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 477 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show it’s another round of the Three Page Challenge where we take a look at the first three pages of listeners’ scripts and offer our honest feedback. Now, Craig, last week we had Scott Frank on the show and we looked at the first two pages of his script and I think we helped him.
Craig: Well, they were garbage. And he has huge problems. The “we see” just right off the bat.
John: Yeah. So hopefully we won’t see any “we sees” in the three pages we’re going to look at, but maybe we’ll find some other things that we can help these writers with.
Craig: I just hope that, and I can’t imagine how, these writers won’t be vastly better.
John: It’s hard to be worse than Scott Frank.
Craig: Scott Mediocre Frank. [laughs]
John: We also have important updates on Uno, Wonder Woman, and whatever is happening with the agencies.
John: And in our bonus segment for Premium members Craig I want to springboard off the new autobiographies we’ve gotten from Barack Obama and Rachel Bloom to talk about autobiography as a form and what we take from it and what we would do with our own autobiographies were we to write them.
Craig: I imagine that Rachel Bloom has just listened to you say that and is doing a little dance. Because Barack Obama and Rachel Bloom.
John: I mean, I think it’s awesome that Rachel’s book is out, but also if you’re going to pick a week to release your book maybe not with the incredibly popular former President of the United States. I don’t know.
Craig: You know what? I feel like there’s a solid overlap and yet also the people that like Barack Obama and like Rachel Bloom also have the capacity to absorb two autobiographies. I mean, she’s going to be fine.
John: I bought both.
Craig: There you go. Et voila.
John: Et voila.
Craig: Et voila.
John: All right, there was some other important news happening this week. Wonder Woman 1984 is going to be released on Christmas Day, both in theaters and for free on HBO Max. So basically it’s not a premium upgrade on HBO Max. I think this was the right choice. It was kind of inevitable. I’m sad not to see Wonder Woman in theaters because I saw the first Wonder Woman when I was living in France. I saw it twice in cinemas. It’s the only movie I saw twice in cinemas while I was there.
Craig: Le cinema.
John: But I love it. But I’m also really looking forward to seeing it on Christmas Day.
Craig: This is I think going to be looked at in the history of movies as a thing. It’s actually a thing. Like the first PG-13 movie I think was Red Dawn. I think it was Red Dawn.
Craig: Widely released one. And so, anyway, this feels like a thing because I don’t know how we get back from this. I don’t know, given the way that this is all proceeding. It’s not that somehow theaters are going to be endlessly drenched in Covid. Hopefully we all get that vaccine and we return back to life. It’s just that once you let this toothpaste out of the tube it’s hard to put back in.
John: Yeah. So my counter example to that would be Aladdin. So, Aladdin made $1 billion worldwide in theaters before it had its huge life on video. And so I do think that there are going to be some movies where – and Disney which is putting some stuff on streaming. It’s definitely not putting the Marvel movies on streaming because they know how much money they can make in theaters. I do think there’s going to be some movies that it’ll still be worthwhile for studios to say, “You know what, even to support our streaming service, even to do the pay-per-view at home, we’re going to make more money getting it in those theaters.”
But for some movies, I don’t know.
Craig: Well, the economics is kind of fascinating. So a movie like Aladdin that makes $1 billion all across the world still has this massive marketing budget that has to be deducted against that. And they just don’t have that budget or need it when they’re putting it on their service. It’s just much easier to sort of self-advertise.
And, of course, they’re not splitting a dime when they’re on streaming with exhibitors, whereas they – I mean, how much of that $1 billion was earned in China, for instance?
John: Yeah. A big chunk of it.
Craig: Well, of that big chunk Disney probably got about 20%.
Craig: So that’s the real interesting thing. How do you make more money with Aladdin? By the old method or do you put it on Disney+ but say, OK, this is Disney++. If you want Aladdin you just have to give us $3.
Craig: I think they might make more weirdly that way.
John: And yet though big theatrical releases and the marketing you do for those big theatrical releases also feed toys and feed a lot of other stuff that’s sort of knock-on value added stuff. So if Aladdin had just debuted on streaming the way Mulan did I don’t think you would have sold the toys that I think Aladdin probably did. I don’t know how many toys Aladdin sold, but it doesn’t have the chance to sort of become the big thing.
You know, Frozen, if Frozen had just debuted on Disney+ back in those days would we have all the Anna and Elsa merchandise that we have now? I kind of don’t think we would have.
Craig: I disagree.
Craig: Yeah. I think we would. It’s just different. That’s the thing. It’s just different. It’s weird. The movie business has always been this strange marriage between two people who think the other one needs them more. And I think – look, this was the thing we talked about 100 times because everybody would always predict it every year based on nonsense. But then this rather world-changing event occurred and it occurred exactly when every studio was building their own Netflix killer. And so this interesting concordance is in front of us now historically. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how – I think that certainly if the theatrical business comes back it’s going to look a whole lot different. That much I think everybody pretty much agrees on.
John: Yeah. So obviously there’s a couple other big movies that we’re curious what’s going to happen to them next. So, 007 No Time to Die was supposed to come out right as the pandemic launched. Apparently there have been discussions with Apple or other places to sort of takeover that and put it out there in the world. It’s interesting because with Wonder Woman 1984 that’s Warners. There’s HBO Max. It’s a really natural fit there and will help drive HBO Max. There’s a good synergy there. With something like No Time to Die there’s no partner studio that is the right place to send it to streaming. So it’s all complicated.
Dune apparently is pushed back a whole year. It’s tough. But I think more things are going to probably go on streaming just because even in the best case scenario where a vaccines get distributed widely I don’t even think our normal summer season is realistic.
Craig: Yeah. It just doesn’t seem possible, because there’s going to be a bit of a trust gap. No one reasonable wants to be the first person back in the place that might kill them. So, there will be a little bit of a – I think you might see Christmas. I could see that being – Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2021 could be a thing.
John: Could be.
John: All right. Let’s get to some follow up. We talked previously about the PayUpHollywood survey that they were surveying people who work in assistant kind of jobs in our industry. That survey is now up and it is now live, so there will be a link in the show notes for that. So a reminder that if you are working in one of those positions it would be great if you could take the survey so we know how you’re working, what you’re being paid, what your conditions are because even in this crazy time there’s going to be progress that needs to get made. And so we can see what has happened and where people are at right now. So please click that link in the show notes if you are a person who works in those assistant kind of jobs in the industry.
One of the places you might be working in that assistant-y kind of job is at an agency. And there was some agency news this past week. I don’t even know where to begin. I guess we should start with a recap of where we were at the last time through this.
John: So where we were at last time, Craig, help me out. We were down to two final agencies who had not signed the WGA deal.
Craig: Yeah. UTA and ICM were the two agencies of the big four agencies that had been holding out and suing and all the rest of it. And also they were two of the four remaining agencies that packaged, I think, yeah, both of them. And UTA and ICM, the only real significant difference between those two and CAA and WME is that UTA and ICM didn’t really have functional or significant production entities that they controlled as well.
John: Yeah. UTA’s was small.
John: Below the 20% cap.
Craig: Exactly. Of ownership that they were allowed to have in it. So UTA and ICM signed the agreement with the Writers Guild and the basic run of it was that they’re going to stop packaging over the course of what is it a year and a half or something or two years?
Craig: Yup. And so in a year and a half or two years they will be completely out of the packaging business and as a result of saying we’re going to do that. Plus also some things like we’ll share some information with the guild, all that other stuff. And so the guild said, “Great. Welcome back. If you want to be represented by UTA or ICM as a WGA member you may.”
And then, you know, the expectation was that CAA and William Morris Endeavor would kind of do the same quickly thereafter. It seems like they want to.
John: Well actually an important step was that CAA said like, oh, we did sign. And so they signed a copy. They basically the ICM agreement and then sent it through but they actually changed stuff on it so it became this weird back and forth. It was clear that they were basically taking all of the existing deal but that the question of how they spin down their production entity was really at issue.
Craig: Yeah. And this is the part that is just frustrating for me, looking at this from the outside. Because what it seems like – and this is where I have a question for you – because we’re dealing with – again, there are hundreds and hundreds of WGA members who had agents at CAA and WME who would like to go back and have their agents back. And CAA and WME as far as I can tell are both saying, “We agree to everything. We agree that we won’t package anymore. And we will divest down from these companies so we’re under the 20% cap.”
And what I think the Writers Guild is saying back to them is, “Great. But you have to actually get under the 20% now before we let you do this again.” And they’re grousing about how that’s complicated and so on and so forth. And this is why this rambles on. And I guess my question is–
John: I don’t think that’s accurate.
Craig: Tell me what is going on.
John: So, what happened this past week was that CAA announced that they have put all their production entities into a blind trust and therefore they believe that met the requirements of what needed to happen. And “you have to let us sign this deal.” And then put in a new lawsuit saying WGA is not allowing us to sign this thing and it’s unfair competition. They complained about Range Media and UTA also in that complaint.
The last statement that the WGA put out about this whole thing in terms of getting below the 20% cap is saying we have to understand what your corporate structure is so we can see what’s actually realistic about sort of the process of getting you down to that 20%. So, I don’t there, as I recall, I don’t think a line has been stated that you have to have sold it already in order to sign the deal. I don’t think that has been said.
Craig: So I guess my question is if we are allowing UTA and ICM and by extension CAA and WME to have up to a year and a half or two years to extract themselves from the packaging business, at which point one presumes we review and see if they have or haven’t, why can’t we do the same thing about this other stuff?
John: I think what you’re seeing communication from the WGA is that we need to know that we can actually audit that thing. And so I think the questions really come down to, and the things that you and I both were hoping that lawyers were figuring out in rooms, is basically how do we do this audit. What does it look like? How do we actually know?
Craig: May I ask a question? How is it possible, this is why I get a little grumpy sometimes, how is it possible that this effort that we began two years ago or something hinges on a point that apparently we have yet to figure out how we want to do? That is very confusing to me.
John: Oh, aren’t all negotiations down to sort of those final details? Well how are you actually going to assess this?
Craig: No. No. I mean, in the sense that if you know that one of the things that we require the agencies to do is convince us through some sort of auditing or observation process that they have indeed divested from a company, how are we only – I mean, wouldn’t we have already been sort of putting together a method of what would be acceptable to us? I just don’t understand how we – once they agreed to it how then on our side we were like, “Well OK but how will we know?” Shouldn’t we have already known that? Because I know that we hired a lawyer to kind of figure it out now.
John: So, I want to answer the question but I also want to take a step back because I feel like it also relates to kind of the election situation that we find ourselves in right now. I think what you and I are both frustrated by in some of this is a lack of clarity and transparency in term so what actually is happening here. Because especially with this new lawsuit that happened this last week there was a lot of sort of he said/she said about what actually happened in this negotiation.
When I was living in France I got to be there for the presidential election. I went with my friends and watched them vote. And it was really different and really cool how they do it. So you walk in, you sign in to show that you are a person who lives there, and then there are two stacks of little ballots and each is printed with one candidate’s name. You take one from each stack and an envelope and then you go into a little curtained area and then you put the name of the candidate you want in the envelope and seal the envelope. And then you crumple up the other one and stick it in your pocket or whatever. And then you put this sealed ballot into this clear plastic box and everyone can see the clear plastic box.
When the election is over, when the voting concludes, they unlock the box and everybody watches as the two things are neatly stacked up. You can see who has more ballots. You actually count them. You can visually see what happened. I loved how transparent that was. And my frustration is that this process – I guess I saw some of that ballot counting happening in the live streams that are happening.
John: My frustration is that I see some of these Zooms and I kind of wish that everyone could just see these incredibly boring Zooms where they’re talking through this minutia because it would be so edifying to see sort of what is actually being discussed. Because it is this really – this stuff that is important but it’s trivial and it’s also just you want them to get over it. I think you often express how you just wish you could lock people in a room and get them to resolve the thing.
John: I kind of lock people in Zoom and just get this resolved.
Craig: I’m with you on that. And I have no doubt that it’s always the case that actually creating binding agreements between large entities is difficult and challenging. What I guess I remain confused by and grumpy about is the fact that something – generally if you go into a negotiation and you’re looking to win something you ought to understand how that victory should look and feel. Meaning you ought to be able to go in – if we go in and negotiate with the AMPTP and we say, “We want a new system whereby we share copyright. We are employees but also then we share copyright and there’s royalties. A very complicated thing we’re asking.” And oh my god, the companies say, “Fine, OK.” At that point we’re really not entitled to say, “Well, OK, but we need time to figure out how.”
Like you have to know how if you’re asking for something. And this is something that is just confusing to me. That once the companies said, “OK, we’ll divest from these production entities,” we should have said, “Great, here’s our 40-page instruction manual on what we demand.” Now, we can negotiate about that 40 pages.
John: I do think more of that has happened – and again I think with big public transparency you might have been able to see a little bit more of that, but I think that 40-page document kind of does exist.
Craig: Well it exists now. But didn’t you hire a guy – you, I mean the guild – didn’t we hire a guy really recently to help us figure this out?
John: I think one of the things that’s complicated is who is CAA and who is WME. Who owns them? And what does the ownership actually look like? Which was the thing we were asking for. And so even in putting CAA’s production entity into a blind trust, well, OK, but what’s to stop the same people who own CAA from just buying that thing out of the blind trust? It’s complicated. And so those are the things that do need to be figured out.
Craig: I agree. But those were facts when we began. I guess that’s really what I’m coming down to is this. It is confusing to me that we’re just now getting around to telling them how our victory should look. Because in all seriousness while it’s going to be a victory eventually it’s just making this drag out longer. That’s what my annoyance is. That when David Young or David Goodman or whoever it was went on and said, “Well this is incredibly complicated. We are hiring an attorney now to help us figure out how we can make sure you guys are comporting with what we want,” I’m like, now? We’re hiring them now? OK.
John: To be fair, you could say that the guild is dragging this out, but when CAA or WME doesn’t get back to you with the actual things you’re asking for that help you figure out what needs to be in this contract that’s slowing things down too.
Craig: Well, yeah, but I’m not a member of CAA’s governing board. I’m a member of the Writers Guild. So my whole thing is like, OK, I can only “control” what my side does because I have a vote on my side. I don’t have a vote at CAA. I can’t. I mean, you know, I can yell at them. I can say what the F, guys. Look, the fact that all of them, UTA and ICM basically just held their breath and then eventually stopped holding their breath and CAA and WME are still holding their breath. Although I will say at least in their defense they want to stop holding their breath and they keep trying to stop and then we keep saying, “Well not quite yet because we’re not sure how you can stop holding your breath.”
And so really I’m a voting member of the Writers Guild. So this is me talking to I guess the leadership as a member saying like, “Hey, the next time we do this we should probably know ahead of time what the actual terms of surrender are when the other generals come into the room and say we surrender.” That is my minor criticism.
John: The Deadline headline for this will of course be, “Craig insists on another action against the agencies.”
Craig: Oh, it is? [laughs] I mean, that would be kind of fun. You can’t stop Deadline. That much we have learned. Hopefully they, as always, print everything we just said. They’ll leave this part out.
John: That’s the goal.
Craig: They’re always, oh, speaking of Deadline by the way, huge news. Huge. There is going to be a Uno Game Show.
John: I’m so excited about it.
Craig: We’ve done it again.
John: So we will link to the Deadline article about this. So thank you to everyone who sent this immediately because obviously we talked previously about how we need a new placeholder–
Craig: They’re killing us.
John: For the generic movie that is based on IP.
Craig: They’re chasing us now, right? Like we said Slinky, they were like, fine, we’ll do it. And then we’re like, OK, they took Slinky. Uno. No, we’ll take that too. What’s next?
John: Yeah. To be fair, the Uno is actually a game show rather than a movie, so it takes out of movie contention. It makes much more sense as a game show because it is a game.
Craig: It’s a game.
John: Yeah, it’s a game.
Craig: They’re not doing like you enter the domain of a multi-colored world where blah – no, it’s a game show. But at this point now I’m tempted to say the flushed toilet is the new thing. That when they finally come around and say we’re making the Flushed Toilet, we’re actually delving into the cinematic universe of the Flushed Toilet IP.
John: How about Mr. Clean? Mr. Clean feels like a character who could be exploited. I mean, he’s bald. He seems kind of like a genie but kind of like a plumber. I don’t know what his deal is.
Craig: He’s got an earring, right?
John: He’s got an earring, so he’s lived a life of adventure.
Craig: Yeah, something is going on. Sure, he loves bleach. We know that. Like Mr. Clean certainly could be a serial killer.
John: Yeah. I mean, he clearly has a goal. He has an objective. He wants to clean things. But what is it about his backstory that is leading him to this need to clean?
Craig: And is it cleaning or scouring? I mean, he really – it’s like a chemical burning away of sins. And also suspiciously in great shape for an older man.
John: 100%. I really agree. Because there’s a Yul Brynner. He’s like a jacked Yul Brynner.
Craig: Yeah. Like is he juicing? Is he even a human? What is he and why is he here and why is he dumping freaking poison all over everything?
John: I feel like the Scrubbing Bubbles could be a cute – I mean, the merch on the Scrubbing Bubbles is great.
Craig: Scrubbing Bubbles are like the things that we think are the heroes because they’re adorable and then you realize that, oh my god, Mr. Clean was the hero all along. He’s the only thing between us and the bubbles.
John: Well, I mean, the question is like the Scrubbing Bubbles they seem kind of like minions in the sense that they’re cute but they could do evil.
John: But there’s also a Gremlins quality. Like, you know, they’re helpful until they are incredibly dangerous.
Craig: Until the bubbles start happening. You know? And then those little eyes. Scrubbing Bubbles. Oh my god. What a brilliant thought.
John: Yeah. I’m excited. So, I’m going to pitch maybe the Mr. Clean movie is really where we’re at next because that’s even less, you know, it’s a character. I don’t know.
Craig: I don’t know owns the company that owns Mr. Clean but I’m just go out on a limb and say Unilever.
John: Unilever or SC Johnson Wax or those kind of things.
Craig: There you go. So like they should create what I think these corporations now call a content division. And it’s just Mr. Clean. Yeah, well we had a president who wanted us to all inject Mr. Clean. So what do you know? It could work.
John: It could work.
Craig: It could work.
John: Let’s get to our Three Page Challenges. We have three new entries in the Three Page Challenge. So if you are just joining us for the first time and you’ve never gone through a Three Page Challenge what we do is we ask our listeners if they want to send in the first three pages of their script, could be a TV script, could be a feature, to us and we will take a look at them and give some honest feedback on what we’re seeing here.
So Megana’s inbox gets overflowing with these. You don’t send them to email@example.com. Instead what you do is you go to johnaugust.com/threepage and there’s an entry form there. And you fill out your information and you send it through. So, Megana and sometimes other folks help cull through these and find interesting ones. Not always like the best things that we read but the things that are most interesting and most applicable to our listenership. So this time we have three new entries here.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in, but especially these three people for letting us talk about their things on the air. Again, everyone is doing this voluntarily. This is for fun. This is not for profit or for–
Craig: Well, I’m not profiting, but I’m pretty sure you are.
John: Somehow. Somehow we’re all profiting.
Craig: Except for me. I just want to, again, be clear. I get nothing.
John: Let’s start with RPG, a role-playing game. So, Craig, do you want to read us a description of this if people don’t have it in front of them?
Craig: Of course. So we’ve got three pages here entitled RPG written by Michael Seminerio. We cut between scenes of a funeral and a dungeon as a boy’s voice over describes being trapped in darkness, finding a light, and then having the light turn on you to become your enemy. Funeral scenes take place in the Everglades and follow Miccosukee tribe members as they lower a coffin and send a float into the water. We pay particular attention to David, 12 years old, who does not sing along during the ceremony. The dungeon scenes follow a hooded figure who tries to light a torch before the fire from the torch chases him out of the cave.
Finally we arrive at a mobile home where David sits under a makeshift cave of bed sheets with a few other boys we saw during the funeral scene.
John, you and I not only enjoy playing an RPG but we were playing one last night.
John: We were.
Craig: So this seems super apt.
John: Yeah. I’m a little bit sleepy just because of that, because we went late.
Craig: You’re sleepy?
John: Ha, yeah. I saw you tweeting at like 2:45am.
Craig: Because Chris Morgan and I just stayed up yacking for a while. So, yeah, I’m like guhhh.
John: All right. So we call it a Three Page Challenge but sometimes people have a dedication page before those three pages and this a script that has a dedication page. Right after the title page is a note to the reader saying that this story takes place in 1989. It’s three paragraphs. It’s way too long.
So, let’s talk about dedication pages or introductory pages like this. They can be really helpful for setting important information about the script. Sometimes there’s a quote there. Sometimes there’s something that just gives a sense of what the movie is going to feel like. Here this felt kind of like an apology in a weird way. It was too long and too defensive. My pitch would be to Michael, “This story takes place in 1989. It was a different time.” Just get out of there. Because too much of what’s happening here is trying to explain away things.
Craig: Or, just tell him to delete all of it. Because I agree, it seems like an apology. What it seems like – so the basic thrust of this note to the reader is, hey, in 1989 kids ran around more independently than they do now. And, in fact, they do so even if there had been riots nearby or stuff like that. And my answer is was somebody complaining about this? Did someone say, dude, you’ve got to say something because people will not understand. I’m like, no, people will absolutely understand. First of all, most of the readers that you’re going to be giving this to are not, you know, whatever, 18. And they’ve all seen movies before. And they’ve seen older movies before. My guess is they’ve seen ET. They’re familiar with – and I don’t think at any point – there’s an entire series on Netflix called Stranger Things. It’s like, come on.
John: I was going back to Stranger Things. Like, we kind of know what that vibe is.
Craig: Yeah. And I don’t know if you remember, John, do you remember the long speech in the beginning in the first episode of Stranger Things? Where they sort of like, hold on. No, they don’t do that.
John: It was a bold choice to have the showrunners come forward, under a top light, to sort of explain what we were about to see.
Craig: I’ll tell you, look, and honestly Michael the bigger issue with this is not that it’s extraneous, because it is extraneous. The bigger issue is that it’s not well written. I’m just going to come right at you with this, Michael. First of all there’s a typo in it. And you’re going to hear me say there’s a typo in it three different times during the Three Page Challenge section today. But, also, it’s just clunky. It’s clunky. It’s not particularly well punctuated. It’s over-written. And it just sets the wrong mood.
Craig: The way you write in screenplay format is better than the way you write in prose. I’m just being honest.
John: It’s true.
Craig: This is not doing you any favors. I would delete.
John: Yeah. So let’s get to the actual pages. So pretend that page didn’t exist. We’re to the actual pages. And we’re cutting back and forth between two different ideas. One is that this sort of adventure game, or following this person in this dark space, and we hear this boy’s voice over talking about what we’re seeing, and this funeral. So let’s talk about the adventure stuff first because that’s honestly why I picked these out of the final contenders because like, oh, it’s an adventure game stuff.
The boy’s description as he’s reading aloud, it felt like Zork language to me. And Zork being the text-based computer adventure game. The writing felt like that and I really responded to it in that it felt like that. Ultimately when it’s revealed that it’s more of a D&D kind of situation where there’s boys together playing a game. I didn’t buy the dialogue anymore. I didn’t buy that description as well because having played a bunch of D&D you don’t talk like that. There’s not these moments of sort of like prose descriptions of stuff.
So I’m torn because I both like the boy’s voice and I didn’t believe it when it was ultimately revealed what the context for that voice over was supposed to be. Craig, how did you feel about it?
Craig: Yeah. It’s an interesting idea. I do like the contrast of a juvenile fantasy narration with something that’s very adult and very not fantasy which is a burial. What’s a little concerning for me is that there is a sound issue. Because when you are using one thing to essentially overlap on top of another, so D&D narration overlapping on top of a funeral, you have to let one audio reality dominate. And in this case because the boy is delivering voice over it is his reality.
So, that means his voice over is the sound that we’re hearing. If we want to hear some distant-y footstep-y echoes from the dungeon hero, that’s fine. If we want to hear some very light background sounds from when we’re in the actual Everglades that’s fine. But what you have here is a kid doing that voice over and you have music. You have a song. A pop song. And I can’t quite tell from the way you’ve written it, because you haven’t made it clear, if this is soundtrack, or if it’s actually from the actual funeral itself, like maybe a radio or something, so diegetic or non-diegetic as we say.
It’s impossible to say. Either way it’s not tenable. And on top of that there is, I think, additional singing. I think the funeral, when they’re doing the funeral stuff – oh no, that’s the song. That is. So you’ve got two things that are kind of, ah, no, there is also this song for the dead, song by the Miccosukee members in attendance in the Miccosukee language.
So you have a boy, you have Native Americans singing a song. And then you have a pop song, all clashing in my head. I have no idea what reality I’m in, at all.
John: Yeah. And so contrast between different things is great. And so cutting back and forth between different things is terrific. So we’re not arguing against that kind of contrast. It’s just that there’s no coherence between it. Like those things being bounced off each other it’s not doing anything interesting, or it’s not telling us what interesting thing you’re trying to do. So to hear that pop song when we’re back in the dungeon-y space, that could be cool. The sense that we’re all together. But you’ve got to tell us if we’re doing that, because otherwise we’re just making guesses or we don’t feel confident about what we’re doing.
So talk about the real world stuff here. I felt like I really needed to be reminded that this is 1989 in that first slug line, or very early on, because if I don’t know what time period I’m in I’m just sort of guessing. And so I see the word Miccosukee and I’m guessing that’s a Native American tribe but I didn’t really know, so I’m just sort of stumbling for a bit there. And I don’t know, when I see that word, I don’t know if like, wait, that paragraph there, that whole section, I didn’t know if I was in the 1800s or present day or when. So, you’ve got to give me a clearer time period there.
And even better than a time period, if you can find something specific that tells us as an audience so you don’t have to print the year there like he’s got a certain kind of Walkman. He’s got something that tells me when we are, because it’s so crucial. The specificity was missing there.
Craig: And I can’t think of a better argument to get rid of that opening note to the reader than what you just said. Because there’s paragraphs about how this thing takes place in 1989 and like you it’s immediately forgotten. Just gone.
You’re right that the narration from the kid is not a very RPG accurate narration. But let’s say we forgive a little bit of that and what we’re thinking about is the sort of artistic juxtaposition of this – somebody taking flight from something terrible and evil out of the darkness. And the loss of somebody that you love. There is a kind of a natural pairing there.
But where it lands is deeply confusing to me. So maybe you got it. I don’t. The boy, who has been narrating this, suddenly yells, “Mom.” And then instead of cutting to reality where the kid is with his friends and his mom has just walked in or something, she’s not there. There is no mom.
John: I got confused, too. I don’t know what’s happening.
Craig: Why is he yelling mom?
John: Also confused.
Craig: And then, Gary, his friend, is complaining in a very D&D nerdy way that the specific dimensions of the chasm aren’t relevant. But no one suggested that they were. It’s just suddenly he’s arguing with somebody that hasn’t argued something. I’m so confused.
John: Something got lost there. Something got cut out. It just didn’t quite track.
So, one of the things, a general lesson I think people can take from looking at especially page two of this script is how we introduce characters who they’re going to be in a group scene but they’re not important yet. And this is a thing I saw both on page one and page two of this. “One Miccosukee boy, DAVID OSCEOLA (12), does not sing. GEORGE OSCEOLA (70s), with long silver-white hair, stands behind David with one hand on his shoulder.” So you’re calling out that George Osceola is a man in his 70s, probably his grandfather, and I think that’s a situation where I think it’s fine to say like his grandfather this because we’re going to learn this information soon enough. To not say it makes me wonder like what is the relationship between these people. Just give us a grandfather there.
The bigger issue for me is when we get on page two and we just get shot-gunned with a bunch of different character names. And it’s really hard to keep them straight. So we meet Gary, Octavio, his father, Sheila his mother, a woman, Robert, Guy, Wesley. There’s a bunch of people and I don’t know who is important and what’s important and it’s distracting me from what you’re trying to do on the page which is see David’s reaction to what’s happening at this funeral.
So if you’re just giving us a group of people and we’re going to separate them out later just give us the group and don’t call out their names. And you can tell us when we do introduce them separately like we saw them briefly at the funeral. But throwing too many names at us early on, especially page two, just scares us and keeps us on focusing on what’s really important.
John: One other moment here I want to call out is “The Woman carries a well-worn ‘Traveling Wilburys, Miami 1989 Tour’ t-shirt. The Woman ceremoniously sets it on the float.” We’re not going to see that. We’re not going to see that it’s a Traveling Wilburys shirt unless she were to hold it up and show it to the crowd and then gets reaction, and then it actually has meaning. So if there is something like that that’s important you’ve got to show it to the people in the scene so it’s clear why she’s doing it, or this is a question of why she’s doing it.
So just having a thing and putting something somewhere isn’t meaningful unless we know what it means to the characters.
Craig: There are so many characters in this scene.
John: It’s a lot.
Craig: Which is fine. Sometimes you can say we’ll meet some of these people later.
John: Exactly. I’ve done that.
Craig: Just burying people with names just makes everybody a mush. I can see things. I mean, I will say it’s very visual and so I can see things and all that. It’s just there isn’t enough clarity here and there’s just mistakes. Mistakes.
John: So a simple writing thing which applies to screenwriting but other stuff as well is try never to repeat a word in a sentence. And so on page one here we have “WE SEE hands fumbling with flint in the brief flashes from the spark of each strike of the flint against an iron shackle.” There’s ways to rewrite that sentence where you don’t have to say flint twice. And that’s what you should do.
John: Cool. All right. Let’s move to onto Rodeo by Dwight Myfelt.
John: So here’s a quick description. Again, you can look in the show notes for the actual PDFs if you want to follow along. But if you’re driving in the car here is the description of what we see. It’s 6:36am in a quiet Chicago suburb when a manhole cover moves and a clown emerges onto the street. A small boy watches from his living room window as the clown pulls out sacks of bills and two other clowns from the manhole. The clown sees the boy and gestures “sshhh” with a finger to his lips.
The second clown sees the boy and gestures a gunshot. The third clown doesn’t see the boy. The three clowns load the sacks into a nearby van. The first clown asks where Jason is and the third clown says that Jason is not coming. The van drives away.
We cut to the sewer beneath the manhole where we see a fourth clown, presumably Jason, lying face down and covered in blood. A couple hours later we’re back on the street while a car is being towed out of the open manhole cover where it apparently got stuck. A cop asks a sanitation worker to investigate the sewer tunnel based on the boy’s claim that he saw clowns coming out of it. The sanitation worker says he doesn’t see anything as we reach the bottom of page three.
Craig, what was your reaction to Rodeo?
Craig: Well, always a tricky thing to write an opening scene of a movie involving clowns and a heist where one of the clowns seems to die and the clowns appear to be lying to each other because I’ve seen that before in the one of the most famous openings of a movie ever which is Batman Dark Knight. So right off the bat I’m like it feels a little derivative there. It’s definitely of that vibe. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to do. There were aspects of this that I enjoyed.
Here’s on aspect I did not enjoy – the first page. Because it is a solid brick with paragraph – returns, I appreciate – of text, action description, and I read the first three paragraphs about a hundred times. There was something about the first three paragraphs that were just quicksand.
I’m going to read the first paragraph because this is what Scott Frank has often called Purple Dialogue. That’s not his coinage, but he does like saying that. And I think this is an example. “EXT. CHICAGO SUBURBS – EARLY MORNING Ground level, looking down the center of a quiet, tree-lined residential street. Oak trees arch over the street like the ceiling of a cathedral. Sunlight streams down through their leaves much as it would have in the Garden of Eden.”
John: I see two sentences there you can cut. So, after the word street the rest of the paragraph goes away because just get to the next thing we’re seeing. Because honestly we get it. And all that other description, great in a novel, we don’t need it in a screenplay. And it’s just the difference between the two forms.
Craig: I’m OK, if you want me to know that oak trees are arching over the street and it looks like the ceiling of a cathedral with sunlight streaming down like the Garden of Eden, whatever that might have been, I’m OK with that as long it matters. If you then cut to somebody lying on the street looking up, experiencing god because he’s high or has been hit in the head or dying, great. Otherwise, eh. So, that’s my new favorite thing by the way. I’m just doing my One Cool Thing right now because I don’t care, it’s so funny.
Have you seen this thing where Melania Trump talks about how people have attacked her husband for being anti-gay?
John: I have not seen this. No.
Craig: It’s the greatest. So somebody has mashed it up with this meme of this woman Trisha Paytas, I don’t know if you’re familiar with her. Your daughter probably is. Sort of YouTube-y lady. And so Melania pronounces anti-gay as “auntie gay.” So she goes, “Some people have accused my husband of auntie gay.” And they do a little subtle where it’s like auntie.
John: I love it.
Craig: And then we cut to this woman and she’s holding a sandwich, or a hamburger or something, and she’s talking to somebody off screen that we don’t see and she goes, “What?” And then it goes back to Melania and Melania goes, “My husband was the first president to enter the White House in support of gay marriage.” And then they cut back to this woman and she goes, “Huh?” And then they cut to a series of Donald Trump quotes saying in almost exactly the same way, like 15 different times, “No, I’m not in favor of gay marriage.” And then it cuts back to her and she goes, “Oh, eh. OK.”
And I have been going, “What? Huh? Oh, OK.” So that’s kind of my reaction to this first paragraph. What?
But what I do appreciate, this is what I appreciated – also there’s what I call forced action here. So these clowns have apparently ripped something off, I assume. Or we’re meant to believe that what they have in their big canvas sacks is money or something they’ve stolen. But here’s the forced action. Clown number one pushes the manhole cover open, climbs out. Walks down the street. 20 yards down the street. That’s a good 60 feet. Passes a brick house. There’s a little kid looking out through a window. I don’t quite know the kid’s age but I’d have to guess because he’s in pajamas and he’s drinking a sippy cup. And the clown waves at him.
And you’re like, oh, that’s interesting. This kid is seeing these creepy clowns but it’s kind of cool. Then clown number two arrives out of the manhole. Where the hell was clown number two? How far back was this clown?
John: Yeah. Doesn’t make sense.
Craig: Well, same thing as the next clown. These clowns apparently like to keep a good 60–
John: Social distance.
Craig: They social distanced their way through the sewer system, which is amusing to me. Also moving manholes is actually really hard to do. Regardless, that part felt super not true. It just felt forced.
But I did enjoy the idea at least of these clowns moving down the street and the first two interacting with this kid in differing ways but cool ways. And then the third one not giving a damn about the kid. So that’s an interesting way to learn about a character. So that I really appreciated. That instead of Dwight using a lot of dialogue to make us understand that clown number three is the boss or is the grumpy one or whatever, he used that. And I thought that was very clever.
John: So I want to speak up for Dwight here and say that I did actually read the whole first page and I didn’t skim. And I think the reason I did that is even though there were a couple phrases there that I didn’t actually need I was curious about it. And sentence by sentence it was bringing me down a very full page. So well done Dwight for not having me give up and pull the rip cord and skip to the next page.
Here’s a thing I want to point out though is it says clown number one, and then clown number two, and clown number three. The minute we see clown number one, well we know there’s a clown number two. So don’t say clown number one. Just say a clown. And then say a second clown. And then a third clown. And if you need to refer to them as clown number three later on, great, but don’t start with clown number one because it’s giving up the game.
Craig: Yeah. I completely agree.
John: Cool. I can also see all of this. And I felt like I could imagine what the shots looked like. It felt kind of like it was in a cool semi slow motion, which I appreciated. I like that the car has backed into it. I didn’t mind not seeing the car back into it. I liked coming to the car already stuck in it. Felt great.
I didn’t get what the point was of having the – and maybe there was a reason on page four why we needed to have the sanitation worker, but considering he doesn’t have a name I don’t get the point of the sanitation worker being there at that moment. Why you can’t just look down in there and show us that there’s not a body there now since we as the audience knew there should have been a body.
Craig: Yeah. I guess that’s the idea is that you want somebody to go all the way down to the bottom where you’re like, oh god, he’s going to find the body and then there isn’t a body. And he’s like meh. So, I guess I kind of understood that. My issue was more like I don’t need the sanitation worker – here’s what doesn’t make sense. Someone calls the police and says there’s a car. And a cop comes and then the city sends a sanitation guy. And then they stand there. They just stand there. And then one of them says, “So why am I here?” What were the two of you talking about before you asked that question?
I mean, you can get out of a truck and be like what’s going on, but you can’t just start with two people standing dead in the middle of a scene and then one goes, “Why am I here?” You literally cannot do that. That is the – my new thing is that anytime a character says, “Hey,” that’s a sign that something has gone terribly wrong. If you start a scene with somebody going, “Hey.”
OK. And then the cop goes, “Oh, we’ve been activated.” I’m a real person now? Let me explain to you that clowns came out of the hole. But until this point – it’s like they were waiting for the stage manager to go, “You’re on.” I don’t actually think you need any of this. I think what you need is a cop and then have the truck pull up. Have the guy get out and the sanitation worker is like what’s going on. What’s going on essentially? Why am I here? There’s a kid that says clowns came out of the hole. And the sanitation just starts laughing, because it’s funny. He’s like, oh ok, but seriously. And the cop is like someone took the cover off man. I’m not allowed to screw with this. You got to do it. And he’s like, OK, let me go climb down there. And now it’s a suspense thing because we think he’s going to find a body and then he doesn’t.
But it just doesn’t seem realistic at all in any way at all.
John: Another moment which is not realistic to me was at the bottom of page two. “CLOWN #4 (Jason) lies face down, eyes open, as blood streams from his temple.” Being face down with eyes open is challenging. Not impossible. But the visual is weird. Basically you can have your head turned to the side but if you’re really faced down then we’re not going to see your eyes being open.
Craig: You know, these are the things that people think don’t matter and they matter.
John: And also it’s a shot to his temple. How can he be face up? I don’t know.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t know.
John: I don’t know. Hey, do you want to do our third and final one?
Craig: Yeah, let’s finish this off, shall we? Oh, there was a typo by the way in Rodeo. My fault. So we get to our third one. The third one is The Interview written by Leilah Ruan. Leilah has also committed a typo. So all three writers today.
Can I just say, like if you’re sending it in, shouldn’t you proofread it really carefully? I’m just saying like doesn’t that seem kind of a basic sort of thing?
So, that said, here’s the summary of Leilah’s work here. Alex sits upright at a conference table as she anxiously bounces her knee. Next to her is Lexie who twists around bored in her chair. Lexie teases Alex about her nail polish. Alex tries to ignore Lexi.
Steve, 39, walks into the conference room wearing an expensive suit. A job interview begins. He’s interviewing Alex. Steve doesn’t acknowledge Lexi, who makes jokes, tries to get Alex’s attention. Steve asks Alex about her field work experience. Alex says she doesn’t talk about it because it’s embarrassing. We flash back to an 11-year-old Alex as she knocks on doors and asks people if they’re interested in learning about Jesus.
Back in the present Alex answers that she did this work for a few years. And, of course, if it wasn’t clear even from the specific description here, Lexie exists in Alex’s mind.
John: Yeah. And that’s where I probably want to start. Because it’s so clear right from the very beginning that this must be this kind of situation. And usually I think you would try to hold off on this, but in this case we’re going for it right from the very start. It’s clear that this is the situation. That this is a figment of her imagination or some sort of split personality case. Great.
OK, I think the contrast between the two characters was clear. I could sense Alex’s frustration and discomfort with having Lexie there, but also knew that this wasn’t a new thing. This felt like a thing that had been going on for quite a long time.
I’m torn because while I largely enjoyed that dynamic I didn’t really believe the interview situation of it. I didn’t believe the reality of the interview especially well. And I didn’t feel like I had great information going into what this interview even was, which was hindering my ability to enjoy it to some degree.
I want to call out though some small things that Leilah does on the page which are great. Our second sentence, “ALEX sits upright at a conference table. Prim. Poised. Perfectly made up. Still as a statue, aside from one bouncing anxious knee.” The alliteration of prim, poised, perfectly made up, it’s a small thing but it also just gives me as a reader a little bit of confidence. Oh, this person is trying. There’s a thought behind this and we’re using the fragments. We’re using the staccato rhythms to sort of get a sense of what’s going on here. So I really appreciate that.
An interesting style of not putting periods at the end of sentences where I expect there to be a period. So on page one you see this after amused, we see this after sit, as if it’s just spilling into the next line of dialogue. I guess you do it enough times it becomes a style rather than a mistake and so I’m going to call this a style.
Craig: I’m going to call it a mistake. Because there are too many places where she is putting the period down. And it just seems like there was a kind of a general sloppiness that was going on with a bunch of these because there’s no reason why some of them have periods and some of them don’t.
John: So if you’re going to do it just do it that way all the time.
Craig: Spellcheck please. Embarrassing is the worst possible word to misspell because it is its own definition. Yeah.
John: On page two Steve says, “Good to meet you. Sit please. Did you want a coffee, a water?” And Lexie says some basic grammar. OK to have a comeback but there wasn’t a grammar mistake there. That felt weird. And so I like the idea of a character who is constantly sort of undermining the scene, great, but that wasn’t the right – it’s just like the wrong joke for it. It just doesn’t actually track.
Craig: Yeah. You know, this is something we’ve seen before. So this is not – almost a genre unto itself. The “someone is in my mind.” And the movie I always kind of fling myself back to is All of Me because it was just so much fun to watch Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin occupying the same human being. This is clearly different. This is more of a manifestation of your own stronger self, which we’ve also seen too. This kind of like I’m sort of meek and controlled and trying to be a good person and then inside of me is this angry, ballsy, tough person that wants to break out. And basically turning somebody into the devil and angel on their own shoulder. And that’s perfectly cool. Just because it’s happened before doesn’t disqualify this at all.
But, I will say that my biggest issue here you’ve touched on twice. The first is the interview is not real. The interview, both Steve and the things he says, seem really crafted to clear out of the way of Lexie and Alex, which actually hurts what Lexie and Alex do. And there’s too much Lexie. Because when Lexie is talking sometimes it’s OK and sometimes it just doesn’t work.
For instance, it’s fine to say in an empty room looking around one of these stylish boardrooms “I think I feel the ghosts of sexual harassment lawsuits in here.” Sexual harassments is not quite as good, so you want to get that S off of there. But that’s fine because you’re guessing. Well, “You’re right, tax fraud too.” Great.
But when this guy shows up he doesn’t do anything wrong. And she keeps going after him and that part is a little questionable. Like you say she questions his grammar when I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with the grammar there. And she implies that he is covertly racist which doesn’t really come out. I mean, it’s not saying that he might not be racist, but it just doesn’t appear there. But here’s what specifically Leilah what I want you to look at, just technically, is Lexie starts talking. Steve asks a question. Did you want a coffee or a water? Lexie starts talking. And then it says, “Steve speaks inaudibly while Lexie tries to get Alex’s attention.”
So, that’s problematic. You can call out that Steve’s voice sort of disappears because Alex is kind of like tunnel visioning. And then you can have Lexie sort of leaning in saying he looks just like ash. But Lexie doesn’t have try and get Alex’s attention. She has it because Steve is gone. His voice is literally gone. But when Steve’s voice comes back this is what he says, “Alex?” Alex looks up, a deer in headlights. So if she’s looking down that’s a little strange, too. But Steve says, “I asked why are you interested in a career in sales?”
John: Don’t buy it.
Craig: No. This is how this actually goes in real life. John, you’re going to be Alex and I’m going to be Steve. Covertly racist Steve. So, John, why are you interested in a career in sales?
John: I’m sorry, what?
Craig: I asked you why are you interested in a career in sales. Now at that moment I’m insane. Because that’s not how that works. No one presumes that you literally just astral projected or lost the ability to hear. That’s not how it works. So that’s clunky writing. I don’t know how else to put it.
John: So here are some options that you could consider for this moment. This is a time where you could break out some dual dialogue and you stick Lexie in the right hand column and keep Steve in the left hand column and both things are happening at the same time. And we as the audience will understand that we can kind of ignore Steve and that we really are more focused on Lexie. And that Alex is trying to balance the two things. That can work. It can be annoying if you’re doing that all the time, but for certain cases that would be terrific.
And what Craig was saying in terms of calling out that you’re focusing in on Lexie and ignoring what Steve is saying that also works. I have a scene for something I’m working on right now, there’s some yada-yada that’s happening in the background and I just call that out as yada-yada. That’s fine and fair to do when you’re focusing on a foreground conversation and ignoring the background conversation. That works. But you can’t just say “speaks inaudibly” because how do you tell an actor, “OK, I want you to speak inaudibly here.”
Craig: Correct. Essentially we have to imply that there is something happening in Alex’s mind because her attention is being completely drawn by Lexie.
The other thing we have to do is make sure that if Lexie is going to be this sort of forceful, wry, commentariat that what she says has to be correct. So she makes a mistake about the grammar. So we’ve lost a little bit of confidence in Lexie. And then she does it again. Steve repeats, “I asked why are you interested in a career in sales,” and Lexie, the alter ego, says, “Because no other jobs will pay a 25-year-old with no degree, no special skills, and no experience in anything but minimum wage.” That is not true.
There are a lot of jobs that you can do if you’re 25 with no degree, no special skills, and no experience and in anything other than minimum wage. In fact the most cliché obvious answer is fast food. You just work making hamburgers. That’s sort of the classic cliché one. You don’t have to do the classic cliché one but what you can’t say is that sales is the only option. Because actually I think probably a lot of sales jobs they can be a little choosier. So it just doesn’t work.
I mean, if you want to be snappy and kind of snide you have to be accurately snappy and snide.
John: Well, and Craig, really this is all circling to a thing we sort of skipped over. We have no idea what this business is or what this company is.
Craig: Sales. [laughs]
John: Yeah. General sales. All we’ve been told about this is “Interior, an overly stylish boardroom.” Overly stylish? What does that mean? “Alex sits upright at a conference table.” That’s all we get. And so we have no – she’s just in a generic blank space. And because we just don’t know what this is, we don’t know if there’s phones ringing, are people moving in the background? Are there glass walls? What is this place? And without that specificity it feels fake.
Craig: Right. It feels fake. There was a thing I remember when – I don’t know if you loved reading the comics in the paper the way I did when I was a kid.
John: Oh yeah, when I was a kid. For sure.
Craig: So you remember some of the old comics that were already corny and fusty–
John: Hi and Lois.
Craig: Hi and Lois. Or like Dagwood. There was always some sort of hectored man or woman working for a boss. And the boss was always demanding that they get the contracts done. And I never knew what the hell – what is this business? Did you get the contract? What? For what? They never said. It didn’t matter. So this was like this place. What they do here is sales of something.
Steve, who by the way, all he’s done is, to review, walked into a room, sat down, greeted her politely, offered her something to drink, overlooked the fact that she seems to be astral projecting. Patiently repeats his question. And then when she says, “I worked door to door for a while,” he gets excited. He’s actually quite lovely.
John: He seems to want to hire her, yeah.
Craig: He’s the most bland, pleasant–
John: No, no, no. He’s “disgustingly attractive” it says on page one.
Craig: Oh, he’s disgustingly attractive. And he works at Contract Co. But at last, at long last, we get something here at the end that shows the promise. Which is that Alex has a fascinating little backstory that as an 11-year-old she was going door-to-door seeing if people would be interested in learning about our lord and savior Jesus Christ. And finding people slamming their door in her face. And using that as a little cinematic technique to show her as an 11-year-old, as a 15-year-old, as a 21-year-old. She has spent essentially her whole life going door-to-door trying to get people to believe in Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. And every single person slams the door in her face.
So we understand something interesting about her now.
John: Yeah. And obviously you’re tipping us off to that’s related to this split personality thing.
Craig: Of course.
John: And so even though I’m a little bit frustrated after these three pages I’m still curious to see how this is going to develop, which is good. So well done. You’ve baited the hook enough that I’m curious to read the next couple of pages to see what’s going to happen here.
Craig: I agree. I think that there’s a fun concept here and there’s an interesting backstory that makes this more intriguing to me than the usual thing. Because I think the usual version of this is I’m just tired of the world kicking me around. I’m going to get tough. But this is somebody who has actually gone through a different kind of specific getting kicked around. So, cool. And maybe, who knows, maybe Lexie is literally the devil. I don’t know. We’ll see where it goes eventually.
But I would say that Leilah you have to be more careful as you write through these things, not just about things like all three writers again were having some spelling and punctuation typo issues, but you also have to be careful about what people would do. This is what we talked about last week with Scott. What do humans actually do? And in this instance, in this scene, it’s just not comporting with what we know about humans.
John: I agree. One last thing, page two, last line of scene description, “Alex trammels down rage.” I got hung up on that thinking like have I been using that word wrong? I don’t think I’ve ever really used the word trammel but does it not mean what I think? So I stopped and I Googled it and looked up. So, that’s not a thing. You can trammel, but trammel down is not actually a thing. And so let’s talk for a moment about just using a word like trammel which is not common in scene description. It’s the kind of thing in a weird way you can get away with it more easily in a book. But in a script where you’re just reading fast and you don’t want people to ever stop or slow down on something I think trammel is just not a good word for you.
Craig: There’s another thing about that. Trample I guess or stepped on, or whatever. But here’s what – just like quietly I sort of giggled. Not anything that Leilah or you would ever think of. But there was a baseball player named Alan Trammell. When I was a kid he played for the Tigers. And so when I saw “Alex trammels down rage” I was like, ooh, Alan Trammell. That’s the stupidest thing. That has nothing to do with you, Leilah. I apologize. That’s just completely irrelevant. But Alan Trammell.
John: Alan Trammel. I want to thank our brave writers for sending in their pages. So the three who we talked through today, but all the other ones who sent stuff through. So again if you want to read these PDFs they’re attached to the show notes here. Just go to johnaugust.com and find them. If you want to submit your own pages go to johnaugust.com/threepage and you’ll see the little form for doing that. So, again, thank you to everyone who sends these in because I think it’s really helpful for us to be able to talk about the literal words on the page.
Craig: What? Huh? Oh. OK.
John: I didn’t want to do it as part of the last segment because it was just going too far off field, but how should I feel about Dilbert? I say this because Dilbert is the only comic – I don’t really read the comics anymore, but I think Dilbert is still consistently kind of funny to me, and yet Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, is clearly such a weird right wing crank. I can’t – I don’t know how to feel about Dilbert.
Craig: Well, Dilbert always was the kind of – he represented the quiet frustration of the white man in the tie, didn’t he? I mean, it’s not actually that farfetched. Sort of the silent fuming – it would have always been a shock if Dilbert had turned to Dogbert and said, “It is odd how we’re all white in this company.” Or whatever. I don’t know if they are all white in the Dilbert company. I don’t know. If you like Dilbert keep reading Dilbert. I mean, look, my whole thing has always been like Ezra Pound for instance.
Ezra Pound, notorious, just notorious racist anti-Semite. Fascist. He collaborated with the fascists, like legitimately. He went to prison. He was arrested in 1945 by our soldiers in Italy because he was essentially collaborating with Mussolini. But his poems are really good. So, I can enjoy his poems and I also think that he the person Ezra Pound was just a dick. I can separate those things. I’m not going to – if I can avoid giving them money I will.
John: That’s fair.
Craig: I’m not going to buy Dilbert books. I mean, honestly, I don’t actually enjoy Dilbert as much as I do Ezra Pound.
John: All right. Thank you for your permission to occasionally chuckle at Dilbert. I just don’t know.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, you’re free.
John: I’m free. Time for One Cool Things. So obviously one of my One Cool Things has to be Rachel Bloom’s new book.
Craig: Of course.
John: I Want to be Where the Normal People Are. So it came out this past week. I have my copy. I have not cracked it open yet but I’m so excited to read about the Rachel Bloom origin story. Because we got to know her when she came to a live Scriptnotes before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend debuted.
John: And she’s just been delightful every moment since then.
Craig: I think when we met her Crazy Ex was not happening.
John: It was a Showtime pilot that looked like it was not going to happen. So I don’t want to say that we’re entirely responsible for what’s happened to her career.
Craig: I’m OK with that. I’ll say it. I’ll say it.
John: But something that we have no involvement in whatsoever but I find just terrific is Harley Quinn, the animated show that is on HBO Max. It is so funny and so dirty and just really smartly done. And really great character work. Great voice work. It was a delight. And so people kept telling me, oh, you should watch it. And I’m like I’m not going to watch that. I don’t really care about that stuff. And I just think it is terrific.
And so what they do with the relationship between Harley and Poison Ivy is really smart. So just kudos to that. And if you’re looking for something to stream over these holidays and the new quarantines I recommend checking out Harley Quinn on HBO Max.
Craig: What? Huh? Oh, huh. You’ll use it constantly.
John: I will. I know.
Craig: It’s wonderful.
John: Mike will divorce me.
Craig: No, no, no. It will bring you closer together. It really will. Because if he says something like, “John, can you stop doing that” you turn to him and go, “What? Huh?”
John: You don’t know Mike at all really. That’s what it comes down.
Craig: OK. It’s the laugh in between Oh and OK that makes it so – by the way, this is an old meme. It’s not new. It’s just the Melania – I’ve got to send you the Auntie Gay thing. It’s the greatest thing in history.
John: And we will put it in the show notes, of course.
Craig: We sure will.
John: Great. Is that your One Cool Thing?
Craig: Hell yeah.
John: All right. Great. So that is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.
Craig: Indeed it is.
John: Our outro this week is by Mike Caruso. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you send longer questions. But for short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.
We have t-shirts. They’re great. They make a great gift. You can find 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 transcripts and the signup for our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting which has lots of links to things about writing.
You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments. And if you’re looking for a gift for someone who likes Scriptnotes you can actually give a gift membership to Scriptnotes, so that’s a thing you can consider for a person who is obsessive about our show.
So stick with us after this break because we are going to talk about autobiographies. Craig, thanks for a fun show.
Craig: What? [laughs]
John: So, Craig, autobiographies. I’ve been thinking about them and sort of what place they hold both on my bookshelves and in sort of my mental space. There were some crucial ones along the way. Like autobiography of Malcolm X which was also written with Alex Haley. But Frederick Douglass’s book. They give you a very clear sense of what it was like to be a person in that place and in that time in ways that other histories sort of can’t. So I appreciate that.
But also I think to like Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants. Or Mindy Kaling’s books. They give you an insight into what it’s like to have the kind of job I wanted to have. And so they’ve been a very important source for me. How about for you, autobiographies?
Craig: I generally will go towards biography because for most figures of import or interest it’s the external perspective that I find fascinating. I don’t want to hear somebody explain to me why their life was fascinating. But there are situations where you really want the autobiography because the person’s life is not just fascinating, but it is emotionally fascinating. And that’s something that you can’t really get from the biography the way you can from the individual.
Maybe the most famous autobiography ever is Anne Frank’s diary. It’s not really an autobiography. It was just a diary, so it’s different, but it’s a fascinating insight into somebody in a position that is so specific and so connected to the experience of it that I have absolutely no interest in reading a biography of Anne Frank. Zero.
Similarly I’m sure there are some good biographies of Richard Wright. Why would I want that when what I really want to read is Black Boy because that gets under the hood? It’s like this is the stuff that matters emotionally. So, that’s the sort of thing that I look for. It’s like why must I read this as an autobiography as opposed to not an autobiography, just a regular one.
And so like you, I mean, there are the famous ones we read like the autobiography of Malcolm X. And I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, because also like if you have somebody like Maya Angelou who is just a remarkable writer. And Richard Wright, it’s the same with him as well. You just want that.
Whereas – and no offense to Barack Obama – he’s a perfectly fine writer. I don’t know if he wrote Dreams from My Father with anybody, like a lot of times they’ll pair you up with somebody because you’re busy and running for president and crap or whatever. But I actually want biographies. I would rather read a biography of Barack Obama. It’s just more interesting to me that way.
John: To me the distinction is sort of like you have Annie Leibovitz who is an amazing photographer. And so she can find something in somebody’s face that is remarkable. And then you also have people who use Instagram which is basically taking photos of yourself. And they’re really different things. They’re both photography, but they are so different in the sense of an outside eye looking at you versus Instagram which is a self-curated look at sort of who you are and what it is. And they’re both valuable. They’re just really different things.
You talk about the autobiography of Malcolm X which has an outside writer. Or I think of I, Tina, which was the Kurt Loder book on Tina Turner. It’s an autobiography that another person has stepped in to help write. And probably was really helpful in terms of shaping purpose to this. You have insight because you have direct access to the inner workings of Tina Turner’s brain and what it felt like to be in those places. And you have somebody who has skill in putting that on the page. And I think the reason I respond so well to writer’s autobiographies is because they just have that skill of being able to say this is what I felt like and let me create that same experience in your brain.
Craig: 100%. Like I really don’t think I’ll ever read a biography of Ernest Hemingway. But I’ve read A Moveable Feast because he’s a great writer. Why wouldn’t I want to? You know?
And so that’s what I’m kind of looking for. And I’ll put Rachel Bloom right up there with Ernest Hemingway. I don’t care. Why not?
John: We absolutely should. Cool. So, Craig, talk to me about your autobiography, because I know you’ve been working on it for years. So, what has been the most rewarding thing for you to get into your autobiography?
Craig: My autobiography is mostly just a daily description of what worries me. And I have some fairy involved charts that lay out the frequency and quantity and quality of my bowel movements. That’s what it is.
The thought of writing an autobiography to me as me is so absurd. Like what? I don’t think I would get past the first line.
John: I definitely have a list of grievances and people who were mean to me over the course of my life.
Craig: Oh my god, that’s so bitter.
John: I’m going to go through that. I don’t think I’m going to be ever writing an autobiography. I will say the Arlo Finch books, so much of my childhood is sort of in those, and so you can sort of squint and you can see it. You and I have been approached about writing a Scriptnotes book at a certain point, and the amount of work that it would take to do that and to have something that I’m proud of feels just daunting. And not a great use of either one of our times. So that’s probably not happening any time soon.
Craig: No. Also I don’t think anyone would care. I really do. I just don’t. I’m still amazed that anyone listens to this. I really am. You know what I say when people come up to me and they’re like, “Oh my god, I listen to your podcast every week,” do you know what I say?”
John: What do you say?
Craig: What? Huh? Oh. Okay. [laughs]
John: And we’ll cut there.
- Wonder Woman 1984 coming this Christmas!
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- Uno Game Show
- Read along with our Three Page Challenge selections:RPG by Michael Seminario, Rodeo by Dwight Myfelt, and The Interview by Leilah Ruan
- I Want to be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom
- Melania’s ‘Auntie Gay’ Speech
- Harley Quinn Cartoon Show
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Mike Caruso (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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