The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. Today’s episode was recorded just a few hours before the WGA officially announced that it had reached a deal with WME thereby ending the two-year agency campaign. Now I promise Craig and I will talk about it all next week, including revealing the contents of that encrypted thumb drive I gave him backstage before our live show in Episode 431. You remember that. We set that up a long time ago and we’re going to pay off that set up I promise on next week’s episode. But today’s brand new episode is really good so listen to that and watch the feed because we might put out this next episode a little bit early if we get it recorded in time. Enjoy.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Hello and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 487 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we unwind a Twitter thread with great advice on getting staffed as a writer on a TV show. And we look at the state of assistant pay in Hollywood. We then fulfill our cultural obligation as a podcast to discuss GameStop, specifically do we really need three movies about it. Plus, listener questions. And in our bonus segment for Premium members we’ll share awkward dating stories from our past.
Craig: Sorry. I was just getting coffee.
John: We’ll share awkward dating stories from our history.
Craig: That actually – you should keep that as it is because that was awkward. And I think it’s important to just own awkward moments. It really is. So I think that’s wonderful. Actually quite lovely. We had an awkward moment that was applicable. I love it.
John: Fully, fully applicable.
Craig: Love it.
John: Yes, exactly. Comedy comes from awkward moments and acknowledgement that the specific awkward moments are also a universal phenomenon.
Craig: They’re the best.
John: My present awkwardness is they are jackhammering a building behind my office right now, so if you hear some background noise that Matthew is not able to cut out that’s what you’re hearing is a jackhammer. Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.
Craig: It’s not awkward. That’s just annoying.
John: No. It’s not been nerve-wracking all day. I’m not jangled.
John: Nothing like that.
John: In our crucial IP update the Uno Movie starring Lil Yachty was announced this week. So, the toymaker, Mattel, has announced a live action heist comedy is in development. It’s written by Marcy Kelly and set in the underground hip hop world of Atlanta with Grammy-nominated rapper Lil Yachty eyeing a starring role. So, phew, it’s good to have one piece of IP that has a plan. It didn’t announce who the studio was for it, but Mattel is on the case and naturally the Uno Movie is going to revolve around underground hip hop which is just a natural fit there.
Craig: I’ve got to say, like if you’re going to do it, right, you might as well just blow it up and do it. When I first read this article it seemed almost like someone had done Mad Libs. I need a noun. I need a famous rapper. I need a city. But, you know, I guess the point is what you can’t do – we know you can’t do this. You can’t do the cards come to light at night and number four is to figure out how to join the blue cards. Blech. So, screw it, let’s go all the other way and make it about Lil Yachty.
John: Yeah. We wish nothing but the best for Marcy Kelly and the whole team [unintelligible] and making this movie.
Craig: It’s a heist movie apparently.
John: A heist movie. Sure. We love a heist movie. Got a plan. So Uno joins the Mattel films in the works, including American Girl, Barbie, Hot Wheels, Magic 8 Ball, we’ve talking about before. Major Matt Mason, I don’t know who that it is. Is that a GI Joe kind of character?
Craig: Huh? Who? [laughs] Oh, ha-ha. OK. Matt Major. Matt Mason. I got to be honest that’s a WTF for me and you and I are not young, so we should know this. Unless is it a new thing?
John: It could be. But, I mean, it doesn’t feel like a new thing. It feels like a very old thing.
Craig: I’m looking it up right now.
John: Masters of the Universe. So, I would say that Masters of the Universe is a genuine IP in the sense of like they were characters. They were doing things. There was a cartoon I remember about it.
Craig: They made a movie before.
Craig: With Dolph Lundgren.
John: Thomas and Friends. View-Master. View-Master is a strong contender there, because think about what View-Master is.
Craig: Oh my god, dude. Do you know, this is crazy.
John: Tell me about Matt Mason.
Craig: There needs to be some sort of intervention at Mattel. They’re out of control. Major Matt Mason was an action figure created by Mattel. He was an astronaut who lived and worked on the moon. When introduced in 1966 the figures were initially based on design information from a Life Magazine, Air Force Magazine, and other aviation and space interest periodicals. So this was before we landed on the moon, Major Matt Mason in 1966. Come on.
John: I’ve got to say I am genuinely fascinated by that idea because there’s some sort of like retro future thing where it’s just like it’s the ‘60s vision of what space would be like. There’s some kind of great comedy to make there. They’re probably not trying to make some great comedy there. I’m rooting for it. It’s Matt Damon in The Martian but he’s on the moon and, yeah, it’s great.
Craig: Well, maybe if there is some sort of – or if there’s an amazing nostalgic take that’s like meta or something. Here’s the point. You can do something interesting and creative with just about anything. The question is why that thing. So, one thing that these companies do in a strange way that is I think not terrible for artists is it limits the artist’s focus to a thing, like we can sit around and – I can write 100 different things. I can write anything I want. Well here comes a company saying, “Or, here’s a puzzle. Figure this out, smart guy. Major Matt Mason.” And you go, well, I’ve got an idea. You’ve focused my attention.
So, you know, Wishbone. What the hell is Wishbone?
John: Wishbone I believe is a dog. Let’s see what Wishbone is.
Craig: Oh golly.
John: It could be an American salad dressing. It could be a football formation, obviously.
Craig: Of course.
John: A computer bus. Is a boom for wind-surfing?
Craig: It’s the clavicle of a bird.
John: In popular culture, American children’s program. I bet it’s the American children’s program. Let’s click through that Wikipedia article.
John: And yet I don’t see any Mattel connection to Wishbone. So, I don’t know.
Craig: Do you think that they think they own the bone? [laughs]
John: Yeah. That’s possible. I’m finding an article from July 15, 2020 which is that there’s a Wishbone movie in the works from Mattel and Universal. This is a Variety article. So there’s something here.
Craig: I’m going to get an angry phone call now. Stop bagging on our Wishbone movie. I’m not!
John: It’s about a Jack Russell Terrier. So now we know.
Craig: Oh, OK. So he was a dog. It’s a dog movie.
John: It’s a dog movie.
Craig: Fine. Great. Wishbone. Mattel.
John: Yeah. Uh, OK.
John: In further follow up, in one of our Three Page Challenges last week we looked at a scene in which a character got electrocuted when using a vibrator. And you and I both expressed skepticism about that scene.
John: Some of our listeners wrote in including Kate from LA and many of them were pointing towards the Hitachi Magic Wand which does in fact plug in and therefore could conceivably electrocute someone if used in a bathtub. So I want to acknowledge that, sure, there was some cis male bias here in our ignorance of this plug in vibrator being a real thing.
But I also want to defend ourselves for saying I don’t think it was a great beat in those pages.
Craig: No. And I am aware of the Hitachi Magic Wand. It is the Cadillac of vibrators, John. The Hitachi Magic Wand famous for being the solution to women like the character in those pages that can’t have an orgasm. But I did a little research, because I love Googling vibrator and electrocution.
John: The most research Craig has ever done for an episode apparently.
Craig: By the way, there are vibrators that – so I thought, OK, if I Google vibrator electrocution I’m going to get a lot of stories about Hitachi Magic Wands falling into tubs. I got none. Zero. My guess is probably because everybody’s bathroom now to code has the GFI circuit on, so it would just trip a breaker and not.
But there is apparently a new generation of vibrators that electrocute you on purpose.
John: Oh yeah, electrical stimulation. Sure.
Craig: Yeah. That just seems like you’re, I mean, I don’t know, it just seems like you’re asking for trouble.
John: Sure. I think whatever someone likes in that area is phenomenal and fantastic.
Craig: Until it kills you.
John: Until it kills you. So, getting back to that specific use of it in that script is it relied too much on the fact that it was a vibrator being used in a bathtub with water apparently, which didn’t seem – that’s what I wasn’t necessarily believing and felt like a bit of a stretch and wasn’t working for me in those pages.
Craig: It is.
John: But I want to acknowledge that I was wrong. All vibrators are not battery-based. I got you.
Craig: Yeah. That is true. Hitachi Magic Wand. Been around for a long time.
John: It’s a classic. So we’ll put in links in the show notes to both the Hitachi Magic Wand and stories about electrocution, which there are basically none.
Craig: The person that you think is jackhammering behind your house may be using the Hitachi Magic Wand. It is apparently very loud.
John: Oh my gosh.
Craig: That is the one thing that I read. If you’re in an apartment with thin walls other people will know that you are Magic Wanding.
John: All right. Continuing our follow up, about two years ago Craig and I started talking about assistant pay and sort of the problems assistants were facing based on emails we got in from people. We’re starting to have that conversation. But at the same time Liz Alper and other folks were talking about the PayUpHollywood movement. They stated this group called PayUpHollywood.
So we’ve been working with them to try to figure out what are the issues, how do we get assistants and support staff in Hollywood paid better. Then over the course of the pandemic, or when the pandemic started, it became less of an issue of pay equity and just sort of survival. How do we make sure that people who are working in these positions can actually afford to keep living in Los Angeles? So that became a source of urgency.
We raised a bunch of money for support staff, Liz and I and Megana, who is also on the call, were instrumental in trying to get that money out to people facing this kind of crisis. Now it’s time for sort of an update on where we’re at with assistants, assistant pay, and so I wanted to invite on two folks who know a lot more about this than we do at the moment. Liz Alper is a writer whose credits include The Rookie, Hawaii Five-0, Chicago Fire. She’s a WGA board member and the cofounder of PayUpHollywood. Welcome Liz.
Liz Alper: Hi. Thank you guys so much for having me.
Craig: Hey Liz.
John: Jamarah Hayner is a political consultant who founded the public affairs firm JKH Consulting. In her career she’s worked with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Welcome Jamarah.
Jamarah Hayner: Hey guys. Great to be here.
John: Give us the sense of where we’re at right now. You just put out a big sort of survey and results of that survey. But can you give us the 10,000 foot overview. What’s happening in the assistant and support staff landscape right now at the start of 2021.
Liz: So right now the big takeaway is a lot of assistants and support staff are very, very broke. Unfortunately because of the pandemic about 80% of assistants and support staff didn’t make $50K in the last year. In Los Angeles in order to be considered not cost burden, which is basically making three times what your monthly rent would be. The average is $53,600 per year. When 80% of assistants and support staff are making well under that, I think 35% were making less than $30,000 in 2020. It’s sounding alarms.
And obviously we’re in such a weird predicament because nothing like the pandemic has ever really happened before. I don’t know, John and Craig, if you guys can speak to this but I’ve never been in Hollywood during a recession that’s actually impacted the industry as strongly as the COVID-19 pandemic has. But what we’re seeing is that we’re losing a lot of assistants to financial stress and there aren’t necessarily supports in place to help them out of this time and keep not just their bank accounts in tact but keep them on this same upward trajectory that they’ve been on. It’s derailing a lot of careers.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t think there’s ever been anything like this. There have been turn downs. There was obviously the major economic crisis of 2007/2008. When I graduated college in 1992 there were some lovely headlines about how it was the worst year ever to graduate. The recession and blah. But what we didn’t have was a combination of a downturn in the economy and an inherent kind of state of economic despair.
So, if you had a couple of bad years you fought back, but what you weren’t doing was paying exorbitant rent and exorbitant other things while also not getting paid much. Generally speaking the prices of things kind of moved up and down with the amount that you would earn. Generally speaking. It doesn’t seem like that works that way anymore. So, one of the things that I looked at in your beautifully designed presentation is how many support staff had been essentially – have been relying on friends and family to essentially help them survive, even though they have fulltime or in many cases more than fulltime jobs. And 19% of support staff are as reported having had to move back in with family or friends or relocate out of the city because of lost income from COVID-19. That’s one out of every five. That’s awful.
Liz: Yeah. It was kind of devastating looking at these results. I think Jamarah and I can both attest that we knew that 2020 had not been a good year for most of us but seeing how hard hit the assistant and support staff community had been impacted was really, really hard to read. We read every single one of the thousand plus survey results that people took and we’ve read all of the anecdotal messages that they left. A lot of people just saying I don’t know how I’m going to get through this next year if things don’t turn up.
The other thing that people were really shining a light on, and we made sure to include this in our survey as well, was that not only were they making less money that they had in previous years but because the people who were working from home were working from home they were being forced to take on the additional office costs that would normally be paid when you’re working in an office. So things like extra electricity. Increased power bills. Buying a printer. Buying paper. All of these other expenses that you tend to take for granted when you’re in an office setting, all of that piles up. And when so many were reporting that, you know, my hours have been cut, I still have the same workload and in addition to that I’m actually taking on added expenses to compensate for not having an office space, you’re sitting there going how are assistants and support staff paying more to do their jobs than ever before when at this point the studios and the companies should be stepping in to say how can we relieve this financial burden that you guys are under to make sure that our businesses are working as efficiently as possible because we’re making sure that our employees can work as efficiently as possible.
John: Jamarah, when we were first talking though these issues, this is a system that was inequitable, it was broken in so many ways. And so we were trying to highlight those issues. I remember the roundtable sort of gatherings we had where we would talk about what they were experiencing. And it feels like in many ways it’s gone from being broken to just like shattered glass on the floor. We sort of long for the problems we used to have in the system.
But, as we pull out of the pandemic, as we sort of imagine a life sort of outside of this sort of crisis, what are some ways we can think about building back the system better? Because I’m wondering whether some of these assistant jobs are just not going to exist in the same way that some of these systems will be there in the same way. What are ways we can think about getting people back to work and getting them back to work in a way that was better than how they left it?
Jamarah: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the really great things about PayUpHollywood is, as difficult as these realities are right now, is that this movement is working. Right? We’ve seen major employers and studios, Verve, ICM, WME, CAA, UTA leading with increasing pay rates for assistants. So, I want to make sure that doesn’t get lost in this, right.
So when we are organizes, when we’re speaking up, when we’re telling the truth about our realities and encouraging people to be intentional about how they’re running their companies, we actually make progress in really significant ways. So I think as we start to move out of sort of panic and recovery mode into rebuilding that increased attention is really, really critical. Not just sort of across the board we’re all going to get back at this together, but realizing that there are some real inequities that have existed for years and exist more so now.
You know, Liz talked about people relying on their families. For assistants and support staff that come from families that themselves are feeling economic stress right now, they may not be able to help chip in a few hundred dollars a month for your rent. So parents and other supports aren’t going to be able to be there. So I think it’s not just about lifting everyone up but being really intentional about naming those inequities which we know exist. We’re putting the out data to show it exists. People know this. They’ve gone through it themselves if they were assistants back in the day. And really leaning into that.
But I think that we know as PayUpHollywood that when we speak up and we speak loudly and speak boldly we get results.
Craig: And if we had not, I say we, I mean it’s you guys, but we were sort of cheerleading there early on, if this hadn’t been in place already and hadn’t already won some victories I shudder to think of where we would be right now.
Liz: Yeah. I completely agree with that, Craig. Because I think you guys say cheerleading and I really say instigating and invigorating kind of this movement. Because I think the difference between now when assistants are speaking up and the difference between all of these past years that they’ve been speaking up without anyone listening is people like you and John and other showrunners are speaking up in support of these assistants. And making sure that their voices are amplified. Their concerns are amplified. And you guys take them seriously. And there’s a level of care and respect that hasn’t been there before. And that’s so important to making sure that this movement succeeds.
Craig: Philosophically there’s something I wish I could say, oh no, I can. I have a podcast, so I’m going to. To the people who work in Hollywood who employ support staff, whether they’re like me or John and they are running shows, writing movies, or if they are working at a studio as an executive or anything like that, I think because Hollywood is so success-focused, obsessed with winning and earning and money and quotes and how well you do and how big your house is and all that stuff, that there is almost this philosophical fear of staring closely at something that isn’t what you would define as financial success in Hollywood.
So, when you are employing people I think a lot of folks in Hollywood just don’t want to look at this stuff because it makes them uncomfortable. And rather they would just like this person to magically show up. You have no emotional accountability to them whatsoever. They do their job and they go home and you don’t have to think about it ever. And I submit respectfully that we do. And that financial success is not the only kind of success there is. And more so you’re not going to be able to get financial success if you are burnt out and chucked aside, or if you are barely keeping your head above water, or if you have to live at home, or borrow money from friends just to stay afloat. That it is important for all of us to look at these numbers. And then act on them.
Because the amount of money that is required to move people from the “I’m drowning” column into the “I’m breathing” column is not that much. It’s certainly not much for the corporations. And I know it’s not much for big showrunners. I know it’s not. I know it’s not much for big actors. I know it’s not much for big directors. It’s entirely doable. You just have to be willing to look at it and give a damn. And that means, oh my god, thinking about somebody else. So, there, I’ve said it on my podcast.
Jamarah: Hey, Craig, I’ll raise you there. I would say a lot of the content that is being created these days is about racial inequality, income inequality, and we see that whether it’s the beginning of a season or during awards. So, I would say that if you are part of a production that is doing great work onscreen talking about these issues, keep those issues in mind as you go back into your office and pass that person in front of the desk. Or think about the person that you’re calling to do something for you at 11pm at night. The issues are the same. And if you can talk about it in the screen you can live it out in your life.
Craig: Oh my god. Thank you so much. Because, I mean, look, Hollywood hypocrisy is beautifully florid. It’s everywhere. It always has been. But this is one area of hypocrisy I think where maybe we can just go, nah, we’re not going to do that anymore. We can’t all sit around and applaud Parasite and then go home and be the rich people from Parasite. We can’t do it. You’re not allowed to do it anymore. It’s got to stop.
So pay attention and just look at this stuff. It’s not petty. It’s not beneath you. If you don’t have to worry about these things and somebody is working for you that does have to worry about these things then you have to worry about these things. You are accountable to the people you employ. I believe that.
John: Now, Liz, before the pandemic you and I had many phone calls where you were talking heroically with the head of a major agency about assistant pay at that agency. And made some great progress and I want to commend you on that progress. But some of the stuff that came up in terms of like assistants working at that agency were the demands of wardrobe and lunch and hours and clocking in and clocking out. And it occurs to me that as people go back to work they stop working from home and start going back to work new systems are going to need to be figured out. And what I’d love to make sure we are empowering support staff to do is to help make some of those decisions about how work should work now. Because just getting back to work safely is going to be a challenge. It’s going to be so interesting.
You as a writer working on a writing staff, I assume you’ve been working remotely all this time. And same with the support staff for this. And getting people back into a room is going to be challenging and I want to make sure that we are thinking about support staff in those conversations.
Liz: Yeah. I completely agree with you, John. Because I think right now a lot of what support staffers are facing are – they’re being asked to come back to potentially unsafe conditions. A lot of the support staffers who took this survey reported that their employers were taking the pandemic seriously, which was great. But if you look at some of the anecdotal stories that are happening on Twitter, some that were submitted to us, a lot of the people who are being put in charge of monitoring Covid testing on sets are assistants who are being paid less than a regular PA rate daily to be in charge of this very, very important aspect of production.
And then there are other things that we’ve tried to tackle with PayUpHollywood and we’ve realized that the scope is so big that it’s almost impossible for us to figure out every single issue that every single assistant is going to be facing. A wardrobe assistant is not going to have the same problems as an agency assistant.
And I think that’s what we were talking about at the end of the survey when we were encouraging employers to actually talk to the support staff in their company because different support staffers are going to have different needs. We just received an email from someone who said, “I can work from home. My company is OK with my company working from home, but I can’t afford to live in an apartment that has central air or even decent air conditioning. So come summertime I am going to be dying because I don’t have an office to escape to or a coffee shop to escape to because I literally cannot afford to pay for AC on the salary that I am given.”
And I know in the grand scheme of things that seems so small, but that’s one of the discomforts that support staffers are putting up with right now, in addition to being underpaid. In addition to having to adjust to their employer’s new schedule and potentially not being considered in the plans of restructuring the company and how that works within a pandemic.
So, there’s a lot going on and we can’t be the only ones who are catching all of the problems. We do need every employer and every company to actually start stepping up and start investigating what it is that their support staffs need from them. Because it’s going to be unique from case to case.
John: Thank you both very much for this update. Thank you especially for the survey and the results of the survey. We’ll put a link in the show notes to both the press release that went out, but also this terrific infographic you guys designed.
Craig: It’s lovely.
John: That walks us through where we’re at at the start of 2021. Can we have both of you guys back on a year from now to sort of tell us what next year’s survey results were and hopefully we can see some progress along these lines?
Liz: Yeah. I think that’s the goal. Every year we’re just tearing out the old foundation and putting in a new one. And then building upon it.
Craig: Let’s see how we do. I’m just going to be the guy that just keeps banging the shame bell walking alongside these rich people going, “Come on, people. Come on. These assistant are sitting there going through your bills. They know what you pay your pet psychic.” I hate pet psychics.
John: Liz and Jamarah, thank you so much.
Liz: Thank you guys.
Jamarah: Thank you guys.
Craig: Thanks Liz and Jamarah.
John: Cool. All right, moving on. So this past week, past two weeks, one of the biggest stories in the United States has been GameStop. And this has been a significant event in world news, so I can see that. But it has also been a source of a bunch of folks tweeting at us and emailing us saying like, “Hey, do you see there’s a GameStop movie in development?”
We often talk about How Would This Be a Movie. This is a situation where there’s a story in the news and suddenly there’s like three movies that are brewing.
Keith Calder, a previous guest, tweeted, “Is it possible to short the movie adaptations of the GameStop story?” To take a little meta quality there. But for folks who are listening to this episode in 2026 and have no idea what GameStop is or was Craig would you talk us through the briefest version of what happened?
Craig: Yeah. GameStop is a videogame brick and mortar company. And they are publicly traded. A number of large institutional hedge funds, I think the big one was called Melvin I believe, they bet against it. So, they took out short positions on it that basically said we are betting that in the future the share price is going to be lower than it is now. And if that is the case then we are going to make money.
A lot of people feel like hedge funds essentially which generally short stocks are kind of ruining everything. I don’t know enough about finance to agree or disagree. All I can say just as a person is it’s like when you go to Vegas if you play Craps and somebody comes and bets against the people at the table it’s like screw you man.
So, anyway, there is a sub-Reddit called Wall Street Bets and they like to kind of work together to buy stuff and I guess maybe the combination of GameStop being something that a lot of people that are Reddit-y are familiar with/nostalgic for, plus the idea of just sticking it to these hedge fund dickheads rallied the folks on Wall Street Bets together and they just decided we are going to start buying GameStop. We’re going to buy it regardless of its earnings, its potential, anything. We’re just going to buy the stock.
And they did most of that through a trading site called Robinhood. And what happens when you buy, buy, buy? Price goes up. Price goes up. Price goes up. Price goes up. And if they make the price go up high enough all the people that had bet against it using their various metrics would lose millions, possibly billions, possibly their entire hedge fund. Gone. And it very quickly became this underdog story of a bunch of people on the Internet essentially turning the same sort of trickery, nonsense gaming that a lot of our financial industry runs on against them.
So, it was incredibly attractive. And so the price went from $35 to like $400. Alas, it has plummeted recently all the way down, I think it’s currently in the $60s. So that’s where we’re at.
John: So looking at this from, pulling back and looking at it, you can see, OK, there’s some stuff that feels a little bit movie-like in the sense of sticking it to the man. You have clear class divides there. There’s a sense of it feels like a heist movie that’s being done sort of through the Internet in a way. You could ascribe good motivations to these sub-Redditors and the folks who are buying the thing and sort of driving up the price and perhaps saving this struggling business.
There’s different ways you can approach it that feel like there’s a narrative there that could go towards a movie. And yet it’s not clear where we are in the act structure of this story. It feels very, very we’re still in the news cycle of it. So it seems premature to be talking about this as a movie, and yet there are three movies in development.
So let’s talk through at least what we know of so far. MGM has acquired a book proposal of the events written by Ben Mezrich. He was the guy whose previous books were adapted into the films 21 and The Social Network. So he feels like a person who would be good at writing this kind of stuff.
Netflix is apparently in talks with the Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter, Mark Boal, about a film that would star Noah Centineo who is the star of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. That’s a possibility. And then RatPac which is the Brett Ratner company has apparently bought the life rights to the guy who created the sub-Reddit. So that’s another way to sort of approach it. And these are three potential movies, three different approaches to sort of how they’re getting into it. One is buying a book written by a guy who is really good at writing books about this thing. One is bringing on a big screenwriter. One is getting the life rights.
I don’t know that there’s one right approach to it. I don’t think we’re going to see three movies come out of this though.
Craig: Not a chance. Not a chance. We will see one, maybe two. This is the danger. So there’s risk and reward. Just like all of the betting on Wall Street itself. This is a story that people are fascinated with.
Now, what people are fascinated with today is not necessarily what they’ll be fascinated with tomorrow or two or three weeks from now. What this story has going for it is that it is about something that feels very relevant to what it means to be an American right now. Economic inequality. This kind of Wall Street machinery that both the left and the right are resentful against. The sense that we are not really in control of our economy. And then here comes these folks that sort of prove it. And then get turned on, you know, by the powers that be as the powers that be kind of influence Robinhood to shut down a lot of the trading there.
But we don’t know how it ends. Right? So we don’t know necessarily what the full story is here. So the bet is that you are going to have a story that ultimately turns out to be something that is a full story, A. B, will still be relevant when the movie comes out. Won’t feel dated or like yesterday’s news. And, C, will feature characters that are fascinating and feature actors and filmmakers that people connect with. So, that’s the big gamble. And the additional risk that you’re dealing with is the fact nobody owns facts.
So, there could be 17 other Wall Street bets GameStop Robinhood movies quietly in development. There could be people just writing specs right now. So, what do they have going for them? Well, if you can find somebody like Ben Mezrich who has proven to convert things like this into books that then can be converted into very good movies, that seems like – you know what you’ve done? You’ve hedged your bet. That’s pretty good. I’m going to keep doing money analogy. I like it.
So that’s what it is. It’s basically gambling. You’re gambling with ideas.
John: Let’s talk about two book adaptations that feel appropriate here. So obviously Ben’s book, The Social Network, which is about the rise of Facebook and the infighting that happened at the early days of Facebook, an advantage that The Social Network is that it has characters. It has characters who are interacting with each other in physical spaces and can actually have arguments.
And so Aaron Sorkin is a great writer, but he also had really good real life people who can become characters who can actually do things cinematically. That’s going to be a challenge for any writer who is looking to adapt the GameStop story because these people are not in rooms together. They are people working with their own agendas separately and the movie has to stitch them together in ways that they would not naturally be there together. The conflict between two characters on a screen is going to be challenging to do in the GameStop movie because they’re not physically there together.
So, someone who is making money through Wall Street bets or who has spent money – has spent money in through Robinhood and has seen their net worth go from $5 to $300,000, that’s transformational for that character but you’re basically going to be probably inventing that character because that’s not going to be a real person or at least a person who is going to have conflicts with other folks in the world of your story. That’s going to be challenging.
The other book that came to mind as I was looking at this was Hillbilly Elegy which was a big bestselling book talking about sort of coming off of the 2016 election a lot of people were using that as a way to look at and explore a story of white working class people that had been underreported. And so there was an adaptation of that, but it was a challenging adaptation and did not sort of set the world on fire in its cinematic form. And I wonder and worry if that could be a similar kind of problem with this story which is so amorphous and kind of hard to hold. There’s not a plot to it.
Craig: Well, there is a plot in the sense that there’s a beginning, there’s a middle, and eventually there will be an end. The question is what will that end be? And will it feel like it justified the journey? So we’ll find out. There are some fascinating stories that I’ve read. You can look. You can go to Wall Street Bets and just read through individual people saying I think I screwed up. I put all of my money in this and I just lost it all and I haven’t told my wife and I don’t know what to do.
I mean, there are people that are talking about suicide on there. It’s terrifying. So, there is a kind of like dream and nightmare scenario going on there that I think is kind of fascinating. But you’re right. To wrangle it into one compelling narrative they are going to need to focus on some individuals. I will say that I do believe that we have an appetite for process stories, arcane process stories, more than Hollywood used to think. Hollywood generally the rule was that people are idiots and what they like are boobs or cars going fast or something exploding. And not that they don’t, but movies that come along like The Big Short which are deeply process movies, or The Social Network which is very much a process movie, people lean in. They want to actually see how the things that they interact with on a daily basis work under the hood. They really do get interested in that.
Whereas it used to be that diving into the weeds was a recipe for people not showing up, well now it kind of works. Is this a theatrical release? Well I don’t know if there’s going to be theaters anyway. But, no, I would think that this very much feels like it should be a play on Netflix or HBO or Apple or something.
John: Yeah. So I remember during the time of The Big Short, the movie The Big Short, not the actual real events, you and I, I think, both had sit down with Adam McKay and or Charles Randolph, the writers who adapted Michael Lewis’s book, and really good conversations you and I each had about sort of how challenging that process was and how to find character stories that could help illuminate really complicated situations about the housing crisis and sort of what actually happened there and how to visualize and narrativize those stories. And that’s probably what’s going to need to happen here. The way that we are sort of trying to obliquely get around what a short squeeze is, we’re going to have to find good ways to visualize that so the audience can understand that.
But I agree there is sort of a hunger for that. The same way that we have hunger for military thrillers where they explain sort of how some warship works. We do love to see that and we love to see people demonstrating their expertise in a very specific field.
So, it’s all conceivable and possible. I think my biggest hesitation is that we just don’t know what the third act of this is at all. And are we going to look at the events of GameStop five years from now as being like oh that was a big positive transformational event, or the start of something horrible? And we just don’t know yet.
Craig: Yeah. I think it’s going to end poorly for the people who invested in GameStop. That’s just my guess. Because in the end there is this interesting – what’s the game theory, the problem of the commons?
John: Yes, the tragedy of the commons.
Craig: The tragedy of the commons. This is a classic tragedy of the commons situation. Eventually, and it’s already started to happen, people who can walk away with a massive amount of money are going to. And this in fact is kind of the problem with the whole thing. There’s a fascinating discovery of how human behavior underlies all this stuff. And there is a little bit of a sadness in how we celebrate the underdog in our traditional fictional narratives, but in real life the underdog almost always loses. And what does that mean about us and our society and the American dream?
So, interesting things to look at. I do think that it will end – my guess is that it’s going to end poorly for people that bought into GameStop. My guess is that the billionaire hedge fund guys will remain billionaires. But that in and of itself is an interesting ending. We’ll see how it goes.
John: I’m hoping that Steve Mnuchin produces at least one adaptation of this. Because really who would be more qualified than Steve Mnuchin to – he’s a Hollywood producer who was also a Treasury Secretary. So he should be the person who should produce this.
Craig: Oh boy.
John: Boy. All right. So we’ll flag this for follow up. Obviously we’ll see what happens to any of these three movies or other adaptations along the way. But it’s a great example happening in real time of the urgency which people feel to acquire rights to hold down this thing which as you point out anyone could do. So we’ll see what happens.
Craig: Anyone could do.
John: Craig, you have left Twitter, although I do see you replying to other people on Twitter sometimes, but you have mostly left Twitter, so you may not have seen a really good thread that happened this past week.
Craig: I didn’t.
John: Rachel Miller put together a thread with advice for people who might be staffing or looking to staff on a TV show. And I thought it was terrific. And it also occurred to me that a Twitter thread does not work especially well at all on a podcast. So I reached out to Rachel and said hey would you mind recording your Twitter thread so we could actually talk about it here, because I thought your advice was flawless and succinct and so brilliant. But it needed to be working in an audio format. So we reached out, Megana worked with her to record this all.
John: I thought we would go through her advice and listen to it, but also respond to it and see what people could do, how people could implement this in their own lives. So, some context, Rachel Miller, she is a founding partner of Haven Entertainment, so she’s a producer rather than a writer. She’s also a founder of a nonprofit, Film2Future, which is a pipeline for underserved LA youth in Hollywood. She was just staffing a show for a streamer. And so she and her showrunner/partner read 368 scripts and they reached out to another 50 people to check availabilities for five writer spots for the room.
John: And she said that the truth is that the odds are not in your favor, but there’s some things you can do to help improve your chances of getting staffed. So, let’s take a listen to her advice.
Rachel Miller: One. Write something buzzy. Your sample needs to be something that cuts through the noise, that makes us remember your script after reading 368 scripts. For staffing, we aren’t necessarily looking for a pilot that sets up a series, just something that makes us remember you and your writing.
John: Yes. And so I remember when we’ve had TV showrunner guests on before them talking through like I will read the first couple pages. I just need a sense of can this person write. They kind of don’t care about the plotting overall. They just want to know is this a person who has an interesting voice. Is this someone who I want to keep reading?
Rachel: Two. Work on the first 15 pages, make them sing. If the first 15 pages aren’t good, it’s unlikely that we will keep reading, but if they are, we will most likely keep reading to the end of the script.
Craig: Well, because if the first 15 pages are good the next 45 are also probably going to be good. I mean, if you write well you write well. That’s how it kind of goes.
John: Absolutely. And so it also speaks to don’t hold back crucial things, oh, I don’t want that reveal to happen. I would say really do focus on that initial experience. So when we talk about the first three pages of this Three Page Challenge we really are getting a sense very quickly whether this is a script we want to keep reading.
John: So just make sure that works.
Rachel: Three. Have a second sample ready to go. Many times we asked for a second sample to read more of a writer and was told they had none. A second sample should show off something different about your writing, we should not read two versions of the same story in two separate samples.
Craig: That’s reasonable.
John: Yeah. That’s great advice. You know, when I talk to people who are looking to staff I ask them sort of what they’re sending out, but also what else have you got. Because you want something that shows some range. It doesn’t show the same person every time.
Rachel: Four. Make sure you have a bio and credit list and that your rep has it and it is updated. For a bio, tell us something that makes you unique. You never know what someone is looking for in a room so adding something specific that separates you from everyone else is always helpful, especially if you are a lower level writer and a ton of credits a good bio is key.
Craig: Hmm. Well.
John: Yeah. Craig, you’re not hiring writers for your show, but there’s other folks who you’re reaching out to. You’re trying to find out information about them. Do you find yourself Googling them? Are you looking for information about them? Or are you just taking what the reps send you?
Craig: Yeah, so I’m not hiring writers, therefore the people that we’re talking to we will generally get IMDb breakdowns on them. And sometimes if it’s a certain kind of person, particularly actors, but also for department heads, if there’s an interview online I’ll watch it. Interviews are fascinating. If you ever have a chance to be interviewed for anything – maybe you’re not on a staff or anything but you’re a writer and somebody has interviewed you for any little tiny program, well any little tiny program is going to be Google-able. Anything. Right?
And so take it seriously. Take that interview seriously. Be gracious. Be interesting. Don’t be me, me, me, me, me, but just be fascinating. Somebody might find that. Those things matter to me more than – look, honestly, this one is not my – bios are fake. That’s the bottom line. Bios are super fake. Like all resumes are fakes. Everybody who has ever written a resume knows that resumes are fake. So, I don’t put too much credence in those, but an interview. Well that’s something.
John: Yeah. So before we started recording this episode I was on a Zoom with some strangers who I’d – people I’d never met before. And I found myself just Googling them while we were talking. And I was curious the difference I saw between like some people I could find information about them that sort of helped me get a bigger picture of them. And some people were just un-Google-able. There was nothing out there that was helpful. Or the only thing I could see was like in 2016 this person obviously went to Harvard. But I couldn’t figure out really what they’d done in the time since that time. And so if they’d had a site, if they had other stuff out there that could help me get a sense of who they were that would be great. And so I think that’s the advice that Rachel is giving too, to make sure that if it’s an official bio or some other site that it gives some sense of who you are as a writer because you may not even have a rep who is there advocating on your behalf. The script could have just been handed in by somebody else.
Craig: Right. Right. Exactly.
Rachel: Contact info. And this seems easy, but it wasn’t. Make sure your correct rep’s info is on your script, is on IMDb and Studio System, and on your website. It is very difficult to actually contact a writer if there is no way to get in touch with that writer. Make sure your website is up to date as well. And if you don’t have reps, make sure your contact info is on the script.
John: Yeah, so for Three Page Challenges I’ve been happy to see that that’s actually improved. I’m consistently seeing contact information on the Three Page Challenges that we’re getting in. Stick in an email address there and they will email you if someone is interested. And we know people who have been featured on the Three Page Challenge who are getting contacts from reps and managers because there’s something they liked. And they can just reach out to you directly. They don’t have to go through Megana. That’s good.
Craig: Yeah. How are people missing this? I don’t understand. I mean, that’s one where – when you are going through all this stuff, everybody who is going through this has 12 other things they also have to do. Any tiny friction point is going to hurt. And if you’re interested and you want to talk to somebody and they didn’t put their contact info on I’m already angry at them for their weird judgment. So unless the script has blown me away I’m just going to keep going.
Craig: It’s just weird. Like how do you miss that?
John: The other thing I would add, if you are a WGA member you should update your Find a Writer profile because that is a way you can give your contact information, show who your agent is if you have one, your manager if you have one, attorneys if you have one, and include some samples. It will take you 20 minutes to do and that is another way people can find you. So, update that in the directory.
Rachel: Six. If you hear about a staffing job and you have no reps and you think you are a perfect fit, take your shot and reach out to the producers with an email explaining why you feel you might be a perfect fit. Not all producers will say yes to reading someone unrepped but some will and it’s worth taking a shot. Just make sure you specify why you think you are a perfect fit. Do not attach the script in the original email. That will get your email immediately deleted. Wait till the producer writes back and says it’s OK or not to send the script.
John: Yeah. And so you and I have always been skeptical of query letters and sort of that sense of like, “Hey, I have this thing,” but it sounds like what she’s talking about is being very specific and targeted towards like this person is making a medical investigator show set in Philadelphia and I am a person with a background as a medical investigator in Philadelphia and I’m a damn good screenwriter. You should reach out to that person.
Craig: The second part is the key. You have to be able to say, listen, now that I’ve told you this thing you and I would both agree that I would be an idiot to not try. Right? I mean, so that’s the key. You just don’t want to do it and be like, “I’m not repped and I don’t know anything, but I love the stuff that you guys are doing and I think I’d be a great fit.” I love it when people say, “I think I would be a great fit.” And I’m like do you? What does that mean? OK. But there’s no evidence. You know?
John: You know who is a great fit? Zoanne Clack when she’s getting hired on to Grey’s Anatomy. She’s a doctor.
Craig: She’s a doctor. Exactly. That’s a great fit. That’s a fit. Exactly. That works. Not, oh, you’re a great fit because we have a job and you want a job? That’s not fit.
Rachel: Social presence – if you have a website, make sure it works. Even if it just lists your contact info, make sure it’s not a dead site. Think about joining Twitter, Instagram, all the other socials. Being part of a writing community is always helpful but also it’s a way to express yourself so a producer, or showrunner, or exec can get a glimpse of you. There is a flip side to this: Think about what you are posting. No one wants to hire someone who is constantly negative about other people, other shows, other rooms. Build your writer community. Often a showrunner or producer will reach out to their friends for personal recs and those scripts will always go to the top of the pile.
John: Great. And I’m glad she’s pointing out the double-edged sword of having social media because that is a way of sort of showing your voice and showcasing what you’re interested in. It gives me a sense of who you are as a person. But in giving me a sense of who you are as a person I’m going to decide like, oh, I don’t want to be anywhere near that person. That person seems like a real bummer to be around. So, you’ve got to be really mindful about what you’re putting out there.
Craig: Yeah. I think if you’ve written a good sample and they like it and you are not on social media at least for me that would not be a problem for me whatsoever. Most people are too online. And I guarantee you, no matter what I feel about you, if I’m going to read 100 of your tweets I’ll find two that piss me off. No question. That’s anyone. Anyone. Much less somebody sitting there and digging back through your history.
So, I’m not sure about that one to be honest with you. I don’t know if that is good advice. That one I’m questioning.
John: But I think of like Ashley Nicole Black who we only know – we were only sort of put in contact with through Twitter. And has been a guest on the show twice and is just a phenomenal writer both on Twitter and in real life and is doing great.
Craig: But we’re not hiring her. And she’s not doing great because of Twitter.
John: I don’t know if there’s really any correlation between her Twitter use and her writing. I think it enables other people to find her.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, there is that. I like the idea of having a presence on the web where you can express yourself in a controlled way and you’re not kind of necessarily – believe me, it’s not like I’m saying don’t be on Twitter. It’s just be really careful. I think that the potential for trouble is actually greater than the potential for benefit in terms of if you’re not on it don’t – I’m just saying if you’re not on it and it’s not your thing, don’t feel like you have to be.
John: Yup. This is a good place for me to plug on the 18th of February I’m going to be doing a WGA panel on public relations and social media for writers.
Craig: Oh great.
John: So if you have other thoughts on that you can join us there.
Rachel: OK, so now you’ve got a meeting. Now what? One, be enthusiastic. Tell us what you liked about the show, what excites you? What part or what characters are you most interested in writing about? Have show pitches ready to go. Some showrunners won’t want to hear them, but some will. At least have them ready in your back pocket should a showrunner ask. Read the materials before the meeting. Sometimes you’ll just have a pilot, sometimes you’ll have a pilot and a book. Sometimes it will just be a link to watch. Make sure you do all your homework and Google the showrunner and producer. Come in as prepared as you can.
John: So, it’s not surprising that she’s saying to come in prepared. And we’ve talked about going in for meetings and going in for general meetings, going in for specific meetings on a project. But I think our biases as feature writers is it’s always like how are we going to approach this project that’s here in front of us. And what’s different about going in for a meeting with a showrunner is that you’re responding to that person’s work. And so you have to be super positive about the thing that they’ve made and how great that is. But also sort of being able to “yes and” and sort of talk about where the series can go, what’s exciting to you about that, which is a subtly different thing than going in to meet with a producer about the Uno Movie.
Craig: No question. And beyond the evidence that you are a worker, and an adult who reads what you’re supposed to read and knows what you’re supposed to know, actual demonstrable passion for a show is going to move you further than almost anything else. And you can’t fake it. It’s got to be real.
The reason you do all of your homework in addition to your actual passion for the show is because it is not only a sign that you are an adult. It is a sign of respect for the people that you’re sitting with. They wrote that stuff. They’ve been working on it. They don’t want somebody sitting there going, “Yeah, I guess I could work on this. You know, I’ll come in and do what you need, whatever you need. You like what I wrote, I’ll write some stuff like that for you.” Well, get out. Get out of my office. You make me feel bad about myself and my show.
What I want is for you to come in and say, “I love what you do. I love your show. It means something to me. I want to be a part of it. I want to learn from you. And I want to leave my thumbprint on it. I want to influence this because I care about it.” Then I lean forward and I go who is this? I want to know you. And, again, you can’t fake that. It’s got to be real.
John: Yeah. So don’t play hard to get. I mean, the opportunity to get hard to get is when there’s multiple people who want to hire you for a job for a slot. That’s fantastic and then you can maybe get your price up a little bit. But, no, you want to seem like the person who has passion for this specific job who they can imagine being in a writer’s room or writer’s Zoom for weeks on end with and not dread seeing you.
Rachel: Four. Write a thank you note after the meeting. Your reps or an assistant will forward it on. It looks great. Five. Most importantly, be yourself. Again, you’ll never know what exactly the needs of the room are. And what mix the showrunner, producer, or network are looking for. So being yourself is always the best answer. Break a leg out there.
Craig: Yeah, being yourself.
John: Great advice. So thank you notes. I’ve generally not done them. Maybe I should do them more. I’ve always liked it when I’ve gotten thank you notes when I’ve been interviewing for people to come work for me. I do notice when those thank you notes come through. So that’s a good idea. I just haven’t done it.
Craig: [laughs] You like getting them, you just don’t like writing them.
John: That’s so totally true. Just like the opposite is true. I prefer to give a present than to give a present. I don’t really like getting presents.
Craig: Sure. Well, no, I hate getting presents because mostly it’s just an exercise in me trying to convince you that I don’t want to throw this thing out. But I do like writing a thank you note. And I’m sort of the opposite. I don’t really care about getting the thank you notes so much, but I like writing them because, again, it’s just to show respect I think mostly. Just to show respect, no matter what the power dynamic is. Whether it’s somebody that was trying to get a job from me or somebody that I’ve been talking to about a job. I do that because it just feels, I don’t know, nice.
But the be yourself advice is always the best advice. It is true that there’s stuff going on that you’re not aware of and never will be aware of that sometimes qualifies you or disqualifies you within seconds. And you have no control over it. It just is what it is. And so you can’t calculate your way to success. Be your enthusiastic, passionate, authentic self.
John: So I want to thank you Rachel Miller both for writing that lovely Twitter thread and for recording it so we could talk about it here on the air. So thank you again Rachel Miller.
All right, I think we have time for one listener question. So Megana Rao: if you could come on board and talk us through a question that we could answer from the mailbag. Because I see there’s a bunch here, but maybe this top one would work for us.
Megana Rao:: All right. Great. So Oscar asks, “What are your thoughts in showing something in flashback versus hearing a monologue about it? Let’s say you have the limited resources to actually shoot that flashback. What would be reasons you would cutaway versus leaving it as a monologue?”
John: That’s a great question.
Craig: I love this question so much because I literally was confronting this very question just a couple weeks ago in thinking about a future episode that I have yet to write of The Last of Us. And the answer Oscar is you’ve just got to feel it. Because there are some stories you really do want to be in. And then there are some stories that you want to hear. And I can’t tell you why one thing feels like it’s better to hear than another other than to say if it seems like if you’re in it and it’s happening it might feel possibly melodramatic as opposed to if you’re just hearing about it and that person can kind of play against some inherent melodrama than maybe that’s a reason to have somebody relay it as a story.
If you think that the story would be fantastic to see and not really a good story to tell then you don’t really have that option. But, if it’s something that you think the storytelling would kind of contrast with. And a great example is in Jaws. So there’s Robert Shaw delivering that amazing story about what it was like floating in the water after the USS Indianapolis is hit a torpedo I think. And they’re all floating in the water and then the sharks come.
Well, you could say it, but then it’s sort of like, oh look, a camera is there and people are in the water and it’s a big action sequence and people are screaming. But having him kind of tell that story with that weird smile on his face because that’s how he covers up the pain, and he’s slightly drunk, and you can tell every now and then inside of the story he starts to reveal feelings and then, no, not at all. And the way he ends it as if to say, “Well, there you go. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.” That becomes fascinating because now the story isn’t about plot, the story is about character. So that’s your choice. You’ve got to figure it out. You’ve got to feel it.
John: Yeah. I would say that whatever movie or TV show you’re doing you also are setting some rules for yourself about are you the kind of thing that tells stories or flashes back. And if there’s one flashback in the whole movie or the whole TV series well that’s weird. It feels like you’re just breaking the rules to tell that one thing. So there has to be a really good reason why you are doing that thing.
Also, you need to ask yourself do you have a good person to tell that story. Is there a person who actually would be an interesting narrator to tell that story and who their choice to tell that story within the scene is meaningful and makes sense? Because it’s not just the story. It’s the scene in which the story is being told. And if you have that moment where it actually really makes sense for this character at this moment to tell that story, that’s awesome. But if you’re just dumping information at the audience that probably is pushing you back more towards a this is the movie wants to tell you, show you what happened, versus this character wants to tell you what happened.
Craig: Yeah. You never want your story to feel like, oh, they just needed to save money. Or, oh, they just needed you to know a whole big bunch of crap and they didn’t want to make you sit through all of it because it’s boring. It’s got to be a great story. That’s the key. It’s got to be a great story.
John: We have many great questions here so I think next week will probably end up being a mailbag episode because I was just looking through this outline and some primo questions being sent in to email@example.com, so thank you everyone who has sent those through. And thank you Megana for sorting through all of these.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. I have two One Cool Thing this week. The first is an article by Dan Froomkin entitled “What the next generation of editors need to tell their political reporters.” What he’s arguing for in this piece is basically that we need to stop having politics reporters or political reporters and relabel them as government reporters. Because when you start talking about politics you inevitably move to a this side versus that side and to a sort of sports team kind of reporting on things which is not actually helpful for the good of the nation or for people understanding what’s actually happening.
So, it was a really interesting framing. And I think it could potentially be really useful in terms of what if we just talked about what government is doing and what the issues are and stopped talking about it as a race. And I think some really good points being made in there. So, I will point you to Froomkin’s article there.
And once you’ve read through that long piece I think you need a palate cleanser which I will send you to. This is a clip of Whitney Houston and Brandy singing Impossible from the ABC version of Cinderella. And I just – this is behind the scenes of them recording this. And it’s just such a reminder of what – not just what an instrument Whitney Houston had but just how much life she had. It was just so good to see her so joyful as she was singing this. And as she’s ribbing Brandy to actually sing on pitch, it’s just great. So I loved this little bit. I’m going to play a little clip for you here Craig so you can appreciate how good this sounds.
Craig: I would like that. Yes.
John: That made you smile right?
Craig: So good. I mean, just – just the GOAT. Just unbelievable.
John: And it made me remember that like I think too much about the tragic end of Whitney Houston. And I need to move past that and appreciate the joyful beginning and middle of Whitney Houston and what she was able to do.
John: That I got to be alive while she was singing like that.
Craig: Just effortlessly. I assume you’ve watched the famous clip of her singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.
John: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Craig: And when she redefined, literally redefined the melody at the end of the National Anthem. No one else had done Free-hee. No one else had done the octave jump on free. And now you have to do it.
Craig: She just made that. She made it. She invented it. It’s amazing.
So my One Cool Thing is, I know I’m off of Twitter, but if you are lurking on Twitter which I think is perfectly fine because it’s free to everybody there is a fascinating woman named Stella Zawistowski. Stella Zawistowski is part of the crossword world. She’s often in the mix at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The big one in Connecticut. And she’s got a great – this is what makes her especially fascinating. This is her, what do you call the little bio thing on your Twitter profile: “Personal records…” I’m going to do it backward from the way she does it because I just like the reveal of it. “Personal records: New York Times Sunday crossword, 4 minutes, 33 seconds. Back squat 265 lbs.” That’s right. Stella Zawistowski not only can solve a Sunday Times puzzle in under five minutes, but she is a powerlifter. There’s a picture of her doing it. It’s impressive.
So that’s a combination you don’t see too frequently. Not to rip on my fellow crossword people but we are not known for our brute strength. [laughs] So, Stella is. But what I love about Stella lately is that she’s been helping people with understanding and getting into cryptic crosswords which I’ve talked about on here before. And she has a hashtag she’s been doing called #ExplanationFriday where she shows a clue and gives people a chance to get it right. And then she gives you the answer and explains how the clue works, because that is how you learn how to do cryptics by sort of going back and reverse engineering the clues and learning the conventions and the tricks and all that fun.
So, it’s a great way to start learning, because honestly I’ve become too bored with regular crossword puzzles. I need the cryptics. So, cryptics or metas. So, Stella Zawistowski for all of your powerlifting, crossword, and cryptic clue needs. @stellaphone. @stellaphone.
John: Excellent. And that is our show for this week. So, as always, Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao:. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did our fantastic outro this week. So stick around and listen to that. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter I am @johnaugust. Craig is not really on Twitter so don’t at him.
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You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments like the one we’re about to record on awkward dates. So stick around for that. Craig, thank you for a good episode.
Craig: Thanks John.
Craig: That’s great to see. What are they saying?
John: I don’t think they’re saying anything.
Craig: Just Latin sort of just chanting?
John: Just Latin chanting.
Craig: That’s awesome.
John: It’s great. I also love that it’s so creepy and yet beautiful. I mean, it’s joyful and creepy at the same time, which is just a uniquely church-y kind of thing you can do.
Craig: Yes. Yes. That was beautiful.
John: Yeah. Our topic this week is also potentially creepy and beautiful. Adam in Los Angeles wrote in to say he wants to hear us talk about bad dating stories. And here’s a situation where I think I probably have more dating stories than you do just because you met your wife in college and probably didn’t date a lot post-college. What’s your dating history?
Craig: I didn’t date at all post-college. I dated in high school and I dated in college. I mean, dating in college is really just like I sleep with you, I sleep with you. But then I met my wife my junior year and it’s been her since. So, yeah. I’m out of that whole scene man.
John: I was dating up until I was 30. So I have lot more dating history.
Craig: You’ve got some stories. Yeah.
John: I’ve got some stories.
Craig: Tell us stories.
John: But let’s go back to high school. So my most notable date, I have two things from high school that are embarrassing, which most high school dating is kind of embarrassing. This first one though I remember very distinctly. So, I got set up with a friend of a friend. A girl named Tonya who I didn’t know at all, but she was friends with other friends and apparently she was really into me and I didn’t know who she was. But we got set up.
So we talked on the phone and we ended up going to see a movie for our first date. And, Craig, that movie was Fatal Attraction.
Craig: That’s working.
John: That’s working really, really well.
Craig: Everything about this situation is clicking.
John: Absolutely. So this girl who is apparently a little obsessed with me takes me to see Fatal Attraction. So we see Fatal Attraction which is a really good movie, but also not a good first date movie.
John: So then we go back to her family’s house and her parents aren’t around because her parents are gone for the weekend or something. And I was like I don’t kind of feel safe here. And so I should stress she’s lovely and so I’ve met her at the high school reunion and she’s great and phenomenal and happily married and everything else. But it was not a good experience for me.
Craig: No, that must have been – yeah, you walk into the house, there’s no one there. It’s the reverse right. Normally you go, OK, I’m the straight guy. I go home with this girl. I walk into the house. The parents are gone. Woo! Party time. And then not the case in this circumstance.
John: It was not the case in this circumstance. Do you have a high school story?
Craig: Yeah. I’ve got some high school stories. Sure. I’m trying to think of a bad, a really – well, I’ll tell you actually prior to high school you know there’s like the awkward early crush, like so now you’re talking like fifth grade crush.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: It’s not quite a date story. But I had this like beyond crush on the girl who lived across the street named Sandra. And I told my friend Eric about her. And he was like you’ve got to write a love letter to her. And I was like what, no way. And he convinced me. And I did it. I wrote a love letter to Sandra. And I walked across and I put it in her mailbox because you could do that. And then I went home. And then I had terrible regrets. I had terrible regrets. What have I done? She’s going to tell everybody. I’m going to be laughed at. She’s not going to like me.
So I went back over there. It had already been taken out of the mailbox. I rang her doorbell. She came out. And I basically said, yeah, none of that’s true.
John: Oh no, Craig.
Craig: Yeah. I just took it all back. And she must have – look, I’d like to think, this is the most charitable imagining. Sandra got this. We’re all like 10, OK? Sandra go this, read it, and went, “Huh?” And then I came to her door and she’s like, “Oh, hi.” And then I say this crazy stuff about how I didn’t really mean it and it was all just a joke. And she was polite about it and then she went back inside and went, “What?” And then just moved on with her day like what the hell was that about.
John: Yeah. And that’s very classic comedy. Something that was so important to you and it meant nothing to her at all.
Craig: I hope. I hope. But, yeah, you know, I don’t have too many disastrous date stories I must say.
John: So this isn’t even really a date story, but it actually has a similar dynamic. So this is in, I don’t know if it was in high school, or maybe it was I was back for summer in college. And I ended up making out with this girl at a party and, whatever, you make out with somebody at a party. And then I guess we exchanged phone numbers or whatever. But she’d said like, “Oh, I work at Fashion Bar in the Crossroads Mall.” And I think she had said something like, “Oh, we could get lunch or something.” And so I showed up at like where she worked.
Craig: Oh, you’re a stalker.
John: Yeah. And in retrospect I’m looking at this from her perspective. She could not get away from me. So I regret that. But I fundamentally did not understand that I was meeting her at work. It was just weird and I’m embarrassed now to even sort of tell that story.
Craig: You know, it’s important to hug yourself.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: And forgive yourself. We all have done these stupid, stupid things. Just, you know, everyone has one. But that’s not too bad, you know.
John: It’s not too bad. I didn’t keep stalking her in any way like that. I think in going there I was like, oh, we’re not going to be able to have a conversation there. And so therefore I should just–
Craig: Right. What is Fashion Bar?
John: Fashion Bar was some sort of retail clothing store. I think there was a Fashion Bar Men’s and a Fashion Bar Women’s. It was a private chain.
Craig: Got it. So she could be like, “Look, I know we made out at a party, but if you want to stay here you need to buy a sweater.”
John: That’s pretty true.
Craig: And use my sticker for the sale.
John: Now, Craig though, you missed out on all dating in your 20s which was the beginning of online dating and all that stuff.
Craig: Yeah, never done it.
John: I’ll quickly talk you through some of the highlights of that. So, not an online date, but I do remember an Aspen gay ski week, meeting a guy on a chairlift and sort of flirting there. And then it’s like, oh, come by my place. I’m like, great, I’ll come by your place. And then he ended up living in New York and so we had phone conversations. So you never had to do a lot of phone dating either.
John: But I remember this one conversation where he said, “Oh, you’re exactly the kind of guy my therapist wants me to date.”
Craig: Oh no.
John: That first red flag. And so he was like an investment guy. And I was a broke aspiring screenwriter. And he’s like, “I keep dating these sort of like hot guys who are wrong for me. Listen, I’ve got the money, I can get your surgery. I can get you a trainer. Basically I can change you into the thing that I want to date.”
Craig: Wait, he was Pygmalion-ing you?
John: He was trying to Pygmalion me.
Craig: [laughs] Well, hold on a second. You don’t necessarily want to turn down free surgery. What was he offering?
John: I don’t know. You could be dealing with a completely different host here.
Craig: That’s so weird.
John: So weird.
Craig: That’s psycho. I can get your surgery. That’s what you want from somebody. That says love.
John: Yeah. I wish I could figure out this guy’s name to sort of see where he’s at now in life.
Craig: If only we could cut into you and rearrange your meat. Then…
John: Do you need all your ribs? I don’t know that you do.
Craig: Oh my god. That’s terrifying. All right, well, you know.
John: That’s dating.
Craig: Hey, he was open with you at the very least.
John: And so the one last sort of Internet dating story I’ll share. I will say that I do miss dating in my 20s because I like seeing people’s apartments.
Craig: Oh, that’s a thought. Sure.
John: It’s nice going to see people’s apartments. A guy who, an Internet date, and we ended up going out to lunch at like a Baja Fresh. And Baja Fresh is a chain in Southern California that is known for, they have a salsa bar. And you can have lots of different kinds of salsa there to put on your burritos and your tacos. And this guy got like 15 little cups for salsa. And filled them up with pico de gallo, the chopped up tomato thing, and just sort of ate that as a salad.
Craig: What? [laughs]
John: That should be a giant red flag. And it was a giant red flag. There was not a second date.
Craig: I don’t know. I mean, what if that was just this adorable affectation that he had and he was amazing. He’s like the best husband ever to somebody and they’re like, “Oh my god, Jimmy, the one thing about him is the pico de Gallo thing, but otherwise he’s perfect.”
John: Other than like stalking that girl at Fashion Bar.
John: He’s a good guy.
Craig: Other than the fact that he came to my house, delivered this love letter, and then 20 minutes later came back and said the whole thing was fake, he’s great. We suck. God we suck.
John: So you shouldn’t judge people by the worst thing they’ve ever done. Which in your case was mail fraud.
Craig: Mail fraud. Exactly.
John: And in my case was stalking at a retail store.
Craig: And Aspen gay ski week guy’s worst case was just being Jame Gumb from Silence of the Lambs and wanting to cut into you.
Craig: That’s terrifying. “You’re the kind of person my therapist wants me to date,” what that means is I don’t want to date you.
John: Indeed. It really does. It frankly does. It’s like you’re not a thing I want, but I want to want you.
Craig: You’re the kind of food my dietician says I should be eating. OK, I get it. I’m asparagus. Screw you man.
John: Fun stuff. Fun times.
Craig: Bad dates.
John: So you haven’t dated in forever, so do you miss any part of that life?
Craig: No. Not at all. I mean, I don’t know – it seems to me like it’s chaotic and disruptive and scary. Fraught with pain. I mean, I’m painting a terrible picture of it. I guess mostly the reason why is if you’re not dating, if you’re in a monogamous relationship and you have a lot of friends who are dating they don’t come to you with good dating stories. They come to you with the disasters. That’s all you hear are just – I was on my skateboard and it went great. Nothing happened. Crazy. And I came home. You just hear like fell off my skateboard, smashed my face into the ground, lost five teeth. Traumatized. That’s the kind of dating story I would get. Just the disasters.
John: Yeah. I think I miss being young. I miss my youth. But I think if I were to ask that person then like what do you want, I totally want exactly what I have now which is like a really happy marriage and family and all the stuff. So I’m just the luckiest person alive. So I don’t miss that dating.
Craig: Yeah. Well that’s the idea. That you know what you want. You get what you want.
John: I won.
Craig: You’re happy with want you want. And you don’t need to, for instance, surgically alter Mike.
John: I do not.
Craig: He’s perfect, except for this one slice.
John: No, no. Perfect.
Craig: I want to meet this guy. This guy sounds awesome actually.
John: Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thank you John.
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