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 514 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Often on the show we talk about what’s happening in the WGA West, but today we’ll be taking a look at our sister union in the East and the debate over who the WGA should represent. Then we’ll be answering listener questions about reading lists, blue skies, bad agents, and bored executives.
John: And in our bonus segment for premium members we will discuss how life has gotten better in the past few decades.
Craig: Doesn’t seem like it has, but it has.
John: But it actually has.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: And Craig this is our kind of unofficial but also official 10th Anniversary show. Ten years ago–
Craig: Oh my god.
John: Was the first episode of Scriptnotes. So we’ll be doing later talking about sort of what actually happened over those ten years, but I do want to celebrate this milestone of ten years of doing this show.
Craig: That’s terrifying.
John: It is. It’s genuinely terrifying.
Craig: Yeah. We are aging and what we’re doing is leaving behind ourselves this enormous digital wake of yapping. But I do think for guys who have been doing it for ten years we still have stuff to say.
John: We still have stuff to say. I mean, as I said on our Episode 100 I had confessed that I didn’t know that we would make it past 100 because I’d felt we would run out of things. Nope, stuff just keeps coming.
Craig: Oh you thought we wouldn’t make it past 100 episodes?
Craig: Oh man. What’s today’s episode?
Craig: Oh man, we made it. So the question is are we going to make it to a 1,000?
John: I don’t know. We could.
Craig: Has any podcast made it to a thousand?
John: Well I don’t think podcasts have really kind of been along that long. Although there’s podcasts who do it twice or three times a week, so obviously they would have made it to a thousand.
John: Yeah. But for a weekly show that’s good.
Craig: I think it’s amazing.
John: You were saying before we started recording that Bo who works with you started listening to this when she was in college. So, just crazy.
Craig: Oh god.
John: Or high school maybe even. Who knows?
Craig: Possibly high school. Well, no, she said she started listening to it when we was 20. So she was in college. But we started recording the show I think when she was in high school. So if we do this again, we keep going, and we make it to a thousand there will be people working for us who were not even born.
John: Born, yes.
Craig: When we started the show.
Craig: Well that’s going to be great.
Craig: They’re not going to resent us and our stupid old selves. Not at all.
John: So let’s start this episode by looking back at looking forward. So this is a question from Martin in Sandringham, Australia who writes, “Hey John and Craig. In Episode 167 back in 2014 you discussed superhero movies on the slate for the following seven years and I was wondering if you could now revisit this and see how it all unfolded in reality.” And Martin also notes “I did shudder when John posed the question about what the world would be like in 2020. Craig thought that we would all have phones implanted in our ears.”
Craig: Earbuds. Not far off.
John: We have our earbuds.
Craig: Not far off.
John: Not far off at all. We’ll put a link in the show notes to the transcript from that episode. And also the archived version of the article we were talking about, because this was an article on Newsarama that was sort of laying out the next seven years of superhero movies.
But I thought we’d take a look through and sort of what’s supposed to be there and what actually was there and Megana took a look at really tried to chart what movies actually came out on the days that they were supposed to come out and a surprising number did. So let’s take a look back, start back in 2015.
So 2015 was predicted for The Avengers, Age of Ultron, Fantastic Four from Fox, and Ant Man. Those all came out on the days they were supposed to which is good because that was the year the article came out. So within one year is pretty easy to predict what movies are going to come out within a year.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, did we doubt that they were coming out?
Craig: Oh, good, well OK.
John: I don’t think we doubted it. But I think we were at the time surprised that any studio could have the hubris to suggest like oh this is the next seven years of movies we’re going to make.
Craig: I do remember this now. This is coming back to me from six years ago or whatever it was, seven years ago.
John: So 2016 the predictions were for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. That did happen.
John: They said Captain America 3 which became Captain America Civil War. X-Men Apocalypse. I don’t really remember.
Craig: It did happen.
John: It did happen?
John: Doctor Strange was the untitled Marvel film. The untitled DC film was Suicide Squad and both of those came out on the date they said they were predicted to. But, the first movie that never happened, November 11 was supposed to be Sinister Six from Sony.
Craig: What the?
John: Sinister Six is a bunch of the Spider-Man villains.
Craig: Oh, so Suicide Squad.
John: Yeah, kind of. But different and better. And if I remember correctly I think Drew Goddard was supposed to be doing that. So, I feel bad that didn’t happen.
Craig: All right.
Megana Rao: Sorry. Doctor Strange was supposed to come out on July 8 but ended up being pushed to November of that year.
John: So Megana with a correction here.
Craig: Ah, OK. Yeah, but I’ll give them that four month leeway there. That’s OK.
John: Yeah, some sliding.
John: So we get to 2017. Fox had slated an untitled Wolverine sequel. That came out on the day that they predicted. So, March 3 that came out.
Craig: Logan, yeah.
John: That’s Logan. An untitled Marvel film came out which was Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, originally scheduled for May but it came out in July.
Craig: It looks like it was originally scheduled for July and came out in May. That’s weird.
John: Oh is that right?
Craig: Yeah, it looks like they made it go faster. By the way I’ve got to tip my hat to the studios. The plan is working. This is terrifying.
John: Yeah. You’re going to notice that the Marvel films tend to be running much more on schedule than the other studios. Not a shock there.
John: Sony had Venom: Carnage, a Spider-Man spinoff. So it wasn’t called Carnage. The new movie is called Carnage.
John: But Venom came out and it they didn’t have a date for it but they said 2017. It actually came out in 2018. But it did happen.
John: But they were also supposed to have a female Spider-Man spinoff.
Craig: That did not happen.
John: No. There’s an untitled DC film set for November 17. That was Justice League. And then came out when it was supposed to. There were two untitled Marvel films on the release schedule for 2017. Those became Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, although Black Panther actually got pushed to 2018. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 came out. Spider-Man: Homecoming out. And the untitled DC film became Wonder Woman which was a big hit.
Craig: So basically they’re getting everything right. I guess the question is what did they get wrong and there hasn’t been so much. There’s Sinister Six. And that’s kind of it. Oh, and then there was a female Spider-Man spinoff that didn’t happen. And then they kind of got everything else sort of right. Well, OK, once we start getting into 2018, and this is not surprising, it gets a little cloudier, right? Because they wanted a Flash movie. That didn’t seem to happen.
John: No. Captain Marvel came out later than was expected.
Craig: But you know I give them credit for that.
John: Yeah. Nothing bad about that. Moving into 2019 there’s an untitled DC film. That was probably Shazam. That came out in 2019.
John: We got some Avengers: End Game. There’s an untitled DC film which you could say was the Suicide Squad sequel. That came out this past year. There wasn’t really another movie in between there that could have fit that bill. We got some Birds of Prey. We got some Wonder Woman 1984. Fox had slated for 2020 a Fantastic Four 2.
Craig: That didn’t sound like it happened.
John: No. The thing is you don’t get the 2s if the first one doesn’t work. That’s the problem.
Craig: Impressive though. Overall you know what studios? I’m sorry for doubting you. I’m sorry for doubting your commitment to making 4,000 superhero movies.
John: Yeah. They said they were going to do it and you know what they did it. Some things didn’t come out on time. Some things were big hits. Some things were not big hits. But they can do it. So I guess it’s the planners in those departments, the big whiteboards, it’s nice when it actually works out for them.
Craig: If I say “I’m starting to doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion” do you know what I’m quoting?
John: I do. That is from Donnie Darko?
Craig: It is.
John: All right.
Craig: Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion. Richard Kelly.
John: Yup. A frequent Scriptnotes guest.
John: Great. Last week, or two weeks ago actually. Last time Craig was on the show we talked about conspiracy theories. And we answered a listener question about whether the writing conspiracy theories in movies and TV shows in 2021 is moral and ethical given sort of the craziness that’s out there. And we had people reach out on Twitter saying, yeah, that’s a great conversation. I think that you brought some really good points. Then we had people email in to say, no, those were not good points and you’re wrong.
Craig: Let’s see how they did.
John: So Megana you got a lot to read this week.
Craig: Let’s play the Make Craig Angry game.
John: Yeah. So I wanted to include some of them because not only did they raise counterpoints, but in many cases they are great examples of logical fallacies.
Craig: I had a feeling.
John: And so Megana if you could start us off. I know you got a lot of reading this week, so pace yourself. But why don’t you start with Matt in LA.
Megana: Matt in LA writes, “I think you’re giving Hollywood far too much credit. Conspiracy theories have existed for thousands of years throughout the world. The most obvious example historically is probably the centuries of villainizing Jewish people for pretty much anything. I’m not saying to write conspiracy movies or not write them. I’m not saying Hollywood hasn’t played some part. I’m just saying conspiracy theories have always been around and this isn’t the first time in history they’ve gotten ugly.”
Craig: That’s the worst. Ugh. Count the mistakes.
John: But Craig there are worse examples of fallacies here. So, I would call this as sort of what-about-ism. It’s sort of like it’s kind of changing the topic or redefining. Because I think we’re not talking about the same things. There’s scapegoating which is what you’re sort of doing to Jewish people and atrocities. Or that there’s evil forces out there. But that’s not the same thing as the government is both incredibly competent at keeping secrets but also we know they’re incompetent. That there’s a giant governmental plan to suppress or do something dastardly that’s being kept from you. That’s the kind of conspiracy theory we’re talking about which is different than sort of this idea that Jewish people are the root of all problems.
Craig: Even if these were equivalent comments it still wouldn’t make any sense because just because something is true doesn’t mean it is the only thing that is true. The fact that conspiracy theories have existed for thousands of years has absolutely nothing to do with the pernicious practice of spreading or fomenting additional conspiracy theories.
OK, so COVID-19 is out there. Therefore one should not blame some new lab for spilling some I don’t know chemical into the air. One has nothing to do with the other. Yes, there have been conspiracy theories and also we shouldn’t make it worse. How do you possibly argue with that statement? Well, Matt in LA has figured it out. I disagree with you Matt completely. 100 billion percent.
John: So I think where the scapegoating and conspiracy theories overlap is that they can be pernicious lies and they’re sort of memes that spread by themselves. But I think a conspiracy theory is different in that it has this unprovable, untestable claim and that if you try to push back against it they’ll say, oh, that’s what they want you to believe. Basically there’s no way to sort of package it up and defeat it because it’s always going to say like, oh, that’s exactly what they would want you to believe.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, just because we’re saying that Hollywood makes it worse doesn’t mean we’re saying Hollywood invented it. We’re just saying that we have a responsibility to not promote conspiratorial thinking. If everybody stopped promoting conspiratorial thinking there would be fewer conspiracy theorists in the world. They would never be eliminated, but there would be fewer. This is unobjectionable.
John: I think we’re also talking about how in so many of our movies the protagonist’s role is that conspiracy person, the one who is standing up against a hidden system of injustice that I only believe the truth and only I can expose it. And I think we are valorizing that person at our detriment sometimes because people want to identify with that person. Oh, I want to be obviously the hero in my own story, so therefore I should not believe what’s out there.
Craig: I mean, Matt knows this.
John: I think Matt knows this, too.
Craig: I think Matt’s just griping. Let’s see. I’m sure the other ones are going to be better. [laughs]
John: Help us out with Nate if you could, Megana.
Megana: OK. So Nate says, “I’m firmly pro-science and pro-logic. Yet, I’m concerned this sort of thinking is a big step on the path toward banning books or even burning them. We should never stifle works on art based on what the lowest common denominator might take from them. Not only would we miss out on the fun of fictional movies like The Manchurian Candidate or Conspiracy Theory, but more tragically we could no longer dramatize important true stories, like All the President’s Men, The Insider, Erin Brockovich, Spotlight, or The Post.
“I realize you weren’t suggesting our government might make it illegal to write conspiracy-related films.”
Craig: Thank you.
Megana: “But even self-censorship can be a dangerous proposition. So let’s just keep telling compelling stories that inform and/or entertain and remind ourselves that stupid is as stupid does and there’s nothing we can do about that.”
John: So many things wrapped up in this one.
Craig: Oh, Nate.
John: So, Nate, you are both slippery-sloping and straw-manning which is a hard thing. But basically you built a strawman and then you put it on a slippery slope down to–
Craig: You know what he’s doing? He’s Slippery-Manning.
John: He is slippery-manning.
Craig: And you know who likes that?
John: Oh no!
John: No. No.
Craig: That’s right.
John: 10 years.
Craig: Nah. Go on. Talk about slippery-manning. Sexy Craig loves slippery-manning.
John: All right. So and again at the end Nate is trying to pull it out like let’s all agree that this is a reasonable thing. And that’s its own kind of thing, like trying to find a middle ground. Middle-grounding there at the end.
It’s really frustrating. Again, the strawman here is that you are saying that we said something we did not say which is that we should categorically not make these kinds of movies. We’re saying that we should actually think about the kinds of movies we make and the things we depict onscreen, which is a thing we do. It’s a thing we’ve decided we’re going to do as a culture, as filmmakers, as TV makers.
John: We’re going to decide what to portray and it’s changed over the decades. It just has. You look at shows from 20, 30 years ago, they were depicting the world differently. That’s progress.
Craig: Yeah. You know what? John, why are you self-censoring? I mean, it’s not illegal to make a movie where people are in blackface. So why are you self-censoring? It’s really dangerous. [laughs] This is so stupid, Nate. I don’t even know how to wrap my mind around it. Also, I don’t believe you believe this. You say you’re pro-logic. I challenge that. Because come on, man. Self-censorship is part and parcel with artistic creation. We are constantly making choices and then we’re constantly self-editing. Editing. Restraining. Refining. Holding back. Pushing forward. These are choices we make. What is your suggestion? That we just never consider the world around us when we tell stories?
That’s just ridiculous. And you are absolutely engaging in the most bizarre slippery-sloping. Do you really think that this is a “big step on the path toward banning or burning books?” Nate, Nate, come on, man. Cut it out. This is fun. Who is next? I’m enjoying this.
Megana: So Elijah says, “Yes, some people doing their own research will be led to the wrong conclusions, but others like myself know how to do research properly and wouldn’t have trusted the COVID-19 if I wasn’t able to verify from multiple doctors and healthcare professionals that it is safe.”
John: All right. So I wanted to save that last little argument because Elijah had written other stuff, too, which is similar to other people. But that last part is a fallacy of illusory superiority. It’s that belief that when people overestimate their own qualities and abilities saying everyone who thinks that they’re better than average. And basically well I’m a person who can do my own research and therefore I can do this. Well, then you’re sort of be default saying other people aren’t smart enough to do their own research. It’s a weird trap to fall into.
Craig: Yeah. Also you don’t have to do research. If you are concerned about what multiple doctors and healthcare professionals think just go to the AMA website, or the CDC. There’s really no need to do research. The inability of Americans to do research is astonishing to me. They like to say the word research, but what they really mean is Googling crap from nonsense sites and talking to each other on Facebook. That’s not research at all.
Craig: Or misreading studies, which is almost a national pastime at this point.
John: It definitely is. I think if you’re going to look at what doctors recommend you might look at what doctors themselves are doing for themselves. And if you see 98% of doctors are vaccinating themselves.
John: That might be a sign that that’s a thing you want to do. I think inevitably everything leads to COVID these days, but I wanted to include that here just because of conspiracy theories and people writing in about this.
Craig: I suspect, I could be wildly wrong, but I suspect that the reason that Matt, Nate, and Elijah have written these comments is because they engage in conspiratorial thinking and they feel called out. And so they are defending. They feel defensive. This feels like defensive stuff. It doesn’t feel like a calm, rational, observation, or concern whatsoever. I think that they engage in conspiratorial thinking and they don’t like the fact that we don’t like it. And you failed to change our minds.
John: Yeah. I think I’m trying to be aware of situations where I am thinking conspiratorially, which is not about national government stuff, but there are definitely situations in which I can find myself guilty of conspiratorial thinking and I will try to take a step back from that. But I don’t believe that the overall system of the universe is rigged against me that I have to research everything to death to figure it out.
John: Dave from New Hampshire I think actually had an email here that could point us to a way out.
Craig: Oh good.
John: So Megana if you could share Dave’s email here.
Megana: “If movies and television can exacerbate this conspiracy theory problem, could they also help fight it? I’m working on my first screenplay now. It’s a dark comedy set during the satanic panic of the 1980s and one of the major themes is about how dangerous and harmful conspiracy theories can be. Do you have any thoughts on how my or any other movie could be effective in slowing the spread of conspiracy theories?”
John: Yeah, Dave. So first off I think that’s a great thing to look at, because I remember that time. And D&D was of course wildly implicated in it and it was nuts. So here’s my suggestion is rather than have the outside character sort of pointing to this conspiracy theory is crazy and wrong, if you can find a person who believes the conspiracy theory and is able to get their way out of thinking that the conspiracy theory is true. That’s actually genuinely helpful. Because we have very few examples of people finding their way out of these labyrinthian traps of conspiratorial thinking. And if you can show that and show that progress that is terrific.
Craig: I agree. What you’re doing is certainly one way of doing it as well which is to look at the aftermath because one of the hallmarks of conspiratorial thinkers is that they leap frog from one conspiracy to another. Their stock and trade is mobile goal posts.
So, if one of their hard thought and hard one beliefs is just absolutely finally proven to be utter nonsense they move onto a new one. It’s what they do. And it’s important to follow up and to show everybody that they thought this, they promoted it, and they were wrong, and here’s the proof. That’s important. That matters.
The satanic panic of the 1980s was real, it was insane. By the way, the nonsense about whatever it was, the missing children. Remember how obsessed everyone was with missing children when we were kids?
John: Definitely. Child abductions. Stranger dangers.
Craig: Child abductions. Stranger danger. The threat to children was vastly overrated. What was underrated was how many kids were being hurt inside their own homes. So, Megana, you’re going to find this hard to believe but when John and I were children, first of all they would make us drink milk in school. So let’s just start with how stupid that is. And John I don’t know if your school district did this, but in our school district in New York City they put pictures of kids on milk. Like on the side of the milk carton. Missing. I mean?
John: Yeah. I knew what that was.
Craig: It was crazy.
John: For whatever reason our Boulder dairies did not care about missing children.
Craig: I see.
John: And so it would never print those photographs. They were involved obviously in the child abductions.
Craig: I don’t know why they thought milk – like why was milk the thing? People who like milk tend to also be great detectives? I don’t know. Anyway, the point being it needed to be debunked. And we must constantly debunk because it is the only thing I think that will stop people who are salvageable from continuing on that path. So I think you’re doing it. And I think John’s suggestion is terrific. Documentaries are a great idea.
And if you are doing a story where there is a conspiracy make sure to underscore how mundane it is, because most conspiracies are brutally mundane. They are not conspiracies of malicious people seeking to puppet master the world. They’re usually conspiracy theories of mediocrities covering up their own mess.
John: Yup. And a couple people, we trimmed these out of the emails, but they were saying like, oh, but Craig is being hypocritical because in Chernobyl he was talking about government cover up. But that is covering up a mistake. That is not from the start saying we’re going to do this thing and then we’re going to hide it.
John: No, they were actually just trying to cover their ass.
Craig: There was no conspiracy at Chernobyl. There was a cover up but there was no conspiracy. They didn’t do this so that it would blow up. They just built a bad reactor because it was cheap. And then they kind of crossed their fingers and hoped that it would work. And then it blew up and then they tried to hide it. That’s not a conspiracy.
But that sad that people don’t understand the difference. In fact, I was pretty proud of how clearly we explained the mundanity, the kind of almost pathetic nature of the cause and aftermath of Chernobyl.
John: Yeah. All right, let’s move onto our next topic. So usually on the show we’re talking about the WGA West which is the organization that represents all the screenwriters and television writers west of the Mississippi, although you really could be nationwide. But most of when we talk about people running for office and the drama we’re really talking about the West, even though the East and West work together a lot.
But over the past month there’s new stuff coming out from the East that I think is worth talking about on the show. We’ve had East members on the podcast before. And many people involved are friends and colleagues. And so I really am sort of curious to talk through this because I think it’s an interesting issue that I think I can actually probably argue both sides pretty well about. And so far to everyone’s credit everyone is being really polite and civil and they’re really explaining themselves clearly and articulately. But no one is being finger-pointy and negative which is awesome and I love to see that.
So here’s what happening sort of overall. The WGA East represents film and TV writers like me and Craig, but they also represent folks who work for digital news outlets and things like Salon, or Slate, or Huff Post. And these digital places now account for almost 50% of the guild’s total membership. That can be a challenge because sometimes the things that the writers who are working for those organizations need are different than the ones who are working for the traditional studios, so folks who are writing for TV shows, movies, or for variety-comedy shows. And that’s the changing nature of the demographics there that is really the crux of this and it’s all coming to a head because there’s an election happening in the East and there’s a slate running for what’s called Inclusion and Experience which is basically how the guild has traditionally worked and a group called the Solidarity slate which is about continuing to organize these digital places.
Craig: Yeah. Well I will certainly give the Solidarity slate credit for a name that accurately represents what they stand for. The Inclusion and Experience ticket that’s kind of amusing because they really are quite overtly talking about exclusion, so that’s nifty.
So this is an interesting situation and we in the West contemplated many years ago when we were in the middle of our reality television organizing campaign. And there was a faction, a significant faction in the guild, that felt strongly that we should be organizing editors, reality television editors, into the WGA because the companies were essentially skirting around the idea of what a writer was by calling them editors. And they were editing, but they were also creating narrative.
And one of the arguments against this that was made by myself was that we would face an economic tremor. I wouldn’t call it an earthquake but there would be a tremor because – and this is where the law of unintended consequences rears up and gets you. For most people in these unions, I’m not talking about – some people are truly dedicated to certain aspects of what our unions do. Most members in our union and in the East I believe are primarily concerned about the preservation of residuals and the preservation of strong minimums and above all else a preservation of a strong and accessible healthcare plan.
The healthcare plan is entirely predicated on how much we earn. The companies put in a percentage of what we earn up to a certain number. We know that the amount of money you have to earn to qualify for healthcare is much lower than the amount of money that you have to earn to actually pay for your own healthcare. So, of course, the people who are earning more are subsidizing the people who earn less. And that’s a good part of a union. That’s how it should work.
However, that system only holds true if you have a certain kind of distribution of income. When you increase organization into an entire industry that across the board earns much less than the average income for the – well let’s call it traditional guild member – then you are absolutely going to negatively impact what your healthcare plan can do.
So, it’s an economic issue. I don’t think this is a moral issue per se. I think it’s just a straight up economic issue. The WGA East shouldn’t exist. Let me just go off into that. There’s a real easy way to solve this problem. We ought to have a national union with locals and our locals should serve the things that we do well. There should be locals that create their own contracts for news and for digital publishing and for television writing and for screenwriting. I would separate those two as well. And then you kind of work from there.
We should be organizing people. We should be bringing people into the union. But we are not designed – our current structure is not designed well for it. We have to revisit how we function as a union if this is what we want. Because if we think it’s as simple as just let them in, well, there’s going to be pushback and then there’s going to be as you can see – they’re not chicken little-ling here. It’s absolutely real. That economic tremor will grow and grow and grow.
John: So let’s talk about what unions do, because almost I’d say 95% of the discussion we’ve had on the show has been about, in terms of the WGA, has been about the contract with the studios, so the AMPTP, which is every three years we renegotiate and that is the basis of our minimums, our residuals, our healthcare plan, our family medical leave, all that stuff is an every three years negotiation with them. Or it’s been about the agency campaign which really just represents film and TV writers, traditional film and TV writers. The folks who are working under the auspices of the WGA who are not part of that contract would include news writers. In the WGA West we have some I think CBS people. There’s little bits and pockets. And the East often had broadcast news folks there, too, but now they have all of these digital houses.
Those are not working under the same contract. So the WGA is negotiating separate contracts with the individual employers here. Unions can absolutely work that way. That’s a great way for them to work. But it’s strange because most of the membership is working under one contract and then have these little pockets of things is different. And it becomes a question of focus. And when we see people who are working in IATSE or these giant unions that have all these disparate little pieces the needs of an editor in IATSE or god help them an animation in IATSE is not being as well served as they could be by a really dedicated, devoted union that was focusing on their specific needs.
Craig: Yeah. Now I think it would be fair for some people to question as many people have many, many times why do we need a WGA East and a WGA West? In particular for television and screenwriters why isn’t there some sort of folding in of those things? And there probably should be. Well, there definitely should be. It’s just sort of pointless. I don’t know if that would solve this particular problem.
A union is a good thing. And people working union jobs is a good thing. Not as you point out every union is good for every job simply because people work for the same corporation doesn’t mean that the same union should represent them. Maybe it used to function that way but given the way these corporations are structured now they are massive, they’re multinational. They have 400 divisions. They make sewing machines and they make movies.
So simple common employment isn’t the definition of common union membership. If the WGA East continues to organize digital writers as they are doing then, yes, it will become a digital writers union. Because it’s a very small union. There aren’t a lot of screenwriters and television writers who are in the WGA East. Much smaller union than the WGA West. And, yeah, absolutely. They will take over because it’s a democracy. That’s how democracy works.
It is a little squirmy to me to hear otherwise progressive individuals talking about keeping people from coming in because they don’t want changing demographics to cause an existential threat. That sure sounds like some nasty rhetoric to me. What you have to do is figure out how to restructure your organization to work for everybody fairly. I don’t think you can just shut the door.
John: I hear you there. And we’re going to include links in the show notes to various candidate statements that are talking through the various options and where they see the problems coming out there. So to try to explain what that argument would be is that because WGA East members can choose to join WGA West, film and TV writers could just choose to join the West, there’s a concern raised that a bunch of these writers might just say, “You know what? This is not the organization I signed up for. I’m just going to join the WGA West.” And East might just kind of collapse because most of the money is coming from film and TV writers.
That’s the existential threat to it.
Craig: It’s real. That’s real. If they don’t restructure that is correct. They would need to restructure in order to continue the path that they’re on.
John: And I think one thing that’s important to point out is that no one I’ve seen has ever suggested that the writers for these digital news places do not deserve a union. I think it’s the argument of sort of like what is a union that best would represent their needs and whether a different union would better serve them or spin them off into their own thing.
I’ll also include a link in the show notes to Adam Conover has a Twitter thread which I thought was a good explanation of the counterpoint to that which was that the kinds of places that are actually represented by the East or digital news places, they really are doing video. They’re doing stuff that kind of feels like TV but it’s not Netflix or it’s not Amazon. But it’s actually really kind of similar to that. And it’s the kind of stuff we keep talking about we need to make sure we are covering that because that’s going to be the next television.
Craig: Yeah, so I’m just reading it now. I think actually this is a pretty good version of the argument that I disagree with which is that common employment equals common union applicability. I just think it doesn’t necessarily work the same way like that. There is a reality you have to deal with. You can absolutely be a purist and you can just say we have to organize everybody. But my issue is the word “we.” We have to change what “we” is. Everyone ought to be organized. Everyone ought to be unionized in the face of corporate employment. I think it’s really important.
But the WGA East as it is currently constituted is a really poor delivery system for that. I do believe that. It is a very small union. It is kind of a boutique union that has continued to exist despite a thousand reasons for it not existing. Because a small but powerful group of very well paid writers in television and screen want it to, because they have I mean traditionally felt that they were a bit of a militant stake against a somewhat complacent and more company-friendly West, which would be surprising to hear – I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear.
John: So different now. I would also say that traditionally late night shows were made in the east coast and the writers who were working for those late night shows had a very specific set of needs and circumstances which was important. Now more late night variety comedy stuff is happening on both coasts so it’s not so exclusive to one guild or the other.
Craig: And the coast is no longer relevant either.
John: Where are these writers living? Most people moved home with their parents during the pandemic.
Craig: We all live on Zoom now. So the system has to be figured out there. Yes, if it continues in this way then the WGA will transform into a guild for digital writers. I guess that’s what we’re calling them, digital writers. And then I think a number of screen and television writers will go to the West. And transferring your membership from East to West is as simple as sending a letter to the executive director of the WGA East saying I want to transfer. And then they have to honor it by their constitution.
John: So, the last point I do want to bring up because I think it’s worth always remembering is that once upon a time there were animation who could have joined the WGA West and we always regret that animation was not covered by the West when it could have been. And instead those writers are kind of screwed and they’re in an Animation Guild which is not a powerful union and that’s not just money that’s being lost but it’s protections that writers who are working in animation really writing the same scripts as we’re writing for live action are not getting the protections that they deserve.
And so I want to make sure that – I want us to always be mindful of the fact that the stuff that we’re writing right now saying oh it’s not really what we’re doing, well for all we know in ten years it could be really the same thing as what we’re doing. And so to make sure that we’re not overlooking a very important group of writers who we are going to wish were in the WGA West because somehow they’re going to be in another union which is sort of a competitive union which is not going to have the same clout or power.
It becomes – I’m just always mindful that we need to be thinking not just about what are our needs in 2021, but 2041.
Craig: Yeah. I always like to point out that while we absolutely have a better situation for WGA writers than what is offered to writers in the Animation Guild, which is part of IATSE, that the people who run the Animation Guild are doing their best.
John: 100%. I don’t want to slag on them.
Craig: They got kind of a raw deal, too. But you’re right. Where I think it’s a little bit different is that animation writing, writing animated television or writing animated films is still what it is. We were snobby about it a long time ago and we shouldn’t have been. Writing for Gawker is not the same thing as what you or I do. It’s just a different business. It’s a different business. It’s a different occupation. It’s a different vocation. And it’s not going to be the same thing.
John: But writing for The Onion or writing for The Onion’s video things, you look at The Onion’s video production and that could 100% be the same kind of material that would be on a late night variety show.
Craig: Exactly. And so what’s happened is there hasn’t really been a discrimination. It’s just been sort of – we’ve been defining it as do you write stuff? Then come on into the union. If the Writers Guild, and I mean to say West and East, could just finally combine and then create divisions within, subdivisions, that addressed the specific contract needs and economic realities of the writers in those divisions then this could absolutely work. If we don’t it can’t. It just can’t. Because 40 or 50 years from now people writing for Gawker will still not be doing the things that you or I do. It’s just a different thing. It’s not worse or better, but it is different.
We have that problem with news. And like you said in the West we don’t have many news members. And they are terribly underrepresented by us. They shouldn’t be part of our union. I think they get a terrible raw deal being a part of our union because we just ignore, because there’s very few of them. And in the East they’ve always had a lot more and there’s been a lot of conflict out there between news writers and television and screenwriters. So, we have to think much, much bigger.
Will the WGA West and the WGA East consider merging and restructuring and thinking bigger to do a better job of organizing and unionizing as many writers as it can? My prediction is no. So I’m very curious to see what happens in the East. This is an interesting watershed moment.
John: Agreed. All right. Let’s get onto our other listener questions. We have a bunch and we’ll see how many we can get through. Megana, do you want to start us off with Ghosted?
Megana: Great. So Ghosted writes, “Earlier this year two WGA writers approached me about writing a script from a treatment they wished to produce. They were offering $10,000 on behalf of a third producer. After some video calls I wrote a treatment and received the contract and commencement fee of $2,500. The contract makes clear that the project is a guaranteed first draft, rewrite, and polish. Although it doesn’t mention my treatment.
“I delivered a very good first draft on time and I received extensive notes, but no payment. After I asked what was going on the producer said that this draft didn’t count as a first draft and that I would be required to do additional rewrites until they were ready to call it a first draft. They promised it would only be one rewrite, but their notes indicated huge changes to structure, tone, et cetera, much of which conflicted with what we had discussed before I began writing. It would end up being a page one rewrite and they hinted this could become as many as eight rewrites.
“At first I considered doing the unpaid rewrite as a courtesy, because I’m an idiot and was dazzled by the opportunity, but the communication with the writer-producers became increasingly hostile and toxic to the point where I just wanted to leave the project. I emailed the main producer with whom I have the contract saying I would do the additional rewrites if I could just deal directly with him. After not hearing back I let them know I expected payment for the first draft and won’t be doing any free rewrites. It’s been about three months and I still haven’t heard back.
“Obviously based on the fee I’m not in the WGA and to make writers worse I’m not in the US. The contract says that disputes must be handled via arbitration but the fee to initiate arbitration would eat almost all of what I’m owed. I don’t really have that money to gamble so what should I do next?”
Craig: Oh dear god.
John: Oh dear god. Craig, so I’ve actually emailed back and forth with Ghosted a few times, but I’m really curious what your first thoughts are here.
Craig: Well, this is deeply regrettable. WGA members simply should not be doing this. It doesn’t matter if you can do it legally. In this case Ghosted works overseas so they can work in a way that is not covered by the WGA, but it’s just immoral. You are in our guild. You’re part of our union. You’re supposed to be part of the promotion and protection of the status of professional screenwriters. You offered $10,000 for a script which is atrocious.
Craig: And you also I don’t know if the two writers asked for a new treatment or not, the contract and commencement fee $2,500. You know, that’s embarrassing. Like they should feel embarrassed for offering that kind of money to another person. Do it yourself or offer a real fee. Don’t exploit people. That’s just exploitation as far as I’m concerned. And it’s wrong. And I hope that they set it right. Maybe they will hear this and they can set it right.
At the very least pay the $10,000.
Craig: That is owed. Or I guess in this case the $7,500. And I don’t care if the script is the worst thing you ever read. You hired that person, you’re accountable. That’s the way it works.
John: Hiring somebody is a gamble. And you gambled on this writer. And this writer delivered on time. And you may not be happy with it, but that’s not their problem. This is the situation that you’re in and you’ve messed it up by not getting back to this person, by being rude and dismissive. Pay this writer. It didn’t work out and you need to move on. That’s frustrating.
Craig: We’re hearing one side of the story.
Craig: So in my mind I’m altering it. I’m imagining a version of the story where Ghosted is just nuts and the worst writer ever, which is not true I’m sure. But let’s just say that Ghosted was nuts and wrote a really bad script. It doesn’t matter. You made an agreement which you shouldn’t have made in the first place because it was too low. And by the way you get what you pay for. They offered this money. They’re not giving it. And when they got the script they did the thing that we have been fighting against other people doing for decades which is saying, “Oh, it’s not really a draft because I need you to write eight drafts, or four drafts, or even just two drafts for the price of one.” Not even the price of one draft. The price of one-seventh of a draft.
That’s outrageous. You can’t do that. And it’ll get around. And it’s not going to work for you, either. I just don’t understand what the theory was here.
John: Yeah. I mean, karma will come back to you because the way you’re mistreating this writer others will mistreat you. And it’s bad and shameful. So, specific advice for Ghosted. Ghosted asked should I register the script so I can at least prove that I wrote this in case it ever becomes a thing. Yeah. I mean, you have your email your back and forth to show that you wrote this thing. It exists in a chain of title. If you really feel like registering it for copyright in your country or the US, you can. If you feel like registering with the WGA, that doesn’t actually do anything other than prove that you wrote it at a certain time, which your email already does. I don’t think that matters.
I don’t think it’s really worth necessarily starting the arbitration. If there’s basically a no cost way to indicate that you are starting it, or just basically do the very first little checkmark of I’m doing this thing I suspect they will just pay you out to make you go away, and that’s not the worst thing.
I feel for Ghosted because Ghosted is afraid of naming these writers because he doesn’t want to blow up his career. But also these people don’t deserve – they don’t deserve whatever success they’ve had so far. They don’t deserve to be hiring other writers.
Craig: Well, yeah. I mean, look if they can only afford to pay $10,000 for a script from a treatment then they are not in a position to blow your career up. They’re just not important enough. If they can’t afford to pay you real money they’re not important enough.
John: Yeah. And it seems like it’s not even their money, it’s the producer’s money. So really your argument is kind of even more about this producer. This producer needs to pay you the money.
Craig: Yeah. Whoever agreed to pay you the money needs to pay you the money. And they need to stop engaging in this kind of arrangement. I consider it to be unethical. Deeply unethical. And exploitative. And not becoming who we are as professional writers. And if they don’t feel like writing something themselves then they ought to stand up for the people that get hired. And I have been in situations where other writers have disappointed me. And that happens. That’s called life.
Just as you and I have disappointed other people. You pay them and you move on. You don’t do this. And I agree, John, practically speaking the situation here is such that I think the best Ghosted can hope for is perhaps that they settle out at $0.50 on the dollar or maybe they just pay Ghosted off to go away. But if there’s anything you’ve learned, Ghosted, it’s if you’re going to get paid $10,000 to write a script get paid as much as possible upfront. And if they refuse then they don’t even have $10,000 as far as I’m concerned. And now you’re dealing with knuckleheads.
John: I agree. Megana, what do you have for us?
Megana: So Audrey asks, “I recently had a meeting with a production company over Zoom. It was an informal chat about a project they’re looking for writers on. I’d be really excited to work on it and wanted to demonstrate my enthusiasm for the project, but I struggled because one of the women in the meeting just looked so bored. It wasn’t even that she looked like she was reading something else or checking emails. She was listening to me, but no matter what I said or did she looked totally unamused. Do you guys have tips for dealing with meetings like this? And how do I focus on the engaged listeners and not the bored ones?”
John: Oh, yeah, I’ve been there.
Craig: Me too.
John: So here’s what I’ll say. There always was the bored person in the room during a pitch, but in real life you just don’t look at that person. And on Zoom you can’t help but sort of see that person because their face is right there and you kind of can notice more like, ugh, that person is really bored and that sucks. As long as it’s not the main decision maker it’s not such a big thing.
Craig: Yeah. And by the way be aware that you might be misreading. We think we’re better face readers than we are. Sometimes people look bored and it’s just that’s their face. And inside they’re thinking, OK, who are they also going to talk to about this and who should I get about. They also might have also had a really bad day and they’re doing their best not to cry. You never know what it is.
Sometimes they’re bored because they’re bored. My strong advice, Audrey, is don’t change nothing. You go in there to do a pitch, or a meeting, or a chat, do your pitch, do your meeting, do your chat. Don’t let their face make you change your course, because you just don’t know. Similarly don’t read too much into people that are incredibly engaged. Sometimes they’re just sociopaths.
John: [laughs] Yeah. One of the things I think Craig is leaning towards here is really look for what the actual actions they’re taking. They might be saying nice things in the room, but if they’re actually sort of following up and really are engaged that is a sign that this went well and you should keep doing that thing. If the feedback you’re getting is like, oh, they didn’t think you were right, or there’s something that wasn’t right about that pitch, then you can actually iterate and see what it is that can work better. Because over the course of this pandemic I’ve had projects we’ve taken out and pitched to multiple buyers on Zoom and you do recognize like oh OK there are consistent patterns or there are ways that we can do this pitch better based on the feedback we’re getting.
So maybe that’ll be your situation. But in every one of those pitches there’s been somebody who has been kind of just a little bit checked out. That’s just Zoom. It’s fine.
Craig: It’s just Zoom.
John: Zoom. Megana, another question?
Megana: Jack writes, “I’m 20 years old and have been writing scripts since I was 14. I’ve also been reading scripts as I’ve heard you guys say that this is the best way to actually write a script. I was curious what books you guys were reading at my age. In an attempt to educate myself over the past two years I’ve torn through Syd Field, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Screenwriting is Rewriting. And now I’m writing Truffaut’s book on Hitchcock.
“Also Save the Cat has been shoved down my throat so many times over the past two years that I think I’m going to cough up a hair ball. Is there anything else I should be reading?”
John: Well, Jack, it’s great that you’re reading scripts. So let’s emphasize that. And really reading screenplays is the best education you can get. These other books sound great and useful to some degree. We all had to read Syd Field and maybe it’s good to read one other screenwriter book so you had a sense of like what people were talking about, but don’t read too many screenwriting books would be my advice.
I think production diaries and books about the making of a film are incredibly useful. The one that sort of inspired me was Steven Soderbergh’s book for Sex, Lies, and Videotape which is both the script and his production journal for going through it and how the movie changed as he was shooting it. It was just really helpful to think about this is what the intention was in the script and this is what the actual reality was shooting it and editing it. How you discover the movie as you’re making it. So there’s a ton of really good things. Like Do the Right Thing there’s a good production book for that, too.
Really learning about how those parts of the process work is super helpful even if you perceive yourself as “just a screenwriter,” because ultimately you are going to be responsible for making these movies and knowing how to make movies is important.
Craig: I agree with John. And I think that the books about the making of movies – I think the greatest amount of value there is probably how fascinating they are. They are engaging, they’re fascinating. And you do learn a lot of practical things about how movies are made. Will it help you write a screenplay? I don’t think so. The only thing that’s going to help you write a good script, Jack, is writing a good script. And before you write a good script you’re going to write a bad script. You write two more bad scripts. Then you write a mediocre script. You write four more mediocre scripts. Then you write a really good one, then you go back to bad, and this is how it goes.
But you don’t have to worry so much about the secret book that’s going to blow your mind. The one book that has probably meant more to me than any other is by Dennis Palumbo who we had on our show in Episode 99. I think it’s called Writing from the Inside Out.
John: Yeah. I have that book.
Craig: And it’s essays about the psychology of writing and that was helpful because it made me feel better. And these books aren’t going to make you a good writer, but that book will make you feel better. And writing stinks, so anything that makes me feel good I recommend that.
John: Always remember that writing is writing. And while screenwriting is its own unique weird art form, books that are about the writing process can be helpful for some writers. I really like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. On Writing everyone loves from Steven King. There’s a new book out, Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders. And sometimes writers are really good about talking about their own process and the journey, the struggle, the getting through it.
And so remember that you are writer and that writing is hard, but other people have done this before you. I would say also look for kind of what are your weak spots. And if you don’t have great insight into character conflict and drama, well read books about how in real life people resolve conflict or how to deal with conflict. Look for books that fill in the parts of your education that you’re sort of missing out on because those will be helpful for you as you’re writing stuff.
So if you’re a person who is really good at writing action but you have a hard time with two characters in a scene having an argument, maybe really look at books on psychology or books about marriage dynamics and other things like that that can really dig into what the communication strategies are between two people. Because that may be a thing that helps you more than any book on three act structure.
Craig: Here. Here.
John: Cool. I think it is time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is the good news that the majority of Americans now believe in evolution.
Craig: How is this good news that it took this long? This is tragic.
John: I’ll take the good news where I can get it.
John: This is coming out of the University of Michigan. So beginning in 1985 every two years they did a survey. They took these national samples of US adults and asked them to agree or disagree with this statement. “Human beings as we know them today developed from earlier species of animals.” And so from 2010 to 2019 that increased from 40% of people agreeing with that to 54%. So it got us over the 50% line.
Craig: That’s good.
John: That’s some progress. I’ll take that.
Craig: It is progress. I guess that’s part of what we’re going to be talking about in our bonus segment that even when things seem bleak or not ideal over time it seems like the trends generally are towards things being better, slowly but surely, in some areas slower than others. And maybe in some areas stagnant. But this is certainly a good sign. I see that in the study it says even among religious fundamentalists the percentage from 1988 to 2019 went from 8% to 32%. That’s a massive shift actually.
John: That is a massive shift. And I think that apparently also reflects that the number of people with college degrees has really skyrocketed. And so you sort of – it’s hard to get through a college education without having some understanding of some science or how things kind of work in the natural world. And so that’s probably one of the big factors. And so even among religious fundamentalists college education has increased and that’s probably a factor there, too.
Craig: Yeah. There’s a cultural thing there, too. It’s harder to maintain a belief in something that is absurd when a lot of people around you very calmly disagree. There aren’t a lot of people out there that are yelling about evolution in your face. They just know it’s true because there’s this insane tidal wave of evidence. And they simply leave it there. And they talk about it. And when you say, “No, god made the earth,” in whatever they think it is, 5,000 years ago or something, or 10,000 years ago. “And he made Adam out of some dirt and he made Eve out of a rib.” They look at you and say, no, that’s incorrect. And then they move away and go eat lunch with someone else. And you are forced to confront the absurdity of that point of view.
I’ve always believed in evolution but I came from a very blue collar/middle class kind of upbringing and I thought and believed a lot of stupid crap. And it changed while I was in college because I was exposed to people who knew better. And that’s part of that process.
John: Yeah. I may have actually had this be a previous One Cool Thing, but this is occurring to me now. While I was on my east coast trip this summer we stopped by Dinosaur State Park in Connecticut. I don’t know if you’ve ever been Dinosaur State Park.
Craig: I have not.
John: So what’s cool about it is basically they were doing some big construction project and they came across this slab of stone that had all these dinosaur footprints in it of these dinosaur tracks. And so they had to stop everything and they put a big dome over it and that’s now Dinosaur State Park. And it occurs to me I just feel like every person who doesn’t believe in evolution should just go there because you see, oh, there are these dinosaur footprints there.
So how did these get here? These are from billions of years ago, so please explain why god would have buried these footprints under this thing?
Craig: Well that’s what they say. I mean, someone once said to me that those bones were put there to test our faith. Well, at that point I’m going to go eat lunch with someone else.
John: That’s probably true.
John: So if you’re driving across Connecticut and you see the signs for Dinosaur State Park I think it’s worth an hour to sort of go through it because weirdly they don’t have the dinosaurs, they just have the footprints. But you can see that like, oh, they were just stomping around in the mud here. And you can see how massive they were. Nice.
John: What’s your One Cool Thing?
Craig: I’m keeping this streak going of games on iOS. I don’t know what it is. There was a real drought for a while of the kinds of games I like playing and then suddenly a bunch just showed up in a cluster. And this week my One Cool Thing is a game called What Remains of Edith Finch. This is not a new game. This is a game that came out in 2017. I think it was released on – oh yeah, so it was on Steam maybe or something. But you also could have gotten it on your PS4, your Xbox. But it is now available on your iPad or your iPhone maybe.
It is directed and written by a gentleman named Ian Dallas which sounds like a – that sounds like a fake tough guy name, doesn’t it? Well, Ian Dallas has made a beautiful game. This was published by Annapurna which in its short life was known correctly so for quality. And this game is quality. It’s a beautiful game where you are moving through a house that was occupied by a number of your ancestors. Your uncles and aunts and grandparents. All of whom died untimely deaths. Every single one of them. And as you move through the house you discover little shrines to them and you then go into their memories and the game play is very varied. Sometimes it’s incredibly simple and beautiful. Sometimes there’s actually a little bit of a challenge. But really is just an experience. And it’s lovely. Just gorgeous. It’s beautiful. The music is lovely. And it’s really creative. Each person’s world that you go into is wildly different than the one before, not only in terms of narrative but in terms of game design and tone and style.
So, I strongly recommend it. What Remains of Edith Finch. And that is available on iOS.
John: Excellent. And I think it’s important that you have a videogame recommendation for your One Cool Thing because in ten years I feel like by far the majority of your One Cool Things have been games. Consistency over the ten years is really nice.
Craig: It’s really all I care about is games.
John: And that is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. Megana, thank you for all your reading this week. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Christiaan Mentz. If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For short questions on Twitter I am @johnaugust. Craig is around there occasionally, but not too often.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts and sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting which has lots of links to things about writing.
We have t-shirts and they’re great. You can find them on Cotton Bureau and celebrate our 10-year anniversary today with our special 10th Anniversary t-shirt.
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 how things have gotten better over the last 20 years. Craig, thank you for ten years.
Craig: Thank you for ten and here’s to another 40.
John: All right. So this bonus segment is inspired by this post by Gwern Branwen which is just an amazing name.
Craig: Welsh I presume.
John: I would assume. And they have this really long blog post that’s just talking about how life has changed since the 1990s. And really goes into great details and made me remember so many things that I had forgotten about what daily life was like in the 1990s which is not that far away, but also feels more distant when you actually look at just how you had to get stuff done, especially work stuff done.
Craig: Yeah. And I feel it all the time when I sometimes talk about these things with Bo because she is almost 25 years younger than I am. So when I talk about the way things used to be in the way that old people do sometimes she looks like, “Oh really? That sounds terrible.” And she’s right. A lot of those things were terrible. And a lot of things have gotten much better.
John: Well, so computers are a really easy one we can probably knock out quickly because they’re just so much cheaper than they used to be. I remember getting my – I stated on an Atari computer, but my first real computer that was my computer that I really loved and identified with was my Macintosh 20. I got the Macintosh with the–
Craig: The SE20.
John: SE20. So it had a hard drive built in. But that was $3,900.
John: Which was – that’s $7,000 now. It’s a huge amount of money for an incredibly underpowered computer with floppy drives. It was the best thing I could possibly get at the time and also just a joke by any modern standard.
Craig: Same. I believe my first computer was a Franklin Ace 1000 which was a clone of the Apple 2 or Apple 2E. I think it cost about $1,500 in 1982. I don’t know what that is today, but you’re right it’s probably like $7,000. And this was a computer that had 64k of memory total I think.
John: Yeah. But even this blog post is pointing out that not just the memory and speed of it all, but just mice. Do you remember having to clean out your mice because they all got gunk in them?
Craig: Disgusting. First of all, your wrists would. So we created a pandemic of wrist trouble. And then the mouse would get disgusting, or the track ball would get disgusting because we’re constantly shedding skin. And we are gross.
John: Yeah. And so people don’t understand mice used to have a ball in them that was actually rolling around on the mouse pad or on the table. And it would just pick up everything. And eventually it would stop working properly and you’d have to get in there with a Q-tip or your fingernail to get all the gross stuff out. I don’t miss that. Don’t miss that one bit.
Craig: Not at all.
John: We had no GPS. We had Thomas Guides to find our ways around places. At a certain point we had cellphones but they couldn’t do any of the things that our current cellphones did. We didn’t have cameras that could do this kind of stuff.
Craig: No. We didn’t have any of that stuff. How about real simple things? Let’s just already give everybody computers. Let’s give everybody phones. If you get an email on your phone and you delete it’s still there on your computer when you get home. How about just simple stuff like that?
John: Closer to home. Movie theaters are much better than they used to be. So we all miss some of the giant old screens. We loved some of those things. But seats are more comfortable now. You can reserve individual seats. You don’t have to line up an hour ahead of a screening of a movie to get a good seat. You don’t have to save seats anymore. This is progress. This is a good thing.
Craig: Not saving seats, and then not getting into arguments about the saving of the seats.
John: Oh god. It was just the worst. Laying your jacket across multiple seats to try to protect them while your friend is at the bathroom.
John: Craig, people used to smoke. Do you remember when people used to smoke?
Craig: I was one of them. It was amazing.
John: From what year to what year did you smoke?
Craig: I started smoking I want to say in 1990 and I went to like 1996.
John: Yeah. So college age and post-college.
Craig: Yeah, early 20s.
John: I never smoked. But I guess some of the advantages of smoking is you have an excuse to sort of step outside of the work to smoke. It gives you that little jolt of – the nicotine. What does nicotine actually do chemically for you?
Craig: Interesting. It can do two different things. They’ve done these fascinating studies. If you have a kind of rapid and shallow intake of nicotine vapor, whether it’s from a cigarette or vape, it will amp you up. It’s a stimulant. When you do slower, deeper draws it will actually calm you down. So what’s fascinating about nicotine is the system that it runs through, this nicotinergic system in your brain actually has a complicated pathway. That’s why it’s one of the best drugs there is. Just unfortunately the delivery system is really bad.
But, yeah, I love nicotine. That’s why I can’t have it. Because my brain loves nicotine.
John: But smoking was not only unhealthy for the individual but also just kind of sucked for society. And things smell like smoke all the time. The used car that I owned and that I drove out here to Los Angeles a smoker had it before this. And so whenever it would be parked in the sunlight a film would form on the inside of the windows from the cigarette smoke coming out of the seats. Smoking is just gross. I’m glad there’s much less smoking.
Craig: Megana, have you had the experience of being in a restaurant with a smoking section?
Megana: No. But I remember being little and having hotel rooms and you had to specify smoking or not smoking.
Craig: The restaurant smoking section was one of the great anti-choice of our childhood. Because they were honestly were like if you go over there inside if you’re in those tables you can smoke. Well the smoke doesn’t know that.
John: It doesn’t know there’s nowhere to stay.
Craig: In fact we know just from simple physics and diffusion that the smoke will fill the room equally over time. But in a very serious way wait staff were being poisoned by smoke.
John: Small things I would have not thought of but it’s actually very true. Wheeled luggage has gotten so much better. Because I remember old suitcases with wheels on it were just terrible and the wheels would always shatter and break. And then they just figured out how to make wheels good. They figured out how to make skateboard wheels and rollerblade wheels and they decided what if we actually put quality wheels on luggage and now luggage is just a delight by comparison to where it was in the ‘90s.
Craig: How about the fact that there was luggage without wheels? Because all the luggage didn’t have wheels. And the people that had the wheeled luggage were the flight attendants and the pilots. And I guess at some point someone was like, wait, why don’t I have that? Why am I carrying this? This sucks. Yeah. Were we stupid? Were the luggage companies stupid? I don’t know.
Oh, I got a good one for you. How about this one?
John: Tell me.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Yes. Disposable diapers back in the day were awful. Because the stuff inside of them was just not really well engineered. And then they came out with those little gel pellets. And now you can jam a bunch of diapers together in one thing and they soak up like four gallons of pee. They’re pretty incredible.
Megana: What do you mean by jam a bunch of diapers in one thing?
Craig: Ah. So when you would buy diapers, back in the old days, you would go and you would get a package of ten diapers. It was an enormous package because the diapers were really thick. There was no absorbent stuff. It was more like just here’s a–
John: Just padding.
Craig: Here’s a baggy with a sponge in it. But the baby would pee once and it’s coming out the sides. It just was useless. And now if you have a baby and you go to the store you can get a thing of 20 diapers and they’re so thin because of those little gel pellets. It’s genius.
John: Yeah. So until you are around modern babies, like the diapers do start really thin and then you do see the diaper sort of swell up as pee goes in there.
Craig: It’s amazing.
John: But the other thing is it sucks the water away from the skin and so they get less diaper rash and it’s more comfortable for them and it’s good.
Craig: When you take a diaper off a baby now it weighs like eight pounds. It’s incredible. And that’s just from pee. I’m not talking about poop. Just a pee diaper is heavy like a bowling ball. It’s amazing.
John: So, a controversial opinion here which people will write in about. I find the smell of a pee diaper is not bad to me. It’s actually sort of comforting to me.
John: I don’t love it, but it makes me feel happy that there’s a baby around. A poop diaper is just disgusting. Nobody needs poop.
Craig: I wouldn’t say comforting. But, yeah, I’m happy a baby is around. And changing a pee diaper is like a joke. No big deal at all.
Craig: See, you didn’t have a boy. The second you take that diaper off you’ve got to be ready with a cloth to drop on top of his junk or else he’s peeing right on you. Because as soon as the air hits that thing, boom, pee.
John: We lucked into a baby who just did not ever want to poop in her diaper, and so we sat her on the potty before she was a year old and she was just pooping in her potty.
Craig: What? That’s crazy.
John: It’s crazy but it works out. Not related to babies, another thing which is so much better do you remember car stereos and car stereos being stolen out of cars? God that just sucked.
Craig: Megana, let me explain something to you. When John and I were little in the car there was an FM/AM radio. You might remember those. But they weren’t digital. They were analog. So that meant there was a dial. And you would move the dial and this little red stick would just slide from left to right and land sort of on the station. And you had to really get it right. But once you found it there were these little push buttons and you could press one of them to make it your preset. So you would hit that button and the little stick would go ka-tunk. Ka-tunk. Ka-tunk. Ka-tunk. And you went through all of that so you could have your five stations stores, each one of which was mostly advertising and you couldn’t hit pause. Amazing.
John: But not only did you get to enjoy the car radio, but if you had a stereo that actually had a tape player or something someone might break into your car to still that thing and rip it out of the dashboard because they could sell it, because those things were sold separately from the car. They were not inherently a part of the car. They were often a thing that was added to the car. And so one of the choices you might have is like, oh, take the radio out of the car when you park it someplace. So people would actually take their radio out.
Or, the plate, the face plate of it would pop off so that no one would steal the radio, so you’d just take the face plate of your car stereo. I’m just delighted that’s not a thing anymore.
John: Or people would have GPS mounted to their windshield and you’d have to worry about someone stealing that. Nope. It’s just part of your car. It’s part of your phone. We’re in a better time now.
John: So we will revisit this segment in 20 years on the show and see what things we can’t believe we had to suffer through way back in 2021.
Craig: You know what’s going to be fun? If we keep doing this Megana is going to get old. [laughs]
John: Megana, we’ll bring you back. So as you’re running some – you have five shows on the air and a dynasty–
Craig: Still bringing you back.
Megana: Or I might still be here.
Craig: I’m actually OK with that. I really like you.
Megana: Me too.
Craig: I’m happy you want to stay with us.
John: Thanks both of you.
Craig: Thanks guys.
Megana: Thank you.
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