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 473 of Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show short-form video company Quibi becomes short-lived video company Quibi. We’ll talk about what happened and prognosticate wildly about the future of the entertainment industry. Not based on data, just random hunches.
Plus, we’ll answer lots of listener questions. And, in our Bonus segment for Premium members we’re going to discuss scary movies like actually scary movies, not the spoofs that Craig wrote.
Craig: Not the spoofs that Craig wrote. By the way, I like that you’re saying that we’re going to prognosticate wildly based on hunches rather than data as if anyone else doesn’t do that. That’s all anyone does. They just wildly prognosticate.
John: Yes. But I would say in a blog post I might try to throw some numbers at it to actually sort of pretend that there’s evidence behind this. But that’s not – on a podcast we don’t talk about numbers. We just talk about opinions.
Craig: Lies. Damn lies and statistics.
John: That’s all we have for you here today. We have crucial follow up because on last week’s episode we asked our listeners what should replace the Slinky Movie as the placeholder for that ridiculous movie that is being based on IP that really should not become a movie. And so people wrote in with their suggestions, but I also did a Twitter poll. So, the poll I posed were Magic 8 Ball, Silly Putty, and Lincoln Logs. And so we talked about Magic 8 Ball. That came in second at 35%. Silly Putty was the winner at 37%. Lincoln Logs a mere 27%. But then it turned out that Magic 8 Ball, we couldn’t even use that because there is genuinely a Magic 8 Ball Movie in development.
Craig: Of course. From the description that you have shared with me from Variety it appears that what we said it would be is exactly what it is. [laughs] That’s pretty great. That’s pretty great.
John: There’s a Blumhouse version of this which seems to be like a horror kind of thriller thing. Probably a Monkey’s Paw element. But a lot of our listeners wrote in saying like “Don’t tell anybody but I pitched on the Magic 8 Ball Movie because it’s been at various places at various times. And one person shared the brief they got before they went in to pitch.
John: And so I’ll read a little bit of this.
John: So this says, “Using the Magic 8 Ball is a jumping off point for a movie. We’d like to follow the classic Amblin model. Something incredible happens and at first it feels like magic and is exciting, then shifts to real stakes and real danger. It starts fun, then gets crazy, and someone has to fix it. Here’s the kernel of an idea. The original Magic 8 Ball was actually an occult item with arguably real powers. It was hidden away but became the foundation for the toy we know. When someone finds the original prototype and asks the wrong question it sets into motion a fun action-adventure investigation into the mysteries of the occult. Inspired by the great myths of the world that we’ve seen depicted around the globe since ancient times, the Magic 8 Ball and our heroes attempt to explain the unexplainable.”
So that’s kind of a Jumanji to me.
Craig: Oh god. So here’s what happens a lot. It does seem like when people are trying to present writers with their general hope what they’re saying is what if you took this thing that no one should make a movie about and instead made a good movie. Like you know how they made ET and ET was a good movie and it was based on the thing that no one had ever heard of? Let’s do that but let’s base it on something that everyone has heard of that no one has any emotional investment in whatsoever. In fact, it’s generally viewed as disposable junk, detritus of childhood. Something that gets left behind or rolls into the back of your closet because it doesn’t matter. Because it’s stupid. [laughs] Let’s do that. But let’s make it as a classic Amblin movie.
And I just think you know what makes classic Amblin movies classic? Not making them about the Magic 8 Ball. Just going to go out on a crazy limb there.
John: So let’s talk for a moment about why the idea of a Magic 8 Ball Movie or any of these things that are based around IP, why we get approached with them. Because they have some brand awareness. The belief is like, OK, it doesn’t really have to be about the Magic 8 Ball, just we need to have that as the clutter-buster, the thing that we can put on a poster that people will recognize, but then actually we’re going to make a completely different movie that’s really a good Amblin movie. And there’s just inherent tension between there. You’re not going to be able to make that good Amblin movie if you are also stuck with this thing that does not want to be a movie.
Craig: Yeah. And we understand that there are two kinds of jobs that are out there. There are the kinds that we are selling to them and then there are kinds that they are selling to us. And it’s almost an entirely different business. There are certain restaurants you go to where you don’t know what’s on the menu at all. You get there but you’ve heard it’s good. And so you get there in receiving mode. I will look at this menus. Oh, look at all these interesting things. I think I’ll try this, and this, and this.
And then sometimes you’re like what do you guys want. Sushi. OK, let’s go get sushi. We are going to get it. They are receiving us. They will now give to us the thing that we want. And it should be like what we want. And that happens. And sometimes they’re sitting around and someone is like let’s make money off the Magic 8 Ball. We own it for some dumb reason and let’s do it.
And, you know, every now and then, look, you can do it well. Everything can be done well. The latest Jumanji version was done well.
John: Absolutely. And the Lego Movie. Transformers is not to my taste, but Transformers is a very successful movie franchise. And I think part of the reason why we keep seeing these things happen is because, well, somehow they made Transformers into a billion dollar juggernaut, so there you go.
Craig: Right. They did. Now Transformers seems like it’s – look, they’re robot trucks and they shoot stuff. I can see how you’d make a movie out of that. I mean, but it’s weirder when you get into like “we’re doing Checkers.” OK. So we’ve got flat colored discs.
John: So Transformers, they did actually have characters. They had names. They had some degree of personality. There was a nostalgia for a thing that existed before. It was not just the toy. There were things who could speak.
Craig: Right. There was conflict.
John: So let’s talk about the other contenders for our placeholder things, since we can’t do the Slinky Movie. And I should stipulate people think I’m ragging on the biopic about the Slinky Movie. I’m not. I hope that’s a really good movie. And the woman who created it and sort of got screwed over for it, I hope that’s a great story that they’re telling. The problem is we can’t say the Slinky Movie as a derogatory term because I want that movie to succeed. So that’s why we’re looking for a new placeholder. So people who thought I was slamming on the writer’s work who is doing the movie that’s based on the creation of the Slinky, I’m not. We’re trying to make it clear that it’s a whole separate thing.
Craig: Wait a second. Did you get undo criticism on Twitter? Did that – wait a second – on Twitter? Huh?
John: Yeah. Like people saying, “Way to slag on a writer.” I’m like who do you think I am?
Craig: Well, they think that you’re a person on Twitter, therefore hold them down, boys. Get me my hammer.
John: All right. So people have pointed out that on previous episodes we’ve talked about the Uno Movie as an example of a ridiculous piece of IP. So I think Uno is a high contender.
Craig: It’s still up there.
John: Other suggestions. Sudoku. Connect Four. Etch-a-Sketch. Trapper Keeper. Trouble or Sorry, which are basically the same game but one has a popper and I think feels like there’s higher stakes. Sea Monkeys. Hot Wheels.
Craig: Well they’ve tried Sea Monkeys.
John: And Guinness Book of World Records.
Craig: Hot Wheels they had in development and we know people that wrote on it.
John: I know people who wrote on that. McG was supposed to direct it one point.
Craig: That was a thing. And I get it. I mean, there are movies where like cars are running around, so I get it. That could work.
John: Time of Fast and the Furious.
John: It’s a car movie.
Craig: What I find fascinating about your poll is that it reflects this interesting phenomenon that occurs sometimes when – and it’s actually good news. You look at this and you go, well, no one really wants any one of these things. Roughly a third want the Magic 8 Ball, a third want Silly Putty, and a third want Lincoln Logs. So what does this mean?
What it means is that what we should be doing is more like the tomato sauce business where Prego offers eight different styles of Prego for everybody. Meaning we should have, this is this kind. Oh, do you want your dumb movie with a certain 8 Ball-ness to it? Or would you like a nice Silly Putty version. We should offer multiple versions.
John: Yeah. We should. Craig, I leave it to you, but my instinct is to go with Uno for right now because I don’t think there is an Uno Movie about to happen any time soon. And Uno to me is the right combination of like it’s just Crazy 8s but with branding on it. And that feels like the right placeholder movie to me. What are you thinking?
Craig: I like a movie where it’s an object, like a single object you can hold. And Silly Putty, by the way, somebody tried it at some point. I’m sure.
John: Because there was a Stretch Armstrong Movie for a long time.
Craig: I wrote a couple of drafts of that back in 1998.
John: Excellent. Or like Flubber. You feel like there’s a thing you could do with Silly Putty.
Craig: There’s a whole genre of stretchy, bouncy stuff.
John: So Pet Rock is one, but Pet Rock is not a strong enough brand.
Craig: It’s old school, too. I was thinking about – I was just looking at music yesterday and I do this all the time now. I don’t know if you do this. So, I was looking at the song, it’s from 1982. And I was thinking it could be in something that might come out in a couple of years and then it would be 40 years old. And I was thinking, well, in 1982 when I was 11, 40 years earlier was 1942.
John: Yes. Into World War II. Yes.
Craig: Right. Like songs from the 1942 era to me were like from another planet. They were as if someone had cracked open the tomb of Tutankhamun and a song had come out along with the dust and ghosts. And now I think like, oh, people will probably like that song. Wait, no, anybody who was my age then will have no idea what the hell it is. Maybe that’s good? I don’t know. But Pet Rock is even older.
So my daughter or your daughter hearing about Pet Rock would go, oh, so that’s like something from the ‘30s vis-à-vis when you were our age. We’re so old. [laughs]
John: Back then they must not have had money for stuffed animals, so they must have just had to paint eyes on rocks.
Craig: Yeah. Or glue the little googly eyes.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: OK. So here’s my vote. And I think we can use, again, more than one. The Uno Movie is solid. I’m totally down with that. I think I’m going to go with Lincoln Logs. I like Lincoln Logs. Lincoln Logs because it’s so out of date. It’s so ancient. It was even old when I was a kid playing with Lincoln Logs. I think I inherited them from an older cousin. So, Lincoln Logs seems about right.
John: Sounds good.
We have more follow up. This is from a former Three Page Challenger. Craig, do you want to read to us what Mitchell from Toronto wrote?
Craig: Mitchell from Toronto writes, “My script, ATOM,” it’s all in capital, so I don’t know if it’s Atom or ATOM. What do you think, John? Probably Atom.
John: I think it’s Atom.
Craig: Atom. “My script, ATOM,” it could be A to M, “was read by Jeff Probst as part of your Three Page Challenge way back on Episode 269. You both seemed to enjoy the pages and were fairly complimentary of the writing. Craig compared it to Wall-E. I’ve since endured years of teasing and ridicule from former classmates, friends, and strangers. People yes, ‘That’s the Wall-E guy.’ Or, ‘Nice pages, Pixar,’ and it hurts my feelings.’
“But in all seriousness, having the pages read on the show was quite a boost. It was a tremendous surge of motivation. At the beginning it’s so hard to know if you’re doing things well, or if you’re just producing utter crap. So I rode that high and finished a draft that got me some attention. I flew down to LA for a week of generals and the experience was amazing. Telling the security guard on the Sony lot that I’m not with the tour and that I actually have a meeting was a surreal experience.
“I ended up meeting a young, hungry manager and whom I’m still working with today. And I can happily announce that the script has recently been optioned by a producer that I’m also very excited to work with. It’s been a long journey and admittedly I’ve spent more time on this script than maybe I should have. But appearing on Scriptnotes and hearing your feedback really gave me the courage to pursue screenwriting with confidence. So a big Canadian thank you for that.
“Also, if there’s time a good friend of mine who listens to your every episode on his daily drive is going to lovingly hate the following. Hi Aaron.”
We’re now doing shout-outs like Morning Zoo.
John: Absolutely. The call for your special dedication line. Mitchell, I’m happy for you. I’m happy that you finished that script. I’m happy that the feedback which was hopefully constructive sort of got you finished through this. It sounds like you’re doing the right things. You are continuing to write. You came down here for generals. Obviously you had generals scheduled before you got on a plane and came to Los Angeles. You met a manager who you like, who seems to have the same energy you do. And you’ve got this option. So, I hope things continue to go well for you, Mitchell.
Craig: I do, too. I’m really glad, first of all, that you wrote in because it’s nice for us to hear these things. It makes us feel good, too. Because this is what we want. It’s why we’re doing all this stuff. Because as you know one of us doesn’t get paid. [laughs] So at least that’s why I do it.
But mostly what I want to say to you, Mitchell, is because you’ve been working on this script for a long time by your own admission and because it’s now getting a lot of attention, you’re going to want to put even more of your eggs in its basket, which is fine. But if a script is a baby, I need you to have many more children. I want you to have the biggest family you can imagine. Which means that this child cannot suck up all of your attention. This is exactly the time you should be well into the next thing. Because everybody around you is going to be looking for that next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.
And what makes John a professional or makes me a professional isn’t necessarily one script, or two, or three, but the breadth of them. It’s the churn. And through the churn you will get better and better and faster and faster. So love this script. Give it the attention it needs. Ride that wave. But that’s just one of about 20 kids you’re supposed to have.
John: Yup. So keep working on Atom, and great that it’s optioned, and you’ll learn a lot going through the process of working with the producers who have optioned this. That’s going to be great.
You are going to be pitching on the Uno Movie and the Lincoln Logs Movie.
Craig: Lincoln Logs is mine.
John: That’s going to be good practice for you as well. You’re going to figure out how do I do this thing. So do those, but don’t spend all of your time doing those because you have to write new things and new things that show the breadth of your talent and get people excited and give you more general meetings to go into because people have read your stuff and want to work with you. So, you got to do all of the things all the time.
Craig: Got to do all the things all the time.
John: Yup. So Craig this last week it was announced that the short-form video company Quibi is going to shut down or sell itself or somehow stop existing.
John: And I’ve definitely been feeling guilty of something that’s not schadenfreude but it’s another word for that sense of like, OK, that was never going to work and I’m sort of happy that my expectation that it was never going to work has beared out. I mean, I’m not sure it’s–
Craig: It’s I told you so ism kind of thing.
John: It feels more like a French kind of term than a German kind of term.
John: And still I’ve met folks who worked at Quibi. The David Kwong event we had a zillion years ago I met folks who worked there who seemed so nice, and so smart, and lovely, and I’m sure they will succeed in whatever they’re doing. But Quibi just didn’t work and I didn’t think it was going to work.
Craig: Yeah. It didn’t work. And the only part of this that is even remotely pleasurable is just the sense that our understanding of how the world generally should work is kind of correct. Because this didn’t fit in with my – it’s like MoviePass. It just didn’t make sense.
Craig: On its face you just said, “I don’t understand it. Maybe I’m a dumb-dumb, but I don’t get it.” And Quibi was kind of the same thing. In particular the part I didn’t get was the fact that $2 billion had been invested into this thing and when you looked at why what it came down to was people were investing in this belief that an executive had value.
Craig: Worth $2 billion. And my feeling is that that’s not how it works. That these platforms are ultimately fueled by and supported by creators. And that you have to find these great creators. That’s who is going to hold up your building. So when Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or HBO or any of these places go out and spend all this money to get Shonda or Ryan Murphy or Dan and Dave or Greg Berlanti it’s because they understand these are the men and women who are going to be holding up their empire.
The empire is not going to be pulled up from the top by an executive who with his, I don’t know, with his slide decks and his pitches. It just doesn’t work that way. And I’m just blown away that anybody thought it did. It’s like they never read Hit and Run. That great book about how Peters and Guber just stole billions of dollars from the Japanese on their way to ruining Sony/Columbia.
[sighs] You could just see it happening.
John: Craig, did you ever talk with Katzenberg about it? Because I had a 45-minute phone call with Katzenberg about it. There wasn’t a slide deck, but I definitely got the pitch and from everyone I talked to they got the exact same pitch.
Craig: He must have known because I never got a call from anyone. And they must have smelled it in the air.
John: The pitch inevitably goes back to the Da Vinci Code. He’ll always talk about how the brilliant thing about the Da Vinci Code is that the writer broke the chapters into such small little segments that you read one, and then you read another, and you read another one.
Craig: Oh god.
John: So he always would reference the Da Vinci Code.
Craig: So stupid.
John: And that was his sort of organizing principle behind why it was short-form stuff.
Craig: That’s so dumb.
John: The initial conversation with him I asked about, OK, so they’re short, and they’re supposed to be on your phone, but are they vertical or are they horizontal? And it’s like they’re definitely horizontal. And that was one of the fascinating technological things that he went through is that weird pivot thing. It had to be shot for both ways.
And talking with folks who had to deliver content to them it was a nightmare apparently being able to seamlessly deliver both things. Because you have to sort of shoot in two ratios and have to – weird save things. All that stuff was interesting and fascinating, but when it came down to me trying to make a deal to do this. So this was a project I was going to be working on with a director who I really like and if we could have made it all work we would have made it work. But the money just wasn’t right for me. It just wasn’t going to be worth my time and my energy to do it.
And that ultimately is kind of the problem. For some of these creators, like the Ryan Murphys, the Shondas, you got to just roll out the big trucks of money and they didn’t have the trucks of money to roll out.
Craig: Because they didn’t think that that was – what they thought was that they had figured out the problem. So he read a book. Congrats. He read a book. Boy, he’s never going to call me now. And then he did what a lot of non-creative people do. They analyze and look for an interesting talking point that would be something they could use at a lunch to make other people who also don’t create things go, “Ooh, that qualifies as an insight. Like the reason that the Da Vinci Code was so successful is that the chapters were short.” No it isn’t. And there are enormous examples of books with long chapters that are even more successful.
Stephen King has built the most successful publishing business probably ever by writing books with chapters that sometimes seem to go on forever. Forever. Forever.
He’s wrong. That’s just wrong. And even if he were right that’s like, look, we figured out how to make rats stop chewing on their own feet. Now we can take that medicine and put it in humans and it’ll make them stop chewing their nails. Why would you think that that would work that way? It’s two different things. It doesn’t matter. So it was just a deeply flawed concept from the start. Anybody that fell for that Da Vinci Code thing deserves to lose their investment money as far as I’m concerned.
And you could tell, also, that underneath all of it was like somebody somewhere in a basement at Quibi must have been saying, “But isn’t this YouTube?” [laughs] Doesn’t YouTube already do this? Hasn’t YouTube been doing this forever?
John: And YouTube itself really struggled to monetize that kind of content. They tried YouTube Red. Our friend, Rawson, directed a series for YouTube Red.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And it was really challenging to do. Just because people watch things on their phone doesn’t mean they want to watch premium stuff on their phone the same way. They don’t want to pay a subscription.
Craig: And Quibi wouldn’t let you play it on your television either.
John: Yes. And that was a fundamental misunderstanding of not only could you not play it on your television, you couldn’t set clips of it on YouTube or TikTok or anything else. You had no way of sharing the thing that you were watching which is exactly why you had this thing on your phone is so it’s so sharable.
Craig: Have you ever, I won’t say ever, but since the dot.com bust of the late ‘90s, mid-late ‘90s, have you seen something that seemed quite so DOA? I mean, at no point. It landed and it was almost like 100th Monkey Syndrome. Everybody just sort of agreed silently that this was not a thing. I mean, no one wanted this.
John: Yeah. So certainly not MoviePass because MoviePass was genuinely useful and revolutionary to people at a time.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: They’re like this can’t possibly last, but I get why people – it was really good for people to use.
Craig: It was the free ice cream store. It was a great idea for us. Not for them.
John: I’m drawing a blank on something else that from the moment it came out people were like, no, no I don’t want any of that.
Craig: Yeah. Just like right off the bat as it landed everybody just went, “What?” It was like stop trying to make fetch happen. That’s all that kept coming into my mind. Was like stop trying to make Quibi happen. Because it’s one of those things where you just know it’s not going to happen. We don’t need it.
John: Here’s what actually it reminds me of. Sometimes someone will run for office. Someone will run a presidential campaign and you’re like, no, no, no, no. No. You should not do that. Nobody wants you.
Craig: Nobody wants this.
John: Nobody wants you running for president.
Craig: Bloomberg. It’s like Bloomberg running for president. Everybody went, uh-uh, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. Do not want.
John: Not a thing.
Craig: Not a thing. You’re not a thing. Stop trying to make Bloomberg happen.
John: So let’s talk about the good that Quibi did or the argument over whether Quibi’s existence put money in people’s pockets, which I think it die, but also it didn’t put as much money in as I sort of wish it could have done. So here’s the balancing act.
Between $1.75 and $2 billion spent making Quibi happen. Not all of that is on content. Some of it is on infrastructure and back stuff. But people were being paid to do stuff. And people were being paid to write and create these shows which debuted on Quibi. They had this weird business model where Quibi only licensed it for a certain amount of time, so you were allowed to package up the stuff you made and sell it again as a movie. So creators actually owned the content underneath it in ways that was good.
So I want to acknowledge that it got people paid and increased production in Los Angeles and outside of Los Angeles. And more people working is a good thing.
John: Let’s talk a bit about that. But then there’s also the troubling problem of because they were doing these 10-minute or 11-minute episodes they kept falling underneath union caps for things and so they were paying writers less than they would otherwise have to be paying for the kinds of stuff that they were making. Same with actors and directors and crews. It felt like they were manipulating low budget agreements in ways that is frustrating.
Craig: Generally when a new company comes along and says, “We’re doing a new kind of thing in a new sort of way. We’re not going to be doing the WGA thing, but we have something that’s actually better. The WGA thing is old school we’re new school. And this is better for you. It’s better for us. It’s a win.” It’s not better for you. It’s only better for them. Just generally speaking. They’re not charities. They’re always looking to jam you. And if they’re giving you something you should take a good long look at it and see if it’s worth anything.
You can take your eight-minute episodes that we had and then write a movie based on it ten years from now. Hmm. When is that going to come up? And how much is that prospective possibility worth vis-à-vis what you’re not giving me now? So that part obviously – we should always be caveat scriptor on stuff like that.
The notion that $2 billion moved from investors towards creators is a good one. Obviously the creators didn’t get the $2 billion. I don’t know exactly how much were put in creator’s pockets. It did seem like Quibi was going crazy and making a thousand things a minute. In that sense it’s like, OK, good, well some money sort of made it out of the robber barons and into the pockets of working artists. But generally also it is better for working artists for things to succeed and be ongoing. That’s where the real money is.
Craig: Otherwise we’re just helping them build their own house.
John: Yeah. And I think we also should separate the just because you’re making money doesn’t mean you’re making art. And I feel like sometimes people were being pulled away from doing stuff that could have been artistically meaningful or actually had a cultural impact because they were making these 10-minute episodes of stuff for Quibi. And so the degree to which you’re wasting people’s time and creator’s time is another thing to be keeping in mind.
But you can say going into this you didn’t know that it wasn’t going to be successful, although we just kind of knew it wasn’t going to be successful. And I think there’s–
Craig: We just knew. We all knew. [laughs]
John: Everyone was making a show for Quibi I think had to go into it saying like, “This probably isn’t going to work, is it?”
Craig: This is just something to do for the next two months. But this is not a thing, right? We can all agree.
John: So I want to take this moment as an opportunity to talk about the state of the industry overall. And when you and I were entering into the industry you could write on the back of your valet ticket sort of like these are the major players. These are the studios. This is how everything works. It was really pretty straightforward when we entered. And in some ways it’s more straightforward because there’s been so much consolidation, but it’s also weirdly murky now. So I thought we’d just take a moment to talk through what we mean by the majors, by the other major production entities, and sort of the state of the industry in 2020 and sort of where we see things headed.
So, Craig, as you started who were the majors? When someone said, “You’re going to take out a pitch, you’re going to the studios,” what did we mean by the studios?
Craig: So, in the movie business you had Warner Bros and Universal. You had Sony/Columbia which included Tri-Star and Screen Gems I think.
John: Screen Gems still.
Craig: There was Paramount and there was Disney. And that was kind of it.
John: And Fox.
Craig: Oh, sorry, and Fox. You’re right. Absolutely. And Fox.
John: So we basically thought of six majors. And so as Craig was doing this I bet you were actually sort of thinking about a map of Los Angeles and imagining the drive around. I always geographically sort of place these people. Because Sony is the weird one that isn’t really close to anybody else. And Fox was sort of off the–
Craig: Well let’s just say this. I have worked almost exclusively for some combination of Disney, Warners, or Universal. They are all near where I live.
John: Yeah. And so I worked a lot at Sony, obviously, for Big Fish and the Charlie’s Angels movies. But I’ve done some work I think everywhere. And even Sony which had different labels and brands it was still kind of Sony. Like Columbia kind of ruled the roost there. And we should also say that we’re talking as feature writers because that’s mostly what we are here, but each of these places had a television business as well. So Disney bought ABC. So Disney controlled ABC. Universal and NBC got combined. Paramount and CBS were combined, and then they were separated, but now they’re combined again. And then Warners and Sony which didn’t have their own broadcast TV networks still make a lot of TV for other places. Famously Warners is the studio behind Friends. Warners also has HBO which is obviously the premier cable place.
So, you can think of these as feature writers these are the major studios. But they’re also the major players in television.
Craig: Correct. And more so as – I mean, even when we started it wasn’t quite that way as much. But in the years following the kind of elimination of the financial syndication barrier suddenly CBS and Paramount were the same thing, and NBC and Universal were the same thing. UPN and Paramount were the same thing. And the CW and Warner Bros were the same thing. And ABC and Disney were the same thing. Everything started to squish together. And the squishing together has not stopped nor do I think it will stop any time soon.
John: I could not have believed that Fox would sell to Disney. That was inconceivable to me when I started in this industry. Sort of two huge things could just be smooshed together and yet that’s happened. I think it’s an open question of whether there will be more smooshing to come.
Paramount feels like a place – Paramount/CBS feels like a place that someone would take over and combine with something because it’s just the smallest of what’s left. But I don’t know who that is. It may be one of the other giant players. So it could be Apple or Netflix, which are completely outside entities that didn’t exist before. Amazon, which didn’t exist before. So even as we’ve lost majors you really have to look at Netflix and Apple and Amazon as majors because they are making the amount of shows that a broadcast network would make. And they’re starting to make features as well.
Craig: In a strange way the test that some of these places have is our value as a company that creates media greater than the worth of the real estate we’re sitting on? Because Paramount has in the past been a major producer of television. All the Star Treks. And of movies throughout the years. Raiders of the Lost Ark and the aforementioned Transformers. But as they reduce and reduce and reduce what you end up with is this enormous amount of real estate.
Same with Fox now that Fox has been absorbed by Disney. That lot is an enormous amount of real estate. And it’s prime real estate. It’s like having five acres in Manhattan or something. Well, maybe not that crazy, but it’s a lot.
John: It’s a lot.
Craig: And the thing is I don’t know if Netflix needs all that real estate, right? You’d think, well, wait maybe Netflix will just buy Paramount and they’ll have the lot and they’ll make Netflix stuff there. But they’re making stuff everywhere else. So, I don’t know. It’s interesting.
John: Yeah. And so a thing people might appreciate is that if you come to visit Los Angeles you will drive through Century City which is the border between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, but there’s a place called Century City. And it’s called Century City because of 20th Century Fox. It was literally the backlot of 20th Century Fox. And after Cleopatra they had to selloff a bunch of land.
I’m sure I’m butchering the actual history there. But it is called Century City because of 20th Century Fox. The amount of money tied up in that real estate is huge.
John: At this moment I think the plans are just to keep using the Fox lot for production because you need space for production, but ultimately that land is going to be worth so much more for other things. And it’ll go away at some point.
Craig: It will. I mean, so you have these large sound stages. And Paramount has well over a dozen of these mammoth structures that are empty. They’re just big rooms for making movies and television. But since so much production has shipped elsewhere because it’s cheaper to do elsewhere these things are just empty. So what happens?
Well, you can look at Universal. Because I think Universal has been the smartest and canniest in terms of how it uses its own space. It has a great backlot. There aren’t too many good backlots left. Disney has a little one. Warner Bros has a terrific one. Universal sort of had the classic one. And for many years it was a tour. And it still is. You get on a tram and you ride around. Look, there’s Jaws Lake.
But what’s happening now is more and more they’re converting their land to theme park space. They already made Universal Studios Hollywood. It is a very successful theme park, or at least was before a global pandemic forced us all into our hiding holes. And they’re building more such stuff. And I think that that’s going to continue. I think that a lot of these spaces are probably better served as consumer-facing spaces rather than empty production space.
Because when you walk around Paramount, which is a wonderful lot. And to me at least the most Hollywood of them because it’s the only one in Hollywood and it just feels so open and Hollywood-ish. And it also has a great backlot. That’s kind of an enormous, flat, asphalt space waiting to be something. And right now I’m not sure it is anything.
John: It’s going to be a skyscraper at some point, or a bunch of skyscrapers.
Craig: Or a theme park, you know, with Raiders of the Lost Ark land. You know?
John: We’ll see what ends up happening. But a possibility is that these places could combine, they could clear out, we could redevelop this land. But the other big change that’s happened and is clearly only going to accelerate is the move from traditional television, traditional theatrical release, to streaming.
John: And as things move to becoming streaming first it changes not just how audiences see things but the need to spend money on certain things. So, I definitely think about marketing departments. Because for a classic movie that’s being released in theaters you’re spending $30, $40, $50 million advertising that thing because you have to make your money back your opening weekend. If something is debuting on your streaming service you don’t have to do that. And so Netflix does not spend very much money marketing its movies in a classic sense. They buy billboards in Los Angeles and New York, but that’s kind of it. They’re not buying TV commercials other places. And they are saving a tremendous amount of money.
So, saving money is good for that company but it’s not great for the people whose job it is to buy and sell those ads. It’s not great for sort of everyone else in the media industry. So that’s a huge change that’s happening. Or if they are buying ads they’re buying ads on their own services so it doesn’t really count. If Disney is buying ads from ABC it’s kind of an in-house transfer of money.
Craig: And this is the thing that we’ve been saying for a long time. I mean, maybe as long as we’ve had this podcast we’ve been saying that the reason that the movie business has changed the way it’s changed is because of marketing and because of the cost of marketing. Because it costs more to market a movie than to make a movie. And if it costs more to market it than to make it then marketing is the more important thing than the movie. And that means the movie has to serve marketing needs. And that’s why movies became what they became.
Television doesn’t have that. Streaming doesn’t have that. And so what we’re seeing from a creative point of view is a renaissance because streaming services are allowing creators to make things that are more important than the selling of the things. They’re taking risks. In fact, they’re going in the opposite direction that movies have been going in. And movies tragically are now even in a more desperate place where they have to be marketing based because when theaters do open back up people aren’t showing up unless it is the most compelling thing ever to get there.
I am terrified for the feature exhibition business. I mean, for the first time ever I don’t know if it will be there. We’ve always scoffed at the “theaters are dead” because the things that everybody thought would kill theaters never, ever did, or would. But now there’s trouble because of the pandemic. So, yes, the big marketing departments are not going to be big marketing departments. And that is not good for the people who work there. It is good for the quality of programming. It’s good for the creators of programming. I love the people who market – the folks that I worked with at HBO who marketed Chernobyl were amazing. I love them. And I can’t wait to work with them again.
And what was great about them was that they were really servicing the program. Those people will still be there. And maybe what happens is a lot of the people that were working in feature marketing move in to fill the desperate need for folks in the TV side, in the streaming side, because they’re making so much. They’re making so much. Even if they don’t market it that much they still need people to cut teasers and trailers and next weeks and recaps and all that stuff.
I think that people will be able to find their jobs. But this is a good thing overall.
John: Yeah. I just think your Chernobyl experience was different from the experience of somebody who makes a series for Netflix in that you were occupying prime real estate on HBO. You actually had a time slot for a weekly show on HBO. Versus something that drops all at once on Netflix, you know, I talked to folks who have those kind of shows and basically three weeks they’re in they’ll tell us if we got enough eyeballs, but that’s basically all we can do.
John: We get constant pitches here at Scriptnotes from people saying like, “Hey, I have a show that’s debuting on Netflix. Can I please come on to talk about it because there’s basically no other marketing that I can do for the show?”
Craig: Right. That is true.
John: That’s a real frustration.
Craig: HBO is still putting things out in the old school way, which I love, and I think that more and more companies are going to start looking at that model. Because it is I think a better model for certain kinds of shows. Not for all of them, but for certain kinds. And those shows do need good marketing.
But you’re right. Netflix doesn’t really market anything until the day it comes out. And then the marketing is should it be on the splash page or not. They don’t do much in that regard. So, that’s true. That’s true. I can’t argue with that.
John: You brought up movie theaters, so I just pulled up the numbers for movie theaters right now. The three big chains in the US, AMC has 8,200 screens, Regal has 7,300 screens, Cinemark has 4,500. And then it’s a huge drop off, like below 500. Then you get to your Alamo Draft House, your Landmark Theaters.
As we talked about on the show, the barriers between the Paramount consent decree which restricted studios from owning theaters is basically dissolved. So, Disney could buy any one of these chains, or multiple chains. And I think they’re going to really be thinking about it.
So, the good news if Disney buys them for Disney is they control the pipeline. They have efficiency. They can do stuff there. But they also have to look at we just went through a pandemic where the last thing you want to do is to own a business that relies on people showing up in person to be there. So I don’t know if they’re going to buy up a chain right away. I don’t know if it makes sense for them to buy up a chain.
Craig: Well, they won’t buy it until they feel like it is worth nothing. And then they’ll buy it, because it’s worth nothing. It’s not good. It’s a really bad situation. And I do feel for – I mean, people give movie theater chains a lot of guff because they’re kind of monopolistic and they charge you $5,000 for popcorn and they’re generally dirty and they show 400 ads in front of a movie which is disgusting, and all that. But it was still the movies. And they were still movie theaters. And it still had that kind of movie theater thing going on.
And it’s kind of shocking because it might be that we were staying in that relationship out of habit more than out of love. And now that we’ve been forced to break that habit it’s sort of like, well, so once they let us out of the hospital do we start smoking again? I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.
I never thought. But here we are.
John: All right. Let’s answer some listener questions. So people write in with questions and we try to get to them, but they stack up. So we’re going to try to burn through a bunch.
Craig: Let’s go.
John: Craig, will you start us off with Ren’s question?
Craig: Ren asks, “I am working with a director on a short film. He originally approached with a concept but no script. I agreed to work with him on the understanding that he would be the director and I would be the writer and received sole writing credit. It is unpaid. Now—“
John: Craig, I’m going to stop you right there. Craig, I’m going to stop you right there. You’ve not read the rest of this question. What do you think Ren is going to ask us next?
Craig: I’m going to guess, I’m looking away from the question so I don’t read it. I’m going to guess that the director now does want writing credit. What should I do?
John: Ah, yes. So now read the rest of it. You are correct.
Craig: “Now after seven drafts he has sent back a new version of the screenplay to which he has added scenes without consulting me and has also added his name as a writer.” Oh, yeah. Well, that was pretty much the only way that story was going to go. “Is this as uncool as I think it is?”
“Do I have any redress?”
“He disappeared for three months prior to this and never sent notes. This short will be going into production this winter, coronavirus permitting.”
OK. Well, John.
John: Oh Ren. OK, so yes it’s uncool. Yes it’s so common that that’s why I can stop Craig in the middle of the question and ask him where he thought this was going. This happens all the time. And the director disappearing and showing back up again happens all the time.
If you had the time machine and could go back and at the start of this relationship had come to an agreement about sort of how this was going to work and written that down that would be great. But you have no time machine. All you have is your ability to say no right now. So to say all the feelings that you’re projecting at us you need to direct those feelings back to the director and explain clearly that this is not the arrangement we had. This is not the plan going into this. This is uncool what you are doing. I still want to make this short but I want to make this short as the writer and you as the director and that’s where we’re at.
If this director says, “No, I’m just not going to make this movie,” he’s not going to make the movie. So, who cares? He has not paid you any money. He doesn’t own anything. So hash it out with this director. Make the short if you want to make the short. Don’t make the short if you don’t want to make the short. You have the ability to say no and just don’t forget you have the ability to say no.
Craig: Correct. You wrote this thing. He, in rewriting it, has actually violated your copyright. He has created a derivative work without your permission. You wrote it. It’s yours.
So, now, that’s just so that you know that you have some actual leverage here. I think it’s fair for you to say we had an arrangement and whether or not you wish to work on this and you can, and by the way, I’m fine with you wanting to come and do some things on it, I don’t work on this initially for free and put in all the time to get you to this spot if I don’t know that I’m getting sole credit. This, that I did write, is copyright me. And you can’t make any derivative work from it. Any derivative work without my permission.
So if there’s no paper in place he can’t make it unless you allow him to make it. This is what you get when you don’t hire people and pay them. So, you have actually more leverage than you even realize and if he’s going to be a jerk about it it’s time to call up a lawyer.
John: Yeah. That said, this is a short film. We don’t know sort of what’s going to happen. So it may not be worth all of your time and energy and concern about this thing. He could go off and make something that’s kind of like your short and as maddening as that is it may not be worth pursuing if it’s not going to ever attract anyone’s attention. It’s just going to suck. Maybe you don’t want your name on it in the first place.
But if you feel like this is a good thing that you wrote that you feel like could become a good short, that could become a thing, yes, have this conversation and make it clear that you intend to protect your vision and your rights on this.
Craig: I reserve all rights.
Craig: I got that once. I was making a movie for Bob Weinstein.
John: Good stuff.
Craig: And we had a schedule. And we had, I don’t know, it was like 28 days to shoot a movie. And around day 14 he calls and says, “You don’t have 14 more days. You now have 10 more days. I’m taking four days out of your schedule.” And I was like, no, that’s crazy. That doesn’t even make sense and no. And he yelled at me and I was like but no.
And then he sent me an email an hour later that says, “As we discussed you will take four days out of the schedule. I reserve all rights.” [laughs] Anyway, I hit delete and did not take four days out of the schedule. What a jerk.
John: What a jerk.
Craig: And that’s the worst thing that anyone named Weinstein has ever done. Moving on. Next question.
John: James from Bristol asks, “I have a question about writing down pieces of dialogue you hear or which come up in conversation. I understand the urge to do it, to write down this great thing you heard so you don’t lose it, but I wonder do you guys ever actually use any of that? Do you not need to be mid writing a scene or movie which requires that specific exchange or something like it? Otherwise it just stays in the notebook unused and out of context? Or do you only write down things that apply to what you’re writing? How do you use this?” And Craig do you write down stuff that you overhear?
Craig: No. I think that that’s something that writers in movies do. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I’ve never just gone, ooh, that’s an interesting turn of phrase. Let me get my little writer notebook and put it in.
John: So Nora Ephron did it. And I remember reading in books about like how she would hear an exchange and she would write it down. But I think it was generally in context of something she was working on. So When Harry Met Sally her ears were just primed to hear that stuff. And when she would hear it she would do it. And to me the rare occasions where I’ve picked something out of an actual conversation and used it it’s been because I’m working on that thing and so therefore I was ready to hear it and use it and place it in there.
So I don’t know that it’s overall worthwhile to do.
Craig: Yeah. It feels like you’re risking you had to be there syndrome. Because, you know, oh my god I heard three people say the funniest thing. When you hear comedians rely exchanges they overheard I assure you that they have made those exchanges far more interesting and funny. Always. Everything needs to be buffed up and expanded.
Sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll hear people say things and I’ll go well there’s an interesting conversation. But I’m not writing down their actual words. I’ll do the words later in a way that is better. But the concept or the thought or reaction is something that I will note.
John: What I will write down or note or I’ll just take a note in my Notes App on my phone is if I hear somebody using a word in a way that I’ve never encountered before or they’re clearly pronouncing a word that they’ve never actually heard aloud and they’ve only read sometimes I’ll take a note of that. A weird bit of usage on something. I will take a note of that. But that’s not quite what is being asked here. Because it’s not like, oh, I can have that character say that thing. Almost never does that actually work.
Craig: Almost never. All right, let’s try this question from Joe. This is about copyright for a sequel. He says, “Recently I finished writing a spinoff to a major cult classic that examines the backstory of a particular character and his motivations for killing another character in the original film. I sent the script to a friend and mentor who works for the Black List and she thinks I have something special that fans would love to watch. Before reaching out to the producers with my logline and query letter she suggested I look into the copyright section that my project falls under with the Library of Congress.
“I tried doing this before emailing Scriptnotes but I haven’t had much luck getting a straight answer. My question is can I copyright a spinoff inspired by another film or is this the sort of red tape that producers would take care of in the event they really like my script? Also, do I need permission from the original writers to use their characters in my spinoff?”
John, what do you think about Joe’s question?
John: Great, so Joe what you’ve written is kind of fan fiction. You’ve taken something that existed and you’ve written a new thing that’s inspired by and derived from that initial piece of writing. You have copyright because you’ve written something and you have copyright on the things you’ve written, but you don’t have control of those underlying material. And so you couldn’t sell this thing to somebody and they couldn’t make it without getting the underlying rights to the initial cult classic film, assuming that it’s still under copyright which it probably is because it’s not pre-Mickey Mouse or something like that. So somebody owns the underlying rights to this thing and it’s not you.
So you still own the rights to the thing you’ve written, but not the stuff before then. So I don’t know, the friend who is telling you to go to the Library of Congress. You don’t need to go to the Library of Congress. Somebody owns those rights and you are not the person who owns those rights.
Still, what you’ve done is fine and good and is a really common thing for people to show their writing talent. And so you have to look at this thing that you’ve written as being hopefully a fantastic writing sample for yourself. Maybe the people who own these underlying rights will read this and say, “You know what? This is a great idea. We should buy this script and make this thing.” But likely that’s not going to happen and that’s OK.
Craig: Yeah. I’m a little curious why your friend did suggest you look into the copyright because that sort of implies that maybe it is old or maybe the original film is based on another property that might be out of copyright, like a book.
John: Oh, that’s possible.
Craig: Like Sherlock Holmes, old Sherlock Holmes stories are not under copyright, but there are plenty of movies that if you borrowed from based on those things you would be violating the movie copyright. It’s complicated. But I think John has given you the best answer which is if you’ve written it and it’s good you should get it out there. And people will read it. You don’t need permission to write something like that. What you need permission is to exploit it.
So, you can’t make money off of it. You can’t exhibit it without permission. But if you want to sit in your house and write something like that, no problem.
John: Sara writes, “I just sold a show after pitching it to an executive I’d met in a general meeting. Now that the show has sold my manager is expressing interest in attaching himself as a producer on the project.”
Craig: Oh great.
John: “I can’t help but feel bad packaging fee vibes from this and I wondered how is a manager coming on to produce a client’s film or series helpful for the client?”
John: “I’m not sure he’d be added to the project in any way, creative or otherwise.”
John: “Other than how he already was which is as my representative, representing my best interests.”
John: “Should I let him produce my show?”
Craig: Oh, Sara, what a bunch of silly questions. No, no, no, no. It’s very important that you let the producer be the producer even though he’s your manager because it’ll make him feel better and he’ll get more money out of it. Ugh. [laughs]
You’re asking questions that you already know the answer to Sara because you’re smart and you’re insightful. The reason you feel bad packaging fee vibes from this is because it is exactly bad packaging fee vibes. In short the manager is no longer representing you. The manager is now being paid by the financier of the project. The manager’s responsibility is to that financier. In fact the manager as the producer has seniority over you. And a permanency that you don’t have because at some point if the studio says we don’t think Sara is getting it done then your manager as the producer will say, “Let me go break it to her that we’re firing her. And then let me go hire somebody else.”
And for what? So that you don’t pay 10 percent? Pay the 10 percent. And then they will represent you as you point out. But this is the problem. This is the problem.
John: So Craig and I have never had managers.
Craig: Oh, I have.
John: We have many friends who do have managers. And what they will tell you, so Malcolm Spellman would tell you, or Justin Marks would tell you, or other friends who have managers is that managers can add value and they can be helpful to your career in terms of introductions and giving you notes on things and sort of helping you do your best work. And some of them enjoy having their managers come on as producers because they feel like they’re protecting the writer in this part of this process. There’s somebody who is there on set defending the writer.
Maybe that’s the situation. But Sara that doesn’t sound like you feel that way from this manager that this person is really going to help you. So you’re not going to find any sympathy from me and Craig for this manager in this situation. I think, again, you have the ability to say, “No, I’m not comfortable with this.” And if the manager says, “Well, this is what I want,” then you’re going to maybe find a different manager–
Craig: What a great time to fire them. Yeah.
John: Yeah. It doesn’t feel like a good relationship to me.
Craig: No. No. And if they’re saying that, the manager is expressing interest you say in attaching himself as a producer on the project. The manager is expressing interest in making more money. That’s what the manager is expressing interest in. More money. Please, more money. Well, I want their money to be attached to my money. The more money I make the more money he’ll make. So, I don’t need the manager decoupling himself.
John: Craig, you’re so old fashioned. So old fashioned.
Craig: I know.
John: This is just for you, Craig. Will wrote in. He said, “Hey Craig, have you ever been interested in cryptic crossword puzzles? I’m an American with a British parent so I’ve had enough exposure to both, A, know about them, and B, get some of the more obscure cultural references that the clues often require. I was just curious to hear your perspective on them as someone who is a much more serious puzzler but probably has less grounding in British culture and slang. Are they delightful, crunchy, or obscure and aggravating?”
Craig: A cryptic crossword. What is a – oh yeah, that’s that thing I do every day. I love cryptic crosswords. In fact, I’ve stopped doing regular crossword puzzles.
John: Explain it, Craig. I don’t know what you’re talking about at all.
Craig: Sure. So what we call cryptic crosswords in the US are what the British call crosswords. And they work in a very different way than our crosswords. Our crosswords generally speaking there is a straightforward clue like President blank Clinton. It’s Bill. And you fill it in and they all intersect. And you fill in those things. And sometimes we’ll have themed crosswords puzzles. The New York Times most of their puzzles throughout the week except for Friday and Saturday have a theme where there’s like a little gimmick going on or something like that.
But cryptic crossword puzzles have a very different structure. First of all they rarely feature that kind of rotational symmetry that an American crossword puzzle has where if you turn the grid at 90 degrees or 180 it will always look the same. And secondly the clues work in a very different manner. The clues are basically divided up in two parts. There’s like an imaginary line somewhere in the clue. And on one side of that imaginary line is a definition of the answer. And on the other side of the imaginary line is some word play that will lead you to the answer.
And so I’m just look in – this is the example that they use in Wikipedia. Here is a cryptic clue. Very sad, unfinished story about rising smoke. Eight letters. Well, how does that work? So the definition in that case is very sad. And you have to figure it out. You don’t know if the definition is very or very sad, or rising smoke, or smoke. So the definition there is very sad. Well, OK, well I don’t know what the answer to very sad is. It could be a lot of things. Let’s look at the other side of that clue. Unfinished story about rising smoke. Well an unfinished story, a story is a tale. Unfinished means don’t use the last letter. Just take TAL. Rising smoke, well one kind of smoke is a cigar. So in that case smoke is a noun. Rising is a hint that it’s going backwards. Cigar backwards is RAGIC. And then about – so the unfinished story about rising smoke means take that TAL and put it around the backwards cigar and what you end up with is TRAGICAL.
Now, you can see why I love these things. There are so many conventions to these things. There are anagrams. There’s backwards. There’s taking odd letters. There’s letters that are hidden in between words, like bridging across spaces. It is so complicated.
And then you get into the deep, deep world of like the great Mark Halpin and his cryptic crosswords that do things like in every single clue not only is this clue really, really hard but also there’s an extra two letters in it that don’t belong there. What are those two? Pull them out and do another thing with those. Oh, it’s so deep nerd. It’s so wonderful.
Anyway, Will, the long answer to this could have just been substituted with a yes.
John: Craig has never heard of them. He has no interest in them at all.
Craig: Now, British culture and slang is really rough. So there’s the hardest, generally speaking what people consider the hardest routinely published cryptic crossword is one done by The Listener which is a UK publication. It is so, so hard. I consider myself to be I’ll say very good at cryptics. I can do very difficult cryptics. That one is just one notch above my head. I just can’t get there. And part of it is because it’s so difficult and the vocabulary is so obscure. And part of it is because a lot of it is sometimes grounded in British culture and slang that I don’t know.
But long story short everybody should do cryptic crosswords. Everybody should do them.
John: Oh my god, no way will I ever do cryptic crosswords.
Craig: You will.
John: What you described is just exactly what I do not want to spend my time doing.
Craig: Really? That’s the only thing I want to do. That’s literally all I want to do. David Kwong and I–
John: This and D&D. If you could combine D&D and this Craig would be in heaven.
Craig: Yes. David Kwong and I will occasionally just create cryptic clues for words. Chris Miller also a big cryptic guy. It’s just fun. It’s fun making them if you’re a dork like me.
John: Matthew as you edit this episode make sure to emphasize my sighs of disbelief and frustration.
Craig: I want to make a cryptic clue for your name. It’s going to be great.
John: Excellent. Cannot wait. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is actually podcast related. It is a program, a system called Descript. I’d heard about it before and they just came out with a new thing and a great video that sort of talks you through what it can do. It is magic in a way that is sort of scary.
So, for a podcast for example Craig and I are recording our audio separately. Matthew joins the two pieces together. But he does it all in a very traditional nonlinear editor. He’s cutting the audio together. And what we’re saying he’s just hearing as sound waves. So he’s just cutting sound waves together. Descript works differently. So if we feed this into Descript, and I’ve done this because I’ve tried it, Craig and I show up as text. And so it is transcribing what we’re saying as text and then you can edit it as text, just like you would edit it in Word or Highland, and edit the text. And then it goes through and it cuts the audio for you to match the written text.
It is crazy. And that was already kind of existing and there was a version of that. They’ve just now added video so you can do the same thing for video and edit the video just as text which seems impossible yet still works.
But the spookiest new feature I saw here which would be so useful but so terrifying potentially is it can also not only cut stuff out, it can generate words. Basically it will listen to – it will build up a voice based on the recordings it has of somebody and so if I said six in the podcast but I really should have said seven I can just highlight six and type seven and it will create my voice saying seven in that moment and match the pitch and tone for where I was.
It is remarkable. And it will change a lot of things. For something like Scriptnotes it’s probably not exactly practical. But for the Launch podcast I did about the Launch of Arlo Finch that was a fully written out scripted podcast and it would have been amazing to edit that show in something like Descript.
So, just check it out. We’ll have a link in the show notes to it. It is spooky what they’re able to do.
Craig: Wow. Great name for that, too. I like that, Descript. Descriptnotes. That’s the podcast about Descript.
Craig: My One Cool Thing is a new book that’s put out by Dungeons & Dragons, the fine people at Wizards of the Coast. And it is written in part by a friend of mine who is also one of the party members in a game I play each week. A D&D game I play each week. And it’s called Heroes Feast. It is the official Dungeons & Dragons Cookbook.
John: I love it.
Craig: And it’s lovely. It’s adorable. It lives entirely within the kind of vibe of D&D. All the recipes kind of roughly map to various D&D races and classes. You know, elves I guess are veggie and dwarves like meat. You know, stuff like that. I don’t know where they come up with these things. But the point is it’s adorable. It’s adorable. It’s a great kind of gift. I mean, we’re approaching Christmas and it does seem like, OK, well if I’m married to a nerd or my boyfriend or girlfriend is a dork and they also like to cook – or maybe they just don’t and I need to buy them something cute. I mean, this thing is really adorable.
And I haven’t tried any of the recipes but I did look through them. They actually look pretty good. So if you are interested in things like Drow mushroom steaks, or Chultan’s Zombie, Yawning Portal biscuits, well, they’ve got them.
John: I’ve adventured in Yawning Portal. I believe he could sell me some pretty good biscuits.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: I’ll tell you, just because it’s short, the recipe for the Mind Flayer which is a vodka drink involves peeled ginger, sugar, lime juice, grape juice concentrate, vodka, and ice. And grapes. So, sure, it sounds like a spicy grapey vodka drink.
Craig: And the blood of an illithid who approaches you slowly, grapples you – grapples you – and then sucks your brain out.
John: Yeah. The ginger does feel like the spiky parts of the tentacles wrapping around your brain.
Craig: Wrapping around your brain. Oh yeah. You guys are going to be doing some illithid pretty soon, my friend. It’s coming. Just so you know, so the game that I DM that John is in I also play in but at a much deeper level of the dungeon, so I don’t know what’s coming because I haven’t gotten there as a DM. And I died again. It’s the second time I died.
Well, I mean, it gets serious. It gets serious. So, third character coming up. Pretty cool. I like this guy. War Forged Cleric of Light.
John: Love it.
John: It’s always good to try some new things. I have a backup character anticipating when my cult leader sorcerer dies.
Craig: Yeah, it’s probably inevitable.
John: It’ll be fun.
Craig: Like I said, it’s one of those dungeons. Well that was fun.
John: That’s our show for this week. So Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Matthew also did our outro this week which is phenomenal and inspired our bonus segment.
If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For short questions, on Twitter Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.
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And, Craig, thank you for a fun show.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Another excellent outro by Matthew Chilelli. And it is almost Halloween so Craig let’s talk about scary movies. Do you like scary movies? I don’t even know if you do.
Craig: I don’t like them as much as some people. There are some that I like and I respect highly. I don’t go seeking them. My daughter is obsessed. Obsessed with scary movies and has watched, I think, all of them.
John: Yeah. So I fall into your camp where I definitely appreciate scary movies and I think there’s an artistry there and I totally admire some of them, and some of them I greatly enjoy, but I don’t seek them out very often.
And I guess I put them into a couple different buckets. There’s the slasher movie that is not actually scary but just sort of gory. There’s that variety and I don’t particularly care for it. There are thrillers. There’s Silence of the Lambs. Things that are incredibly scary but they’re not sort of supernatural. But those supernatural horror movies, those are the ones that I find so troubling and disturbing that I just really have a hard time watching. All the way going back to like the Amityville Horror would show on TV sometimes and I would have to have the remote in hand just so I could flip to a different channel because it would be so terrifying to me.
Hereditary was the same kind of movie for me in that I had to just watch it in little installments and just walk away because it overwhelmed me.
Craig: Yeah. I’m kind of with you on that. The Exorcist absolutely screwed me up. It screwed me up. I saw The Exorcist when I was 12. Obviously I was sneaking it in. And absolutely traumatized me. Traumatized me. Only now am I at the point where I can watch it and not feel stuff, like feel terrible dread in my mind and in my chest. But it absolutely scrambled me. And that’s so much more scary. The jump scare stuff, that’s not scaring me, that’s just startling.
And I don’t really care about the slasher ones. Like I think slasher stuff, it bores me. I’ll be honest with you. I just get bored by watching a guy walk around and stab people. Because I don’t care. I just don’t.
But the things that prey on basic – well we’ll just call them like Jungian themes like the innocence of childhood. Like I remember when I read Pet Sematary. I was terrified by that book. Terrified.
John: Yeah. So I’m trying to say this in a non-judgy way, but when I see people who are like obsessed with horror movies, especially really supernatural scary, scary movies to me I equate that with people who keep having to add more and more hot sauce to their food. Where something about how they’re wired, they need to get the most frightened possible. Like normal thresholds of things won’t work for them. And I just don’t feel that. Like I just need a little heat and I’m good. I don’t need to sort of go deep into that.
And the times where I’ve written scary stuff I will genuinely scare myself. It gives you an appreciation for sort of like how difficult a jump scare can really be to execute and how the misdirect that’s required for that. So full appreciation for the craft behind it. It’s just not a thing I sort of willingly go into to experience too often.
Here’s an example. So Mike and Amy they had gone to Ohio to visit family. This is years ago. And I went to the Mann Chinese Theater, like the six-pack theater there, and there was a scary movie that I wanted to see that people were liking a lot. I don’t remember the title of it. And so it was like an eight o’clock show. I go there by myself. I’m watching this movie and then I’m about 20 minutes into it I realize like I am really scared and I’m going to have to drive home and sleep in an empty house tonight. And this is not going to be good so I got up and I left and I drove home. Because I recognized that I’m going to freak myself out way too much watching this movie. Like those things get in my head in ways that other stuff can’t.
Craig: Well obviously the manufacturers that constructed you failed to kind of prevent against this one little bit. Clearly this is violating some circuit protocol. I mean, you should be immune to this sort of thing. I’m confused.
John: Yeah. What was the last movie that really scared you? Like the last new movie that wasn’t The Exorcist?
John: Hereditary for me, too. Midsommar I guess I “liked” Midsommar. I thought it was sort of overwhelming, but it’s not scary in that way. It’s incredibly disturbing not actually scary. Whereas Hereditary I just have no idea what’s going to happen next and I was terrified for the people involved at every moment.
Craig: Right. It just – yeah. There is an intelligence behind it. So, The Exorcist and Hereditary in that zone what ends up happening is it’s not really about anything supernatural at all. The presence of a demon in The Exorcist, I mean, we don’t even see the demon. We see a statue briefly and then of course the famous glimpse of a face. But it’s instead about the way our actual nightmares work, which is taking things that we are incredibly familiar with and perverting them. It’s just a perversion. It’s something that is sweet and beautiful turning into something that is terrible and degraded and disgusting. That’s the part that always gets to me. I struggle.
John: Yeah. Even the clichés of like the children singing a nursery rhyme. The fact that that becomes a cliché is because it is that perversion of something that is so innocent and should be happy and it’s like, oh no, this is going to be terrible. Like I can’t watch The Conjuring or Annabelle or any of those kind of things, but it’s the same type of situation where you’re going into that dark basement where that toy is and that toy will be your undoing.
Craig: Yeah. In Pet Sematary, I mean, this is why Pet Sematary is so remarkable and why Stephen King is so incredible. The concept is so simple and so direct to our lizard brain and yet only he was willing to freaking do it. What is worse than a child dying? Not just a child, but a toddler. A sweet five-year-old boy dying violently, getting hit by a truck. And then you in your grief try to bring him back to life. And what he comes back as is horrifying and is evil.
That goes right into something so primal and terrifying to me. Ugh. Blech. So like the stuff where Freddy walks around and quips – the quipping ones are the most amusing. Yes. I don’t care about those.
John: Many horror movies do cross over into actual they are a comedy reflection of the original horror movie. And so they’re no longer fully scary movies. And then we reached with Scream and everything that sort of came after Scream that the meta recognition of horror. And the original Scream was actually genuinely scary to me. Jump scares but also the initial Drew Barrymore scene. That sense of like, oh, this person is aware of the clichés and the tropes and is using those tropes to kill me was its own unique new thing.
John: But that’s still a slasher movie. And the supernatural horror is the thing that I can’t stand.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, I appreciate it. You know, I appreciate it when it’s well done. And a lot of people thought that there were things in Chernobyl that were really scary. And I didn’t really intend for anything to be scary.
John: Well here’s what scary about Chernobyl to me is when the guys are wearing the suits and they’re sludging through the water. That’s very classically Aliens scary where you’re in a place of darkness. There’s water. You can’t see clearly. And those are primal fears. That fear of not just drowning but suffocating and something coming out of that darkness at you. I can understand why that part was scary.
The other stuff was more disturbing than anything else, because there wasn’t immediate stakes. And that moment had incredible immediate stakes.
Craig: Well I guess what I was going for was anxiety. That’s what I wanted people to feel was anxious. And I suppose scared and anxious are twins.
Craig: Kissing cousins. Yeah.
John: They are. Yeah. Kissing is scary.
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