The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 498 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show my name is John and I’ll be helping you out today. Have you dined with us before? Great. OK, we serve tapas style, which means on our menu you’ll see small plates that are designed for sharing. So, you might want to start with a few topics on the industry section, like open writing assignments, secure screenplays, or pitching animation. Here in the follow up section you’ll see genre, Hanlon’s Razor, and of course Oops.
And our larger plates include a special look at copyright termination.
Now, for premium members you’ll definitely want to save room for our discussion of reboots versus remakes.
So, anything you want to get started on or do you need a few minutes?
Craig: I’m leaving this restaurant. I’m angry. I’m full of umbrage at what you’ve just done.
John: Yes. So, Craig, small plates restaurants, go.
Craig: I’m totally down with small plates. I love that style of eating. I love all of it. What I’m exasperated by is the odd questioning as if I just had – have you eaten here before? Unless you fire food out of a cannon into my face don’t ask me that question. Because there’s nothing you can say that will surprise me. Nothing.
John: My friends Tim and Jeff went to a well-known sushi restaurant on Sunset Boulevard and they had a waiter who was obviously new to Hollywood and he came up to the table and was like, “Hey, so have you eaten with us before?” And they’re like, “No, it’s our first time.” It’s like, “OK, well sushi is raw fish.”
Craig: Oh no!
John: [laughs] Love it. Love it.
John: We have so much on the menu today, so let’s start with a little amuse bouche. This first thing is a billboard that went up in Los Angeles this week calling on Marvel to bring back Tony Stark. Craig, what’s your take on fans putting up a billboard to bring back Tony Stark?
Craig: Well, prior to the Snyder cut phenomenon I would have said what a waste of money. And in this case it’s 99.4% a waste of money. Although you never know, right, f it starts some big movement. I think that if you put up a billboard asking for something you are doing something smart for 1988. I don’t think there’s any billboard action anymore. I mean, that was like The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, famously kind of became a cult thing because Tommy Wiseau bought a billboard and left it up there for years on Highland I think.
But, I mean, if people want to bring back Tony Stark just get on Twitter and start doing #BringBackTonyStark. There’s no need to buy a silly billboard. And also that’s not going to be why they bring back Tony. They’re not going to do it for you. No.
John: Kevin Feige has a plan.
Craig: I think he’s got a plan. And you know what? If I were a Marvel fan I would prefer to just trust the plan. Because the plan got you the thing you want more of. Why don’t you just wait, calm down, and see what else the plan comes up with.
John: So two years ago we bought a billboard for Highland. We were advertising Highland 2.0. And billboard are actually really fun to make and they’re surprisingly cheap. So, I sort of applaud them for like, ah, you spent two grand and you got a billboard for a month. Great. But whatever. I do think a hashtag campaign will work better.
But we’ll see whether that happens or if the Vin Diesel in Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots happens first. That’s a little bit of IP news from this past week. So Vin Diesel to star in a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots movie from Mattel.
Craig: Yeah. There was a movie called Real Steel.
John: Our friend John Gatins wrote.
Craig: Penned by John Gatins. And including a surprising acting turn from John Gatins as well. Which this sounds somewhat similar. Father/son fighting robots. Other than Transformers, which is a huge other than, have any of these toy or game-based movies worked?
John: Well, G.I. Joe.
Craig: OK. Kinda? Right? I mean, they made two of them. But G.I. Joe never quite caught on like the way I think anyone would have hoped.
John: Well we have lots of opportunities to see. So the other Mattel movies in the pipeline include American Girl. Sure, great. There’s lots of stories there. Barbie. She actually has a face. I support it. Barney has a face. OK. Rated G. Hot Wheels. They’ve been trying to make a Hot Wheels movie forever.
John: Magic 8-Ball we’ve talked about before. Major Matt Mason.
John: Don’t know who that is, but he’s a character with a name, so that’s a plus.
Craig: But he’s like one of those people that like Boomers played with when they were a kid. OK. Never going to happen.
John: Masters of the Universe. Sure. Absolutely.
Craig: They’ve tried it before. Let’s try it again.
John: Try it again. Thomas and Friends, feels very young but great. Uno we’ve discussed. And View-Master.
John: So Craig I sent you some artwork for the sort of horror versions of Uno.
John: And that feels like that sort of torture porn version of Uno makes sense. I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do.
Craig: They’re not going to do that. They are not going to do that. But it was fun to look at for sure. You kind of want something like that, don’t you? Isn’t the whole point is if you just give people the thing then, oh god, anything but just the thing.
John: We don’t want just the thing.
John: Let’s start with a small plate of follow up. Last episode we talked about why comedy is not taken seriously. Craig from Sidney wrote in to say, “I think it works along the same lines as market economics. Comedy has flavors. Those flavors appeal to different segments of the market. My 25-year-old daughter shows me something on TikTok and roars laughing. I have no idea why it’s funny and feel concerned for her health. Drama, on the other hand, is universal. There is no fragmentation of opinion. Everyone except for the truly disturbed finds the death of a child traumatic.
“So if there are five styles of comedy, [unintelligible] logic, there’s 20% of the audience for each of those. A drama which appeals to 50% of the audience will still have a wider base of acceptance.”
Craig, what do you think of this flavors of comedy being the reason why comedy is not as respected?
Craig: Craig from Sidney. Sidney. Any Craig I feel an affinity for. We’re a dying breed. So this hurts me to say, Craig. But no. Because your premise is incorrect. Yes, comedy has flavors. So true does drama. When you say drama on the other hand is universal that is incorrect. There are elements of drama that are universal in the sense that, sure, everybody finds the death of a child traumatic. However, not everybody wants to watch something with the death of a child in it. In fact, very few people do.
If you ask my 16-year-old daughter what she finds interesting in terms of drama she will not tell you what a 60-year-old man is going to say. Because the differences are wild and disparate. There are so many different kinds of drama. There’s thriller, and there is romance, and there is sadness, and there’s disaster, and there’s tension. There’s action. There are so many different kinds of drama. So many, so many flavors. Just as many if not more than comedy.
There is, of course, fragmentation of opinion on drama. That’s why all sorts of dramas have niche audiences. I dispute your premise, but I do salute your name, Craig.
John: So, I like this question because it actually involves two fallacies that I think are actually interesting to describe.
Craig: Poor Craig.
John: No, and I think Craig has an interesting premise, but I think it’s based on some faulty logic. First off, he is actually begging the question in terms of saying that drama on the other hand is universal.
John: It’s like well that’s not supported by the premise at all. You’re actually just stating that and you’re building your argument that it makes a difference here.
John: The second thing is I think there’s a tautology of like drama is taken seriously, well sort of by definition drama is serious. And so why comedy isn’t taken seriously, well because comedy is not serious in that same way. So I think you sort of answer your own question by asking the question why aren’t we taking these non-serious things seriously.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, certainly when you are making a comedy it is deadly serious. Even though you laugh a lot more, the tension and the sweat and difficulty and effort to make in particular a broad comedy is far more intense than it is when you’re making a drama. I can say that from personal experience with total assurance.
John: Do you want to take this question, 483, animation?
Craig: Yeah. So here’s a question, another small plate if you would. This small plate comes to us all the way from Belgium. Eddie asks John, I already like this question, John, I’m putting a little stink on it. It’s not like he wrote it that way. “John, in Episode 483 you talked about pitching an animation project. You had a little animatic with sound to support your pitch. My question is how did you put this all together? Did you use storyboard software? Or did you have someone do it for you?”
John: So, the actual project I was pitching at that point had directors on it. So this was a foreign team who had done something kind of like it and so we had their original short but also this animatic we did just sort of described what this thing was going to be. So I was pitching to set up the project, but also to set up the project with these directors. So we needed to show that these guys could actually deliver on the thing. So I actually had a team that could do it and do an amazing job.
You would not normally do that as a writer going in to pitch an animated project because you’re not going to be the person literally making the animation. So it was sort of a special case where we were able to do the animatic because we were trying to set up the project and show that these people can literally make it.
Normally if I were just pitching animation I would come in with visuals and boards and if not sort of the sketches to show what these characters are going to look like, a sense of what the world looks like, so the style that we’re going for. Because especially in animation you really need to show what this is going to feel like and look like and what you’re putting on a screen.
Craig: It sometimes feels discouraging when you hear about professionals and the tools that they have at their avail and you don’t. And so you think well how am I supposed to compete. And what I would say to anybody worried about that is don’t worry. That in fact the extra bit of spit and polish is ultimately not particularly important.
So John and I play Dungeons & Dragons weekly with Tom Morello, the Hall of Fame guitarist for Rage Against the Machine. And Tom posted something on Twitter the other day that I thought was really – it contained a certain truth about creation and art. So, way, way back in the early days of Rage, and I can’t remember what song it was, but they recorded a song that is the album version of the song and for whatever reason he recorded it on a guitar that I think he said he got for $70. And a practice amp. And a solid state practice amp. And, John, I don’t know if you know much about amps, guitar amps, but the world of audiophiles will shriek in horror when they hear that you’re using an amp with a transistor. Because what they want are those old amps with the tubes. Tube amps cost way more money and they are supposedly, legendarily they have warmer, richer sound.
John: Yeah. Just like vinyl.
Craig: Exactly. And transistor amps are just the devil’s poop. And not only was he doing it with a transistor amp, but it was a practice amp. So it was a real piece of crap. So it was a crap guitar, crap amp, awesome performance. Why? Because Tom Morello is an amazing musician. That’s why. And amazing musicians can make everything sound good. Because they’re awesome. It’s the idea. It’s the creativity.
Great writer. Great pitch. If the tools that you have are a little crude, no problem. The magic will shine through. So, do not despair when you hear about these things. You will win the day regardless. You are all Tom Morello.
John: All right. Sarah writes in to ask, “I’m currently listening to Episode 77 where Craig talks about the critics reviews for Identity Thief. It’s such a great episode. Really refreshing to hear both Craig and John delve into the complex nature of dealing with rejection even while simultaneously finding success. Because this episode was recorded in 2013 I’d love to hear update and reaction to it now, especially with Craig’s recent career milestone, Chernobyl.
“Craig makes a comment in Episode 77 about how he believes critics may never like what he does. And I’m wondering if/how that view has changed now. Specifically did Craig imagine at that time that a drama like Chernobyl would be in his wheelhouse? Or was this a new discovery as he continued to grow and expand as a writer? I’d be curious to hear if he and John feel the sensitivity they described to critique and rejection.”
Craig: Well thank you for bringing that up, Sarah. Not at all curling up into a ball again. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. [laughs]
So, yes, I did in fact believe that critics may never like what I do. And that has changed because they did like something I did. So, I guess I can’t say anymore that I don’t believe they will never. Because I now have proof that they will once. I don’t know if they ever will again. But I’m a little cynical about criticism in the sense that I feel like criticism has its own self-propelling nature. The people that do things that critics like, well critics have a certain vested interest in protecting their assessment, right?
If you make four things in a row – I know when I make Identity Thief that they look at who has done it, they look back at what I did, and they go, “Well, I didn’t like those things so I don’t like this.” That’s how that goes. It’s the same kind of thing, right?
I’m not saying they all do that. And I’m not saying that they’re not capable of changing their minds. Because occasionally they would. But there is a certain critical momentum people have. It would be insane to deny it. So maybe there’s some positive critical momentum I have. Note that that momentum I am arguing has not much to do with the actual quality of the work itself.
I don’t know if I thought at the time that doing something like Chernobyl would be in my wheelhouse. I didn’t think it wouldn’t be. I just knew what I was doing then. And it wasn’t long after that I started thinking about Chernobyl actually. It was probably a year or two later.
I continue to grow and expand as a writer right now. I will never stop trying to evolve. Doesn’t necessarily mean better, but change. Just keep changing as I go. Do I still feel sensitivity to rejection and critique? Yes. Of course. It’s very upsetting to me. It’s upsetting to everybody. I refuse to believe that there’s some perfect beast out there who reads these things and goes, “I don’t care.” I don’t know how that could possibly be.
I try to not read them. And I held true with that on Chernobyl. Like HBO would send these packets. Here’s a summary. I’m like, OK, great. But I’m not going to read them. I just don’t want to. I don’t. I don’t want to know. And in fact the only one I think really, really read closely was the one really bad one. And it made me so annoyed.
Craig: Oh, god, it bothers me so much. It bothers me because it was stupid. It was just a dumb review. I want to review that review and just say like, look, I can list a number of poor choices you made here in my review of your review. But that guy knows what he did. He’s going to have to deal with that for the rest of his life, too.
John: I look back at sort of my response to criticism and reviews and it has changed over time, but also I think mostly because I’ve changed and my relationship to my work has changed a bit. So I remember when Go came out I literally printed all the reviews and had a big, thick binder of all those reviews.
Craig: Oh my.
John: Because it was also early Internet, and so reviews would just disappear. And so the only way you could guarantee that things would exist would be to actually print them out. And the reviews were mostly really good. Mixed in with those were sort of like “Oh, it’s Pulp Fiction lite.” And that just drove me crazy. But they were mostly really good reviews.
And then moving onto Charlie’s Angels, which was a surprise success. Everyone was rooting against it and then it turned out really well. And then Big Fish got mostly really good reviews and some also really bad reviews in there, too. But we had to do the award season stuff. You start to sometimes look at your own value in terms of how people are receiving your work, which is not good or not healthy.
And so I’ve just paid much less attention to reviews from that point forward. And going to the Big Fish musical and Arlo Finch, it’s nice to see those good reviews, but I don’t sort of hang everything on what the response is to my work.
I’m reading a good book now and one section is talking about imposter syndrome. And it’s making the argument which I think is potentially compelling that imposter syndrome can be helpful to some degree because if you have some degree of imposter syndrome it inspires you to work extra hard because you figure like, well, I’ve got to try extra hard because I don’t know what I’m doing. And it urges you to question your assumptions because you’re not locked into a belief and that you can do this thing, so you’re going to always look for like what are some alternatives or what are some different ways to do things.
And I think even though I have confidence now in my writing ability I think you always hold onto a little bit of imposter syndrome to make sure that you are actually working really hard and doing the work that can actually succeed.
Craig: Yeah. The problem with imposter syndrome mostly is that it’s of a binary nature. That you’re evaluating yourself as no good or good. Invalid/valid. And of course we are on a progressive scale. We start as rookies and like all things you do get better with time. You grow with time. Experience helps. You don’t want to be the person that jumps out of the gate with some brilliant bolt of lightning and then that’s it. It’s just you kind of got lucky there and the rest of it is just a sad, slow float to the ground.
So it would be nice if people could cast things in terms of a long progression, a sense of growth, an arc. When you look at some of the movies that people make after huge successes a lot of times there’s a perceived step back.
Craig: And then later in the longer sense of the evaluation those maybe become the things that people like the most because they were a little braver. You know, when you have done something that everybody loves you feel safe. When you’re safe you are able to be a little more creatively ambitious and risky. And so you get these things like what sometimes might be viewed as sophomore slumps. But they aren’t. They’re really interesting.
John: Craig, a thing we’ve never talked about, so coming off of Chernobyl which was an acclaimed drama you chose to do another drama adaptation – a dark, dramatic adaptation – as opposed to doing a comedy. And did you feel like would you be nervous about following up Chernobyl with a comedy?
Craig: Well, no, I wouldn’t be. It was more that I’d been playing pop music for a really long time and then suddenly I put out an album of standards and I loved making the album of standards. And I want to make another album of similar things. It’s not about them, it’s about me. Because I’ve done, I don’t know, 10 comedies and one drama. So I feel like I want to give myself an opportunity to play in that area.
Also, honestly bigger than the comedy/drama split is the fact that it was television. The experience of making television as a writer is so dramatically different than it is making a feature film. And I want to have more of that. I had 25 years of making features and being a feature screenwriter with all of the attendant highs and lows, but also inherent stupidities, inefficiencies, an unfairnesses. And those are not there in television the way they were in features.
And so I wanted to kind of play in that zone, too. But definitely went a very different way. I mean, so Chernobyl was an historical retelling of a disaster and The Last of Us is, A, an adaptation of a preexisting literary work. And, B, is fiction. It does not look backwards. It looks forward. And it’s very much about wildly different themes. And so for a bit I was looking at other possible historical things and I just decided I don’t want to go back to back history. I don’t want to feel like I’m chasing something that works. I’d rather just try something that feels very different to me. And then return to history. Because I’m going to and I know what it’s going to be.
Oh, I know what it’s going to be.
John: So, three years from now when people listen to this episode they’re like, oh, he was talking about this.
Craig: It will be longer than three years I think because it’s going to take a while to make The Last of Us. And if The Last of Us is going well then I think we’ll probably immediately get beaten into doing a second season of The Last of Us. But I mean we want to be beaten into doing another season of The Last of Us. But we’ll see how that goes.
John: Cool. Last bit of follow up here. Timothy writes in, “In Episode 150 Craig refers to the notion that ‘we shouldn’t attribute to malice what is better explained by stupidity.’ This psychological principle is known as Hanlon’s Razor, though it has since been adopted by academics across the social sciences, some believe it originated with Robert Hanlon’s submission to a joke book.” And so I’ll put a link to the Wikipedia article for this. And I fell down a little rabbit hole looking at it and it’s really odd.
It’s a useful quote, but it’s not clear sort of where the quote really came from. It’s also very similar to something that Heinlein, the sci-fi writer, wrote. And so it could just be the name sort of morphed together. But there’s versions of this that go back into like ancient Greece. And so it’s weird – it’s a useful framing of an idea that’s been there for a long time.
Craig: Yeah. I’m looking at the Wikipedia article that you linked to here and it looks like at least we’ve got back in the 18th Century Goethe wrote, “Misunderstandings and lethargy perhaps produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice do. At least the latter two are certainly rarer.” So there’s all versions of the same thing.
And what happens is that when somebody makes an interesting observation that connects with people other people then compete to make it terser and terser. So eventually you get something very, very tight and–
John: Eventually Dorothy Parker gets her hands on it and it just becomes the perfect version.
Craig: Correct. And they turn it into a rule or a law. But it’s true. It’s true. We do this all the time. The conspiracies that people assign to the government are hysterical to me. The same government that is seemingly incapable of doing anything particularly well.
John: Yeah. The Heinlein quote is, “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.”
John: The same idea in slightly different words.
Craig: And you get a lot – often there is a villain. But that villain is only able to achieve their nefarious aims because of the stupidity of dumb-dumbs. And, you know, talking about Chernobyl, there was some evil involved in Chernobyl, but mostly not. Mostly just laziness, stupidity, fear, a kind of rigid way of thinking. We don’t need to deny that there is malice. But it is definitely rarer than stupidity.
John: Yeah. But as people looking for thematic ideas, that idea that incompetence is its own form of evil is worthy to explore. So that idea of did you mean to do wrong or did you just do wrong because you’re useless? And to some degree that’s a worthy idea to explore.
Craig: Completely. I love that.
John: All right. So now for what everyone has been waiting for. We have another update on Oops.
Craig: The Days of Our Oops.
John: Phil wrote in to ask, “Can asking John and Craig for dating advice be a thing? That was a blast.” And so here’s where we’re officially announcing that we are transitioning this podcast from being – it’s a pivot. So, it’s now a relationship advice podcast that occasionally touches on issues of screenwriting.
Craig: Are we going to have live call-ins?
John: We should have more live call-ins. Because I love live call-ins.
Craig: I think they’re great.
John: So, we’re not going to be focusing much more on Oops and the drama around this, the romantic comedy around this. But I felt like our discussion with Aline last week brought up some interesting issues that some folks wrote in about in terms of it’s not just a love story. It’s also about work-life priorities and power and patriarchy. So I thought we’d go through some of the email we got in.
Craig: Let’s do it.
John: People writing for this. Do you want to start with Sarah down there?
Craig: Yeah. So Sarah writes, “Work crushes are great. They put spice in your day. They make your heart beat faster. I agree with Megana that letting those feelings simmer is very sexy and Bridgerton. But only you know how hard you fall when you fall. If you know yourself well enough to know you’re the sort of person who can use a little production time romance, much like a needed pressure release, fine. But if your crushes are all-consuming don’t pursue it if it’s going to get in your head at a time when everything should be you, you, you, not us, us, us. Or the worst: him, him, him.
“I want Oops to suck the marrow from this experience.” Oh, Sarah. “Without having to share her energy with a new relationship. Energy spent wondering what to wear for a date or what a text meant should go right into your film.”
Well that’s an interesting perspective. Sarah is implying a little bit of a zero sum energy kind of model here.
John: Well, actually in the first paragraph Sarah is implying that it can be a little flavor on your day. She worries that it could become all-consuming.
Craig: Well that is a thing. Right? My guess is, well, I don’t want to guess. I will say that for me I’ve always been the kind of person that is sort of in the middle of those things. I have never been the kind of person who can just like casually have a crush on somebody. Because I’m too emotional. When it happens definitely things are happens. But I’m also because I have certain interests in the things I’m doing I’ve also never been the kind of person that loses myself in the other person. So it’s never been – I can’t say that when a crush would happen that I would be able to me, me, me. I would never been just her, her, her.
But I could turn into an us-us. I could see that. Yeah, I could see that. I mean, these are good warnings.
John: Yeah. They are.
Craig: It’s important. Like we have to be able to warn and also cheerlead at the same time.
John: So let’s get into more warning here. This is Courtney in Los Angeles and she agrees with most of Aline’s advice. “As a youngish female screenwriter who met and began dating a much more established though not older writer in a writer’s room I can absolutely speak to being patronized/looked down upon once we openly started dating. Everyone assumed that my ideas ‘came from him’ or that he had helped shape form any project that I was working on.
“People at parties asked if I ever ‘worked on anything on my own.’ No one of course ever assumed that I influenced him in any way, or that his ideas weren’t original to him. I want to point out this guy was great and we had a great connection, but looking back I needed to have been much more aware of what people would now assume about my writing and my abilities once I got together with such a well-known writer while still largely unknown myself.
“I don’t regret the experience, but I wish I’d had Aline to give me some guidance at the time. I began the relationship pretty naïve about how it would be perceived.”
Craig: Mm-hmm. That’s really interesting. And what I like about what Courtney is saying is that when she says “but looking back” she doesn’t say “I should have never done it.” Right? So there’s not a regret of having a relationship with somebody, or having feelings for another person and enjoying all the things that come out of that as Sarah says “suck the marrow from the experience.”
But on the other hand she’s saying it would have really been good to have been more aware. Be prepared for the pitfalls so that you can – I think if you’re ready for these things when they come at you you will be ready to respond and overcome them and sort of kill them in their cradle rather than have them wash over you over and over. And then sometimes spoil you on the relationship that wasn’t to blame, right?
The relationship you were having with somebody didn’t say that dumb crap. Other people did. So this is a very interesting notion of kind of getting – I like getting warnings from people who have been through it about the things that will be headed your way that are not disqualifying. They don’t mean don’t do it. They mean just understand what you’re in for.
John: Yup. For sure. All right. Now we have an update from Oops and so by podcast rules Megana needs to come on the show because Megana is the voice of Oops as far as we have to have narrative continuity. So, Megana, if you could please give us the latest scoop from Oops.
Megana Rao: OK, so Oops wrote in. “So had drinks on the weekend and it was just kind of brilliant and affirmed all the dumb feelings I’ve been having.”
Megana: “It was all going so well that I just absolutely failed at biting the Mazin bullet and ‘talking about it.’ I was sitting there just realizing, wow, this is going to really suck if I kill this whole evening talking about feelings. So I totally chickened out, but lucky for me/us/the Scriptnotes listeners he did not chicken out.
“Long story short he basically laid it out on the table. He likes me a lot. And I like him a lot. We talked that through and about my concerns getting through this production, set gossip, et cetera, and he shared a lot of them. So it’s good to know I haven’t been thinking of all this stuff in a vacuum. So we landed at just taking things super easy. Get through the shoot first and foremost and then in four months’ time see if this is something we could do ‘for real.’ His words, not mine.
“For the record it was very, very difficult not going straight back to his hotel. But a couple days away from it I’m glad I didn’t. Apparently we’re still allowed to take our time in 2021. Who knew? So that’s where we’re at. I’m excited and nervous, but feeling good about it. The film comes first and that’s the real joy in all of this. And for us and the future, well, we’ll just wait and see. I promise to come through with an update when, well, we get to a worthy update.”
John: All right. Wow, so this such a relief I’m feeling. Just the tightness in my chest has dissipated because he reverse [unintelligible] by stepping forward and explaining his feelings first. Great. That he has the same concerns. He seems like a grownup. You’ve been a tremendous grown through all of this, Oops. So I’m excited for them and this film that they’re making. I’m excited to see what happens in four months.
Craig, how are you feeling?
Craig: I love this. I think, first of all, it speaks very well of him. And it speaks very well of you. There’s no, listen, you never fail at biting the Mazin bullet. You probably shouldn’t bite anything called the blank bullet anyway, right? I mean, that just sounds bad.
But I think you did what you needed to do which was just have an experience and not make it about that. And then he did what he needed to do which was to help you. Because I think he saw this. And he decided I want to help by just popping the balloon and letting this out, which he did, and apparently he did it perfectly.
So, this is going really, really well. And this I will tell you, Oops, is actually more important than the massive hormone cloud that hit your brain on the way to not go back to the hotel, which is like – it is like a version of psychosis when it hits you. It’s pretty heady stuff. That stuff will not last.
Here’s what will last is somebody who is thoughtful and kind of read your mind and helped you. And sounds like a very sober, thoughtful person. That’s real. So, this is very exciting.
John: I want to push back a little bit on that idea that he helped her, because I think one of the things I’m recognizing over the last two weeks of talking about this we really haven’t thought about this from his point of view. And in Oops’s update is the first time that like, oh that’s right, he has perspective on all of this, too. And he has his own concerns going into this. And so I think I was always ascribing sort of like man wants woman motivation to him when actually he has agency in this as well. And he’s really thinking about himself in addition to thinking about her.
Craig: Well sure.
John: It’s important to remember that there’s two people in a relationship.
Craig: Yeah, no, it’s not – when I say helped her I mean just helped–
John: The situation.
Craig: Helped get it on the table.
Craig: What he chose was good for him, and also I think she is saying it was good for her, too, because they agreed. The help was just to sort of say, OK, one of us is going to have to say something. There’s no way this is going to go four months. And it’s dangerous actually if no one says something. After a while suddenly what’s going to happen is the two of you are going to find yourself in an elevator and then ka-boosh. Because no one ever talked. And so it was good that he kind of picked that moment and gave you both the opportunity to talk about it.
So I’m tipping my hat to him for that.
Craig: This is good.
John: This update came before Oops had listened to the episode with Aline. And so Megana if you can update us on her post-Aline reaction.
Megana: OK, great. I’m still laughing at ka-boosh.
Craig: Ka-boosh. What floor sir? Ka-boosh.
Megana: So Oops responded to Episode 497 and she said, “I just listened to this week’s podcast and the very sage advice from Queen of Queens, Aline. Everything she spoke about was 100 percent on point and is honestly all the stuff I’ve been wrestling with these past few weeks. For the record, I’m in my early 30s and have been doing this for six years now.
“I’ve dealt with all the gross male behavior under the sun. Whereas before I could in theory shut down any overt interest with the old ‘I’m in a relationship’ card, now that I’m single it’s a different single. I guess I just share this to say that her advice is spot in, and I wouldn’t have landed on this attraction if I didn’t think it might be something worth actually exploring. And it’s not something I landed on easily.”
Craig: You know, Oops, I love Oops. You know what’s so great about Oops is that she is capable of doing something that so few people are, which is holding two thoughts in her head at the same time. It’s great. Exactly. Yes, you can do both things. You can be wary and prudent and smart and cognizant of your own experience, and also you can aspire to love.
John: Now, Craig, I don’t want to make any offers that you’re not willing to sort of back up, but you and I have both officiated weddings.
John: And if Oops at some point in the future did want a joint officiated wedding–
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: I would be up for it. I don’t know if you would be.
Craig: Of course.
John: Of course.
Craig: I am a member of the clergy.
John: The offer is on the table if this gets down to–
Craig: I totally would do it. I would totally do that. And I think even though I think technically I’m a member of like whatever it is the Church of the Internet Universe, whatever it’s called.
John: We’re in the same congregation.
Craig: I feel like, correct. What I would like to do, and this isn’t anything – Oops, this isn’t anything I would bring up at the wedding.
John: No pressure.
Craig: But just between us I would probably want to actually be a cleric like a D&D cleric. So, I’d want like a domain. And I’m just saying Oops if for instance there was some sort of zombie insurrection at your wedding I could turn the undead. Send them away. And then we resume the – I’ve probably disqualified myself. I just got fired, didn’t I?
John: The undead or the patriarchy, whatever it is you have to keep at a distance.
Craig: I turn the patriarchy. Yes. Oh, of course I would. Here’s the problem. Now these two are going to get engaged and then it’s going to be like, ah-ha-ha, John and Craig are going to do it. And then one day Oops’s fiancé is going to be like I don’t want that at all. And she’s going to be like but it will be fun. And then they break up.
John: Yeah. We don’t want to see that.
Megana: I also did clarify with Oops, I was like does your producer crush listen to this podcast, because I am very concerned. And she said he does not. And she made that clear.
Craig: Well then he’s a cool guy. He just shot way up.
John: He’s like Craig. He doesn’t listen to podcasts.
Craig: This guy sounds amazing. Oops, Oops. If you like it, put a ring on it.
John: Craig and this producer have a lot in common in that neither of them listen to Scriptnotes.
Craig: Wait. Is this me? Is she talking about me this whole time?
Megana: But also just based off of the way Oops spells certain things I don’t think that she’s an American, so you guys are committing to travel.
John: I agree. I noticed that extra U in the “behaviour.”
Craig: Oh, I have no problem traveling for a wedding. I love a wedding. I love a wedding.
John: I do too.
Craig: Plus I also love England. So, now, look, if she’s in Australia like Craig from Sidney then that’s going to be really annoying. But if she’s in London, I mean, yeah. Or Ireland. Ooh. Yeah.
John: Wow. So it feels like we had already a five-course-meal, but that was just really the first wave of small plates.
Craig: Oh god.
John: There’s a bigger thing being put down on the table now which is we’ve talked a lot about copyright before on the podcast, but we haven’t talked about termination. And there were a couple of stories in the news this past week about copyright termination. So I thought we’d dig into this and sort of what this is about. And why some classic movies are facing this, but why modern screenwriters probably don’t need to worry so much about it.
So, some of the stories you see in the news are about Friday the 13th, Terminator, This is Spinal Tap, Predator. And what’s happening is the screenwriters behind these projects are trying to basically claw back their copyright on the scripts they wrote, which is becoming lawsuits galore.
Craig: Yeah. So most of the work that we do starts immediately as work-for-hire. And when it starts immediately as work-for-hire this does not come into play. There are circumstances where companies have made mistakes in the past where they didn’t quite wrap it up as work-for-hire. And then suddenly the copyright transfer, like OK I’m the copyright owner, I’m going to transfer this to you, is terminate-able. At which point the writer attempts to do that and then the company is like, “What? No.”
There are also quite a few circumstances where companies bought literary material that had been out on the spec market, therefore it preexisted work-for-hire, so they had to get a copyright transfer. And then they immediately have the writer do the next revision which is a work-for-hire, so they own everything that follows that first draft.
Some people are making the argument, hey, that spec script that you got as that copyright transfer, we want it back. And then the studio is like, well fine, but you cannot do anything that touches on any of the stuff that happened after that first draft. Anything. So it becomes harder to see how you make something, but it is possible.
The other thing that complicates a little bit of this is the way that the Writers Guild works with these things where oftentimes under copyright transfers there is this strange fiction that occurs where they kind of reverse engineer a work-for-hire. All of which is to say there are areas where writers may be able to claw back some of this stuff. Even if they can it will be of limited value. Not no value, but in many cases limited value. And for almost everyone involved in this business this is not an option at all.
John: Yeah. So anything you’re going to sell now they will contract this up in a way that you will not be able to claw this back in 35 years.
John: But let’s talk about sort of what the purpose was behind this ability to rescind the transfer of copyright. So in 1978 there was a new law passed, 1978 Copyright Act, and this termination right was put in there to let authors basically take back successful work that they could not have initially anticipated they were giving up when they convey the rights. So basically something was undervalued and they basically sort of pull it back and reuse it, or something that sort of got stuck someplace and they can finally take it back.
It applies to not just movies, and movies are sort of the exception. It’s more other literary works. It’s complicated around music. I’m going to put a link in the show notes to Lawyer Mark Jaffe talks through a lot of these issues and has links from there to a bunch of the lawsuits that are sort of digging into these situations, these cases.
John: Useful for looking at historical things and sort of these big name titles, but these are because they were from the ‘70s and ‘80s and weren’t contracted in the same way that modern things were. If I were to sell a spec script tomorrow this would not be available to me.
Craig: No. It’s really clear for us. What the ambiguity is around that 1978 Copyright Act is that it specifically refers to audio visual works. It doesn’t specifically refer to music, or songs, audio-only works. So, they were talking about television, film, things like that. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cover songs and things like that, but that’s been the argument.
Regardless, the year 1978 is relevant here. That was just two years away from the last time that our government was largely run by the left in our country. And this is a left kind of thing to want. To advocate for individual artists against corporations that are in the intellectual property industry. And since the sort of change of things in 1980 we have seen nothing but a continual erosion of individual artist rights in the context of copyright power. And a continual extension and strengthening of corporate ownership of copyright work-for-hire, et cetera.
John: Yeah. And so what my prediction and sort of what will happen with these lawsuits is I think some of them will prevail and the original screenwriters will get their copyright back. That won’t mean that they can sort of go off and make their own new movie. But it will stop the other rights holder, the person who actually owns the rights to the movie-movie from doing a reboot or sequel or other things like that. And so they will have to negotiate with that rights holder in order to be able to make new things, which they probably will want to make new things.
That’s what’s likely going to happen here in some of these cases.
Craig: Yeah. That’s the end game. If you’re actually involved in one of these things you’re trying to get the company that owns the movie built around your spec script to pay you more money.
John: Yeah. All right. Let’s get to our questions, which is sort of the – I don’t know where this sort of falls in the meal. It’s when they sort of keep bringing plates and you’re like I don’t remember ordering this. But–
Craig: Right. Why did we do this?
John: Oh my god.
Craig: Exactly. And you know what? Maybe I did need you to explain how this restaurant worked. Because what’s happening?
John: Megana, can you talk us through some of these questions that are coming up at us fast and furious?
Megana: All right. So Elias from New Hampshire asks, “I came across this article by Jessica Mason arguing ‘let’s just replace every terrible man in the movies with Tig Notaro.’ Basically what happened was an actor was Me Too’d after filming wrapped for Army of the Dead and then replaced. What are the legal, social, and financial implications for replacing an actor at a late stage like that?”
John: I love Tig Notaro. I love her in this trailer. I’m excited to see it. I’m so happy that she’s in this. And this article by Jessica Mason she’s looking at some of the other movies that have problematic people starring in them, like Johnny Depp, or Armie Hammer. It’s like, yeah, it would be kind of fascinating to stick Tig Notaro in there.
It’s really difficult and expensive to do it in most cases. I think this was a special case in that it was already a visual effects heavy movie. It was comparatively easy to stick Tig in those places. But to replace Armie Hammer in Death on the Nile is a much bigger lift and ask. You’re not going to be able to sort of swap someone else in there.
Craig: Well, I mean, you did have the strange case of Kevin Spacey and–
John: Oh that’s right.
Craig: And Christopher Plummer.
John: All the Money in the World.
Craig: All the Money in the World. Where they, yeah, that was Sir Ridley Scott I believe who just said let’s just remake half this movie. And you can depending on what the movie is. Now, in this particular case the person in question was Chris D’Elia, the comedian Chris D’Elia who has been accused of sexual misconduct, including with girls, with people who are underage. And he is in a big budget movie. Army of the Dead is a big, huge movie. It’s not a little movie.
But his part I guess wasn’t super huge. So, replacing him digitally with Tig Notaro was not I guess a game-breaker. But I have to say that Zack Snyder is on a roll right now. I mean, so that’s maybe the smartest goddamn choice in history.
Craig: Because Tig Notaro has a certain built in awesomeness. I love Tig Notaro. She’s a really great comedian. But also there is a – let me just speak cynically for a second. She has an unexploited amount of awesomeness. Like some people everyone is just like we want to love you. Why won’t people let us love you? Give us more of you to love you. And Tig Notaro I think is one of those people. He very smartly was like there is a pent up demand for Tig Notaro that has not been met. And he met it. It’s very smart.
John: And I think part of the quality to her is that a Tig Notaro would not see this movie, would not know about this movie.
Craig: That’s exactly right.
John: She has no idea this movie exists, and yet she’s in it.
John: Which is a great thing.
Craig: She probably still is not really aware of the movie. She’s been in it. She’s like – I want to see her stand up about being in this because it would be amazing.
John: So Elias asks what are the legal, social, financial implications. So what are the legal implications? You as an actor are not guaranteed to be in that final movie, so you can be replaced. I don’t think there’s any real huge concern there.
John: Social. I think, you know, you’re making these choices because a person is dragging your movie down and the movie is going to be centered around that person who is dragging it down rather than about the movie itself, so that does make sense.
Financial, listen, is it a lot of money to reshoot and redo stuff? Yes. But if you’re looking at sort of like what is most likely to succeed on the marketplace it may be worth the money to reshoot that stuff. You look at Back to the Future. They stuck Michael J. Fox in there after they shot a whole bunch of stuff with Eric Stolz. It was probably the right choice. They saw what they had and said like, listen, the A version of this is worth so much more than the B version that we think we have right now.
Craig: Yeah. In almost no situation will you have a legal problem unless when you make the switch you announce we’re doing this because, you know, and you make an allegation. Because Chris D’Elia is a blank. Well, he has not been put on trial. You know, you can get sued for that. But assuming that you don’t do that, it’s your movie, you can cut somebody out and you can replace them. They may have things in their contract. There may be penalties. You may have to pay them completely. But you make that decision.
Financially there are absolutely costs. And those costs are weighed against the expected loss of income. Here’s the only thing you’ve got to be worried about. Every time somebody does something in Hollywood that is smart, well thought out, and then succeeds, they will be followed by copycats.
Craig: And what we don’t want to see are things like this being done for cynical reasons. It will be a bummer if suddenly a bunch of movies are like “we did it.” And everyone is like, OK, but that you see wasn’t authentic. You didn’t really want to do that. And we know you’re doing – now you’re begging. The great thing about a moment like this where that trailer comes out is that the world said you didn’t tell us to feel anything. We’re telling you how we feel. And how we feel is awesome. And that’s what you’re going for. Eventually somebody is going to be like “and also you should probably feel that we’re awesome because look what we did.” And then everyone is going to go, boo, you suck.
That’s how it goes.
John: Yeah. I think the best versions of this are when we never even hear that someone was replaced. If Zack Snyder had just cast Tig Notaro in that role I would be cheering. I’m not cheering because she replaced somebody else. I’m cheering because she’s in this movie. And so the best of these situations are when you don’t even hear about it. And honestly it happens a lot and we never hear about it. An actor will be a couple days into shooting and they’re like, nope that’s not working.
John: And you replace them and no one ever knows.
Craig: Correct. And that’s why I have an immediate affinity for anything that Jessica Mason is writing because my daughter’s name is Jessica. So she’s Jessica Mazin. It feels very similar. So it seems like my daughter wrote something and I’m rooting for her 100 percent.
John: Maybe this is your daughter.
Craig: However, let’s just replace every terrible man in the movies with Tig Notaro, it’s a great way to get clicks. It’s provocative. It does have that Mary Sue kind of vibe to it. Marysue.com kind of vibe. But it’s also basically saying, hey, let’s have a fight. That is a fight spoiling headline that you’re like, go ahead, say dumb crap about this on Twitter so that we can get into a fight. And I don’t know if we necessarily have to frame everything as a fight.
I mean, maybe we should just like celebrate it. It just seems like what that is asking for is assholes with dumb-dumb opinions to come out and start saying their dumb-dumb opinions. But I suppose they’re going to anyway, aren’t they?
John: Megana, I see you approaching with one more plate.
Craig: Oh god.
John: It looks like you’ve got an Alan question there. So maybe Alain we’ll stop there and basically say no mas.
Craig: We have waffle thin Alain. Monsieur it’s just waffle thin.
Megana: The final plate. Alain asks, “So often with big budget projects you hear wild rumors and stories about protected screenplays, blackened out text, and actors who are locked in a room with the script. Christopher Nolan films and Marvel movies come to mind. Obviously the secret nature of the screenplay helps create a lot of buzz, but I was wondering how you felt about the impact on screenwriters. Have either of you ever written a highly guarded screenplay? Do you receive guidance for saving files or using digital clouds? Does the psychological weight of each page increase knowing how coveted this screenplay is?
“Do you think writers feel more pressure to complete drafts with these scripts? I can imagine that writing habits like sharing pages with friends for feedback drastically changes. And how do you think being assigned a secret project impacts a person’s ego?”
John: These are great questions. So I asked a lot of these questions of my friends Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan off-mic, but also we talked a little bit about it on-mic when they came on the Scriptnotes Live show. Because with Westworld and some of the other things they’ve worked on they’ve had to do these sort of secret things where they have locked down iPads or they’ll send pages to an actor and then if another deal closes those pages can be dissolved over the Internet. Basically the actor could be half trying to flip a page and there’s no more page because that actor did not get the role.
I personally have not had to do anything like that. But Craig I’m curious whether on The Last of Us are you doing that kind of locked down stuff?
Craig: Not to that extent. You know, the only time I’ve experienced that is just when like Rian asked me to read his Star Wars movie. So I had to go to Disney, sit in a room, get the iPad, read it on the iPad. Give them my phone while I was reading the iPad. You know, all that stuff.
Look, we certainly, you know, leaks are things. And you know when you’re working on something that people have an interest in. And so you want to protect it as best you can. And you follow certain rules. I don’t sit there killing myself over fear. Leaks happen. But when you look at the aftermath of the leaks I think that’s where you find a little bit of comfort.
Quentin Tarantino famously announced that he was no longer going to be making any movies after the script for The Hateful Eight leaked. He was down. He was out. Screw everybody, I’m going home. And then everybody went to go to see The Hateful Eight anyway and it was nominated for a bunch of things. People forgot – most people, I would say 99 percent of people did not read the leaked screenplay because reading screenplays is super annoying. Nobody likes it. And even if you had, it doesn’t matter. You wanted to go see the movie and you saw the movie and he’s going to continue to make movies.
Neil Druckmann who I’m working with on The Last of Us famously had to deal with a leak around The Last of Us 2. The Last of Us Part 2 was leaked or large chunks of it were leaked by a hacker. And it created a massive amount of distress for him and for Naughty Dog, the company that makes The Last of Us, and for Sony, which owns Naughty Dog. And it created a lot of sturm and drang on the Internet. And you had a revolt of what I would call some backwards thinking folks. And all of it was happening like a month or two before the game was released.
So there was this pent up stuff going on. And it almost seemed like after all these years and all this work that they were going to crash at the very last moment in their car because of this leak. And what happened? It sold a kabillion copies. It won every award. It got reviewed through the roof. It’s one of the top ten Metacritic game reviewed blah-blah-blah of all time, for whatever the reviews are worth. And more importantly none of the leaks mattered because facts are not the same as experience.
Craig: We know when we write things that if you want to write at the end of the script, “Oh my god, he’s been dead the whole time,” fine, great. Clever. The reason we don’t sell screenplays but rather watch television and movies is because feeling those things is a vastly different experience. Even if you know. So, I understand the stuff around it. I would hate for the stuff that we’re doing to leak. I would hate it. Because I want people to go into it knowing nothing. It’s the best way. It was a luxury we had on Chernobyl because nobody cared enough to leak Chernobyl.
But, you know, just trust that people will find that experience.
John: Yeah. I think this desire to lock down screenplays is in some ways misguided and I think it’s frustrating. Because I can understand locking down edits of things. I can understand locking down twists in Game of Thrones and stuff like that. But at some point you have to just open up enough so you can get some work done.
My experience with locked down stuff, we’ll talk about sort of in the superhero genre because that’s sort of where spoilers tend to be bigger. I worked very, very, very early on on a Marvel project and it was not really locked down at all. I sent in files. It was all over email and it was all fine, and normal, and good. But as we talk to friends who work on Marvel stuff now it is really locked down. And so two people within Marvel will actually have a file they can look at. And you can’t send stuff in. There are real restrictions because they’re trying to control these kind of things.
That said, I worked on a DC thing a couple years ago and it was in production and files were just being schlepped around. I got the whole script. I got everything. Got all of it. And there were not the kind of protections on that I would have guessed. Back when we were first starting out, Craig, remember red scripts?
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: So annoying. So the way you–
Craig: They would defeat a Xerox machine.
John: Essentially so they would print scripts on red paper that was difficult to Xerox. And it was a hassle. It was a hassle to read. They were terrible.
So, watermarks are a less burdensome thing and they’re relatively common because you can see who has the script and sort of make sure that only people who have the script are supposed to have the script. These locked iPads are another way to do it. But for most movies I don’t think it makes sense. I think you’re actually just creating barriers where you don’t need barriers.
Craig: And it really is an enormous amount of friction in the gears of the machinery. We have to cast all of these parts. We also have to – and for The Last of Us we’re not just casting actors, we’re also casting directors, because we have multiple directors. Which by the way we just announced happily that – I’m able to tell people now – that in addition to Kantemir Balagov we also have Ali Abbasi, who is going to be working as a director on our series. He did the incredible movie Border. And Jasmila Žbanić who is nominated – I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re recording this on Friday, April 23. The Oscars are this weekend. She is nominated for Best Foreign Film for her movie Quo Vadis, Aida which if you have not seen you should absolutely see. It’s incredible.
So Jasmila Žbanić and Ali Abbasi joining us on The Last of Us. That’s a little plug.
Craig: A little plug. And you know what? It’s super annoying to try and get actors and directors to do things when you’re like but you have to enter 15 passwords and then read this thing that is colored different colors.
John: So for a person who is like a day player and you’re auditioning those people, are you sending them a scene with fake names on it? What are you doing?
Craig: I don’t do fake names because currently we don’t need to do fake names. If we were in season seven of some sort of ongoing thing and somebody came back to life then I would do the fake name. But almost everybody we’re dealing with is getting sides. So, in our business sides just means the pages of your scene that you’re auditioning with.
John: You’re not getting the whole script. You’re just getting the part that pertains to you.
Craig: Right. Now there are some actors because of my relationship with them or because of their stature you want them to have the whole script because this isn’t a situation where they’re going to go and necessarily audition. It’s really more we’re going to have a discussion and then if we all agree you will play this part. So we’re not going to just give them sides. That’s not enough information for them.
John: Megana, thank you for bringing these delicious plates to us.
Craig: Oh, Megana, you should have told us how this restaurant works.
John: If only someone had explained it at the start.
Craig: I know. I’ve never been to a restaurant. I always want to say like I’ve actually never been to any restaurant. I don’t know how any restaurant works. What’s happening? Where am I? Why are all these people eating?
John: Thanks Megana.
Megana: Thank you guys.
Craig: Thanks Megana.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. I have two One Cool Things. The first is a really great thing you should try to bake this weekend or whenever you have a chance if you live in the US and you have a Trader Joe’s handy. Next time you’re at Trader Joe’s pick up the Bake at Home Chocolate Croissants, which are not actually chocolate croissants. They are pain au chocolat or if you’re in some parts of French speaking world chocolatine. They are a delicious pastry with chocolate in the middle of them. They are so good and since I’ve moved back from France a couple years ago these are the best I’ve had in the US, even at fancy LA pastry chops. They’re really good.
So you set them out overnight and they rise over night and then you bake them in the morning. They are terrific. So I encourage you to try those.
Have you had those, Craig?
Craig: I have not. This sounds great.
John: They’re incredible. And you just literally take them out of the box, you leave them on the sheet to rise. They’re delightful.
Craig: Spectacular. What else you got?
John: My One Cool Thing. I got an email this last week from this kid, I think it was actually his parent writing in, but the kid’s voice saying like hey would you consider writing a fourth Arlo Finch book. And so I tweeted about that this week. And people said lovely things about my book series Arlo Finch. But Michael Strode wrote to say, “Hey, I listen to Scriptnotes religiously but I haven’t heard you mention Arlo Finch. Did I miss it? Self-promotion encouraged.”
And it’s a thing I’m sort of trying to figure out is the degree to which self-promotion makes sense on this podcast. Because I don’t want to run through my credits every week. But I have a book series called Arlo Finch that you should read, or you should have your kids read. I made a movie called The Nines which you should watch. I did Big Fish.
It’s weird on a podcast because I can’t just point to a list of things. I actually have to say it aloud. So, this is just going to be my self-promotional moment. If listeners have suggestions for how we can do the bits of self-promotion that make sense without being annoying we’d love to hear it.
Craig: Fantastic. I’ve done nothing. I’m useless. I’ve got nothing to say. I have nothing to promote.
John: Well, Craig, but I feel like we do talk about Chernobyl a lot on the show. And so like–
Craig: Well we have to. You have to talk about what you’ve done, and I have to talk about what I’ve done because that’s our touch point for the craft that we’re describing. But there’s not a lot of backwards promotion.
John: No. There’s not.
Craig: Yeah, you can go see things that came out already. The areas where it’s interesting is the stuff that’s upcoming. And I think we – hopefully we don’t bother people by talking. Obviously we don’t bother people by talking about it too much because people are saying talk about it more, I guess. I don’t know.
You know, just read an article or whatever. Just watch the show. There you go.
John: What do you got for One Cool Things?
Craig: OK, I have two One Cool Things. Both are interesting non-profit organizations that are doing good work. The first is an interesting effort coming out of the MLK Community Health Foundation. They are running a program where you can help support mobile vaccination groups that are working in South Central and underserved communities to help improve and increase the amount of vaccines that are spreading out there.
This is something that Chris Miller and his wife Robin, mostly Robin, have been working on. And so there’s this mobile clinic team that MLK Hospital is putting together. They’re converting sprinter vans into mobile vaccination units.
Craig: And they’re still taking lots of donations in. They are attempting to raise $200,000. They currently have $80,000. So they’re on their way. But with a week to go I think they could use your help. So we’ll put a link in the show notes for this MLK Community Health Foundation effort to bring vaccines to South LA. Super important. Even if you hate people, you should do this anyway.
John: Because vaccination helps everyone.
Craig: It will help you.
John: It helps you. Selfishly, yes.
Craig: It helps you. Right. If you’re The Grinch you should still do this if you have some money to donate. So we’ll put a link in the show notes for that.
OK, second interesting thing that is burbling out there. There is a manager named Erin Brown who I have worked with a couple of times. She represents different people that I’ve worked with. I don’t have a manager but she represents some fine writers and some excellent directors, including the aforementioned Ali Abbasi.
And she is working on a new advocacy organization called One in Four. And the idea of One in Four is that it is an intersectional advocacy organization led by disabled creatives working in Hollywood. They are determined to reframe the cultural narrative of disability through storytelling and the authentic representation of disabled people. And that starts with the jobs.
So this is very much a focused effort to improve the presence of disabled people in front of the camera and behind the camera. This overlaps a little bit with the discussion we had with Nick Novicki who is doing similar with an offshoot of Easter Seals. But it’s a really cool program. And so maybe we will have Erin on at some point to dig in a little bit deeper. Because I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this and for all sorts of good reasons.
So seems like a great thing to support. Right now I don’t know if there’s a fundraising effort or anything like that, but if there is we’ll let you know. But it’s good to see that that organization exists and we’ll dig up some more information about that for you. But wanted to let people know what Erin Brown was up to. A very positive thing.
It is One Cool Thing.
John: Indeed. Awesome. Well that is our show for this week. And, man, that was a full meal.
Craig: I’m going to vomit.
John: Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro is by Nora Beyer. 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 like the ones we answered today. For short questions I’m on Twitter @johnaugust.
You can find t-shirts. They’re great. You can get them at Cotton Bureau. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts and sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting which has lots of interesting 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 on remakes and reboots. Craig, thanks for a good meal.
Craig: Oh, thank you John. I’m stuffed.
John: All right, so Craig, this last week I was on a podcast called Galaxy Brain. It’s the launch of a podcast. And they were talking about the Mighty Ducks reboot series thing happening on Disney+. And really the question what is the boundary between a reboot and a new installment a thing, versus a remake. And sort of as a person who I’ve done a lot of reboots and remakes they wanted to ask me questions about it. But I want to ask you questions about. Can you define the difference between a remake and a reboot?
Craig: Well, in terms of art, but I guess in my mind a remake is something that is being done again and isn’t particularly reinventing the tone. It’s just representing it. It’s giving it a little bit of update, new polish, resetting it in the modern world. So if you want to remake some wonderful old movie like It Happened One Night and you’re basically following the same plot and the same kind of screwball comedy tone, it’s a remake.
Reboot is when you’re taking something and you are remaking it but you’re remaking it with a complete flip on the tone, or the setting. Maybe you’re swapping genders for roles. You’re doing something to basically say we’re doing the equivalent when they take Mary Poppins and make a horror movie trailer out of it. That’s the reboot vibe.
John: Yeah. I agree with you there. So this Mighty Ducks is apparently more in the reboot model in that the Mighty Ducks are the villains of the series. They’re the evil team that you’re sort of rooting against which changes the framing. So the hero/villain swap there is important.
But one important question which is implied in both reboots and remakes is is there continuity to the original property. And basically does it exist in the same universe as the original thing. So like Charlie’s Angels, my version existed in the same universe as the Charlie’s Angels TV series versus other versions which did not acknowledge that Sabrina wasn’t one of the original Angels. You have to make decisions as a creator like how does our reboot or remake fit in with the initial continuity of all the things that have come before.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s hard. It’s really hard. You want to have the freedom to make all the decisions that are correct internally for the work of art you’re making. And you do not when you are making a sequel, or a remake, or a reboot. There are things in place that will always be there. Even reboots. Sometimes reboots are more annoying because there are pillars that cannot be moved that are potentially incompatible or not perfectly compatible with the new tone.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: And so then you can – the thing with reboots is when they first started happening everyone was like oh that is so cool, like I never thought of it that way. But now we live in a world – we live in world–
John: In a world where…
Craig: We live in a society where every trailer seemingly has some song that has been rebooted. Let’s just take Smells Like Teen Spirit and slow it down and play with one piano and have a lady sing it. And it’s like a different song. We’ve rebooted it. Except you keep doing that same thing over and over. So it’s like oh yeah you’re doing the thing again.
So after a lot, a lot of reboots everyone is like, yeah, you’re doing the thing. So it’s like I get it. It’s a real serious version of Sponge Bob.
John: Sponge Bob is a killer.
Craig: Yeah, like gritty Sponge Bob and it’s like, OK.
John: It’s Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer but with Sponge Bob Square Pants.
Craig: Right. But also what’s so stupid is you still have Patrick and there’s still the crusty crab, so like what?
John: Got to have all those things.
Craig: You’ve got to have those things. And so it’s like what are you doing? And then you can start to smell the cynicism coming off of it.
John: We should clarify from a legal perspective and from a guild perspective we can say reboot, remake, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Basically if you’re working off of previously existing material you’re framing up – what you want to call it doesn’t actually matter. It’s whether it’s an original screenplay or not an original screenplay. So that’s where it comes down to.
I’m involved right now in Toto which is – it’s not really a remake. It’s not really a reboot. But it springboards off of the MGM film Wizard of Oz. And so therefore it has all those things. And because it has those things it has expectations about how characters are supposed to behave. And that can be really frustrating at times. I think back to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which is based on Roald Dahl’s book and it’s only based on Roald Dahl’s book. It’s not based on the Gene Wilder movie at all. And yet I would still get notes from the executives who kind of thought they needed to respond to the Gene Wilder version. And they were reacting to things that were not present in material at all.
Those are those pillars you’re talking about.
Craig: Yeah. And, you know, there is an attraction as a puzzle solver to say, ooh, I think I can solve this. A lot of times with reboots and remakes, especially now, one of the things you’re solving for is how to handle the presentation of race, gender, sexuality, which has changed. Gender which has changed dramatically. It’s even changed dramatically over the last six years, much less something that’s 50 years old.
So when they say like here’s a toy. It’s Jim Johnson action figure from 1973. And you’re like, but?
John: No, no, it’s Major Matt Mason.
Craig: There we go. Major Matt Mason. I don’t know anything about Major Matt Mason. But if Major Matt Mason had a sidekick who was like a young Bengali child who would lead him through the jungle you’re like I ain’t doing that shit anymore. That’s over. No. No, no, no.
John: Let’s think about that.
Craig: We’re not making colonial hero. So, part of it is that puzzle solving. The problem is that just because you solve the puzzle doesn’t mean it’s good. It just means it’s solved. And solved is not necessarily the end goal.
John: I think the first question you have to ask is why are we approaching this remake or reboot. Is it because there’s a fundamentally fantastic idea there that deserves a new version of the movie? Or it’s because we can make money off the nostalgia. And so if there’s a foreign film that you’re remaking in English, it’s probably because it’s a really good idea for a movie. Fantastic. If it’s this is a piece of intellectual property that we own and therefore we need to make a new movie that’s based on this, you have to be honest about why you’re doing the thing that you’re doing. And as a screenwriter you have to be aware of what’s really driving the decisions. It’s not necessarily to make the best movie. It’s to make the movie that best capitalizes on what’s possible.
Craig: Correct. I couldn’t agree more.
John: Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thank you John and thank you Megana for a sumptuous feast.
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