them, they’re just going to stop paying attention because they’re like, ah, none of these people are going to stay around, so why am I bothering.
John: Yeah. I think people create a mental placeholder for them. And I find as I read scripts often I’ll circle the first time a character shows up just so I can keep track of like, OK, this is that person. And if I find myself circling a bunch of characters I’m like, oh wait, how many people are in this movie? I think you’re saying that expectation is that this person might come back so I need to remember something about them.
In some cases, especially if the scene is very dramatic or very funny, there’s kind of a misleading vividness where it feels like, oh, this person must be important because look how much screen time or look at what a big moment they had. And that can be a trap in and of itself. So, looking back at the scene that I wrote, I know it was the right choice to do it, and this was a scene which in its initial conception was going to have a group of people speaking, and then it became more clear that like, oh no, it should just be one person driving it because it was going to get too diffuse if I had a bunch of people speaking in the scene.
But what I was able to do is because this scene takes place in a specific set that the hero is going to and there’s not an expectation that they’re going to come back to it, I think I was able to make it pretty clear we don’t have an expectation that that character is ever going to be seen again. So by having it be a destination and not part of the regular home set in a way I don’t think we’re going to plan on seeing that thing again.
Craig: Yeah. One of the ways you can inoculate the audience against thinking that they’re going to keep seeing this person is – well very common use of single use characters is they die. So, we’re not worried about them. They’re not coming back. I’m thinking of the very opening scene of the first episode of Game of Thrones. There are a bunch of guys we don’t see again. They all die. It doesn’t matter who they are. They die. That’s the point.
Another way we can inoculate the audience is by making sure that our single use character is rooted by circumstance into a position. So, we have a main character moving through a space, whether it’s an airport, or it is a department store.
John: A DMV.
Craig: A DMV. Somebody is stuck in their job. They’re not going anywhere. Your character moves in and then leaves. And we understand that character can’t go anywhere else except where they are. I mean, one of the greatest single use characters of all time is Edie McClurg playing a rental car saleswoman in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. And she’s perfect.
John: We wouldn’t want any more.
Craig: You couldn’t ask for a better foil for Steve Martin losing his mind. And we know we’re not going to see her again because she lives and works behind that counter and does not exist anywhere else.
John: Another thing I think you need to keep in mind with these single use characters is always ask yourself is my hero still driving this scene. Because so often you have this funny idea for a character, this funny situation, but if my hero can only react to that situation they’re not actually in charge of it. So what you describe of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, it’s like the scene is not really about her. It’s about his frustration and what he does in response to her. It’s not about her. And so making sure that if you are going to use a single use character they’re not just going to take over the scene and just leave your hero, your star, just facing them as an obstacle and not doing anything themselves.
Craig: Yeah. There may be a tendency among new writers to try and jazz up a scene by having a waiter come over and be wacky. Nobody wants it. Nobody.
Craig: Every now and then, for instance, here’s a for instance. Bronson Pinchot created a career for himself with a single use character in Beverly Hills Cop.
John: Beverly Hills Cop, yeah.
Craig: And it was so good. It was so fascinating and so weird that you kind of wanted more of him. And you didn’t get more of him because he was single use. And you wanted more of him and you got more of him eventually. Bronson Pinchot went on to do other things. Because I think that was before he did Perfect Strangers, I think. I think it was. I’m sure somebody will write in and tell me I’m an idiot, which I often am.
But the point is every now and then you will get something like that. But don’t aim for it. Because it almost never happens. And you really do want to design these single use characters as functions for your main character. They are obstacles. They are information. They are omens. They are distractions. But they are rarely the person who is supposed to be drawing the audience’s attention.
John: Yeah. So in certain circumstances, your waiter example is exactly right. Because you would say like, oh, you want every character to pop. And it’s like, yeah, but you don’t necessarily want that waiter character to pop. If the waiter needs to be there but it’s not actually the point of the scene you kind of want that character to be a little bit background. You want that character to be helping inform the setting, but they are kind of scene setting. They’re not actually the point of it.
And they should be a little bit more like set decoration than the marquee star because they’re going to probably pull focus away from what you actually want to be focusing on which is probably your hero and what your hero is doing in those moments.
Craig: That’s exactly right.
John: So as you look at your script, if you have a lot of single use characters there may be something wrong. It’s not a guarantee that something is wrong, but there might be something wrong. So if there’s four scenes in your script that have major single use characters who have multiple lines and are really doing a lot ask yourself why. And not necessarily there’s a problem, but there could be a reason why. Maybe these characters should be combined or there’s some way in which they can come back. And you may not be spending your script time properly.
Craig: I agree. It’s worth policing through. And every now and then you might find a way to maybe collapse them into one. If you have two scenes, you may be able to get away with just combining those two characters into one character. But, yeah, be aware of it and try to avoid.
And, by the way, when possible ask yourself does this person need to talk at all.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Because the difference between a person who says one word on camera and a person who says nothing is a lot of money and also a lot of attention.
John: A lot of time actually shooting to come around to film their lines is hours on the day.
Craig: It’s a lot.
John: I think we have time for one question. And I’m going to read a question from Brooklyn Writer. And they write, “I recently wrote a pilot and after my team circulated it a production company of some repute reached out asking me to pitch it to them. Do you have any specific advice for pitching a TV show to folks who have already read the pilot? Should I talk about the pilot still?”
Craig, what would you do in this situation?
Craig: I mean, I think Brooklyn Writer that they know the pilot. That’s why you’re there. So I think what they’re saying is can you tell us what this show will be. Give us the season. Let us know how this would blossom from this episode. No sense in going in there and pretending like they haven’t read it and pitching them the story of a thing they already have. Unless what you’re saying is, yeah, no you say clearly that they already have read the pilot. So I would say, yeah, you can certainly talk about some of the choices you made in the pilot and why. But I would contextualize that in – and why I did these things is because here’s where it all goes.
John: Yeah. Contextualizing is the name of the game here. Because let’s say that your managers have set this meeting. Well, maybe that meeting is two weeks from now. By the time you go in to actually talk with them they may have reread it or they may have skimmed it again, but they may not be super familiar with it. So what your job going into that is to kind of remind them what they liked about it and in reminding them what they liked about it you probably are going to talk about the characters, you’re going to talk about the world, you’re going to talk about what’s exciting. And then you’re going to be saying things like, “So in the pilot we follow this plot line through,” and you’re basically going to summarize the big things.
But then always be tying those into this is what’s going to be happening over the course of the season. This is what the show does. This is the engine of how things work from then on. So, you’re kind of in a good situation, because they’ve already read the thing and they’re inclined to like the thing. Now it’s about getting to that next step of thinking about not just a pilot that we might shoot but really what is the show going to be like. And you’re always in a better situation if they’ve already read something that they’re inclined to like.
Craig: Absolutely. Yeah. Go in there not having to start from nothing. You have a little bit of inertia has been overcome.
John: Yeah. All right. Some last bits of housekeeping before we get to our One Cool Things. This week we have some sort of back to school sales, post-Labor Day. We have our September sales on some things. So, Highland, the app I make for writing. The upgrade to Pro is half-price this week. So, if you want to upgrade you should upgrade this week. Writer Emergency Pack is also on sale. Two or three years ago, god, maybe it was five years ago we made a game. We Kickstarted a game called One Hit Kill, which people liked a lot, which was great. We have in a warehouse in Pennsylvania, we’re moving from that warehouse to a different warehouse.
This is supply chain economics, a short lesson on this. The actual cost of moving the One Hit Kills we have left at this one warehouse to the other warehouse is going to be more than if we just actually kind of sold these away for a dollar a piece. So we’re going to sell our remaining stock of this one black of One Hit Kills for a dollar a piece. So if you want to check out a fun game that you can play with your kids, it’s called One Hit Kill. Go to onehitkillgame.com and you can see this game. It’s $1 plus shipping. And you can help us clear the shelves and move us to our new warehouse.
So that’s cheap.
And you and I, Craig, we did something fun this last weekend. We did a series of videos talking through Roll 20 and you talked me through how to be a DM in Roll 20. It’s complicated. And, man, you are a really good teacher.
Craig: Thank you.
John: So it’s five videos up online. They’re up on my YouTube channel. I’ll put a link in the show notes. But if you are curious about DMing a game in Roll 20 which is how we have been doing our D&D games since the pandemic started Craig talks you through from beginning to end how to set up Roll 20 to do it. So I learned a tremendous amount and I will probably be going back to these videos often as I try to set up my own campaign.
Craig: Well, yeah, and I will say again that there are many people who are vastly better at Roll 20 than I, so I’m not putting myself out there as a super expert. But if you watch those you will have enough information to be able to DM a game. I do believe that.
John: Yeah. So definitely check those out if you’re curious about Roll 20. Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?
Craig: I do. I do. This was something that I got for Melissa. She likes a sparkling wine, like a Champagne or whatever you call. I guess sparkling wine is champagne that’s not from Champagne. I don’t drink it, but she does. And one of the bummers about it is you pop the cork and it goes pretty flat. You can’t get that cork back in. And neither one of us are like finish a bottle type of people.
So at one point we talked about the Coravin which is a great solution for bottles of red wine, for instance. But what do you do about this sort of thing? Good news, super cheap, very effective solution. There is Champagne Bottle Stopper, and there’s a bunch of different brands, but this one that we bought is from Winco. You get a set of two for $9.52. And they just basically are little stoppers that fit over the top and then you put these little two clamps down. And it works. It legitimately works. And super cheap.
So, if you are somebody that finds yourself not finishing bottles of sparkling wine well here’s a $10 solution to that.
John: Like you, I’m not a big champagne person. I’ll have it if it’s the thing that people are drinking. But I’m never thirsty for champagne.
Craig: Neither am I. I don’t – in general white wine is just sort of a meh. It’s not my–
John: Sweet alcohol is just not a good combination for me. Like even a margarita at this point, no, I really can’t.
Craig: No Bartles & Jaymes for you?
Craig: Does that even exist anymore? That doesn’t exist.
John: I wonder if Bartles & Jaymes still exists. It’s worth Googling. I remember that.
Craig: I’m actually almost vomiting thinking about it.
John: Yeah, it’s not good. Not good.
Craig: Bad memories.
John: It’s the Peach Schnapps of its time.
Craig: Oh god. Blech.
John: My One Cool Thing is two related One Cool Things. So I was reading this piece by Alex Yablon in Slate about the NRA. And he describes sort of the possible end of the NRA being – basically it would get separated up into little pieces and it would be a really complicated feeding frenzy. And he describes it as a Whale Fall. And I did not know what a whale fall was. And so I clicked through the link and the Wikipedia article on a whale fall. Do you know what a whale fall is, Craig?
Craig: It’s when whales fall. It’s like when whales come out of the sky, like the squid in Watchmen.
John: Hmm. Yeah. It’s not that.
John: So when whales die they fall to the bottom of the ocean and they can fall in really, really deep waters. And they end up creating an entire ecosystem around the creatures that scavenge that body and basically a whole bunch of biological activity happens around a whale fall that is like really important. Because it’s just so much meat and concentrated energy happening in a place that generally wouldn’t have anything to eat, that just a bunch of stuff happens.
So, I love it as a visual. I love it as a metaphor. I just think whale fall is a cool idea. So, I’ll link to the Wikipedia page on whale fall. But you can go down a deep rabbit hole on whale falls.
Craig: That sounds – whale fall. There’s going to be a movie now. How Would This Be a Movie? Whale fall.
John: That’s our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Michael Karman. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. But for short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust.
We have t-shirts. And they’re great. You can find them at Cotton Bureau. You can also find them in the show notes for this episode and all episodes which are available at johnaugust.com. That’s where you also find the transcripts. You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments including the one we’re just about to record. Craig, thank you for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: All right. Our bonus segment. This is from a tweet by Clint Ford. He writes, “A question on Reddit garnered a great deal of screenwriting discussion, so I thought I’d post it here to try to provoke similar discussion. ‘If the standards for breaking into the screenwriting industry are so high why are so many bad movies made?’” Craig Mazin?
Craig: Yeah, well, if you think these movies are bad, imagine how bad they would be if the standards were lower.
John: [laughs] Oh. So so many ways to approach this question. So we can deny the premise, which is an obvious easy one. Or then we can try to really tackle process. So I’m going to start with process. To me, this question if you rephrase it in terms of baking would be like this. You’re looking at a loaf of bread and saying if your flour is so good why is this bread so terrible. Basically you’re confusing the ingredients going into the finished product, not acknowledging that there’s a whole process. There’s many, many steps that go from flour to the final thing.
So, you can’t make good bread from rotten flour. But you can make rotten bread from perfectly good flour. And I think that so often is the case with screenplays is that sometimes the writing is really good and the process is really bad. And so the end result is a bad movie that really has very little to do with the quality of the screenwriting.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, there’s all sorts of ways this happens. And, again, we’re sort of talking about movies that let’s just say everybody kind of agrees are terrible. But there are very few movies like that. I mean, somebody likes every movie.
But you have to remember that the people that are deciding what gets made are not screenwriters. Now, the standards for breaking into the industry are high. But then what happens is they take people who have a lot of talent, who have shown it, and then they put them to work on something that’s bad. There’s the real answer to your question. It’s really hard to get noticed. You have to do your own writing. You have to do your own work. That’s what John did. That’s what I did. And then you get noticed, and then you get attention, and then they say, “Work on this.” And this is probably not something that that writer would have wanted to do. But they need to work. They need to pay bills, support a family.
And so a lot of times the reason that you think movies aren’t that great is because the screenwriter didn’t come up with that movie thought in the first place. Remember our discussion the other week, what were we talking about, UNO: The Movie. So, you know.
John: That’s a great example for this.
Craig: It’s going to be a bad movie. What are you going to do? I mean, I don’t care, Steven Zaillian can write Uno: The Movie, it’s not going to be a good movie because it’s UNO: The Movie.
So, right off the bat the entire industry has a corrosive impact on the quality of writing. The other major point I want to say, and I always point this out, is if you can discern a noticeable, repeatable, robust difference in quality between television right now and movies right now it’s partly because of this. Writers in features, in movies, are not only not in charge of the work that is made from their writing, but they are actively abused. They are actively shunted aside, disrespected, shifted around, and replaced. When writers are not in charge, generally speaking, the output will be damaged.
John: Yeah. I think that’s 100 percent true and fair. So, let me go back to the challenge and the premise of the question a little bit. So, why are so many bad movies made? I feel like the person asking this theoretical question is choosing to only look at the movies that they want to look at. And so they’re saying look at all these bad movies. It’s like, OK, but are you ignoring all the really good movies that are made? What is your cohort or movies that you’re saying that there are more bad movies? And are you saying that it’s increasing? Are you saying it’s the same percentage over time?
Yes, bad movies are going to be made. But also bad tennis shoes are going to be produced. Bad stuff is going to happen. If your expectation is that everything is going to be an A then something is really wrong with your expectations or the system, because if all you’re doing is creating one universally good thing that doesn’t feel plausible either.
Craig: Yeah. And what you’re used to is the range of movies that Hollywood produces. And you’ve come to think of those as somewhat inevitable, the way that we watch the Olympics and we just presume that if we’re watching 20 people in a marathon that one or two of them are going to be awesome, three will get medals, and then there’s going to be some that did OK, and then there’s going to be that idiot that runs in last. Well that idiot is one of the best runners in the world, it’s just now you think that person is “bad.”
I’m not saying that the person that initially asked this question is infantile, however there is an infantile aspect to the question. “Which is well if these movies are so bad then why aren’t they making my script?” I would love to see that script. [laughs] We will tell you. John and I will explain to you patiently why you have not broken into the screenwriting industry. Because you’ve been fooled by the level of quality that’s coming out. Believe it or not, it’s that hard to make even a bad movie.
John: Lastly, if the standards for breaking into the screenwriting industry are so high. I don’t know that the standards are that high. I mean, I would say that over the course of these 467 episodes we’ve tried to talk about quality in screenwriting and sort of as a craft what you’re looking for. But I hope that we’re not overstating that it’s all about the most brilliant writer always succeeds. In some cases it’s not because of their writing quality that they’re succeeding. It’s because they’re good at doing the other stuff that screenwriters have to do.
And we talk about this a lot on the show which is being a screenwriter is a lot about being a therapist and a counselor and understanding how to sort of play the game. And so a career is not about just your ability to sling words together in a useful way. It’s an incredibly important part of it, but it’s also about how to be hired for a job. How to communicate with actors and directors and sort of get stuff made and get stuff to happen. And that is a large part of it.
So, standards, well, it’s not just about your writing standards. It’s your ability to sort of interact with people and interface with people and get things to happen.
John: Sometimes those people who are really good at those other parts of the job are not especially good at the writing part of the job, but that may not be the reason why these bad movies happen.
Craig: Yeah. And Hollywood is not a meritocracy. There are people that get these because they have a friend. There are people who get these jobs because their dad is in the business. Generally speaking those people don’t last. And you and I have talked a lot about how the phrase “breaking in” is already a trap. Nobody really breaks in. You get a shot and then you either fail or you get another shot. You continue to get shots. Basically all you ever get is a chance to break in repeatedly.
John: Yeah. Again and again. Craig, thank you.
Craig: Thank you, John.
- Range Media
- WGA Elections
- Easterseals Disability Film Challenge
- Euphemisms are like underwear: best changed frequently
- One Hit Kill Game
- DM’s Guide to Roll 20
- Get Ready for a Feeding Frenzy Over the NRA’s Corpse
- Whale Fall
- Champagne Bottle Stopper
- Clint Ford Twitter Thread
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- Outro by Michael Karman (send us yours!)
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