The original post for this episode can now 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 504 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show how long should it take you to write a script and how can writers best estimate that work? We’ll try to give you an answer. We’ll also look at new guidance for writers working on features at Netflix and Amazon and follow up on child prodigies, movie theaters, and free will.
And in our bonus segment for premium members, Craig, let’s talk about UFOs.
Craig: All right. You asked for it.
John: Let’s do it. Let’s talk about UFOs. Because I know you are a strong believer in extraterrestrial life visiting earth. And I want to hear your detailed views and I’ll try to bat those wild theories away.
Craig: That is not how it’s going to go.
John: But let’s start with a little amuse bouche. A conundrum that came up on our weekly call this week. What is the statute of limitations on spoiler warnings for movies? Craig, when is it fair to say like, OK, now you should have seen that movie so we can talk about The Sixth Sense, or Fight Club?
Craig: Sure. Well it was a little easier back in the day when there was a somewhat conventional release pattern. A movie would go into theaters. You would see it there. And then it would leave theaters and it would show up on DVD or cable or something. And my general feeling was if you didn’t see it in the theater and it was finished with its run then, you know, sorry.
Craig: That’s the way it is. There will be spoiler issues. You know, now where movies come out the same day, I don’t know. A month? I don’t know. I don’t know.
John: Yeah. I think that there’s sort of two classes of problems. So there’s the movies that are more like TV shows because they’re coming out in different things, people can see them kind of whenever they see them. So for new movies those sort of TV rules apply. When you can talk about Mare of Easttown? I don’t know. I haven’t seen the show and I’m trying to avoid the spoilers, but I also recognize that people need to have that conversation. So there’s that.
But look back to like older movies, like The Sixth Sense, or Fight Club, or Citizen Kane, I just want to argue for there’s no such thing as a spoiler because you should have seen this movie.
Craig: There is no spoiler warning on old movies. And I must admit that I don’t necessarily think revealing the twists or endings of things in fact spoils anything.
Craig: Because that’s really not where I get my enjoyment from. I’m a weirdo I guess in that regard. I know how Fight Club ends. I love watching Fight Club. I’ll watch it again. It’s a great movie. It doesn’t matter to me that I know how it ends.
John: I will say it’s sometimes fun to watch a movie with a person who doesn’t know what’s going to happen, so you can see like, ah, ah, did you figure out what was actually happening there. So the Shyamalan movies might be a good example of that. So like my daughter probably has no idea what actually happens in The Village. I don’t know that I need to watch The Village, but I would be curious to watch The Village with her to see if she figures out what’s actually really going on in The Village.
Craig: Yeah. So to that extent it is amusing to watch other people getting fooled.
Craig: And, sure. But I feel like the panic over spoilers is – I just think it’s overblown. I mean, you know, anybody that is adapting anything, the spoiler exists. So people would worry about spoilers for Game of Thrones, but the books were there. So, you know, anybody who had read the books knew that at least in the book Ned Stark dies. And in the book there’s a Red Wedding. And a bunch of people get killed at a wedding. So what? That’s not – we’re not watching things for information and data.
John: Yeah. We’re watching them to enjoy them.
Craig: Yes. And I’m so much more interested in watching the people on screen react to what they didn’t know. That’s what’s fascinating. Not that I didn’t know it.
Craig: So that’s my weird thing about spoilers. I’m not so wound up about them.
John: All right. Well we’ll have no spoilers for A Quiet Place 2, but that movie came out over Memorial Day Weekend and did so much better than people thought it could do. It made $57 million in theaters which is great. So, hooray for them. Cruella also came out and did $26.5 million. And it had its day-and-date release on Disney+ for $30 for subscribers. So, it looks like people want to see movies, which is great news.
Craig: It is. That $57 million is eye-popping, because that would have been a good weekend really at any point.
John: It’s not $100 million, but it’s still just terrific.
Craig: Sure. It’s terrific for a movie that I’m sure didn’t cost a massive amount. I think maybe helped a little bit by the fact that there’s not much else in theaters, so they occupy a ton of screens. If you wanted to see a wide release movie and you didn’t want to see a Disney film then I guess you were going to A Quiet Place. And if you did want to see a Disney film you had the day-and-date to kind of choose from.
What’s interesting financially to – and I don’t know the answer to this – is who makes more money here. So Cruella makes $26.5 million at the box office and then $30 a pop on Disney+. That’s a lot.
John: Yeah. So on Cruella, all five credited writers are previous Scriptnotes guests. And I was talking with one of the them, or texting with one of them. And that $29 for the Disney+ subscribers, the chunk you get from that is actually really good money. So, weirdly our five prior guests who worked on that movie will get more off of that than they would have off of the theatrical box office.
Craig: Well they would get nothing off the theatrical box office.
John: Nothing. You get nothing.
Craig: Correct. I mean, unless you have box office bonuses. But those have pretty much gone bye-bye over time. And, yeah, Internet sales, you know, we have a good rate. It’s basically five times the rate of the DVDs, or close.
John: Premium video-on-demand.
Craig: Yeah. So it’s – well, actually, no it’s not five times. It’s much better. The point is it’s better. It is five times. They will make good money off of that as long as the studios are fair about it and don’t attempt to argue that this primary exhibition, because they can. They can make that argument and we would make the argument that it’s not.
So interesting to see what happens there financially because we may be living in a time where this continues permanently. That most movies come out day-and-date and you have a choice. And I don’t know. I cannot predict.
John: So we also had some other big deals in the news this week. Coming off the success of this box office, it’s nice to see the Alamo Drafthouse is out of bankruptcy. There’s a lot of speculation that AMC might buy out our beloved ArcLight. So it would be lovely to see the ArcLight come back.
Craig: It’s available.
John: Hopefully AMC could run it the way the ArcLight was and not sort of the way AMCs are run. We’ll see. I don’t want ads in front of my movie. That’s really what it comes down to. More than anything else I want no ads.
Craig: Yeah. Look, if the movies are coming back, the theatrical experience is coming back, then it stands to reason that ArcLight would be profitable as it used to be. I think maybe the problem with ArcLight was they just didn’t have the financial cushion to weather the storm of this lengthy shutdown. I don’t know. But I agree with you, if AMC buys ArcLight what would be the point of buying it if you don’t let it be it.
Craig: Which is I guess something that AT&T should have considered when they bought Warner Bros and HBO.
John: Yeah. I’m not even mentioning the Warner Bros/Discovery merger which has the absolute worst logo. Not since like the initial DreamWorks logo which was–
Craig: The boy on the moon?
John: The boy on the moon is fantastic. But the DreamWorks SKG, some of their initial logo-ing around that was not fantastic.
Craig: Oh, looked like it was made on like an [Amiga] against like a blue sky or something?
John: That’s what it was. The logo-ing for Warner Bros/Discovery, which I don’t understand why you’re keeping the Bros in there. It should just be Warner-Discovery makes more sense. But it looks like it was done in Word Art.
Craig: Oh good lord. Look at that.
John: Describe it for our listeners. Describe what this logo looks like.
Craig: I’m going to get in trouble as I’m an employee of this corporation. But that’s just silly.
John: I’m an employee as well.
Craig: So it is also against a weird dim blue sky with blue clouds. I don’t know why the clouds are so blue. Anyway, and then it says Warner Bros., Discovery. Discovery is underneath it. The letters are three-dimensional, sort of coming out, and they’re this fairly gaudy gold color. They have this bad reflectivity that again feels very kind of [Amiga] circa 1991.
And then underneath is a 2D line that says, “The stuff that dreams are made of.”
John: With no punctuation. The “of” is just dangling there at the end.
Craig: Dangling. I don’t like it.
Craig: Don’t like that.
John: So I don’t like the main Warner Bros/Discovery logo, but I especially don’t like it against that blue sky. And then the thing underneath it just looks like they stuck it in. They were in Keynote and they were like, oh, we have to find a tag line. Quick, type a tag line.
Craig: I don’t think that’s going to last. I’ve got to be honest with you.
John: I don’t think it’s going to last. I don’t think we need to worry about it.
Craig: I don’t think it’s going to last at all. I’m just looking at the Internet, because I guess the Internet was going bananas about this. I had no idea this was going on. Someone said that it looked like something that was made in Microsoft Word’s Word Art Utility. Yeesh.
John: It does.
Craig: That’s not going to last. There’s absolutely no way.
John: We don’t need to worry about that.
Craig: No, that will not last.
John: But a deal that will last is CAA sold a big chunk of Wiip. So it sold the majority stake in the production company Wiip to a South Korean studio which is great. Good for them. And this is all coming out of the WGA deal with the agencies, basically forcing the agencies to divest themselves of their production entities. And I really wondered who was going to buy Wiip or who would buy Endeavor Content, and I should have been thinking of like, of course, there’s a lot of international money that would love to have some domestic production and they’ve got money. I think those are going to be the buyers for these places.
Craig: Yeah. It’s hard to say what will happen with the larger ones. Wiip was not a big version of this. And like I had said many times in all my years as a client at CAA no one had ever even mentioned Wiip to me. I didn’t even know it was a thing. I didn’t know it existed. So they weren’t pushing it too hard back in the day.
So I don’t know how much Wiip was worth and I don’t know what the sale entailed, but I have a feeling, I could be wrong, but that maybe CAA sort of looked at this part of the settlement with the WGA as possibly a gift. Because I think what happened was WME got into this business in a massive way and everybody else sort of felt like they needed to. But didn’t necessarily commit. Yeah, I’m happy that the people that were employed by that studio, by Wiip, because there’s two Is in it, Wiip, will continue. Hopefully to be employed and they’ll continue to compensate people fairly and all the rest of that.
John: Yeah. And so Wiip I hadn’t realized made Mare of Easttown, so the second Mare of Easttown reference in this episode.
Craig: Well it worked on them. I don’t know if they made them. That’s the thing. Like I never know what these companies actually do.
John: Yeah. You never know. Did they throw in some money, or were they the studio behind it?
Craig: Were they there sort of at the beginning, kind of. I don’t know. I’m still – I don’t even know what Wiip stands for.
John: I don’t either.
Craig: Wiip. There’s two Is.
John: Too many.
Craig: One too many Is.
John: All right. Let’s do some more follow up. So two episodes back we wondered why aren’t there any child screenwriting prodigies, because obviously we have prodigies in chess and athletics and other things.
John: We had several people write in with some good suggestions. Do you want to start with Victoria here?
Craig: Sure. So Victoria DiCapawa tweets, “In my opinion screenwriting successfully, let alone brilliantly, requires a tremendous amount of emotional literacy. It requires an extremely proactive curiosity about the emotional narrative of others and I think for younger people they’re still really figuring themselves out.
“I went to film school at 18 which was great, because it gave me the energy to do production in a way I really can’t in my mid-30s. But I also did not end up becoming a successful director the way I’d planned. It turns out no one wants to be directed by an 18-year-old.”
John: I think Victoria is making a really good point. It’s that if you’re writing movies you’re probably not writing people who are just your own age, you’re writing a whole range of people, and you have to have sort of theories of mind in terms of like why characters are doing what they’re doing and sort of how stuff works. And that just takes some time to develop and mature.
So whereas there are so many Taylor Swifts in the world and Billie Eilishes who are writing the brilliant and insightful songs, it’s a shorter thing where you’re not writing multiple characters interacting. It’s really sort of a singular voice and it’s a singular point of view. The ability to hold multiple points of view simultaneously may just be something that develops later on.
Craig: Yes. And songwriting occupies a much shorter space. So, you can make a single point and if you make your single point beautifully you’ve got yourself a good song, putting aside the musical aspect of it as well. You want obviously a good melody. But a screenplay needs to make a whole lot of points, every single scene, over and over and over. And all the scenes need to connect. And they need to reflect back on each other. It’s more complicated. It’s definitely more complicated.
John: That ties in well with what Gus writes here. Gus says, “Prodigy conducive mediums like math, music, and fine arts merely require immense talent and intuition, whereas narrative storytelling also necessitates a healthy dose of knowledge, as in knowledge gained from years of observing and consuming comparable material. A four-year-old might dictate a few brilliant lines of blank verse, for example, but would likely stumble over long form rule and structure heavy formats like sonnets.
“All that being said, feature filmmaking also has gatekeeping factors present in virtually no other medium. If a child or teenager writes an amazing screenplay that somehow makes it in to meaningful hands the response will almost certainly be, ‘You’re very talented. Keep at it. Or let me put you in touch with some reps I know,’ as opposed to, ‘We must spend millions of dollars turning this into a movie immediately,’ because that risk adverse exec would then look like a crazy person.”
Gus goes on to write that he sort of was that teenager who wrote that thing and couldn’t get any traction. But just a few years later a similar project when he was in his early 20s he could get set up and that’s how he got started as a writer. So I think he makes a good point. Your ability to write improves, but also your ability to be perceived as a writer and to do all the social aspects of screenwriting comes with age as well.
Craig: Yeah. And it does occur to me that one thing we haven’t talked about is that screenwriting is an art form that is designed for adaptation. And that in and of itself implies a certain amount of complexity. Chess is chess. Music is music. A song is a song and a painting is a painting. So a prodigy is doing the thing that is supposed to be done, and viewed, and seen.
A screenwriter is not. A screenwriter is actually imagining something and putting it in an entirely different format from what it ultimately must become. That is complicated and that may have something to do with it as well.
John: There are some examples of like fantasy novelists who got started in their teens, but even then, yes, you’re writing a very long piece of work, but you’re writing the final thing.
John: So what you’re writing doesn’t have to go through another stage in order to become the finished art form.
John: Peter wrote in and this is something I should have been thinking about when we first discussed it, reminding us of the tale of Riley Weston. Do you remember Riley Weston?
Craig: I do.
John: So she was a writer who was employed on Felicity, I believe. She was 18 years old and it was a big story that like, oh, this 18-year-old who is writing on Felicity which is great because she has such insight as being part of that generation. And then in fact she was not 18 years old. She was 32. And she was passing herself off as 18.
Craig: Yeah. Which then became sort of the premise of Sutton Foster’s television show Younger. I mean, they weren’t basing it on this story, but that is, you know, the idea that in a business where people are perhaps discriminated against on the basis of age, passing for younger could be valuable. But there was not an 18-year-old. And even then in that case the alleged 18-year-old was working on a staff with other writers and not solo writing a movie for instance.
John: Yeah. So like Catherine Hardwicke is 13. She was collaborating with a teenager on that. But it was collaboration.
John: So someone with the experience of actually making the thing could use the voice of the person who actually knew that stuff. I was also thinking back to Lena Dunham. So I first met Lena right after she did Tiny Furniture, and she was young, but I had to actually Google to figure out how old would she have been, and she was 24. So 24 years old to make a feature as good as Tiny Furniture is remarkable, but that’s not the same as being a child prodigy. And her early work, the short film she did, built up to that. But she was doing the work and learning as she was making short films which are sort of that finished product. They are the poems and songs of filmmaking. She was doing that work before she got up to her first real feature which was Tiny Furniture.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t know how this happened but somewhere along the line in our country we forgot that people who are twenty-somethings are adults. We think of them still as children. But, yeah, I mean, that’s when I sold my first thing was at 24. It was not quite as good as Tiny Furniture, but certainly I could write a movie.
Craig: But I wouldn’t have been able to do it at 17. Or even at 21. That was probably about as soon as I could do it.
John: Yeah. Now that same episode we talked about free will and determinism and how it’s OK to not be a screenwriter.
John: We had a couple people write in about that including folks who had stopped the ambition to be a screenwriter. Do you want to take Sam’s question here?
Craig: Sure. Sam says, “I’m in my mid-40s and I really wanted to do screenwriting.” I like by the way, just as an aside, I like “doing screenwriting.” I like that idea. Do it.
“And I really wanted to do screenwriting. I’ve always been full of imagination and this seemed like a way to get that on paper and share it. However I’m a senior project manager, which I enjoy doing, at Microsoft with a pretty good salary and it dawned on me that trying to switch seems like maybe a stupid move. So I decided to keep it at the hobby level and make my own movie which has been great because I’ve been learning about other aspects of filmmaking. In looking back at the whole journey I realized I was more in love with the idea of screenwriting than doing the same thing day in/day out to write screenplays. I also realized there’s a difference between screenwriting, writing screenplays, and being a screenwriter, writing Hollywood screenplays.
“All that to say if you’re just looking for a way out of your current work, be careful. It’s much better to run towards something than to run away from something. Make sure you’re in love with writing and not in love with what you think writing will be like. If you’ve never done it before and you haven’t done writing as part of who you are it might not be for you.”
John: Yeah. That point about running towards versus running away is so important to keep in mind for career stuff, but relationships, and so many things in your life. Why are you making this choice? Are you making this choice because you really want that thing that’s there, or because you don’t want the thing that you have and you’re looking for any other option that’s out there?
Craig: Same thing applies even inside of the writing of screenplays. We’ve often said that you don’t want to write away from a problem. You want to write towards something you like. And Sam is pointing out that there’s a romantic view of what screenwriting is, of what a screenwriter does. We’ve seen depictions of screenwriters that even in their portrayal of the clichéd misery seem kind of weirdly attractive and romantic. None of that is correct.
John: Oh yeah. The Barton Finks. All the sort of hacks with Underwoods. Oh, I want to be part of that downtrodden class of scribes.
Craig: Correct. And they’re always smarter than everybody else and more insightful than everybody else. And they’re overlooked until they’re not. And they are underappreciated until they’re not. And none of it is correct. It’s just like everything else. You’ve got to wake up and then just work. And it’s not – it is rare that you have these moments of high drama like any of that stuff.
The grind is the deal.
Craig: That’s the job is the grind.
John: Kara writes that she’s not a screenwriter and that’s OK. She says, “I was an unhappy lawyer and I finally paid off my loans and quit my job to explore other options right before the pandemic. Many of my plans were canceled, but I decided to take a screenwriting class. I know how you feel about those, but it’s where I learned about your podcast, and I’m glad I took it anyway.”
Craig: So now people are paying to hear about our podcast. [laughs] I’m angry.
John: You know how you find out about Scriptnotes? You have to take a class.
Craig: Ugh, so angry.
John: In order to listen to the podcast you have to take a class first. Kara says she wrote a complete screenplay using Highland2, of course. And felt like “my creative side, so long buried beneath soul-sucking contracts was reawakened. While I loved writing and still have potential projects floating around in my mind I don’t think it’s the right career path for me and like you said that’s OK. I’m now an urban gardener and trying to start our flower forming business in New York City. I still listen to your podcast every week while growing flowers on a rooftop out in Staten Island and in a parking lot in Brooklyn. Thank you for all you do and for embracing listeners like me.”
Craig: Hey, Kara, Staten Island! All right. I was born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, so in many ways I’m like one of your flowers. And I think that’s great. And that’s another example of somebody that maybe was running away from something that she didn’t want to do, like dealing with contract law, and you know what? No big deal. There’s nothing wrong with taking a swing at something. And if you figure out really early that it’s not for you then you cut bait real fast and hopefully she has a little bit more passion for the flower farming business.
John: Well let’s look at what Kara did and did not do. What Kara did is she took a class and she wrote a script and she sort of saw like do I like this or do I not like this. She didn’t quit her job, move to Los Angeles to say I’m going to become a screenwriter without having written a screenplay. I would just urge everyone before making big changes to say like, hey, do I actually enjoy doing this work. Because you can then sort of – again, aspire to a thing rather than just be like I want to get out of the rut that I’m in.
Craig: Yeah. It also seems like Kara did not load this decision with a lot of emotional weight. If I fail than I am no good. I must be…I am called by the universe…you know, these things are setting you up for real trouble. Because any time you’re called by the universe to do something that very few people do the odds are that you’re not going to get there. So, just be realistic.
John: Let’s think about a hypothetical listener out there who might be listening and saying, “You know what? I’m not sure I want to keep being a screenwriter or doing the screenwriter job.” Like they may be here in Los Angeles but they’re not having a lot of success. Trying to think what good advice we’d offer him or her listening to this show right now.
I might start with the same thing that we learned from Kara is that really look at what are some other things that might be attractive to you. Rather than sort of I’m going to run away from screenwriting, or feel like I’m going to give up on screenwriting, say like what is there that is out there that might be really interesting for me to do that I could go and pursue and not be so worried about like I’m giving up screenwriting.
Craig: Yeah, step number one is to put screenwriting in its appropriate position which is a thing that some people do. But it is not the be all end all. And it is not a glorious life. It’s something that if you do it you do it.
Craig: And if you had a dream of it and it didn’t work out, dream a new dream. Because if you can find something that you both enjoy and other people demand from you then you are fulfilled. You need both of them. And it’s not enough for you to love it, but for no one to want it.
I do like cooking, but if I cooked and nobody liked the food then I would maybe just cook for myself and stop dreaming of creating grand meals. It’s the same for this. And there’s no shame in it. There’s no shame.
Craig: By the way, even for us, I mean, look, some people like things, some people don’t, you know, of what we do. Nobody is batting a thousand, or even remotely close to that.
John: So Garrett thinks we’re batting far below a thousand. So Garrett has a very long email he sent to us. It would be the whole podcast reading through this email, but Garrett, thank you for sending through this email. He was really focused on our discussion of free will and determinism. And so there is a school of thought that even sort of bringing up free will being an illusion and determinism is sort of culturally self-defeating. It’s bad for the individual to think through.
He writes, “Here’s what determinism does to your listeners emotionally. It grieves, deflates, and discourages. Why am I chasing this dream of becoming a screenwriter when I haven’t had a break up to this point? Maybe I’m not a chosen one after all. It’s just a new breed of Calvinism,” which I thought was actually an interesting point.
He says, “We must all live as if we do have free will.” And I think that was the point we were actually making in the podcast is that we can say that free will is an illusion, but it’s still an illusion that is important to kind of believe in. The same way we believe in consciousness, even though we don’t really understand it. Is that fair, Craig?
Craig: Yeah. I’m a little puzzled by his point. Let’s pause it for a second, Garrett. That determinism is correct. There is no free will. And when he says it grieves, deflates, and discourages, why? Just because you haven’t had it now? When you say I haven’t had a break up to this point, maybe I’m not a chosen one after all, or maybe you are and it’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s not Calvinism. We’re not suggesting – the problem with Calvinism is that Calvinism did look at outcomes and then decide based on the outcome who you were. So if you were poor, it’s very hard to stop being poor, especially in unfair societies.
So Calvinism said, well, you’re poor, you deserve it because you were born bad.
John: Well it’s your fate. It’s your place in life.
John: And don’t sort of question it.
Craig: Don’t question it.
John: It even goes back to sort of older times. Yes.
Craig: There’s nothing indicative like that about screenwriting and whether someone has bought a screenplay or not bought a screenplay. That is not the deal at all. We’re not talking about anything like that. There’s actually no valuable information that I get from the fact that I don’t believe in free will because part of my lack of belief in free will is that the illusion of free will is just as determined as everything else.
So no matter what I do I’m still making choices, because I am a determined consciousness that thinks it’s making choices. Just like I think that the sky is blue. But if I were a different animal with different eyeballs it would be a different color. Yeah, it doesn’t mean any of this. You’re reading into it and you should stop. That’s what I think. You should stop.
John: And so I do appreciate long emails, but I agree with you that, yes, I think you can fall into a trap where nothing matters because we’re all on rails and just give up because there’s no point. And I’m actually arguing the opposite of that. Acknowledging that, yes, even if we’re sort of on rails and even if we don’t have the choices that there’s no little monkey inside of us who is actually pulling the levers, who actually has free will. It’s still important that we live that way because also we’re writing characters who must live that way, too.
Craig: We have no choice.
John: It comes back to being the protagonist.
Craig: We have no choice.
John: Be the hero in your own story.
Craig: We don’t have access to the things that determine all of what’s going to happen anyway. So we have no choice. This is how we live. And this is also why I get puzzled when people say, “Well do you believe in any kind of existence after death?” And I say I don’t. And they say, “Well then what’s the point of everything?” And I say there isn’t one. But the fact that there isn’t a point doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy this whole thing tremendously.
Craig: I have things that give me joy and pleasure and there are things that are fulfilling and I have experiences and I learn and I engage. And that’s enough for me. I don’t need a purpose or a point in the long run. I don’t. There isn’t one. I think maybe he’s looking for one. I don’t know. But I’m fine with that one.
John: All right. Let’s move on in the spirit of self-advocacy and doing what we can do to look at this last week the WGA put out two articles of particular interest to screenwriters. And I thought these were great. I saw early versions of these and I think they are genuinely useful. The first is the Screen Compensation Guide for Streaming Services which looks at contracts over the last three years from WGA members for features done for Amazon and for Netflix and sort of what common threads we can find in this.
And there’s some really good news here. 90% of these deals were multi-step, so not one-step deals, with two guaranteed steps, up to five guaranteed steps. So if you’re writing for Netflix or Amazon the great precedent is you should get a multi-step deal.
Craig: Yeah. That’s startling and I’m thrilled to see that. And I would direct the attention of the conventional movie studios to this because this is something that I specifically have been beating a drum about for well over a decade. And I got to say, again, hey regular movie studios if you’re wondering partly why these other services are eating your lunch it’s because they actually have a system where things can be developed, instead of your system where they can’t.
John: Yeah. Other good news, Netflix pays more than Amazon on an average, $375,000 versus $300,000 at Amazon. And almost a quarter of these deals begin with a treatment and Netflix is more common to ask for treatments.
So, my Netflix deal didn’t have a treatment on it, but I do see that happening with other writers I talk to where they are turning in – I think Godwin was telling us this. They’re asking for a treatment before the screenplay stage. OK. If that’s what they want. If they pay you for it.
Craig: You know me. I love a treatment. I think that’s actually also terrific. If Netflix can help garner a new farm system, a new bench of new screenwriters who are trained to outline and prepare I think it actually will help – even if those individual writers abandon that practice later on, because they don’t feel they need it anymore, it is a good discipline to learn. I do think there’s great value in it.
John: So the quick explainer on pros and cons of treatments. The good thing about writing a treatment for one of these projects is theoretically you’re all on the same page about what is the movie you’re going to write. And they’re also paying you for this step. So you can resolve some of these story issues before you get into your screenplay. So your first draft of your screenplay should be closer to what they want.
The downside of treatments as an actual step is you could get stuck in treatment for a very long time, and that’s a thing we need to be mindful of and sort of have reps who can push to say, OK, let’s really go to draft. Or producers who can really say like, no, we really need to have him start writing this project.
Craig: Yeah. If they are breaking things out into steps like this then hopefully they are following the basic rules which is we pay you this, you write a treatment. You give the treatment, you have written the treatment. So, a step for a treatment does not mean a step for four treatments. It means a step for a treatment.
And the whole point is that even if there are a bunch of things that people are like, ah, I don’t know about this, you have the discussion, you take the notes. Great. Got it. Done. The job has been done. You have your own new outline that you can use in note cards or whatever for the writing of the draft. But the good news is that they’re giving all these steps.
The numbers are not great, I have to say, for the medians. They’re not awesome. Because if the median for Amazon is $300,000 and most of those are for two steps, you know, that’s down I think from what – that’s a little bit lower than the median at big studios, I would imagine. Although I’m guessing on that.
John: It’s a hard thing to compare apples to apples because there’s so few multi-step deals at studios, at conventional studios.
John: So, yes, that’s more math that we can do. But still promising. The second thing that the WGA put out this last week was Screen Deal Tips which actually covers some stuff that we talked about two episodes ago about selling projects, reacquisition, how to get back the – if you’ve done rewrites on a sale how to get that stuff back, which when you and I had that conversation I didn’t realize that there’s actually language in the MBA about reacquisition of originals.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: And reacquisition of the rewrites you’ve done on an original that you sold.
Craig: I mean, yeah, it is extremely hard to pull off. We have talked about reacquisition before. It does happen. But it is very rare. But it exists. So, yeah. Be aware of it.
John: So a couple key points to take through and we’ll put a link in the show notes to this stuff, but we talked on the show before because you cannot be assured that this movie that you’re writing for theatrical is actually going to come out theatrical, try to avoid language that so ties into the assumption of the theatrical release, like box office bonuses.
So, get this in as a deal point and don’t let this drag out to the contract stage because it could be a long time before you get your contract. So in your deal points talk about sort of like what happens if it’s theatrical, what happens if it’s streaming.
Make sure that credits bonuses, if there are credit bonuses, are tied to screenplay by and teleplay by, because there’s a possibility that this movie will be put into a streaming situation where teleplay by becomes a credit rather than screenplay by. So look for that. I know somebody who got tripped up by that.
And if it’s underlying material you don’t control, try to get stuff in your contract that gives you the right to acquire back any material you write. So if it’s based on a book and that book option lapses you have the ability to get the stuff that you’ve written out of that place, if possible.
Craig: And if you have a decent lawyer they are already on top of this. The nice thing is they all talk.
Craig: So anytime somebody gets speared by an unforeseen consequence, all the lawyers chit-chat together and say red alert.
John: Oh yeah. Don’t let this happen.
Craig: Yeah. So hopefully they’re on it.
John: That sense of like it’s not clear whether this movie is going to theatrical or to streaming, just as recently as a year and a half ago I was in deals with Ken Richmond, my attorney, and was like how do we protect ourselves in this situation. And he’s like it’s all still new territory and we’re still figuring this out. So, it’s important to keep this in mind as a writer, too, that the lawyers are on this but also they’re still figuring out the best ways to handle this.
Craig: All true.
John: Yeah. All right. Here’s a great sort of framework question for us to tackle. Nathan asks, “So I just booked my first professional screenwriting job and it’s with a major studio. I’m grateful and excited but also a bit scared about one important detail. They want the first draft in ten weeks from the official start point of writing. Now I know this isn’t a particularly short professional timeframe, but it’s the shortest I’ve had to execute.
“Putting aside fears of failure, how do I budget time for the writing process with the time I’m given? What self-imposed schedule would you give yourselves with that deadline for a first draft? How much time do I give myself to break the story versus actually scripting it?”
So let’s talk about estimating time overall for a writing project and how to fit writing into a prescribed time, like the ten weeks that Nathan is given.
Craig: Yeah. It is not a short amount of time, Nathan. But it may be a short amount of time for you. Everybody has a different speed. So the question is a little bit of a trap. Some writers are faster than others. It doesn’t mean that the ones that are moving faster are worse than the ones that are moving slower, nor does it mean that the ones that are moving slower are lazier than the ones moving faster. We just sort of have speeds.
But generally speaking your speed needs to roughly be around what they’re looking at there.
Craig: They can tell you they want the first draft in ten weeks. This is where the first job is always tough. Because nobody knows what you’re doing. You can’t say to them, look, the last one I wrote, the one that you loved so much that made $100 million at the box office opening weekend, yeah, that one took 12 weeks. You don’t have the ability to say that.
Craig: You want to try and hit that ten weeks number, or earlier. And there are some very simple ways to budget your time.
John: Talk us through how you would budget time, Craig.
Craig: Well, first things first, like you say you want to break the story. Now, some people don’t. Some people just start writing the script, see where it goes. If you’re a break the story kind of person, sounds like you are, then you do want to give yourself a good amount of time to break it. The clearer you are with that and the more you can suss out the potential inefficiency points, those points when you’re writing where you suddenly stop and say I don’t know what to do next, and then say oh my god I realize that the last 20 pages I wrote are wrong, and then solve it, and then realize the last 30 pages are wrong. That all is the stuff that expands your time.
And if you can save yourself some of that time by planning through and fixing the problems, the big problems first early. That’s good. Sometimes you can take three weeks doing that.
John: Now, one thing I should bring up here is that if Nathan has booked this job very likely a lot of the story is actually broken because you probably had to pitch to get this job, if it’s your first professional one.
John: So you probably do have some of this work done. But it may be expanding that out and looking at sort of like what did you sort of like wavy hands pitch, like OK this is how I’m going to do this thing, because inevitably pitches are sort of skipping over those details. And really fleshing out how you’re going to do this. How you move from A to B to C to D. I would spend maybe a week on that. I wouldn’t spend three weeks on that. But it’s really – you’re going to have to learn what works for you.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I’ve spent four weeks on that. It depends on the nature of the particular project. But then what you pretty much get to immediately is a very simple math equation. Pages divided by days. It’s as simple as that.
Once you know, OK, I’ve got my rough outline here. I have a sense of how I’m supposed to proceed. You have an amount of days and you have an amount of pages. I personally don’t like to kill myself. I think that the writing suffers. So, you know, start by just imagining a typical five-day-week. So each week – let’s say you’ve spent two weeks breaking a story. Now eight weeks. That’s 40 days. A typical screenplay is 120 pages. Three pages a day my friend. Doesn’t seem that hard anymore, does it?
Now, I will say that three pages a day is the average. Generally speaking, for me, and I think for a lot of people, the first 30 pages you’re not necessarily writing at the same clip that you will later. The end, because it’s inevitable, and because everything has led to it, often does go faster than the beginning where so much is being set up and created. So give yourself a little bit of flexibility and expandability there.
But basically divide the days up and you’ll see like, OK, you know what, and if you hit a day where you just didn’t have it, just OK well tomorrow I need to write five pages.
John: Now, Craig, by your division there Nathan would have finished his last three pages on the day he has to turn it in. So, I would urge that Nathan give himself some buffer for like, OK, and you actually have to make sure your script makes sense and works. Give yourself permission to – if that’s a week, if that’s a few days, whatever it is, some time to actually reflect on the script and see is this actually making sense. Is this script ready to hand in?
Craig: Yes. And, again, this is also part of the function of how you function. So, if Nathan you’re the kind of person that likes to write and move forward inexorably, and John is more like that, then you might need some time at the end to go back and review and tighten up some screws here and there, fix some thingies.
I do the opposite. I kind of go back over everything. That’s the first thing I do in the day is go back over what I did yesterday and rewrite what I did yesterday. If you’re doing that, well then odds are by the time you get to the end you’ve pretty much tightened all the screws up. So you might not need as much time to go through that polishing process. It just depends on how you function.
John: And there are also writers who are very much vomit drafts, just the absolute quickest version I can get on paper is what I’ll do and then I’ll just back and refine and refine and refine. And at this point, if you’re being hired to write a studio feature, you probably have a sense of what kind of writer you are. So I think Craig and I are both talking like we are fixers along the way more than that. And so I’m ready to turn in my script shortly after finishing the last scene.
John: But that’s not some other people.
John: Now, looking at sort of how other stuff gets estimated, this last week I was reading this article by Jacob Kaplan Moss on software development and he was talking about how when you’re tackling a software project you look at sort of what are the small, medium, large, and extra-large areas of complexity. How certain are you that you can design these elaborate plans for these things? And I was thinking about my career as both a software developer and as a screenwriter, and a screenwriter it’s really ultimately just sort of butt in chair time that is ultimately the factor. How many pages are you getting written?
And a thing I did a lot early on in my career is I would barricade myself for five days to a week at the start. I would get a hotel room and just sit and handwrite pages until I’d broken the back of it. So I would write like 50 pages in just a few days. And when I knew that, OK, I understand this script. I’ve written all these scenes. I’ve proven to myself that I know actually how to write this script.
And in those initial scenes I would write I would not let myself go back and edit them. I would just only keep plowing forward and writing the new scenes. That’s maybe an approach that works for you. It’s not a thing I do right now, but it’s a way that you may need to think about achieving a critical mass of pages.
A thing I still do to this day is I will try to write those last scenes earlier on in the process. So I’m writing towards the middle rather than writing towards the end. That just gives me a sense of like, OK, I know I can actually finish this because I know what those last scenes are that I’m writing towards.
Craig: Yeah. Everybody goes about this in their own way. All you need to do Nathan is know your own way. Listen carefully to your own rhythm. Don’t judge it. Just accept it for what it is.
Craig: And then divide days into pages. It’s as simple as that. And you come up with a number. And that number is pages per day. And you’ll get it done.
John: And it may help to promise your script to some people a little bit early. I always find that deadlines are great. And so you have a hard deadline at ten weeks. But if you had a softer deadline at eight weeks to show it to a trusted reader friend that can be great. Because that can give you the feedback that you need to sort of bring it from the it’s an OK first draft to, oh, that’s a great first draft you’re handing into the studio.
John: Nathan, could you write back with an update in 10 weeks to let us know what happened with the script that you turned in? We’d love to hear it.
John: It’s time for Megana Rao to join us to ask some listener questions. Megana, what do you have for us this week?
Megana Rao: Hi guys. All right, Sawyer asks, “When writing an odd couple two-hander do we have to choose which of those characters will be our eyes into the world? I’m having trouble with this and could use some examples. If you take a look at say Lethal Weapon, who would you say serves as our entry to the world?”
Craig: Those are two different questions actually Sawyer. You’re asking who are our eyes into the world and then who serves as our entry into the world. But those are two different kind of things. Because sometimes you use somebody to get in there, but really the perspective of the movie sits with the other person. To be honest with you, you have to do both. You need both of them. You can’t have just one of them be the sole perspective because then the other one just becomes luggage.
John: Well, Craig, let’s think about Identity Thief. That’s an odd couple two-hander.
John: The Jason Bateman character is our window into the world. But does the Melissa character, she still has storytelling power when Bateman is not in scenes, right?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, she gets her own introduction without him, prior to her ever meeting him or knowing him. And in fact that was actually, of any arguments that I had about the development of that, one of them was that everyone seemed to want to take that away from her or limit it. And what we had there was much less than what I wanted.
What I wanted was a much fuller exploration of who she was and why she was doing what she was doing. But both of them had – they existed independently of each other and they both had a point of view. And then really it’s about the relationship. So, the question implies that these two characters are actually two characters, when really when we watch these movies, whether they’re on television, or in a theater, what we’re actually coming to appreciate is the relationship between the two characters, meaning that’s the thing you should be servicing. Relationship. Not so much which one of them is eyes in, or which one serves as an entry.
John: Yeah. I’m working on a project that’s essentially a two-hander right now. And it is interesting how whoever we see first we tend to sort of give more credence to like oh they’re the person who is actually driving story. But in some cases it’s the wilder character who is actually creating more of the incidents, that is pushing stuff along. So, there’s always going to be a push/pull between these two characters and in theory you’re writing a story that can only exist because these two characters are together.
So, it becomes a little bit moot to say which character is really your principal character, which of the characters is the eyes into the world. It tends to be the less wild character, you can sort of relate to them more, we can sort of sit in their point of view a little bit more, but it’s not especially helpful when it comes down to really doing the scene work.
John: What else you got for us here?
Megana: OK. Hans asks, “A few weeks ago a producer/friend of mine asked if I would be interested in working as a writer and maybe direct one of the episodes on the TV series she’s putting together. From the conversation I assumed that it would be a paid gig where I would be joining a group of professional writers. Last week I went in on a meeting thinking that I would hear the terms and details of the project. However, the meeting was two to three hours of brainstorming on the characters and the storyline. Participants of the meeting were the producer-friend, an actor friend of hers, and myself.
“So only one writer, which was me, in the room. When I asked what the plan is for the project the producer-friend asked us to meet every week for a meeting like this for at least a few weeks. After our first brainstorming session she gave us research homework for our next meeting.”
Craig: Aw, did she?
Megana: “Is this a general process for preparing a TV series idea? What do you think I should do? I’ve written and directed a small feature film before, but I don’t have experience working on other people’s projects. I don’t want to ruin the relationship with the producer, but I also don’t want to spend too much time and energy without getting some kind of compensation.”
Craig: I swear to god if we had a nickel for every time someone said, “I don’t want to ruin the relationship with the blank.” You know who is not worried about ruining relationships? The blank. They never worry about it. They have no problem sitting there going like, “Oh you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to exploit the hell out of a friend of mine and have them work week after week on something that’s some vanity project for me and an actor. And we’re not going to even tell them if they get paid, or not. And we’ll be in charge of the whole thing. And who knows who will own what. And that’s fine. I don’t mind ruining my relationship with that writer.”
It’s so frustrating.
John: Now Hans you’re being exploited. And this is not a real thing. This is not going to become a real thing. They’re asking you to do free labor. Don’t do it. It’s not helping you. This thing will never become a thing.
So, let’s imagine a scenario where the three of you really did genuinely come up with a great idea. Like you came up with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and it’s like let’s figure out what this is and then if you were sort of voluntarily spending these hours to come up with this approach for how you’re going to do this and how you’re going to make this thing that’s awesome. But that’s not what this is.
This is a producer, who maybe has credits, you don’t say, an actor who maybe has credits, we don’t know, and you, the only person who can actually write the thing. And you’re supposed to somehow be the person to make this thing come to life. No. Just stop. It’s not real. You have our permission to tell them that they need to listen to this episode. You can give them this episode and tell them they have to listen to this and say like, no, this is not an acceptable thing to be doing.
Craig: Hans, in television the person who should be in charge is definitely not the non-writing producer. And it’s definitely not the actor. Non-writing producers are incredibly important when they’re great. I appreciate the ones that I work with deeply, because they provide enormous amount of value. But they’re not ultimately in charge of the series.
So when you say this one is pulling together a series, you’re supposed to be pulling together a series. That’s the way television works. The actors, you obviously need great actors. They’re essential to the success of the work, but again also generally speaking they aren’t the people that are pulling together these series. The writer is. Because the writer is the person that is going to be generating the content and the vision over many episodes and ideally many seasons.
The bottom line is you’re getting used here.
John: Yeah. In terms of getting people together to form an idea for a TV series to pitch out, yes, you could go in for a meeting with a producer, a general meeting with a producer, and really spark, OK, let’s work on a pitch for something we can take out on the town. That does happen. That’s real and that’s true. So you go in for a meeting at Berlanti’s company or wherever and say like, OK, let’s figure out what this is we want to do and we’ll take it into the studio to pitch it. That’s real and valid.
What this is is not real and valid. This is an idea that they had and they’re looking for some good writer to work for free on this thing and see if they can get it set up. So, no, stop.
Craig: Yeah. Just the fact that you didn’t even understand how speculative this was. And be aware. If you haven’t written anything down that two to three hours of brainstorming you did, that belongs to everybody and nobody. They can just go and pitch that to somebody. Yeah, this smells bad.
Megana: Do you guys think it’s worth him asking for compensation or should he just walk away because this seems like a fishy situation?
Craig: If you have to ask then the answer is…
Megana: Got it.
Craig: No. Like if you come to someone and you’re like, “Um, can I please be paid?” And they’re like, “Oh, you know what? Yes.” That never happens. Never happens. Nah, they’ll be like, “Oh, you will be. You will be paid. When we sell this for a billion dollars.”
John: But Megana in your question I hear another important question. What should Hans actually do or say next? Because what is that conversation that he has next with this producer? And I think it’s that you say, “Listen, it was great talking with you. I’m not interested in pursuing this as a non-paid gig. And I don’t see where this is going next.” And it doesn’t have to be any more acrimonious than that, but just make it clear that you’re only looking to do paid stuff, otherwise you’re going to focus on your own stuff. That’s fair.
Craig: You could even be less forthcoming and just say, “I’m so sorry, I loved meeting you. This sounds like a good idea. But the stuff that I’m working on right now that I’m buried in is just taking up too much of my time. I didn’t quite realize the extent of the commitment here. So I apologize, I have to withdraw.”
Craig: And that’s that.
Craig: God, it’s amazing how we care so much about our relationships with these people and they just don’t care about us at all.
John: Not a bit.
John: Megana, thank you for these questions.
Craig: Thanks Megana.
Megana: Thanks guys.
Craig: We care about you, Megana.
John: We do.
John: It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a special I saw on Netflix this last week, Bo Burnham’s Inside.
Craig: Oh yeah. People loved this.
John: It’s really good. And so Bo Burnham is the writer and director of Eighth Grade. He’s a standup comic and obviously mostly known for that and started on YouTube. This is a comedy special filmed entirely at his guest house during the pandemic. Just him. And just him setting up cameras and lights and doing stuff. And the first half of it is really funny in the way that his specials have always been funny. But it morphs into something very unusual and special. And so it’s not even like a standup special. It’s just sort of a film made by and starring only him and what he’s going through.
So just really so well done and so inventive and so remarkable. And so I recommend people check out Bo Burnham’s Inside.
Craig: Well my One Cool Thing I got from you, John, on Twitter. Megana, have you seen this? Jack Plotnick’s video Disney Made a Tiki Room?
Megana: Oh, yes, is this the one with the women and the birds?
Megana: Yes, I also saw that on John’s Twitter and laughed so much. It’s wonderful.
Craig: It’s amazing. So there was this old television show called, what was it, the Wonderful World of Disney, which would air on whatever it was, ABC, or something. And it would always begin with Walt talking to you about, you know, whatever things they were working on or the park or something. And then some movie or show would begin.
And it looks I guess that this is from one of those. And Disney had the Tiki Room. I don’t know if it still exists. But it was not one of their better attractions. It was kind of known as the thing you would go into because it was really hot and you didn’t want to wait in line.
And he’s talking and in the background there are just four women in very ‘60s/’70s clothing working on building these animatronic birds. And Jack Plotnick sort of puts himself in all of their wardrobe, plays all of them. And through the magic of editing, and brilliant acting, like very subtle shades.
John: Really good acting.
Craig: He manages to make all those women their own person and you know them instantly. And it is brilliantly funny. It’s just so well done. And it even has its own villain. Its own unlikely villain. And it just – we know the song. We know the song.
Anyway, you’ve got to see it. It’s wonderful. Jack Plotnick is a very funny, very talented guy. Disney Made a Tiki Room.
John: So I’ve known Jack peripherally for like 20 years. I think I probably know him through Melissa McCarthy and a whole bunch of those friends. Just so talented. And obviously what we’re seeing here is not even really drag, because the character work is so specific.
Craig: No, it’s acting.
John: It’s just acting and really small subtle details. So if you like this the good news is it’s not just this video. He has equivalent things for the Plaza restaurant. And the Small World ride. And basically all the stuff that’s happening. And so he’s playing all these women who are around Walt Disney while he’s doing these things and their side conversations. It’s just so smartly done.
Craig: It really is. And like, yeah, I would watch a movie of these women together.
John: And actually very much a good match to the Bo Burnham because like he is somehow doing this all himself and is just a remarkable writer and filmmaker in addition to being such a great performer.
Craig: He’s a really good editor. I’ve got to say.
Craig: Or if someone is working with him and editing, apologies, but the editing was outstanding.
John: The jokes are working because they’re cut so perfectly.
Craig: Brilliantly. Speed. Tempo. Rhythm. All of it. Lovely.
John: Good stuff. That is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao.
Craig: You know it is.
John: It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: Our outro is by Eric Pearson. If you have an outro you can send us a link at firstname.lastname@example.org. The folder is getting a little bit thin, so we would love some more outros coming in please.
email@example.com is also where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For short questions on Twitter, I’m @johnaugust.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find transcripts and sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting which has lots of links to things about writing.
You can sign up to become a premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments like the one we’re about to record on UFOs. Craig and Megana, thank you so much.
Megana: Thanks guys.
Craig: Thanks guys.
John: So, So Craig a lot of news about UFOs this last week. So, I’m linking to a New York Times story here. US Finds No Evidence of Alien Technology in Flying Objects But Can’t Rule it Out Either. There’s a bunch of navy footage, including naval video footage, of navy fighter jets seeing this stuff and like we don’t know what that is, but it’s moving fast.
Craig: Why don’t they just title this People Still Can’t Prove a Negative? That’s what this article should be called. I liked it. Can’t rule it out. Yeah, of course, can’t rule anything out.
John: No. Craig, let’s break this down granularly. So these navy pilots are seeing things in person and on their screens. What do you think these unidentified flying objects they are encountering are? What are some possibilities in your head for what they’re seeing?
Craig: Possibilities are things that are very close to the cameras but through distortion appear to be far away. They could be video artifacts. They could be things that through optical illusion appear to be in different places when they’re really in one. Distortion of something. Or they could be aliens flying around in such a way as to be seen, but only by fighter jets, and only vaguely. And never landing or doing anything. Just flying around.
Craig: So those are the choices.
John: Yeah. I have friends who have seen UFOs in person. And they’re not telling me they saw alien spacecraft. But they saw, like at a lake. A bunch of them at nighttime saw this thing that like what the hell is that. And they could not understand what it was they were seeing at a distance.
My inclination is it is something like that. It is something like how mirages form and distortions of things. Stuff that is not where it’s supposed to be. It’s understandable that there’s a real phenomenon that you’re encountering, but that does not mean that it’s an alien out there.
Craig, do you believe that there is other intelligent life in the universe?
John: Yes. And do you believe that intelligent life in the universe has at any point visited earth?
John: I am not so certain of that. I think it’s more plausible that an alien civilization would have visited earth at some time during our whatever billion years the earth has been around. I don’t know that they’re ever encountered our civilization or would even be curious about our civilization.
Craig: I mean, yeah, it’s possible that they stopped over, looked around, said this is a real shithole. It’s full of large lizards and plants and it’s very humid and let’s go. Because humans have been on this planet for a blink of an eye in terms of the planet’s history. Yeah, so it’s possible that they did that. In the way that we landed a rover on Mars and then we die and four billion years from now there are Martians and they’re like I wonder if anybody from another planet got here. Yeah, OK, well we did, but who cares? It was just a rover. It doesn’t matter.
But, no, I think that if you have the technology to fly across massive distances, enormous hard to comprehend distances, and bring your ships here, then you would do so with a purpose. And you certainly would not be doing this, which is just taunting pilots by zipping around weirdly and doing sort of circus aerial tricks. It just doesn’t make any sense.
John: Now, one of the things on the list of possibilities which I don’t think you included was that these actually are aircraft but they’re not aircraft that we are currently aware of. That they could be other countries’ drones, or things like that, that we’re just not aware of how they work.
Craig: Unlikely. Unlikely that other countries have built something that is so spectacularly superior to what we have that we can’t even believe our eyes. And yet still are flying it around in front of us. It’s all very, very unlikely. Doesn’t quite add up.
UFOs, particularly wonderful term for what these things are. They are unidentified flying objects which would cover alien spacecraft, bugs, dirt, drones.
Craig: Blimps. Everything.
Craig: Correct. So, the fact that we can’t explain what our eyes just saw, I know we want to say listen to these pilots when they’re talking, listen to how amazed they are. Well, OK, now go watch Harrison Ford see David Blaine pull a card out of a piece of fruit in his house. It’s the same face. But it doesn’t mean that it’s magic. It just means we got fooled by something. And sometimes we’re fooled by things that we can’t believe. Optical illusions alone, we’ve said many times, just the existence of optical illusions should give us enough doubt about the value of our own eyes.
John: Now, you are a skeptic at this moment. But at any point did younger Craig Mazin like UFOs? Because I remember going through a period, six, seven, eight, maybe all the way up to ten, where stuff like the Power of the Pyramids, loved it. The Bermuda Triangle. Loved all that stuff. And, yes, I outgrew it. But did you ever have that phase?
Craig: I never believed any of it. I never believed in god. I never believed in pyramids.
John: You never had Santa Claus.
Craig: No, I mean, I believed in the story of Santa Claus. I mean, I knew that there was a narrative. So like he existed the way that the Grinch existed. They’re characters. But I never believed in angels, demons, devils. The Bermuda Triangle is obviously nonsense. What’s the point? That’s really what would happen is I would read this and go why? Why would there be a thing there where ships go through a hole in the world and land somewhere? What’s the point?
John: Because the City of Atlantis has to be somewhere Craig.
Craig: It really doesn’t. [laughs]
John: It only makes sense that Atlantis would be in the Bermuda Triangle.
Craig: Sure. And that it would need ships to get pulled through? None of it makes sense. None of it ever added up. There is no Sasquatch. None of that crap. There’s no Loch Ness Monster. It’s all nonsense and it’s always been nonsense.
And, yes, I’m aware that I’m lumping God in with Sasquatch. But it’s all the same to me.
John: Hmm. Do you think we will find another cool mammal somewhere on earth? Like a big cool mammal?
Craig: Yeah, that is very possible. In certain remote regions we can discover. Will we discover a mammal that has never been seen before? That is unlikely to me. But will we rediscover one that we thought was extinct? I think that actually has happened a few times. I could see that happening again.
John: It has. Certainly with mammals and also with fish. I feel like the oceans are so vast and we’ve explored so little of them. I think there’s probably very interesting stuff down there that we’ve not even begun to explore.
Craig: Yes. The depths of the ocean. There are fish down there we have not yet laid eyes on.
John: Craig, if an alien spacecraft were to visit earth, let’s assume you’re president of earth. I think that’s a fair assumption. What do you do?
Craig: Oh, well, if an intelligent life form visits the planet I would treat them as visitors. And welcome them to the planet, and tell them how excited that we are that they’re here. We presume they’re here to have an exchange of ideas, cultures, learn about each other. And if they’re here to destroy us, well, I guess we’ll find out if they can. Because if they can, they will.
But I would also just wonder why. Now, of course, I’m sure that a lot of the people who are sitting around in countries that got colonized by the British were also like why? Why are you doing this? And then they’re like, oh, you need stuff that we have. So it’s possible. That’s the standard plot of the movie.
John: They’re going to use us as food or to work in your mines.
Craig: We’re not great food.
John: We’re not great food, no.
Craig: For instance, we have a lot of a certain mineral that they really, really need. It turns out you know what’s incredibly rare in the universe? The rarest element in the universe is iron. And we have all of it. Then I could see that being a huge problem. But short of that I would hope that they were just like, hey, just as we would. I mean, it seems like if we were flying around and we landed a rover on Mars and a Martian came out and said hello that we would be like, “This is amazing. Hi. Don’t watch Fox News. But look at this. Look at this. Here’s a John Lennon song.”
John: So, all right, Craig, I’m a little saddened to not believe in these UFOs, but also I get it. I understand. I don’t want to be a pessimist. I don’t think human beings in our form will ever leave the solar system. I think our bodies are just not meant to be in space that long.
Craig: The solar system is very hard to leave. Yeah, that’s really hard to leave. Just traveling to Mars would be very difficult. Grueling and lengthy journey of many, many months and quite a number of dangers. All to land on the closest planet to us.
John: Yeah. The most hospitable planet.
Craig: Correct. The closest and most hospitable. Exactly. But, yeah, getting out of the solar system. Unless we have our Star Trek First Contact moment where someone invents the hyperspace drive. Oh, I’m going to get yelled at because it’s not called that. The Hyper Warp Drive. I’m sorry.
John: Warp Drive.
Craig: C’mon guys.
John: I predict that within maybe not my lifetime but my daughter’s lifetime we might find the equivalent of a Dyson Sphere or something that’s out there that indicates like, oh, there is actually a huge engineered project out there that shows that OK there’s some other civilization out there.
Craig: My concern is that we routinely underestimate the vast nature of what is out there. That we are essentially an atom inside of an elephant. And we are imagining is there another atom like us somewhere near the tail, or by the toe. Hubble has seen quite, quite far for us. And they ain’t seen nothing yet.
John: But it’s also easy to underestimate our kind of logarithmic progress in computing power and ability to sort of look, look, look, look, look, and as it increases we might actually start to make a dent in our visible area of space.
Craig: John, you know how they say that the universe is endlessly expanding?
Craig: Doesn’t that remind you of when you’re walking around in a videogame and the background just keeps filling in on you?
Craig: You know what I’m saying?
John: I do. Yeah. When there’s a little lag, a little latency. Like, oh, it’s pixilated now. It’s filling in.
Craig: There it is. The better the telescope, the more nothing it will see because this isn’t real.
John: Oh no. Getting back to that.
Craig: It’s not real. What are the odds that we’re the only, I mean, come on. We’ve been around here. We’ve got all this stuff and telescopes and things and, nope, not even one little tiny thing after all this time. It’s because this is a big show. It’s not real. Simulation.
John: Yeah. And now it’s over.
Craig: Wait, now?
John: [laughs] At least this episode of the show is over.
Craig: Oh yeah. And boy, talk about lack of free will.
John: Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thank you John and thank you Megana. Megana, I hope I didn’t bum you out too much.
Megana: I hate when we get to the simulation point.
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- Jacob Kaplan-Moss on estimating software development
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