The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. Heads up that today’s episode has just a little bit of swearing in it.
Julia Turner: Hello, and welcome. My name is neither John August nor –
Craig Mazin: Craig Mazin.
Julia: But this is Episode 516 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. My name is Julia Turner, and I’m a deputy managing editor at the Los Angeles Times, and a co-host of Slate’s Culture Gabfest Podcast. And John and Craig have invited me here today to mark the 10th anniversary of Scriptnotes, 10 years –
Julia: By interviewing them about their first decade in podcasting. Hi, guys.
John: Hello. Hi, Julia Turner.
Julia: I’m so honored to be here. This is a dream come true.
Craig: Oh, well, I would imagine the honor should be ours as you’re a legitimate journalist, and we are not.
John: Not even close.
Julia: We’ll get to your journalistic similarities later on in this conversation.
John: Hmm, all right.
Julia: Today, I’ll be grilling John and Craig about the legend and lore of Scriptnotes. And I’ll also be presenting them with some brilliant listener questions about the history of the show. Then we’ll have some listener follow up featuring a real life Scriptnotes love story.
Julia: And for our bonus segment, we’ll ask how would this be a movie about the first 10 years of Scriptnotes?
John: Oh, god, I’ve got some casting suggestions, so cool. Do stay tuned.
Julia: Might be low on pop, but I think there’s a couple ways to play it. We’ll get into it.
Julia: Before we dig in, I should clarify for your listeners that my primary qualification for this gig is years of obsessive listening to Scriptnotes, which has made it really, really fun this past week to see how Scriptnotes works behind the scenes. Listeners will not be surprised to learn that when I say John and Craig have invited me here, I mean that John has invited me here. Craig did you know that I would be here until this very moment.
Craig: I knew that you would be here at some point. Oh, boy, that’s so true.
Julia: It all works exactly the way it sounds like it works.
Julia: I also got to take a look at the show’s infamous WorkFlowy doc frequently referred to on the podcast.
Craig: Hmm, yes.
Julia: And I have to say it reveals John’s robot tendencies, like –
Craig: Thank you.
Julia: Beautifully. John, having invited me to come in and interview you in the document had laid out a whole set of things that perhaps I might want to cover, and a loose order and also some intro text, all of which I think is –
Craig: You get it? You get it now?
Julia: Intended to be very generous and welcoming. But I –
Craig: Yeah, you know –
Julia: I’m allowed to tease you, John, because the joke on my podcast is that I’m the robot. So from one robot to another, I salute you.
Craig: John used to write these things in machine language. So it was just hexadecimals.
Craig: And I just begged him, I said, “John, please, please, let’s put it in human language.” And he did. He got a new compiler. It’s now in human language. I love it.
John: Absolutely. I, I try to just map out like the shape of the show. So that it feels like, oh, okay, this is how we’re going to get through it. But I would say like over the course of 10 years, I’ve tended to write more and more in the actual Workflowy about like the things I’m going to say just because I’m not a great spontaneous speaker. It’s just the secret truth behind Scriptnotes. And so I just love having things to look at and read off of.
Craig: Whereas I don’t like to prepare anything. And I sometimes don’t know how my sentences will end when I’m three quarters of the way in.
Julia: Well, I’m going to take some but not all of John’s suggestions. And judging by the fact that you don’t seem to have looked at the Workflowy yet, Craig L., my questions will be surprises for you. So –
Craig: I love surprises. Yep.
Julia: We can dig in. I’m going to start with a few questions about the history of the show. And then we can move on to discuss its impact on the world and also on you guys personally. And then if we have time, we’ll do maybe a lightning round of –
Julia: Some questions on the mechanics of the show and a few wildcards. There’s a lot to get through.
John: I’m excited.
Julia: But let’s start with the zoom out. First, congratulations on 10 years of podcasting.
John: Thank you.
Julia: And, John, why did you start the show?
John: I’ve been writing this blog for years and years and years, the johnaugust.com blog, answering questions about screenwriting. And it’s just a monologue when you’re a blogger. You’re just talking to the void. And for a while I had comments turned on so people could answer back, but I hated comments so I turned them all off. Craig had his own blog that he gave up at a certain point. And I just decided, like, rather than have me talking, us talking together would probably be better. And I was listening to a bunch of podcasts that I liked, tech podcasts, but also like the Slate Culture Gabfest and Political Gabfest, and it’s like, oh, we should do something like that, which is just me and Craig talking. So I pitched the idea to him, and he had no idea what I was talking about but said, “Sure, we could try that.”
Craig: I thought for sure he had made a mistake. But he meant to call someone else but he called me. So I said, “Yeah.”
Julia: Did – by the way. John, were there backups? Like if Craig said no, were there other advice-dispensing screenwriters out there?
Craig: Great question.
Julia: Or was there anyone you asked before Craig who shut you down we’ve never heard about?
Craig: Oh, yeah, that’s a better question? That’s a better question. I like that one.
John: Craig was the first person I asked. I don’t think I had a backup list because I didn’t really have a fully formed idea of what it was even going to be but I just felt like he’d be the right person to talk with. But Olean and I were kind of friendly at that point, so she would have been somewhere in there. Derek Haas and I knew each other. So there were probably some backup contenders. But I, honestly, I don’t think I would have done it if Craig had said no.
Craig: Hmm, aww.
Julia: Craig, why did you say yes? You make a lot of noise about how you don’t know what podcasts are still practically?
Craig: I didn’t. Yep. No.
Julia: And certainly not then.
Craig: I didn’t.
Julia: So why – what was in it for you?
Craig: Well, in terms of knowing what podcasts were, it didn’t really matter because I trusted John. He was very web-forward is how I would put it at the time. And in fact, I had called John early on when I was putting my blog together just to have some technical questions about blog design and things like that. So I had been working on this blog, and it had been a bit draining. It had become a thing during the strike. It was a raucous bar of comments during the strike. And the Wall Street Journal wrote it up, and it got unwieldy and drifted apart from its purpose. And so, I – and also, you know, we write. So we write for a living and then I had to like –
Craig: Suddenly felt like, oh, my god, in this like, job, I had given myself that I don’t make any money off of to write more. So when John called it was the perfect time because it didn’t involve writing. And also, you know, John was like, he’s a big shot, you know, and I thought, well, you don’t say no to a big shot.
John: So I would say, interestingly, at the start of this podcast, I was a higher profile screenwriter than Craig was, and Craig had made movies, but I had a bigger sort of platform and was probably better known. I knew that Craig actually knew a ton about the industry. He and I worked together to try to set this writer’s deal at Fox. And so, I knew sort of how his brain worked. And I really thought he would have strong good opinions that were not exactly the same as my opinions and it would be a good conversation.
Julia: You know, you both mentioned the blogging and the internet writing you were doing with sort of a similar audience of working screenwriters and aspiring screenwriters in mind. And, you know, the listener engagement in the show is such a big part of the show now. What’s the difference between that relationship you had sort of in the aughts web with written commenters versus the teens and 20s audio internet of audio listeners? What are the differences, similarities?
Craig: Yeah. Tell them about our commenters, John.
John: Yeah. So, I mean, comments on blog posts are just such a scourge because like, they’re going to be positive ones, but then just people will just write paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs. It’s like, “Oh, no, this is my space. It’s not your space.” And so, just be cool. Or you try to have like living room rules. The good thing about a podcast is like, we only can invite people in that we want to invite in even when we do live shows, we will stop a questioner if they’re just being a jerk. And the fact that it is really a conversation that we can invite you into versus you can just pile on at times is, I think, the big difference between writing online versus being on a podcast.
Craig: Yeah, it’s a bit like the difference between curation and moderation. All you can do on a blog is just go, “Oh, god, stop it or you’re booted,” but then they just change their name and come back and keep acting like jerks. And we can curate exactly what we present here. Which, weirdly enough, turns out that’s what people like. They think they want just unfettered access, but what they actually do want is a connection to a platform that has some kind of moderation so that there’s quality control.
Julia: All right, so it’s early days. You’re doing this show. You’re figuring out the format, and you’re figuring out whether you’re having an impact. How did you first begin to appreciate that you were finding an audience? Like what were the early inklings that this was not just you talking into microphones and in vain?
John: Well, with podcasts, you can see sort of how many people are downloading the show. So you get some sense of listenership through that, although in the early days, it was really hard to get good metrics. And like early podcasts really had no sense of how many people were listening to them. Now, you can get a better sense. For me, it was I think, probably when we went to the Austin Film Festival and did a live show there. And really could see like, oh, my gosh, these people know who we are. And they’re showing up because they do listen to the show. That was the first time I really felt the impact of it. Craig, did you have an earlier time?
Craig: No, no, I mean, to this day, I still repeatedly am shocked when people say they listen to the show. I know that people listen to the show. I don’t have access to those metrics. I mean, I suppose if I ask John nicely, he would tell me. But he just knows that I don’t really care. Like every now and then I’ll be like, “How many people do actually listen to the show?” And he’ll tell me and I’ll go, “No,” and then I’ll forget. But –
Julia: Wait. Hold on. How many people do actually listen to the show?
Craig: Yeah, how many people do listen to the show, John?
John: Megan is also on the line, so she can probably tell us, give us some specific figure, but it’s around 40,000, I want to say. Megan, correct me if I’m wrong?
Megana Rao: Yeah, it’s about 40,000 a week and then –
Craig: Good god.
Megana: Like, looking at the monthly metrics, like each episode usually gets to about 80,000.
Craig: What? Okay, well, that’s terrifying.
John: And I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is I assumed that it would just be L.A. people who would really be listening to the show because it’s so Hollywood-centered and yet it turns out we have a lot of listeners in Europe. We Have listeners in Antarctica. We have listeners everywhere who are listening to the show because they want to write things for their own countries or to come to here. And also a ton of people listen to the show who have no interest in writing at all. And, I mean, Julia Turner, you’re not a screenwriter. So there should be no reason for you to listen to the show.
John: But you listen to the show, which is just terrific.
Julia: No. And I now edit the entertainment coverage of the L.A. Times. So your discussions are relevant to things that the journalists I work with cover. But that was much less true when I started listening to the show, you know, back when I was running Slate. So –
John: I’m sorry to play host here for a second, but do you know why you started listening to the to the podcast? I’m curious.
Julia: You’re allowed to play host on your own show anytime you want, John.
Craig: Right. Can I?
Julia: Well, I think Andy Bowers, who ran podcast at Slate, put me on to it. And I just love the way you guys, I mean, I am a culture critic on that show, right? So I’m, you know, the scourge of Craig’s mind, one of those baddies.
Craig: Yes, correct.
Julia: But I think it’s really interesting when you’re conducting criticism to know about how things are made, and why they’re made and what the mechanics are behind them. And so, I love learning about that from you guys. I loved the rapport, I mean, any chat show that you listen in on regularly, and I can say this, because I do one is just basically like a book club you like to go to where you don’t get to talk, like, you know, you just feel like you’re kind of hanging out with your friends. And I like the way you guys would kibitz and squabble and have interesting insights.
And then maybe it’s because I see parallels in this to journalism, but I love the way you guys balance appreciating screenwriting for the difficult creative art that it is, and knowing that a successful screenwriting career means having a lot of practical skills and –
Julia: Qualities of temperament and comportment, for lack of a better word –
Julia: That are actually as important to your success as your creative genius. And I feel like you are so generous to the listeners we have who are aspiring screenwriters and encouraging their art while also encouraging them to be steely and practical. And something about that balance and the way you guys talk about screenwriting as a trade and a craft. It really appealed to me. I think there’s –
Craig: Thank you.
Julia: Aspects of that in journalism too where it’s a lot of people are writers and thinkers, you know, but got to turn things in on time. So long answer.
Craig: That is the problem for all of us, right. No, that’s a beautiful answer. And I think what I found along the way, it’s certainly, when I said yes to John, it really was because I admired him. And I thought, this sounded like fun. But what I found along the way was a natural instinct to save people from the trouble I had seen. And this business is full of trouble.
There is so much trouble in our business that if you’re a certain kind of person, and in this case, we’re both guys, there were layers of trouble we weren’t even seeing. So there’s so much trouble. And there’s so much trouble for writers and there particularly is a lot of trouble for writers in features. And so, trying to just save people some of the misery and strife, and also to debunk so much of the cottage industry of nonsense that had sprouted up to add insult to injury by taking money from people and preying on their fears and their ignorance and their worry and their desire and ambition. That felt great. I mean, the part of doing the show that makes me the happiest is the part where we provide this to new people, like you’re showing up, you’re new, maybe you don’t look like the sort of person that Hollywood has hired as a screenwriter before. There are no books that are really going to teach you how this business works. As far as I know, we’re the only game in town when it comes to telling you the truth. Uh, because Hollywood is very ashamed of the truth, and for a good reason.
John: I would say at the start of the podcast, I felt like there was an objective truth that we could sort of share, like this is our experience. This is how it actually really works. And I think one of the sort of journeys over 10 years is recognizing that we sort of don’t know everything and that our experience rising as screenwriters in the ‘90s is not going to match necessarily writers’ experience now, and that we sort of needed to invite more people onto the show to talk to us about their actual specific experiences, be it like genres that we’re not writing or for mediums that we’re not writing in that I think we just both developed a little bit more curiosity about how the other parts of this industry work.
Julia: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. And actually, that brings me to one question I wanted to ask, which is sort of how did the show find its format over time? And how has that evolved? You mentioned bringing in more people, but how did you find the right mix between interview episodes, advice episodes, you know, Three Page Challenges, all of the different kinds of recurring rubrics you have, how did that evolve?
Craig: Well, mostly John, I mean, I’ll tell you, the Three Page Challenge thing came out of something that I used to do on this old board called Done Deal Pro. And it had its roots in a basic theory, which is, ah, I could probably tell you, I think it was at the time five pages. I can tell you in five pages if you’re going to make it or not, because it’s just, you could tell, right? Like there are people, they just write five pages and you go, “No, no, no, no, do something else, just do something else.” But out of that came this interesting notion that there is a lot you can learn just from drilling down into a very small amount of pages.
The vast majority of the format of the show is John’s conception. In my normal life. I’m a bit of a bossy person. I’m a producer, I’m a director, I run shows. I’m in charge. I’m alpha. It is so lovely to just – I’m even the DM in our Dungeons and Dragons.
John: Oh, yes, he is.
Craig: But it is so nice to not be that guy and to let somebody else who’s incredibly competent, and good, be that person. And I can follow. I love following John’s lead on the show. It is my place on the show, and I’m extraordinarily comfortable with it. I’m a sidekick. I’m Ed McMahon.
John: Which, in terms of the format, I think I originally sort of pattern them off of the Slate show, so that the Gabfests tend to have three topics per week, and then the equivalent of a One Cool Thing, our inaudible recommendation at the end, and then some boilerplate. And so initially it was just that, but then when Craig had this idea of like, “Oh, what if we would like a Three Page Challenge?” “Like, oh, that’s great.” And that became our first like recurring statement, so every once in a while we’d come back to that. And then How Would This Be a Movie became one. We’ve tried other things like This Kind of Scene. Listener questions were always really kind of from the start were an important part of it. So it just started to evolve that way.
In terms of bringing on guests, originally, they were just like our friends, like people we knew and we’d bring them on. And I think increasingly over the last couple of years, we’ve just reached out to people we don’t know and we bring on complete strangers onto the show, because we want to learn about their experience.
Julia: We actually have a listener question related to guests from listener Todd. Megan, do you want to cue that up?
Megana: Todd asks, “I’d love to know from both John and Craig who’s the dream guest who they’ve yet to land?”
Craig: Mmm, mmm.
John: Mmm. The White Whales. I just saw the Matrix trailer and we’ve always talked about having the Wachowskis on. And we’ve never been able to make that happen. But I feel like we could get Lana Wachowski on to talk Matrix. That’d be amazing.
Craig: I mean, I would love to. It would be a lot of weird fanboy gushing for me. You know, who I would love to get on the show, and maybe I just haven’t asked her and I should, is Shonda Rhimes.
John: Well, with Shonda Rhimes, we tried it for many times, so I think we actually got pretty close to Shonda Rhimes once for a live show.
Craig: I see. And then she was sort of like, “Nah, I got 12 shows I got to do.”
John: Yeah, so it becomes like a publicist thing. And if her publicists gets involved –
Craig: Oh, yeah.
John: As a guest, it’s just doomed. We just know that it’s doomed.
John: But I think Shonda is great. James Cameron, obviously a talented filmmaker, but it’s hard to overstate sort of how important he was as a screenwriter for us coming up, just like sort of how much he shaped like the early ‘90s action writing is sort of a James Cameron thing. So I’d love to have him on the show.
Craig: Uhm, it’s a good one.
John: Any other folks that we’ve just kind of always had on our dream list?
Craig: I mean, you know, I don’t think about the show much in between. I’m so tired.
John: Yeah. So there you go.
Julia: All right. If you guys were starting the show today, what would you do differently?
John: I don’t know if it would be just me and Craig, just to be fully honest, two White guys in their 50s. I think we would have reached out so it’d be a three-person show rather than a two-person show. It’s just my guess.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, what’s the joke? What do you call a group of White men? A podcast. So, just like, yeah, I’m sure that’s true. That makes sense. And, you know, in, I guess, in a way, we are kind of like a legacy act, you know.
Craig: I mean, by and large, when people put things together these days, I think in a reasonable and appreciable way, they’re trying to present a diverse group of voices. So you don’t put together a panel of all White people. You don’t put together a panel of all men. You don’t put together a panel of all people in their 50s. So we’re sort of a bit of a legacy act. And, you know, I’m okay with that. I think what is important, if you are a legacy act, is that you keep up and you also open the doors as much as you can.
One of the things that we’ve done over the years that I’m really proud of, is, as John said, bring people onto the show that aren’t the traditional voices. We try and feature people from all different walks of Hollywood life, not just successful people, but also up and comers and also assistants. We’ve gotten involved in how people are paid in our business, including not writers, the Writers Guild spends a lot of time figuring out what writers should be paid. Nobody but us, as it turned out, was worrying about what assistants were getting paid, other than the assistants I mean to say. And it was really gratifying to kind of connect with the assistants and work on that with them.
So we do our best to kind of help move the ball forward because we know the world has changed, and for the better. And I’ve changed for the better. I think just being part of it and being exposed to different people, it helps you see things from other points of view. Hollywood is, and has always been, an utter mess, but it is getting better. And I can’t say that that was always the case. For a while, I guess, when you know, John and I started at the same time in the mid-’90s, stretching through really to, you know, about 2016 or ‘17, it was just sort of a flatline of bad. And then there’s this sort of fairly impressive upward curve towards better. I’m not going to say good, but I’ll say better. And so, it’s been nice to at least go along with that and do what we can as a couple of older White guys. And yeah, I agree with John. If we had started it today, I don’t think it would be him and me. It would be him and someone else. Let’s face it.
Julia: I want to hear more actually about the work you guys did on assistant pay. I mean, I think you guys haven’t been shy on the show ever about expressing opinions about things in Hollywood that were terrible or should change. In addition to the assistant pay issue, you guys have tried to reform the way executives give notes and offered to give them advice on how to make their notes better.
Craig: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Julia: And, your podcast, I would argue, played a big role in kind of airing some of the concerns and grievances about agency behavior that presaged the WGA talent agency fight. You know, I’m curious how you think about that power you wield. In what ways do you think Scriptnotes has changed the world of screenwriting?
John: Geez. I don’t know if we’ve changed the world of screenwriting. Because there’s always screenwriters, I mean, who have no idea that I host a podcast or this podcast even exists. What I do think we’ve done in our sort of limited way is because enough people listen to the show in the town, if we’re talking about an issue, at least someone is talking about that issue in their ears, and they’re thinking about it. And they might make some different decisions about what they’re going to do. And so, be those executives who invited us in to do that Notes on Notes session.
Or as we’re talking about assistant pay, for me personally, it was like recognizing my own blinders in terms of how I thought about assistants, having been an assistant, how I thought sort of like, oh, this is where you start and this is how you grow. And this is how it all works and not recognizing that the system was really fundamentally broken, and that I hadn’t been sort of inflation adjusting the expectations about sort of how that all works. And so, we weren’t the first people to discover that assistants were underpaid. I wanted to stress that. But we certainly were not shy to use our platform to push people to pay attention and to think about the ways they’re paying assistants and how they’re treating assistants to make sure that we could make some progress on that front.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah, I think we are both aware that people listen. At least, if I’m not aware of how many people listen, I’m aware that there are people that make decisions and run things who listen. And we, I think, handle that quasi influence fairly well. We don’t really go out of our way to change the world. But when we see things that seem pretty much like slam dunk easy ones, we go for it.
The nice thing about this podcast is that it is entirely pro social. This is not a, you know, profitable enterprise for me. I just want to underline that. So, we’re doing this because it’s a good thing to do. And when you’re doing something that is just for good, it is remarkably freeing, especially when you work in Hollywood where you start trying to do things for good. And then everybody gets in there and sort of throws a little muck on it and tries to steer it towards what would put money in their pockets, which I, you know, that’s a business, I get it. This is not.
So when things come along that we can kind of activate on, it’s really lovely to be able to do it. And we do it fearlessly. I was never concerned that any agency was going to yell at me for saying that they should pay their assistants more. You know, I had some interesting conversations in the days leading up to the divorce between the Writers Guild and the agents, with my agency, about the things I said about them, you know, and I stood by my words.
Julia: What kind of conversations?
Craig: Well, they took exception to some of my assertions and opinions. And I stood by them because they were correct. But it was a good conversation. And I just said, guys, this is how this is going to go. And this is the way the world is, and you can’t keep doing this the way you did it before. And there has to be an answer. I don’t know what that answer is. And I don’t know how to get to that answer. But I urge you to get to it. Because I would like to come back to my agency, because I do like my agency a lot. And I like my agent a lot.
And then, the nice thing about having a show like this is that I tend to get yelled at by everybody. So then I got yelled at by writers, because once we did sort of hit our divorce, and occasionally I would question the way the Writers Guild was doing things then the writers would yell at me. So if I’m being yelled by both sides, it’s a good day. And I have a feeling that for John, when no one is yelling at him on either side, it’s a good day for him. It’s just like we’re different that way.
John: Yeah, we are different that way. I’ll say one of the things about being a screenwriter, especially a feature writer is you just have so little control over the finished product. We’re there at the very start. And we are building the engine of the thing. And then it goes off. It takes off. And then we sort of see the finished movie. And maybe we had some input, but we didn’t have all the input we’ve wanted.
For me, what’s been great about Scriptnotes is every week like, it’s the show I want it to be. And so if I wasn’t taking notes from anybody else, it’s like, this is the conversation we had. And it’s what we talked about. And it’s not beholden to anybody else. We are not part of any network. We’re not part of any sort of overall structure. We don’t have to make money. It’s just the thing we wanted to make. And to be able to do that every week has been great. And to have a generation of producers who sort of come up through it and helped us do it, it’s been amazing.
John: So that’s been the real treat is like it’s a structured conversation every week between me and Craig. So it’s like therapy. But also there’s a thing, there’s a tangible thing you can say, oh, we accomplished that this week, and that’s great. Because so often, as a feature writer, you can spend a year on a project that just never happens.
John: Those pages just disappear.
Julia: That’s so interesting, because that sounds like you’re describing the satisfaction of creation and unfettered creation. Although, part of what strikes me about the role you guys have played in some of these Hollywood conversations is that it’s not the role of being an artist or a creative. You’re sort of quasi-journalistic because you’re reporting things out sometimes. You’re sort of an organizer role because you’re connecting people who have similar grievances sometimes. Sometimes you’re just making observations. Sometimes there’s a reforming zeal, I think would be fair to describe some of the umbrage taken with the agency practices.
Julia: It’s a place in which you get to wear these other hats, but it sounds like your primary emotional satisfaction is actually the creation of the thing. Is that fair, John?
Julia: More to the point, how do you feel about those other roles that are wrapped up within it sometimes?
John: I think the advocacy thing was always there from the start, because, one of the real goals of the show is to debunk a lot of sort of the myths of screenwriting and sort of that everything had to follow the Syd Field formula or that the proper logline was the key to success, just all that sort of nonsense that screenwriters are constantly taught, and to really talk about the actual daily life of a screenwriter and sort of what really goes on and sort of dispel those other things.
Journalistic is sort of an interesting word, because I don’t think we’re reporting that much. We’re sort of reacting to what’s happening. So we will talk about sort of the stuff we see around us. And while we try to be accurate, we try to sort of be fair, I don’t see it fundamentally as a journalistic enterprise. It’s really just a conversation. And it’s hopefully, an entertaining conversation. It’s like, you described being the other person at the bar who’s overhearing a conversation but can’t contribute. That’s sort of what we want people to feel is that these two friends are having this conversation about things that are hopefully interesting to screenwriters and people who are interested in things about screenwriting.
Craig: I know that slogan.
Julia: Okay, fair, you’re not breaking much news unless it’s Craig Mason breaking the news of how many episodes of his next show to write.
Craig: Right, right. Yeah. Yes. Incredible, hot headline.
Julia: Do you have examples? I mean, in 10 years of screenwriting, there must be people who had no foothold in the industry who started listening to you 10 years ago –
Julia: Who now have successful careers, what kinds of interactions have you had with folks who’ve had that story?
John: Yeah, it’s been great. It’s terrific when you hear those success stories, or folks who read the blog, and then listened to the podcast, like Craig’s assistant right now, I guess, was like in high school or college listening to the podcast?
Craig: Yeah, it’s college.
John: It’s just – it’s impossible.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah, we – I do get these stories particularly when there are some sort of large event, if we go to a – if we do a live show or something like that, that’s where people come up and tell you these things. And sometimes it’s overwhelming.
Craig: I don’t quite know what to say. You realize fairly quickly, and you’ve probably encountered this, Julia, because you’ve been doing your own podcast for so long and you have a connection to the public, that people who listen to you, especially for a show that goes on as long as ours has, they have a relationship with you.
Craig: You don’t have one with them. But they have one with you. And when you meet them, you are confronted with it. And it’s it can be very beautiful. It can be very emotional at times. There are times where I’m just overwhelmed by the things people say to me, I don’t know what to say in return because you realize that you have silently, and without any awareness, been an important part of another person’s life.
Craig: And that’s very gratifying and beautiful.
John: There are people who would drive across the country to come into a live show, which is crazy, but I also sort of get it because we’re talking about things that they’re interested in and they do feel like they know us because they do kind of know us. I mean, Craig and I are careful to keep some stuff out off of the podcast just for some little zone of privacy, but you are hearing our kind of unfiltered opinions. And that can be nice. It’s interesting, like some of the folks who I saw like the first live show, who then I see eight years later in another live show, you see oh, they actually grew up, they changed. They got married. They had kids. That’s kind of cool to see too. When we were just doing blogs, those were little forum posts. People are – you can connect with them. But like when you see them at a live show, oh, that’s that same person. I got to see sort of where they’re at in their life right now.
Julia: All right, we have a listener question from Dana.
Megana: Dana asks, “Is it easier or harder to be a working, meaning paid, screenwriter now than it was 10 years ago?”
Craig: Well, I guess the first question would be feature or television, I’m going to presume feature because she said screenwriter. I think it’s harder. I think it’s harder because there are even fewer movies being made now than they were before. And the movies – where the movies have been expanding have been in the streaming area. I think that salaries have been pushed down quite a bit in those areas. I think a lot of the stuff that’s made is even more than it was 10 years ago, retreads, remakes, reboots, they’re adaptations of toys and things. Paramount just literally said that’s pretty much all we’re going to do just today. So I think it’s harder. And I think that doesn’t necessarily reflect some areas that have gotten better.
What’s gotten better? They are hiring more women. They’re hiring more people of color. The dark lining of the silver cloud there is that it’s the new hires that get paid the least. It’s the new hires that worked the hardest, and in many cases abused by being asked to do more and more work for free. So unfortunately, a lot of the people that are coming in, if they are diverse writers, they’re also being treated poorly. So that’s not a good outcome either.
I am not particularly optimistic about the future of feature screenwriting. It was always the worst place for writers to be in terms of how they were treated. And the way things are going, I don’t see that necessarily getting better. And of note, in the last five negotiations the Writers Guild has had, feature concerns have been minimal. They’ve mostly concentrated on television writers. I know that there’s an effort to at least think about trying to concentrate on feature writers. Problem is the Writers Guild is essentially a TV writers union, by demographics. So bad news feature writers, I don’t think it’s gotten easier. And I’m not sure it’s going to get easier from here, either.
John: So I agree with a lot of what Craig said. But that actually sort of points out like one of the areas of conflict that’s always been on the show is because Craig will say like the WGA doesn’t care about screenwriters and like, oh, I was actually on the board for, a two-year term, and was involved in all these negotiating committees so I actually know sort of the other side of that story, and sort of why these things happen and don’t happen. And so, I get frustrated when Craig says like the WGA doesn’t care because I was elected and I cared then and we did a lot. And so, there has been a lot of stuff that has happened for screenwriters through the WGA, but just not through the contract, and the focus on the MBA negotiation as the sole thing the Writers Guild does for feature writers, I think, is a very limited view.
Craig: I don’t – I don’t think that the Writers Guild doesn’t care about feature writers. I too was on the board and I too did things for screenwriters.
Craig: I think that you care about screeners. I think I care about screenwriters. I think some people care about screenwriters. I think the institution is designed to serve the membership. And the membership mostly is not feature writers. Also, feature writer problems are just harder to negotiate.
Craig: And they’re tricky.
John: It’s absolutely true. So I think on the pros and cons of being a feature writer now versus when we started is that when Craig and I started, there was a lot of development. So it’s not that more movies were getting made. Also, a lot of movies were being developed. And so you could work for quite a long time on movies that never shot, but you were still getting paid. And that was awesome. Now, for better or for worse, writers are being hired to write stuff for the studios or for the streamers. And those things are only for projects they think are actually going to get made. And so, the jobs you’re getting are these high-pressure cooker things for this thing has to work because it has a slot, it has a thing and it’s just a different environment than what Craig and I grew up in. Things are just changing and because the whole industry has warped itself just to make things for streamers.
Craig: Can I just say that one of the things I like about our show is that we do model, I think, a way to disagree.
Craig: Do you know what I mean? Like, we don’t always agree. I think we agree a lot.
John: Oh, yeah.
Craig: I don’t want to present us as Crossfire, but when we disagree, we figure out how to disagree. There’s precious little of that in the world right now. People just yell at each other and then just take sides and become teams and squads and things. And I’ve heard this fed back to us a few times from listeners that they just appreciate that we can disagree with each other respectfully and thoughtfully and that’s nice. I like that we can do that, and that’s a credit to you and to me. I’m going to take half the credit for that.
John: You deserve half the credit as well.
Julia: I have been part of some podcast fights that have led listeners to write in and be like, “Are you guys okay? Are you still friends?” Have you guys ever had a podcast contretemps that either caused your listeners to worry about your bond and/or actually tested your relationship?
Craig: I mean, we faked one once for our conflict show. That was great.
John: Yeah, the conflict episode. That was really great. That made people really, really nervous. People pulled over there car on the side of the road because they’re like, “Oh, no, they could crash.” Just true confession, during the middle of the agency campaign or sort of early in the agency campaign, it got really uncomfortable between me and Craig. And so when we would need to talk about this stuff on the show, we’d have to sidebar and really figure out, okay, how are we going to talk about this in ways that we can both honestly express what we want to say but doesn’t blow up our relationship or the podcast or everything else around us. And that was probably the hardest time over the 10 years for me doing this podcast was our genuine disagreements about what was happening in the agency campaign.
Craig: Yeah. And a credit to both of us again, because, I have values and I believe in the value of the questioner and challenging authority. I’ve always been that guy. I love dissent. And I’ve always had a weird relationship with the Guild because I love my union. It’s why we do the shows is because John and I both love and care about the status of screenwriters and television writers. So then there’s this organization that sometimes does really good things, and then sometimes just blows it. And I get angry at them. And I get angry at them, in part, because, I’ve also been on the inside as well. And during that whole time, it was challenging, and I appreciated that John was in a really difficult spot. And I think he appreciated that I was in a difficult spot. Because, I’m supposed to be me. And he’s, you know what I mean?
Craig: And he’s supposed to be him. And so, we had to negotiate it without feeling like we were abandoning principles or anything like that. And we did. And I will say that, underneath all of it, as dedicated as I am to challenging authority and questioning whether or not things are going the way they should, that John and I have been doing this for a long time. I would never, in any circumstance blow this thing up for that. I would not give the Writers Guild the satisfaction of being the cause of blowing this up. Hell no.
John: But I will say that whole period was probably toughest actually on Megana Rao who had to listen in on those conversations and deal with the stress and anxiety of, like, dad and dad are not getting along, so.
Craig: Yeah. You know what, Megana? It’s okay.
Megana: Thank you so much for acknowledging that because I was sitting here and I was like, this is incredibly triggering for me.
Craig: Well, what happened was, we would start to argue about something and then eventually just because psychologically it was beneficial for us, we would triangulate and blame Megana. So, you know, I get it. I get it.
Megana: I do not. I call bullshit on that answer. That’s just not –
Craig: Yeah. No, I don’t. I definitely made that up.
Megana: Since I have invisible relationships with you of a decade long, I can tell.
Megana: Because I know you so well. That’s not what happened.
Craig: Yeah. No, that is not what happened.
Julia: All right. I want to ask you guys a zoomed out question about the state of the industry. And it’s connected a little bit to that, that question about the changing status of feature writers. But just looking back on where the industry was 10 years ago, you launched Scriptnotes 18 months before House of Cards launched on Netflix –
Craig: Oh, wow.
Julia: I believe in the months around your show they were like quietly launching streaming services in Bolivia. But like broadly –
Julia: Streaming was not yet the primary way that American entertainment consumers got their media. You were both pretty firmly film writers, if I’m remembering correctly.
John: Oh, yeah.
Julia: I’d love for you guys to project forward 10 years. I mean, we’re living in a moment where as you guys say, it feels like the TV writer is ascendant and the film writer is under duress. But if you zoom out a level further and look at what the average 18-year-old is doing with their time and how much gaming they’re doing and Twitch they’re watching and how many YouTube personalities they aspire to be rather than movie stars, which they haven’t heard of, and maybe they do or don’t watch sitcoms. Where will screenwriting be in 10 years? How do you think that industry will have changed in 10 years by 2031? And what do you guys imagine your places in it will be?
Craig: Well, you know, my place will be obviously as the emeritus. I will be considered the grandfather of – I have no idea. I don’t know. I think that movies, theatrical, the theatrical experience is in trouble. I think that the combination of COVID, streaming and the dissolution of the Paramount decree is probably going to lead to a large amount of movie theaters being purchased by large corporations like Disney Marvel, Pixar. And they will – you know how Disney has got that lovely theater in Hollywood, El Capitan, I suspect that maybe in 10 years, the theatrical experience will be really more of an extension of the studio theme parkish experience, where there will be Marvel theaters that play Marvel movies and charge a lot of money for them.
I think that the generation coming up will bring their interests forward in terms of the kinds of comedy that shows up, I think that’s where we’ll see at first. My son and daughter’s generation have an entirely different concept of what comedy is. And I love it. I mean, it’s great. We will not recognize it. We will watch it. And as we should, as old people, we will say, “Ah, it’s not funny,” and then they will look at us and say, “You’re old, just go back to watching your Friends reruns old people.” And we will because that is the way of the world.
The structure the business will continue to accelerate along the paths of just piping things directly into your home. And even homes will change. As they build homes, I do think that where you used to have certain things that – like large dining rooms are no longer necessary. They will be eliminated entirely. Nobody needs a dining room. But you will have home theaters. People will just have little rooms with little seats, and a big screen TV. Because the movies are going to your house. It just feels like that’s where it’s going. I can’t imagine that it doesn’t accelerate even more than it has been, especially because you have entire studios like Paramount just giving up. They just gave up officially. Paramount, that made, you know, The Godfather, they’ve given up.
John: I am much more bullish on the future of roughly two-hour movie experiences that are shown outside of the house. I think that is an experience that will still be around in 10 years. I agree with Craig that with the fall of the Paramount consent decree, you’re going to see the big studios buy those things out. But I think people want to leave their house. They want a reason to leave their house and a movie, going to see a movie is a way to do that, especially for a teenager, it’s just the thing – it’s a place you can go and a thing you can do. I think that will continue.
I also don’t think that the home theater thing is going to be such the bonanza because I look at my own kid and she wants to watch stuff on her computer or on her phone. She just doesn’t care about it being on the biggest screen possible. So I don’t know if that persists. But for the writing of it, I think there’s still going to be writers who are writing those two-hour features. There’s going to be a lot of writers writing all the streaming television. I think that will persist and continue. I don’t see a real coming crisis for that.
Where it’s going to change though is like this blurring of lines, we have to talk about video game writing and how video game writing is writing. And it’s very analogous to what we’re doing. I think there’s going to be universe building that requires a tremendous amount of writing. And it’s going to be really murky and awkward to figure out what covers that and when it should be that becomes advertising and promotion writing or copywriting or toy making versus screenwriting. I think it’s all getting blurrier. And that’s only going to persist and continue in the next 10 years.
Julia: Right. I mean, I guess my question is, are the people who write games going to consider themselves screenwriters? Or, you know, the biggest celebrity in my kid’s mind is like some guy on YouTube who narrates his Minecraft world.
John: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Of course, like a Jacksepticeye, that kind of person. Yeah.
Julia: Yeah. And, you know, there’s no writer for that entertainment. And they watch hours of it, and they’re not watching whatever is on – I don’t even know –
Julia: What the popular Nickelodeon shows are right now because they don’t watch them or care about them, you know. Like, Are you concerned about the rise of content that’s not written in the way that you guys talk about writing things?
Craig: No. No, nope because it’s different. It’s just different. It is a lovely thing to watch. But to me, when my kids or your kids are watching a Twitch stream, or YouTube, just people putting makeup on YouTube or something, it’s a little bit like when my sister and I were just parked in front of the TV and watched The Brady Bunch, or I Love Lucy, meaning it wasn’t new. It was just sort of there. And it filled time and we enjoyed it. Now that was obviously scripted. This is not. But watching I Love Lucy and watching the karate movies on channel five and watching The Brady Bunch didn’t keep us from wanting new content that was scripted. We did like that. And similarly, I do see – or here’s something that, you know, John knows. So his daughter and my daughter are the same age, and we watch these things sweep through that cohort.
Craig: And so, for whatever reason, what was it last summer?
John: Yeah, Criminal Minds.
Craig: Yeah. Every 15-year-old girl was obsessed with bingeing Criminal Minds. I don’t know why, but they work, which means it still works, right? It still works. And we know that as you get older you do gravitate more toward narratives. That’s always, I think, been the case. For my parents’ generation, they probably got more of their narrative from books, but they also would watch movies that we would find boring. I think that the world of narrative is not only alive and well, it’s thriving. There’s more of it than ever. It’s everywhere. And the people who make it and make money off of it are spending money in ways that we’d never thought was possible. Never. I mean, the amount of money that Amazon is spending on the Lord of the Rings show alone is mind boggling. And it’s not slowing down. And in a good way, the amount of money that they’re spending on reliable show runners who produce quality content is also skyrocketing.
Craig: We will always, as a group of professionals in Hollywood, struggle with income inequality. Our income inequality is even more grotesque than the income inequality in the United States. But one of the things that I think John and I talk about and that I think we should continue to ring this bell as much as we can, is getting the salaries of writing staffs up. We think that the Writers Guild can solve all these problems, but I will point out for the one millionth time, writers are in charge of television writing rooms. It’s the writers who do the hiring. It’s the writers who figure out the budget and allot what they allot. So hopefully, the rising tide will start picking up a few more boats as it rises. But narrative is not going anywhere. If anything, there’s too damn much of it.
John: The other point I would make about 10 years down the road is ultimately, you don’t need a studio with a history and library necessarily to get started in this business. You just need a ton of money and there are people out there with a ton of money. So I think there will be new players that come online and it won’t just be mergers of the existing ones. Other folks are going to come online like Apple did, or Amazon did just because they have so much money they need to do something with that money. So there will be some new names that we – we’re not even thinking of 10 years from now.
Craig: I think Apple is going to buy Netflix.
John: Could be.
Craig: I’m just putting that out there.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: Not, not anytime soon.
Craig: Don’t – don’t take that as a stock tip. I’m just saying eventually.
John: Like Peloton will inevitably start doing like scripted series. There are just companies that have big money and who will want to do things and ultimately those people will write those things and hopefully that’ll, you know, Megana.
Craig: Oh, no, come on, we can do better than Peloton for Megana.
John: Well, okay, all right. The next step.
Julia: We’re going to – we’re going to check back in 10 years and see whether in fact Apple has bought Netflix and Peloton has started making television shows.
Craig: Yeah, I think we should. Yeah.
Julia: Your predictions are officially recorded here.
Julia: We got so many wonderful listener questions that I think are informed by that dynamic of people who feel like they know you as people and care about you as people and are curious about you as people. And I think we should ask a couple of those before we do our One Cool Things.
Julia: Let’s take a question from John from London.
Megana: John from London asks, “From all of the guests you’ve had over the years, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve applied to your own writing? And what’s the one thing that someone has said that stuck with you?”
John: I am thinking back to Katie Silberman. So I don’t remember what episode she was on. But she came on to talk about her writing on Booksmart. And she prewrites. She will have two characters talking about nonsense and just really get a sense of character’s voices independent of the scene. And it’s one of those things like, I always felt I probably should do that. But I don’t know anybody who actually does do that. And her doing that got me thinking oh, I should try to write some unimportant plot scenes just for the character so I can hear their voices. And I’ve started actually doing that. So that’s a Katie Silberman piece of advice that I took to heart.
Craig: I don’t have any, just flat out. I don’t have – I don’t remember any of it. Yeah, I don’t. I love having these conversations. But I can’t – we’ve had a thousand of them. I can’t remember the individual things. This is why I think it kind of works. John really does plan and he thinks these things through and there’s so much intention. And I really do fly by the seat of my pants through it and try and be as experiential as I can within it.
Craig: Everything is a surprise to me. Everything is in the moment. So when we have these conversations, I do think to myself, oh, that was amazing. It was such a great – like we had a great one with Dave Mandel and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. And I just remember being delighted with it. But then if you ask me what did we talk about, I can’t remember. I’m old. And I can’t remember. I’m being as honest as I can. I think this is probably what no one ever does, right? They just pretend. They just make up something, right. And I have to just be honest. I can’t remember. How did you remember that?
John: Because I actually did it. But I also, it was in the WorkFlowy.
Craig: There we go. There it is.
John: I thought about the question ahead of time.
Craig: You thought about it ahead of time.
John: I did my homework. That’s really how I thought of it.
Craig: All right. You know what, I will say, I know that we talked to Lindsay Doran.
Craig: And whether or not Lindsay Doran said this in our podcast, it is a piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since she said it. So I will repeat this advice. And it is that it is incredibly important to know what the central relationship of your story is. If you don’t have one, you’re in trouble. I, at least, think of everything through the lens of relationships. And what Lindsay points out, there are all these relationships and people can get stuck viewing everything kaleidoscopically. But humans need one. You can have other relationships, but they need one central one. They need the one that matters the most.
John: That’s me and Craig.
John: That’s the central relationship.
Craig: It is. Well, you know, I think the central relationship is me and Megana. But I appreciate that you do what you do.
Julia: All right. We’re only taking questions from listeners in London, let’s hear it from Anna in London.
Megana: Ana in London says, “I’d be interested to know if there are any opinions you’ve expressed over the years that looking back now you’d like to edit, especially if you’ve changed your mind on a craft thing.”
John: Oh, I’d be surprised if I changed my mind on a craft thing. Although, I think before I started this podcast, I had gone to a single space after a period. So I used to be a double space writer and I went to a single space.
John: Single space is where it’s at now.
John: But if there’s any opinions I’ve expressed that I want to take back, you know what, we tend to get like a lot of listener mail when there’s like a really bad opinion expressed. And then sometimes we’ve addressed it in follow up, actually, I’d say our follow up on this show is an important part of the history of the show. The early tech podcast I was listening to would always have follow up at the start of their show. And I really liked that. And it’s not a Slate thing. And that’s a thing that I took from other podcasts. And so, we try to address when we misspoke or said too much or said something that was incorrect or inaccurate. But I don’t know that I have an opinion that I want to go back and erase.
Craig: Yeah, I’m sure if I were confronted by a number of the stupid things I’ve said, I would be embarrassed by most of them. Obviously, since I can’t remember anything that I said, it’s hard for me to answer this question. I don’t remember what I’ve said either. But I can say that over the course of this show, I have learned things from John that I think have made me a better person. I’m still very different. I’m still much more fiery. And I get very passionate, and I get angry, which I appreciate. I value that. But I also think about people more. And I think about their feelings more. And I try and temper myself more because I think John sets a really good example that way. And also over the years, I think I have required myself to be a little less – there’s this kind of old guy thing that happens where you just start to insist that –
Craig: Everybody that makes it makes it because they did it. And if you don’t, you didn’t, and it’s a meritocracy, brah, brah, brah. And I have weeded quite a bit of that out because it’s not a meritocracy. And I think the more that we discuss that and appreciate it, the better off we are. It’s not an ameritocracy. It’s not random. And that’s not what anyone is going for. But it is additionally challenging for a lot of people in a lot of different ways. And almost everyone has some kind of challenge. But some people have more than others. And so I’ve tried to – I change my point of view and the context with which I evaluate things. That certainly has changed over time.
Julia: I want to note as part of the beautiful synchronicity between you guys sometimes that among the things that John proposed is things I might ask about and that you might answer. One was what we got wrong, and a bullet under that was meritocracy. So –
Craig: Ah, there you go.
Julia: I take it.
Craig: See? And you know I wasn’t cheating because I didn’t read it.
Julia: I take it from the WorkFlowy that John agrees. Is that fair, John?
John: Absolutely. And I remember trying to defend meritocracy at some point on the blog, even pre-podcast and it feels as a White guy growing up and having some success you feel like, oh, well, I earned it. And it’s like, well, yeah, you did things that actually helped you. But it’s so hard to acknowledge, oh, but you’ve had many advantages coming into it. And I think over the course of the 10 years during the podcasts, and really just talking with a bunch of other writers, I’ve really learned a lot more about oh, these were the challenges that I did not face just based on who I came into this industry as and when I came in. So I think meritocracy is just a bad word that we just shouldn’t say.
Julia: All right, a couple last lightning-round questions. Craig, did you retire sexy Craig of your own volition or did John make you do it?
Craig: He’s not retired. Oh, no. Oh, no. Sexy Craig is right there. He’s right there with you in those moments when you’re alone, and your mind starts wandering, he’s there.
Julia: Oh, no. Have I started another fight, John? Tell him to –
Craig: Oh, yeah.
John: What’s John answer to this question?
John: It’s somewhere between a shudder and a cringe anytime Sexy Craig shows up.
Julia: It is somehow audible, as a listener –
Craig: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Julia: Even though you make no sound.
Craig: Yeah, inaudible shudder. You shudder already.
Julia: All right. Next question.
Julia: This one is from listener Chris.
Megana: Chris asks, “If you both ran for the presidency, who would be president and who would be VP? And who would you have in your cabinet?”
Craig: Oh, well, I mean, I’m, I’m not going to do any of that. So VP, for sure.
John: Yeah. I think Craig is the VP.
John: But the cabinet is going to be full of really fascinating people. A recent addition to the show, but also just a superstar is actually Nicole Black, she needs to be in there providing comedy and context and warmth. Love her. Alene has to be in there because she’s an all-star. I don’t know what department she’s running.
Craig: Department of good taste.
John: Yeah, that’s what Alene is doing in there. Does Malcolm makes the cabinet cut?
Craig: I hope so.
Craig: Because I need somebody to talk to.
John: We have a lot of really great guests who can come in there and help make things run properly. And also, we have friends with many show runners and the showrunners get stuff done. So it’ll be a somewhat chaotic country, but stuff will happen.
Craig: It’ll be organized by WorkFlowy.
John: That – there’ll definitely be a WorkFlowy behind it all.
Julia: All right, my last question, what do you each hope for the next 10 years with the Scriptnotes?
John: Hmm. Oh, that, it presupposes that there will be 10 years of Scriptnotes. And I have no intention of shutting it down. But also just recognizing that stuff happens and things change. And podcasting could change. If Craig got really busy doing his show. If I were directing a movie at the same time Craig was doing a show there could be no Scriptnotes. But if we make it to 10 years, I hope just continuing to evolve and feeling that there’s new segments that always feel like they always should have been part of the show that it feels like it’s a continuity, but you can see that was Scriptnotes in black and white and this is Scriptnotes in color.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t know what 10 years will bring. And if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. But I would imagine that somewhere along the line, somebody should really replace me, don’t you think? I mean, somebody should just gradually replace me. I think that would be great, you know.
John: I could also – I could also imagine at some point, the show is me and Craig. And so, there was at some point a suggestion, like, Craig and John should just give the show to other people to do Scriptnotes. Like –
John: As is Scriptnotes is the thing that is just independent of me and Craig.
John: But there probably would be a way to transition out and become the occasional hosts, or just how to be a thing that exists independent of us the same way that the Slate shows, even if all three hosts are gone, it’s still is the show, kind of. But we have no intention of doing that. We have no plans to do that. But if we were to move on at some point, I think we would try to do a gradual fade out and handover the torch to somebody else.
Craig: Like when Blue’s Clues changed the guy.
John: Absolutely. It was just too abrupt. You got to send Steve off to college in the right way.
John: And Craig I’ll send you off to college.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. Oh, you sent Craig to “college.” And if I died, you know, like, if I died.
Julia: On that note, I think we have one piece of follow up.
Megana: Yeah. So on an earlier episode, I think you guys said that we have heard a lot of stories of screenwriters who’ve had professional success, but we haven’t heard any Scriptnotes love stories. So Isaac wrote in and he wanted to share his love story and prove you guys wrong.
Isaac: Howdy, folks. Back some time ago, I was listening to one of your episodes and heard Craig mention that, though you both hear plenty of stories about people succeeding in their screenwriting professions with the help of this podcast, you’ve yet to hear any good Scriptnotes love stories. Well, back in 2019, I was walking to work and listening to a podcast where John mentioned a live recording was happening at theater of the Ace Hotel. And it just so happened to be taking place on that very day that I was walking to work. There were a few tickets left. So I nabbed one and left work early.
Once I arrived alone and introverted, I went to the bar and was immediately drawn to the bartender. She chatted me up and encouraged me to come back and talk more, which I did several times. I would pour out each drink in the bathroom and wait a few minutes so I wouldn’t actually get drunk. I had no interest in alcohol at that point. The show started. You killed it with Melissa McCarthy and Rob McElhenney. And I ran to the bar again the moment that it ended, but she was gone. I hung around, bought a Camp Scriptnotes shirt to kill more time, which I wear every week, but she never came back.
Back home, I came up with a simple plan to see her again, just go back to the Ace. Problem is I needed to buy a ticket to the event. And the only one in the near future was a $600 VIP ticket to the Sundance Institute presenting The Farewell. I was desperate and dumb. And worse came to worse, I just get to hang out with Lula Huang and Awkwafina for an hour, I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t have any medical emergencies in the near future and bought the ticket.
The next day, however, I got an Instagram DM from the bartender. It turns out she had clocked me as well. And thankfully, I paid with the card, because she took that opportunity to memorize my name so she could look me up later. We joke now that both of the things that we did were sort of creepy if the other person wasn’t quite into it. But it worked out. We went to get coffee the next day, and I told her about the farewell premiere, but not the price because I’m not a psychopath. She said that she’s glad that she remembered my name and reached out because she was about to leave for a family vacation and wouldn’t be working at the Ace for a few weeks.
Yes, I still went to the Sundance event. It was wonderful and surprisingly opened up a lot of doors that were closed to me originally. The bartender, who turned out to also be an exceptional actor, and I saw each other as often as possible after the first date. And a little over two years and one seemingly unending pandemic later, I asked her to marry me. Anyway, I just wanted to reach out and thank you two for putting this podcast together. To this day, when we get especially starry-eyed about the future, we’ll look to each other, smile and say, fucking Scriptnotes.
Craig: Fucking Scriptnotes.
John: Ah, that make – that just makes my heart my heart sing.
John: Yeah. And so, I love the Scriptnotes wedding. I love the Scriptnotes baby. I love, you know –
Craig: Oh, my god, look at that.
John: Any people brought together by these circumstances.
Craig: You think, John, that Isaac knows her name yet because he’s just calling her the bartender. Do you think maybe he never found out?
John: Yeah. Or maybe there’s – she could be in witness protection. And that’s obviously a possibility. Yeah.
Craig: Oh, either way, man. That’s pretty awesome.
Craig: That’s, you know what, that’s pretty – I’m glad.
Julia: Wouldn’t she still have a name if she were in witness protection? She would just have a new name?
John: Yeah. A false name.
Craig: Yeah, I think that that’s one of the things they try and do otherwise they know it’s, yeah, if you just like, “What’s your name?” “Bartender.” And they’re like, “Oh, you’re in witness protection.” Now, they get – she has a name, I just don’t know if he knows it. Look, if you want to stay with her because John and I have been married for a long time so we can tell – not to each other. But we can tell you.
Craig: One of the keys is knowing your partner’s name.
John: It’s really good. Name, birthday, just the basic facts. You know, be able to recognize her face in a crowd –
John: So you can actually see here. Yeah.
Craig: Oh my god, like there’s like this sad part where she never came back and he was hanging around. Aww, I, you know, I feel like even though Isaac is saying that it’s Scriptnotes brought him and his wife together really it was just alcohol. I don’t think it was us at all. I mean, if you – if you really interrogate what he’s saying, he’s saying that he left the show to go drink and talk to her. So we actually were kind of in the way. Fucking Scriptnotes.
John: And so it 10 years.
Craig: Oh, ah.
Julia: Ten years, a lot of impact.
Craig: Ten years.
Julia: Is time for One Cool Things? I don’t feel like I can say that unless John decrees that it is.
John: It is time for One Cool Things.
Julia: So who goes first, John? You go first?
John: I’ll go first. Sure. I have two One Cool Things. My first one is a hawk named Spencer. So Spencer is the hawk who flies around the new Academy Museum and scares away all the other birds who might poop on the amazing glass dome that they built there. So I just love that there is a trained hawk who comes out there twice a week to fly around there and scare birds away. I just love that we still use hawks to do things like this. So this is a story in the L.A. Times. For all I know Julia, you may have been the person responsible for the story, but it’s written up by Deborah Vankin. I just – it’s cool that there’s like a hawk flying around Los Angeles to protect our new museum.
Julia: I can take no credit for that story because I’m on maternity leave, but I was delighted to see it.
Craig: Good job, Deborah.
Julia: Deb is a specialist at finding – she did an amazing story this year also about how the Getty fights moths, which is apparently a terrible thing you have to fight at a museum.
Craig: Ooh. Oh, yeah.
Julia: She’s got a sub beat of museums, and they’re animals.
John: My second One Cool Things is actually just kind of a humble brag. Not a humble brag, just to brag. I built this typewriter out of Lego and it’s so cool. It took me nine hours to do but it looks great. I love vintage typewriters. And now I have a vintage typewriter made out of Lego. You guys can click the link in the WorkFlowy and see what it looks like. But, uh, it turned out great. It was my first Lego kit I’d ever done as a grown up and I just loved it and it actually makes little clacky sounds and the cartridge moves as you type. It’s delightful.
Craig: I see in your Instagram that Alex and A. Smith says, “My money is on this being next week’s One Cool Things.” Correct.
Julia: I saw that on your Instagram.
Megana: I was just going to say I’ve watched John make this Lego typewriter the pictures do not do justice to how complicated this was.
Craig: You are talking to the guy that built the 5,000-plus Millennium Falcon. So –
John: Wow. So really nothing – doesn’t mean for you.
Craig: What I’m saying is LOL to your Lego typewriter.
Julia: Hmm, I don’t know. I also am engaged in some high-level Lego building over here with my 8-year-sons –
Julia: And have also been given adult specialized Legos. So maybe we need to have a Lego off.
Craig: Ah, I would totally be into that. The key to building Legos is to just commit.
Craig: Just commit.
Julia: You know, but I remember hearing before I had kids like, “Oh, Legos, it’s so terrible. There’s no creative building anymore. The kids just want to follow the rules and build these sets.” And like as a non-kid haver and non-Lego doer, I was very sympathetic to that kind of cranky Gen-X argument. It’s not like we were when we were little. And then having kids, these sets are so cool. Like, they’re really fun –
Julia: And you learn a lot like, I mean, yes, there’s the problem that they make you buy new Legos and capitalism, etc. But I anticipated loathing Legos in parenthood and instead have found them a great source of parenting pleasure.
Craig: Yeah, of course, the sets are amazing. When I was a kid, and I didn’t have sets. I just had a huge, big bag of Legos. I built a large brick. I built the largest Lego brick ever. It’s the kind of thing that gets you institutionalized.
Craig: If people really consider what you’re doing as a child, “What does your son do with those Legos? He built one massive Lego. Okay, well, he’s a danger to society.”
I’ll tell you what is my One Cool Things and some people consider it dangerous to society like for instance, Stephen King who doesn’t get the genius of this, Ketchup Doritos. So in Canada there are all these ketchup things like they have ketchup potato chips, and they have Ketchup Doritos. And it sounds disgusting for I think a lot of people. I thought it would probably be disgusting.
Ketchup Doritos are wonderful. They’re the greatest thing ever. I have a bag of Ketchup Doritos that I keep in my trailer and I try and work through it slowly like over the course of a couple of weeks. So I’m like – I don’t eat out of the bag. I like take a handful, put them on the table, put the bag back, eat my eight Doritos and I feel super happy. Although I will say, I’m pretty sure that Bo steals a lot of the ketchup Doritos because there was a time I think she ate through one-and-a-half bags. Nobody can eat food like Bo by the way. Bo is my assistant, Bo Shim is very small, and she can eat more food than I can. It’s amazing. Regardless, Ketchup Doritos, I don’t know if you can get them in the US.
Craig: But if there’s some sort of Canada deal where they can ship it to you from Canada, and you got a few extra bucks and you feel ketchup-ing it up, hmm, so good.
John: Well, then, it sounds great.
Julia: All right. I’ve got two One Cool Things as the vernacular has it. The first is just a book that I want both of you hosts to read and actually Megana too given her background as I learned about it on the show. Have any of you read Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe, the book about the Sacklers?
John: Um, it is sitting on my Kindle to read. I’m excited to read it.
Craig: I have read it.
Julia: I found it to be such a great mix of really impressive reporting and really gripping storytelling. It’s very hard to write nonfiction that is both rigorous in its standards of accuracy and inquiry and reads like a fucking potboiler. And I could not put this book down. I found it so impressive on both levels. And it’s fascinating about the evolution in the pharmaceutical business and all of the terrible decisions that brought us the opioid epidemic.
Craig: So many.
Julia: But if you haven’t read it and those subjects sound at all interesting to you, read it. It’s not a beach read, but it’s a page turner, yes, page-turner.
Craig: it almost is a beach read. There are these moments where the stupid humanity of it all. Like, first of all, the way that they ended up with the name Purdue Pharmacy is incredible. So weird and shabby. And then the fact that the whole thing ultimately can be traced back to one poorly cited study in a journal that shouldn’t have even been in there. It’s awesome, and terrible, and wonderful. Definitely, great read.
Julia: All right, so that’s my first Cool Thing. And my second one, possibly stepping outside my role here as the ruthless journalist come in to interrogate you guys. But my second Cool Thing is Scriptnotes. You guys have built something really extraordinary here.
Julia: And it’s been lovely over the years to hear all of its ramifications, all the different people you’ve touched, all the impact you’ve had, all the interesting knowledge you’ve surfaced. And as a longtime listener, that’s my Cool Thing in honor of your 10th anniversary is you guys.
Craig: Oh, Thank, Julia.
John: Thank you.
Craig: That’s so sweet. And thank you for doing this.
Craig: This is awesome.
John: Now, Julia, you have the opportunity, but not the requirement to do the boilerplate at the end of the show. Do you feel like doing that or would you like me to do that?
Julia: Oh, man. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It’s edited Matthew Chilelli. Our outro today is by Matthew Chilelli. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also a place where you can send longer questions. For shorter questions on Twitter, Craig is sometimes online as @clmazin, and I am always @johnaugust. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts and the sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter called Interesting, which has lots of links to things about writing. We have T-shirts, and they’re great, from the Cotton Bureau. You can sign up to become a premium member at Scriptnotes.net, where you can get all the back episodes and bonus segments.
Craig: Thank you, Julia.
John: Thank you so much for doing this. And please stick around after this because you have a bonus topic for us to talk through which I’m very excited about on How Would Scriptnotes Be a Movie.
Julia: Very briefly, I know we have a cutoff, but I have one question I had wanted to ask you was, “What is the story of the Scriptnotes theme, where those notes come from? What’s the deal?”
John: So the Scriptnotes theme comes from, the bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, actually came from a short I did called The Remnants. It was a pilot for a web series, which we can put a link in the show notes to that, and I just wrote that as the opening jingle to The Remnants and I needed some intro music. So just like grabbed those, and so the actual name of that is Bloops and that became the basis for all of our outros. And so, all the outros should have that same pattern in there. And sometimes we get outros that are like really cool but you can’t actually hear the bloops in there. And they get dinged because we have standards.
Craig: Stuff I don’t know. The stuff I don’t know about this show is just a mountain of stuff I don’t know.
John: Oh, also, one thing we didn’t talk about, who came up with the name Scriptnotes? It was Craig Mazin.
Craig: Oh, also didn’t know that. Is that right?
John: Yeah, that’s true. You were the one who said Scriptnotes and –
Craig: Oh, okay.
John: Scriptnotes is meant to be – only the “S” is capitalized. There’s – the “n” is not capitalized, and it drives me absolutely crazy when people capitalize the “n” in it. So it’s, it’s one word, just to capital on the “S” whatever. And Craig –
Craig: When John sees it, he has a kernel panic.
John: I really do. Like, the camel case is not appropriate for this kind of work.
Julia: Why one word instead of two?
John: Just because I – it should be one word. I don’t know why. It just feels like it should be one word.
Julia: All right, mysteries, mysteries persist –
Julia: At the end of this conversation.
John: Just taste. Yeah.
Julia: Just taste.
John: And thank you, Julia Turner, for coming on to do this. But you should listen to her every week on the Slate Culture Gabfest which is phenomenal. And of course, subscribe and read the L.A. Times, which is a great local newspaper. Julia Turner, thank you so much for doing this.
Craig: Thank you, Julia. That was great.
Julia: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Hello, and welcome to the bonus segment of Scriptnotes. I’m doing the Slate Plus intro tone of voice here, but you guys will just have to roll with it. Today we are playing How Would This Be a Movie with the first 10 years of Scriptnotes. Is it a buddy comedy? Is it a bracing Hollywood critique? Is it kind of Norma Rae where you get the assistant’s better pay? And who plays each of you?
John: That’s the crucial question. All right. My choice for Craig –
John: Is Paul is Paul Giamatti.
Craig: I mean, he’s a little too old.
John: He’s a little too old. That’s the problem. So –
Craig: I think you’re thinking of 10 years ago, Paul Giamatti.
John: I’m thinking 10 years, so like, Josh Gad, could you – who else could do it? Now, who do you want to play you?
Craig: I don’t know. Just somebody sort of Jewy and grumpy, who’s sort of Jewy and grumpy. There’s so many of us. I don’t know. I have no idea.
John: And maybe Craig plays himself honestly.
Craig: I mean, I am an actor.
John: You’re quite a good actor.
Craig: Thank you.
John: You are an actor. Yes.
Craig: Thank you. Thank you.
John: Maybe Craig plays himself. But I am played on the show by – I think by Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory, that’d be my choice.
Craig: Yeah, that sounds reasonable.
John: Yeah, because he could do that sort of, like, good-natured, but gay and also can be robotic at times.
John: That’s –
Craig: I mean, he’s sort of got that market cornered, actually.
John: So I’m saying Jim Parsons. But what is the tone?
Julia: Yeah, yeah, casting is fun. But like what’s – yeah, how would it be a movie?
Craig: Hmm. It’s a boring goddamn movie. I’ll tell you that.
John: Yeah. So the drama-drama came out during the agency stuff, but much of that is especially good. It could be like one of those sort of backstage comedies like getting ready for a live show. Because that’s always sort of interesting and scrambly because here’s what tends to happen, especially an Austin is Craig would put together a dinner before the show.
John: And we have like 30 or 40 writers around this big, long table, and we take forever to get our food and like, “Craig, the show is going to start in 10 minutes, we have to go.” And Craig is like, “Oh, great, Who should we have on as guests, and so that we bring really drunk people on the show?” So that stuff behind the scenes would be half the fun. Like, we’re sort of like, Game Night. It’s like Game Night, but without trying to put on a live show.
Craig: That’s not bad. I mean, there is a version where we do the show, but really, we’re spies or something, I mean, the whole thing is a cover. We’re not even screenwriters.
John: Yeah, no.
Craig: But –
John: That’s a very long con.
Craig: There could also be a version of this where we hate each other.
John: Yeah. Oh, I love that version –
John: Where like, it’s all we just detest each other. And so like –
John: So, you and I both know, it’s like some TV shows where they’d be cast members just despise each other.
John: And could not actually – they could like, cameras rolling, they’re great. And they never spoke offset. That could be us.
Craig: I think that would be kind of fun. And then I guess in that regard, the hero of that show would be Megana.
John: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Or she’s like sort of trapped in the middle of the first shot.
Craig: Yeah, she’s like, so it’s from her perspective, like Megana wakes up, and she’s like, “Oh, my god, I got to go to work with – ” And everyone is like, “Oh, my god, you’re so lucky. You get to produce that show with those guys. They’re so great.” And she’s like, “Mm-hmm.” And then she gets there. And we’re screaming at each other and she’s like, “My life sucks. And then and then she falls in love.”
John: Yeah. But I think –
Megana: Ah, with who?
Craig: Exactly. See, you’re into it. So I’m feeling like, there’s another podcast that we’re super angry about because they’re getting into our stuff, and we hate each other but we hate other podcasts more. And you and the producer of that podcast –
Craig: Start to commiserate over some drinks. And then it happens. And then the thing – it’s like Romeo and Juliet.
John: Yeah, so we may be begging the question, Craig –
John: Because we’re assuming that this is supposed to be a movie, but I don’t think it really is a movie. I think it is a –
Craig: It’s inaudible.
John: It’s a series. I mean, it really is –
Craig: Great use of begging the question. Great use of everything.
John: Thank you. I want to take all the praise you can give me. I think it really is, though, a – it’s a comedy. I think it’s more like Veep, honestly, where like, we are incredibly dysfunctional.
John: And Megana is the equivalent of that chief of staff like trying to hold us all together.
John: And that’s Craig…
Craig: Perfect. It’s like the first – maybe it’s not the first comedy – but it is of a model where finally the millennials have to take care of the diapered up Gen-Xers. You know what I mean?
Craig: Like, we’re just cranking and out of it. So out of it.
Craig: And I like the idea that you are super racist behind the scenes.
John: I think that – well, you know, I’m Southern. I try to keep my accent hidden but I’m actually from the deep, deep south, the really racist south.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. And so like –
John: So –
Craig: When once the thing, like, you know, it’s Hollywood, nothing is ever what you think. Like I’m the nice one. You’re a dick. And then, Megana, she’s like, deal with that, but you know, I think it would be wonderful. That’s – how would it be a show?
Julia: Reverse Odd Couple where the odd couple you play on the podcast, you are the opposite odd couple behind scenes.
Craig: Correct. Reverse odd couple plus generational babies. Yeah. I love it.
Craig: Plus romance. Romance is the key.
John: Oh, so much romance. Yeah.
John: I’m really excited about this whole Megana romance angle. We do it to figure this out.
Megana: I’m excited about it, too.
Craig: I know. Megana, let’s talk. We got to figure this out.
John: Yeah. But it has to be like, like fumbles along the way. So it has to be like, sort of like –
Craig: Of course.
John: I mean, because it has build over the course of season like will they or won’t they? But then of course, stuff will sort of pull them apart and there’s terrible stuff about him too.
Craig: You know, I feel like that’s something that is from our time. I think that for millennials, there’s no will they or won’t they.
Craig: It’s you will – we will.
Craig: But then what?
Craig: That’s exciting.
John: But then it got awkward. Yeah.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. Now it’s like, oh, my god, am I on his Insta, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. This is great. Love it.
Julia: All right.
Craig: I’m just summing up an entire generation with the word Insta.
Julia: Okay. I think we can conclude that Scriptnotes should remain a podcast based on this conversation. But thank you for indulging my inquiry.
Craig: Of course.
Julia: And thank you listeners for supporting John’s effort to enrich himself at the expense of Craig.
Craig: Thank you. Hey, finally, someone gets it. We did it!
John: This was so much fun.
Craig: Whew! Whew!
Julia: Thanks, guys. This was really, really fun.
Craig: Thank you so much.
John: Thank you so much, Julia. This was amazing.
- Julia Turner on the LA Times and Slate Culture Gabfest
- The Matrix Trailer
- Scriptnotes, Episode 411: Setting it Up with Katie Silberman
- Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
- The Academy Museum Hawk Deborah Vankin for the LA Times
- Lego Typewriter, check out John’s finished project!
- Ketchup Doritos
- Check out the Scriptnotes Index for our first 500 episodes
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- Gift a Scriptnotes Subscription or treat yourself to a premium subscription!
- Julia Turner on Twitter
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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You can download the episode here.