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 479 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we talk about losing a parent onscreen and in real life, with a look at the emotional journey and some practical advice for navigating it. We’ll also talk about managing all the little scraps of paper with ideas written on them and answer some listener questions. And in our bonus segment for Premium members we will talk energy including the controversial opinions on nuclear energy from that guy who wrote Chernobyl.
Craig: What a dick.
John: Oh, that’s you. Craig, that’s you.
Craig: [laughs] More controversial opinions for that guy. Great.
John: Yeah. We’ll hear from Howard Dean and I’m excited to get into this.
Craig: Oh yeah. I got into an argument on the Internet with Howard Dean. What are the odds?
John: That’s a good choice. He’s a screamer.
John: But first in our outro to last week’s repeat we raised the question of how filmmakers and money folks were going to feel about Warner’s decision to put their 2021 slate day and date in theaters and on streaming for HBO Max. And Craig what was the feedback?
Craig: Well, the feedback from the filmmaking community was fairly negative I think.
John: I would say not great, yes. Blindsided was a thing.
Craig: Right. The feedback from the people out there in the audience seemed to just be a bit of a shrug.
John: Yeah, feedback from my friend Nima was like, “Oh, thank god,” because he wanted to see these things and not get Covid.
Craig: Shrug to positive I think was the – and, yeah, the corporation appears to be going with the people who pay for it. So there’s the [unintelligible].
John: So Christopher Nolan, the writer-director of the Batman franchise and a lot of other big Warner tent poles, his quote was, “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find they were working for the worst streaming service.” And it’s interesting. It’s that sense of not only were they blindsided, it’s just like I thought I was working for a movie studio and, no, I’m actually working for a streamer.
Craig: I have to say that that’s just a bit silly. I mean, the part where he said, “Look, we thought we were making a movie for movie theaters and it turns out we were working for the worst streaming service,” it’s the second part of that sentence that just feels a bit petty. They’re not the worst streaming service at all. And I’m not saying that just because I have a show on it. That’s just sort of ad hominem.
Craig: The fact is that Christopher Nolan is kind of part of why this happened. It was a little strange that he was the guy who was out front saying this because it was his insistence that Tenet be released theatrically in the middle of a pandemic where a lot of theaters were shut down. That was the thing that kind of made everybody else look around and go we can’t afford to release these movies theatrically when theaters aren’t either open or a viable appealing destination for the consumer. So that’s why we’re in this spot.
Craig: That just was very confusing to me. One thing I noticed was that what we heard were a lot of directors talking about the sanctity of film. We didn’t hear from a lot of screenwriters, which I thought was fascinating. I know that some of these guys are writers as well. But there is very much a – this is, again, you and I coming out of the feature world we know this kind of director protectionism that exists. And I think a director exceptionalism. And they are very, very much about this. And I understand it. And if you make a movie for theatrical exhibition and it turns up on TV earlier you do feel like somebody broke your painting. I completely understand it.
John: It’s a natural way we think about it, because they really perceive they are making a movie for a big screen and people will watch it down the road other places, but they’re making this for the big screen.
Now, let’s talk about the money side of it because I think more than even the decision to put these things not just theatrically it’s the concern about like, wait, what happens with like the money we were supposed to be being paid.
John: So as I raised last week, you know, you and I in our deals will often have box office bonuses. So when a movie hits $100 million, $150 $200, we get a check cut to us, and it’s just a very clear thing that happens. Actors, the same thing kind of happens. And so what happens when the box office is essentially zero or close to zero because they’re also being released on streaming? That is a huge concern and it doesn’t seem like Warners really reached out to anybody to warn them this was happening.
So with Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot sort of got bought out of this. They clearly made a deal and they sent money her way. But what is going to happen to the other 20 movies that are going to be slid to streaming? That’s going to be just a real mess.
Craig: Yeah. The decision that they made was just about as hard of a decision as you can make in this kind of situation. Because if they do warn everybody and give everybody a head’s up and talk about it then they have a revolt on their hands before they can even to it. And we’ve seen that before where people announce a thing and then unannounce a thing. The Academy did something sort of similar. I can’t remember what the rule change was but there was an announcement and then an unannouncement. And you can pretend it’s because you thought about it some more, but really what it makes it look like is that you got held hostage by some people and lost.
I think that’s why they did it the way they did it, because they knew that people would freak out and they needed to just do it. And probably just from a very mile high corporatist sort of view of things I guess as a corporation they probably did what was best for the corporation there, because people will move on and they’ll forget about this. They will watch these things.
I’m bummed out because I do want to see these things in a theater. So what do I do? I mean, I want to see Dune in a theater.
John: You go see them in a theater. So that’s the thing.
Craig: I’ve got to wait.
John: They’re not being pulled out of theaters. It’s basically saying–
Craig: Well, yeah–
John: –worldwide they are being released theatrically.
Craig: I’m pulling myself out of theaters is the problem. So what I need to do essentially is wait. I know that Dune is sitting there watchable. And I have to say, no. I want you to see this in a theater, so wait until your vaccinations have come through and everything feels safer. And then go see it in a theater. Hopefully it’s still there. It’s going to be hard.
And, you know, it’s not permanent. I think that some people think this is permanent. I don’t think it’s permanent. I do think there’s going to be a permanent kind of change to the way movies are put in theaters. What kinds of movies are put in there? Who owns the theater? How many theaters there are? Hard to predict that. But the theater isn’t going away completely.
John: Yeah. I have a movie in production at Warners that I hope comes out in 2022. And I hope comes out in theaters. And I still believe that it probably will, because I still believe that’s probably the way that this movie and the company who made it makes the most money and sort of generates the biggest bubble of excitement for it. So, we’ll see. This show will still be on the air then.
Craig: I’m with you. I’m with you. These things were designed to be this way. So, yeah, but it’s kind of a bit of a lost year. So the movies that are in this year, you know, when I was a kid I used to collect pennies because, I don’t know, because I didn’t have a videogame.
John: There was no Internet, yeah.
Craig: Or the Internet. So I collected pennies. This is how pathetic it was. And so we’re talking in the ‘70s and I would routinely find pennies from the ‘30s and ‘40s. And there was one year I believe it was 1942 – the penny people will be angry at me if I blew that – where the penny was not copper. I mean, pennies aren’t that very copper anyway, but it wasn’t brown. It was silver. It was steel-colored because they didn’t have the copper to use. That year they needed it for the war. So, the mint just said we’re not doing copper pennies this year. We’re doing nickel-looking pennies. It was a year. We’re in the nickel-colored penny year. That’s where we’re at with movies.
John: All right. Well let’s continue our discussion of this nickel penny year with sort of my news of the last week. So last Friday, right as we were about to record last week’s show, my mom’s health took a sudden turn and just after midnight she died. And so my mom was 84. I wrote about this on Twitter and on the blog and on Instagram, so I won’t recap sort of everything there. But my mom, so everyone knows, she loved Jeopardy! She loved keeping tabs on what everybody was doing in their days. She had this remarkable memory for names and relationships. And so this was just another sort of terrible thing about 2020. She didn’t die of Covid but I wrote that she died within Covid. It was all the appointments that sort of got pushed back, her heart and her kidneys were failing and we just didn’t know. And so when a small infection took her to the hospital everything collapsed really, really suddenly.
Craig, you went through losing your dad earlier this year. I don’t know the circumstances behind that, but again, not of Covid but sort of in a situation where you could not be there with him the way you normally would be with a passing parent.
Craig: Yeah. That was the hard part. So it wasn’t anything sudden like it was with your mom. And I think obviously when it is sudden I can only presume it is worse. It’s not easy when it’s not sudden, obviously, but my dad had been sick with stage four lung cancer for about a year. So we had all prepared ourselves. And it’s a strange thing to have a kind of pre-mourning. And then you kind of come out of the pre-mourning into sort of acceptance which you think maybe is just like the acceptance that follows the loss itself. It’s not.
So, it was definitely a Covid, yeah, I guess what did you say, it was within Covid because I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t get there. I couldn’t talk to him. I couldn’t be there. We did talk a lot on Zoom, which was nice. And it was also odd to see day by day him getting worse. And the only thing about it that I think is positive and I think I mentioned this on the show before is that when we do have this memorial service for him it will be many months after he died and we will all be able to laugh a bit easier and not be so wounded, which I think is a nicer way to go through a group memory of somebody, or at least I hope it is.
John: Absolutely. So my dad passed away when I was in college and the conversation that I was never able to have with my dad really informed Big Fish. So the deathbed scene in Big Fish is really that conversation that I wish I’d had with my father. We had the memorial right afterwards, and so all the emotions were still really hot, and it was challenging.
Obviously there’s a good reason to do funerals right away, but there’s also a good reason not to do funerals right away. I don’t know if this is going to be the best case scenario, but tomorrow is the Zoom online thing for all of her friends. That remoteness can actually be a little bit nice for that. And then later this summer when it’s safe to travel we’ll go there for the actual funeral and body stuff.
But I wanted to talk about this because losing a parent is such a staple of movies. And so often the movies we write, the movies we watch, our protagonists lose their parents. They lose a parent or both parents. Sometimes that happens kind of in act zero before the real story has begun. Often it happens in act one. Sometimes it happens in act three, sort of in a Big Fish kind of way.
And so I want to talk through losing a parent on film but also in the way that I always keep pitching that people are the protagonists of their own life to talk about the experience both in reality and onscreen, where the parallels are and sort of best ways to navigate that both as real life people and as the characters that we’re writing.
Craig: Great idea for a topic. Obviously a difficult one, especially when you’re right in the middle of it like you are. But one thing that I’ve come to discover about being a writer is that when somebody in the family dies everybody turns to you and says, “So you’re writing the thing, right?” I’ve written a lot of eulogies. When Melissa’s dad died I wrote the eulogy. Her mom is not doing well. I will write the eulogy. My dad, my grandfather, my mother, whoever it is in the end I’m always the one doing that. So you start to get a kind of practice at it.
But what you’re doing inside of the movie is very much about being as honest as you can about pain. It’s a very difficult pain to get your finger on. You start to understand why people used to say broken heart. I mean, obviously it’s not a broken heart, but something in that general space does feel broken. It’s the weirdest thing. And I suppose we can move through our lives questioning the general wisdom of what psychosomatic pain or illness is like, but grief is the ultimate undeniable psychosomatic pain. And figuring out how to experience that inside someone else’s skull is hard as a writer. I don’t mean difficult. I mean it’s hard. It hurts to do it.
John: Absolutely. When I wrote the deathbed scenes in Big Fish, I’ve talked before, it was kind of method acting. I would bring myself – I would sit in front of a mirror. I would bring myself to tears. And then I would write the scenes. And so it feels that way because I was feeling that way as I was writing them. And it does sort of carry in there.
The episode that we had on the boards that we didn’t end up recording last Friday and sort of punted because my mom was dying was about weddings. And we will get to that episode down the road. And when I was prepping up that episode it really occurred to me that there’s no such thing as a wedding scene. There’s a constellation of scenes that become a wedding. There’s all the different little things that are parts of a wedding. And the same thing happens with death or losing a parent. It’s not just the deathbed scene. It’s not just the funeral. It’s a whole bunch of scenes. And let’s start with talking about the lead up to it, because you’re talking about losing your father and you had a year’s runway. You didn’t know how long the runway was going to be but you knew there was time. And the same when I lost my father. It was cancer and we knew that there was a set period of time. And you could track sort of where you were at in it and you were going through these stages. And you could have all these conversations.
Versus this last one with my mom was much more sudden. But even in that suddenness of it there was still a progression. I remember on that Friday when I texted you saying like, hey, I think we’re going to need to cancel this, my conversations the day before were about sort of like, OK, so she’s in the hospital, her leg is better, we need to transition her to a rehab place so she can sort of get her strength back. And so it was all the stuff of trying – anticipating a new normal. And so there was really a misdirection I guess I would say. The same way you would write a misdirection in a story, life was misdirecting me in thinking like, OK, it’s going to be challenging to get back to normal, but here’s how we’re going to get back to normal. There’s a plan for it. So this is figuring out, OK, the real problem is going to be how do I keep her safe in Covid. How do I find a rehab place that’s going to get her better but is also not going to get her sick?
And so it was all about that. And then over the course of the day of that Friday it was talking with one doctor. Oh, we need to see her make these improvements. And then every phone call I would have later that day something would be going worse, and worse, until you realize like, oh wait, we’ve actually crossed into a really bad place. And the language that they’re using has changed. That sense of there was a cascade happening. A collapse. And you start to recognize that where you thought you were was wrong. You had sort of the wrong assumptions about things.
So with your father or with my dad when they passed away that was stretched over months. In this case it was over hours. But that same process was happening. And as a character experiencing that I had to – I kept trying to catch up to where we were at. And so often the emotions I was feeling were happening really live. It’s that moment where like I was trying to ask a question to the doctor and I can’t because I’m literally holding back tears. And I didn’t start the conversation anticipating I would get there.
And that’s so often I think the kind of emotion we’re looking for in writing these scenes is what does it really feel like to be there in that moment.
Craig: It is the reason we have drama in the first place. If we don’t die we don’t have drama. And the way that we struggle with this is why we have stories about triumphing over the impossible. It’s why we have stories about things surprising us, looking better, and then looking worse. Looking worse, then looking better. It’s why we have stories about people meeting and falling in love so that they can say goodbye. All these things. Everything. All of it is because we’re mortal. If we’re not mortal we don’t need any of this. Our movies become incredibly boring. We don’t even have movies at that point. I don’t know what we do.
This is the root of all of it. Everything we do to make people feel things, even to make them laugh, because there’s nothing funny either if you don’t die, because there’s nothing absurd. All of it is because of this. So, the ways that people can die are almost analogous to the different kinds of genres that we use to get at this essential human condition.
You were in an action movie and I was in an independent film. But it was the same ending. Just like action movies and independent films, you know what I mean? At some point–
John: Eventually the credits roll, yes.
Craig: Eventually the credits rolls. That’s exactly right. How you get there, how frantic you are, how confused you are, all of that – the kind of heroic efforts, all these things. As a writer when you are in the specific moment of the ending it’s obviously about the person who is not going to die. Because you’re talking to people who are not dying. Or at least aren’t on the verge of death, most of them. You’re talking to people who are going to have to deal with people who are dying. And that’s what we’re there for is to unravel that mystery.
And movies like Big Fish put their fingers right on the nerve. And those are hard. They’re hard for me to watch. You know, Terms of Endearment is hard for me to watch. Bang the Drum Slowly is hard for me to watch because it hurts, you know. And there wasn’t much in Chernobyl, you know, even though a lot of people died, really it all just got focused in on one woman and her grief. And it was so awful that in the end, I mean, she loses a husband and then she loses a baby. And I just didn’t have her say anything. I just looked at her. And that was basically all I could do. Because it’s too hard.
John: But let’s contrast Chernobyl to sort of us and our parents and conventional ways is that Chernobyl the world is upside down. It was an extraordinary situation.
John: So people were trying to do their jobs but like they really weren’t even clear sort of what they were dealing with. As I was having these conversations last Friday I was always mindful that I’m talking on the phone to a stranger, a specialist, who does this every day.
John: And so there’s just such a mismatch in terms of like where I’m at – this is an extraordinary event in my life – and this is absolutely ordinary life for them. And I was so grateful that they were so kind and considerate. They were clearly feeling emotion based on what I was feeling. But this was every day for them. And so imagining writing these scenes, you know, you have to play the reality of what it feels like to be the person who is freaking out but also the reality of the person who is just doing this on a daily basis and who has to confront these things all the time.
I found myself always asking what do I do in this situation, like what are the next questions I need answer. What are my choices here because they saw this all the time and this was a once or twice in a lifetime situation for me.
Craig: Yeah. And because there have been four million examples in movies and television of people coping with the death of a loved one there are four million well-trodden roads. So, part of the kind of – I don’t know – creepy part of this is that you also have to continue to be as creative an artist as you can. Your job is to figure out a way to express this incredibly common thing in a way that is not untrue and yet also not shopworn.
And it’s hard. Because there are a few moves that we tend to do. We tend to go through the standard Kübler-Ross stuff. You know, we’ve seen a lot of examples of denial in film. We’ve seen a lot of examples of anger. That stuff is always true. It’s the actual dramatization of those moments and it’s interesting how few stick in your head over time in life as just these things. I mean, I still think about Esther Rolle throwing that glass dish on the floor and going “damn, damn, damn.” Because that just – it felt so true to who she was. Look, it wasn’t anything special in the sense of like it was just she was in denial, she accepted it, but she was holding back all of her emotions. Then it all came back over a tiny thing and it just worked. And so we have to kind of figure out how to find those real moments even after we’ve experienced them, which is that awful part of our job. Get as close as you can to human emotion and human authenticity but also stand apart and run it through quality assurance.
It’s at times unpleasant.
John: It is. And I think there’s also – we have to acknowledge that because these are events that are only going to happen a few times in people’s lives you have no time to practice them. And so instead what you’re doing is you’re looking at other representations in film and TV for how you’re supposed to feel and how you’re supposed to react and sometimes those are not particularly good or helpful guides for how to do this.
So, let’s maybe wrap up this conversation with some practical tips for sort of like how to actually negotiate this in the real world and real life. Because I definitely have learned a lot about sort of how to deal with the practicalities of losing a parent while you’re in the middle of it and then we can also offer some tips for sort of like how to deal with the grief and the feelings and everything else that sort of happens after that.
The first thing I would stress to you is that if you think about yourself as the protagonist in your own life story the characters that you would write would not necessarily act rationally. So you can’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not acting rationally. Because sometimes you could recognize like that’s not the smartest thing I could have done. It’s like well of course not because you’re dealing with an extraordinary situation.
What I found to be really helpful as I was talking to people during the lead up is I would write down people’s names so I could actually go back to my notes, but also talk to them using their names of who was and so I could refer to them as well and communication was so crucial talking with my brother about what I learned, what’s happening next, what the decisions are, how I’m feeling, asking how they’re feeling. A thing that ended up being really important was I had medical power of attorney. We also had wills and sort of living will stuff. Having those in Dropbox was incredibly helpful because I could just send them through immediately and talk to the doctors when my mom wasn’t available to do so.
And in that whole process I certainly recognized it’s not privilege but facility – I had the ability to talk to doctors sort of on a peer kind of level just because of being sort of a white guy of a certain age. It became very easy to level with them about certain things. And I feel like a younger person might not have that experience, or even like talking on the phone to strangers to sort of get stuff. But I recognize that some of these things that were like well that’s straightforward for me would be very difficult for other people.
So, to always acknowledge that it may not be simple for you to do some of these things which I was saying like, oh, it’s just easy to do those things.
Craig: I mean, all of that is good advice. It doesn’t make it easier, but it certainly prevents it from getting harder. And I think probably the most important thing you said there was the first thing which is you’re going to be in a state. Not like we’re excusing bad behavior but you’re not going to be at your best. And if you are somebody who is used to doing things on your own, being a perfectionist, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, work through the pain kind of person maybe don’t. Because it’s not going to work. And you are allowed to – well, it’s like my wife’s classic bit of advice for expecting moms. If you’re standing sit, and if you’re sitting lie down. That’s basically – that was her thing. Just relax. Because this is hard.
John: Yeah. Melissa also is a big advocate I know of self-care. And just recognizing that you need to take care of yourself in addition to taking care of everything else in the world. And so part of my self-care for this was e-mail – and so before I sort of tweeted anything or Instagrammed anything I emailed you and a bunch of friends, I Bcc’d a bunch of friends to say, “Hey, listen, this is what happened. This is where I’m at. I’m OK. But I’m just taking this whole week off to just be sad. And so if I don’t return your emails right away or phone calls right away don’t be worried. This is just what I’m doing. This is what’s going on.” And that helped.
Craig: Yes. And here’s some advice for people who get those emails. If you haven’t been through this before and someone emails you something like this, read the email, feel for them. If you want to say something back make it incredibly short. And then leave them the F alone. Because there are times where people suddenly want to just insert themselves in your life I think because they think that it’s helping and it’s not. They just want to be all over you. And you don’t want anybody near you and the thought of having to care-take somebody else’s feelings while I’m falling apart is overwhelming.
So just know nobody – when somebody tells you something like this what they’re not saying is “come over, cook my food, let me cry on your shoulder, listen to me, tell me about how you lost your dad.” They don’t want any of that. They just want you to know and then make some small tiny gesture so that they understand you saw it. And then that’s it. That’s it. That’s all they need.
They’ll ask. If they want something specific they will ask.
John: Yeah. And if you want that stuff, ask for it. It’s absolutely fine to say that. So I was trying to make it really clear. I think I said in the email, “I don’t need flowers or gifts. There’s so many better places to donate your money. So if you feel like donating money donate to anyone, that’s great. I don’t need it.” And so I was so happy with how little stuff came into our house during the week.
Craig: I’m so with you on that.
John: Which was really good.
Craig: Same thing. And seriously when I say don’t send stuff, it’s not like wink-wink. I mean, don’t. Do not. It’s going to be a huge bummer. I personally find flowers incredibly depressing. Who are these for? I don’t understand flowers honestly on a good day.
John: I really don’t either.
Craig: So on like a bad day?
John: I think flowers are pretty but–
Craig: I don’t get it. Why are you sending me plant material? It’s just so weird. Is this like a comment? I don’t understand it.
John: Last thing I want to end on, so I spent the week letting myself be sad and sometimes it’s hard to just allow yourself to be sad because you feel like, wait, I’m not feeling sad right now so I’m doing this wrong. And I tried to just be really mindful of like, OK, I’m sad because of this thing. I’m going to actually let myself be sad in this moment and sort of like experience it and sort of think about what it is and what it means and I was quiet through it.
But I tried to never perform sadness. Because I think sometimes when you’re not feeling an emotion you feel like oh well I need to be feeling this emotion. I need to get myself to that state. You don’t. And there were also times this week where I just felt like tremendous relief. Because while this was relatively sudden at the end I would say all of 2020, since the pandemic started, has been – one of my biggest sources of anxiety has been my mom has been in this senior living community and it’s like she’s in a boat and the ocean is poison. And I’ve just been so worried that some of this poison would get into her boat and she would get it and she would die.
And it’s been such a source of stress and anxiety. So, this last week as I felt some relief, like oh, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
John: Was good. And it’s OK for me to feel that as well. And so I think too often I think we get from the movies we watch and the TV shows we watch that the sadness and grief you feel is all one thing after a death. And it’s not. It’s a whole swirl of things happening at once. And that’s OK. So just not sort of limit yourself to feeling – don’t just color your week with one crayon in the emotional crayon box. It’s not going to be that way.
Craig: It is not. And in fact the first thing I felt and the first thing I suspect most people feel is relief. Because the process of watching someone die or being near someone dying or even remote Zooming with somebody dying is brutal. It’s absolutely brutal. It’s the long goodbye. And I don’t like goodbyes. And it hurts. And you’re saying goodbye to somebody and then you’re like but I think maybe I’m seeing you tomorrow. I don’t know. And the last conversation you have with them is hard.
And then when they die you’re relieved because it’s over. First of all, they’re not in pain anymore. You know, my dad was in pain. And so that part is good. And also for yourself you’re like, OK, so this process that we were managing, that does require management, is over. The things that I pressed pause on don’t need to be paused. I’m going to keep them on pause for a while longer, but the point is that there is regular life returning. Essentially the beginning of the end of your grief happens once they die because that’s when your grief, the post-death grieving really begins. So that’s how you know it can end. It’s the weirdest feeling.
And for me I grabbed onto those moments of relief as best I could because don’t you worry the sadness is going to jump at you from behind like a dingo and get you and get you when you’re not looking. And then you cry it out. And then you get back to life. But the thought that you are not supposed to feel any kind of relief or even a sort of strange joy at the fact that this miserable process has ended is crazy. Of course you should. Of course you should.
You get to start getting back to stuff. When I die my greatest wish is that everybody feels awesome about it and gets right back to life. It’s going to be hard for some people I assume. Hopefully for a little bit. But the point is I don’t want anybody moping around. I wouldn’t want that. My dad wouldn’t want that. Your mom wouldn’t want that, either. Nobody does.
Craig: Nobody does except like people who have real personality problems. But, you know, allowing yourself to actually be relieved that someone died seems – it just seems counterintuitive and in fact it’s intuitive. So I’m glad you had that experience and that recognition. It’s a good thing because I think a lot of people put themselves on a shame hook when they feel it.
John: Yeah. The last thing I should acknowledge is that you and I are both talking from the perspective of folks who are established in our lives and so a parent dying doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of our lives. If you’re losing a parent or someone in your life when you’re in a more vulnerable position it’s all going to feel different because then you have all the anxiety about your own future. And so you and I we’re lucky that we didn’t have those things. And so we weren’t worried about ourselves and how the world was going to function without them because we knew it could.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a whole different deal. No question.
John: All right. Let’s do a palate cleanser and talk about a completely anodyne topic.
Craig: Anodyne. Nice.
John: Hey, Craig, when you wake up in the middle of the night or it’s 11 o’clock at night, maybe you don’t go to bed until quite late, but you have an idea for something, you need to jot it down, where do you jot it down?
Craig: I send an email to myself. I’ve got my iPad on the nightstand and I send an email to myself.
John: Great. And how detailed is that note? Is it a full sentence? Is it multiple things? How much do you have to capture in order to have captured that idea?
Craig: I just have a general sense of how much I need so that in the morning when I read it I go “I understand, I recall the salient details of this thought.” So it’s not full text, but I fill it in where I need it filling in.
John: So it’s a cue to help you remember that thing.
John: And so back in the olden days I had a little notebook that I would keep beside the bed and I would jot that down. And it wasn’t particularly helpful to me because that notebook was always in one place and that’s not where I actually needed the note. So what I’ve taken to doing this last year which has been really great is I just have a big stack of blank index cards and I’ll make the note on the index card and I’ll set it by the door, by our bedroom door, so that it goes downstairs in the morning. Because we don’t have any electronics in our bedroom so I can’t send myself an email. But I’ll just write it there.
And I found it to be really helpful because it gets it out of my head. So I feel like I don’t have to keep rehearsing it to remember it. I don’t have to actively try to remember it because I know I’m going to remember it because it’s on the card. It’s going to be behind the door. And it’s been a real game-changer for me this year in terms of both making sure that those ideas stay captured but also letting me get to sleep and not worry that I’m going to forget about the idea.
Craig: Yeah. I have been doing this less and less. What I have found over time is that very few things that I think of and think, ooh, I should remember that are ultimately worth remembering. They are kind of actually on an even playing field with all the other ideas I have. It’s just that because I’m not near something in the moment or I’m actually writing or at my desk or near an index card by my bulletin board I think, oh my god, if I forget this then…
Sometimes you can inflate the value of those things simply because you’re not near the spot. There are very few things that kind of survive that filter. So sometimes I’m constantly running scenes and dialogue while I’m driving. I do this all the time where I’ll just start improving scenes between characters based around a situation I know I need to write. And sometimes they’ll say things and I’ll just be like, oh, that’s really interesting. And then I’m like, eh, I don’t know. It’s fine. I’m not going to write it down. Whatever. If it comes again it comes again. But it’s not like mind-blowing.
So I’ve become a little less grabby about those things. It’s only when I think I’ve solved something that I need immediately that I will do this. Like tomorrow I need to write this thing. Ooh, I’ve figured it out. I’ve got it. This is going to be helpful for me. Then I’ll write it down.
John: For me it’s both the capturing and sort of the to-do list of it all. So it tends to be much more the thing I want to write tomorrow. And I do think about you, Craig, because you’re definitely in the showrunner sense of that gathering phase. I do remember in times where I’ve been running TV shows where you’re sort of in filter mode where everything is sort of out there and you have to sort of process it. OK, this goes in, this doesn’t go in. And so there’s probably so much happening in your head at any given moment. But I guess it’s all in service of one very specific show, so it’s not quite like…
Tell me, do you feel that you’re in this filtering mode where like you’re having to make a bunch of choices about sort of what you see in daily life makes it into your show, or are you well beyond that point now?
Craig: Well, I mean, we’re pretty well outlined. And, you know, into the writing. But every scene to me represents what you just said. In every scene where are they. What does it look like? How much light is there? Are they sitting on the floor? Are they standing? Is there a chair? Is there dilapidation? Does it look good? And then that’s before I even get into what is the scene even about really. I know what the plot is. But what’s it about-about? And whose perspective is it from?
John: What’s the hook? What does it hang off of?
Craig: Yeah. How is this conflict going to play? All the stuff that we talk about on this show. All that stuff. There’s four billion decisions that have to be made. The longer you do the job the faster you can start winnowing out stuff you know you don’t want to do.
John: Of course.
Craig: And the quicker you can get to an instinctive thought of that feels interesting, I’m intrigued by this, I want to do that. But I’m always in that mode. It never stops. Ever.
John: And one of the things I will say that’s helpful about doing these cards is I would say a third of the time I’ll see the card in the morning and like, no, that’s a dumb idea and just rip it up. And that also feels really good, too. That’s a natural part of this process.
John: In the light of day that’s not a good idea.
Craig: That’s a classic I had a dream, it was amazing, and no it’s not. It sucks.
John: No it’s not. Hey, let’s answer some listener questions. Let’s introduce our producer, Megana Rao, who has a collection of questions for us to tackle.
Craig: Hi Megana.
John: Hey Megana.
Megana Rao: Hi guys, how are you?
Craig: You know what?
John: We’re doing OK.
Craig: That’s right. [laughs]
John: Doesn’t have to be great. Doesn’t have to be terrible. It’s just like doing OK.
Craig: Yeah. How are you, Megana?
Megana: I’m good. Our queue has kind of filled up so I have a lot of questions I’m excited to ask you guys.
John: Great. Let’s go for it.
Craig: We’re ready for you.
Megana: So Laurie asks about paying gigs. And she says, “I’m not a member of the WGA but I’ve been getting paid work on non-WGA products for more than 10 years. In the past I’ve had long conversations with prospective clients only to find out that they wanted me to work on spec. So now when prospective clients ask for a meeting I ask upfront something like, ‘What’s your budget for the project?’ Is that rude or inappropriate? When is an appropriate time to ask whether a gig pays and how should a writer do this?”
John: It is absolutely appropriate to ask whether a thing is paid. And implicit in that is to what degree is it worthwhile to take a meeting just to take a meeting so you have a relationship so you sort of can feel a person out and see whether you like them. I think it’s reasonable to take a meeting, to take a general, even if it’s just to take a discussion about a specific project. But within that first meeting or in the follow up to that first meeting you got to know whether this is a thing where they’re going to be paying you or if they see this as a spec thing. Because you’re trying to make a living at this. This isn’t just art for you. This is also hopefully your livelihood.
Craig: My guess is, could be wrong, but my guess Laurie is that there are certain projects that you would be willing to do on spec. Because otherwise you would just sort of say upfront when people reach out to you, “FYI, before we go any further I don’t work on spec, so if that’s OK with you then let’s keep talking and discuss.” But there may be some things that you might consider working on spec. So, I guess one way to approach it, Laurie, is to just say upfront, “Before we get into it is this a project that is work on spec or is it a paid writing assignment?” Just in the beginning, I think, to know.
I’m not sure why or how you can even have fruitful discussions with people if you don’t know the most basic fundamental term of the arrangement which is are you paying me or not. It’s just a very different kind of conversation.
Megana: I guess for sort of newer writers who are having more casual conversations do you have any advice for approaching that with someone that you’re friends with and maybe this is like their dream project and they expect you to help them because you’re kind of young, because you’re all sort of helping each other create their dreams? There’s sometimes that pressure. And I guess do you have any tips for navigating a conversation with someone who is sort of your friend?
John: And Megana I’m sure you’re starting to encounter this because Megan McDonnell, your predecessor, I definitely remember having conversations with her about this where there’s people that she’s talking with and it’s just not really clear sort of where the boundaries of these things are. Like to what degree are you just peers kicking around an idea versus like, OK, are we developing this together?
Maybe give it like a one-hour kind of rule where you’re happy to discuss something with somebody for like an hour or so, and then after that point you need to have a conversation like is this is a thing we’re trying to do together as an actual project that we’re going to work on together. Even if it’s a spec-y kind of situation where we’re really doing this together, or are we just sort of shooting the shit? And it’s good to have those discussions early on. And so maybe give yourself an hour of conversation before you really raise that idea.
Craig, what do you think?
Craig: Yeah. I agree. And I think Megana it’s really important for everyone in their 20s to recognize that once they’re out of college they’re not that young. I know it sounds young, but it’s not that young. You are an adult in every possible way. You can walk into a Bevmo, buy yourself a fifth of vodka, and walk out. You are now an adult.
John: I love that as Craig’s litmus test of are you an adult. Can you buy vodka?
Craig: Can you buy vodka at a Bevmo? I don’t know whatever definition there is. You are now an adult. So you actually have to start treating yourself like an adult. That means in part that you have to have a healthy respect for your own time, your own energy. There can be value in youthful people getting together and using all of their exuberance and fresh energy and their availability, because the establishment world hasn’t yet gotten their hooks into them, to build things together. But that is a business.
When you have these discussions with people you’re talking about a business. And when you look around at the people who have gone ahead and succeeded in things they’ve done so as businesses. What we’re doing as artists is the business of art. And when two artists or two people that want to make movies together, one is a producer, one is a writer, whatever it is, when they start talking John is absolutely right. At some point relatively early on, like an hour in stop and go, “Before we go any future, because we’re adults,” this is the point where you’re starting to hook up with somebody. You have to bring up protection. Who is handling the contraception here?
That’s literally what’s happening. It’s a contraceptive discussion. What are we talking about actually? Let’s now discuss consent, protection, contraception, all of these things. Because that’s how serious this stuff is.
And this is why we get so many questions for so many years that are literally the equivalent of people going, “I had sex with someone and now I have both a baby and gonorrhea.” And you’re like, OK, we can try and help you a little bit with that, but the time really to have thought about this was before the sex. So, that’s kind of what I feel like people need to realize they’re adults now. And so am I getting paid is fundamental. Who are we to each other, are we partners, or am I just somebody you’re talking to?
There are people who just want either because they are users or they’re just ignorant they think they can just take what you give and then walk away, which is exactly by the way what happens with some people and sex. And so you got to figure out who am I dealing with here. Who am I sleeping with exactly? A guy that’s going to be here tomorrow or a guy that’s going to leave literally five minute later? That is our lives.
Megana: Yes, so in the same vein, speaking up for yourself and having difficult conversations, Laura from Wellington, New Zealand asks, “I’m a relatively new unestablished writer and recently wrote a feature spec that caught the interest of a producer team. It’s a story that means so much to me and I worked my ass off getting them a quick rewrite they requested. But as soon as I signed an agreement with them they became slow to respond. It’s now five months later and they haven’t sent me notes or done anything with the project. When I ask if we can work faster they tell me to be patient and that things in Hollywood are always slow.
“My manager told me there’s not usually language protecting writers regarding timeliness of producers and agreements. Should there be? Or I guess why isn’t there?”
John: All right. There’s a bunch of stuff happening here. So, first off, it’s great that you wrote a spec that people like, so count that as a win. You did a rewrite. Great. Now you’re in this holding pattern and it sucks. And it’s common and it’s terrible. Your manager is not advocating for you as well as they should be. I can’t tell you how to make those producers do something more quickly. I think my biggest push for you is to acknowledge that it’s a thing that’s happening and be writing something else because you’re not going to be able to speed up those producers.
Craig, what do you think?
Craig: Well, I’m curious what this agreement is. You say you signed an agreement with them. My suspicion is that what you signed is some sort of option agreement where they have the right to exclusively bring this property around to potential buyers. So, whether or not you’ve been paid some small fee for that exclusivity or not, option agreements almost always have a timeline involved. There is a terminus. Your manager told you there’s usually not language protecting writers regarding timeliness of producers and agreements. That is wrong.
It’s not a little long. It’s completely wrong. That’s part of what options are.
John: Yeah. An option is for the exclusive right to represent something for a certain period of time.
John: Likely it was a one-year-option they had that was renewable in some way.
Craig: There’s the timeliness. So, if you are – so you’ve now dealt with slow-to-respond five months later. Now, if you’ve signed a one-year-option that means you’ve got seven months to go. At this point I don’t think you need to do anything with them. I think John is right. You always want to just sort of be preparing the next thing. But remember, you own this. You didn’t sell it to them. I hope. I don’t think you did. You just signed an agreement. I’m not sure what that means, again. But if it was an option, they don’t own it, you do. They are renting it. And they get booted from their apartment seven months from the date you ask this question, at which point you pick more carefully the next time around. Or, just, hell, take another flyer for a year. Either way, this doesn’t last forever.
But you’ve asked them and they haven’t responded or done anything. And that’s it. Maybe not the best manager in the world. And I always feel like – I feel bad, because a lot of people are writing in. They’re not established writers. They have managers. I always say your manager is being stupid.
I just want to be clear. My first manager was also stupid. Everyone’s first manager is stupid, because that’s why they’re your manager. Do you know what I mean? Like if they were great they wouldn’t be representing you, because you’re not established yet. You know?
John: Yeah. But here’s one thing that manager can be doing, and let’s make sure your manager is doing this. That thing that you optioned to those producers, it is still out there to be read as a writing sample. So that person should be getting you meetings with other people who can hire you and actually pay you money to do things. So, the fact that somebody optioned something doesn’t make it invisible to the rest of the world. It’s still – people can still read. And people can be meeting with you about other jobs. So, do all that other stuff.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Look at your calendar. Circle the day when that option expires.
Now, if you’ve sold it to them meaning like you took a bunch of money and they bought it, then they own the copyright. At that point just forget it man. It’s gone.
John: It’s gone.
Craig: It’s gone.
John: Megana, thank you for these questions.
Megana: Thank you both.
Craig: Thanks Megana.
Megana: Great advice. Thank you.
Craig: You’re welcome.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is an artist. His website is Beeple Everyday. Mike Winkelmann is a visual artist in South Carolina and Craig click through this. I think you’d really dig it.
Craig: Taking a look.
John: This idea of doing new art every day. Literally every day of the week he’s creating a new really cool piece of art. And a lot of them are sort of heavily stylized science fiction-y things, or they have Trump in them. But I just love his Beeple style. I also just love people who make something and post something new every day.
Craig: Trump and them. That’s pretty great. I do like that. Science. Oh yeah, look at that. This is fascinating. So it looks like a kind of typical Thanksgiving dinner but in the middle of the table instead of the traditional turkey there is a very large representation of Buzz Lightyear’s head. It has been sliced in half lengthwise and brains and goop are pouring out of it. And everyone is sort of just, I don’t know, they seem happy. It’s very strange.
Oh, and here’s a guy, yup, OK. Well, I’m not going to describe that one because I don’t want to do the Not Safe for Work thing. It’s good.
John: Anyway, I love the artwork style. Sometimes it’s nice to see cool pictures. So click through this. Beeple is the site.
Craig: Nice looking stuff, Beeple. I have two – two – One Cool Things. Because sometimes I have no One Cool Things. So today I went with two.
John: Yeah, so making up for it.
Craig: OK. So first thing nerdy. Second thing arty. First nerdy thing, solid state batteries.
Craig: So this is a big deal actually. If this works, this is a big deal. We all know that we’re trying to transition away from fossil fuels. Part of that is vehicles that run on batteries as opposed to petrochemicals. Obviously batteries also need electricity generated by some means. But if we can find really good batteries it will ultimately be better for us than the petrochemicals. The issue with the batteries we have now, which are kind of liquid battery cells, is that they can only take so much charge and they take a long to charge. And eventually they wear down and stop taking charge.
The Holy Grail has been the solid state battery which is chargeable incredibly quickly. So for instance the Tesla, if you want a full charge of a mostly emptied-out Tesla, it’s going to take you a couple of hours on a regular high speed garage charger. The solid state battery in theory can charge to 80% full in 15 minutes. That is a game changer.
It’s also not combustible. Batteries, large assemblies of liquid battery packs when impacted tend to light on fire. And a lot of people think that’s a problem with electric cars. It’s actually a problem with gas cars. I don’t know why they’ve missed that fact that driving around with all liquid fuel is way, way worse. But whatever.
So there’s a company called QuantumScape and it is founded by a guy named Jagdeep Singh who has said basically we’ve figured out the solid state battery problem. It’s been a problem. They’ve been trying for 40 years to make one of these solid state batteries work. These guys say they have figured it out and they have published data which indicates they’ve figured it out. It’s not to say they really have. Sometimes people just say stuff.
But this sounds like it might actually work. And if it’s correct, well, it’s a game-changer. And in fact some people like Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla and Tesla cofounder JB Straubel sit on the board of directors. It’s backed by Volkswagen. And, yeah, seems like it might be the real deal. So this could actually make a massive difference in electric cars, electric trucks. Because getting to electric trucks would be a massive improvement for our climate.
So, anyway, hurrah, so hurrah for QuantumScape if they figured this out. OK, second One Cool Thing. I have seen a movie that is so good.
John: Craig doesn’t see very many movies.
Craig: I really don’t.
John: So you saw a movie.
Craig: I really don’t. We’ve been watching movies. So we don’t have the kind of limited amount of episodes that would allow us to have just one director on our first season of The Last of Us. We need multiple directors. So I’ve been watching a lot of things. And, you know, I like the weird directors. What can I say? I like weirdos. Like Johan Renck. He’s the ultimate weirdo. My beautiful weirdo. And so we get sent this movie called Saint Maud. I think it’s been seen in some festivals. It’s waiting for a theatrical release when, again, theatrical release is possible.
It was written and directed by a woman named Rose Glass, which is the best name by the way.
John: Yeah. Rose Glass. You can’t do better.
Craig: Because it’s sort of like Rosé Glass, but also it’s like George Glass from The Brady Bunch. Rose Glass.
John: But also like rose-colored glasses.
Craig: And rose-colored glasses.
John: Classically looking at something optimistically.
Craig: Every way you look at it Rose Glass is a great, great name. So, I watched this movie and I am blown away. It is one of the best movies I have ever seen period, the end. And you know I don’t do this. I don’t do this. It’s astonishing. And this is not a spoiler. The last few frames of this film may be the best final frames of any film I have ever seen. And I’m saying frames. It’s astonishingly good.
And so I’m telling you about this movie, Saint Maud, now so that when you do finally have access to it you run, run, run as fast as you can to it. It just got nominated for every freaking British Independent Film Award possible. That was just a few days ago.
So, I reached out to Rose Glass’s – I can’t stop saying it, it’s so good – I reached out to Rose’s agent. And I said, hey, you know what, I don’t know if this is something that Rose Glass is interested in doing, episodic television, but I have to tell her about how great her movie is regardless. And that agent said, “Ooh, this is so cool. I listen to your podcast all the time.” So I said you do? Because, you know, I forget. So I was like well that’s nice. That’s awesome. I feel good about that. And then she said, “I will absolutely forward your email to Rose Glass.”
Rose Glass writes me. And Rose Glass not only is just a lovely person, I can just tell. And very, very kind of – how should I say this – she’s uncomfortable with praise, which I love, so I just kept doing it. She also is big Scriptnotes listener and said in fact–
John: Oh, that’s great.
Craig: –that she listened to quite a bit of it when she was struggling with some rough patches while writing the script for Saint Maud. And so the circle is complete. Not that we really did that much. We just talk once an hour a week and she’s – I mean, legitimately I think Rose Glass is a genius. I think she is a genius. And I don’t do that thing where everyone is a freaking genius. Like oh my god, you parallel park so well. You’re a genius. No you’re not. Mozart was a genius. Whatever.
Rose Glass has made a genius film. I cannot wait to see what she does next. Cannot wait. Even if she does nothing next, I’m pleased. That’s how much I loved Saint Maud. That’s how astonished I was by the film Saint Maud.
So, Rose Glass, I hope that this has made you squirm in your shoes and throw your Air Pods to the ground in horror. Because I think you’re the bee’s knees.
John: That’s excellent. And that is our show for this week.
John: Scriptnotes is produced, as always, by Megana Rao. Edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Heidi Lauren Duke. If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. We have t-shirts and they’re great. You 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’ll find the transcripts.
There you can sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting where we talk about things that are interesting to writers.
You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and the bonus segments like the one we’re just about to record on energy. Craig, thank you for the show.
Craig: Thank you, John, and thank you, Megana.
John: OK, so Craig, it’s been established by the song that you are smart. You’re also a person who has done a lot of research on nuclear energy and other things doing Chernobyl.
John: This last week I saw that you got into an argument with Howard Dean.
Craig: As one does.
John: The former presidential candidate and big democratic person. Over nuclear energy. So, tell us your belief in terms of how nuclear energy should be in the mix for America’s energy future.
Craig: Sure. So energy production is always going to be a bit of a double edged sword. Because it involves the transference of basic fundamental and powerful physical forces, the harnessing and storage thereof, and then the controlled release thereof. There’s always a cost.
Right now the vast majority of energy that we produce on this planet comes from fossil fuels or at the very least there is – it’s possible that maybe only half now, I’m not quite sure what the actual amount is, but I guess I can say safely our reliance on fossil fuels has been incredibly damaging to the planet. And so much of our infrastructure is embedded deeply in the usage of fossil fuels through gasoline and through coal, oil, etc.
We are looking for what we call clean renewable energy all the time and we’re trying to figure out how to do it. Solar and geothermal and hydroelectric.
Craig: Wind. These are all great things. They’re particularly great for places that have those resources to harness the things. They’re particularly great for places that have the ability for the government to sponsor that research and put it in place. Maybe not so good for developing nations where there’s just a deep cost buried into it and people need power now. And then there’s nuclear.
Why would the Chernobyl guy be in favor of nuclear because of Chernobyl? So here’s what we learned from Chernobyl. That to make a nuclear power plant explode you have to do so many things wrong. And I mean so many. And that includes starting with a terrible design for a nuclear power plant, which they did. A design so bad, and I made a point of this in the show. I really did. A design so bad no one else in the world even considered it. That’s how bad it was.
The reason they built that reactor in the Soviet Union was because it was both cheap and of enormous capacity. In addition it also bred plutonium which they could use for their weapons program. In short it did all of the things they demanded it do without any of the safety advantages that every other design had. So they made a terrible decision to start with. And even then dozens of those reactors ran without exploding for decades.
They also didn’t encase them in a containment building. So it was really designed to go poorly. But in the West we don’t build those. There’s like a vague cousin to the Chernobyl reactor that exists in Canada, vastly, vastly safer than the one in Chernobyl. It’s not even close. I mean, it’s just much, much, much, much better.
So, what is the benefit of nuclear? The benefit of nuclear is that it has zero emissions. Zero. There is no carbon dioxide put into the air. In fact, nothing is put into the air except steam. Nothing. And I don’t mean radioactive steam. I mean just steam.
What is the downside to nuclear power? Obviously you have to carefully regulate it. It’s expensive to construct initially, although then just runs for decades generating massive quantities of power, again, with zero emissions. And then there’s waste. What do you do with the nuclear waste?
Now they’re actually getting better with nuclear waste. But really the balance of it comes down to this. Either we deal with the risk of handling waste safely and responsibly or we’re not going to make it. I really believe this. I don’t think we are going to be able to figure out solar, and geothermal, and wind, and hydroelectric in time, in the capacity we need, to stave off/permit climate disaster. I do not think it is possible.
If the world invested in a carefully and thoroughly globally regulated nuclear power industry we can. I believe that. And Howard Dean doesn’t. [laughs]
Craig: Yes. Which is a very common thing – I mean, I’ll just be a little generational about it. I think boomers are really scared about nuclear power. And I think–
John: Because they lived through Three Mile Island.
Craig: Three Mile Island is an example of why we should have nuclear power. And here’s where I’m going to get a lot of angry tweets and I don’t care. Three Mile Island was a partial meltdown. That is terrible. That is terrible. And it happened because of a series of mistakes which were terrible. And the amount of radiation that was released into the air was approximately similar to a dental X-ray because the containment structure worked.
And this is my point. That that – the worst nuclear power plant accident we’ve had, that was what happened? The amount of people that have died just in coal mine fires dwarfs that. Just coal mine fires. I’m not even talking about what’s happened to their lungs, or what’s happened to all of us from pollution and smog and all the rest of it. It’s not even close. It’s not even close.
John: All right, so I’m going to offer not really a counter argument, but sort of a corollary argument. So I’m going to link to this post by Max Roser from Our World and Data. This has been circulated around a lot, so other people may have seen it. But definitely worth a click through. And it starts with a chart that shows what are the safest and cleanest sources of energy and coal, oil, natural gas, biomass are dirty and dangerous. And coal by far the most.
Hydropower, nuclear energy, wind, and solar are a lot safer. And I think the reason why we perceive nuclear energy as being unsafe is because we have examples, vivid examples, of it failing spectacularly. And that’s what we see in our heads.
John: Whereas the deaths from coal and oil and other stuff are much more invisible. So, that is partly generating why Howard Dean is so scared of it.
The next chart down though as you scroll through it, you look at the price of electricity, and they figure out the price of electricity based on how much does it cost to both build the plant and provide the power for it. And it’s interesting to see over the course of decades how these prices have changed and no surprise prices for like natural gas have gone down as new technologies have come online. But the price of solar has plummeted in a way that is just – it looks like the chart has broken.
It went from really – in the main episode you were talking about solid state batteries. And it’s that kind of thing where to produce that first one that was on a satellite that went out into space was incredibly expensive. And now they’re just so cheap. And photoelectric solar cells have become so effective and so cheap. It falls into a thing called Right’s Law which is the more – as you double capacity, as you double experience in making a thing the price plummets. And so a lot of our things scale for it. It’s kind of like Moore’s Law but for general productivity.
My house has solar panels. We have been generating all our power for a long time. But if we were to sort of replace them with the new generation of panels, these are like ten years old, we would be selling even more electricity back to the city of Los Angeles. That’s how good photoelectric solar cells have gotten.
So, I think it makes a strong argument for, you know what, we should be looking at how we’re replacing fossil fuels overall. I do think that some combination of solar and wind and some really cool breakthroughs in geothermal will all be part of it. I’m also willing to have nuclear energy be part of this as well.
The price of building nuclear power plants has gone up, but partly because we just don’t build them very often. It’s one of those things where if you make a plan for how you’re going to build them and you just start building them it will become cheaper to build. And so there may be a way to do that. The same way that France where I used to live has nuclear energy and our electricity costs are so much lower in France.
Craig: France is the poster child for responsible nuclear energy. You’re right. I mean, we have solar panels as well and solar is getting better. There’s no question. Solar has yet to be challenged by I guess what I would call, OK, you’ve opened up a restaurant and you’ve gotten really good at being able to serve your customers and then someone comes to you and says, “Oh, so now you need to serve a thousand people a day.” Scaling it is, you know, we’ll see. We’ll see if it can scale.
But we know, right now, we have a zero emissions solution. And I understand that people are concerned. And it’s a little bit like air travel and that classic you’re more likely to die driving to the airport than getting on a plane. Absolutely true. But you’re also far more likely to survive a car crash than a plane crash. And so our minds overemphasize the disastrous nature of a single failure and terribly underestimate the value of how absurdly rare that failure is.
There have been what I would call two massive nuclear power plant disasters. And one of them, Fukushima, was terrible and I think a good case could be made for the relocation of places like nuclear power plants from areas that are specifically in line for natural disasters like tsunamis. But of course the Catch-22 is the further we go the more likely those natural disasters are, because of climate change.
There are also so many lessons that we learn, just as we do from plane crashes. Remember when we were kids and planes would crash all the time. Literally all the time. Jets would crash constantly. And now they just don’t. They just don’t. It’s kind of amazing. And there’s so much more air travel than there used to be, by the way. Just crazy amounts more.
So every time something like this happens we learn. We don’t learn anything from Chernobyl other than why it’s important for a political system to not be pumped up with nothing but lies, which perhaps people will apply to our situation now. I mean, because nobody builds that stupid reactor. It’s just dumb.
So, I agree. I think a combination of those things is required and I think people are going to have to just get over certain things because there is a monster at the door. And we really can’t be arguing over whether or not deadbolts are harder to turn than other kinds of ways to bar the door. We need to shut the door to climate change. This is one of the best ways.
John: With multiple locks.
Craig: Multiple locks.
John: So, what I do want people to take away from this though is I think there’s an assumption that solar is not quite ready yet or there still needs to be researched done. It’s like there really doesn’t – the current solar technology can be deployed at scale pretty well in a lot of places. And so I think the third world is actually a place for solar in a lot of places because it’s going to be hard to build a nuclear power plant. It’s not going to be so hard to build regional solar. So that is a good case to be made for that.
And to recognize that it doesn’t have to be either/or and we don’t have to wait for a breakthrough. We don’t have to spend a tremendous amount of time researching how we’re going to do this thing. We can just do it. And there may be good ways to re-deploy some of the expertise we’ve had for extracting oil from the earth to figure out how to do geothermal better. To do geothermal you have to dig incredibly deep and run pipes. And you know what? That’s kind of how you do oil. And so there may be ways to sort of use our existing companies and corporations and expertise to find new ways to do things, especially for something like geothermal where it’s useful because the earth is always hot.
Craig: The earth is always hot. And that is what’s so annoying is that we have this enormous ball of – this gigantic fusion reactor in the sky called the sun, and then we have this massive roiling ball of lava in the middle of our marble, that’s the core, and we can’t seem to figure out how to use any of it. So, solar is great.
And when we talk about just the statistics of safety, I like this chart that they put together which is deaths per terawatt hour of energy production. So for every amount of time you get to create this much energy from this substance how many people die? Solar is the lowest. 0.02 deaths per terawatt hour of energy production. Wind, 0.04 deaths. Nuclear, 0.07 deaths. So solar, wind, and nuclear, and hydropower, water, are all relatively the same absurdly safe methods.
Hydropower does put out some CO2, whereas nuclear, wind, and solar do not. Nuclear puts out the least, by the way, the least. Nothing puts out less CO2 than nuclear.
Now you look at coal. 24.6 deaths per one terawatt hour. That’s not 24 times what nuclear energy is. It’s not 240 times. It’s 2,500 times more, ish. It’s ridiculous. Orders of magnitude. What are we doing? What are we doing?
John: We’re trying to protect coal worker jobs. And so, you know what, let’s build some giant–
John: –let’s build some giant nuclear plants in coal country and let them sort of work building that than doing dumb stuff.
Craig: Or just give coal workers $80,000 a year. I don’t care. Just give them $80,000 a year. This is your income. You’ve earned it from working in freaking coal mines. So for the rest of your life we’re going to give you $80,000 a year which is a rounding error for one department in the Pentagon. None of this makes sense.
We’re screwing the world up so fundamentally. You know what? I’m going to make a show about a world that’s been screwed up. I’m doing it.
John: Do it.
Craig: Doing it.
Craig: Doing it.
John: I think it’s a winning idea. I think it’s going to be inspiring.
Craig: I’m folding it in. I’m folding it in to The Last of Us. I have to figure out how to make that.
John: Call it The Best of Us. Call it The Best of Us.
Craig: No. Because there are no the best of us. We’re terrible. God, we’re so dumb. We’re so dumb. We’re the smart ones on this planet? Oh man.
Craig: Nothing, I couldn’t say anything worse about dolphins than this. We’re smarter than them.
John: [laughs] Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thank you, John.
- Christopher Nolan Rips HBO Max as Worst Streaming Service Denounces Warner Bros Plan Kim Masters for THR
- Did QuantumScape Just Solve a 40-Year-Old Battery Problem? by Daniel Oberhaus for Wired
- Rose Glass
- Beeple Everyday by Mike Winkelmann, a visual artist in South Carolina
- The Cost of Solar has Dropped Spectacularly by Max Roser
- Geothermal energy is poised for a big breakthrough by David Roberts
- Craig vs Howard Dean
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Heidi Lauren Duke (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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