The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Hi. My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 499 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie where we take a look at stories in the news and discuss how they would be adapted to a big or small screen. Plus, listener questions on writing routines and the seduction of supporting characters. And in our bonus segment for premium members Craig will talk about his trip to Canada and getting ready for a big expedition to make a television show.
Craig: Big, great, white North.
John: But Craig something feels different today. I’m trying to put my finger on exactly what is different about this podcast than other podcast recordings.
Craig: You can put your finger on my face.
John: You are three feet away from me. We are for our first time in more than 14 months to record a podcast live and in person across the table from each other.
Craig: Through the magic of Pfizer and Moderna we can now do this kind of thing. And I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I think our ability to adjust to insanity and then the undoing of insanity is remarkable.
John: It is incredibly remarkable. So, Megana looked it up. The last time we recorded in person was December 16, 2019.
Craig: Oh, wow. That’s a year and a half ago.
John: And I haven’t seen you in person since that time either.
Craig: Although, I mean, we see each other every week on Zoom for Dungeons & Dragons, which is far more important than anything else. It doesn’t seem like I haven’t seen you.
John: No. But we haven’t actually seen each other.
John: It’s odd. I’ve seen Aline plenty of times. We’ve gone for walks.
Craig: Everybody sees Aline. If you say Aline’s name into the mirror three times Aline will appear and criticize your clothing.
John: So we normally don’t record this in person live, but we occasionally would together and it was lovely to get together. And now we can do this again. Except that you’re now leaving for Canada.
Craig: Right. Well, you know, a little last hurrah. Actually, I didn’t even think about that. But it actually worked out quite nicely.
John: Yeah. Lovely.
Craig: You ain’t gonna see me again.
John: Nope. All right, let’s start with some follow up. So we’ve been talking about the Scott Rudin situation. Anonymous wrote in to say, “Craig spoke about vulnerable people being particularly targeted by abusers because we don’t have those healthy mechanisms of what I call consent and boundaries based on histories of abuse or mistreatment carving away our self-esteem and ability to advocate for ourselves. That is a very important part of this conversation. But what is being overlooked is the very real practice of blacklisting that is still happening to people who come forward, especially if they aren’t already established or ‘famous.’
“What happens when you Google the names of the people who have come forward. If they weren’t already famous and even if they are they are tied inextricably to their abusers. And so many people with hiring and/or buying power will refuse to work with those who have may be seen as whistleblowers or worse troublemakers.”
Anonymous writes that “I was dropped by a rep after coming forward. So this is not hypothetical. I experienced blacklisting firsthand. And I’ve seen it happen to friends who have gone on record about abusers. I know it affected my acting career and I’m concerned it’s going to affect my ability to get literary representation.”
Craig: Well, that’s true. It’s unfortunate. One would hope that it is becoming less true than it was before. I think before when the default setting in Hollywood was let’s all just keep our mouths shut about this terrible thing and move on quietly then you were rewarded for keeping your mouth shut in theory. Things have changed, happily.
I want to believe that as more of this happens it becomes harder and harder to engage in this kind of worrisome practice. Also, I’m not sure there’s a purpose to engaging in the worrisome practice anymore. Why blacklist people who are complaining about say Scott Rudin? It doesn’t make any sense.
There is this gray zone where somebody can make an accusation and other people can doubt them. And then you can be assigned this troublemaker moniker. And we as an industry have the same challenges that every industry has. Every aspect or walk of life in our society is struggling with this because there is a tendency sometimes to just say, oh, well you’re crazy. I don’t want to deal with you anymore.
John: Yeah. So I think the Friends situation. Remember there was a writer’s room and there were complaints about PAs in that writer’s room felt like they were being mistreated. And it was complicated because you both want to have a vigorous debate and discussion within the room, but it was also clear that terrible things were happening in the room, or things that shouldn’t have been happening in the room were happening in the room. And so how do you balance that out.
When you have a person whose name is identified with it it becomes somewhat of a challenge. But I do agree with you that I think it’s less of a challenge in 2021 than it was in 2019 or 2017. I think we’re recognizing that people who are calling out this behavior aren’t troublemakers. They are just speaking to reality.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But the trend is certainly positive. I think sometimes of Megan Ganz who is the brilliant co-showrunner and executive producer of Mythic Quest and worked on Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Community. And she had a very public I guess confrontation with Dan Harmon who was her former boss at Community and who had engaged in just poor behavior. Really bad behavior. And I think you could call it – certainly it was abusive in the sense that he was her boss. And he made that work environment the absolute definition of hostile. And she handled it beautifully. It’s not like it’s incumbent upon the people who suffered to handle things beautifully. That said, she handled it beautifully.
And I do know that while if you Google Megan Ganz that will come up, so will a whole lot of other things. And I suspect that as the years go on she will continue to do outstanding work and be recognized for that which is correct. And the Google page rank of that unfortunate chapter in her life will lower down on things.
It is important to not be afraid to confront people. Even though there is some sort of risk there I guess I would just encourage people to note that it’s getting better. Not perfect but better.
John: One other thing you could note from both the Weinstein and the Rudin situations is that when people come together as a group there’s less focus on the individual person who comes forward.
Craig: Yes. So when it’s one person talking about one person our stupid little lizard brains turn it into a he said/she said. It’s our favorite phrase. Somehow that becomes, I don’t know, salacious. And then, you know, I would say that the group of people that need to think about this the most carefully are our dear friends the agents who are not known for their bravery. And as a group tend to shy away from things that seem like they are just going to be difficult. They love the path of least resistance and most money. And they need to not do this sort of thing.
John: Well you’re saying that because agents are connected and agents do have access to those whisper networks. They do have a sense of what’s going on. And they should not be sending people into situations where they suspect there is going to be a problem. And they can also have the ability to connect clients who are having similar things and hopefully make some changes.
Craig: And certainly if they have a client who does confront somebody or make an accusation they should really not ever contemplate just dropping that person because. So, for instance our anonymous writer here says, “I was dropped by my rep after coming forward so this is not a hypothetical.” Now, I can certainly imagine a case where somebody makes an accusation. A long stretch of time goes by. And then an agent says our professional relationship isn’t working here. Agents aren’t wed to you permanently. But they should not be able to just dump you – a little bit like the unions come in to try and unionize a shop. By law you can’t fire the organizing employees.
Craig: Not allowed to. And they still do it anyway. But you’re not allowed to. And you can get, you know, taken – dragged into labor court. And similarly I think if you’re an agent and you have a client who makes an accusation or confronts somebody about abuse you should not be dropping them at all. You need to wait and be respectful of that process.
John: Agreed. Back in Episode 494 we talked about typos in Three Page Challenges. And Frank from England wrote in to say, “When listening to Episode 494 a couple weeks ago my heart sunk a little when you said that you instructed Megana not to consider scripts with typos anymore. I totally understand your frustration with typos, but please just consider for a moment the circumstances of the writers who sent those first three pages of their script for feedback. In my case, I’m not only dyslexic but I was also abused throughout my childhood by my late mother. And I was also bullied at school and work. So, my circumstances make it very hard for me to trust people and make friends that can give me feedback on my writing.
“Please help to spread the word that readers can try to be a little bit more understanding as they read and judge someone’s script. I care very much about my writing and it probably takes me three times longer to write anything than a more abled writer. I imagine my lack of success as a writer is probably directly linked to my dyslexia and people judging me as someone who doesn’t care or doesn’t put effort into their writing.”
Craig: OK, so Frank I sympathize with you, but I’m going to disagree with you and I’m going to put sort of a firm thing down here for all of our benefit. Because of course you know me and John through the podcast, but you have no idea what we were dealing with when we were growing up at all. So, when you say that you were abused as a child and bullied as a child you don’t know whether or not that is the case for me or John or both.
Similarly, you don’t know if either one of us are dyslexic. As it turns out I am not. But I do have a son who is not neuro-typical and I have a lot of experience working with him. And I can tell you that what I’ve always told him, and what I’m going to tell you is your challenges are not everyone else’s responsibility. It is important for us to acknowledge that other people have different challenges. And it’s important for us to acknowledge that things may be harder for you than they are for other people.
However, the world will evaluate things the way they evaluate things. And writing, it is important to write with a concern for the reader. And that means typos. I don’t have a problem with you saying I struggle to write without typos. I do have a problem with you saying but also because I’m scared of showing it to other people, or concerned, or it makes me feel bad, or triggers me, I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to show it to you guys.
Well we’re also people, right? And I think there has to be somebody in your life you can trust that you feel safe enough with to help you with this. People want to help. And this is the mildest form of help possibly. Simple proofreading of three pages. You’re going to have to figure this out because we are weirdly the nicest people you’re going to meet when you send pages to the rest of the world. Oh boy.
So, what I’m saying Frank is I’m encouraging you to stretch a little bit here and confront a little bit of that fear to at least ask for the help required to get you where you need to be. It’s not wrong to need help. It’s not shameful to need help. But if you don’t ask for it then you are going to suffer unnecessarily.
John: I am also sympathetic to Frank’s situation and I want to sort of provide a little context around things. Because we get three pages and we don’t know anything about you and your situation. And you’re essentially anonymous coming into us.
It would be a different case if we were university professors, university writing professors and we see these pages and then we can talk with you and learn that, oh, you have these challenges. Great. So let’s take a look at those challenges individually. If we could look at you as an individual and not just a set of three pages, I think it is important to sort of acknowledge people’s backgrounds and histories and sort of what they’re coming to and sort of how we can best help.
But we don’t have that. And so putting a disclaimer on the top of these three pages to say like hey this is my whole situation. I’m dyslexic. Don’t judge me for these things. Sure. We could do it for the Three Page Challenge, but it’s not going to help you in the long run because everyone is going to read your script without knowing that context.
Craig: Yes. And that’s a hard thing to deal with. Because it would be nice if the world were willing to expand its tolerance for everyone. We’re not here to behave like the tough, uncaring world. We’re just two guys who are offering to read your stuff for free and then comment on it. And so, you know, we have certain standards that we indeed are allowed to have. So I strongly recommend again Frank, first of all, congratulations for working through the dyslexia. And congratulations on pursuing writing despite that.
And I know that there are other emotional issues that you’re struggling with and dealing with and I’m proud of you for writing this letter. Because it seems like you’re actually more capable of confronting these things perhaps than you’re indicating. All you need to do in this case, it’s pretty simple, find one person you trust and have them help you with typos. That’s it.
John: You could pay that person, too.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, geez, if you have to pay them. I mean, it’s three pages. Don’t pay them too much, Frank.
John: No. Megana also makes a very good point here is that the Three Page Challenge is in addition to us discussing them online we also post them online so people can download them. So, you want your best work out there. So your name is going to be linked to these three pages and it’s going to be Google-able. You do really want them to be the best possible pages you could put up there.
Craig: Yes. All this, we should add just because it’s been on our minds lately, it is important for us to hear from disabled writers. And we don’t ask people to identify who they are. We don’t even need names. But we’re certainly not asking people what their genders are, their sexuality, or their status as an able person or a disabled person. But if you are disabled and you want to let us know you are free to do that because we are – we do want a good cross section.
For a long time what we were concentrating on was just straight gender because our gender breakdown was horrendous. How is it lately by the way?
John: We haven’t done the numbers recently. And again we don’t ask when people submit. Megana, correct me, we’re not asking when people submit, are we?
Megana Rao: We’re not asking. I go based off of names sometimes.
John: We’re guessing based on names. We aim for inclusion in terms of making sure we have people, writers represented from across the spectrum. So, you know, you can speak up and let us know if that’s your situation.
John: Which reminds me, I meant to say this ahead of the show. We talk about equity inclusion a lot on the show. And there’s actually survey for WGA members. That’s going to be in your inbox as you listen to this episode. So, take a look there. If you’re a WGA member there’s a survey specifically looking at feature writers’ equity and inclusion which is a harder thing to measure.
John: And so it’s going out to all the membership because sometimes TV writers are also pitching on features. And so it’s to everybody. But if you are a WGA member, WGA West member I think, look for that survey in your mailbox.
Craig: I can’t wait to fill it out. [laughs]
John: You love WGA surveys.
Craig: I love WGA email. I love WGA surveys. They’re my favorite.
John: All right. 497 we talked about the hierarchy of genres. And Jesse wrote in with sort of a three part discussion of hierarchy of genres. And I thought there were three good points and I thought we might tackle them separately.
John: Number one, “Since the primacy of drama seems to be fueled by awards shows, isn’t it likely that we are all just living in the promotional universe established by big studios who have created these award shows in order to drive audiences to underseen dramas since dramas often have the lowest box office grosses?”
Do you accept this thesis?
Craig: No. And the reason I do not accept the thesis is because award shows are the result of voting. We just saw an interesting occur at the Oscars where it was quite clear that the Oscars and the production of the award show was assuming, as were all of the odds makers and pundits, that Chadwick Boseman was going to win for Best Actor posthumously. And so they put that category last, which it never is. And he didn’t win. And why didn’t he win? Because voters voted for Anthony Hopkins. And that’s how voting is.
Do you remember in 2016 when voters did a weird thing?
Craig: Now, by the way, I don’t want to take anything away from Anthony Hopkins. Sir Anthony Hopkins, one of the great actors of all time. I haven’t seen, it’s called–
John: The Father.
Craig: The Father. I haven’t seen it. But I imagine it’s an extraordinary performance because all of his performances are extraordinary. The point I’m making, Jesse, is that the award shows can’t predict anything. It’s the award voters that seem to love drama. And because they love it that’s what ends up coming out. The award shows are certainly used by studios to help try and push and promote things, although in this day and age I don’t know even know what that means anymore. Because it used to be that Nomadland would need to win an Oscar so that people would go see it in theaters. But Nomadland is on my computer. So no one is going to – I can see it – I don’t know.
John: It was a weird year. That’s why we’re not – we don’t really talk about the Oscars anyway, but I just felt like this year was just – it’s a Mulligan. There were some lovely movies made. But I’m not counting it as a normal year.
Craig: It was an odd year. Do other art forms have the same hierarchy? Of course.
John: Books have the same hierarchy. Painting, yeah, sort of like serious art versus–
Craig: Of course. Dogs playing poker, which I vastly prefer.
John: Sculpture does, absolutely. Dance, of course. You look at NBA dancers versus ballet. There is a higher and low form.
Craig: Yes. And also in music. Pop music is considered pop music. Pop music wins awards at pop music awards shows. But, you know, your fancier, I don’t know what you call them, critics are always going to – I remember when I was in high school Rolling Stone came out with like their 100 best rock albums of all time, or even 100 best albums of all time. And I remember there was like – there was an album by Richard and Linda Thompson in the top ten and I’m like, “Sorry who? What? Huh?” There was also Captain Beefheart, Trout Mask Replica.
Now, have you ever heard of Captain Beefheart?
John: I’ve heard the name. I have no idea what [unintelligible].
Craig: Richard and Linda Thompson are the Beatles as far as I’m concerned compared to Captain Beefheart and his album Trout Mask Replica, which is utter nonsense. I’m aware that a number of aging weed smokers are running to their computers or slowly crawling to their computers to write me angry dude mail about how I just don’t get it. The comedian Marc Maron who does his very big podcast has a great thing about Beefheart and how he tried to get into Beefheart and he failed to get into Beefheart.
Well, Captain Beefheart isn’t one of the ten best albums of all time, or Trout Mask Replica. The name alone–
John: I can’t even parse what you’re saying. Trout Mask Replica?
Craig: Trout Mask Replica. That tells you everything you need to know. It is garbage. And, sorry Captain Beefheart if you’re out there. It’s not very good. It’s just nonsense. It’s like – it doesn’t matter. The point is sometimes in the world of snooty critics weirder and more [a formal] and bizarre is considered better. There are still people that think that Revolution Number 9 is a great Beatles song when of course it’s garbage.
John: All right. So Jesse is asking what can we learn by the comparison, and I think what we can learn from the comparison is there’s always going to be the fancy version of things and the popular common version of things. And so you see that in dance, you see that in books, you see that wherever. And what is the actual impact of that in what we do in terms of screenwriting? It can kind of suck. That prestige thing can kind of suck.
John: But also comedy writers do get paid good money.
John: There’s recognition of despite the we want Aaron Sorkin to write these fancy dramas, that’s not sort of keeping the lights on in studios.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a gif – I say gif – that I saw this morning. I can’t even remember what the context was. But it’s from Mad Men. And Elizabeth Moss’s character is saying sort of tearily to Jon Hamm’s character, “You never say thank you.” And then he says back, “That’s what the money is for.” Which I think is freaking awesome.
And so, yes, for comedy writers the awards shows never say thank you. That’s what the money is for. The one thing that bums me out is that at least in the Emmys there is a full category for comedy. And there isn’t one in the Oscars and that’s a mistake. It’s just a permanent, endless mistake.
John: So you’re saying the Golden Globes people have it exactly right? By having a comedy–
Craig: Globes people do not. So they’ve combined comedy and variety, or comedy/musical. So they’ve combined comedy and musical together into one monstrosity where that’s why The Martian gets put up for Best Comedy or Musical for the Golden Globes, which makes no sense.
John: I would see a Martian musical.
Craig: Yes, well of course. But the Emmys have Drama, Comedy. And that’s great. And I think the Oscars should have Best Drama and Best Comedy. Because what happens to the world of comedy and comedy writing in features is that everybody just eventually gets embittered. Because you’re sitting there going there have been years where the comedy business held this whole thing up. And then everybody goes, “Boo, dumb comedy. Anyway, here’s a movie that four people saw.” Oscars!
And, you know, you start to feel like – no comedy? None deserves any award ever? For decades?
John: So here’s a difference I will point out is that when we talk about high art/low art, comedy/drama, in many of these other fields those art forms are completely separate. Ballet and hip hop dancing, they’re never in the same place. Where we’re all doing the same thing. We’re literally doing the same stuff. And for it to have a snootiness about it is ridiculous.
Craig: It is. And I’m not a member of the movie Academy, but you are.
John: I am, as is Aline.
Craig: As is Aline. So I feel like the two of you–
John: Singlehandedly we’ll start a revolution.
Craig: You could start a thing, you know, where we get – maybe comedy could be a category. I don’t know. Here’s what always blows my mind about the Oscars is that they hire a comedian to please the audience to tell jokes and then all the presenters come out and routinely there are little comedy sketches throughout as if to say we are aware that comedy is entertaining and wonderful. Also, no comedy is getting an award tonight. None.
John: It is weird.
Craig: It’s weird.
John: It’s weird. Final point. It’s also useful to investigate our paradigms. We’re talking about awards and accolades, which would probably rank the primary genres drama, action, comedy, whereas viewership and likely cultural impact would rank them as action, comedy, or drama, which is another way of saying like viewers want to see things in a different order than how we rank them societally.
Craig: Yeah. And there’s a common argument where people say awards aren’t popularity contests. And if all that mattered was popular than we would give all the Grammys to the people who wrote the Baby Shark song.
Craig: Which I understand that. Which by the way they should. But I think that’s a pretty fake argument. Nobody really believes in the slippery slope of it has to be only popular or only whatever quality is. This is partly reason that people just don’t watch these shows anymore. I mean, the Oscar viewership hasn’t just dropped, it’s tumbling off a cliff.
I was looking at the numbers and it was horrifying. Now, maybe the people have just lost interest in awards. I don’t know. But I think part of it is that the Oscars generally do feel like they are awarding a bunch of movies no one has seen or in some cases even heard of. So, at least if they had the comedy category there’d be one thing that people had heard of. Because people have heard of comedies. Although, watch, then they’ll give it to some weird obscure comedy no one has heard of. Oh, Oscars.
John: That’s how it happens. All right, now it’s time for one of our favorite segments. How Would This Be a Movie?
John: And so this week I was scrolling through my Twitter, which Craig doesn’t scroll through Twitter as much anymore.
John: But Rachel Syme had this really great tweet that people were responding to and quote-replying to. And her question was, “What’s a photograph you would like to see made into an entire prestige TV series?” So people were like putting a photo in and saying like I want to say the series about this. And we’ll put a link in the show notes to this thread. But these were cool, iconic photos. The one that struck out the most to me was it looks like it’s the 1950s or ‘60s, a Black woman has her purse on her left arm. She’s smoking a cigarette. And seems entirely unimpressed by these military police soldiers who are standing right by her.
It just felt great. And I was like I want to see Octavia Spencer play that character. I don’t even know who that person is, but I wanted to see that moment.
So we often think about starting with a story, a story in the news, but sometimes just an image can be the feel for what the movie would be.
Craig: I remember reading a story about the Coen brothers and the creation of Miller’s Crossing which I love. And apparently it started with an image. It wasn’t a photograph but rather something that they had just imagined, but it was the image of a hat blowing by the wind through a forest. I just thought, you know, if I had that thought I would have probably been like shut up Craig. No one cares about a hat in the forest.
Those two geniuses, god, the excellence of those guys. Just the consistent excellence over the years. Just amazing.
Anyway, it is fascinating to think like – and if you watch Miller’s Crossing sure enough a big deal is that hat blowing along through the forest.
John: There’s a 2005 Brazilian film called House of Sand, or The House of Sand, by Elena Soarez, she wrote it. And I remember going to a screening and she was talking about it. And it was all just based on one photograph. And so the director had this photograph. I want the movie that could lead to this photograph. And so she wrote this elaborate story and it’s terrific.
Craig: It’s actually a great prompt if you’re stuck. Just pick some photo and go to town. Fun game.
John: So we asked our listeners to write in with their suggestions for How Would This Be a Movie. We’re going to start with the Super League, the European Super Soccer League, which was all over the headlines for about 48 hours.
Craig: That’s as long as it lasted.
John: I woke up to it and I didn’t know what it was. I don’t really understand European football. I assumed that somehow my friend Ryan Reynolds and your friend Rob McElhenney had somehow done something terrible.
Craig: No. Although I did hear a lot about it from Rob. So, the fascinating thing about European football, or as we know it soccer, is that their leagues don’t function the way our professional leagues function here. So Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, NHL, they are professional teams. And those are the teams. Every year a bunch of them are in last.
Now sometimes what will happen is a franchise will move out of a city and move to another city. But the point being your performance doesn’t impact whether or not you’re still a Major League Baseball team. Not so in Europe. There is the Premier League. So the idea is that’s kind of like the Major Football League. Individual teams by performance qualify to get into, or can drop out of it through poor performance.
So this speaks to this very odd culture. And it goes way, way back. And it is all tied up in super old European stuff that comes down to pride of city and all the rest of it. If you’ve ever seen videos of Mancunians singing You’ll Never Walk Alone you’ll understand. This is like it’s more than sports to them. It’s life.
And what happened was a bunch of the huge teams were like why don’t we all just get together and make our own league, because we’re the ones that make all the money. And we’ll make even more money like this. And the people not only from the teams that weren’t invited to this super league but the people from the teams that were, whose teams would have benefitted from this, were like, “Over our dead bodies. You are not going to topple the traditions of this system. It’s the way it is.”
And they were really speaking to the somewhat greedy capitalists who were trying to take away the beauty of the sport and make it even more exploitative financially. And it fell apart, oh man, when things fall apart in Europe it goes fast. It really does.
John: Now, let’s think about this as a movie because this – it fell apart so quickly that I’m not sure that there’s necessarily a second or a third act. But there are interesting moments along the way. And what I do like about this as imagining characters in it you have the team owners and the team owners have a specific agenda. And they’re doing a lot of things in secret, which is exciting. We love to see when people have secret plans and there are coded things for how they’re going to do stuff.
And then you have fans. And I think this idea of fan ownership and fandom we’ve talked a lot about in terms of movies and sort of Marvel fandom and how toxic they can be, but also there is that sense of local identity and culture and pride. And it’s grafted on to this team that also has a different motive. And that tension is really fascinating.
Craig: Yeah. It would have to be one of those sort of tick-tock movies. I don’t mean TikTok. But rather this minute, this hour. We’re going to tell the story of the craziest 48 hours in European sports.
John: It’s Chernobyl but it’s–
Craig: It’s Chernobyl but with soccer. And no one dies. And I think it’s a movie. I don’t think it’s a series. There’s just not enough there. But the problem with these stories ultimately is stakes. When they’re true stories and it ultimately comes down to rich people “we’re not able to get a bit richer” it doesn’t really that much. When you see a small team suffer because this happens and everybody wants to leave and there’s a grand tradition of working class British comedies in particular about sort of the downtrodden.
John: Billy Elliot.
Craig: Billy Elliot is one of the greats of all time. And The Whole Monty. And you could see–
John: The Full Monty.
John: It doesn’t really matter.
Craig: The Full Monty. Why did I say The Whole Monty?
John: I don’t know.
Craig: The Whole Nine Yards. I combined The Whole Nine Yards and The Full Monty. We’re not editing this out.
Craig: We’re keeping this. I’m willing to be vulnerable and say that I said The Whole Monty. And now that I have said The Whole Monty it’s always going to be The Whole Monty.
John: Yeah. It’s going to be one of those, what do they call it when – now–
Craig: We’re keeping this, too.
John: What do you call it when you are convinced that it always was the Berenstain Bears?
Craig: Oh the Mandela.
John: It’s the Mandela Effect.
Craig: Mandela Effect.
John: It always was The Whole Monty is what I’m saying.
Craig: It always was The Whole Monty. There’s millions of people who believe it’s The Whole Monty. Our brains are terrible.
John: All right, so let’s talk about tone because what we have for references, of course Ted Lasso which is a stunning achievement. It creates a very specific tone that is positive and uplifting and human, but truly a comedy. Then we have the FIFA scandal which we’ve talked about before which was probably a drama. You could do it as a black comedy kind of, but it feels more like a drama. Where do we want this movie to land?
Craig: I would probably want it to go towards comedy because the straight dramatic story, there’s just no real drama there. The story is something bad almost happened, then didn’t. That’s not great.
John: Yeah. So a challenge with this story is that I agree with you that it’s going to be a tick-tock where we’re looking to two different sides of things. But you’re not going to have obvious protagonists. There’s not going to be a character who starts the story with one set of beliefs and has to change in a meaningful way. There’s going to be victors and losers and situations that are happening, but it’s not going to be a classic hero’s journey kind of story.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t really think this is going to be a movie.
John: Yeah. I think there could be something about it. But I agree. I don’t think it’s necessarily a movie-movie.
What is a more likely to be a movie is this Russian man who was trapped on a Chinese reality TV show.
John: Who desperately tried to get voted off the show.
Craig: So great. So great.
John: Joanie Remmler, thank you for sending this through. We’ll link to a piece in The Guardian about it.
Craig: That’s Jonni Remmler. That’s Bo’s boyfriend, Johnnie.
John: Oh my gosh.
John: So thank you to Jonni Remmler, Bo’s boyfriend apparently who sent this through.
Craig: That’s right. By the way, interesting trivia about Jonni Remmler that I only knew – I learned this like a month ago.
John: All I know about Jonni Remmler is that he’s Bo’s boyfriend.
Craig: Correct. I’m going to give you a second piece of trivia. John, do you remember a song when we were kids, we were probably like in fifth or sixth grade. And it was this song. [hums]
John: Was it like a radio song or something we would sing ourselves?
Craig: Nope. It was a radio song. It was German.
John: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Craig: It’s a German song and the chorus was “Da-da-da.” It was by a group called Trio. But I think Trio was just one guy. And that was Jonni’s father.
Craig: Yeah. Jonni Remmler’s dad.
John: Jonni Remmler’s Da.
Craig: His Da was Da-Da-Da. How cool is that? I love this story. I love this Russian trapped story. This is amazing.
John: So would you do this as the actual thing that happened, or would you – because I can imagine a Black Mirror version of this story. Or would you do what really happened?
Craig: I mean, I would take the concept. Someone is already working on it. Guarantee you, someone is cooking on this. So, you take the concept. And the concept here, what had happened was this Russian – he looks like a kid. He looks like he’s 16 or something. A young man. He’s working as a PA or something on a Chinese reality television show where I guess they put a bunch of teens on an island and force them to compete as teen idols or boy bands or something.
And they asked him, because he’s very good-looking. And so the producers were like, hey, do you want to be on the show. And he’s like, oh, this is really boring, I guess fine.
John: And when we say very good-looking, he looks like an anime character.
Craig: Right. He is absurdly good-looking actually. He doesn’t seem real. And they were like do you want to be on the show? And he’s like yeah, sure. And then what happened was he couldn’t get out. He did not like it. He did not enjoy performing. He wasn’t good at performing. He can’t sing. He hated doing it. And he just wanted to leave and get voted off. But the problem was he was so obvious about it that everybody was like no.
So it was a little bit like the Sanjaya Syndrome, you know. Definitely Sanjaya was – this is, already now people are like who?
Craig: Sanjaya was a contestant on American Idol.
Craig: And he was a good-looking kid, very sweet. There were probably 40% of the people voting for him honestly liked him.
John: This is probably season four or five, so it had all been established.
Craig: More than half of the people that were routinely voting for him week after week were basically doing it for the LOLs, because he stank. Sorry Sanjaya, you were not great. And similarly I watched a video of this kid, so he just does a half-hearted Russian rap. He’s terrible. And everyone is still like, “Yes!” And there’s this whole, I guess it’s like a Chinese cultural thing called – did you see this called 996? 996 is the Chinese shorthand for you work from 9am to 9pm six days a week. So everyone is like if we have to 996 so do you, Russian kid.
And they would not let him go. And that to me is a basis for a very funny movie. Like that feels like a Will Ferrell kind of thing.
John: It is a Will Ferrell kind of thing. So, that sense, so thematically the sense that fame is a prison. That the thing you most wanted becomes a trap in and of itself. That we create these illusions and you sort of get stuck in these illusions. So the fact that he sort of stumbles into it is a choice, but if you wanted at the start it does change his approach to it.
Craig: I would say that this feels like the most straight down – and why mess with the straight down the middle on this one? There’s this kid. He’s a PA. He’s working on this show. He is kind of at love from a distance with this boy or girl that’s competing. And that person is really good. That person should win. And then they’re like hey good-looking guy. And so he starts doing it and he hates it, but everybody keeps voting for him. And now the problem is he might – and then the two fall in love, except that then he’s like doing better than the good one because of the joke of it all. And now he wants to get out and he can’t. He’s trapped. That person dumps him.
And then he has to actually get good or something.
Craig: And then there’s the end. But it just feels like one of those movies. It would be enjoyable to watch because it would be just mainline that into my veins.
John: I think you’re smart to focus on adding a character who can be a love interest or some other person we can care about, because if it’s just him versus the producers we’re stuck.
Craig: There must be love.
John: There must be love. Next one, sent by Robert Hilliard, is Out of Thin Air: The Mystery of the Man Who Fell From the Sky. We’ll link to a Guardian article about this. So this tells about a Canadian Airlines flight and a person who fell out of the wheel well of this and crashed through to a patio. And spoiler is they never actually found out who this person was. But the article goes through the history of people trying to hide in the wheel wells of passenger jets.
Craig: Which seems like just a horrendous idea. Although oddly some people make it. But they went through the reasons why it’s unlikely that you will survive. So first of all you get into the wheel well. There’s a chance that when the wheel comes up that the gear will crush you to death.
Craig: But congrats. Somehow you managed to avoid that. Great. As the plane ascends you are not in a pressurized area. The temperature will drop to some horrifying minus whatever 30. And then there’s a little bit of heat coming off of the hydraulic cables, but not really enough to keep you from going into hypothermia. Plus, the air is so thin you barely get enough oxygen. Typically you just go into some hibernative of–
John: Hypothermia and you sort of hibernate. Your body just sort of shuts down.
Craig: Your body shuts down.
John: And so the problem with that is ultimately the wheels are going to come back down and it doesn’t come down right before the ground. It’s like you’re thousands of feet up in the air and the wheels come down and you drop out of the plane.
Craig: Yeah. In fact they were saying that they will find bodies not at Heathrow but on the kind of approach.
John: The flight path.
Craig: The landing approach to Heathrow. Because that’s where those flaps open up. And then unconscious people just sort of tumble, half-frozen, to the ground. So, just word of warning to our listeners, don’t.
John: Don’t do this.
Craig: Especially if you’re in Europe. I mean, that Ryanair. I mean, it’s like–
John: Plus, you’ll try to do that and they’ll try to sell you headphones.
Craig: Ryanair will. You know, Ryanair, I flew a lot of regional airplanes when we were making Chernobyl in Europe. And I believe it’s Ryanair. They run lotteries on the plane.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: That’s crazy.
John: Will We Crash scratcher?
Craig: Yeah. A little scratcher before we go down. I don’t see a movie here.
John: I don’t see a movie here either. And also I left this one because I wanted to say let’s not even perpetuate this trope of like going into the wheel well. Because I could see this being in a movie and people saying like oh that’s a thing I could do.
Craig: It’s not. The wheel well is an even less likely air vent.
John: Yes. It reminds me of the air vent problem.
Craig: You’re not going through a duct. And – by the way, I was playing Spider-Man. So there’s Spider-Man and then it turned into Miles Morales when the PS5 came out. And in the beginning of Spider-Man they do a very typical thing for videogames where they throw you into an action sequence. But it’s designed to really teach you how to do things. And in that he is crawling through these massive vents. And he remarks, “These vents are huge and really clean.” And I thought, OK, I’ll give it to you. All right.
John: Hang a little hat on that.
Craig: You’re winking. We’re cool.
John: Our next How Would This Be a Movie are The Saboteurs You Can Hire to End Your Relationship. This was sent in by Brian Erickson. We will link to a BBC story on this. I think this is the most promising of the potential movies.
So essentially again we’re in Japan where all these kind of crazy stories come from. We talked before about the fake families you can hire.
Craig: Right. Fake families.
John: This is a situation where you hire somebody, these are firms that are usually connected with private investigation agencies basically to seduce your spouse and therefore they start an affair and then you can break up with them and it’s sort of their fault.
John: And also it makes the divorce easier because they think they’re in love with another person.
Craig: Yes. And I think the specifics of divorce in Japan, but surely also here to some extent, it is that if you have evidence of infidelity it just gets put in a different category. It’s all terrible. Terrible thing to do. So, it’s immoral. But it is kind of like the anti-Hitch or something. Interesting.
There have been quite a few movies that propose these jobs that sort of exist but don’t really exist, like there was The Best Man where I think was that Kevin Hart where the idea is like I’m a best man you can hire because you don’t have one. But that’s not really a thing. And this is sort of a thing, but not really a thing.
If it were me I would probably want to steer away from the idea of like we’re professional breaker-uppers because that seems a little broad and have it more be like you seem like the kind of person that – like I just watched you steal some guy’s wife. Can you please steal my wife? And then what happens?
John: Yeah. I like that as an idea. Honestly kind of like Strangers on a Train, like a crisscross. What if we were to help each other out? What if we seduced each other’s wives and get ourselves out of this situation.
John: Or, honestly as you said this, husbands that get each other – that’s an interesting thing. You want that complicated relationship between this person you are using to break up a relationship and really get into sort of why are you doing this, what is the nature of love. What if it starts fake but becomes real? Those are interesting things. And tonally you could do this as a comedy, or you could do this as a pretty dark drama.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a version of this where you have, let’s say it’s two women who agree to crisscross. They want to get rid of their husbands and make the divorce go well. So you seduce mine, I seduce yours. We get pictures and we’re done. And then what happens is they each begin to fall in love with the other one’s husband. And then they also start to feel jealous that the other one has taken their husband. And so therefore the love is rekindled, so you’re not going to steal my guy. And then there’s a competition of a kind.
And you could do that with two men, two woman, men/women. You could do any version you want. Kind of all is fair in love and war kind of thing. Could be fun. Or it could just be dark and depressing.
John: Yeah. I mean, there’s definitely the noir version of this which could be kind of great. Basically either I’ve hired this person to do this thing, or this is an old friend who I’m getting in to do this thing. And we owe this, but then real feelings start to get involved and it just becomes complicated. And complications are why we make movies.
Craig: Complications are why we make movies.
John: That’s good. Our final How Would This Be a Movie has no plot really at all. It kind of goes back to how we framed this thing. Here’s a photo that sets up what is this movie. So this is in Turkey. These high end basically castles that were being built for rich people, but they’re sort of like townhouse castles. You have to look at the photo, but basically it looks like–
Craig: So weird.
John: Like Cinderella’s castle, but stacked all together.
Craig: Tiny. So like tiny versions of Cinderella’s castle. And there’s like a hundred of them and they’re identical in rows. So it’s sort of the height of luxury and not luxury. They really nailed something that has never existed before. Who was going to buy those?
John: I don’t know. But people did buy them. People put in the money to build this and then because of economic collapse and Covid and everything else they’ve lost all their money. So it’s this ghost town of these half-built townhouse castles and it seems fascinating.
You could set a story here but there’s not actually a story. I think what I want to get to is it’s a fascinating place to put something, but I don’t think the actual falling apart of the plan to build these things is the story.
Craig: It’s more of a location that I could see somebody using for interest. The problem with that location is it doesn’t seem real. So when you look at these photos you think to yourself – well you think, OK, this is in a journal. It’s real. However, you could also make that with Photoshop in four seconds. Because that’s what they literally did in real life. They Photoshopped a bunch of these things and just made them for real.
So there’s a sequence in Skyfall where James Bond goes to the villain’s island, Javier Bardem’s island. And they used a real place. It was an island where the Chinese built this massive city and then never put anybody there. It’s just a huge abandoned city with multiple structures just sitting there. And it was a cool location.
This thing I don’t even know if it would be a cool location because I think people would watch and go, “Oh, it’s like CGI.”
John: You wouldn’t believe it.
Craig: No, you wouldn’t believe it. It’s weird. It’s like the house of mirrors. It’s the strangest thing. Turkey.
John: Yeah. Choices. All right, so of the movies we discussed today, or potential movies, which one do you think could actually happen? Because we have a good track record of things happening.
Craig: We do. I actually think Russian man trapped on Chinese reality show feels like something that not only can but will be made for a streamer. It just feels funny at its core. I know what the plot is. I don’t have to sit there and wonder. The whole arc has been spelled out for me. I can do it. And it would be fun. People would watch it.
John: I think Will Ferrell is the right kind of tone approach to it as well. My second choice would the saboteurs to end your relationship. I think there’s a version of that.
John: Thank you to everyone who sent in these things.
Craig: Thanks folks.
John: These are great. Now, we get more stuff that people sent in. It’s time for Megana to come on and talk us through the questions people have asked.
Megana Rao: Hello.
John: Actually, Megana before you start I want to get some clarification. So yesterday on Slack you asked a question should I send through the How Would This Be a Movies to Craig and to Bo and I answered “yes” on Slack. And then I saw you give a thumbs up. And then that thumbs up disappeared later on. And so then I typed, “Oh sorry, yassss.” It’s a tone situation.
Talk me through this. Did you interpret my “yes” in a negative way?
Megana: Just because it was my kneejerk reaction I was like oh man that was a dumb question. He just said yes, not exclamation.
Craig: Did you put a period at the end of yes?
John: There was no period at the end of yes.
Craig: Oh, so that was less horrible I guess.
John: The tone was like yes.
Megana: And even though I know you were joking, I so appreciated the “sorry, yassss.” I loved it. I loved it.
Craig: Let her off the hook.
Megana: I loved it.
Craig: I think the iPhone thumbs up is a great – like everyone likes the iPhone thumbs up.
John: Is that correct Megana? Does everyone like the iPhone thumbs up?
Megana: Yeah. I love the iPhone thumbs up.
John: So from now a thumbs up will be the answer rather than a yes or even worse a sure.
Craig: Oh sure. Sure.
Megana: But “yassss” is the–
Craig: Yassss is obviously.
Megana: I welcome that whenever.
Craig: Sometimes Bo will ask me if I want coffee. I do like a 15-A “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas.”
Megana: But I didn’t mean to remove the thumbs up. I think that was an accident. Because I was trying to re-thumbs up because it didn’t show up for me.
John: I gotcha. All right. Let’s get to some questions now that we’ve gotten that taken care of.
Megana: OK, great. So Malachi in Indian asked, “I was wondering if you guys write every day. And if so, what does that look like when you’re not working on a specific project? I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump lately, mainly due to the pandemic/depression, and not being able to experience things. No input equals no output. But I’ve been wanting to write during this time. When you guys are in this situation do you sit down every day and just write anything? Do you use idea generation? I journal every day and I try to brainstorm ideas, but is there something more I can be doing to keep working my writing muscles until I find my actual ideal?”
John: Craig, do you write every day?
Craig: No. I’m supposed. But I’ve also come to understand that there are days where I just don’t have it. And I will say it out loud. I’ll just say, “Oh I know what this day is. This is one of those days where I don’t have it.”
I used to feel a little bit of guilt. More than a bit. But over time I began to realize that those days were actually not indicative of some sort of problem. They were just indicative of being a human. And that there were other days where, you know, I would write more and it would all catch up. It’s kind of regression to the mean as it were.
So, there are days where I don’t write. But there’s never a day where I don’t have something to write, nor is there ever a day where I don’t know what I’m supposed to be writing. For Malachi, it seems like part of what’s going on there is Malachi isn’t really quite sure what to write at all. Maybe a little switch of genre might help you Malachi. Consider just doing a short story. Like three pages. Five pages. Real nice short one. A poem. Just write something.
Write something that you can actually start and finish. It’s a nice feeling and it gets the muscles moving as you would say.
John: I was going to say. Give yourself a prompt, a challenge. Say I can only write 300 words. I have to tell a story in only 300 words. Do something that sort of forces you outside of your normal comfort zone is a good idea.
I attempt to write every day. And so I attempt to leave space in my day every day to write. And so it’s always on my daily agenda for like write sprint on this project. And so either it’s a thing I owe somebody, or it is something I’ve wanted to work on for myself. So I’m always giving myself the brief to write. Do I always actually generate words? No. But like Craig I sort of give myself permission to say like it just didn’t happen today. But I try not to give myself that permission too much because then stuff doesn’t get done.
Craig: And you don’t. As it turns out you really don’t. It’s not one of those things where you think I don’t have it today, but really. I do. I just don’t want to. And then 12 days in a row you’re like I don’t have it today. Give myself a break. That doesn’t happen. You want to write, it’s just sometimes it ain’t there.
John: What I do find generally helpful is I will say like I really don’t have it today, so I’m just going to take quick little notes. I’m going to just jot down some little things. And sometimes that’s all I do. But sometimes it’s like oh actually pieces start fitting together and you’re like I didn’t think I was going to write stuff, but I wrote stuff.
Craig: And the things we do in between help. Reading helps. If I’m not writing, maybe I’m going to read something. I’m certainly not going to do nothing today. So what can I do to just keep my mind working or focused on narrative? Solving puzzles, always a good one for me.
John: Or take a shower.
Craig: The shower is the greatest of all. I want to get a house that’s just a huge shower. Like you walk in, there’s the little antechamber where you get to take your clothes off, and then you go to the next room and it’s like a little air lock. And then the next room is the entire house entirely open, just nozzles everywhere.
John: It can just be like a concrete floor with the gentle slope you don’t really notice so that all the water drains.
Craig: All of it. And just showers firing down at you from all directions. Incredibly wasteful.
John: So the half-finished Turkey village. It had hot tubs on every floor.
Craig: Shower Town. If they sold it as Shower Town I’d probably buy a block or two. Because I understand it’s cheap right now. There’s no one there.
Megana: Can I ask you guys a follow up question on that?
Craig: Of course.
Megana: Thinking of creative work as work. Do you take days off? Do you write on vacation? Do you write on weekends?
Craig: Oh, days off. I’m supposed to take days off. So the other side of the some days you don’t you have it, like OK my job is Monday to Friday. I’m supposed to be writing. Well, Thursday comes along. I don’t have it. I didn’t write. Saturday comes along, I suddenly do have it, and now I do write. And this is annoying to the people who love us. And I beg forgiveness, but sometimes you’re just like, oh god, I got it. Get away from me. I need 20 minutes. Which I think is 20 minutes, and it’s three hours. Because you’re just in the zone. The flow, you know.
It’s not great.
John: I will say when I was doing the Arlo Finch books I had to be the most disciplined by far because otherwise those books would just not get written. I needed to write a thousand words a day. And so even when we were on vacation I would say like I still need an hour a day to write. And so I would just – to the family was all clear and I’m going to take my computer downstairs to the hotel lobby and I’m just going to write for an hour. And I got a lot done.
And I think sometimes just, again, constraints to help writing so much, if I only have an hour I will get an hour’s work done in that time. And stuff does finish.
Craig: And I will say my wife has probably picked up on this, and I don’t know if Mike has picked up on this, and maybe they don’t tell us but I’m hoping. That they know that if they give us the hour when we shouldn’t be taking it we’ll be way more fun after that hour is over. The difference between I wrote today Craig and I didn’t write today Craig is pretty severe.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a grim kind of sloggy, self-flagellating misery to didn’t write today. And then the guy that wrote and got stuff done it’s like my legacy is secure. Onwards. I’ve stolen that from Patton Oswalt. I’ve stolen so many things from Patton Oswalt at this point–
John: Have you ever met him?
Craig: Yes. A couple of times. He wouldn’t remember. Wonderful guy. So nice. So fun. One of the funniest people in the world, ever.
Craig: Patton Oswalt. We should get Patton Oswalt on the show.
John: 100 percent.
Craig: Only because I just want to hang out with Patton Oswalt. I mean, I want to hear what he has to say. I don’t want to put him down. I want to hear what he has to say. He actually writes a lot. He gets called in on so many – he does a whole bit on punching up animation which is amazing. So great. But we’ll have him on the show. He’ll talk about it.
Megana: Thank you guys for that.
Craig: Of course.
Megana: And so Dana asked, “Why do we screenwriters tend to make our supporting characters more interesting than our protagonists? Any tips on avoiding this tendency?”
John: Yeah. This is Supporting Character Syndrome. This is a well-documented thing. Here’s why. It’s that supporting characters don’t have the burden of having to shoulder the plot and the story on their backs.
John: They’re not required to [protagonate]. They’re not required to grow and change. They can act purely on their own ego and id. They can do what they want to do.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, they are designed to be entertaining. The only reason they can exist is because they push forward as amusing. They’re not as real as protagonists. They are not accountable to emotion and inner life. They are there to be – they’re often bigger than life. They’re absurd. If you actually had to live with supporting characters after a week you would probably kill them because they’re not real people. But they’re fun.
John: They’re fun. So I do a presentation on want in movies, and I talk about supporting characters because supporting characters tend to have really clear, easy to identify wants. And they go for it. And they’re not held back by other constraints. And there’s a reason why, especially in animated movies that go through long development, so often the supporting character becomes the main character. They get rid of the main character and they bring that supporting character in as the person driving stuff. And it’s good advice. You’re most interesting, fun character should be driving your movie.
Craig: Correct. Although there is a joy in the Sebastians of a movie. So Sebastian, the crab – is he a lobster or a crab?
John: He’s a crab.
Craig: He’s a crab. Seems weird that I wouldn’t know that.
John: I say that with the definitive–
Craig: Totally. Yeah. I think he’s a crab.
John: All right.
Craig: And his entire existence is to just be kind of like the nanny. And just be like, “Oh, Ariel, don’t do that. Oh no! Ah! Aw! Ooh! Go ahead.” But when he goes home, like does he have a day off?
Craig: Because what happens on his day off? Does he just go into his shell, his little crab shell, and just sit there and stare blankly waiting for somebody to come along whose romantic life he can meddle?” That’s the thing about side characters. They don’t have any other – they only exist when the protagonist is looking at them.
John: Also a great example is the Frasier Crane from Cheers. When Frasier becomes the hero of his own show he has to be modulated and softened a little bit and you have to surround him with much more extreme characters.
Craig: Wackadoodles. Right. So he’s way less broad than he was on Cheers, because he’s centered. But then you do have–
John: You have to have a Niles. But then if you try to make the Niles show you’d have to change Niles and surround him with – Maris would have to be just a literal monster.
Craig: There would be wacky people all about. And Niles would be the somewhat more boring one, but the realer one. Yes. Absolutely. This is just the way it goes and there’s nothing we can do about it. Nothing.
John: All right. Let’s ask one last question.
Megana: Cool. Also, I think Sebastian has a successful career as a composer also, or a conductor?
John: That’s a very good point. So he has a busy life independent of just taking care of Ariel.
Craig: When you say successful, Megana, doesn’t he appear to be enslaved by King Triton? I’m just putting it out there. I don’t see money.
John: I would say that in underworld cultures the difference between patronage and servitude is murky, which also mirrors the European, in a 13th Century.
Craig: That is problematic. I think we have realized just how problematic. Well, look, The Little Mermaid was already problematic.
John: It’s incredibly problematic.
Craig: Change for your man.
Megana: We have the basis for the spinoff now.
Craig: I know. I do want a spinoff of just – maybe about Sebastian’s kids. Or was he even allowed to love and have a life?
John: I don’t know.
Craig: Because if he had children they would just be like why did dad do this? Dad? You had no agency. Flounder. What does Flounder do?
John: No. I mean, Flounder hangs out with Nemo. Yeah.
Craig: Flounder is not in Nemo. Oh, you mean there’s the crosspollination of those. So he hangs out with Nemo. And Nemo is like, oh, Flounder is here. Great. And then Marlin is like just come on, be cool Flounder.
John: Absolutely. They’re cousins or something.
Craig: Yeah. He’s your boring cousin who has nothing of interest.
Megana: I would love that movie.
Craig: It’s a fun.
Megana: OK. So Unprotected wrote in and asked, “Dear John and Craig, should I bother trying to protect myself in a situation where I’m trying to break in and a well-respected, mid-level producer wants to take a feature pitch out with me based on his idea? I’d be doing all the work and wouldn’t be able to do anything with the materials if it doesn’t sell. But does it matter? Should I just move forward for the experience alone and the contacts that could result from it?”
John: My answer is yes. My answer is you need to have the experience of taking a pitch out. If this person actually has some connections and can get you in rooms and get you practiced doing that thing. Hopefully you get a job, and you get the job writing. That would be awesome. But if you don’t you’re getting the experience of what it’s like to be taking a pitch out. You get some contacts. You get better at doing this part of the job. That’s my gut.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. Keep in mind that you’re going to want to write something. So even if you’re just pitching it’s important for you to write something down. You don’t have to worry about the leave behind/don’t leave behind thing because they’re not asking. This is your original work. So you have copyright on it. And the reason you want to write something down here is so that there is actual literary material that is evidence of your authorship and participation so that the well-respected, mid-level producer can’t deny the existence of you and just have somebody else do it.
So, I would say yes. Especially because he’s not asking you to write a whole screenplay. But just rather this pitch. Yeah, you’d be doing all the work. Just the one thing to look out for, Unprotected, is to not let the well-respected, mid-level producer just note this pitch to death for years. Really give yourself a timeline. Do it expeditiously. And don’t be afraid to say, listen, I understand that there’s things that we have to polish and figure out, but we’re just two folks. The buyers may have their own feelings and things that they want to tweak. And honestly they’re not going to not buy this because of that one thing you just said.
You’ve got to just limit the scope of the work and then get out there into those rooms and pitch.
John: Yeah. The other thing to keep in mind is that if this mid-level producer really wants you to be going out and pitching this person should also have connections with managers and agents and can get you started on that process as well.
Craig: That’s a great point. And you’re going to need somebody like that because you need somebody in your corner.
John: Yup. All right, Megana, thank you for these questions.
Craig: Thanks Megana.
Megana: Thank you.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. I have two this week. The first is a Twitter thread by the Internet Archive People about how they digitize old LPs. And so there are a bunch of old albums that only exist in physical copies and the Internet Archive is trying to digitize them so that the music on them can be saved and preserved and found again.
It’s really cool. They basically have to clean these discs and put them on special turntables. And it’s all calibrated in really cool ways. But the turntables actually have four different play heads on them simultaneously with different styluses so they can get different versions of what comes off of it, because I don’t really know physical albums that much, but like what the needle is tremendously effects how the sound comes out.
Craig: Yes. Oh my god. The world of those people with all their fussiness about that stuff. Yes.
John: So this is not about vinyl being better. It’s about vinyl eventually will go away and so you need to be able to hear that music again.
John: How to save that.
Craig: I like that.
John: My second one is something that’s specifically for Craig. Craig, are you aware of Dr. Fill in terms of the crossword puzzle universe?
Craig: Of course. How dare you? Of course I am.
John: I assumed you would. I’m going to link to a Slate piece here talking through the history of Dr. Fill and sort of what’s happened. So basically the same way that AI can play chess and Go and master these things, AI can obviously solve crossword puzzles. And there were two approaches to doing this. The first was just brute force where it would just take the grid and throw words at it and figure out what pattern of words could actually fill it up. That works. The other version would be to take a look at the clues, the questions, and use that to figure out what words could be in places.
The two teams came together and put it together and now it won a big crossword puzzle competition.
Craig: And there’s a little bit of a controversy. So Dr. Fill, that’s Fill, in the crossword we call Fill is the stuff that goes in the grid. The letters. Typically not the ones that are the theme answers. The fill is the stuff in between. And there’s a little bit of controversy because what’s happening now is a number of constructors are being asked to create puzzles that Dr. Fill can’t beat humans on. And their whole thing is like we don’t care about Dr. Fill. We just want to write good puzzles that humans enjoy solving.
There is in a way a bit of a pointlessness to the deep blue chess engine and Dr. Fill solving crossword puzzles. You know, OK. Cool. But whatever.
I think we’re growing up. We understand now that just because we can make software that solve crossword puzzles faster than human cans doesn’t mean that the computers are better than us. It just means they’re fast. They’re fast. And they don’t enjoy it. Dr. Fill derives no joy.
In many ways Dr. Fill is the Sebastian of programs.
Craig: Pointlessly serving his master without any question as to why.
John: Yeah. Because when you complete a crossword puzzle you get a blast of happy chemicals in your brain.
Craig: Just waves of dopamine. Waves. It’s my crack.
Craig: I love it.
John: Your other crack though is D&D.
Craig: Oh yes. So here’s my One Cool Thing. We got an email from a listener named John Harmston. And John, day one listener of Scriptnotes, to all the way back then. And he is a dungeon master. And he’s been designing an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. Because anybody can design their own adventure using those rules.
And he said that he had really used a lot of the things he had learned from our show in the creation of it. And I looked at – it’s currently on Kickstarter. And it’s called Dawn of the Necromancer. I already like that. Because I love Necromancers. They’re the worst. They should die, ironically.
And what I loved about this was that it is big. So, this is an adventure. Right now I’m DMing you guys in Dungeon of the Mad Mage. Dungeon of the Mad Mage takes characters from fifth level to 20. That is the longest run ever that I’ve ever dealt with. Dawn of the Necromancer takes you from 1 to 20. This is a big long adventure.
John: This would probably take years to get through.
Craig: It seems like it would. And he’s clearly put a lot of time and thought into it. And specifically into making sequences cinematic. Because a lot of times, as you know, it’s sort of like go into a room, fight things. And so he’s really tried to make it somewhat innovative in that regard. So I immediately was like, yeah, I’m going to kick some dough in and back this thing. He is past his initial requirement amount. So he will be making this.
But one of the things that was listed is they have their stretch goals. I do love a stretch goal. So one of the stretch goals was to provide battle maps. It says, “If we get 250 social media shares we will add digital battle maps of every major encounter to every pledge level.” And I was like, hey John–
John: Craig needs that.
Craig: I do. So I’m like how many social media shares would being One Cool Thing on Scriptnotes count for?
John: Hopefully a fair number.
Craig: And he was like maybe all of them. So, John, I feel like I’ve done my duty here.
John: We’re going to get some digital battle maps.
Craig: I want those maps. And then I want you to put dynamic lighting lines on for Roll 20. So that’s like a whole other thing. But I’m totally into this. I’m excited. Who knows? This could be the next grand adventure that we all play.
John: I’m very excited for it.
John: That is our show for this week. But you will want to tune in next week because next week is Episode 500.
Craig: Oh. My. God.
John: And we will be announcing something very, very historic.
Craig: I’m getting fired?
John: On the 500th episode. Yeah. Basically we’re sending you off to Canada and you’re fired.
Craig: I feel like I’m the Russian guy. How do I get off this show? I’ve been trying. I clearly don’t prepare. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. [sighs heavily]
John: [sighs heavily] Thank you, Craig. It’s so lovely to see you in person.
Craig: Likewise. I will see you next from Canada.
John: Yes. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Andrew Smith. 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 on Twitter I’m @johnaugust.
We have t-shirts. They’re great. You can find them at Cotton Bureau. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find transcripts and sign up for the 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. Craig, thank you for being here live in person.
Craig: Thank you John for having me in your home.
John: Craig, you are headed off on Sunday to begin production on The Last of Us.
Craig: Well we’ve been in preproduction for quite some time, but finally at long last I ran out of runway here. I like to stay home as long as I can, but it’s time. We don’t start shooting for a few months, but there’s an enormous amount of prep to make a lot of television. So indeed I am heading up to Calgary, Canada. And learning all sorts of things. I haven’t flown.
Craig: In over a year. So there’s all sorts of stuff. And I have all sorts of paperwork. This is exciting. But, yeah, I’m heading up there for a while.
John: So we will back on our normal Zoom things rather than being in person, but I’m curious like we’ve talked before about writing on set. And this is sort of a different stage where you are still writing scripts for the show.
John: So you’ll be in a hotel room or some sort of rented property for an extended period of time alone. Do you like that?
Craig: Well, it’s not quite that desolate. I will have an apartment. I’m in the same building as Bo and Jack, so I’m never alone in my building. That’s always nice. But we have production offices. So I go into the office. And I work there and I see people. So it’s not quite that isolated. But it’s a bit like when Covid happened. I’m permanently quarantined human being. So, it’s not a huge thing for me. The bummer is just not being – I’m going to miss my wife. And that stinks. But once the Covid situation improves and travel becomes a little bit more fluid back and forth between the countries then obviously it’s very easy for me to shoot back home and then shoot back up there.
As opposed to when we were making Chernobyl where it was just, oh boy.
John: Oh boy. So, I went through more of this having to work away from home doing Big Fish for years and years and years. And then all the international versions of Big Fish, or like the Boston version, or the London version. And it is a weird thing. You get to a certain point in your career where you’ve had some success and I can set my own destiny. And then like, oh, I’m in a rental apartment for a time. And I’m just like I have all this stuff that’s not here with me and it’s just me and my laptop and I’m making do.
Craig: Yeah. And it can get a bit much. It’s fun to be in a new city. It’s a bummer now. But when I first went to London for the initial casting phase of Chernobyl we got to go to some excellent London escape rooms and just walked the city. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. And similarly Vilnius is a beautiful city and got a lot of escape rooms in Vilnius. I got to escape rooms everywhere.
Well, the escape rooms are currently not open in Calgary but they have quite a few. So as soon as those open up we’ll be digging into those. And getting to know that city as well. So I do like the new place aspect of it. But you begin to feel like an astronaut. You know, like I know I’m not on my normal planet. And it can get in your head a little bit.
John: Now friends of ours have had shows in production where sometimes they’ve been on set, but a lot of times they’ve just been literally at home in Los Angeles watching a live feed of what the cameras are seeing.
John: And is that appealing to you or not appealing to you?
Craig: It’s not. I mean, some of it will happen, and particularly on this show because there’s still a few episodes left to write while we begin the very long process of shooting all of this quite massive season of TV. There are going to be moments where I’m going to probably be in a trailer near the set writing while keeping an eye on the monitors. And then I can always walk over there and discuss.
The problem with being really remote is there is a magic to being with people, particularly actors. And also there’s a magic to walking the space and understanding that space, whether it’s something you’ve built on stage or it’s a location, to understand the options that are available.
In general we’ve gotten, all of us I think have gotten better at video conferencing stuff. It’s not as weird as it used to be. But, you know, being in person is a thing.
John: Yeah. I remember being on my first doomed TV show, DC, and one of the lovely things about it, this is because we had standing sets, I could sit on the bed in one of the set rooms and just write a scene that takes place in this thing. And that was great to actually sort of be like right where you’re doing stuff.
Craig: It’s kind of fun, right? It feels Hollywood when you do stuff like that.
John: It does.
Craig: I remember, oh, I think it was the third Hangover movie there was a scene, it wasn’t quite working, and it was on stage. And so Todd and I just found some stoop of some other thing that was being built there and sat there and rewrote that scene. And I remember thinking this is Hollywood.
John: This is Hollywood.
Craig: This is so Hollywood. Look at us. Writing guys doing writing on set. It’s kind of fun.
John: Where I think I’m going to have the biggest trouble adjusting is that I went out to lunch with friends, sitting outdoors at a restaurant, and it was great. But it was also overwhelming and really exhausting. And I realized that I’m just not used to being around physically other people. And there’s a mental energy that’s required. And so I feel like being in an office and later then being on a busy set will be – it’s going to be hard for me to build up the stamina for that.
And remembering people’s names. Seeing people – realizing that people can actually see me.
Craig: That’s – remembering people’s names has always been a tricky one. I didn’t have any – when I did my little acting stint on this season of Mythic Quest, upcoming on May 9th or something like that, it was very enjoyable because I did actually derive energy from – I guess it’s that extrovert/introvert thing. What recharges your batteries? And I did like it.
It wasn’t too jarring. But I think in general in life Covid or not Covid at some point I usually say, oh, I’ll be right back, and then I disappear for 30 minutes because I need to be alone. And that’s important.
Craig: It’s actually one of the nice things about acting is that you get to like ahhhhh and then like, OK, we’re turning around, and then you get to go be alone.
John: Yeah. It’s nice. No responsibilities.
Craig: None. Zero. You’re like a child. It’s wonderful. They dress you. They comb your hair. If you drop something they pick it up. [laughs] It’s wonderful. Really. I’ve been thinking about just making the full switch. Oh, just falling backwards into that warm pool of acting. So nice. Maybe I’ll get an Oscar.
John: That would be amazing.
Craig: Yeah. It’s the only way.
John: Got to work on the EGOT.
Craig: Yup. Oh, yeah, EGOT. That’s the thing. Ooh, a Tony. That’s what I want next.
John: A Tony is good.
Craig: I want the Tony.
John: I got my Grammy nomination, but that doesn’t really count.
Craig: Yeah. That doesn’t count. So you need a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy. So I have an Eeh. That’s my E.
John: Travon Free got three quarters of his way to his EGOT. So Travon Free, a writer who did Two Distant Strangers. So happy for him to win his Oscar. But he actually predicted this is where my Oscar is going to go. He had a spot on the shelf for where it goes.
Craig: Damn. That’s confidence. So our composer on Chernobyl, Hildur, had not gotten any awards or nominations or anything. And now she’s got EGO.
John: Oh wow.
Craig: In one year she got an Emmy for Chernobyl, she got Oscar for Joker, and she got Grammy I think also for Joker. So, she just needs a Tony.
John: And she’s already in the music industry. So the Tony is – but that’s not the kind of stuff.
Craig: Well, if they make a Chernobyl musical I think she’s got a shot at it. It’s the only reason to make a Chernobyl musical is to get her the EGOT.
John: Yeah. The kind of music she does is not Tony kind of music. It’s not Broadway music.
Craig: Well, yeah, I think what would happen is we want to pair her up with a Seth Rudetsky.
Craig: Oh man. That would be the best pairing in history. I’d pay money to see that my friend.
John: Bleak but witty.
Craig: Bleak but witty. In your face.
John: [laughs] I can see that on the marquee.
Craig: Bleak but witty.
John: Bleak, but witty.
Craig: Yes. Icelandic and so Jewish. We’ve never had Seth on this show.
John: No, we’ve not.
Craig: We should get Seth on this show. I’ve been on his show.
John: Within the next 500 episodes we should try to get him.
Craig: Yeah, we’ve got another 500 to go.
John: Thanks so much, Craig.
Craig: Thanks John.
- Rachel Syme Twitter
- Russian Man ‘Trapped’ on Chinese Reality TV show Finally Voted out After Three Months by Helen Davidson and Andrew Roth
- European Super Soccer League by Tariq Panja and Rory Smith
- The Saboteurs You can Hire to End your Relationship by Christine Ro
- Haunting Photos Reveal a Massive Abandoned Town of Disneyesque Castles by Jessica Cherner
- Dawn of the Necromancer on Kickstarter
- How the Internet Archive Digitizes Old LPs
- Dr. Fill and AI
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- Gift a Scriptnotes Subscription or treat yourself to a premium subscription!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Andrew Smith (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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