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 501 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we look at what patterns we’ve noticed in successful writers and perhaps more importantly what things tend to derail careers. We will also have follow up on genres and typos, plus a listener question that I suspect will become a storyline in this, our 11th Season of Scriptnotes. 11 Seasons Craig. This is our season premiere.
Craig: I only found out from you yesterday that we have seasons.
John: Yeah. So seasons are 50 episodes a piece, so this is our 11th season we’re starting.
Craig: Oh, OK. I thought that maybe we were just midseason, mid-season one of a thousand episodes. Are we going to get to a thousand episodes?
John: I don’t know, Craig. That’s a long–
Craig: That just seems stupid, right?
John: That’s 10 years.
Craig: How could you possibly say something 1,000 times?
John: Yeah. You could though.
Craig: That said, 500 is a lot, yet here we are.
John: It is a lot. We started working on the book and we talked about the book last week. It’s really exciting, but gosh darn we have just a lot of text there. A lot of stuff to go through.
Craig: Yup. And, you know, I don’t want to pat ourselves on the back or anything, but I think we have a decent signal to noise ratio also. We don’t do a lot of empty patter like the kind that I’m engaging in right now.
John: We cut all the empty patter out of the book which is so much fun. So, this week we’ll be sending through sample chapters, or at least one sample chapter, to people who’ve signed up at Scriptnotes.net. That’s where you can sign up for the back episodes, but you can also sign up for the mailing list for the book. And the sample chapters look just great. So I was just working on one, a sample one with Greta Gerwig’s interview, and we also have a Craig Mazin special chapter that you can proof before we send out.
Craig: Excellent. Oh my.
John: Oh my.
Craig: Oh my.
John: And in our bonus segment for today’s episode we’re going to talk about books, but not the Scriptnotes book, but just what we like in books from physical books, to fonts, to bindings. What we look for in books, not as text but the actual objects themselves. Because I want the Scriptnotes book to be a good book, so let’s talk about what we like in books.
Craig: Oh, OK.
John: Yeah. Because you like a book. You like the Art & Arcana Book, that D&D book. That was great.
Craig: By Kyle Newman. Yes. I enjoy – it’s not the only kind of book I like. [laughs]
John: I know. But you like a well-made book.
Craig: Oh, sure. I mean in terms of just the quality of a book being put together, yes. Absolutely. No question.
John: So we will talk about that. But before we do any of this, Craig we have to start because apparently you have a big thing to apologize for.
Craig: Yeah, apparently. I didn’t realize I blew it. I totally blew it. A couple of episodes ago I was talking about how passionate Europeans are about their football and particularly folks in the UK. And I incorrectly assigned the singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone to Mancunians when in fact it is the folks of Liverpool, the Liverpoolians. I’m probably saying that wrong, too.
But it’s Liverpool. The folks of Liverpool are the ones that sing You’ll Never Walk Alone and so what I basically did was award their bitter rivals with their beloved song. This is just a tragic mistake, born out of utter ignorance. Sometimes you know just enough to be dangerous as my father used to say. And in this case I knew just enough to be dangerous. So I do apologize to all of the fans in Liverpool. I did not mean to besmirch your beloved song or your beloved football club.
And similarly I apologize to the folks of Manchester for suggesting that they were like Liverpool fans, since they all apparently hate each other’s teams. But we’re all friends.
Craig: So anyway I do apologize for that. That was just a blunder. It was just a huge blunder.
John: And a thing which we talked about before on the show is that one of the most important parts of an apology is accepting an apology, so the many people who have written into the show to point out this error hopefully will accept the apology and then we can move on and try to make another 500 episodes of the show.
Craig: Yeah. It would be kind of weird if they didn’t.
John: No. We’re going to continue to be angry.
Craig: Yeah, you know, I mean, there are worst things in the world. But it was – if somebody, I don’t know, talked with some sense of authority about how the Yankees play at City Field I would have been incensed. So I get it. And I apologize. I am sorry.
John: Great. That same episode we talked about in How Would This Be a Movie these professional breakup artists. And so these are folks in Japan who do this for a living. I said that is a good idea for a movie and I would not be surprised if this movie exists somewhere out there in the world. And two of our listeners wrote in saying like, yes, those movies do exist.
Paul wrote in to say that there is a French film called Heartbreaker which is about this idea. And then Fred in Chicago said there’s already an Australian feature about professional breaker-uppers called appropriately The Breaker Upperers. He says it’s pretty good. They go the broad comedy route. It’s sort of like Bridesmaids. It’s produced by Taika Waititi. So I want to see this movie. The trailer is actually great.
Craig: I’m not going to do it.
John: You’re not going to watch that movie. You don’t watch movies.
Craig: Not really. [laughs] I don’t watch stuff anymore.
John: But you know the movie now exists out there in the world.
Craig: Totally. Breaker Upperers.
John: Yeah. But the fact that it was a French and an Australian version does not preclude an American version from being made.
Craig: Quite the opposite.
John: It’s going to get made.
John: Do you want to take Frank’s question here about typos?
Craig: Sure. Frank in London wrote in about typos and our decision to stop using Three Page Challenges with typos.
John: Now do you remember Frank’s situation here? So Frank had a life experience that made it very difficult for him to read and to write.
Craig: Yes. I remember. Frank wrote in and basically said, “Hey, it’s hard for me to write things without typos. You’re being unfair.” And let’s see, it looks like Steve had a comment back. Steve said, “While I also sympathize with Frank’s struggles, I agree that unfortunately in the end those are hurdles he has to overcome. I wanted to add that there are tools to help him that are free or inexpensive, Grammarly for one, that he can Google. There are a ton of them specifically for his particular hurdle, but I like Grammarly because it works with almost every program automatically. You don’t have to open it or copy and paste anything. For the most part it’s just there working.”
John, I want to like Grammarly, but I detest it because of those freaking ads.
John: Yeah. I detest it because of the ads, too. So, there are people who really like Grammarly and I think it’s maybe worth someone like Frank in London to consider a tool like that to help him out. But also there’s real people who can do this job, too. So, other listeners suggest that you could go on Fiver or one of these sort of hire a person for a quick little job thing and proofreading is a thing you can get through there. But even our listeners reached out to say like, “Hey, I’m happy to proofread if Frank needs help.”
Craig: That’s nice.
John: So I would say have faith that there are some humans who are out there to help you do your best writing.
Craig: Writing is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Is that what that lady says?
John: I think that’s what it is.
Craig: Something like that. And then I just immediately – the red mist descends.
John: Now, a few episodes before that in Episode 497 we talked about the hierarchy of genres. So my friend and friend of the show, Matt Byrne, wrote in to say, “I wonder if we’re seeing the relationship between suffering and art/genius here. Van Gough. Sylvia Plath. There’s a trail of examples that goes back to Jesus and the Odyssey, up through De Niro fattening up for Raging Bull. We as a society love and celebrate those bits of suffering. They add value. We see the labor. In comedy the labor is mostly invisible. So while a comedy may delight us more, the artistry seems to come at less of a price. I don’t know if it’s specific to our puritanical roots, or if it’s more global and timeless, but that value on labor and suffering seems to be hardwired into our DNA and certainly ingrained into the awards PR narrative machinery.”
Craig: Well that’s a really interesting notion. I appreciate that, Matt. I think you might be onto something there. It is absolutely true that we associate self-torture, or a tortured personality, with great art. And I don’t think that’s good.
Craig: I don’t think we should. I think it encourages a kind of romanticization of what is actually just, you know, unfortunate mental illness. But that’s a really interesting observation. Well done.
John: Do you want to take Spooky from Florida here?
Craig: Well, of course I do. OK, Spooky from Florida writes, “I often find that people look down on horror, or if it’s a good horror film they deny that it’s in the horror genre altogether. William Friedkin famously said that he didn’t consider The Exorcist to be horror, which seems ridiculous to me. Using Craig’s own criteria there is only one film that definitely fits in the horror genre that has won an Academy Award for Best Film, The Silence of the Lambs.
“Parasite and The Shape of Water each also recently received Best Film, but might take a Friedkin-esque stance and argue they aren’t horror.” Well, I have a suspicion were Jonathan Demme with us today he would also argue that Silence of the Lambs was not horror, either. So this is an interesting parallel. What do you think about Spooky’s point here?
John: I think it’s a really good point and it also reminds me of what Tess Morris told us about romantic comedies is that when a rom-com is incredibly successful suddenly it’s not a rom-com anymore. So like Silver Linings Playbook is not considered a rom-com, but of course it is a rom-com. It’s just that they sort of broke out of that bubble and it doesn’t count as that. Or when a man makes a rom-com it’s not considered a rom-com.
Craig: Right. Exactly. So Let the Right One In is considered an arthouse film, an independent arthouse film, but it’s a horror movie.
Craig: It’s a really good horror movie. Yeah, I agree. I think Spooky what happens is people have this feeling that genre is somehow a negative.
Craig: But I would say drama is a genre. Weepy Oscar drama, right? Like, you know, Oscar Movie, that’s a thing. We all know what it is, right? If you say, OK, what do you think an Oscar movie is I’m immediately in my mind it’s Sophie’s Choice. That’s what’s happening. It’s a genre.
John: Or you look at a movie like The Artist. The Artist didn’t have all that sort of award season movie kind of stuff around it, like the period film and it’s about Hollywood.
Craig: It’s a comedy.
John: Yeah, it’s a comedy. It’s just a comedy. It’s a very light comedy. But we don’t think about it as just a comedy because it’s an Oscar movie.
Craig: Well perception is a fascinating thing. I’ve just been thinking about it a lot lately only because it’s a rare thing in one’s own life to notice a dramatic shift in perception. And perception is – just a source of injustice, sometimes against you and sometimes in your favor.
You know, I think about the way people talk about things that I do. I think they used to be way too hard on me, and now I think they’re way too easy on me.
Craig: Now they’re like, “This show is going to be great because Craig is doing it.” And I’m like, you know, listen man. I’m going to do my best, but I wouldn’t say that. I’m hoping. I’m putting all I can into it. But there is that strange handicapping that occurs, like odds. They minus five points or plus five points depending on how they see you. It’s a curious thing.
John: Well speaking of awards and perceptions, the big news out of this past week was that NBC has decided it’s not going to be broadcasting the next Golden Globe awards. So that’s a pretty big shift. That’s a big televised – like the second biggest televised awards show that just goes away. And not just for film but for TV as well. And, see ya. I’m not going to miss it.
You know, some good things about the Golden Globes. I think they’re fun to watch because it’s a bunch of celebrities in a room slightly drunk. And the monologues from the hosts were actually kind of funny in general, had a good mocking tone. But it wasn’t important. It wasn’t meaningful. And the folks who were voting on it had no real skin in the game. So, I’m not sad to see it go.
Craig: There are a lot of award shows where the people voting don’t have skin in the game. The critics’ awards and all that. But this is sort of fascinating. The Golden Globes have always had a strange, well, you know, I remember controversy when I was a kid. I didn’t watch award shows when I was a kid, but somehow I heard about Pia Zadora winning the Golden Globe and everybody being like, “The Golden Globes!” But then again the Golden Globes I think were always like you say viewed as a little bit of the kind of chaotic slightly boozy cousin, where things were a bit more fun and casual and I can say from my own experience being there that it is pretty booze and fun and casual.
Craig: We had a great time.
John: Absolutely. You and Tiffany Haddish up on stage. It was a good time.
Craig: Oh my god. Tiffany Haddish was great and we had our table and we were sitting next to the Succession table and we were cheering each other on while we were all drinking. And so it’s a very different vibe than an auditorium based show like the Emmys or the Oscars where you’re sitting in a seat and you are observing a stage.
So it’s like a big, huge Sweet Sixteen/Bar Mitzvah kind of event. But obviously they ran into real trouble here and I’m curious to see what happens because this doesn’t seem like the kind of thing where someone else is going to pick this football up and resume running with it.
John: Well here’s a suggestion from Twitter. So this is Noah Evslin who tweeted, “I’m going to pitch this again…this is the moment for all the Hollywood guilds to come together and create a new awards show called The Guild Awards and use the money to help stabilize their health and pension funds. In 2019, the Golden Globes brought in over $60 million.”
So, I hear you laughing, so therefore let’s take the pro and con on The Guild Awards.
Craig: Sure. Well, should I do pro?
John: I can do pro because I think you have more cons. Is that fair?
Craig: I really have one con. I only have one. But it’s a massive con. So go for your pros.
John: OK, my pros is I think the guilds should continue to do their own awards for their own stuff and hold back on Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Comedy Series, basically the things that are actually televisable you can hold off on those and let those be sort of the Guild Awards, but do your own local awards for all of the other awards.
But I think there’s an opportunity to create that kind of boozy, smaller, less auditorium-y feel of The Golden Globes but actually have to be voted on by people who do this for a living.
Craig: Well, that would pretty much solve the big con. I mean, the strike against this notion which on its surface seems kind of a no-brainer is that the award show would be endless the Writers Guild Awards took I would say most of my life. I think I spent most of my life at that one Writers Guild award show.
John: You couldn’t do – and you wouldn’t want to do all the awards. So you should just do the big marquee things.
Craig: So then I guess the con junior there is that if you are someone who is not in one of those categories you’re going to – so like for instance the Emmys, there is a craft awards Emmys that occurs–
John: The night before.
Craig: It’s a week before.
John: The week before, yeah.
Craig: And they call it the Shemmy’s because it’s not the real Emmys. I mean, it is, you get a real Emmy, but they don’t want to spend time giving Emmys for editing or costume, which they should. Everybody deserves their moment. But, yeah, so I think people might get a little grouchy, like I’m at the WGA, mumble WGA awards.
But if what you did is essentially approximate the kind of awards that the Golden Globes gave out, because they don’t give out a lot of awards, then I mean–
John: Yeah, so let directors vote on Best Director. Let writers vote on all the writing awards. Let the actors vote on the actors. It would be great. Do I think it’s going to happen? I think it’s unlikely to happen. I think what’s more likely to happen is that the SAG Awards become increasingly visible, just because they’re actors and they’re famous. But I think the Guild Awards would be lovely and I would watch them and support them.
Craig: Yeah. At some point it all comes down to just math and people watch this sort of thing because they like to see the actors. And fewer and fewer people are watching any of these things.
Craig: The trend is not encouraging. So NBC, I can’t quite award them with the bravery of the year medal because the ratings for these things have just been plummeting. What was the most recent–?
John: Well the Oscars was not a huge–
Craig: Oh, god, yeah, the Oscars. I mean, I looked at the bar graph of viewers, that’s pretty scary stuff.
John: Also they had all the challenges of doing the broadcast, like no one had seen those movies at all. And so I think it’s a weird year to compare sort of the down drop. We’ll see what it is next year. If it’s that same number next year then televised award shows are just over.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I was looking, I don’t follow along, so I saw here is what the progress was even prior to the pandemic and that is a steep slow downward.
Craig: Yeah. Not good.
John: Not good. All right, let’s get to our marquee topic. I want to talk about patterns of success. And by this I mean that over the years you and I have seen many, many writers. And we’ve seen writers who become really successful and writers who haven’t become especially successful. And I wanted to sort of talk about what patterns we’ve noticed in both of those groups of writers.
So this is just sort of an open-ended conversation, but I feel like it’s something we could come back and visit again in future episodes. The things that we see that are markers of like oh yeah that person has got it, that person has not got it. Because you and I have both said that about people, but what are we actually identifying when we say like, ah yeah, I think that’s going to work for that person.
Craig: Well this is a really interesting prompt for a discussion, because longevity in our business is rare. It is rare. There are not many people who are consistently successful. There are people who have moments and then fade away. There are people who feast off of big hits for a while but eventually run out of runway, so to speak. And then there are people who we might put them under the category of their worst enemy.
John: For sure.
Craig: Where they had almost all the tools required. There was just one problem. So this is a good topic of discussion because I think people think that success in Hollywood comes down to writing that great script or directing that great film, but that’s the beginning of your success.
John: Often it is. So let’s talk about what we even mean by success, and this is something we talk about a bit in my other podcast series Launch. We talk about what is success for a novelist. But what do we mean as success for a film or TV writer? Do we mean the ability to make a living at it? Or for people to say like, wow, that’s really good writing? Does it mean winning awards? Does it mean making blockbusters? Is it the ability to make anything you want to make? Is it autonomy? Are you a successful writer if you are a mid-level staffed TV writer?
And for some people, yes, and for some people no.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, everyone can define it in a different way. But given the context we’re discussing here I would probably say the ability to make a good living. A good living. I think if it’s a subsistence living, if it’s just barely keeping my head above water it’s hard to argue that that is success per se. Because the people who are living that probably wouldn’t define it that way.
But the ability to make a good living and earn more than you spend and be able to save money, own a home, and save money to send your kids to schools and all that seems like a decent definition here.
John: It is, but I also wonder about people who see themselves as artists, people who see themselves as like I need to change the cultural conversation. They may not be so focused on just making a living at it. They may actually have another job that pays the bills but they feel like they’re making art that really matters, that they’re writing movies that matter to them.
So I don’t want to be so narrow in having to achieve a certain economic success as being the only thing that we’re looking at here.
Craig: Yeah. I guess if we put the word career in front of success here then it would help narrow that conversation. Because of course if you write a script that you love that means a lot to you and that was your purpose, that’s what you were going for, you win. If your goal is to have a lasting and productive career, then that’s different. So I guess maybe what we should be talking about is, well, I guess we can talk about all of the kinds of successes.
John: Absolutely. Well let’s talk about sort of aspects of the professional life and what we see being especially important or not so important. So we’ll start with work habits, because I think that’s the thing that can often be visible. It’s like this is a person who gets up at 6am every day and at their keyboard and banging away. And in your experience does hard work correlate with success?
Craig: Yes. I don’t necessarily define hard work as getting up at 6am, because you’re not going to catch me doing that. But at some point sooner or later a quantity of work needs to be completed. And obviously there are two axes you’re operating with. There’s quality and speed and people who are able to maintain a high level of quality at a decent clip are far more likely to have longevity than people who can’t.
John: Yeah. I do think of the silent evidence of all the writers who worked much, much harder than me who didn’t make it, and who didn’t break out and sort of weren’t able to have careers. And I can’t know to what degree the problem was quality or some other aspect of their approach that kept them out of what we are trying to define as success. But I think too often there’s this assumption that if you just work harder it’s going to all work out and that’s not been my experience. There’s some correlation of hard work and success, but I don’t think it’s a perfect correlation because there’s people who worked much harder than me who didn’t succeed.
Craig: I agree. I think that you cannot hard work your way to success. But you can un-hard work your way out of success, if that makes sense.
John: Yes. I think you and I both know people who just could never get the work done. They were talented when they could actually finish a script, but they just couldn’t finish enough scripts.
Craig: And that is more tragic to me. If you don’t have the quality then all of the hard work isn’t necessarily going to get you anywhere. But if you do and any variety of reasons sort of is between you and the ability to apply it, that’s a bummer. Because, you know, we are all missing out at that point.
John: Let’s talk about social savvy. Do you have to be good in a room?
Craig: It helps a lot, but I don’t think it is necessary. There are plenty of writers who were notoriously and perhaps are notoriously not good in rooms.
John: Yeah. I think that’s true. I think as things have moved more towards television from features the ability to get along with others and actually sort of have some emotional intelligence in terms of being in a space with others and communicating with others face to face or over Zoom is more important than for the feature writer, but it’s some part of it. It’s different than it would be for a novelist. You have to have some ability to communicate with a human being in front of you.
Craig: Yeah. I think that social savvy is required if you’re going to be at the top of the game. If you want to be – now we’re moving past success into just the people who work at the upper level of this career. Almost all of them have some sort of social savvy.
John: At the upper tier, yes. There were definitely jobs you and I got because we were the only people who could stand being in a room with some of those people, who could actually navigate those really difficult personalities. That’s just being honest. The rooms were it was like there’s five 800-pound gorillas and it’s just like, OK, I’m in gorilla city and I just have to be able to wrestle all of these gorillas at once.
Craig: Somebody has to do an animated version of that.
John: Gorilla City.
Craig: Gorilla City. And you wrestling all of them at once.
John: But let’s remember that an early part of your career is going to be finding a rep, going into those general meetings. The ability to do that stuff is not an unimportant part of how screenwriters get started.
Craig: No. Like they always say a pool doesn’t increase the price of your home when you’re selling it, it just makes the home sell faster. And I think that’s the way social savvy works, too. It’s not going to get you a career that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, but you’ll get where you’re supposed to go faster.
Craig: Because early on what happens is these people are meeting all these writers and all of those meetings are boring. They’re boring for everybody and they’re particularly boring when you meet somebody and you just don’t feel anything. But if you do feel a connection with another human being suddenly if that human being was you, you are way closer to getting hired than you would have been otherwise.
John: Absolutely. I’m thinking to one of my very first general meetings was with an executive by the name of Jan Finger. She was over at Imagine. And they’d gotten the rights to How to Eat Fried Worms, but my meeting wasn’t specifically about that. But it was sort of a “hey, she read my script” and it was just a general meeting. And I liked her and we got along and she got me. And that’s kind of all it took for me to get in that next meeting to get that project.
So, yeah, those connections are important.
Craig: They are. And that reality, that human reality, is another reason why it’s really important that on the hiring side of things that there are all sorts of people.
Craig: Because, you know.
John: Because it’s not going to be two white people in a room all the time. And, yes, 100 percent.
Craig: It’s kind of the deal. It’s just important. Because there are certain connections that people have because they’re from the same place, or from the same background. I mean, there were so many times where I would sit in a room and say, “Oh, I grew up on Staten Island,” and someone was like, “Oh yeah, I grew up in Queens.” And you’re like, huh, great, we’re off and running. You know? Because there’s some sort of thing.
So it’s just good to have all that variety there. But that said, people with social savvy should and do find connections with just about everyone. That’s one of their skills.
John: True. Now, getting back to general patterns, let’s talk about originality and voice. We talk about voice in the Three Page Challenges a lot. Craig, do you think it’s more important to have a striking singular voice or to be flexible, the ability to sort of write a lot of different kinds of voices?
Craig: I think that you will get more work if you’re flexible and you have an ability to move between genres and also an ability to continue some sort of established voice or expectation. However, that is not necessary. And also I would argue that even if you are the kind of person who can do that sort of thing you then have to be individual and fingerprinted within that. So, I mean I did god knows how many sequels I had to work on. Had to, like somebody had a gun in my mouth.
But I chose to. [laughs]
John: I like the other person has a gun in your mouth. Not a gun to your head.
Craig: No, in my mouth. So much worse. Because in your head you’re like, eh. Mouth? Oh boy.
John: I wouldn’t even see the bullet, but yeah.
Craig: Right. So what happens is you’re like I get the drill here. I know what the tone is. I understand what’s been put out. And I can work within those lines. Also, I can do my own thing inside of that that is particular.
John: I would say that the people I’ve noticed who have broken out, who have really broken out hard and fast have had original voices. They were just like, oh wow, that is really good. I’ve not seen anything like that before. It feels specific and unique and new. Those people have not always been able to sustain careers because they could kind of do that one thing, or they only did that one thing. Ideally you want to have an original voice and the ability to do a lot of other voices as well.
Craig: That’s very helpful.
John: How important is copying? So we talk about visual artists. One of the big debates is how much do you need to perfect doing every tree individually versus understanding when it’s the right time to copy and just fill in that background with things you’ve done before? To what degree do you need to be making brand new original stuff all the time or understand what the genre is and just be able to deliver that genre?
Craig: Well, there are times where you realize you’re being hired to do a thing. I have always tried to add some sort of value regardless. I know there are times where I’m complicating, or in the past at least. Now that I’m pretty much working on things that are mine, so it’s all my fault now. But when I was working on things for other people I was aware at times that I was making it harder on myself than I needed to, but I have to believe that in the long run you are rewarded for that. That they ask you sometimes for counterfeits, but when they get them they don’t like them as much as things that feel original.
John: Yeah. I fully get what you’re saying there. It’s like they’re asking you to make the cheap knockoff and you’re like but it’s actually going to be easier and better if I just make something original here. Like, no, no, we want the cheap knockoff. And I can think of writers who basically all they do is just cheap knockoffs and at a certain point they stopped getting hired because everything that they’ve actually gotten made has been cheap knockoffs and is just clearly cheap knockoffs. It’s not good for your long term career to be doing those.
Craig: It’s not. And the bigger problem is there’s no path ahead. If you are in that lane it’s going to pay you pretty well for a while, but at some point they’re going to wise up and go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second. We’re spending too much on the knockoff guy. The whole point of the knockoff guy was that we didn’t want to spend money on the original guy. Now we’re spending too much money on the knockoff guy. Find me a cheaper knockoff guy.” And they will.
John: Yup. How important is it to be able to embrace constraints? The phrasing I’m saying it actually is incredibly important. But I’ve noticed that the ones who succeed can kind of understand what the constraints are and thrive under those constraints. And the ones who tend to struggle, they struggle against the form of the constraints, or the budget, or whatever. They get paralyzed. They can’t do the thing they want to do the way they want to do it.
Craig: Well, this to me connects strangely to a necessary element of empathy. You are hired by people to do something. And what we’re asked to do is hard. It’s hard for us to do it. And we have all sorts of feelings when we’re doing it. And I think a lot of writers have tunnel vision where that’s all they see. And the other people, the people that hired them, aren’t really people or are far too comfortable, and their feelings don’t matter. Well they do. Part of that empathy is putting yourself in everybody else’s shoes and trying to see things from their point of view. So when they put these restraints down, or constraints I should say, and they have certain things they need, a little bit of empathy goes a long way. Even if you’re arguing against it. Because you’re arguing against it while acknowledging that it is a perfectly reasonable thing to want. That is helpful.
Maybe even more than just going along with things is taking the effort to see things from other people’s point of view. Then either accept the constraints as reasonable or talk about why maybe they should go a different way.
John: Yeah. I can think of an example of like, OK, I want to do a gritty crime show and they’re like, “We love your writing. Our mandate is now we want to do blue sky, happy, sunny. We want dark things in beautiful environments. So can you take your gritty crime show and set it in the Florida sunshine?” And you could say absolutely no, that’s not a thing I want to do at all, or you could say like sure, I get what that is, I get what your mandate is. I can make it work. And I can use the tension between those two things to step up to the next level. That is the kind of thing that tends to make people more successful and have longer careers is to say like, oh, yeah, OK, I get that, and this is a thing I can change that will let me make this thing happen.
Craig: And it’s important to have a realistic view of what it is you’re working on. Because if you’re working on a crime procedural for say a basic cable channel then certain things – you got to know where you are, right? You’re in a certain kind of restaurant, and so you’ve kind of got to go along there. I think that this discussion that we’re having will be viewed by some people as a justification for some kind of selling out.
I think if you want to talk about one of the things that separates successful writers from writers who burn out it’s that writers who burn out, or don’t get there at all, are obsessed with this whole selling out business.
Craig: There is no selling out. Everybody is constantly making compromises. You don’t know how to make anything in this business without compromising. Directors know that, right? They know that. Every day is a war to limit the compromises. But they are constant because reality is reality. It intrudes.
Writers, because we have total control over what goes on the page, we have this delusion that there’s some pristine relationship between that and what comes out the other end. And any kind of compromise or negotiation is a failure of will and conviction, it is an indication of artistic failure, and it’s selling out. And that attitude gets your ass booted out of town faster than any other one.
John: Yeah. I feel like sometimes these writers they want to be both Charlie Kaufman and Greg Berlanti. They want the huge giant career, making thousands of shows, and to sort of be completely unyielding and singular in a vision at all times. And those aren’t compatible goals really.
Craig: I mean, I would argue, and maybe Charlie will come on our show. Because I suspect that Charlie as he’s making his films runs into moments most days when he’s shooting where he does have to kind of just adjust, or in the editing room he realizes he’s got to move a thing this way or that. Everybody is doing it.
John: Everyone is doing it. If you watched – you didn’t watch – I’m Thinking of Ending Things, we could watch that and like I don’t feel he compromised that much. I felt like he had a very singular vision and made that singular vision.
Craig: So here’s the thing. That’s because what he makes is unique.
Craig: It will always seem like it is the product of zero compromise, but it’s not.
John: That’s true.
Craig: When you read stories about what Francis Ford Coppola was going through and dealing with when he was making Godfather, it’s like well surely he didn’t compromise ever. Oh my god, yes he did. Yes he did. Quite a bit. You know, it’s what you do.
John: Let’s talk about taste. I think an important thing is to be able to understand what is good writing and what is not good writing, especially when it applies to what transfers to the screen. The ability to have good taste on the page and seeing how that taste applies to the screen. And that match between your taste and what an audience’s taste is is crucial.
Craig: Yeah. And that’s kind of magic. I mean, there’s no way to quantify that. It is an essential part of what we call talent, I think. There’s talent in creating something. There’s also talent in predicting with some level of accuracy how it will be felt by other people. Because that is the job. Anybody who is creating any art with no concern or prediction or thought about the audience’s reaction is, well I just don’t believe it.
Because that means there’s no intention. And there’s always intention.
John: I want to play this clip from Ira Glass where he’s talking about taste and how he finds that there’s often this gap between you have taste, but you don’t have the craft yet. Let’s listen to what Ira Glass says.
Ira Glass: Somebody had told this to me, is that all of us who do creative work, you know, we get into it. And we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap. That for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good. It has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. Do you know what I mean?
A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point they quit. And the thing I would just say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as what they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have. And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase, you got to know it’s totally normal. And the most important possible thing you could do is do a lot of work.
Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
John: So I think back to when I was at USC for film school and one of the great resources that we had was a film library, so I could check out all of these screenplays and just go through and read these great scripts. And my writing was not as good as these scripts. And I recognized that it wasn’t as good as these scripts, but for whatever reason I wasn’t afraid of that. I aspired to hit that level and I kept working to get to that level.
People sometimes get crushed with self-doubt where they just don’t – they recognize that they’re not at that level and they don’t think they can actually get there. And so I like that Glass is pointing out that it’s often just to work to get yourself up to that level of polish.
Craig: If you had told me that that was an interview with Chris Keyser I would have believed you. They sound so similar.
John: They really do. That’s a good point.
Craig: So weird. So, yeah, this is a terrific observation and it’s something that somebody else had sent me a while ago, because it’s one of those things when you read it you’re like, or you listen to it and you go, oh of course, I mean, it’s so obvious and yet it had been kind of floating right there right under my consciousness.
I think that the reality of what he’s describing is one of the reasons I’m so angry all the time at critics. Because everyone who eventually gets to do something good is working through the gap. And while they’re working through the gap there are people who are brutalizing them in print and suggesting you’re never going to get there. Stop. Quit. You stink.
And I wish that would not happen. Because I do think there are probably people who left too soon who were one or two things away from kind of putting it all together. Scott Frank said something to me many years ago that seemed a bit dramatic at the time, but in hindsight was absolutely correct. And that was, he was reading something I’d written and he said, “The thing is you have yet to be really born as a writer.” And I was like well that’s very dramatic. [laughs] That’s a very, very dramatic statement. I’ve been working at this for 15 years Scott. I make a pretty good living.
But his point was that I hadn’t sort of become myself yet. And that maybe you could argue that that’s part of being in the gap. Not only is there a mismatch between your taste and your work, but also there is perhaps not enough of your own self in the work. Because the work that is available almost always has zero interest in who you are.
John: Absolutely. I hadn’t really thought about your career in terms of taste, but I would say that you’ve always had much better taste than the movies that we saw your name on.
Craig: Well, I mean, some of those movies I love. So my taste actually isn’t that great.
John: The breadth of your taste extended well beyond the movies, the kinds of movies that you were making.
Craig: Yeah. If you looked at the movies I was making it was easy enough and reasonable enough to conclude that I was a goof.
Craig: Some of those movies I really do hold close to my heart and some I definitely do not. And you know some were just work. But I at least for better or worse suffered through quite a lot of public humiliation, even as I was successful. And I really wish I could sit down one on one with each one of those people and explain to them why what they did was harm. And unnecessary, by the way. It’s totally unnecessary. You can absolutely not like a movie but the personal part of it is so anti-art is I guess how I would put it.
You don’t realize it, but you say you love film, you don’t if that’s what you’re doing.
John: Yeah. Let’s get back to the choices of what kinds of projects you’re working on and how many projects you’re sort of pursuing. Because a choice I’ve seen writers make is they have some success and they just take anything that comes their way. And there’s the temptation to never say no because you don’t know where your next job is, but I’ve also seen the opposite where people just say no to everything and then people stop asking them to the dance.
John: And so it’s that balance between saying yes enough that you’re still engaged as a writer, but not pursuing too much, or pursuing junk, or just becoming overcommitted and then just failing because we both know writers who just collapsed under that.
Craig: I was talking with Todd Philips about this. It was after he did The Hangover and it was a massive success. And maybe he was talking to Martin Scorsese. And Martin Scorsese, I’m just going to say he was, because that makes the story way cooler, but I think it was him. And he was telling Martin Scorsese that his world had changed because he had made The Hangover and suddenly he was getting sent everything, all sorts of things. And people were offering him the biggest possible things and he was sort of paralyzed and thinking that maybe he was just going to take time.
And then Martin Scorsese said, “The best advice I can give you is after you have a huge hit of any kind, a big success, jump right back on the horse, as fast as you can. Because if you don’t then the weight of that success grows and becomes almost an unbearable load. Because you’re never going to be able to beat that.” You can’t do that again. And so sometimes you actually have to just do something.
Craig: And maybe it’s the wrong choice, but doing nothing for too long becomes its own kind of dangerous addiction. And you’re absolutely right. Sooner or later people are going to be like, huh, wait, we forgot about you. And no one wants that.
John: Yeah. We should revisit this topic in a few episodes and I want to look at what we’ve noticed never works and sort of what are the pattern of like please don’t do this thing. Because even what you’re describing in terms of like the writer who has a big hit and then just like becomes paralyzed or fearful of doing anything else, or over-celebrates that one thing, I think we’re going to find quite a few of those things that could actually be useful for our listeners.
Craig: All right. I agree.
John: All right. Let’s get to listener questions and now over the last few weeks we’ve all enjoyed hearing from Oops and the romantic adventures of Oops. And Megana has another question for us today that is not an Oops situation. I’ve got to preface this by saying this is about as opposite of Oops as we could imagine.
John: It’s anti-Oops, but I also feel like it’s a good season opener because I feel like we’re going to revisit this topic down the road. Megana, come on and tell us the story of Shocked.
Craig: Oh boy.
Megana Rao: All right. Shocked in LA wrote in about his friend. “Like many aspiring writers a close and talented friend of mine, a lady in her late 20s started her career at an agency. She quickly left and found work in production while pursuing her ambition of writing. She has a few great scripts under her belt and a couple we even wrote together. One of her friends from the agency was promoted this past year and agreed to represent her.
“A few months ago she gets a call from her boss from that agency, a 70-year-old man. He’s upset that she hid her writing ambitions from him. He asks her out to dinner to discuss her career. She was thrilled. He has a ton of industry pull and can really help her. But, he was a very difficult boss who put her through all sorts of inappropriate behavior, from commenting on her looks, to sharing sexual imagery in the office.
“Surprise, surprise, the dinner turned out to not be about her writing. He wants to explore their sexual connection. It was a stereotypical #MeToo moment. He told her that she shouldn’t have a boyfriend if she’s serious about writing and should have a casual sexual relationship with him instead. It was extremely demoralizing and degrading for her. He continued harassing her, basically chasing her out of the parking lot, but she was able to safely make it home.
“But here’s the thing. She’s still a baby writer, no credits or awards, repped at the same agency this guy works at. He’s her agent’s boss and seems pretty powerful. She’s afraid to even tell her agent what happened because of all the implications. However, I’m scared that he will have access to her if she stays at that agency. What if he terrorizes and sexually harasses her this way? Or destroys her career?
“My friend knows how hard it is to get represented in Hollywood. Although she has a manager, she doesn’t want to let go of her rep. But I think this baby agent has very little power anyways. He’s never even sent her on a general. My friend is also afraid to take on her powerful ex-boss/sexual harasser and certainly doesn’t want to be branded by this before anyone has even seen her work.
“What can I do to help her and what can she do to help herself?”
John: Ugh. All right. So much here. First off, we’re going to talk about Shocked. We think Shocked is a man. We’re guessing Shocked is a man, so we’re going to refer to this friend – the person who is writing this letter as Shocked. And the woman as the person who is going through this horrible situation.
This sucks. And so my first instinct was I don’t know what to do this, and so what I do in this case is I ask really smart friends. So I reached out to six of my smart female writer friends to get their take on what the right steps were. But before we get into that, Craig, what’s your first read on the situation?
Craig: Oh man. Well, so this is an interesting situation where I think while I want to tell Shocked’s friend to draw her flaming sword and slay the dragon, it’s so easy for me to say that. And it’s not so easy to do it. I do believe that in today’s day and age everybody has quite a bit more power than they used to. I mean, they used to have zero and now they have quite a bit in the sense that all she has to do is pick up the phone and call Deadline and this guy is in massive trouble.
But, she’s right to understand that that comes at some sort of cost. Given that the agent she has at this agency is not a bigshot. So Shocked describes this agent as a baby agent who has very little power and has never set this woman up on a general meeting, I don’t think there would too much lost if she walked from that agency and went maybe to try at a different agency, clean break, and see if she could find somebody else. That is I would call it the path of least resistance, because it doesn’t seem like you’d be losing much.
The path of greater resistance is to bring this incident to the attention of the board of directors at that agency.
John: So in talking with the six women yesterday one of the points that came up again and again is that the big moves are great in theory, but they don’t necessarily help the woman. So going out with a flaming sword or going to Deadline or one of those things, that’s not necessarily going to help her.
John: And so what we really want to do is help her. What is the thing that helps her in this moment? The thing that was universal across this was to write it down. And both Shocked needs to write down everything that he remembers about this conversation he had with her. He needs to encourage her to write this all down, so she has it on paper. So if she decides to do something she has it down on paper that this is what happened. And that she has evidence if she decides to use it at some point about what happened.
Almost everybody I spoke with said she should leave this agency, and that included an agent I spoke with saying that this agent is not getting you work, this agent is not powerful, this junior agent you’re dealing with. You should leave because if you don’t trust going to this agent necessarily with this issue, like how can you trust this rep? How can this person actually represent you if you can’t even tell them that their boss is doing this?
You have to leave that agency. And you already have a manager. Just leave. There’s no reason to stick around.
Craig: Yeah. I think so. And if there is a desire in a very pro-social way to prevent this man from doing this to other people by calling him out, that is something that Shocked’s friend should only do through a lawyer. This is also a moment where I think you want to lawyer up.
John: We have some resources on that as well. So you may want to lawyer up, but people I spoke with recommended Time’s Up is not the right place to go to. Women in Film may be the right hotline for your call. Because this is actually kind of what they do is people who had these situations to talk through, OK, let’s deal with the trauma that you’re actually encountering right now and let’s see if there’s other women who have had similar reports. Let’s see if there’s some grouping of action that could make sense here, so it’s not just you against this 60-year-old man.
You are at the start of your career, he’s at the end of his career, and just remember that through all of this is that he’s almost out the door and you’re just coming in.
Craig: Right. I think that even if Shocked’s friend doesn’t have an intention to launch missiles, it’s still good to talk to a lawyer, even if all you get out of that is an understanding of what you’re supposed to write down. What are the details that matter? What are you supposed to write down? What are you supposed to save? And what do you do if you turn a corner and here’s there? What do you do if he leaves a message or he texts you?
Having a lawyer advise you at least on some best principles there would be a good thing. But that is a good point. As a 60-plus-year-old man not only is he going to be out of the business while you’re still in the business, assuming that your career flourishes, you’ll be working and he’ll be dead.
Craig: So if you want revenge there is that one revenge which is you dance on their grave. But this really sad and infuriating. And it’s sad and infuriating that this guy still feels protected enough by the world that he’s pulling this crap.
John: That – I want to spend a moment here. Because this is a man, a 60-year-old man in 2021 who somehow has been able to – this person obviously opens Deadline. This person can see in the world like what has happened to a person like him again, and again, and again, and still thinks like, oh, I’m special, I’m different, this is not going to happen to me. The hubris. The arrogance of this guy.
I mean, in addition to the shitty behavior he’s doing to this woman, just that he believes the rules that have taken down all these other people do not apply to him drives me mad.
Craig: Not only that, but he believes that the rule that 20-year-old women generally aren’t attracted to 60-year-old men also doesn’t apply.
Craig: So like he’s in a deep deluded state. I’m 50. I can’t believe that my 51-year-old wife still finds me attractive. [laughs] So I don’t know what this dude is smoking. I guess he’s just smoking his own ego, and his own arrogance. And, also, let’s face it. This business has entitled him. He doesn’t pull this crap if it hasn’t worked before.
John: Yeah. And so obviously it’s important to acknowledge that you are not the first person he has done this to, obviously. And so it’s not your responsibility to take up the sword for all the other people, but remember that you are not the only person. So there’s nothing special about you. This is his pattern of doing this that has gotten us into this situation.
Some other advice I got from the women I spoke to is for Shocked make sure you don’t infantilize this woman. She is a grown woman who can make her own decisions. And she actually has more agency in this situation than she may realize. So you can encourage her, but don’t box her into a situation. Don’t tell her she has to do something, because she doesn’t have to do anything. She can choose what is the appropriate step for her to take.
This person also said useful advice might be you don’t want to be a side character in someone else’s story. And so if she thinks of herself as the protagonist in this story, like screw this guy. This guy did a bad thing. And it’s up to her to decide what she wants to do about this next step. But the important part is it’s up to her and she doesn’t have to let him drive the narrative from this point forward.
Craig: Yeah. I think Shocked is being a good friend. I think good friends want to help and they want to find out what they can do to help. And maybe this is help. I don’t know. Maybe this is hurt. You know? Because the other issue is if this woman is like, wait, you put my shit on Scriptnotes? That would be bad. So hopefully this was something that they discussed. Obviously we’ve anonymized everything quite extensively here.
Craig: I think at a minimum let’s get to super practical stuff. Super practical stuff makes absolute sense that she would leave the agency. And that when you leave the agency also, Shocked’s friend, lawyer. Don’t leave the agency by you calling and going through a weird, awkward conversation with your agent.
John: No. The manager can do this as well.
John: Many of the women said your manager just tells the agency, “You know what? She doesn’t want to be repped there anymore.” And that’s it. It’s done.
Craig: I would actually still advise lawyer. And here’s why.
Craig: Managers cannot be trusted completely in this regard. They have a deep conflict of interest.
John: All right.
Craig: Lawyers are governed by a higher authority. The State Bar. And their attorney/client privilege. And ethics. And all that stuff. And a lawyer, you can tell your lawyer anything. Anything. And it’s confidential.
You can’t say that about a manager. They can blab your crap anywhere they want. So, I would say lawyer. Clean break. Have the lawyer communicate that. Make it nice and simple and final. And then, yeah, moving on.
John: So, the Women in Film hotline 855-WIF-LINE. Or it’s womeninfilm.org is the organization. So we’ll have a link to that in the show notes.
Obviously, Shocked, if you want to keep us apprised to sort of what this person decides to do in the future we’d love to hear about it, and of course I’m sure we’ll get plenty of emails in from folks with their opinions what to do.
Megana, I’m curious to hear your opinion on this as a writer in her 20s. What was your first instinct on this and where do you see this shaking out?
Megana: Yeah, I mean, it was really upsetting to read. And I think last month when things started opening up after the pandemic we saw all of those horrible mass shootings. And this past week, or past couple of weeks I think as LA has opened up and people are returning to their offices I’ve just been reading so many horrible, and hearing these stories about women and assistants who are continuing to have these #MeToo type stories.
You know, it’s just like a very sad sobering reminder that these issues were not solved and they have not gone away. But we’re all just forced to be away from each other for a year. But now that the world is opening back up we have to figure out a way to fix them. The problems haven’t gone away and it’s just really disheartening to be reminded of these things that we were dealing with pre-pandemic and where we are now.
John: That’s such a good point. It pushed them aside because we were literally not in offices for them to happen. But now they’re back.
Craig: You kind of want to hope that it’s also not a case where there’s this weird pent up aggression that’s going to emerge and that we’re going to go through a period where it’s even worse. I hope that’s not the case. But one thing that we always have to keep in mind is we cannot applaud ourselves constantly for the progress that’s been made because the progress will never be perfection. And there is always going to be this stuff going on. Because we can’t pre-crime these things. We can’t get ahead of them.
Craig: They’re going to happen. And dealing with all of that and how we handle those situations, it is going to continue to put young women in particular in very difficult positions, put women of all ages in very difficult positions. That’s going to keep happening. We hope less and less. But no one should be surprised that this is continuing.
John: One last point I want to make, and someone brought up as I spoke to them yesterday, is that I think we still have this vision of agencies being super powerful and sort of like the Mike Ovitz model. And I think agents can help you. I really don’t think they can hurt you that much. And so I think her rejecting this guy is not going to hurt her. I don’t think agents actually have that power in 2021 the way we might have mythologized them before.
I don’t think her leaving the agency is going to hurt her career because it hasn’t helped her career.
Craig: Right. Yeah, from a practical point of view the agent that just got promoted from off a desk, yeah, that’s not necessarily the best person in the world. I mean—
John: Megana, I cut you off. What were you going to say?
Megana: Oh, I think I was just going to say to answer your earlier question, the thing that also makes me so sad about this is like this woman has had something really horrible and discouraging happen to her, and following up on our conversation about patterns of success, like she now has all this self-doubt and anxiety about the value of her actual work. And then she has to be the one to advocate for herself. Oh my god. It’s such a difficult standard for us to keep and for us to expect people who have been abused to be able to do that. It just breaks my heart.
Craig: It is one of the more insidious aspects of this that we don’t talk about enough. And that is that people start to question whether or not they’re good at all.
Craig: It’s something that Megan Ganz spoke about, well, with her typical clarity and intelligence when she had her experience being harassed and abused by Dan Harmon. One of the things that hurt that most was being unsure of whether or not her position on that writing staff was because of her skill. And that is crushing. That is a stomach-churning thing to think. The face I have? I’ve never had to wonder. If somebody was going to give me something it was because of the work. It certainly wasn’t because of my appearance, or how they felt about me romantically.
And I’ve never had to ask myself that question. I’ve never had to contemplate whether or not I was being hoodwinked and gas lit.
John: Yeah. Two of the women I spoke with yesterday they related so strongly to this story because they had had very similar things happen and their response from 20 years ago was just like, OK, well I’ll just move on and I’ll just suppress it and I’ll move on. And I do think there’s an opportunity now to – if this woman chooses to – to address this and stop it if she wants to rather than just having to say like suppress it and pretend it didn’t happen.
Craig: Well, we are certainly hoping the best. And if you can, therapy, and talking to a professional about these things now I think is always advisable.
John: Agreed. All right. It is time for One Cool Things. I have two One Cool Things this week. The first is an HGTV series called Home Town Takeover which sends a big HGTV crew to Wetumpka, Alabama to do a bunch of makeovers around the town. Wetumpka, Alabama is where we shot Big Fish. It’s where the house in Big Fish is. And one of the houses they remodel is the Big Fish house. And so it was so surreal and wonderful to see – our first day of shooting was at the Big Fish house. And to see them refurbishing and remodeling this house.
What they kind of say on the show, but they don’t make entirely clear, is that house is really kind of just one story and we stuck a fake second story on the top of it. But it was never really meant to stay. And we were supposed to take it all down and the owner said, “No, no, just leave it up.” But it was never meant to be livable.
And so the crew had to go through and jerry rig to sort of make it actually livable space. But it was so cool to see both that house but also that town and to realize if I hadn’t written the movie Big Fish that wouldn’t have happened. It was just a weird connection to like, oh, this series exists because I decided to adapt this book into this movie. So it was a really weird thing to see. But actually a really well done HGTV series. So I recommend you check that out if you like those kind of shows, or if you like Big Fish and you can see that.
My second One Cool Thing is Standard Ebooks. And so Project Gutenberg has the text of a zillion books that you can download for free which is great, but it’s not lovely formatted text. It’s not as good to read as a Kindle book might be or a printed book might be. What Standard Ebooks does is they produce a collection of these high quality really well-formatted, accessible, open source, free public domain ebooks. And they’re really good.
So, just go to their site, standardbooks.org/ebooks and you can download basically all the great classics, but really good versions of them. So if you’re looking for those try Standard Ebooks.
Craig: You know what? I don’t need a One Cool Thing. You had two.
John: I gave you two.
Craig: We’re good.
John: But, here’s a One Cool Thing you can do is on Episode 500 we said that we desperately need to go back to a segment called Change Craig’s Mind. But we need to figure out how we’re going to change – what’s a topic we can change Craig’s mind about? So if you have suggestions of things you’ve heard him say that you think, no, that’s wrong and we can get him to change his mind, we’ll see. And we can try over the course of this next season to change his mind about anything.
Craig: It’s possible. It’s possible.
John: Well, Craig, I know you hate mayonnaise. Could we change your mind about mayonnaise?
Craig: Oh my god, no. That would be just an utter waste of time. It would be a waste of a segment. That is disgusting.
John: Aversion therapy. But we need to find another mayonnaise, something Craig doesn’t really like–
Craig: It’s the word.
John: Maybe the sense that you don’t like it because you don’t kind of like get it. And then you get it and you’re like, oh yeah, it turns out I do like that.
Craig: I mean, it’s possible. Lately I have been watching more ventriloquism.
John: Yeah. Absolutely. Late at night he fires up the iPad by the side of the bed.
Craig: I make myself a mayonnaise sandwich and sit down and enjoy a fun evening of ventriloquism. Absolutely not.
John: My brother grew up on mayonnaise sandwiches. That was his go-to sandwich.
Craig: Oh god. Geez.
John: Wonder Bread and mayonnaise.
Craig: Ugh. Man, that is white.
John: Nothing else.
Craig: Good lord, that’s white.
John: So white.
Craig: White. That’s so white it’s white.
John: Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Brian Ramos. If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter I’m @johnaugust.
We have t-shirts and they’re great. You can find them at Cotton Bureau. You’ll 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 the weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting, which has lot 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. That’s also where you can sign up to get updates on the Scriptnotes book. And we’ll be sending out an update this week about where we’re at with the book. Craig, Megana, thank you so much for a fun show.
Craig: Thanks guys.
Megana: Thank you guys.
John: All right, Craig, so the Scriptnotes book, we think it’s going to be actually a pretty hefty book because there’s just a lot of material in there. And I’m curious what you look for in a physical printed book. What are things that excite you about books? What are printed books that you’ve especially liked over the course of your career?
Craig: Well, for most fiction I don’t care because I’m just reading. I just want to turn pages. So the quality of a paperback, or even a hard cover book is not particularly important to me. But when it’s a book about a topic, something real, or a book that’s meant to be educational, a few things stick out.
I like size. I like the book to be larger. Because I think it gives you more detail. I really like mixed media. I like the idea of images. There was a book I had as a kid that was more than just images of course. I think it might have been published by World Book. And it was about the universe. And there were plastic overlays and there were sort of grown up versions of popup book style stuff, where you’re moving tabs and turning wheels and things to actually accentuate whatever the value of the imagery was. And then photographs of real things.
I like to engage, feel like I’m kind of involved with the book. You know, play with it a little bit.
John: Yeah. I also really love books that I can sort of pick up and flip to any page. Like for nonfiction books, that I can just flip to any page and find something interesting. I think the reason why I loved my D&D books so much growing up is you could just flip to any page in there and it was interesting. And you didn’t have to read them from the start to the end at all. It’s just join at any point.
I also really loved – Peanuts had these great sort of encyclopedia things. They were these colorful things about space and the world. And I loved those too growing up because you just flipped to anything and you’d just find interesting articles. So you could join them at any point in the middle of the story.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, there’s a kind of a book fetishization where people are really into the binding and the edges. You know, there’s like the ruffled edges.
John: Oh yeah. I hate them.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t like the ruffled edges. It looks like your book got stuck in something.
John: I hate gilded edges as well. Because they were sharp on my fingers.
Craig: Ah, yeah, nothing says luxury like gold-tipped pages. Uh-huh. I just want the book to not fall apart. That’s really all I’ve ever asked for. I don’t really care about that other stuff. I’m not a book fetishist.
A similar problem with NFTs where I’m really struggling just to understand why people are doing it. And like similarly when people – I have a first edition of this thing and I’m like, yeah, but the value of that thing is not the object.
Craig: It’s like saying I have first edition CD of this – who cares? It’s plastic. It doesn’t matter.
Craig: It’s the content that matters. So I don’t get too wrapped up in the whole booked-y thing.
John: Do you like book jackets or the ones where it is printed directly on the cover?
Craig: Interesting. Ever since I was a kid, first thing that I do is take that off.
John: Yeah, I don’t like book jackets either. I don’t take the jacket off, because I don’t want to lose it, but I also don’t like it. I like them for being able to use them as a bookmark. I will use those to sort of mark what page I’m at.
Craig: I was a dog-earer. Still am a dog-earer. I know I’m not supposed to. It’s like wrong.
John: It’s a crime.
Craig: Crime, whatever, against this inanimate object. But ever since I was a kid I would – my fingers would be the color of whatever the cover was because the cover was often some sort of red or blue.
John: Yeah, cloth.
Craig: Right. And so when you take the dust jacket off your fingers – Megana, cover on/cover off?
Megana: No, no, no. I always do cover off. Because I always tear it.
Craig: Oh that’s interesting. So you’re reading violently.
John: She’s a violent reader.
John: There’s an increasing trend towards the jacketless books where the artwork is printed directly on the book itself. And I just like that. Sometimes it doesn’t look as neat on the shelf, but who cares what’s on the shelf? What actually looks good in your hands and sitting on a table is more useful to me. And it’s one less thing to lose. I don’t want to lose a thing. I don’t want to rip it. I don’t Megana ripping my book covers.
John: Megana housesits for me. I don’t want to come back and all the book covers are ripped.
Megana: I also borrow a lot of your books, with your permission.
Craig: Oh. I thought you were just admitting grand theft bookery.
John: So Craig two recent books – and the Scriptnotes book will not be anywhere near this size, or epicness, but the Art & Arcana book, we talked about it in the opening, was really sort of a remarkable feat of history and all the artwork throughout the ages. That was a book that you want to keep and you want to sort of, you know, again, you can flip through it. I think I did read it straight through, but you could also just go to any point in the middle of the story.
Craig: Those are wonderful books, especially for people who are already into a thing. And there are areas like that where, you know, sports in particular. And I should have mentioned Michael Witwer who also worked on – it wasn’t just Kyle. But if you are into something then – and you know that other people are into it you have an opportunity to do something different.
I’m a baseball fan and every Christmas – I say Christmas even though it was boring Chanukah – I would get oh we got you a book about the Yankees. And there’s like 4,000 books about the Yankees. And most of them are just bad. Because they’re just the same old crap. And they’re literally made for stupid Christmas presents. They weren’t actually made to be loved.
So, try and make something that – if you’re a bookmaker–
John: Yeah. We’re bookmakers now. So we’re going to try to make something that people will love. Hey, what is your opinion of the ribbon inside books? The bookmark ribbon?
John: You don’t like it?
Craig: I hate it.
John: You do? All right. Because I’m a big fan. In our sample artwork we have the ribbon, so I guess you’ll have to rip that out.
Craig: Megana, if you say that your problem with the ribbon is that it tears then we know you are reading these books in far too aggressive fashion. Are you a ribboner or a non-ribboner?
Megana: I like the ribbon, but I’ve been reading books on my Kindle through the pandemic and I recently got a book in paper, or like a physical book, and I have so many papercuts on my hands. I’m like what is wrong with me?
Craig: Yeah. What is wrong with you? [laughs]
John: She’s both too strong and too fragile.
Craig: Normally I’m really supportive of your position, but I’m concerned that you’re reading books incorrectly.
Megana: Yeah, I don’t know.
Craig: What’s happening?
John: What is happening? I will say that I love a big book, but sometimes the book is just so big it’s uncomfortable to read. And so I just got the Ultimate Sandman, because I’d never read Sandman. And I was like I’ve got to read Sandman. So I read Ultimate Sandman which collects the first run of Sandman. And it’s great and it’s oversized so it’s actually much easier to read and you can see the artwork better. It’s just terrifically well done. But man it is heavy. So it’s a thing you cannot read – you can kind of read it on your lap, but you certainly could not read it laying down. It’s awkward–
Craig: That’s the thing. I don’t know if you’ve seen these, as we get older I see more–
John: Large print books.
Craig: –ads targeted to me that I’m like, oh boy. And they have these contraptions where it’s like suspend the book over your face in bed. And you’re like oh boy. But it’s true. If I have a heavier book that I’m reading after about 15 or 20 minutes if I’m in bed my elbows start to ache.
Craig: Because, god, can you believe that, Megana? I mean, how old are we? Do any of your friends ever say, “Ow, my elbows ache?”
Megana: Wait, because you’re holding the book up?
Craig: See, she literally doesn’t understand. She’s trying to comprehend how that could happen. Just you wait.
John: Just you wait. A thing I won’t put up with anymore that I used to not have a problem with is cheap paperbacks. I find it just really hard to read cheap paperbacks at this point.
Craig: The print is too small. I can’t read it.
John: The print is too small and you can sort of read through the next line. So I’m going to read my Kindle. I’ll buy a hardcover, but if I can’t get the hardcover I’ll probably read the Kindle.
Craig: I mean, I must admit that if there is a Kindle version to purchase I’m purchasing it. It’s just – or an Apple iBook version. The one thing that I miss and I wish they could solve is page numbers. If they could solve that.
John: It’s nice to be able to refer to a page number.
Craig: Yeah, if they could just solve page numbers.
John: They get better at it.
Craig: That would be nice.
John: So, Craig, now that you’re moving to my neighborhood you will have Chevaliers as your neighborhood bookstore. It is terrific, so hopefully you’ll get back in the habit of buying some books.
John: In print.
Craig: Yes. I do love a bookstore. I love to browse a bookstore. And inevitably if I browse a bookstore I’m going to buy a book. And the place that we have near you per square foot I think has more bookshelf space than any place I’ve ever been other than a library. There’s bookshelves – so many opportunities for books.
John: Excellent. We love it.
Craig: So we will purchase those.
John: And one of those books will be the Scriptnotes book that you won’t read.
Craig: Complete with ribbon.
John: Love it. Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thanks guys.
John: Thanks Megana.
Craig: Thanks Megana.
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