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 472 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we’re getting emotional. We’re going to look at characters’ inner emotional states, why they matter, and how we approach them as writers. We’ll also examine the state of feature residuals and answer a listener question about how long you should wait before turning in your work.
Craig: And in a bonus segment for what I like to call our Bonus members – I know they’re technically Premium members, but I call them our Bonus members – we’re going to be talking about Jeopardy! because our friend and D&D comrade, Kevin Walsh, is the current champion, not by a little, but by a lot. He just keeps winning. And so of course we hope we’re not jinxing him by discussing it. I feel like we’re not because his D&D character perished brutally about three weeks ago. So I think we’ve done our damage to him and we can hurt him no more.
John: Yeah. And also we don’t know where he’s at in his Jeopardy! career because they’re all pre-taped. So we couldn’t really hurt him is what I will say.
Craig: Yeah. He knows what happened. So he can’t blame it on us.
John: He knows what happens. He’s ahead of us.
Craig: Exactly. He is. In so many ways.
John: But Craig, first off, we have to lead with the big news of the week which is we may finally get a Slinky Movie.
Craig: Oh thank god.
John: So longtime listeners will know we often bring up a theoretical Slinky Movie as the example of this is why Hollywood is dumb, because they will try to focus on ridiculous IP that does not need to have a movie made and try to make this movie. So they’ll have bake-offs where people come into pitch. They will have mini-rooms set up to like how are we going to make the Slinky Movie based on the success of the Lego Movie and other things like that.
But now suddenly there is a Slinky Movie and it’s probably not a bad idea. So talk to us about this Slinky Movie.
Craig: There is no better review than probably not a bad idea. So the new Slinky Movie is not the version that we would discuss all the time where you had to write a movie about a Slinky that comes to life at night and helps a kid regain his confidence after his mom dies. This in fact is more like, as far as I could tell, is more like Big Eyes. So it’s actually a story about the creation of the Slinky. The Slinky was technically created by Richard James, but the film is going to center on his wife, Betty, who took over the business after her husband left her with six kids and a nearly bankrupt company. And in a world dominated by male CEOs Betty holds her own and turns the Slinky into a Slinky empire.
John: It reminds me also of Joy. The Jennifer Lawrence movie, Joy, which is about the Wonder Mop. It’s like, oh, OK, I can actually see why there is a movie there.
Craig: It’s a genre.
John: It’s a genre, yes. So great. So we’ll need to find another thing to say instead of Slinky Movie and be clear that all of our previous bagging on the Slinky Movie is not about this Slinky Movie which is being written by Chris Sivertson, hopefully directed by Tamra Davis. I hope it’s great and I hope it’s fantastic. But we need listener suggestions for what should be the new thing we talk about for our generic movie.
Craig: I mean, technically this is not the Slinky Movie. This is a movie about the people who made Slinky. But I agree with you. It’s burnt. Right? We’ve burnt the Slinky. So my suggestion is Magic 8-Ball movie. But let’s see what people come up with because there’s got to be something even worse. There’s always going to be something terrible.
John: Yeah, I mean, Magic 8-Ball the problem is it doesn’t – just something about plot. There’s a monkey’s paw element to it.
Craig: That’s the problem?
John: Because it feels like there’s a plot, but no, there’s no plot. There’s no story.
Craig: Well because if you invite 80 screenwriters to come in and pitch the Magic 8-Ball Movie you’re going to get 80 of the exact same movies. A child shakes it–
John: Be careful what you wish for.
Craig: It becomes true. It knows the truth. Then what happens?
John: Then you drink the Magic 8-Ball juice and that gives you the power to see the future.
Craig: Totally. Yes. Or you become a character called the Magic 8-Ball. I like it. See, we’re doing it. It’s happening.
John: That’s the problem. All right. Some programming notes. So this past week we recorded a special live on Zoom voting episode. That was Ashley Nicole Black, Beth Schacter, me, and Craig. We were filling out our ballots. We’re not going to put that in the feed as a normal episode because it’s just so specific and esoteric. But especially if you’re an LA voter and you’re just confused by all the propositions and everything that’s confusing about that ballot take a listen. There’s a link in the show notes to that. And it’s also just a fun conversation with two awesome guests. So, join us for that.
I got to have a fun conversation with Eric Roth this last week. He is a legendary screenwriter who has written a bunch of things. So this was a special WGF event. This will eventually show up in the feed some week when we don’t have a normal show. But I wanted to call it out for Craig because Craig you often bag on Final Draft and how you prefer Fade In. Eric Roth still uses an MS DOS program to write his scripts, back from the ‘80s. It’s called Movie Master.
I’ve never heard of it. But to this day, like this is one of the busiest screenwriters in the world. He uses this MS DOS program that can only do 40 pages at a time and then it runs out of memory.
Craig: OK. OK. No. No, no, no. No. I’m not going to respect this. I know I’m supposed to. I know I’m supposed to say, “Oh my god, a genius like Eric Roth. His idiosyncrasies. The way that Steve Jobs would only wear one shirt. It’s a sign of genius.” It’s not. That’s just dumb.
Eric Roth is a great screenwriter. And, by the way, interesting question. Where do you become legendary? I’m wondering what the line is because you and I are definitely not legendary.
John: So I said legendary in the course of the interview and I think it’s just because you look at his credits going back to–
Craig: Oh, he is.
John: Like Forrest Gump. But he still had a 20 year career before Forrest Gump.
Craig: Right. He’s legendary.
John: He’s 75 years old and has like three movies coming out next year.
Craig: OK. So that’s what we’ve got to get. So we’re aiming for that kind of – you got to be working in your 70s and then you’ll be legendary. He is legendary. He’s great. There’s no excuse for this. None. Just none. It’s like if Eric Roth said, “I use this 1980’s app called Movie Master that only works 40 pages at a time. Also, I have a hand-crank air conditioner.” It just doesn’t make any sense. Just update. It’s not hard. It will take five minutes.
Come on, Eric Roth. Come on.
John: So I didn’t actually get into very much of this conversation with Eric Roth because of course as a person who makes my own screenwriting software I found it as maddening as you do. But it reminded me of another conversation I want to bring up here. So this is a question we got in from Dina who is a listener and she was put in touch with us by our friend Ryan Knighton. So let’s listen to what Dina has to say.
Dina: Hello, I’m Dina. A blind television writer in Los Angeles. I currently use Final Draft 8 and JAWS 18, screenwriting software for the visually impaired. Final Draft 10 and 11 aren’t compatible with any version of JAWS. My computer is on its last legs so I was ready to uninstall and reinstall the program into my new computer, but according to Final Draft I can’t install version 8 anymore because they no longer support it. Their advice to me was Final Draft 11 is on sale.
Basically, when my computer dies so does my ability to use Final Draft. Do you know of a workaround to make Final Draft 10 or 11 accessible with JAWS? Thanks.
John: All right. So the situation that Dina finds herself in, which is also Ryan’s situation, because he and I have talked off-mic about this, is they’re using generally laptops or desktop computers that have very specific setups that use JAWS which is software that reads the screen aloud. You hear like a Stephen Hawking voice and it’s everything that would be underneath their fingers.
So, JAWS works with Final Draft 8. It does not work with Final Draft 10 or wherever we are at in Final Draft right now. And unlike Eric Roth you’re stuck. So I don’t have an answer for them, but I wanted to shine a spotlight on this because it becomes a real accessibility issue in that if they cannot use the apps that they need to use to do the things they can’t do their jobs.
Craig: Yeah. The workaround is to leave Final Draft behind. So one thing that – I don’t know if Highland is JAWS compatible. Do you know if Highland is JAWS compatible?
John: So the problem is JAWS is essentially a Windows thing. So they’re all on PCs.
Craig: Got it.
John: So Fade In is a possibility, but Fade In uses weird esoteric stuff as well.
Craig: Yeah. What I can do is certainly check with Kent Tessman who makes Fade In and see if it is JAWS compatible. If not, it sounds like what Dina is saying is only Final Draft 11 is JAWS compatible. Is that what I got out of what she was saying?
John: No, I think it’s Final Draft 8 is the one that was still compatible?
Craig: But they said you can buy Final Draft 11.
John: But that–
Craig: It won’t work either.
John: It’s not going to work either. So this is not Final Draft’s issue. It’s an issue of the system that you have that lets you read the things aloud is working for the things that were there, but then technology moves forward. So it’s a real frustration.
I guess I’m calling out to listeners who know things about this stuff. Is the problem fundamentally that JAWS is not – that she and Ryan should probably move on from JAWS to the next thing? What are the real solutions here? Because I can only answer things on the Mac and we do everything we can for Highland and for Weekend Read so that it’s as accessible as possible, but I can’t solve this problem.
Craig: I wonder if, so Final Draft 11 was the first Final Draft to support Unicode, which is like saying that Mercedes put out a 2020 car that finally had–
Craig: Disk brakes. Or seatbelts. Just astonishing. Maybe JAWS relies on Unicode. I don’t know. I don’t know enough about it. But you know what we’ll do. We’ll do a little research. We’ll dig into this. We’ll see if we can get an answer for Dina. I suspect the answer is probably not going to be here’s a complicated workaround for you. I think it’s probably going to be use a different program. But, who knows, we might find something.
John: Yeah. I also want to acknowledge, you know, Eric Roth moving to a different system is going to be a lot of work for him.
Craig: It’s not as much.
John: It’s an adjustment, but he can probably do it.
John: And Ryan or Dina moving to a different program is going to be a lot of adjustment, but it’s sort of on a different scale for them. So, I just want to sort of–
Craig: Feel like now you only included Dina’s question to shame Eric Roth into getting off of Movie Master. Like, dude, dude, this is the way it is for regular people. So as a legend could you please, please stop using a program you first installed on your VIC-20?
John: Well, he used a manual typewriter before then. The thing is he was cutting edge when he started on that program.
Craig: Leading edge. Yeah. That’s true. True.
John: So one of the reasons why someone like Eric Roth can have such a long career is because of residuals.
Craig: Segue Man.
John: So I want to talk a little bit about feature residuals. And Craig before we get into this conversation can you give us the quick refresher on what residuals are so folks know what we’re talking about?
Craig: Sure. Residuals are a fancy word for reuse payments. If screenwriters had copyright on the work that they did then every time the work would be reproduced, just like when copies of books are sold, or when musicals are performed in other places, even in schools and things like that, the author gets a reuse payment. A royalty.
Well, we’re not copyright owners. We’re employees rather because we are working under work-for-hire. The studios are the copyright holders. So the union essentially negotiated an equivalent to royalties. Now that equivalent to royalties is bandied back and forth between us and them and has been many, many times. But basically what it comes down to is this. There are a lot of weird little arcane formulae to determine how much we make when our stuff is show again. And that depends on where it is shown and how it is shown.
For movies, anything in the movie theater is considered first use. It’s not reuse. There’s not residuals. Anything shown on a plane is considered first use. There are no residuals. But when it is re-aired on television. When it is purchased and streaming. When it is bought on an Internet rental or Internet sale basis. Or of course old school DVDs and VHS. And we get a little tiny amount. And even if it’s just a nickel for every DVD that got sold, or a nickel for every download that happens, that adds up, especially for popular movies into quite a legitimate amount of money.
John: Yeah. And so we’re going to be a little bit more transparent about sort of how much money that is, because I want to make sure that people understand why it is so important. So we’ve been talking a lot about on the podcast about how the guild sort of – both the leadership and the membership needs to really pay attention to feature screenwriter issues because so much of what we do is organized around television.
Now, TV has residuals, too. Residuals are incredibly important in TV. But it just works differently in features. And because of the nature of first run versus later runs it can just be the difference between having a career and not having a career.
So, I’m going to have a blog post up where I have some of this stuff, but Craig I wanted to share a story of two different movies that are actually very similar. So two things that I’ve worked on. So Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Aladdin. And I picked those because they were both very big box office hits. They’re both four-quadrant family movies. Both centered around a star. They were 15 years apart but they feel like the same kind of movie. You could sort of swap them in time and they would make about the same impact on the box office and then you would think in their aftermarket.
So let’s take a look at the comparison between these two movies. In this first thing I wanted to take a look at the first 15 months since theaters. And 15 months is kind of an arbitrary time. It’s how much actual residual data I had for Aladdin, which is a more recent movie.
And a thing I should stress is that one of the actual real accomplishments I think at the guild over the last couple of years is that the online lookup for your residuals is really good. So if you have a movie that’s come out in theaters you can go into the portal, go to My Residuals, and see by project, by year how much residuals you’ve gotten. And it’s the guild that collects residuals. You as a writer are not individually responsible for tracking down the residuals. The guild does that.
And so I pulled up everything they had for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and for Aladdin. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I was the sole credited writer, so all the writer residuals came to me. For Aladdin I share credit with the director, so I’m just doubling the numbers that are here because he and I split things. So the numbers that you’re looking at here really are apples to apples. Nothing has been split off.
So in the first 15 months the kinds of residuals that you get back are from home video, so these would be DVDs, VHS tapes before that. Pay TV, so things like HBO, subscription services where, you know, your paid cable TV. New media, which is both sell-through, so like someone buying it on iTunes. Or SVOD, which is through a streaming service.
So looking at those, for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory only those first two things existed when Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out. So, home video and pay TV. And together they generated about a million dollars’ worth of residuals in that first 15 months. That’s a huge amount of money.
Craig: Yeah. It’s significant.
John: That’s not just the whole package of like how much Warners made. That’s how much I got checks for in the first 15 months was a million dollars. That’s a lot.
Craig: That is.
John: Now, let’s take a look at Aladdin. For Aladdin those first two things still exist. You have home video and pay TV. Pay TV interestingly is about the same amount, even over the years, and I’ve not adjusted I should say for inflation. So, that’s a thing to keep in mind here.
But home video shrunk to almost – it’s a quarter of what it was before.
Craig: That’s the big story, right? Everything changed. The amount of money that used to be made by writers for even something that wasn’t a huge hit, but something that was like a medium hit, or not a hit by the way used to be significant because home video was such a big revenue source for the studios. By the way, also the reflection here not just for a writer income but also for the studios you start to see why they start making different movies because they can’t sell everything on DVD and video anymore. And so things change.
But no question. A hit back in the days of DVD would generate a lot more money for writers, just by volume. Because actually our formulas for like Internet rentals are spectacular. It’s the best formula we have.
John: Really good.
Craig: And formula for Internet sales is essentially double what it was for DVD. But DVDs would just sell more.
John: Well, I think when you and I were first starting our careers here Disney had a mandate where they were trying – this is under Katzenberg I guess – was trying to make like 45 movies a year. It was just a volume business. They cared about the movies. They wanted them to do well. But they wanted to have a movie in theaters every weekend and then also to have a new thing to sell, a new DVD to sell. And that was a really good business. And once that home video business started going south they shrunk back a lot. And you look at sort of how few movies a major studio will put out these days.
Craig: Yeah. Basically, you know, there’s like two evolutionary strategies for animals. You either have a whole lot of offspring, because most of them will die, or you put everything into one or two. So humans and elephants are kind of the high investment/low volume, and rats are the low investment/high volume. Studios used to be like rats. Low investment/high volume. Just make a lot of movies, not all of them at big budgets, some of that at tiny budgets. And now it’s put all of your eggs into these small baskets because you need those movies to be massive in order to justify.
The whole strategy has changed. The whole thing has changed because of the collapse of home video and the rise of new media.
John: Now, if you’re just listening to this podcast and you’re not looking at the chart you might say like, oh no, John made no money on Aladdin in residuals. And that’s not the case because new media, which is electronic sell-through, so buying it on iTunes, that is worth as much as home video is right now. So those two together are getting close to what home video was. But most of the money that I get in residuals for Aladdin are a thing that did not exist 15 years ago which is SVOD, subscription video on demand. So in this case it’s Disney+.
And because this movie was released theatrically first, and then it showed up on Disney+, Disney has to pay a residual on that based on a calculation of budget and other things. It’s complicated. But it ends up being a huge chunk of money. So all together Aladdin has paid more residuals in the first 15 months than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is good news for a big hit movie. It still generates big hit residuals.
But, the asterisk is that I wonder whether this is one of those last movies that’s going to be this huge bonanza because this movie was released theatrically. If this movie had gone straight to Disney+ and was never intended for a theatrical market those residuals would be greatly, greatly, greatly reduced.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, we don’t know if there’s going to be theatrical movies at all again. I mean, legitimately. I don’t know. I mean, I suppose there probably will be. We’ve always been the people that snicker at the “are movies dead?” articles. But none of the “are movies dead?” articles contemplated a global pandemic that would shut down theaters. And all of those articles I think were written before everybody just suddenly had every movie in the world in their home, on their large TV, and also most theatrical movies are suddenly now being made for watching on your TV.
So, I don’t know what the future is there. But I do think that if theatrical movies come back the way they used to be what you will continue to see is a further progress on the trend line of fewer larger movies. Movie theaters will essentially be showing large events. And nothing but. I just don’t see how this works any other way.
John: Yeah. So the second chart I’m going to have up on the blog post I need to update a little bit because some stuff has changed based on the most recent round of negotiations, but I looked at Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and then I reached out to some other writers to get what residuals they were getting interesting he first three years. Because the first three years is when you really get a sense of what the residuals are going to be for a project. And what the split was between, again, free TV and cable, home video, pay TV, and new media.
And there’s a whole range, but you see like there’s real money coming in. But if those same movies had been made for Netflix or made for Amazon or made for Disney+ just the residuals that they would have gotten in are spectacularly lower. And so–
Craig: Well yeah.
John: That is really my concern is that our sense of what residuals may go away completely if we don’t have a better way of acknowledging that some movies are hits that are hugely important for those streamers while other movies are not. Because right now the residual formulas for things that are made for streamers, it doesn’t account for how many people actually watch it. It’s just one flat number.
Craig: Yeah. I think with streamers they kind of buy you out on the residual stuff.
John: They’ll buy you out based on a percentage of the budget.
Craig: They’re basically saying, they’re kind of letting you hedge a bet, right? They’re going, OK, if this were a theatrical bomb you wouldn’t make much in residuals. If it were a smash hit theatrically you would make a lot of residuals. We’re just going to chop the pot there and tell you we’re giving your somewhere in the middle. You know, either way you’re kind of buffeted from the extremes. And, look, I don’t like to view these things as gambling. But obviously that company does in a way. They figured out they’d rather just go with the certainty than have to pay out massively on things. You know, in principle I don’t love it. I’ll say that much. I don’t.
Craig: I don’t think that that’s cool. But on the other hand it’s hard to get a hold on what feels businessly – businessly? I just made up a word. Businessly.
John: Businessly, I think it’s good. We need to quickly register that domain name because by the end of this podcast – when this episode drops businessly will be just taking over.
Craig: Hold on. Do you think there is a businessly already?
John: There’s absolutely.
Craig: I’m checking.
John: Stop everything. We need to check on–
Craig: I’m checking it right now.
John: And is it businessly.com? Or is it business.ly?
Craig: So it’s businessly.com. And businessly.com is – someone is squatting on it. There’s no information. It just says, “We own businessly.com.” Dammit. Businessly speaking, I have no idea what I was saying. I’m so much more interested now in pursuing businessly that I can’t – this whole thing is shot. [laughs] It does sound like a terrible new startup, doesn’t it?
John: It does. I mean, I think it could be the parent company of your escape room that you will inevitably build once the pandemic is over.
Craig: Oh, so many ideas. So many ideas.
John: Getting back to the notion about how we’re going to handle streaming residuals, the proposal going into this last round of negotiations was that you needed to have tiers to things. So basically for the first 100,000 views it pays this. And basically a bell rings every next 100,000 view.
Classically the pushback to that is they will never release the actual numbers. But if you have it in such broad categories where it’s just like way down here or you’re way up there, it might be meaningful. I just feel like we can’t give up on this notion that people’s work has residual value and they need to be paid for it.
Craig: Well, I guess, we’ll say Netflix in particular. There’s no real sense of what their numbers are. I can’t quite figure it out. I mean, they’ve changed it. They said if somebody watches something for five seconds it’s a view? So, you know they have to be decoupling that from how they pay, because they their interest is to tell the world that everyone watched a show and then tell the writer no one watched the show. It’s classic Hollywood stuff.
The point I was trying to make about businessly is that the current state of streaming in Hollywood is one where there is a content boom. Essentially everybody is investing massively in content. And every new player that comes in seems to want to go over the top of everybody else. So Apple I believe has committed to spending a billion dollars in content. A billion, which is astonishing.
John: Which is great for us.
Craig: It is great for us. The problem that we run into, and we have always run into this, is such. When a business is emerging, like the streaming business. And then people say, “Emerging? It’s been ruling the roost for years.” Well, yes, except it’s also kind of not making money yet for people. So, it is technically an emerging marketplace. When that happens the companies traditionally will say, “We don’t know what this is yet and we’re not making money off of it. Don’t kill this baby in the cradle. Let it grow up and then everybody will get paid,” which is on some level a reasonable statement to make.
The problem is once a marketplace matures they hold all the cards and they don’t want to give you anything. And then they’re incredibly stingy and they’re like, “Well no. You don’t like it here? Go work at some other Hollywood.” And there isn’t one. And so we are always caught between them. They know they’re doing.
And so I do sympathize somewhat when they are protecting an emerging business, but it’s hard to sympathize with them when I know that they never really properly take care of any of us – that means writers, directors, actors – when it is a mature business. They just don’t. And when we watch the business change we also slowly understand just how much money they make. Because all they do all the time is explain how they lose money. But think about the networks. Network television. There was a time not long ago when there were essentially three channels that ran premium television. And that was it.
And all of those shows were being watched routinely by 10 to 30 million people. All of them. And all of those shows had multiple ads that people would pay millions of dollars for. And then after that happened they would rerun it and do it again. And after that happened the studios that were making those things would then resell them to everybody else. And then it would never stop airing. Ever.
The amount of money generated by those things is kind of incalculable. Well, it is calculable.
John: It’s calculable, but it’s huge.
Craig: It’s enormous. And so now what happens is the ratings for a network program, which used to be like, oh my god, if you didn’t get a 10 you were canceled or something. I don’t know what it was. Now if you get a 2 it’s like, wow, look at you. What does that mean? It means they’re still making money off the 2. And that’s the part that makes me crazy is that I know like they’re all making money. Except the new streamers I think are definitely in a weird spend-spend. I guess they’re acting like the way Amazon did in its initial phase of sell everything at a loss to be the only store that people buy from and then make money.
John: So a lot of what we’re describing obviously means the same to TV writers, to comedy variety writers, and to feature writers, because we’re all writing for these same places. I think the thing I want to make sure listeners come away from this with is that feature writers we’ve always had, there’s been a theatrical feature and then it has an aftermarket life where it’s shown on smaller screens. And showing on that smaller screen is how we got paid residuals that made it possible to do this thing.
My concern is that we may both lose the theatrical window, but we may also define a way what it means to be writing a feature. And I don’t want to be pulled down to TV Movie of the Week rates for things. That’s not even talking residuals, but how much they have to initially pay you.
So, it’s just to make sure that we are always thinking about these 90 minutes of entertainment that was originally designed for the big screen, that’s designed for a certain budget, that it still means something five years, 10 years from now.
Craig: Yeah. When we look at residuals from a very far away view what we see over the history of the Writers Guild is that from our position we are always trying to protect something that is institutional. But we are also trying to figure out how to be adaptive to technological change. Because it has come along frequently. And by and by as things go on studios generally win when technology changes. They force us essentially to play to a draw, or to cut our losses. That’s what they kind of do.
So, on our side of things we have to do two things at once, and it’s really hard to do. We have to protect what we have but we also can’t be so rigid as to insist on a calcified formula that no longer applies to anything they’re doing, if that’s where we put all of our chips.
I mean, there was a weird point in our guild’s history, I’ll call it late ‘90s/early 2000s where a large segment of I guess the politically active people in our guild were obsessed with DVD residuals. And that’s fine because they were fighting a war that had been going on for at that point 20 years and we had taken a terrible blow when that stuff came along. The studios just unilaterally cut 80 percent away from the amount that they were giving us. Just decided to do it. And then we struck and we lost. And that became the kind of white whale.
But the problem was while we were chasing that white whale the world had changed dramatically. And we weren’t necessarily ready for what came next. So it’s hard. We have to do both. We have to somehow protect what is there and also be ready to get rid of what is there and rewrite it completely because if we don’t they will for us. It’s not an easy thing. And I don’t expect that we will – look, we’ll never be in charge, right? We’re always the ones asking for money. That’s always the weaker position.
John: We’re always labor versus capital.
Craig: We’re always labor versus capital. And we’ve done a pretty good job, I think.
John: I think the electronic sell-through rate and sort of how good that is I think is testament to strength at a moment and actually getting a pretty good definition that we could defend. And so it’s taking that as the example to push forward rather than the negative example of home video.
Craig: Yeah. The example I like to talk about is the Internet rental rate. Because that is our finest moment. Because we anticipated something and we anticipated before they did. That’s really what it comes down to is can we somehow figure out something that they haven’t yet figured out. And in doing so our internet rental rate is exceptional. It is double, I believe, what our sales rate is. And we had to strike for that sales rate in part because they were angry about the rental rate.
So, the trick is to somehow get those little victories in early when we can, but it’s not – I say that like if you just apply yourself it will happen. No. A lot of it is just luck.
John: Yeah. All right, let us shift gears completely, because I want to talk about a very crafty kind of issue here. The project I’m working on right now has characters who are experiencing some really big emotions and you and I, Craig, haven’t talked a lot about the inner emotional life of characters. We talk about sort of the emotional effect we’re trying to get in readers and viewers, but I want to talk about what characters are feeling because what characters are feeling so often impacts what they can do in a scene, how they would express themselves, literally what actions they would take.
And so to set us up I wanted to play a clip from Westworld. And so this is Evan Rachel Wood. I think this was from the first season. And what I love about it is that she’s so emotional and then because she’s a robot she can just turn it off.
Craig: What would you know about that?
John: I set myself up for that.
Evan Rachel Wood: My parents. They hurt them.
Jeffrey Wright: Limit your emotional affect please. What happened next?
Evan: Then they killed them. And then I ran. Everyone I cared about is gone. And it hurts so badly.
Jeffrey: I can make that feeling go away if you like.
Evan: Why would I want that? The pain. Their loss. It’s all I have left of them. You think the grief will make you smaller and sad, like your heart will collapse in on itself, but it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside of me. Like a building with rooms I’ve never explored.
John: I’ll put a link in the show notes for that, too, so you can see what she’s doing in the scene. What I like so much about that is you look at how she is at the start of that scene and she’s so emotional. She has a hard time getting those words out. And then when she’s told like stop being emotional it brings her way back down and she can actually speak the words that she couldn’t otherwise say. And that’s so true I find both in my own real life as I get in these heightened emotional states I can’t express myself the way I would want to, but also in the characters I write. I feel when I know what a character is going through inside their head it completely changes how they’re going to be acting in that scene.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a pretty great clip. Evan Rachel Wood is an outstanding actor. And one thing that’s fascinating about that is that Jeffrey Wright who is playing there against her who is also a spectacular actor, what he says is limit your emotional affect. Not eliminate it, right?
And so what she does is – and because she’s a robot she can dial it from an eight to a three. Which, by the way, what he’s doing there essentially is what directors are doing all the time on a set. Which is they walk over to an actor, “Great, let’s just roll it back. Let’s just pull it back five points and see what that’s like.” Because then what happens is you’re still feeling emotion. She still has a quavering in her voice. You can still feel her pain. But, it’s like she experienced it three hours ago and now she’s starting to get a handle on it, as opposed to she’s in the middle of it. And so first things first when you’re thinking about your character’s emotional state is ask why are they experiencing these emotions and how distant are they from the source of it. Because that’s going to be a huge indication to you about how you ought to be pitching them.
John: Absolutely. So, one of the things you learn as you’re directing actors is to talk about verbs rather than adjectives. And so gives them a thing to do rather than sort of a description of how they are supposed to be feeling. Because it’s very hard to feel a thing. And what I might describe as being happy is a thousand different things. But if I describe invite the other character into the space. Share your joy with them. That’s a thing that an actor can actually play.
And so be thinking about sort of not only what is causing this emotional state but what is the actual physicality of that emotional state. What’s happening in there?
And it’s not rational. And that’s a hard thing to grasp is that we always talk about what characters want, what characters are after. This isn’t really the same kind of thing. It’s an inner emotional drive. Something they cannot actually control. It’s more their lizard brain doing a thing.
So what may be useful is imagine that you’re at a party and how differently you’d act or speak if for example you were terrified of someone in the room. Or if you were ravenously hungry. If you were ashamed about what you were wearing. If you were proud of the person this party was about. If you were disgusted by the level of filth in the room. Those are all sort of primal things that are happening.
And if you’re experiencing those emotions the affect is going to be different. You’re going to do different things. You’re going to say different things. You’re going to position yourself in the room differently. So getting an emotional register for each of the characters in a scene can be super important in terms of figuring out how this scene is actually going to play out.
And I do want to stress that we really are talking about scene work here. It’s not overall story plotting. It’s not even sort of sequence work. It’s very much sort of in this moment right now what is going to be the next thing the character says , the next thing the character does.
Craig: Yeah. Well, it’s also what people came for. You’re absolutely right to distinguish between the normal acting place and the normal writing place as one of intention. I want something. So I’m going to figure out how to get it, whether it’s to get your attention, or have you fall in love with me, or stop the bomb from exploding. Whatever it is, that’s the rational stuff that actors go through. And that’s the rational stuff you’re writing in there. That is the plot.
But what people come for is the emotion because the emotion is when the character doesn’t want anything, they are simply expressing the truth about what they are experiencing in the moment. And that is the part we connect with. We do not connect with the intricacies of disarming a bomb. We connect with fear. We connect with the anticipation of terrible loss. The kind of foreshadowing of grief. That’s what we imagine.
If you’re a parent you know this feeling. You put your kid on a bicycle for the first time and whether you realize it or not your heart beats a little bit faster because you are anticipating them falling and getting hurt. So that’s the truth. And that’s what we all experience. That is the universal nature of this. That’s the part people come for. So, our job is to understand very realistically what somebody would be feeling inn that moment because while audiences will forgive things like – and so the first movie I ever had in theaters was a movie called Rocket Man. Not the Elton John story. This was 1998’s silly children’s comedy, Rocket Man. And the director wasn’t really – I didn’t get along with. Well, I just didn’t appreciate his creative instincts.
And one of the things he did I guess when he was shooting was there were all these scenes were these astronauts were walking around on Mars and the visors and the helmets were causing reflections from the lights. So he said let’s just remove those visors and we’ll put them in later with visual effects, because he thought that would be easy to do. And then later Disney was like, “This movie’s not even that great. We’re not spending more money on it.”
So there are scenes in the finished movie where they are walking around on Mars and there’s no visor in their helmet. And audiences will forgive that because they know on some level these people aren’t really on Mars and who cares. But here’s what they will never forgive. An inappropriate emotional response. Because they know what feels real and what doesn’t. That’s where they will kill you.
So our job is to be as realistic as possible in those moments to avoid the extremes of melodrama, where things start to get funny because they’re so wildly too big. Or to avoid the constraint of I guess we would call it unnatural emotional response where things don’t connect right or simply aren’t there at all. Is it better to underplay emotion than overplay? Usually. Can you underplay emotion to the point where it’s just not there and the whole thing feels kind of dead and battened down with cotton? Yup.
John: Oh, we’ve seen those movies. We’ve seen those cuts where it just got too stripped down. It sounds like we could be talking about actors and how actors create their performance. And this is not a podcast about acting. But there is such a shared body of intention here. And it doesn’t even necessarily go through the director. Because we are the first actors for all of these characters. And so we have to be able to get inside their emotional states and be able to understand what it feels like to be in that moment, you know, experiencing these things so we can see what happens next.
And so often when I find things are being forced, or when I don’t believe the reality of stuff, I feel like the writer is dictating, OK, this is the next emotional thing you’re going to hit rather than actually putting themselves in the position of that character and seeing what happens next and actually just watching and listening to what naturally does happen next.
John: It’s always a balancing act there.
Craig: Well, the mistake I think a lot of writers make is to think I want the audience to feel sad, so let me make my character sad. That’s not what makes us sad.
Craig: At all.
Craig: There are times when the character should be sad, but that’s not what makes us sad.
John: Absolutely. And so often the lesson you learn is that if you want the audience to feel emotional and sad limiting what we see of that character feeling that way or how that character externalizes that thing is often more effective. Like the character holding back tears generally will generate more tears from the audience than the character who is actually crying. Because we put ourselves in that position and we are sort of crying for them.
Craig: Yes. And sometimes there’s a situation where the actors, the characters may not be feeling an enormous amount emotionally, but what they’re doing is something we can empathize with so deeply that it makes us cry. I’m thinking there’s a moment in Chernobyl where Jessie Buckley’s character is with her husband who is a firefighter. And he is dying. Cleary. Evidently. And disgustingly. And she’s right next to him and she tells him that they’re going to have a baby. And she’s obviously – she knows this. She’s not super emotional in that moment. And he sort of just takes her hand and he’s not super emotional. He’s just pleased with this news. But I cry when I look at it because I feel such terrible empathy for them.
And it’s hard to even explain, to parse out exactly why that makes me so sad. Is it that she’s smiling and he’s smiling and they’re experiencing this moment of joy and hope even though he’s perishing in front of her? Is that what it is? It’s hard to say. But what I do know is that if I try to make people cry then it just gets dumb. So, you find your moments – and there are moments where for instance Jessie, who is a spectacularly good actor, and just has amazing instincts. There are moments in the show where she is very emotional. And I don’t necessarily feel emotional in that moment. What I feel is alignment with her. Like, yes, I’m glad you’re angry. Yes, of course you’d be scared. Yes, of course you’re upset.
John: Well that comes back to empathy. Because you successfully placed us as the viewer into her position, so we are seeing the story from her point of view. And that is not just the intellectual point of view, but the emotional point of view. And that’s why we’re feeling what we’re feeling. We are identifying with her.
John: But let’s talk about sort of how writers can be thinking about these emotions. I want to get back to your example of you’re the parent whose kid is riding off on the bike for the first time and you know they’re going to fall. That is such a specific example. And the reason you were able to summon that is when that happened you were probably kind of recording that. A little red light went off in the corner. OK, this emotional thing that I’m experiencing, this is real. This is a thing that I can hold onto. It’s in my toolbox right now.
A thing I’ve been doing since the start of the pandemic is I started doing Head Space, the meditation app. And one of the things it forces you to do is to really evaluate what are you feeling right now at this moment. And when you get good at being able to analyze what are you actually feeling you can start to think like, OK, what would it feel like to be proud of this moment. What would it feel like to be angry or fearful? And you can start to distill what that emotion is like independent of the actual cause. And sometimes as a writer you have to be able to do that. So you actually say, OK, what is the moment – a little bit more back to Evan Rachel Wood – with a little bit more fear dialed in. What is this moment like with a little bit more dread or curiosity dialed in?
Because with that you can actually – you’re like a musician putting together the chords and figuring out like, OK, what is the best version of this moment, this scene, this character’s experience in this moment because of the emotions that I’m aware of and able to apply.
Craig: That’s right. Then you have the difficult job of figuring out how that would work within the tone of whatever you’re doing. Because every piece has a different tone. And over time the way we generally make and then absorb culture changes. When you watch action movies from the ‘80s what you will generally see are a lot of people behaving in ways that are emotionally insane. Just insane. You know, stuff blows up and they’re just like, “Wow, should have worn my sunglasses.” Whatever the dumb crap is.
I mean, Arnold Schwarzenegger would quip after murdering people. So, you know, who does that? You just murdered a human being. I mean, he deserved it. He was a bad guy. But you killed him and then you have a little snappy joke that’s a pun based on the manner in which you killed him. Well that’s the tone of that.
As we’ve kind of gone on things do change. And generally speaking our culture has become more emotionally expressive and in touch. And that may be, well, I think it’s generally a good thing of course. And we are all of us living in a post-therapy age where many people have gone to therapy, or they’ve just read books, like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or whatever it is. We’ve been absorbing certain things and so now when we write this stuff part of what has to happen is you, the author, cannot be afraid of your own emotions. And you can’t be afraid to confront how you felt in moments. And that means being honest with yourself. And understanding that when we go to the movies, so forget about you wanting to project some image of yourself to the world, right?
It would be cool to project John Milius to the world. Because John Milius is super cool and everything. But I’m not John Milius. And I just don’t write tough like that. I just don’t. I kind of do the opposite. And so you have to kind of forget about projecting some perfectly strong invulnerable sense of yourself to the world and instead recognize that everybody who is sitting in there wants to feel comforted by a created human being’s weakness and their triumph over that weakness. Because that’s inspiring to them.
And if you want to look at one genre that encapsulates that the most, the embracing of the emotional self, particularly the emotional male self, it is Marvel movies. Because superhero movies were about kind of, you know, these sort of emotionally distant people, because they were perfected. And now it’s, you know, they’re tormented, which reflects Marvel.
John: Now it’s about Tony Stark’s relationship with Peter Parker. It’s very specific character interactions is why we go to these superhero movies, especially the Marvel movies.
Craig: Exactly. So you have to get it right. That’s the challenge. This is I think probably where writers will fall down more than anywhere else because they actually don’t understand their own selves, so they don’t know what a character should feel. How many times in our Three Page Challenges have we said, “Why is this person speaking in a complete sentence when somebody has a knife to their throat?” You can’t. You just can’t. There’s a lack of emotional truth.
John: Yeah. And so as you’re talking with actors and they can be frustrated. It’s like, “I don’t know how to do this scene. This isn’t tracking for me.” A lot of times is they’re saying I don’t know how to get from A to E here. You’re not giving me the structure to get from place to place. And maybe you just didn’t build that. Or maybe there’s a way there that you didn’t see before.
As writers, I mean, we’re not documentarians. So we’re not necessarily creating scenes that are completely emotionally true to how they would happen in real life. There’s going to be optimization and it’s going to move faster and people are going to have to make transitions within the course of a scene that they probably would not do in real life. But that’s the art of it. That’s how you are sanding off the edges and getting there a little bit quicker. But you have to understand what the reality would look like first before you try to optimize it.
Craig: Correct. That is absolutely correct.
John: All right. Let’s go to our final topic. This is a really practical one. It’s a question that Shannon wrote in.
Shannon: Hi John and Craig. I’ve been a professional novelist for 20 years but I’ve only worked on a couple screenplays and I have a question about screenwriting protocol I guess. When working on my first screenplay after one call with the producer her notes were pretty simple so I said, great, I can get this done in a couple hours and email the new script to you tomorrow morning. She said, “You’re new to all this, so let me give you some advice. Always take two weeks.”
I said but I don’t need two weeks. The changes are just line tweaks. And she said, “If you don’t take two weeks you’re not taking my note seriously.”
I hate the idea of deliberately slowing down in order to look a certain way. And when a production is on a timeline I would think that speed whenever possible would always be the goal. But on a recent project I managed to complete one of the rewrites much faster than the studio expected and instead of a “hey this is great” response the execs did not seem pleased.
I was reminded of that original producer and I wondered is there a code that writers are supposed to take a certain amount of time for things? I get that non-writers really don’t know how long each writing task takes, but if I revise too quickly does that offend them? Do I risk them assuming I didn’t do a thorough job?
P.S. I did a thorough job.
John: Craig, what advice do we have for Shannon here? It’s a great question.
Craig: Such a great question. Shannon, here’s the deal. The producer that gave you that advice was giving you good advice and here’s why. It actually ties into our topic about emotions. When people make suggestions for notes and things and how to change things, of course what they want primarily is to feel that they’re being taken seriously and that what they’re saying is worthy of your thought and your time. They don’t know how writing works. If they did they would be writers.
So, yes, you may absolutely be able to crush that in an hour. And crush it well and thoroughly as you said. The problem is if you say, oh yeah, I can do that in like two hours, what they’re hearing is, “OK, yeah, I’ll just put in as little time as possible because I just want to get past that.” It’s like I’m painting your house and someone says, “Oh, I don’t love the color in the kitchen.” “No problem. I’ll fix that in like 10 minutes.” “Well, no, no, take your time. Take your time. Be careful about it. Put some thought into it.”
So, yeah, it’s not like there’s a code or anything. But ask yourself if you were in their shoes how would you feel if they said, “Yeah, we’ll turn this around in two hours and fix it.” Take your time and if you do it really, really fast just sit on it. Just sit on it for a week. Like Scotty from Star Trek, everything will take two weeks. OK, I did it in two hours. That’s kind of good advice I think.
John: I think it is kind of good advice, too. And so I was originally going to be negative on that producer because if I was just turning it into that producer like well she could understand that I did the work, you can see the work that I did. The thing is taking a little bit of extra time you’re buying yourself some space from the last draft that they read to this next draft. And they will kind of forget how much work or how little work it was. They’ll be reading it with fresher eyes.
And so in television by the way you would be expected to like, no, no, I need this in 20 minutes. You don’t have the time to sort of wait around. But in feature land, yeah, everything does sort of space itself out and things take a while. And if you were to come right back with that revision that afternoon they might question whether it was really the right version, even if it’s exactly the same pages you would have turned in two weeks from now.
So, yeah, you kind of take the time. Here’s a tip for you. As you’re writing a draft there will naturally be some check-in calls to see like, oh, I just want to see how you’re doing, if anything is coming up. That’s a time for you to signal like, oh, I think I’ll be ready to turn this in in about a week. Even if you’re kind of already done there’s a moment in the writing process where you can signal to them when you expect to turn it in. That’s good on both levels because it sort of creates a sense that like, oh, you’re doing a lot of work so this is really going to take up all your time to do that, but also just clears some space in their brain for like, OK, in about a week I’m going to be reading this thing. That’s good. That’s the right amount of time. Shannon must be doing a really good job. And that’s just dumb psychology, but that’s sort of what happens there.
Craig: Yeah. And, by the way, Shannon, it’s also fair to say that while you did a thorough job in the two hours what you deprived them of was the idea that you would have three days later in the shower. And I have had those moments where I’m like I know exactly how to do this. And then after a couple of days I’m like, wait, hold on. Is this great or is it just good? What do I do here? And then I just start being creative as opposed to responsive. Because that’s really what they want. They don’t want you to just be like, OK, check, check, check, check, check. I did all your things like a little punch list. What they want you to be is creative and also responsive.
So, give yourself the time. Even if you don’t need it, give it to yourself anyway.
John: Yup. All right. It’s time for out One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a great initiative being done by Christina Hodson, a guest on our show from before, and Margot Robbie, the actress. Together they formed Lucky Exports. And what they did is they took six female writers, six female-identifying writers, and put together a writer’s room to sort of focus on female writers writing action and basically they were noticing that there were not enough female action writers like Christina Hodson. We need more of them. So they put together this writer’s room to talk about writing action. Then they worked with each of them developing pitches. They took those pitches out and they sold five of the six pitches around town.
I just love that they took the initiative to recognize a problem and work on solving it and that these five writers now have feature writing deals that they didn’t have before. So I just wanted to call out Christina Hodson and Margot Robbie for doing a real good in the world.
Craig: Absolutely. Big salute to Christina Hodson. I don’t know Margot Robbie but we do know Christina and that’s fantastic. And – and – most importantly they put money in someone’s pocket. Because that’s the point. There are a lot of initiatives that are there to look great on Twitter or sound good in a Deadline article or make people just feel like they’re doing something, and none of them put money in anyone’s pocket. This did. Therefore it is good. That’s the goal. That’s the goal.
John: Yeah. It wasn’t just a programmer like, “Oh, we should do more to help these writers.” No, we’re literally giving them jobs because it’s booking jobs and being able to turn in work and show what you did. That’s what gets the next job and the next job after that.
Craig: And obviously nothing wrong with programs that are advice-based or mentoring. You and I are both part of those. But there is no substitute for putting money in people’s pockets. So, excellent job there.
My One Cool Thing is going to shock you. A game.
Craig: So have you ever played – I’m trying to figure out how to describe the genre. So it’s an app that is like a novel but the novel is presented in a very stylized textual way, in an interactive way. And sometimes there’s a little puzzle involved to kind of get to the next section. There’s a few of these.
John: I remember games going all the way back to my old Atari that sort of worked that way. It was kind of in between a thing you read and a game that you play.
Craig: Yeah. Never quite got it right. I just never really liked any of them that I tried. Until now. There is a game called Unmemory. And the premise of Unmemory is pretty cliché, to be honest. You have amnesia and have to figure out what happened. That’s about as old as dirt.
But the actual presentation of the story and the way you interact with it and the way you solve puzzles and the beautiful design and the fascinating way that the text becomes manipulated and changed depending on how you are interacting with it and the images is great. It’s like they solved it. And it’s a really engaging experience. The story is pretty good. Maybe come for the story but stay for the interactivity and the ingenuity of the presentation and the integration of puzzles.
So, Unmemory. It’s a game from developer Patrones y Escondites and publisher Plug In Digital. And it is available now on iOS and I guess on Android if you have one of those dumb things.
John: Thinking about this kind of genre of game and story, how does it compare to something like Gone Home? It feels like a game that you’re playing but it ultimately becomes a story.
Craig: Right. So, Gone Home, which is beautiful and everybody should play it, is kind of the epitome of what they call the walking simulator. There are these games where you’re basically walking around a space. You are not ever in any kind of danger. There isn’t a specific goal per se. You are just experiencing a space, digging into things, looking at stuff and learning. And in doing so a story starts to emerge. This is not that. This is straight up text-based with some sound and some images integrated. But the way the text is presented is fascinating. And each chapter involves a number of puzzles, some of which are quite tricky to figure out, before you can move onto the next chapter.
And so there’s far more interactivity and solving and thought and investigation in this than there would be in something like Gone Home or any other walking simulator.
John: I look forward to trying it.
And that is our show for this week. So stick around after the credits because we’re going to be talking about Jeopardy! But until then Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. Edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro is by Rajesh Naroth.
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. You should get them at Cotton Bureau.
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 segment. Craig, thanks for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
Craig: This long-running television game show features Kevin Walsh as its latest repeat champion.
John: What is Jeopardy! I’m so excited that our friend Kevin is doing so well on Jeopardy! right now.
Craig: Not surprised.
John: No, not a bit.
Craig: So Kevin Walsh is a guy that we’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons with for many, many years. He originally came to us through Chris Morgan who has known him forever. Kevin is pretty much the top – we’ve talked about the story analysts and the readers at the studios. He’s pretty much the top guy there.
John: It’s the Kevin we referred to in that episode about reader pay and sort of the issues that readers are facing. That Kevin is this Kevin.
Craig: Yeah. That’s the same Kevin. And so Kevin is sort of a top guy at DreamWorks, so if you’re submitting a screenplay to DreamWorks odds are he’s getting his eyes on it. And we know him also as just a very knowledgeable D&D player. He is a geek extraordinaire.
So this wasn’t like shocking per se that he would get on Jeopardy! or do well. But I don’t think anybody, including Kevin, would have anticipated that he would have had a run like this. It’s been astonishing. He has won five in a row and with the exception of one of those episodes he went into Final Jeopardy not needing to actually gamble because he had enough money to guarantee a win. And in one episode the other two contestants were in the negative when Final Jeopardy came around. So he did Final Jeopardy alone on his own. He is having a legendary run and it’s just fun to watch.
John: Jeopardy! has always been part of my life. I’ve watched it with my mom as long as I can possibly remember and my mom was actually on the original Jeopardy!, the Art Fleming Jeopardy!, way back in the day. So I grew up on a couch that had been won with earnings from Jeopardy! So, it’s always been a part of my life so it’s exciting to see it with Kevin.
But I’m also just in general happy that it’s back in this pandemic time. So, the show shut down for the pandemic naturally, but also because Alex Trebek has cancer and there’s a whole question of whether he’d be able to come back and host the show.
The show looks just like it always looks. I mean, the podiums are spaced a little bit further apart, but you wouldn’t know that we’re in the middle of a pandemic to see this.
One signal that might be out there that’s something is a little bit weird is that all of the contestants are from Southern California.
John: So they’re not flying people across the country. But other than that it feels like Jeopardy! except that our friend is running it.
Craig: I as a kid didn’t know about Jeopardy! until Weird Al Yankovic song I Lost on Jeopardy! which is his parody of the Greg Kihn Band Our Love’s in Jeopardy. And that I think was I want to say like 1984, so I was 13. Because Jeopardy! kind of went away and then it came back. And it came back and just became this like new part of culture again. It’s a fascinating thing that it was gone and then back.
And Jeopardy! is one of the last remaining cultural institutions that everyone is aware of, everyone respects, and also rewards actual intelligence. It is stringent. It’s not there to win a million dollars. There’s no crazy lights. The balloons don’t come down. It is – talk about unemotional – it’s an unemotional game. Alex Trebek’s character–
John: There’s no false drama.
Craig: No. His character is flat affect. That’s it. Right? And you as a participant are expected to also be very calm. You don’t jump around. There’s no squealing or cheering. It’s wonderful.
John: Now when the show came back, right before it came back in this pandemic time, they showed back the original Jeopardy! from when Alex Trebek sort of relaunched the show. And watching that first episode the audience would cheer and applaud after every single thing. It was so jarring. You would think that there would be more audience interaction over the course of time, but no, they got rid of all of that. And so they really made it much calmer which is one of the reasons I really appreciate it. It’s not panic-inducing the way other game shows are. They’re designed to activate those corticosteroids, the stress things.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, game shows in general are very Vegas. There’s lights. There’s cheering. There’s a kind of mania to it. Everybody seems coked up. They want you to be coked up. They want you to be jumping up and down and clapping. And Jeopardy! is like it’s an exam and you will quietly answer the questions. And everybody understands we’re here for quality. And if you can answer them, you’re quality, and if you can’t, you’re not. And it’s wonderful. I love it.
And I mean I’ve never taken the test. I’ve thought about it. But I’ve never done it.
John: Yeah. I’ve never taken the test either. And what do you think your best categories would be on Jeopardy! Craig?
Craig: Well, you know, the thing is you want to say one and then you realize, oh, then one day I’ll get there. That will be the category and I’ll just get the ones that I just happen to not know. But I would guess that my best categories would probably be in the sciences.
John: Yeah. I think I’m probably best in my sciences as well. Science and sort of general pop culture things. I’m not great with my presidents. That’s part of the reason why I memorized the presidents in order this year is because I wanted to be able to have some sense of where things fall. I’m not great with pop songs. Any sports thing I’m just dead on. So, those are the challenges.
But things like international cities or places I’m pretty good. I’m bad with my rivers. It’s fascinating there is just a body of Jeopardy! knowledge that is pretty specific that’s not even general trivia knowledge. It feels kind of unique to Jeopardy!
Craig: Yeah. There’s like a sort of Jeopardy! Studies could be a class. There are obviously people who cram on this stuff who take trivia very, very seriously. And paintings, I’m a zero paintings. Just a zero. I know there’s stuff I just don’t know. Shakespeare. I’ve read a lot of Shakespeare. I just don’t remember things.
John: I don’t remember who is in what play. Couldn’t do that.
Craig: To an extent.
John: One interesting thing, Jeopardy! is a WGA-covered show. So not a lot of these kind of shows are WGA shows, but Jeopardy! is one of them. So all of those questions and answers you see written, those are written by WGA writers which is great. There’s a special contract for game and variety shows. But we’re glad to see that be covered.
And I hope it goes on another 30 years. I don’t see a need for this to change. And I feel like at some point we’ll be in a post-Alex Trebek time and that will be sad, but it will also be fine. Because I think it doesn’t rely on his force of personality to work. I think it relies on the cultural consistency of who those players are and the way the questions are asked.
Craig: Yeah. There’s going to be a change coming. We all know that. It’s a sad reality. And I just hope, and I expect, that the folks who make Jeopardy! will understand that continuity of tone is everything. That’s going to be the key. Continuity of tone.
But hopefully Kevin keeps winning. He’s up to a hundred and how much?
John: I think $111,000 as we’re recording this, which is fantastic.
Craig: After taxes that will be $12. [laughs] You know they give you the tax form right then and there. They don’t mess around.
John: Anyway, we’re very proud of Kevin, so continue to please watch him on the show. Root for him. It doesn’t really matter whether you root for him or not, but you know somebody who is on Jeopardy! right now. Through us you know somebody who is on Jeopardy! And weirdly because it’s been so LA-centric Franki Butler was on the first episode of the new ones, and she’s a person I know through WGA business, too. So, it’s been nice to see a lot of locals on our show. And hopefully people from across the country can come back to Jeopardy! at some point. But for now it’s nice to see a lot of LA folks.
John: Cool. Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thank you, John.
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