The original post for this episode can now be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Craig Mazin is my name.
John: And this is Episode 470 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we’ll look at what happens when two or more characters–
Craig: Well, the thing is if you have multiple bits of dialogue then you need to have people–
John: — talking at once, the best ways for writers to think about it. And–
Craig: — say them simultaneously. But how do you do that–
John: — portray it on the page.
Craig: — when they’re – oh.
John: Plus lots of follow up on delayed movies, mergers, assistant pay, and more. And in our bonus segment for Premium members Craig and I will discuss Halloween.
Craig: Ooh, Halloween. I love it.
John: Yeah. Do you love Halloween?
Craig: I do.
John: I don’t love Halloween. So we’ll get into that.
Craig: Well, I get why. I know why. [laughs]
John: [laughs] You’ll have theories.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: All right. So lots of stuff in the news. First off, almost all the movies are delayed or the release dates changed. So we haven’t talked about this for a while but there was a pandemic. I guess there still is a pandemic.
Craig: So they say.
John: So they say. Some movie theaters are kind of opened. Most movie theaters aren’t really open. Tenet released in the US, sort of. Other movies have gone straight to video.
John: We’ll put a link in the show notes to an article that looks at some of the big release date changes, but essentially coming through the end of this year all of the Marvel movies got pushed back. Some of the Disney movies are coming out. Some of them are not coming out. Something like Free Guys, December 11. Dune, of course, is December 18. Wonder Woman is December 25.
Craig: I don’t think they are. I’ve got to be honest with you. I don’t think they are.
John: I don’t know if they are either. I was talking to some people involved with these movies and they said, “Yeah, I think it’s going to come out? Maybe it’s going to be out for like two weeks and—“
Craig: I would be shocked. Shocked.
John: I’d be surprised, too.
Craig: I think that this is going to be a while with these. If they don’t bite the bullet and just say, “We’re going to be charging you $30 to watch this at home,” then they have to wait. They just have to wait. Tenet was the movie that they all watched happen. And then they all looked at each other and said, “Ooh, no, no. We don’t want that.”
I mean, these things are economic propositions that have been well worked out with various formulae. A little bit like gambling where they’ve got it down to somewhat of a science, at least in certain ways. And not having a full theatrical release in the United States is simply untenable if you’re going to attempt to make your money back on some of these big bets. And they are pretty much all really big bets.
John: So I think the first question will be Pixar has some movies, Soul and the James Bond movie No Time to Die. Both of them are slated for November 20.
Craig: No way.
John: Yeah. That will be the first times we see. I mean, it’s not just the pandemic. It’s also it’s coming out of this election. I just don’t have a great sense for what America is going to be like at the end of November.
Craig: Normally if the movie theaters are open America is like I’m going to the movies. That’s normally what we’re like. But we’re not. We’re not going to be going to the movies on November 20. I don’t believe that. Unless something remarkable happens. It just doesn’t seem like it makes any sense. And the biggest moviemaking complexes are in the largest population centers. Those are the places that seemingly are most rigid and properly so about following the rules of social distancing. I just don’t see it happening. But, I mean, look, you can keep sliding things around on a calendar all you want. The nice thing is they don’t have to mail prints out anywhere anymore. It’s all beamed in electronically.
John: That’s true.
Craig: But, nah, and I mean, and the marketing campaigns are flexible as well. So, no, I don’t think so. I would be blown away if we were watching a James Bond movie on November 20.
John: Yeah. And I don’t want to sound callous towards movie theaters. Movie theaters are a crucial piece of our infrastructure and they’ve just been completely hosed by what’s happened. And so I want theatrical movies to succeed. I want these things to be possible. I just don’t know that it is possible now.
And just using myself as a barometer, I’m a person who really likes to go to the movies and sees things opening weekend. But if I don’t feel safe going to movie theaters here, pretty well run movie theaters here, I just don’t see it being profitable for everybody.
Craig: No. The movie theaters are probably facing an extinction event in terms of the way it has been to this point. The removal of the consent decree and the pandemic have combined to – I don’t know how a large independent theater chain survives this. I really don’t. Maybe they have secret plans that are somehow opaque to me. But it does seem like the large media companies in the United States are sitting back waiting to see what happens with the pandemic ending and waiting to see how attendance works after that, at which point they will swoop in and buy these things at a cheap cost as distressed properties.
John: Very, very possible. I mentioned the election, Craig, what is your voting plan?
Craig: My voting plan is to receive my ballot in the mail. Fill the ballot out. And then I believe I’m going to be dropping it into a ballot drop box. That’s the last bit of research I have to do is see where that is. I assume it’s going to be at my post office. But it might be elsewhere. I will find out where that is. I will go to it and put my ballot into it. And I will do that on the day I get my ballot.
John: That is essentially my plan as well. I actually already got my ballot because the county of Los Angeles still thinks I live in France. And so they sent me this ballot early so it can get all the way to France. So I actually got my ballot. If it becomes a question of whether this is going to be problematic for me to turn it in early because they think I live in France then I will take this to one of the early voting centers and actually vote there as soon as I can do that.
John: So that’s the alternative. That’s what I did at the 2018 elections.
Craig: Got it.
John: So either way I will be voting as soon as I possibly can vote, just because you never know.
Craig: Well, I have always been a vote in person guy because I like the experience of voting in person.
John: I do, too.
Craig: I remember as a kid going into the voting booth with my dad. Back in the day, I don’t know if it was like this where you were in gorgeous Colorado, but in glum Staten Island what we would do is we would go to – it was actually my elementary school’s gymnasium and they had set up these little booths with this sliding curtain. And there was a machine in front of you. To me as a small child the machine seemed enormous. I suspect today it’s not. And it had levers. And you would flip the levers. Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. You make all your choices and then you would pull this big lever at the bottom from left to right and it would go…and it would register your vote somehow using, I don’t know, some ancient Babbage machine.
And then you would open the curtain and exit. And I just remember thinking that this was very high tech and very exciting.
John: Absolutely. So I remember my mom doing that once. And at some very early point voting in Colorado moved to the more sort of freestanding little desk kind of things where you’re poking holes and things, which aren’t nearly as much fun for a kid to see.
Craig: No. No. So in California we have the ink dot system, or at least we did, which I thought actually worked very well. You stick your thing in the thing and you flip the pages and you push down. The system now is more automated. It’s a little odd. When I voted in 2018 it was a little strange in that you tap the things on the screen and the thing comes out and then you have to stick the thing back in and then it comes back out. I guess for you to check and make sure.
Anyway, I’m filling my thing out at home. Bring it in. Let’s do this.
John: I’m going to fill my thing at home and make sure it gets in early.
John: But voting day is still a priority this year and sort of every year. Our friends Beth and Travis sort of spearheaded a movement to sort of get the WGA to say, “Hey, shouldn’t voting day be a paid day off for our members?”
Craig: Yes. 100 percent. So Beth Schacter worked in television for a long time. She’s currently an EP on Billions. And Travis Donnelly is one of our re-elected, freshly re-elected, directors on the board at the WGA. And they are both absolutely correct. This is something that we do need to encourage. The WGA cannot force showrunners to say, “Go ahead everybody, take the day to vote if you need to.” But we should be encouraging it strongly. And that means that the showrunners then have to turn around to the companies and say, “FYI, I’m doing this, and we’re not going to not pay people and that’s the way it is.”
It is incredibly important. And until we have a national holiday for voting this is going to be something we need to do. So, it’s a great idea. And we should encourage – the WGA should be doing this officially, encouraging the people running shows. And then you and I should just keep doing it and talking to our friends and leading by example in saying let people go vote.
John: Agreed. And hopefully WGA saying this and encouraging this will get other unions to be thinking about this. Hopefully this industry can be thinking about this way and other unions down the road can be thinking.
Craig: The other unions do not listen to us. And we don’t talk to them, which we know. However, we can take the lead on this.
John: However, they do draft off of things we get. So that is a useful thing.
Craig: Sometimes they do. It’s true.
John: Yeah. I mean, there were no residuals until the WGA got residuals.
Craig: That was back in the ‘50s. That is true. That is true. Did you see the latest pandemic – there was this big agreement between the companies and the unions about how to proceed in terms of managing COVID and testing on sets. And again everybody involved accept the WGA. Do not know why. But you know what? That’s something the new board can figure out.
John: Yes. So let’s talk about our new board. The WGA elections were held. The results were that all the incumbents were re-elected plus Eric Haywood. So congratulations to the incumbents and to Eric.
Craig: Meet the new board. Same as the old board.
John: Obviously we’ll put a link in the show notes to the results. I know and work with all these people. I have nothing bad to say about any of them. You have bad things to say about Patric Verrone.
Craig: Nothing but bad. Nothing.
John: There was a big cliff between Patric Verrone and the next vote-getter after that. So it wasn’t even a close, tight election.
Craig: No, no. Patric Verrone happily inhabiting that eighth slot every two years. That’s where he lives. So, I was bummed out. I was bummed out because Daniel Kunka who was the one feature writer running did not make it in. I don’t think any of these people are feature writers. So, Betsy Thomas, Deric Hughes, Ashley Gable, Patti Carr, David Slack, Eric Haywood, Travis Donnelly, Patric Verrone. TV, TV, TV, TV, TV, TV, TV, TV, TV.
Craig: And this is not tenable. It’s just not going to work. And I don’t know what to do about it because the membership is skewed. So we have a large and completely unrepresented minority in our union. And that’s just a recipe for disaster. I don’t know how this is going to continue like this.
John: OK. So, as a screenwriter who was just on the board pretty recently. It’s not that we have no representation. Michele Mulroney is a feature writer. Dante Harper is a feature writer. It would be awesome to have more feature writers on there. That’s why were both pushing for Daniel Kunka to be a representative of that.
John: Having talked to all the people who are currently on there, I know they are well-versed in feature issues. And I know it is important to them. It is not affecting them directly the way it would affect a feature writer. So, let us just remind the people who are elected there some things that are super, super important for them to understand about feature issues.
Free work abuses is a thing that feature writers encounter that TV writers don’t encounter to nearly the same degree, which is basically being held on a draft and turning it in, basically not being paid because they keep pushing more and more stuff for you to do. And so you are working endlessly on a “draft” whereas a TV writer would have turned a thing in because they’re more on a weekly basis. That is a thing that is so specific to feature writers.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, the problem that came out of mini rooms and the stretching of time where writers were getting paid the same amount in television for more and more time of work. The thing that made them crazy and led us to strike threat a couple of times. That’s been the state of affairs, times ten, for feature writers forever. So, if TV writers could just look at it that way. If they could just understand how much worse feature writers have had it in that area that they found so offensive for so long. If the 17 out of 19 people in board meetings could internalize that it would be enormously valuable for the thousands of feature writers that are in this union.
John: Yeah. Other things that are evergreen issues for feature writers is late pay. Basically you turn in your draft and it’s late coming. I will say there has been progress on this. Since the time I was on the board there would be more progress now that invoices and contracts are coming through to the guild. There’s already been work on this thing. It has to continue.
Teams. There are teams in TV. There are teams in feature. Teams in features, they’re screwed. You’re splitting a salary between two people. It makes it harder for everybody. So the issues that teams face are only magnified by the other problems in features.
And finally I would just want everyone to be mindful of the very definition of what is a feature film is in question. So if you’re writing a feature for a Disney+ or one of the other streamers let’s make sure we are using the terms of a theatrical feature and not getting dragged down to TV movie of the week. And we just have to be so vigilant that we are really treating these pieces of 110 minute entertainment that feels like a feature film that we’re paying these writers like they are writing feature films because that’s what they are.
Craig: Yeah. This is not unrelated to our discussion of a few minutes ago, the fate of theaters. If theaters eventually go away there are still movies. It’s just how we watch them. We don’t necessarily conceive of a massive difference at home. But the contract that we have with the companies dates back to the early days of television and the early days of theatrical exhibition. And that’s what it solidified into. Our contract is ancient. It is old and it is full of archaic language. None of which contemplated the Internet much less streaming and the blurring of features on big or little screens.
So all of that needs to be considered. But it can only be considered if it is a priority. And that means, again, that out of the 19 people in that room you have 16 board members and three officers. Of those 19 people, even though only two of them work in features all of them need to put features first. I don’t know how else to say it. Because all we’ve done is put television first and exclusively put television first for well over a decade. And I’m just going to keep banging this drum. I’m going to be – I’ll be that militant.
John: Be that militant. Several of the people I know who are on the board are also starting to do feature work. And I’ve had individual conversations with them about that. So I think as silos get broken down many of these writers will be more aware of what those issues are. It’s also the point in every one of these conversations where I also remind people that we have people who work in comedy and variety and they have it even worse than feature writers do. So, being mindful of those writers also facing challenges.
Craig: Sure. They will have to find their own Craig Mazin to bang that drum. I have one drum. One.
John: One drum. And he beats it loud.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Let’s talk about Quibi. So Quibi–
John: Aw, Quibi. Quibi has short little videos for your phone. So, it won two Emmys this last week. Congratulations Quibi.
Craig: Oh. That’s pretty cool. I know that–
John: Yeah. It’s won more Emmys than I have. Fewer than Craig.
Craig: [laughs] No, Quibi has tied me for Emmys. Kaitlin Olson was nominated for an Emmy for her work on Quibi. I don’t know if she won or not. Was she one of the ones who won? I hope she was.
John: I don’t know. I didn’t see who actually won.
Craig: I’ll have to look it up.
John: So Quibi this last week engaged JPMorgan Chase to help the company review a range of strategic options. I’ll put a link in the show notes to the LA Times article about it. But let’s just talk about Quibi because we didn’t really talk about it when it launched. I had a conversation with Jeffrey Katzenberg, I don’t know, two years ago and there was a show I was going to do with Doug Liman and we just couldn’t make it work out financially or logistically.
Craig: At the Quib?
John: At the Quib. And I will say that the initial pitch I got from Jeffrey was kind of what the show ended up being and the problems that I sort of heard in the pitch became the real problems that were out there is that while it’s great in theory to have, oh, they’re videos that you watch on your phone, sort of like how you can watch YouTube on your phone. It wasn’t fundamentally compelling because those weren’t the kinds of things I wanted to watch on my phone. I wanted to watch things on my TV and I couldn’t watch things on my TV. I also couldn’t share anything that I thought was great about a show on clips on Twitter or Instagram. It couldn’t go viral because it was all locked down. There were fundamental things that were problematic about it.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I have never understood it. I may be the only writer in America who has not gone in and met with people at Quibi and pitched anything to Quibi. I never understood it. To me, the concept itself sounded like an old person’s thrilling idea of how the Internet could or should work. But we have Quibi. It’s called YouTube. That’s how Quibi functions. Right? If you want short videos to watch on your phone, there’s YouTube.
But what people generally never wanted on YouTube were little mini-series that just played on YouTube. They just didn’t want that. That wasn’t a thing. They didn’t mind it on like a big laptop screen, but like on your phone? Nobody wanted that. And there’s been people who have trying that crap for a decade. It’s not what people want in that format. They just don’t.
John: So I’m going to take the position that Quibi in the end was a good thing in that it paid a lot of people a lot of money to make content.
John: Which is good. It increased employment. It got people to experiment and do new things. So even if it wasn’t a financial success for this company it basically took a bunch of stock market investor money and gave it to writers and creators and actors and other folks. And maybe that’s good.
Craig: Well, it gave the money to an executive who then gave it to a lot of writers and actors and folks. And if there’s a lesson here for the money people maybe it’s this. The guy who is famous for writing The Idea is Everything, Jeffrey Katzenberg, is not the guy who comes up with the ideas. He’s just the guy pointing at the concept of an idea and saying isn’t that important. Meaning what Jeffrey Katzenberg was famous for in the ‘90s was writing a memo saying, “Writers are everything. But let’s not pay them well. And also I’ll be in charge.”
Jeffrey Katzenberg, apologies to Mr. Katzenberg, doesn’t write anything. Doesn’t create anything. His big idea was to pay other people to have ideas. You don’t need him for that. What you need are people who come up with big ideas. Go to them. Go to them. You want them to be managed by somebody? I don’t know, hire four million mid-level managers for the same price of one Katzenberg. And his partner was Meg Whitman. She’s the Facebook lady, right?
John: Wasn’t she PayPal?
Craig: Oh, she was PayPal. She was PayPal and then she also ran for the governor of California at some point. Anyway, who needs them? They don’t do anything. They don’t do anything. I wish to god this capital would understand that. But I think sometimes the people who have billions of dollars only talk to other people that are like them. Oh, well Jeffrey Katzenberg is sort of like us. He’s an executive. And he talks in executive speak. Blech.
They don’t do anything. They don’t. Why?
John: There’s a struggle of disintermediation. So basically you’re objecting to the fact that people are giving money to Quibi who is then giving it to the people to actually make the things. And it’s like you should just give the money to the people who make the things. But someone has to build the distribution platform. So Quibi was trying to be that distribution platform the same way a Netflix is. The same way an HBO Max is.
It goes back to our discussion of theaters. You want to own the place where people see the thing because that is ultimately useful and powerful in your gatekeeper function. But I don’t know that it makes sense to – the same way that you don’t see a lot of tech money going into “we’re going to revolutionize movie theaters.” Or you see MoviePass trying to do that and it’s like well that’s a bad idea. Quibi is in many ways the MoviePass of video.
Craig: I think it is. And I don’t want to imply that there is no place for people that aren’t writers to run things in Hollywood, because there is. It’s just that most of the people that I work with are employed by a large corporation and their function is their utility in working with writers and filmmakers and directors and actors. They are good at it. So that’s why – at least most of them are good at it that I work with. And so that’s why they’re there.
But when you elevate a noncreative person to a kind of creative guru position then you are asking for trouble. Every time they do it. The Japanese via Sony truly believed that Guber and Peters they were gods of some kind. They knew something. They had cracked the code. And so if you’ve never read Hit and Run, which is a fantastic book about Sony’s purchase of Columbia Pictures you should. It’s amazing. And it really is just a story of how they got fooled by two guys who basically were just, you know, guys. One of whom may not even be literate. I mean, so I’ve heard. I’m not saying that in any actionable way. I’ve just heard that. It’s probably not true.
So this happens. Any time they escalate people like Katzenberg. And I have nothing against Jeffrey Katzenberg.
John: No. I think Katzenberg is very smart. And he deserves credit for the many things he has accomplished over the years.
John: And also congratulations you built a giant company–
Craig: Well, no. Now that one I’ve got to quibble – I’ve got to Quibi with.
John: You’ve got to quibble with Quibi?
Craig: A lot of people invested in that and are going to lose their shirts. And while the people–
John: I don’t think anyone is going to lose their shirts. I think it was money that was looking for a home.
Craig: Well, sure. But some homes are better than others. And these institutional investors, they themselves obviously are insulated from these losses because they’re fat cats. But they’re playing around with other people’s money. And those people ultimately get hurt. So anytime a business crashes of this scale, $2 billion, it’s bad.
John: And to stipulate it hasn’t crashed to – you know, $1.75 billion. It hasn’t crashed to nothing. It’s really hard to see how much it’s worth.
Craig: And on its way.
John: And who to sell it to. One of the interesting things about the Quibi business model which from the initial pitch is that the creators actually get their content back. And so after like seven years it goes back but they can also repackage it after it like two years, which does seem to be a tacit acknowledgment of like it sort of sucks to be working for somebody and have them own your thing for perpetuity.
Like I’m writing this movie for Netflix right now and it’s just it’s only going to be on Netflix. That’s all it’s ever going to be on. If Netflix goes away it gets sold off to somebody at some point.
Craig: Yeah. Somebody buys it.
John: It is locked away in ways that are frustrating for a filmmaker. So, Quibi was trying to acknowledge that.
Craig: Quibi was definitely spending money like a drunken sailor. And that’s the Netflix factor. This is why – I can imagine that pitch of just the only way to compete with Netflix is to out-Netflix Netflix. They’re a drunken sailor. We need to be an even more drunken sailor. And this is all in the short term good for folks who are receiving money for writing. In the long term it’s not good if it destabilizes because of eventually this all comes crashing down. Quibi has come crashing down way faster than I thought it would.
I’m confused by their insistence that this is related to the pandemic. The pandemic seems like it would be a gift from god for Quibi. But I don’t know.
John: Yeah. I think they built a user story experience where it was like you’re watching it on the train as you’re headed to work. That’s the ideal use case for it.
John: But honestly that’s so New York centric.
John: It’s such a view of one way that people live their lives.
Craig: Also, I’m sorry, but that’s not what people – in New York if you manage the catch the working wifi in between stations on the subway, yeah, you’re listening to music or you’re playing a game or you’re texting. You’re not watching a Quibi. For god’s sake.
John: Yeah. No. One place we can read all of the useful insight and criticism of this is in the trades.
John: And so the trades are–
Craig: You mean the trade? [laughs]
John: Exactly. The trades are what we call – originally they were printed newspapers, but Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Deadline. They are the different places that report on our industry. And they’re now all essentially one company. They’re all one trade. So we will link to the Deadline piece on what happened. But essentially through joint ventures they’ve all basically become one thing.
Everything we think of being separate entities are basically one company.
Craig: Yes. And one of those companies is MRC which produces content in Hollywood.
John: Yeah. Funny that.
Craig: So you have a studio, essentially a studio, a financing arm of a studio that is the part owner of all of the major publications analyzing the entertainment industry. And that includes Rolling Stone, the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Billboard, Vibe, and Music Business Worldwide. That’s all of them. That’s all of them. So, you know, you and I growing up out here in the ‘90s as young screenwriters we knew that there was Coke and Pepsi. There was Variety and there was the Hollywood Reporter. And I remember being astonished at how much they cost. Because back in those days, because it was a bit of a kind of duopoly to get Variety delivered to your office every day, Daily Variety, you had to pay some insane yearly subscription at that time. It was like a thousand dollars. I’m like, what, this is insane.
And now apparently Variety is free as far as I can tell to everybody in the world. And Deadline disrupted everything. And now it’s just all smashed together into one thing. And what happens now–
John: And so I don’t know what happens now. So, I mean, it’s worth noting that Deadline was actually – Nikki Finke drove me crazy, but Nikki Finke created Deadline as a separate independent site that was just journalism about the actual industry and became incredibly influential because it was actually just journalism about the industry. And it was gossipy and all the other things we can sort of throw at it, but it was outside the norm. So it does feel like there’s a potential for an outside disruptor to come in here and make the new version of Deadline that is actually independent. So that’s a possible outcome of this.
But I want to talk about the MRC of it all. So MRC is a company that is also tied up with the agencies and sort of the affiliated productions of the agencies in complicated ways. But they make actual TV shows and features. So, Ozark, The Great, The Outsider, The Golden Globe Awards, Fire Fraud, which I think it’s great that they were the people behind that.
Craig: Knives Out.
John: The Billboard Music Awards. American Music Awards. Knives Out. Baby Driver.
John: So it’s just so complicated to be the trades who are supposed to be reporting on an industry that you actually are making the things you’re reporting on.
Craig: It is. And good journalists will often, you know, encounter this because of these multinational conglomerates. You’re always touching on something. And so they’ll say, “Full disclosure, this publication is owned by the same parent company as blah-blah-blah.” And so you say that out loud and they will say, OK, that they will have independence, which is fine. And I believe them to an extent because they know that if they don’t have independence then the property they just bought will become worthless. Because it will be pointed out and it will be skewered and devalued.
But what is not good is that there is the potential for – it just seems like an obvious potential for consolidation here. So you buy all this stuff and then you sit there and you go, so, um, we have somebody that does the same job at Variety as this other person at Hollywood Reporter. Why don’t we just fire one of them? And actually why don’t we just fire half of these people and just make one thing called the Variety Reporter. And then people will lose their jobs and also you narrow the diversity of voices.
John: It’s true.
Craig: That’s what worries me.
John: It’s the problem of any consolidation and having monopolies to control, or at least an oligopoly. It’s not even an oligopoly anymore. It’s just basically a monopoly. And particularly when it comes to, you know, creative expression and to journalism to only have one source of truth is very bad.
Craig: It’s not good. Even about something as frivolous as what Hollywood is doing. You know, I got to say I’ve gone full Bernie Bro on this episode. I’m just like swinging at corporations, Jeffrey Katzenberg for no good reason at all. I don’t even know him. Just throwing bizarre bunches in a wild podcast style. It’s been enjoyable.
John: That’s what we do.
Craig: Yeah. It’s been enjoyable.
John: One of the wild swings we were throwing–
Craig: Segue man.
John: — months and months ago was about assistant pay.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: This last week UTA raised assistant pay across the board.
John: Minimum is $22 an hour. Goes to $24 an hour for agency assistants and the agent training program gets up to $26 per hour. This is good. This is progress. And so I just wanted to call out UTA for doing good work here.
Craig: That is good.
John: And also doing it in a time which is admittedly very difficult for agents and for the industry. It’s hard to say like everything is struggling and so we’re actually going to raise pay. It feels like the right choice and a difficult choice.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. And this looks to me I think the new golden standard here. I think that this is better than the Verve or CAA commitment.
John: This does feel better. And so the Verve and CAA had other things built in there in terms of like quality of life stuff, but–
Craig: Got it.
John: But money is money. So let’s focus on that.
Craig: Money is money. So this is very good. And I do agree with you that this is a challenging time for the agencies, of course. But if the people at the highest level of these agencies who make an insane amount of money are willing to forgo a little bit of their enormous lucre, because if you say to, you know, whoever – who owns UTA? Jeremy Zimmer or something? I don’t know who owns it, like how that works.
John: They’re privately held. They have outside investors. But they’re privately held.
Craig: Right. But whoever the biggest shot is there, if you say to that guy, oh, by the way, just because for reasons you’re not going to get paid anything this year. They’ll be fine. They’ll be totally fine. So, like it’s good to maybe hit pause on the money pipe – I’m Bernie Bro’ing again. And give the people who are holding your business up, you know, a chance to survive and flourish. Ooh, I’m telling you, man. I am just swinging the flaming sword of the workers of the world today.
John: All right. Let’s do a little bit of follow up here. This is Ezra. He writes in about How Would This Be a Movie.
Ezra: Hi John and Craig. This is a follow up to a listener email from Episode 465 on using the Battle of Blair Mountain on your How Would This Be a Movie segment. My wife and I spent two physically and emotionally taxing years trying to have our first child. After a successful round of IVF we had our first in 2017. This past February we had our second, also through IVF. Science. It works.
As a way to do with all of the feelings I accumulated over that time I began working on a pilot script for a show called Trying, a half-hour comedy about a couple with fertility problems. I thought this was my Chernobyl, but sadly it was my Winds of War. I was a new dad with a time-consuming day job, whilst still working to finish it in March 2020 when AppleTV announced Trying, a half-hour comedy about a couple with fertility problems.
I could get into the differences between the ideas, for instance they’re not actually trying anymore, they’re seeking to adopt. But the underlying lesson remains. I dragged my feet and someone else who had a similar and probably better idea got it made. Can’t say you all didn’t warn me.
So to my fellow listener, it’s not only that other people have the same general idea as you. They can have literally the same idea as you down to the title. For an aspiring writer the struggle of infertility could not have been any more real than to watch someone else get to have the little writing baby I imagined for myself.
This is all to say that I agree very strongly with both of you that no one has a 100 percent claim on an idea or concept, putting aside all that legal stuff about owning ideas. If you had the thought someone else has had it as well. In the best case you are in a race to see who can get theirs over the finish line first. I dragged and my heels and now I need to find another darling to work on. It’s OK. Grappling with infertility gave me a much more nuanced perspective on other people’s successes. Congrats Andy Walton. And what kind of let downs I am actually capable of absorbing.
Craig: Wow. Ezra, you’re a grownup.
John: Yeah. Listen to grownup Ezra there.
Craig: Yeah. What an adult. It’s refreshing to hear an adult speak in an adult fashion about adult things. And, yes, that hurts. I get it. I don’t necessarily know that it’s over-over, because TV shows come and go. And also there’s very different kinds of TV shows that often have very similar premises. I mean, if you had an idea for a show about a group of detectives that use forensics to solve crimes, well, if you heard about another one it wouldn’t stop you. There are 12 on the air.
Craig: There can more than one show. And so one of the things is asking yourself what is it about their show that is inherently different than the way you would have done yours. Is there a different way to swing it around? Can you make it a different kind of couple? What is it inherent to that story that you love? Is there a way to repurpose it and rethink it? But it’s also perfectly fine to let it go and move on. And you’re absolutely right. Any idea that anyone is working on, it’s already in the work somewhere else.
You know what I love about Ezra is that he didn’t do the thing that seemingly 90 percent of ding-a-lings do which is like, “I’m suing.” No. Yes, sometimes people come up with the same idea. And even the title. Trying. It makes sense. That’s pretty much what people call it. Yup, we’re trying. So, yeah, you know, you’re going to be good, Ezra.
John: You’re going to be good. I want to go back to our conversation about loglines because it feels like really what it comes down is that the logline for Ezra’s show and the show that’s on Apple right now are the same. They have the same title. But that show by its concept is going to be incredibly execution-dependent.
John: This is not like a meteor is headed towards the earth. This is relatable humans doing relatable human things. And the general situation, the framing, the premise has an overlap, but that’s really about it. So, the thing that Ezra is writing, it doesn’t just go away because this other show exists. And so Ezra you should finish that thing. It’s probably a great writing sample for you for working on your next thing and could be hired to do other stuff.
I’d pick a different title just so it doesn’t get confused with the thing that’s out there.
John: But you did great. The reason why I wanted to play this is that so often on the show we’ve talked about like somebody stole my idea. And it just doesn’t happen. People have the same ideas. They have incredibly, specifically similar ideas. And this is an example of that. So thank you for sharing that.
Craig: Terrific. Thank you, Ezra, that’s awesome.
John: Also, last week we talked about lawyers and I asked our listeners, hey, if you have advice for how you got a lawyer or ways to get a lawyer if you’re an unsigned writer how to do it. People wrote in because we have the best listeners. So do you want to take Susan from LA?
Craig: Yeah. Susan from LA says, “Go to IMDb Pro,” I see you’ve got to get that account, “and pull up well-regarded recent indie films or documentaries. Scroll down the crew list until you find legal counsel. Then Google that person and check out their law firm home page. You can also look at Variety/Hollywood Reporter,” well who knows, Varollywood Reporter’s “power lawyer lists, but they’re a bit pricy and will require a larger retainer upfront.”
John: Susan’s first idea there is phenomenal.
John: And I don’t know why I didn’t think about that. But as I look at–
Craig: You’re bad.
John: Yeah. I’m bad.
Craig: You’re bad.
John: As I look at like the attorney who helped me out with The Nines and sort of does independent film like that, it’s exactly their kind of gig. It’s what they do. And reach out to them. They can probably do it for you and they have experience doing this kind of stuff. So that feels like a great place to start.
Craig: And a month of IMDb Pro is, what, like $12 or something?
John: Oh yeah. That’s fine.
John: So you can totally do that. Erin writes, “In my experience legit entertainment lawyers are not asking for money upfront, at least that’s how mine operates. It is for future commission. Granted, my manager referred me, but this is what I’ve anecdotally heard as well. I do my due diligence before paying cash for an option red line. There will certainly be good attorneys willing to do it for free with the idea that they will receive commissions once you start to get paid.”
I disagree with Erin there.
Craig: Yeah, no, I don’t think Erin is correct at all.
John: I don’t think so.
John: And here’s the difference. I think because Erin is coming in here with a manager I think that manager is talking to that attorney and saying like, “Hey, this is a kid who I think is going to do well here. Maybe you do this for free and then you become his lawyer.” That’s not the general case situation.
Craig: No. I mean, lawyers in the entertainment business do an enormous amount of work on commission. Your lawyer does. My lawyer does. But that’s based on the notion that they’re negotiating employment contracts or the purchase of literary material. Those are large sales or large employments. Something where someone is coming in and saying, “I need you to look through this option agreement,” which may absolutely turn into nothing – no, that lawyer is almost certainly going to charge you some kind of hourly rate. They would be nuts not to. Because they can certainly say, “And by the way if you’re happy for this and it works out when it’s time to do the employment contract come back. That is done on commission. You don’t have to pay upfront for that at all.”
But, no, I don’t think there’s going to be good attorneys willing to do these option agreements for free. No.
John: I agree. I think your first choice of find the person who does this for independent films or just get other recommendations from people in similar situations is going to be better serving you for that first contract which as I recall last week is about like a $1 option agreement and a red-lining.
John: That’s not a situation – commission on a $1 – not worth it.
Craig: Ten cents. Five cents. Sorry, a nickel.
John: Five cents for an attorney. All right let’s get to a craft topic. I want to talk about dual dialogue because this week I’ve been writing scenes that have a lot of dual dialogue in it which is not something I often do. And I want to – we’ve discussed on Episode 370, we talked about simultaneity, basically when two events have to happen in the same time, but dual dialogue is a specific kind of that where people are just overlapping. And we may want the overlap for effect. We may need to hear information from two different sides. There’s a reason why we’re doing. It’s always a choice to do dual dialogue. And let’s talk about when you make that choice and how you might portray that on the page.
Craig: It is a little bit of a trap because if you watch movies, particularly certain kinds of movies where it’s very conversational, very dialogue heavy, almost all of it at times will seem like it’s overlapping somewhat. And so there’s a temptation to think this is going to make it realer. If I do dual dialogue it will make things look realer. The problem with dual dialogue is that it is such a heavy-handed instruction to everybody. Everybody is now going oh my god I have to actually – we are talking at the same time over each other very specifically. This isn’t a natural overlapping but a forced overlapping. So you have to be very deliberate, I think, about when you use it. It really comes into play rarely. I must say maybe three or four times in a script it’ll pop up. And even then I feel like I could probably get away with two of them, you know, get rid of two of them or something.
John: Yeah. So I think we often confuse and conflate it with people speaking quickly.
John: And so I think in a lot of movies that we see and we love we think they’re overlapping, but really they’re actually just speaking quickly. And they’re anticipating their next lines. There’s just not pauses between things. But they literally are not stacked on top of each other. So, we see a tool in Highland or in Final Draft that gives us the ability to dual dialogue and we think like, oh, that must be the way you do it. And I’ll tell you that on the page often that’s not how you do it.
John: So some of the choices you might make is as a parenthetical “overlapping,” basically saying like there may be scene description that says all of this is overlapping. Basically don’t wait to clear the other person’s lines before you start talking. That it’s meant to be sort of on top of each other.
John: For example, Call Me by Your Name, there’s a sequence in which he’s sitting at the table and the parents and these other visitors are just all talking over each other. And it’s not important what they’re actually saying. It’s the experience of being there listening to that. And so that’s probably just an overlapping because it just doesn’t actually matter what the individual people are saying.
Other cases, you are very specifically trying to get information out there. So, we had Noah Baumbach on for Marriage Story. We had Greta Gerwig on for Little Women. And in those scripts, you can go back to those episodes and look at the PDFs, they’re very specific about where those overlaps are and you are supposed to be hearing what everyone is saying. And the fact that they are overlapping becomes very important. Be thinking about what the actual effect is you’re trying to achieve.
Craig: Yeah. But there are those moments where it really is the perfect tool. Like you say, it’s not frequent. I mean, for standard overlapping for casual overlapping you don’t want to do this. It is a heavy-handed instruction to everybody. But, then there are times where somebody is going to try and talk over another person. Arguments, for instance, where someone is going to be talking and the other person starts talking as if to say, “No, you stop talking,” but the first person will not stop talking. Or, situations in comedies sometimes where two people are trying to explain the same thing at once. It is a moment where it is absolutely required that two people are speaking intentionally over each other with knowledge that they’re speaking over each other and neither one of them is going to stop. That’s pretty much the best case use for dual dialogue.
John: Yeah. Basically neither one of them is yielding the floor to the other person to speak.
John: So even the conversation that you and I are having right now, we are anticipating when I’m going to stop talking and you’re going to start talking. But along the way I might try to shout over you a little bit. I may do an acknowledgment, which I think is a special case we should talk about here, which is the uh-huhs, the yeahs, if you’re doing The Daily, the New York Times podcast, it’s Michael Barbaro’s “Huh.” It’s that signal that you’re still part of it.
John: So those are all meaningful things. And sometimes you’re going to choose as a writer to actually break up someone’s dialogue with that “huh,” that acknowledgment. But that’s rare. It would also be rare to put that “uh-huh” in a dual dialogue. So you’re going to make choices. Basically I’m saying you may not put every utterance of a person in the dialogue of your script.
Craig: And when you are there you are going to find some sort of naturalistic language that comes out. One of the stark differences between play text, from a playwright, and screenplay text from a screenwriter is that the play text is designed to be performed by as many different actors as possible. Whereas the screenwriting text will be performed by one. And unless there’s some remake of the movie 30 years later, it’s one person. So there is going to be a certain tailoring and idiosyncratic adjustment to that single performer as opposed to a play.
So actually I do see dual dialogue frequently when I look at plays, when I read plays. It seems like that gets called out quite a bit because it’s formalized. Whereas in movies not so much. It is a decent tool. It’s very useful for songs, when you’re writing songs in movies, and two people are singing at once. It’s perfectly useful. But I think it’s probably good to ask yourself do I need it. It is not fun to read.
John: It’s brutal to read.
Craig: I’ll say on the page. Yeah. If you see a page where it’s just strips of dual dialogue your eyelids will get heavy.
John: Yeah. Because you have to make the choice of, OK, am I going to read the left hand column and then go back and read the right hand column? It’s a lot of work.
Craig: It’s also hard to imagine. And you know we can play one voice in our head at once. We can’t play two. We just can’t.
Craig: So, you know, you’re asking something there. Just use it – when you use it know that it is very intentional, very purposeful. It is a heavy spice, so sprinkle it with restraint.
John: All right. Let’s get to a question. Patrick writes in, “I was hoping you could discuss the singular they/them/their pronoun in reference to many non-binary people. I used singular they pronouns in a recent script for a non-binary character. It was a period piece where singular they was never used in dialogue, but it felt like the correct way to identify this seemingly genderless character in action lines. I referred to the character as androgynous in an introductory character description, and aimed to avoid pronoun confusion so it would be clear when the they referred to this character specifically versus multiple characters at once.
“However, I’m still worried that readers may be confused or distracted by the singular they. I want to leave it like it is, but I’m not sure I should. Have you had any experience using singular they in scripts, or reading scripts where others have? Would you advise us to use or not use it? And is a disclaimer necessary?”
Craig: Well, there is a natural singular they/them/their usage anyway. It’s not completely foreign to our longstanding use of the English language. When there is a gender – what would you call it – ignorance, I don’t know–
John: You just don’t know.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t know if this is a man or a woman, so it says the police officers walk in, adjust their guns, I guess that’s plural. But there’s ways where you do use it. I think if it’s a non-binary character I would probably want to call it out early and say I’m going to be using, just for the reader, just let them know I’m going to be using they/them/their because they’re non-binary. And maybe I might capitalize it inside of sentences if I am using a lot of other pluralized they/them/theirs for other people so as to not create confusion. But probably I would just call it out early on and not let…
So it says I refer to the character as androgynous. I would have added and I will be referring to this character, meaning I will be referring to them as they/them/their.
John: Yeah. I think Patrick is right to plan for – there’s a difference between the dialogue that we’re hearing as an audience, are we going to get confused by the they/them/theirs which can be a challenge? Because in real life conversations, like we have friends who have a non-binary kid, and the they/them/theirs are–
Craig: It’s tricky.
John: It can be tricky just because sometimes you don’t know, wait, are they talking about the group? Understanding whether you’re talking about the individual or the group can be tricky with it. That said, we’ve used it in English for centuries. We’ve used this as a singular thing for a long time when we didn’t know what gender to apply to a person that we’re talking about.
So I would say for Patrick if the dialogue and it becomes important to say this person uses they/them/theirs I would call that out just so that it’s not confusing in dialogue. In many cases it may be possible, because you have the luxury of time, you’re not actually speaking this aloud, to find sentence constructions where it just doesn’t become an issue and where you end up using the character’s name rather than a they/them/their. Basically just use the proper noun rather than the pronoun and you may not have this much of a problem.
Craig: Yeah. It’s going to be hard to only do that. Because it can kind of get–
John: For a supporting character. For a character who only has a certain number of scenes, maybe you’ll be fine.
Craig: Sure. You can avoid it. But, yes, you’re right. We have this usage where it’s like the child brought their pet in to show the class. That is a normal usage we have for a singular person with the their. It’s in our minds, so you just have to spell it out for people early on that that’s what you’re doing. And by the way, if people are confused then they’re confused. Because that’s part of the deal is like our pronouns have not caught up necessarily to the way we’re starting to look at people and their gender. So there’s going to be some confusion. And, you know, you can just acknowledge that. Sometimes honesty is the best policy.
You can just say, “If you get confused it’s understandable. That’s kind of how it goes.” And they will try. I think most readers when they see something like that they’ll at least know that you’re acknowledging it. If you don’t acknowledge it then they’re going to think like I don’t know if Patrick understands how confusing this is. If you acknowledge then they’re like, OK, he knows how confusing this is.
Craig: Or they know how confusing it is. I don’t know if Patrick is binary.
John: Let’s do one last question here.
Craig: All right. Theo asks, “I’m a big fan of the podcast. It’s a phenomenal resource to both learn about screenwriting and to distract myself from screenwriting. I have a question though for John about his #writesprints. They seem straightforward if the purpose of the sprint is to write scenes from an outline. But how do you structure them when the project you’re working on is still in the development phase and you’re doing more brainstorming and character discovery?”
John, can you explain the nature of your tyrannical write sprints to Theo?
John: So, with write sprints this is when I sort of declare on Twitter that starting at the top of the hour for the next 60 minutes I’m going to be writing and just writing, no distractions, no nothing else. And then I’ll see in 60 minutes, and if people want to join in and do it that’s great. And this is an idea I took from Jane Espenson who is another former guest who is just phenomenal.
I’m using doing write sprints when I’m in scenes. When I’m doing real scene work or in the case of the Arlo Finch books when I was writing chapters. But I will also use them for outlining phase. Basically if I want to do a solid hour of work and not be distracted that’s the same thing as a write sprint. And so it’s just being purposeful for a period of time about the work I want to be doing. That counts as a write sprint.
If you’re doing an outline, maybe you’re not generating the same number of words, but if you really are figuring out stuff that’s what this is. It’s basically just trying to be single-minded on a project for a period of time.
Craig: Yeah. I find sometimes that if I’m in the state of progress that Theo is in that the best version of the write sprint is the write walk, where I take a walk. And I just go, well, I’m going to go walking around thinking about this. And I’m going to turn around and head back when I feel like I’ve achieved something in my mind, some sort of clarity or construction.
I don’t do formal write sprints like you do for actual generating pages. I just mostly wait until I’m disgusted with myself and then I start – but I only write in write sprints. That’s just my natural way of doing it. When it’s time, it happens.
John: Yeah. I mean, I’ve just never been a slogger. I’ve never been a like I’m going to sit down for a three-hour session and get stuff done, because I just found that those were not productive to me.
Craig: No, like I know what I’m supposed to do. I know where I am. I know who is in it. I know what’s going to happen. I know what they say. Now just do it, stupid. And then eventually I do it. And when I do it I do it. I get lost completely in it and I do it until it’s done. So, that’s basically my day, day after day, every day for the last 25 years. Good lord. Geesh.
John: Good lord. All right, it’s time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is an article that Ashley Nicole Black linked to. It’s an article in the New Station with Judith Butler. And she’s a professor, writer, gender theorist. And it was a discussion of trans-exclusionary radical feminism, which I knew about only because JK Rowling was associated with it. Basically JK Rowling just kept saying dumb things. And everyone said like that’s a dumb thing to say. And she would just double down on dumb things.
What I liked about this article was that Judith Butler was just so masterful at being able to sort of cut through the questions. Basically just challenge the premise of the questions. If you’re just curious about like how to handle arguments, or how to sort of deal with controversial topics being thrown at you I thought she just did a very smart job of dismantling what was being thrown her way and presenting it back in a way so that you basically can’t even like hit the ball back. It’s like, oh, crap, I can’t even do that.
So, an example sentence here. She says, “Women should not engage in the form of phobic caricature by which they’ve traditionally been demeaned. And by women I mean all those who identify that way.” And so she can just take some of the arguments being tossed her way and look at them and saying, nope, I’m taking this apart and giving it back to you.
So I just recommend people check that out because it gave me a good education in some of the terms and thinking behind this and also going back 30 years. So, I’ll put a link in the show notes for that.
Craig: So far afield from what you just said. My One Cool Thing this week is you and your fellow party members in our Dungeons & Dragons game. You guys made me so proud.
John: We did pretty well last week.
Craig: You did great. So, one of the things about being a Dungeon Master is you are not in control of anything. You are gently creating situations and then your characters do things and you have to react in an endlessly improvisational way. You have to hold boundaries, but you have to know when to be flexible. You have to know when to be rigid. And the whole point is to create situations that ultimately are fun, not necessarily fun in a kind of I put my videogame on god mode way fun, but fun in a sometimes my heart is pounding a little bit and sometimes there’s danger.
And last week you guys just played beautifully. You were collaborating and you were being creative and you weren’t all seeking individual glory but working as a team. And you defeated a very difficult enemy. And you defeated that enemy I would say handily.
John: Yeah. It was surprising. And I was definitely the person who was most nervous going into that encounter. What I will say was galvanizing and this is probably applicable to anybody thinking about storytelling is that this group of protagonists were only able to come together after the death of one of their party members.
John: And basically it took a death for us to analyze what went wrong and how do we avoid making that same mistake again. And so I feel like looking at those moments of failure and learning from them is such a fundamental thing in both life and in fiction. And I was happy that we were able to do that and sort of go into this next encounter with really not just a plan but – because stuff happens and you sometimes can’t follow that plan. But a set of principles in terms of what we are going to try to do and what are priorities are going to be. And by sticking to those principles and each person rising to do the thing that they are best equipped to do we were able to defeat this really far too challenging of a future for us to be facing.
Craig: Yeah. Well, you did it perfectly. And you guys have come a long way. And it makes sense. As you go through these things, just like in regular screenplays and stories, the character gains abilities and talents and insight and then the question is what are you going to do with it. That’s the booby prize of life is insight, as the great Dennis Palumbo says. What are you going to do with it?
And so you get all these powers and then, ooh, like we can polymorph people. And there was a session we had where one of our wizards polymorphed one of the bad guys into a dolphin while in a bar fight, which was smart on the one hand.
John: Don’t bring a dolphin to a bar fight.
Craig: Yeah, don’t. Because the dolphin doesn’t need to be in water to breathe. And the dolphin can hit people that are five feet away from it. And so it did. And everybody was upset. But I’m like that was a bad choice. You could have made it a lot of other things. And you chose to make it the worst possible water thing.
Well, this time around much smarter and thoughtful and just working things through. Because you’ve grown into your powers, which is exciting, because it’s going to get more and more dangerous as you go. Just like life. But I was so proud of you guys. You did such a good job. It was a joy to DM and I can’t wait to kill more of you later.
John: Aw. Nice. Tonight–
Craig: Oh, that’s right, tonight. You know what, I probably won’t kill any of you tonight. Not tonight.
John: All right. That is our show for this week. So stick around after the credits if you’re a Premium member because we’re going to talk about Halloween. But meanwhile Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Med Dyer. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. We have t-shirts and they’re great. Go to Cotton Bureau to find those.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you 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. Craig, thanks for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Hey Craig. Halloween is coming up.
John: It’s always the end of October. Growing up I loved candy so I liked Halloween for that.
John: But if I’m being honest I was never a big Halloween person. Were you a Halloween person as a kid?
Craig: Well, I was. I was. So on Staten Island Halloween had more of an anarchistic feel. So, I was a good kid and my parents were very strict, so I had to put on my stupid costume. Remember the costumes, they were like vinyl? And then you had the plastic mask that you could stick your tongue out of the rectangular little mouth-hole that would then cut your tongue.
John: Uh-huh. And it sort of hurt your tongue. And it had the elastic that went to the back.
John: And the mask could crack really easily, too.
Craig: Oh, absolutely. And the suit, “suit,” was just like a vinyl apron that tied in the back and had a smell on it, like an off-gas and plastic smell that almost certainly took years off of our life. And I would go out with that and my little hallowed out plastic pumpkin candy holder.
Craig: But the other kids, like if you were slightly older, it was shaving cream and eggs. They would throw eggs on everything and they would put shaving cream everywhere. So my memory, my sense memory of Halloween is the smell of Noxzema or whatever that shaving cream was, or Barbasol. Walking around, getting candy. And my sister and I after it was over would sit down in my room, we would dump it all out on the floor, and then we would begin to barter. Because I liked certain things and she liked certain things. And you make the swaps.
Craig: Loved it.
John: Bartering is important. And obviously I had an older brother and there’s, of course, the manipulation that happens both as the younger brother and as the older brother.
Craig: Of course.
John: Now, did you have something growing up where the school district, I think it was the school district, maybe it was the city, they really wanted kids home by a certain point. I think by 8pm they wanted all kids home. Maybe it was it was like 7. It was really early.
Craig: This was New York. They were dealing with Son of Sam. They didn’t have time to worry about us.
John: So we had a thing where at school we had to fill out this little form with your phone number and then parent volunteers would say this is the goblin calling to make sure you’re home.
Craig: Oh god.
John: And then it was like a raffle. If you actually were home you could win a pizza party.
Craig: Well that feels really actually quite frightening in a Handmaid’s Tale sort of way.
John: Goblin calling.
Craig: This is the goblin calling to make sure you are home before 8pm when the witches come out.
John: So basically they’re going to have a stranger call children at their house.
John: That’s really what the whole plan was.
Craig: Yeah. This is all backward. But we grew up, you know, John, the kids today don’t get it. We grew up in a time of full-throated panic. Gary Goldman has an amazing – this is my second One Cool Thing, my bonus One Cool Thing. Gary Goldman has an amazing standup special called The Great Depresh about his depression.
John: Oh, yeah, I’ve watched it. It’s good.
Craig: And Gary Goldman is just a legendarily good standup. And he talks about how in the ‘70s growing up America was inflicted with this notion that children were being snatched off the streets constantly. Some guy went on the news and said 50,000 American kids are being stolen and kidnapped off the streets every year when it turns out actually it was like 200 people. So, everyone went crazy. We lived in a time when we would go to school, we would get milk at school, and there would be some lost child’s face on the milk carton.
Everyone was in a panic, all the time. As he said vans used to be beloved, and now they were objects of fear. So around Halloween there was this additional aspect of the whole point of Halloween is someone is going to put a razorblade in an apple. No one wants the apple. No one wants the apple.
John: It never happened. No.
Craig: No one wants the apple anyway. Go ahead, put razorblades in the apple. No one will ever get cut. No kid is eating the apple. And also, no, no. That’s not lunatics work.
John: But it got to the point where you would take your candy and they would x-ray it at the hospital, which is just absurd.
Craig: Insane. Now you’re radiating food. It’s just insane.
John: So, Craig, you’re saying things are much, much better now because all we have is QAnon.
Craig: Oh god.
John: I think there’s a natural progression from this fear of an outsider coming. Antifa is going to poison your kids’ candy.
Craig: Antifa and QAnon are the new razorblade and apple of our lives. One quick question. When you – because we grew up at the same time there were probably the same weirdo candies floating around that aren’t much of today. What were some of your favorites, like in terms of the weird ones?
John: I was always a Milky Way. Milky Way is go to. If I wanted a candy bar it was a Milky Way. Nothing against Snickers. No one wants a Three Musketeers.
Craig: You’re wrong. See, here’s the thing. You’re normcore. You’re so normcore.
John: Oh, 100 percent. I’m completely normcore.
Craig: Oh my god. You’re so normcore. I was all about the weird ones. I loved the Three Musketeers.
John: And the Marathons.
Craig: I loved how light it was. Marathon. I was also a fan of those old creepy candies from the ‘50s like the Mary Janes. Loved Mary Janes.
Craig: I know. What is it? It’s made of plastic and nuts and dirt and sugar. I don’t know. Delicious.
John: A recent episode of The Boys, the second season, show on Amazon, they talk about the island of misfit candy bars. And people who are fans of the Bit-O-Honeys and stuff like that.
Craig: I love Bit-O-Honey. Love it. Most of the things that I liked tended to be mostly wax, I think.
Craig: Didn’t like those things that you have to like–
John: What was the wax bottles with a sugary thing inside? Who thought that was a good idea?
Craig: Those, the wax industry? Honestly the wax manufacturers of America had figured out. Those were called – I can’t remember what they were called. But, yeah, you would bit the top off and then drink the sugar liquid out and be left with just a tasteless thing of wax.
John: Wax. Yeah. Good stuff. Or like Wax Lips and other stuff like that.
Craig: Wax Lips. And of course the candy cigarettes which were the greatest.
John: It’s good stuff.
Craig: Teach your kids.
John: So this year’s Halloween, I thought Halloween would just get canceled, but then if you think about it it’s like, you know what, kids are already wearing masks. They put a mask over their mask. It’s actually not that dangerous. You’re outdoors. I say let the kids trick or treat.
Craig: Well, I think trick or treating has been somewhat canceled or something. I don’t know.
John: Over the years or for this year specifically?
Craig: No, for this year. I think that they have sort of said maybe don’t do it. I have looked up by the way what those things were called. The wax bottle liquid stuff. They were called Nik-L-Nip Wax Bottles. Nik-L-Nip. I don’t know why it’s called that.
Craig: But that’s what they were called. Sounds kind of dirty.
John: It does sound dirty. Like some sort of…yeah.
Craig: You would bite it and drink it and it’s nasty.
John: Yeah. I just don’t know why the wax companies needed to do that. I mean, they said extra wax.
Craig: Well, yeah, I think that was probably what it was. Someone was like, “You know, we could take this extra wax and put some sugar in it and morons will drink it.” They were right.
They were right.
John: So, Craig, Happy Halloween.
Craig: Happy Halloween, John.
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- Scriptnotes, Ep 465
- Scriptnotes, Ep 370
- Judith Butler on the Culture Wars, JK Rowling and Living in “Anti-Intellectual Times”
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- John August on Twitter
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- Outro by Med Dyer (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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