You can find the original post of this episode here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 496 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we’re looking at those projects that are not the ones you’re currently writing, with some suggestions for keeping them in mind without letting them take over your entire brain space. We’ll also be answering listener questions including what to do when you have a crush on your producer.
Craig: Oh my.
John: Oh my.
Craig: Oh my.
John: In our bonus segment for premium members Craig and I will discuss which words we’re willing to lose forever.
Craig: Oh, OK. That sounds like fun. Sure.
John: But Craig some really breaking news. Had you ever heard about this producer Scott Rudin? And some alleged bad behavior? An article came out this last week detailing this in the Hollywood Reporter. It was an article by Tatiana Siegel. And did this shock you?
Craig: [laughs] Not only did it not shock me, but it was a bit like after five years of people finally doing something about the predatory large cat problem someone stood up and went, “Wait, there’s also a tiger. Why don’t we talk about the tiger?”
People have known about Scott Rudin since you and I showed up in Hollywood.
John: Yeah. And in 1994 there was a movie called Swimming with Sharks.
John: Which I remember seeing at the Laemmle Sunset Five. And it was about this abusive producer, playing by Kevin Spacey, and it was widely discussed that this is based on Scott Rudin. This is who Scott Rudin is.
Craig: My understanding was that it was a conglomeration of Scott Rudin and Barry Josephson.
Craig: But Scott Rudin, also there was an article that was written about Scott Rudin in the ‘90s that detailed the horrendous things he did and the tenor of the article – and I would also say the reception of the article – was kind of like “awesome.” Like “what a legend.”
Craig: And I know people that worked as his assistant and everything you ever heard was true. And I guess in my mind I thought like does Scott Rudin just get a pass because he’s always been this way? Kind of like South Park gets a pass on everything. I guess. But finally somebody was like enough already. Enough already with this guy.
John: So what’s weird is I had Megana check our back emails because I knew I had spoken to a reporter at the New York Times over a year ago about Scott Rudin. It was sort of like – and this reporter’s question was like after Weinstein do you think there’s a market to talk about Scott Rudin and all of these stories of abusive behavior. And so I spoke with this reporter and said like, “Listen, I never worked for Scott Rudin. But all I’ve heard is very consistent stories about the people who work for him. And not writers who work for him, mostly, but really his employees being just horribly, horribly mistreated.” And so I could say that, but I didn’t go on the record because I didn’t know anything.
And so that story never happened, but this story finally did come out. So, I want to both praise the Hollywood Reporter and Tatiana Siegel for writing this story, but it’s also I’m sort of grappling with this, yeah, why didn’t we address this earlier?
Craig: Well, we get used to things. There’s like a weird background noise thing that happens and your brain just becomes inured to it. And then one day someone says, “You do realize, right, that this weird thing has been going on for the last 20 years and it shouldn’t be going on?” And there’s just a moment where everybody goes, yeah, what the F.
And I’ve never worked with Scott Rudin. And nonetheless I believe everything I’ve read about Scott Rudin because it’s been said by so many people for so long in the exact same way. You know, there are cases where you can question people, but when you have a Cosby situation where 50 women all tell the same story that story has got to be true. And in this case you’ve got so many assistants telling stories of things being thrown at their heads. Things being broken on their hands. And people being sent to the hospital. And people being physically, emotionally, mentally abused.
John: Yeah. The HR person leaves in an ambulance due to a panic attack.
Craig: The HR person left in an ambulance.
John: Can you imagine being the HR person in that office? How would you even possibly do that? Because you’re constantly churning through these people who are not being treated in any way that should be happening.
So, bringing this a little bit more local, you know, the last couple of years we’ve been talking about #PayUpHollywood and we’ve been talking about the treatment of assistants in Hollywood, and specifically focusing on pay but also respect. And this is a situation where these people who are working for Scott Rudin were not being treated – maybe they were being well paid, but they were not being treated with respect. And they were working insane hours and in abusive situations. And it’s all part of the same thing, too.
If you see the value in a person as an individual you’re not paying them well and you’re not treating them wall, it has to stop.
Craig: Not only do I hope that it stops immediately, but I think it’s probably valuable to outline a path for Scott Rudin to perform some reparations here. Because, look, it may be that somebody actually files criminal charges against him for physical abuse, and if that happens then he will be held accountable by the criminal justice system. However, in the absence of that because of statute of limitations or any other reason this is a very wealthy man. An extraordinarily wealthy man, because he’s an extraordinarily successful man.
And to add a little bit of a strange kind of quirk to this, he’s different than Harvey in this one particular regard – well, first of all, because he’s not necessarily being accused of sexual assault, but also Scott Rudin is brilliant. And he has remarkable taste. And Harvey was an idiot. I like to say “Harvey was” because I like to imagine that he’s not alive. It just makes me happy.
So, Harvey is dumb. Scott Rudin is brilliant and has tremendous taste. And so there is this world where you want him to be a good person, because he does participate and help create and bring into the world a lot of really interesting art. With all of his money it seems to me that he could perhaps take a moment and then just start giving it back to all of the people he hurt. Just start writing checks, Scott Rudin.
You can’t buy away pain. You can’t buy your way to a clean soul. This isn’t papal indulgence time. But you can do what you can do. And if I were advising Scott Rudin right now I would say, hey Scott, sell a bunch of stuff, get out your checkbook, and make things right between you and your god. Because you’ve hurt a lot of people. And he has.
John: Yeah. This idea of a reckoning is so different between the Weinstein situation because like there were actual crimes committed in the Weinstein situation. Like the criminal justice system was involved and it’s not clear that any crimes have been committed here. There was bad behavior. And it sort of goes back more towards the discussion we had a couple weeks ago talking about what do you do when everybody knows. Everybody know, there’s a whisper network saying this person is toxic, this person is bad. But it’s not at a level where there’s actual crime.
We’ve seen this in some cases where showrunners get ousted because they are not running their shows well and they’re being assholes to their staff. But in a weird way with Scott Rudin, there’s no person employing Scott Rudin. As the producer he’s the person who is coming in with the rights and running the show. And so it’s really a matter of people choosing not to work with Scott Rudin until there is some reckoning, some way to sort of address what’s happened here.
Craig: Which I think is almost certainly going to happen. The thing that keep people glued to abusive humans in this business is either the fact that they are relying on that person for their livelihood or they are afraid of what that person can do to them. If you are one person standing up and saying “I am Spartacus” you may get your head lopped off. If everybody stands up and says “I am Spartacus” no one is getting their head lopped off.
And right now I think finally everybody just stood up and said, “Enough already. We’re all Spartacus.” And at that point Scott Rudin is not capable of hurting, damaging, or destroying anyone’s career. So these other folks who have been afraid of him and what he could do I assume are no longer afraid. I hope they’re no longer afraid.
Obviously you and I aren’t afraid, because we’re saying all this stuff. We are not afraid of Scott Rudin, apparently.
Craig: If this show is off the air next week you’ll know why.
John: You’ll know why. I think a thing we can also do as people who make films and television is really look at the role to which we are glamorizing abusive bosses. And I think there is such an iconic role, you know, from the Miranda Priestlys, to sort of all the other asshole bosses. And where we sort of like, oh, they’re the kind of villain but we also kind of love them. Maybe we need to take a sharper look at sort of what we’re doing here. Because I think we might be sort of extending the cycle for these people to sort of stay in power.
Because it’s a belief that you’ve gotten the power because you were this power. And you stayed in power because you’re this person. And it’s OK because you are this person. We see this in politics as well. So maybe we need to really look at sort of our role in glamorizing this type of behavior.
Craig: Yeah. I feel like generally we are – we meaning Hollywood – a little bit behind the world. We tend to echo what we see in the world. We rarely create something, some new movement. But in a positive way I think the world has moved on a little bit from that idealized cliché.
I don’t think people want that anymore. I don’t think they want to see the romanticized vicious boss who brings out the best in you. It’s a little bit more like Whiplash where we say, oh, look, it’s the romanticized brilliant but abusive mentor that pulls the best out of you, and then we go, wow, actually we don’t like that guy at all and he’s no good. And he wasn’t. He was no good.
So, that seems like where we’ve evolved. But, yeah, you know, bad sign when your HR person is leaving in an ambulance due to a panic attack. That’s probably a red flag, right?
John: That’s never good. So, we’d all heard of Scott Rudin but until this week I had not heard of Zachary J. Horowitz.
John: So Zachary J. Horowitz was a smalltime actor. He was arrested this past Tuesday on federal charges that he ran a massive Ponzi scheme.
John: He was defunding investors of $227 million.
John: And he basically had all these make believe licensing deals with HBO and Netflix and other platforms. So, I was going to save this for a How Would This Be a Movie, but it’s also newsworthy and it’s also a chance for us to talk about licensing deals and sort of how this could possibly happen. But I will point everybody to the article. We’ll put a link in the show notes.
So this guy is a smalltime actor. Zach Avery was his acting name. And he just had small roles. And the classic cliché is you can’t get arrested in Hollywood. He was able to get arrested in Hollywood for defrauding $200 million worth of deals on movies that didn’t exist and were not going to exist. It’s just kind of fascinating that this could happen.
Craig: Wow. So I love a Ponzi scheme. I mean, I don’t like participating in them and I don’t like that they exist. I just enjoy reading stories about them because they’re fascinating. Like everybody knows the phrase Ponzi scheme. I think most people understand the vague idea of a Ponzi scheme. And yet people still keep falling for Ponzi schemes.
But in looking over this particular story it sounds like this guy was a bit more Madoff-y in his Ponzi scheme execution because he was fully forging emails from nonexistent HBO executives or Netflix executives. So he was running quite a scam.
But, I mean, OK, just a psychological question for you John. Do you enjoy the process of keeping a bunch of lies in the air?
John: I absolutely hate maintaining lies. And so talk about abusive bosses. Back in my days as an assistant I had a boss who was absolutely obsessed with just stirring up stuff and just would have all these lies going. And so as the assistant who was answering the phone I had to have a sense of like what his lies are so stuff wouldn’t get tripped up. And I hated it. I hated it so much. And I don’t know how people who lie a lot can sleep.
Craig: Yeah. This guy, I guess one way to explain it would be some sort of sociopathy. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here. But the lies weigh on you to some point. Everybody lies a little bit, so every now and then you have to lie a lot. Sometimes you choose to lie for bad reasons. But, you know, this kind of full on massive lying, he took everyone’s money, told them that they were going to get 40% returns within a year, and then he turned around and bought a house for $6 million.
John: It’s a nice house. We can put a link to the Zillow.
Craig: It’s a nice place if you want to buy it.
John: It’s nice. It’s available.
Craig: Yeah, you can buy it. And so he knew at that moment it was never going to happen. That just seems crazy to me.
John: That’s the thing that I really do wonder about. Because if this were a protagonist in a story that we were writing you’d be like you know this can’t end well. There’s no way you’re going to get yourself out of it.
John: This isn’t going to be The Producers’ Springtime for Hitler where like suddenly something is going to happen [unintelligible]. No, no, you’re breaking the law and it was going to catch up with you.
Craig: Yeah. Like he said, OK, you’re going to give me a whole bunch of money. Like he told one investor you give me $750,000 for the distribution rights to a movie called Bitter Harvest, which is ironic, and that I will pay you back within six months. I’ll pay you back $1 million. Well that’s a pretty good deal.
John: That’s a good deal.
Craig: And he sent that investor an agreement between I guess himself and HBO to distribute the film in Africa and Latin America for three years. But the president of operations for HBO Latin American Holdings was not a person. He made it up. So he knew there was no way in six months he’s sending this guy $1 million. So I guess the deal with the Ponzi scheme is you find some other sucker, you tell that person–
John: You pull their money.
Craig: — I’m going to pay you back, and then you just send the first guy his money. Meanwhile this is your life now, just this sweaty – it seems like it’s worse than whatever your life was before.
John: Yeah. It’s challenging. So, I think part of the reason why he may have been able to do this for a time is that the way that small budget films get financed and sort of internationally financing and licensing deals is really complicated. And it does seem like backroom shenanigans magic to get all this stuff to happen. And in making this you’re not really kind of seeing the final film, or the promise of making this movie is so far off in the distance that it is all kind of a wild west market feel to it.
And so people who are not especially savvy who could get into it could say like, oh, well this is just how it works. And I could see people being gullible up to a point. But ultimately you’re going to be asking for your money and you’re going to be asking to see the finished movie. And you’re going to know that something is wrong.
Craig: Yeah. Eventually you will get caught. He has to know. I assume all these guys have to know they’re going to get caught. I mean, do these guys sit around going I know that every Ponzi scheme perpetrator in history has been caught, because the whole point of a Ponzi scheme is that it is untenable and will collapse. But I will be the first. I will be the first to get away with it. Is that what he thinks? Or is he just like this is going to be a wild ride for a couple years and then I’m going to prison?
John: My hunch is that you start small and it just sort of escalates and escalates. The avalanche sort of keeps building on itself. That’s my guess.
Because reading through the Bernie Madoff things it seems like he didn’t enter into it with the intention of sort of it getting as big as it did. He basically had to cover a float or something and then it just ratcheted up and up and up. So once you’re in you can’t get out.
Craig: Yeah. Once you’re in you can’t get out. I guess that’s true. So it’s a little bit like the non-business version is that movie Shattered Glass that Billy Ray did about–
John: Exactly. A small lie.
Craig: It just rolls.
John: And it escalates. Like if you’re faking one source. I actually tried to get a different set of rights for Shattered Glass and I wasn’t able to get it, so Billy Ray was able to make that movie.
Craig: He did a good job.
John: He did a good job. Good job, Billy Ray. Last week we talked about titles and we singled out some bad ones. Josh in Chicago writes in, “Quantum of Solace was actually the only remaining unused title of the Ian Fleming James Bond story titles. The other two are Bond in New York, which probably won’t be a great movie title, and the other is Property of a Lady which would have actually been kind of perfect for that movie, although I don’t hate Quantum of Solace. And it’s better than No Time to Die which sounds pretty lazy.”
Craig: Did Josh just “actually” us?
John: Yeah. And so I cut out the part of it – he did have a sentence in front of that question that says like “I hate to be the guy to ‘well actually’ you.”
Craig: OK, well he sees–
John: He recognized “well actually.”
Craig: I’m not sure that saying “I’m about to well actually you” gets you off the “well actually” hook. Although, it is interesting. I didn’t know that Quantum of Solace was an actual Fleming story. I will say that Quantum of Solace, that was a tough production because it happened during the writers’ strike, so there wasn’t really much of a script. There had been a script but it needed a lot of work. And then the writers’ strike happened and so Marc Forster was sort of forced to make that movie without a finished script and they kind of did the best they could.
If you don’t like Quantum of Solace, Marc Forster has made some terrific movies. He’s a really good guy, too. So if you don’t like that movie I think it’s probably just good evidence that writers are important. I think he would probably be the first person to tell you that as well. But No Time to Die is – I just refuse to call anything in the movie business lazy, even titles.
Craig: Everything is exhausting in movies. Everything. Everything just takes sweat and energy and time and thought, even the stuff that you think is lazy or looks lazy as far as I can tell. Even Zachary J. Horowitz was working hard.
John: He was working hard.
Craig: He was working harder than we do.
John: Zach Horowitz was working really hard for that $227 million.
Craig: That guy was sweating.
John: Yeah. I like the title No Time to Die. You don’t have to like that title. It reminds me of A View to a Kill. It reminds of The Spy Who Loved Me. It just feels like, oh, there’s some danger in the title. It’s great. Property of a Lady is not a James Bond title. That is some sort of E.M. Forster adaptation. And Bond in New York is not–
Craig: Yeah, Property of a Lady is a very odd title. I agree. I guess that’s why it is the – Bond in New York sounds like a comedy. It just sounds like a goofy film. And then Property of a Lady also sounds like a lesbian romance, or maybe like a bondage film. See, there’s a bondage-ness into it, like property.
John: Bound in New York, but Bond in New York. Sure.
Craig: Bound in New York. Property of a Lady. This is a good – you know, we should just get E.L. James on it. You’re right.
John: So this conversation is making me excited to see the James Bond movie in a theater which I’ll be able to do, which is great.
John: So I’m sorry that movie got pushed back more than a year, but I’ll get to see that movie.
Craig: You know, I love Bond. I do. I love me some Bond.
John: Now several people wrote in about the new entry in the mockable IP category, which is the Peeps Movie.
John: They’re making a Peeps Movie. And I’m going to just say I think an animated Peeps Movie is not as terrible of an idea as it could be because Peeps have faces. They don’t have much of a face, but they do have faces and they are animals. So I can imagine a Peeps Movie existing in the same way that an Angry Birds movie was surprisingly successful.
Craig: That’s the new bar? It has a face? [laughs]
John: Does it have a face? I mean, Slinky had no face.
Craig: No. Mr. Clean has a face.
John: Mr. Clean has a face. He’s got a handsome face.
John: There’s a demographic that will absolutely show up for a Mr. Clean face, Mr. Clean Movie.
Craig: That’s right. When you like sort of like pretty well built older daddies.
John: Yul Brynner types.
Craig: Yeah. With the earring. He’s saucy. Listen, the Peeps Movie, that’s silly. But, you know, if they do a good job and it’s funny, I mean, this is – I think you and I have said this before. This is one of the great plagues that Chris Miller and Phil Lord have visited upon the world is making a brilliant movie about Legos and so everyone is like, see, Legos was good. Well, if you have Chris and Phil it’s pretty great. Otherwise you’ve just got a Peep. You have a very poor grade quasi marshmallow snack that almost no one likes.
John: Yeah. No one really cares for–
Craig: No one wants a Peep.
John: But I have to say I’m impressed by the Peeps Company because they really went out all out this Easter. You got that Peep Pepsi promo. You got this happening. Whoever is doing their marketing and sort of their brand management just really deserves some money. I hope it’s not Zachary Horowitz.
Craig: Well now I am rooting for Zachary Horowitz. I want Zachary Horowitz to go into business with Scott Rudin.
John: Oh my god.
Craig: Like Scott Rudin, there’s only one guy that’s willing to work with him and it’s Zachary Horowitz.
John: I mean, it’s just like you want to see Kong vs. Godzilla but it would just be Kong versus a paper bag.
Craig: Jerk vs. Dickzilla. I’m down. Let’s do it.
John: So good. All right, let’s move onto our main topic today which is that project you’re not writing. It came to me because this week I’m nearly finished, I’m surprisingly nearly finished, with this script I’ve been working on for a very long time. And I’ve said before on the podcast because I write out of sequence the ending has been done for a while and so I’ve been working on these middle parts and this week I realized, oh wow, I only have like four scenes left to write. And it’s like that’s exciting.
But it got me thinking about all the other things I’m kind of working on, or that might be the next thing I start to write. And we haven’t talked very much about how you think about the things that are sort of on your maybe to write plate and sort of how you work through those.
And, Craig, I’m curious right now obviously you’re so focused on The Last of Us, but in the constellation of Craig Mazin how many little planets are spinning around, other things you could be writing?
Craig: Great question. Let’s take a look at my folder called Scripts in Progress. That’s the folder where it’s like stuff that is in progress or should be in progress or will be in progress. I have very clearly two other things that I’m thinking about for – sorry, three, three – three things that I’m thinking about for the immediate post-The Last of Us future.
Craig: And I guess one of them would also be The Last of Us if we earn our way to more seasons of The Last of Us.
John: And are those features, are they TV? What are they?
Craig: Oh, my friend, it’s all television now.
John: It’s all television now.
Craig: Oh yes.
John: Now, in addition to those I’m certain you have other projects that are sort of like they’re little fireflies in your brain that are sort of like, oh, at some point I could write that. Do you have a system for keeping track of those other things that are sort of like, oh, you know what about a movie like this? Do you have a way to track those?
Craig: My system generally is at some point I will mention something to someone, whether it’s an actor, or an executive, or somebody and they’ll say, oh, yeah, let’s do that. And I say, great, I’m really sorry I mentioned that because I actually have this other show I have to do right now. And they’re like that’s OK. When you’re ready let’s talk about it. And I say great. And then every now and then they’re like…and I go thank you. You’re right.
And I want to do it. So the reminder system is oddly other people. If I mention something and nobody else wants to remind me about it, nah, maybe it’s not that good.
Craig: Maybe it’s just like, meh, nobody seems to care about that. So, other people bug me about it which is good. And then I have a couple of things that I’m bugging myself about just because I know I really want to do them but they’re very ambitious, they’re very long, large aircraft carriers. And so I need to kind of know that I have the time for that. And it’s hard to contemplate those things right now just because I am in the middle of building an aircraft carrier.
John: You’ve got to launch that aircraft carrier soon.
Craig: I’ve got to launch it. Yeah, it’s like that thing from The Avengers. It’s like an aircraft carrier that also flies.
John: Flies, yeah, exactly. Really under-addressed in The Avengers universe is like, wait, how does that thing work? It’s like these giant fans that somehow keep the whole thing? If we have the technology to do that then there’s more things we should be able to do.
Craig: There’s so many problems with physics in the – like there’s a moment, I think it’s the first Avengers movie where Robert Downey Jr. gets thrown out of the top floor of his building by Loki. And he’s falling from a skyscraper and his suit catches up to him and links itself onto him. And he blasts his arm blasters at the ground to stop from falling. And there are people right under it.
John: Yeah. [laughs]
Craig: Now straight up they should be destroyed. Just simple equal and opposite reaction. They should be destroyed. But they’re fine. It’s outrageous.
John: I mean, Tony Stark’s suit, we get a lot of discretion for it because obviously he’s still a human being inside the suit, so if it’s traveling at these remarkable speeds he would just be jelly at a certain point. It would crush him.
Craig: Well, I mean, inertia would be such that it’s the acceleration that kills him.
John: Yeah. Acceleration.
Craig: So, yes, some of the accelerations are so fast that, correct, he would absolutely – well, first, he would pass out completely. But, yeah, there would be compression of his spinal cord. It would be horrible.
John: But no one wants to see that movie.
Craig: No. I mean, he stops on a dime and you’re absolutely right. The inside of that suit, everything should be liquefied.
John: Just pouring out of the bottom.
Craig: Right. And then they open it up, they crack it open, and it’s just goo drips out. Oh god.
John: Yeah. Like one of those mummy sarcophagi.
Craig: Yeah. We need a physically correct Avengers, which would be about three or four minutes long, because almost all of them would die immediately.
John: Yeah. So that will not be on my maybe to write list, but it could be. So, I was looking through what’s in my head of things that could be the next thing to write. And it’s a long list. What I do is, I’ve talked before about my daily lists, my little sort of daily cheat sheets. Which is every day I sort of fill out this is what I need to do today. And on those preprinted sheets I do have a list of like these are the other things that are sort of kind of in development in my head.
So they include one picture book, which could also become an animated movie. Two middle grade novels, but not the size of an Arlo Finch, so not another trilogy. One biography. A movie adaptation of an off-Broadway show. A new Broadway show based on existing songs. The Shadows, which is that movie that I still hope to direct at some point, but it needs some rewriting. A rewrite of an old screenplay that Craig has read that has a great title but needs a lot of work. A series adaptation of a short story I wrote.
John: An animated series based on rights I control. The adaptation of Arlo Finch.
John: A moderately budgeted sci-fi thing that sort of feels like a Charlie Kaufman movie.
Craig: What the?
John: And an expensive, really expensive monster movie. Sort of like a Legendary kind of movie.
Craig: Wow, Megana,
Craig: Megana, I think you might need to start buying John cocaine. [laughs] He needs cocaine. He’s not going to make it through without cocaine.
John: And what’s crazy is I actually had to give up caffeine, so I don’t even have caffeine in my body anymore to do this.
Craig: Oh good lord. Well you’re not doing any of that.
John: I’m not doing any of that.
Craig: I don’t know who you’re fooling. You just read a list.
John: But if I could clone myself I would assign one of me to each of these projects and it would be great. And I would be just so productive. But I’m only one person.
Craig: You know, you are only one person. And I’m struggling with this all the time. As we get older and older you start to realize that the time that you have is limited. The time that you have just in total is limited. And then also how much time am I going to spend on this as opposed to on things I like.
John: Yeah. The opportunity cost.
Craig: Right. There are opportunity costs. And I do remind myself sometimes that one of the reasons I was ambitious was to get to a place where I could enjoy things in life that I didn’t have an opportunity to enjoy when I was younger. Well, OK, then if you get there and you don’t actually enjoy any of them then, you know, it’s not as much fun. You’ve got to give yourself a little bit of celebration.
John: Absolutely. So, let’s talk through the framework of thinking about these ideas, these projects, and helping to decide which ones you’re going to write. Because obviously we’re in a certain place in our careers where we could do a lot of these things, but really any writer probably has a constellation of ideas and they’re picking sort of which one I’m going to do next.
And so let’s talk through some ways of thinking about which one to write next. So, my first and obvious question I ask all the time, is this a project you would actually pay money to see or to buy? Is this a thing that if you were just a consumer you would say like, oh yes, I want this thing? Because if it’s not it’s not worth your time.
Craig: It is not worth your time. You have to be very, well, you kind of got to be weirdly judgy with yourself.
Craig: You can’t do all of it. You just can’t. And there are things that I think are tempting because they seem like they would be super fun, or super cool. And then you have to just go through the process in your mind. Imagine yourself on page 63. Or imagine yourself on episode four of seven. How do you feel?
Craig: And if you don’t feel good with that thought experiment…
John: Yeah. Some projects I regretted writing, I’m thinking back to an ABC pilot I did. It was called The Circle when we shot it and Alaska when they sort of put it up. And I wrote the pilot. We shot the pilot. It was all really quick and easy. And I never sort of stopped to think, wait, would I actually want to write this show every week? Do I actually run this show?
And it was just kind of a waste of time. I think I was doing it because I had the opportunity to do it. And it was clear I could sell a show, I could set up a show, I could write a show, I could shoot a show. I was sort of doing it to prove that I could do it, or that I could do something that was kind of down the middle and sort of like a straight procedural. And it was the wrong thing for me to be spending my time on. And so I wish I would have asked that kind of question ahead of time. Because it wasn’t the kind of show that I would have tuned in to watch honestly.
Craig: Well that’s an important thing. And there are times when you take a little bit of a leap of faith. You think I don’t know if I’m going to like this or not until I do it, so let’s just do it and see.
John: Of course.
Craig: But definitely if you think to yourself I don’t actually want to watch this, then – I mean, listen, I got put through the ringer making spoof movies.
Craig: But I love spoof movies. And I really enjoyed the stuff that worked that was the stuff that we wanted to do that Bob didn’t ruin. I love that. And so even though it was miserable, at least I could go but this made me laugh so much. Just sitting there watching Regina Hall and Anna Faris doing what they do. I would laugh so hard. So there was a joy there.
And then there are things I’ve worked on where everyone was super nice, very pleasant, and I was bored to death.
John: Yeah. I have been there as well.
So, in that introspection asking why you’re doing this thing, two questions have come up. If what’s inspiring me to do it is sort of the question why has no one made this movie before, that’s not enough of a reason. So that is trying to complete the universe and have this movie exist because it doesn’t exist yet, that’s not enough of a thing. I’ve also found myself of sort of grudge writing. Where like someone will piss me off and say that I couldn’t write a certain thing and therefore I will decide like well therefore I have to write this thing.
There’s a movie I wrote called Fury which never sold as a spec. And it was really just because I was so angry at what had happened on the second Charlie’s Angels that I really wanted to write something that was dark, and mean, and really wasn’t me, but just sort of reflected this mood I was having. And it was the wrong thing to write and just a waste of time.
Craig: Yeah. When somebody tells me I can’t write something my general response is you’re probably right. [laughs] And then I don’t write it. So, I think that’s probably less healthy than your instinct which is to say I’ll show you. Because I think oftentimes you can show people.
Craig: But your point is well taken. Revenge is really just another kind of – it’s another side of the pride coin. And preserving pride or making somebody – because the other person who said that you can’t write a thing, and then you go write a thing, they forgot already. They forgot three seconds after they said it.
John: McG wasn’t sort of like the one, oh, I’ll really get him when I say this. Like, no, that wasn’t what was happening there.
Craig: Yeah. So, it’s like you spend all this time doing it and then the movie comes out and then you find that person at the premiere and you’re like, yeah, how about me now? And they’re like, yeah, that was great. I loved it. Terrific. And you’re like, wait, what?
Craig: You said I couldn’t do it. What? I did. Oh, Jesus, I don’t know, I must have been having a weird day.
Anyway, you just spent three years trying to prove me wrong. That’s a weird move.
John: Yeah, self-own there.
Ask yourself what is interesting about the idea. Is it the world situation or is it the character? And if it’s the world situation and not the character you’re going to really struggle. It has to be about that character and sort of unique situations that they find themselves in that story. Because you can’t write a space, a cinematic space. You have to write characters. And make sure you’re really doing that.
What Craig said about you may discover while you’re doing it sort of how stuff fits together. Great. But then maybe that means you need to spend a couple days working on a little part of it and seeing what it actually feels like under your fingers. Because nothing will reveal the problems in an idea more than actually trying to write it.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a great line from a very early article that Dennis Palumbo wrote, he of our Episode 99, when he used to write a column for Written By, the Writers Guild Magazine. He said that a lot of times there are these lines of dialogue that we are so desperate to keep not because they’re good but because they meant something to us when we wrote them. They were evidence to ourselves that were a certain kind of writer. And that syndrome can spread to even the choice of what to write. I want to be a certain kind of writer. I want to be seen a certain kind of way. Or I don’t want to be seen a certain way.
All of that stuff is actually quite artificial to what’s good. And if you can ask yourself among the various things you want to do which feels true to me, that has nothing to do with what anybody else would think or feel, but rather what I want, what I truly want, you kind of need that. And if you have that you can maybe get rid of the other ones.
And then the ones that you have that you feel are true and not about making a point or anything, then give yourself the opportunity to fail. Because you might. You might get halfway through and go, oh man, you know what? I wanted so hard to do this. Truly and honestly. I just can’t. No problem. You tried. No big deal.
John: You tried.
Craig: Right. But, you know, you’ll only find out if you try.
John: One last thing about this list of projects that are sort of in your head is that it’s important to remember that Craig was checking in a folder to see what those things were, but our brains don’t work like folders or like shelves. The only way ideas sort of stay in our heads is by rehearsal. And so every once and a while they have to come up and they take up some brain cycles to do a thing. And that can be good and sometimes when you’re sort of rethinking through an idea it can mutate and morph and become a bigger thing. And so doing a periodic review of them can be useful because you may think like, oh, I didn’t know how to do that before but I do know how to do this now.
A situation I encountered when I did The Nines is I had these three different ideas that were competing for attention in my head. One was about an actor under house arrest. One was about what happened when I was on the first TV show I did with Dick Wolf. And the third was sort of this forest mystery. And they sort of combined and ganged up on me and said like, wait, wait, wait, we’re all the same idea. And they found a way to sort of take up more brain cycles by stitching themselves together to be one idea. So, I think it is important to just occasionally go back through your list and see what is it about those things that were interesting to you. Is there something that’s interesting to you about them now that you have the ability to do them that you didn’t have before?
Craig: And don’t be afraid to let it go. It’s not quitting.
Craig: It’s maybe a sense of shame like am I just not doing this because I’m, and here’s that word again, lazy. Or am I not doing it because I’m afraid? That may be true. Or it may be true that you’ve changed. Or you’ve just lost interest. That happens.
John: Yeah. I mean, in some ways it’s analogous to our situation in the US with vaccines. We have so many vaccines that it’s like, wow, it’s so great that we have three vaccines that work. And I see people who are panicking trying to decide between the three vaccines. You don’t have to decide between the three vaccines. Get a vaccine. They’re all good.
Craig: First one they can put in your arm. Take that one.
John: Take that one. All right. Let’s get to some listener questions.
Craig: All right.
John: Megana Rao, our producer, could you come onboard and talk to us about the questions we got in the mailbag this week?
Megana Rao: Hey guys. OK, great. So Tanner asks, “I have a question about something I read in a Hollywood Reporter article. They said a project was shut down indefinitely with a source saying that it ‘suffered from script issues.’ Mind you, this is the only time the actual person responsible for the existence of this project is even referred to. So my real question is what is really happening behind the scenes that results in a ‘source’ saying that a movie ‘suffers from script issues?’”
John: Oh Tanner. Thank you for asking this question.
Craig: Great question Tanner.
John: And it really is a good question.
Craig: Lies. Lies, Tanner.
John: Lies. OK, so here’s what happened. At some point there was a script that most people agreed on. Like OK we’re going into production with this. Maybe we’re going to make some tweaks. And then something went wrong and people involved in the movie have a different idea about what the movie should be. And it is not the screenwriter’s fault. The screenwriter didn’t do a bad job. It is that the people who are making the movie, including the stars, the actors, the studio can’t agree what the movie is and they’re calling it “script problems” but it’s really “we don’t know what this movie is problems.”
Craig: Yeah. It’s a little odd that a movie studio would agree to make a movie to the point that it would have to be shut down if that movie was based on a script that had script issues that were sufferable. It is so easy to blame a document. It’s hard to blame people, right? The director has a drug problem. The director and the actor started having sex. There was an actor that quit in the middle. Somebody got fired and then a new person was hired and said, “I don’t want to make this movie.”
There’s a billion human reasons why suddenly something just stops. It may be that everybody sat around and said we want to make this movie, but we know that – we all love the idea, we just don’t like the script. Let’s see if we can fix the script, and then we can’t, and then it gets shut down. That can happen.
But a lot of times when you read this it’s just somebody blaming a document for a human problem that occurred.
John: Yeah. It could be a bunch of problems as well. They couldn’t get this movie to be made at a certain price and so they’re saying the script was too expensive. Well, it’s not the script. It’s that you couldn’t find a way to do this. And sometimes movies kind of get put on a track to production when there’s the assumption that like we’re going to figure it out when the time comes, and you don’t really figure it out. Or people don’t come to the same point and same place. And it’s blamed on the script, but it’s really not the script’s problem.
And Craig and I have both been in situations where we’re doing emergency rewriting on projects we’re just being thrown into and when you come in as a new writer on those projects you say, oh, this is not about the script. This is about people’s visions for what this is supposed to be. And I am just – you’re paying me a lot of money not really just for my words but for my ability to withstand the pressure in this room.
Craig: Yeah. And oftentimes there’s a lot of Hollywood politics at play that make it easiest to just say “script problems.” If you’re running a studio and you’ve agreed to make a movie with a big super star actress. And then as you’re walking through this thing you decide, you know what, I just actually don’t want to make this movie with her. I don’t like her. And I don’t like her in this process. But I can’t fire her. And the reason why is because she’s represented by this massive agent at this huge agency that is also representing four other people that I’m currently in business with and I really don’t want to screw that stuff up.
So let me just kill this movie and blame it on the script. That sort of thing happens all the time. So, when they say that it suffered from script issues all you can know for sure is that the screenwriter was the least powerful person involved.
John: Yeah. So right now they’re in production on the movie version of Uncharted, the great videogame. That movie has been in development for ten years. I know so many people who worked on that thing.
Craig: Longer I think.
John: Yeah. And I guarantee you there are many terrific, terrific Uncharted scripts. So, it was never the scripts that were the problem. It was just they couldn’t get all the elements together. And so at any point you say, oh, we could never get the script right. But it’s like, no, you could never get all the things together and you’re going to blame the script.
So I hope that movie is great. But they could have made that movie a zillion times if they had the right combination of elements.
Craig: It’s the combination of things, right? Because sometimes you have a script that you love and then you have a director that you love and an actor you love, except none of them agree. And so you go, all right, what do you agree on? Well, we want it to be more like this. All right. Well let’s move that script aside and let’s bring a new script in. OK, well that script they like but now the studio is like but we don’t really like this script. So, OK, let’s get rid of this actor. The actor is gone anyway. They had an availability issue. We need a new actor. And now the director is gone. They’re going to do different things. We need a new director.
And this dance begins again. And I would argue that part of the problem with film development and these projects being shut down and this sort of endless development cycle is simply this. The writer is not in charge. And when the writer is in charge this doesn’t happen. They don’t have television shows that are developed over the course of 12 years. It just doesn’t happen. They either make it or they don’t.
Because the writer writes it and that’s the vision that matters. And then everybody else comes onboard or doesn’t. But it doesn’t matter. Somebody is going to come onboard and they will make the show. I don’t understand why – I don’t understand why the feature business is the way it is. And I was in it forever.
We need another question. Yeah, Megana.
John: Please, another question.
Craig: Another question, Megana.
John: Let’s get Craig out of his funk.
Craig: Megana, bring us another question.
Megana: OK, well this one comes from David from Vancouver, British Columbia, and he asks, “When you’re outlining a movie when do you zero in on what the tone will be? Or is the tone something you discover while writing the screenplay? You’ve talked about clichés that trap writers before on the podcast. But how do writers get unstuck from tonal clichés? For example, the heist movie where everyone is witty and cool, or the gritty thriller where the deaths are raw and shocking.”
Craig: You have done Vancouver proud, sir. That’s an excellent question.
John: To me, the tone of what it’s going to feel like comes before I’ve written anything down. The initial vision of what kind of movie it is we’re making, that tone is just really baked in from the start there. It’s what it’s going to feel like. And that comes really, really early on.
I’ve said this on the podcast many times before, but with the first Charlie’s Angels it was just – we got tone first, which is basically in a meeting with me and Drew and Amy Pascal, describing what the movie felt like and who the girls were and sort of what the spirit of it was well before we got into plot or outline of story.
Craig: I’m the same way. Because so much of what needs to happen precedentially before I can start writing is the determination of character and point or purpose of show or movie. Tone seems to me to be essential to that. I don’t know how I can determine who the character is and what this thing is about if I don’t understand the tone. And it’s just as important to know what the tone isn’t.
Craig: A lot of times I feel like part of my job is being able to explain to other people what I am not going to do. Because everybody’s mind goes in interesting squirrelly directions. And people are constantly drawing on the things that they are familiar with to try and help to find something that they are not yet familiar with.
So, there’s no way I can go forward until I know basically what the tone is. It can evolve. Just as the outline of the story can evolve as you’re writing. And you will find some things. And you will be able to go backwards and change some things here and there. And you will never be able to be tonally perfectly consistent on a first draft.
Craig: As you go forward you will be able to then go back to those early pages and say, ah, I know more now than I did then. Let me adjust. This line is too broad. This is too indicative. This is too subtle. This is the space where this is supposed to be much funnier and that just feels very dramatic.
But, you sort of need to know beforehand. And, David, you’re saying a great thing which is how do I not do for instance the heist movie where everyone is witty or cool. Here’s how. By saying I’m not doing the heist movie where everyone is witty or cool. I know what it is, so I’m not going to do it. At all. There you go. You’ve done it.
John: Yeah. And I would say it’s a cliché to do the it’s this movie meets this movie, but one thing that’s useful about, you know, it’s Ocean’s 11 meets Mrs. Doubtfire. That gives you a sense of what tone you’re sort of headed for. And so even if you can’t perfectly articulate in a sentence this is what the tone of the movie is, you have to have a feel inside. This is how the characters are going to be acting. This is sort of the colors of this world. And so being able to think that way is really important.
And if you don’t have the ability to describe that tone you’re probably not really ready to write anything quite yet.
John: All right, now Megana, I see this question on the Workflowy. I’m excited to get to it, but it’s also long. So I would just say do your breathing exercises because it’s a long one to read. But I’m excited to hear it.
Craig: And do it all in one breath. [laughs]
Megana: Oops wrote in and she’s asked, “I think I’ve got a crush on one of my producers. I really, really don’t want this to be a thing, but dammit I think it is. We’ve been working on a film together these past couple of years and have gotten along like a house on fire. I should point out that he’s not my big boss, just part of the team. The film has just been green lit and the mutual appreciation of each other has just kind of grown, a lot, and quickly.
“Like other folks have started to notice. We’re both professionals with credits and what not, but we’re also both in the earlier stages of our careers. I suspect the last thing anyone wants is to put a foot out of line, especially given the power imbalance and the fact that, you know, we have to work together. I want to add nothing untoward or inappropriate has happened or been said. It’s all so wonderfully respectful, which obviously makes me like him more.
“You know when you just know someone feels the same way? But is this like a thing? I was in a long term relationship up until 18 months ago, so I’ve never really dealt with anything like this in my career before. I’ve heard all about the on-set romances of friends and colleagues, so is this just the hype of getting a film set up? Is it my ego being inflated by the fact that he seems to be really into my brain? Or am I just being a dumb teenage girl with a crush again after some heartbreak? Could it be something real?
“And more to the point, what do we do about it? If we decide to shag like bunnies we have to wait until after the wrap, right? Please help.”
Craig: Let’s tell Oops exactly what to do. You know who needs to help here?
John: Oh god no. Sexy Craig cannot make an appearance here.
Craig: Oops, I did it again.
John: Before Sexy Craig weighs in here I will say, I’m going to be Rational John. And Rational John is going to say I Googled it, I looked it up. So one-third of married couples meet online in 2021. But of those who do not meet online, nearly 22% met through work. 19% through friends. 9% at a bar or club. And just 4% at church. So, you know, this could be your soulmate. This could be the person you’re supposed to be with and don’t discount that. Don’t run away from love.
Your correct in trying to put some limits on it at least while you’re in production, because you are going in to do this big job and it is going to be awkward if you are trying to date while you’re doing this thing. But you know what? I think you’re in love. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem.
Craig: Well, you don’t know if you’re in love yet.
John: No. And I should say that. You have pre-love right now anyway right here. You have possible love. And don’t run away from possible love.
Craig: Yeah. You’ve got hormones. You’ve got the madness swirling in your brain. We’ve all had the madness swirling in our brain. It’s wonderful.
John: I love the madness swirling in the brain. It’s good stuff.
Craig: It’s great. It’s also dangerous. But I agree with John. Look, you’re an adult. And the producer is an adult. You mentioned that there is a power imbalance, but you also point out that he’s not your “big boss, just part of the team.” So I would argue that the power imbalance is not massive. This isn’t somebody that theoretically is going to be able to hire you/fire you in that moment. They’re not your direct supervisor per se. And I think that adults are allowed to get into each other. And adults are allowed to have relationships. And like John said when you work together that’s going to happen. I would hate to think that we have become so terrified of violating that we don’t take advantage of mutual affection. That’s what keeps the world going.
It can also, listen, as we all know it can also collapse. And sometimes people reveal themselves to be horrible once you get to know them. But I want to be optimistic here. Because, you know, I met somebody, John met somebody, people meet people, and then you fall in love and it works. You might be having – first of all, when you say “am I just being a dumb teenage girl with a crush again after some heartbreak,” I don’t know how old you are now, Oops, but that actually never changes. Like I’m still a dumb teenage girl with a crush again after some heartbreak. We all are. It never changes.
We’re all just – our bodies get older, but we are all in our minds always a child. So, yeah, that may be part of it. Or, he may be the guy. And my advice is to maybe tiptoe up toward it, because you want to avoid is going, OK, I know that we both feel this week, but let’s just wait until after wrap. And then he goes, “I’m sorry, we feel what way?” [laughs] “Oh no, no, no, I don’t feel that way about you at all.”
And then that would be awkward. And you can kind of tiptoe up to it.
John: Yeah. Or you can say like, hey, how about when we wrap we go out for a dinner, just the two of us.
Craig: Right. Or if that feels a little formal given what’s going on, you can be like, OK, can we just talk about what’s up? What’s up? What are we doing? Help me out here because I’m trying to figure out what we’re doing. And then you can put a boundary down and say, listen, here’s the story. Let’s make it through this production and then, you know, then yeah, let’s see what happens. And then that will only make things – by the way, I guarantee you, side note, if he’s like, “Yes, I am into you. You’re into me. I agree we should wait until after wrap,” you guys will be in bed within three days.
Craig: It’s just going to happen. Because once you both agree that you’re eventually going to sleep together–
John: Yeah, once you set the limits you’re going to both blow your limits together.
Craig: It’s like, OK, John, you and I are going to order a pizza.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: But we’re going to order a pizza like next week. And then you’re like, uh-huh. And then the two of us are just like pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza. So, I think, Oops, that you should remind yourself that even though you might feel like a teenage girl you are an adult. You are an adult. You are your own human being who deserves to love and be loved. And you should not be afraid. You should just be aware and alert. And it seems like you certainly are.
John: Yeah. I would also say the fact that she’s known him over a course of years of development and liked him over this time is a good sign, too. Because when I see on-set romances that are doomed it’s because it’s happened in this hot house of production where people work these crazy hours and they basically see no one else.
John: It’s like you’re trapped on Survivor and you have like a showmance.
Craig: A showmance.
John: It’s a showmance really. And this doesn’t feel like a showmance. First off, you’re being fully rational in what you’re writing here. And it’s happened outside of production. So, I have hope here. I think you’re making the right choices. I would encourage you to just note all your feelings, because these are great feelings and you’re going to use them in your writing.
And also just congratulations on your movie going into production.
Craig: Yeah. This is exciting. I hope something wonderful happens here.
John: And if wonderful things happen, Oops, please do write back in with an update.
Craig: Megana, how did we do there? What do you think?
Megana: OK, because I do have a follow up question because I feel like some of the advice was–
Megana: Well, no. But just to be clear we’re telling Oops to not have this conversation until production wraps, right?
John: No. I think we’re saying – my pitch was to have the conversation now is like, hey, how about when we wrap we go out and have a dinner, you and me.
Craig: Yeah. And I’m saying a similar thing. Like now she should say, listen, I feel like something is going on here. I don’t know if there is. But if there is let’s just talk about it and let’s maybe if this is something that feels like – like if you feel the way I feel, let’s just agree to hit pause until we wrap. And then, you know, let’s go have a drink and see where it goes.
Craig: Megana is like, no, no, no.
John: I want to know what Megana is thinking. Tell us.
Craig: Megana is like I hate both of you. I quit.
Megana: No, not at all. I’m just – like a part of this is the forbidden aspect. And I wonder like – I don’t know if she should just continue – it’s just so fun like reading this whole question was super fun. And I’m pitching that she should just let this tension ride out.
Craig: Oh my god. You’re a sicko. I love it.
John: I get, so in some ways it’s that sense of like the thrill of the tension and the thrill of the possibility might be more enticing than the actual what could happen there.
Megana: Right. I feel like having an adult conversation, I just wonder if that’s going to like suck all of the air out of this crush.
Craig: Ruin it. OK. I like where Megana is going with this. See, you know what? It’s a good point, because you don’t want to clinical this thing, right? You don’t want to be an HR person about it.
John: No. No.
Craig: Right? So, I get what you’re saying. Maybe, ok, so then the other possibility, this is so much fun, the other possibility is just go for it. Just go for it. Because like honestly, again, we’re adults.
Megana: No, I think my advice is more like, you know, that sort of like Victorian romance–
John: Don’t say a thing.
Megana: Yeah, like did he look at me?
Craig: But then nothing ever happens.
Megana: Well, until after production.
Craig: Oh, you mean like so just keep the flirty, thinky like maybe/maybe not/maybe/maybe not. How long is the production? That’s what I want to know. [laughs]
John: Indeed. Craig, it’s The Last of Us, and so it’s going to be a long–
Craig: Oh my god.
John: It’s going to be another eight months.
Craig: Oh my god.
John: So I’m thinking back to college and I started flirting the woman who was the student body president. And we would sort of exchange notes in each other’s mailboxes, like literal physical mailboxes in the office. And it was so exciting to sort of be in that space.
Craig: Oh my god. True.
John: That’s so fun.
Craig: It’s true.
John: Yeah. And I don’t think Oops is going to be able to resist how compelling that is.
Craig: Oh, but you know what? Now I want to tell a story about a crush that I had. So, there was a girl named Sima, I won’t say her last name, because now she’s a lady and lives somewhere I assume and has a life. I don’t want to blow her up on a podcast. But it was like a summer thing. And I met her, we were in a summer academic program. Because nerds.
Craig: And this was in the ‘80s and we were on a college campus and they had like a little computer lab where you could type messages to each other on this computer using Unix commands. This was like pre-AOL and pre-everything. And we would just send each other messages. And I could, I mean, I was so head over heels for Sima. It was unbelievable.
And she professed that she was the same for me. But very like the most chaste relationship I think I’ve ever had in my life. She was very proper and very we’re not going to do stuff because I’m a lady. And I was like I respect that.
And it was very Victorian. It was. And it was very much like I will send you letter through the future. And it was wonderful. And then, you know, you go your separate ways because that program ends and I wonder where she is today. Anyway, oh my god, boy, she was, oh. She was beautiful.
And, I don’t know if my wife is going to listen to this podcast.
John: Does your wife usually listen to Scriptnotes?
Craig: I don’t think so. But you know what? Literally I was 16 years old. I was 16.
John: You’re forgiven.
Craig: I’m forgiven.
John: And you got married just shortly thereafter.
Craig: I got married like nine years later actually. Or ten years later. But, man, Sima. Boy, am I just like, I couldn’t have been more in love. But, I was a child. We were children. Oops is not a child.
John: Oops is not a child. Megana, so let’s say Oops were a friend of yours. What advice would you give her?
Megana: I would say enjoy the flirt. Have fun. I wouldn’t, I don’t know, I wouldn’t have this conversation until after production. I just think it’s such a gift. I don’t know, to me this feels like the most fun part of a relationship, this period where you don’t know what the other person is thinking and that excitement. Why wouldn’t you prolong that?
Craig: Because you got to get somewhere, man.
Megana: Maybe I’m just revealing my own personal character.
John: But also I think maybe – the age difference may be a part of this, too. Because Craig and I are at a place where we can’t wait forever. And you’re in your 20s. You can wait a little longer.
Craig: We’re almost dead. [laughs]
John: We’re nearly dead, so everything has to happen right now. That meeting can’t be pushed off till Friday because I might not be alive on Friday.
Craig: My god, I’m running out of time. That’s true. Megana, you’re younger. You can be like, you know what, I just want to flirt for a year. And we’re like a year? I won’t be here.
Megana: I do think no matter what we say it seems like there’s enough momentum here that her relationship is just going to move forward in one of these directions.
Craig: I hope so. I mean, I root for love.
John: I would urge Oops to take any of our three pieces of advice and please to write in with an update when it goes so well. Because we’re all rooting for you.
Craig: Send wedding pictures.
John: Ooh, that would be so nice.
Craig: I love a wedding.
John: Megana, thank you for your questions and for your epic reading a very long question there. So thank you for that.
Megana: Thank you guys.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things.
John: My One Cool Thing is an article by Peter S. Ungar called Why We Have So Many Problems with Our Teeth from Scientific American. And, Craig, what were teeth originally? On evolutionary terms where did teeth come from?
Craig: Oh, well, where did they come from? Like why did they happen in the first place?
John: Why did they happen? Fish originally did not have teeth.
Craig: Yeah. Because teeth were soft. I assume because animals evolved exoskeletons to prevent from being eaten and so in a competitive fashion other animals evolved bits of bone that would crush through those exoskeletons.
John: Yeah. But teeth are not actually bits of bone. Teeth are modified scales, which is interesting. And so basically they’re scales on the outside of fish that gravitated into their mouths.
John: And became useful.
John: And so what you have in your mouth right now are a bunch of modified scales and they’re really strange inside. So it’s just a good article talking through sort of what we know about teeth and why teeth are really complicated and so different than all the other parts of our body. And so I just like it. I respect our teeth more knowing the stuff I learned in this article.
Craig: In a strange bit of serendipity I went to the dentist yesterday.
John: Nicely done, Craig. And had you been putting off going to the dentist during these Covid times.
Craig: I sure had. But nothing went wrong. So, I have a lot of ways in which I lost the genetic lottery. I don’t have a well-regulated appetite system. I’m prone to overeat. There’s also I get headaches. My eyes were crappy. But my teeth are spectacular. I’ve never had a cavity. Not one.
Craig: Not one. And they look at the X-rays and they’re like, geesh, I mean, those are really good teeth.
John: So that could be the microbiome of your mouth or something.
Craig: Something. And he said, flat out, this is definitely genetic. It’s not like you get a special blue ribbon for how well you brush because I’m not the best brusher/flosser in the world. Although I did just get this cool new, I’m not going to make it my One Cool Thing, I have something else, but this new Oral B electric brush. Because I’m an idiot, it has an app. But it shows you on the app like, oh, you’ve done enough on the upper left of your teeth. Move along.
You have to brush so much longer than I thought you did.
John: It’s a full two minutes. I have the Ultrasonic toothbrush, the same kind of thing where it buzzes when it’s time to move on to the next thing.
Craig: Right. Yeah, so I assume that a good seven seconds of brushing was basically the idea. No. Incorrect.
Well that’s fascinating. I will read more about our teeth. My One Cool Thing is a bit sad. No, it’s rather a lot sad. But Paul Ritter was an incredible actor. I got to know him because he played Dyatlov in Chernobyl. But he had been around for so long in England acting both on stage and in films and on television.
And unfortunately we lost him early this week. He had a brain tumor. I don’t know if it was something that was sudden, or if he had been sick for a long time. He certainly never let on anything to us. But he was not only terrific on screen, but off-screen just the most lovely guy. The most unassuming, humble person. He just – whatever the opposite of difficult is. I don’t want to say easy. It’s got weird connotations. He was so agreeable and amenable and generous and lovely.
And we put him through all sorts of torture, because his character was one of the only ones that was exposed to radiation and then lived.
Craig: So we had to have him shave his head before he ever showed up, which he was like done, no problem. Shaving my head. And then we had five or six different stages of radiation sickness, or health. And he just never made a peep. Just did his job and did it beautifully.
And there was an outpouring of love and affection for him this week from all of the people that worked with him primarily in the UK. He was just beloved. I hope he knew that. And I hope that his family, I’m sure they know. But it was such a shock. He was so young. He was 54 years old. And I just was, well it was a rough day. He was a wonderful guy. And so we will miss Paul Ritter in all sorts of ways. And I hope his family and loved ones have an easy path through their mourning.
John: He was remarkably talented. I only knew him from your show, and then to see the obituary that sort of talked through his whole career ahead of time you recognize that no one gets to his place and just appears. It was a huge body of work leading up there.
Craig: Incredible stuff. And he was so funny. I mean, people who know him from Chernobyl will not know how funny he was. He was hysterical. And was the star of this long-running sitcom in the UK called Friday Night Dinner. And he just was awesome. He was a great guy.
John: Cool. All right. That is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao.
John: It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: Our outro this week is by Nora Beyer. 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 like the ones we answered today. For short questions I’m on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts and sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting which has lots of links to things about writing. You can sign up to become a premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments like the one we’re about to record talking about which words we’re willing to get rid of.
Craig and Megana, thank you for a fun show.
Craig: Thanks guys.
John: All right, so Craig this last week on Twitter I asked the question if you had to give up one common English word what would it be? Mine is “sure.” I don’t need it. And it got a huge number of replies and people had their choices like which words they’re excited to get rid of. Craig, which word leaps to mind for you? What word would you want to get rid of? Or be willing to get rid of. You don’t have to hate a word. You just have to say like I just don’t need that word.
Craig: I’m happy to discard “spiritual” and “spiritually.” Those all connect, the two of them. I can get rid of those. I don’t know what they mean. I’ve never known what they meant. And I feel like everybody that uses them doesn’t know what they mean either. They are simply placeholders for things that we don’t understand.
We might as well just say something that I don’t understand. [laughs] That’s what spiritual means to me. I’m sure everybody else is like are you insane and they’re going to write letters. And I understand that and I acknowledge that.
John: It’s a very different answer than a lot of people gave. But what I like about that is you’re arguing to get rid of the word just because there’s no agreement of what we’re actually meaning by this word, so we should just not have it because everyone is putting their own meaning on it and we can’t know what that meaning is supposed to be.
Craig: Yeah. And it does offer a potential for abuse, because I think a lot of people will just trot that word out, gain some unearned credibility, and then take your money.
John: Yeah. I get that. So, a common word that came up was “very.” People wanted to get rid of very. And I–
John: I want to defend very.
Craig: Of course.
John: So I think there’s a high school English teacher had an idea of like the word “very” is never needed. You should just use a different word.
John: I don’t get it. There’s times where you need an intensifier.
Craig: Of course.
John: And everyone language has intensifiers and they do serve a meaningful purpose. And I can’t imagine, especially writing dialogue, without a character’s ability to use very.
Craig: Yeah. Is he unhappy or is he very unhappy?
John: We know what that means.
Craig: Right. It’s a discriminator. It gives us a difference between one thing or another. It’s important.
John: Yeah. So is he angry or is he irate? Well, I guess irate could be very unhappy, but that’s not useful in the same way. You’re trying to measure a scale. So I think we need very.
Craig: Yeah. That music is loud. Oh, well, you know, deal with it. No, no, it’s very loud. Very is probably connected to verily, right? I wonder, is it?
John: It is. Yeah. That’s the origin of it in anthropology. So it’s a truthfully. It’s vrai in French.
Craig: There you go. It’s vraiment loud.
John: Vraiment. People argued for getting rid of “just.” And I can see it. I think just is overused.
Craig: No, it’s essential. It’s an essential word.
John: I think just is useful. It’s a connector.
Craig: I just got here. That is so much different than I got here. It is really – why, oh, now I want to get rid of those people. Can I get rid of people?
John: French has a whole way of doing just in like having very recently accomplished a thing. And so we need just for what we’re doing here. People want to get rid of like. Yes, is like overused? But you need to have – I think it’s really useful to have a term that is less than love and indicates an affection for. Also you need the word for similes. It’s so useful to form similes.
Craig: I think if people said, look, we don’t mind keeping like to show affection, I like it. It’s nice. But we’re willing to get rid of it as the useless filler which is a substitute for as or similar. You know what? We could actually live with just “similar to.” Akin, or similar.
John: Yeah. We’re not improving the language to get rid of it, but if we had to get rid of something.
Craig: If we waved a wand and eliminated that usage of like we would also then eliminate like people who were like talking like this. Like.
John: But there would be another filler word that would take its place.
Craig: There would. It would probably be the Swedish, liksom.
John: “Fine.” Can we get rid of fine?
Craig: Lots of different definitions of fine.
John: Well that’s the problem. I’m being the most expansive. So if we get rid of fine you can’t use those four letters in any version.
Craig: God, well, I mean, no. Because there’s such wonderful uses of fine, like the tiny particulate matter. It’s fine grit. Or I have levied a penalty against you. It’s a fine. Yeah, no, fine is – or fine as in beautifully made and crafted. A fine silken tie or whatever. But I think people are probably, what they don’t like is “fine.” Yeah, cool.
John: And sure.
John: Interesting. Emma Pressman writes, “I want to get rid of interesting.” I take that as a personal front.
Craig: Yeah, they’re coming at you now. That’s right at you. Interesting is overused, but not as overused as amazing. Amazing is – people are constantly saying they’re amazed. I’m amazed, like really? You stopped and you just stared? Amazing.
John: And sometimes words drift. Like awesome and awful used to be synonyms and they drifted different ways.
Craig: I mean, I love that. I love that awful is bad. It’s full of awe. Awesome and awful mean the same thing.
John: Yeah. Another frequent suggestion is literally.
John: And literally is a case, it’s misused so often that maybe we would be better off if we didn’t try to use it.
Craig: Well, at this point what literally has become is another intensifier. And to that extent I don’t mind it. I’m not going to be such a prescriptivist that I say, OK, well yes we understand that when we say literally what we mean is figuratively. But because we all understand it, it works fine.
John: Yeah. We get it. The only ambiguity comes up in places where we don’t have enough information to know whether we are talking literally or are we talking figuratively. And then we just need to make better choices about how we’re saying this.
Beth Schacter, our friend, writes, “Nice.”
Craig: Well, yeah, I’m thinking–
John: You’re thinking of Into the Woods?
Craig: Yes. Exactly. How did you know?
John: Well, I’ve known you for all these years.
Craig: Because you know me, right? She’s not good, she’s not bad, she’s just nice.
John: I don’t want to lose that lyric because it’s so meaningful.
Craig: For that lyric alone, just to preserve the Sondheim of it all, I would say we can’t get rid of nice. Also the city of Nice.
John: Well, they can rebrand themselves. It’s fine.
John: They can do it. Nice is one of those things where if you were to describe a character as nice, like what? It’s not helpful.
Craig: It is so mild that it’s almost become an insult. Which is what Sondheim was playing on. That nice is the most bland of commendations. Nice. It’s nice. I think noice has to stay.
John: Without noice what is the purpose of living?
Craig: What is anything? What about Megana? Megana, what word are you willing to shunt and fire into space?
Megana: I guess, well I’m not prepared to answer that question because I’ve been preoccupied with something else.
Megana: I don’t mean to “well actually” this conversation.
Craig: Oh, do it.
Megana: But, John, you say “sure” a lot.
John: I do. I say “sure” all the time.
Megana: I saw your tweet last night. And I was like, huh, am I losing my mind? And then I looked through our Slack and I typed in “sure” and I just have pages of responses from John that are just like, “Sure.”
John: Yeah, so I would say–
John: I’m willing to – sure. I’m willing to give up sure. I’m willing to make the sacrifice. A word I use commonly. So, I want to stress, I said commonly used words. So I was looking at the list of the 500 most common words in English as I was making my choice for myself. And so sure would be a big thing for me to give up and I do use it a lot, but I could replace it. Because honestly on Slack I just use that little thumbs up little icon instead of sure for most things.
Craig: That’s nice that you would give up something that actually hurt to give up.
John: Yeah. If it’s not a little pain, if it’s not a little sacrifice, then what is it worth?
Megana: Because I wonder if this is like a Gen-X/Millennial thing, but I remember when I first started working for you and you used “sure-period” a lot, and I was like oh my god John hates me.
John: Oh no!
Craig: I have heard this. That there’s this thing about like a period on a text means anger. And I’m like, no, it just means grammar.
Megana: Well, it’s like why would he go through the effort of putting a period there unless he was feeling very upset at me.
Craig: Oh my god, because it’s correct. [laughs] Because the period is correct. It’s like why would he capitalize the first letter of a sentence? It’s correct.
John: I do find myself using “yup” a lot instead of other yesses, just because it’s a friendlier yes, or a friendlier OK. Because OK can seem passive-aggressive.
Craig: If you ask Bo she’ll tell you–
Megana: Oh, do you think that?
Craig: That yup is friendlier? Oh, you think yup is worse?
Megana: My communication with John is just taking on a whole other – this is great.
Craig: So every time he says “Yup” you just cry and curl up into a ball?
Megana: Yeah. I’m like, oh, well I guess he does not think “yup” and he’s actually really upset about this.
Craig: So just to be clear you think that when John says “Yup” he means not yup.
Megana: Yeah. [laughs]
Craig: But you know that he’s not an organic creature, right? Like you know that he is circuits. Of course he means yup.
Megana: Sometimes I get a cool exclamation mark, and to me that means yup.
Craig: Whereas if I got that from John I would start worrying that something was up.
John: Yeah. So Scott Rudin doesn’t use – how does Scott Rudin end his texts? Does he say, “Yup.”
Craig: Yup, period.
John: Period. There’s going to be a whole exposé on me that’s really about, “Yeah, he’ll send these really passive-aggressive texts like, Yup.”
Craig: That’s amazing. There’s a whole study of John interpretation here that needs to be figured out. I’ve been using Yazzzz a lot lately. Yazzzz.
Craig: Yaaazz. And it’s usually if it’s something that I really, hey Craig, I’m going to grab coffee, do you want a coffee? Yazzzz. Like a child screaming for it. Yeah. But I could see like yes-period would be a little possibly cold.
Craig: Well, OK, horrifying is strong. No. Horrifying would be, “You’re fired.”
John: I do feel like we need to have a study of the previous Scriptnotes producers and just see how they interpreted all these things to see whether there’s a generational shift or whether I’ve changed.
Craig: This is where we discover a trail of tears behind you.
Craig: Wow. Man, you’re going to get Rudin’d. You’re on the verge of Rudin-ing. It was just a mild discussion about texting and then suddenly #TheJohnPartyisOver. What did they say? The John is Over Party. That’s what it is. It’s the somebody-somebody-is-over-party.
Megana: I’m very grateful that my only conflict at work is what John means by sure-period. I’m very, very grateful.
Craig: Just copy me and I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you anytime. I know what it means.
John: What Craig though does, Craig basically does not respond in words anymore. He only uses gifs.
Craig: Yes. By the way, solves everything.
John: Which, by the way, I learned this last week means that you are a Gen-Xer and not a Millennial because only Gen-Xers use reaction gifs anymore.
Craig: Cool. I’m good with that. I mean, here’s the deal, I’ve got like you have, we’ve got a Gen-Zer who thinks that Millennials are ancient.
John: That’s true.
Craig: Their whole thing is just to write a random word back at each other. Someone will say like, hey Jess, do you have the homework from today? And then she’ll write back, “Frog.” And then they’ll write LOL. And they know what this means. I don’t. Whatever. Old. Megana, you’re old, too, now. It’s happened.
Megana: Oh, I don’t like where this conversation is going.
Craig: It’s happening.
John: Really it’s just communicating in Snapchat selfies back and forth. And I don’t understand what’s happening. But that reaction face is what it is.
Craig: It’s so weird.
John: Basically you have to be your own gif is what I’ve learned for Gen-Z.
Craig: I like a nice gif. I like a nice gif because it says, hey, I’m a friendly guy. You know, I’m happy. Look at this funny gif. Look at this fun gif I found of me as Lisa Kudrow saying something silly. That’s me.
John: That’s it.
Craig: That’s it.
John: Thanks guys.
Craig: Thank you.
Megana: Thank you.
Craig: Yup. [laughs]
- “Everyone Just Knows He’s an Absolute Monster”: Scott Rudin’s Ex-Staffers Speak Out on Abusive Behavior by Tatiana Siegel for The Hollywood Reporter
- California Employment Lawyers Association
- Hollywood actor arrested in alleged $227-million Ponzi scheme
- Peeps Movie
- Why We Have So Many Problems with Our Teeth by Peter S. Ungar
- Paul Ritter, British Stage, Film and TV Actor, Dies at 54
- John’s Twitter Thread on Words We’d Lose
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- Gift a Scriptnotes Subscription or treat yourself to a premium subscription!
- John August on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Nora Beyer (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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