The original post for this episode can now be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. May name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 519 of Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. I don’t have a cold but I sort of have a little bit of laryngitis, so we’ll see how I do this week, Craig.
John: I really, I actually feel, feel fine. But just in case we suddenly cut out that’s going to be the excuse for why we’re not continuing the podcast.
Craig: You died.
John: I died.
Craig: From laryngitis.
John: Then John died. I went home to my home planet.
Craig: You went home to some planet. Megana, do you know what we’re saying there? Do you know that reference?
Megana Rao: I don’t.
Craig: Yeah, it’s, it’s Poochie.
John: It’s a reference to the Simpsons. But while you’re googling that, today on the show, while there are many techniques for plotting out your story and really knowing your characters, only Scriptnotes will we teach you how to forget those things so you can write proper scenes. So that’s right. It’s a craft episode.
Craig: Oh, yeah.
John: So sharpen your pencils. Craig loves a craft episode.
Craig: I do. I do.
John: But first, Craig, we have so much news to talk through.
Craig: Let’s do that.
John: We have Scarlett Johansson and CAA. We got Netflix. We got The Wizard of Oz.
John: We’ll also have a follow up on Spooky Season and IATSE. So, time permitting, we’ll also get to some listener questions because I know you love listener questions.
Craig: I do. I love them. I love them because –
Craig: I have to do the least amount of work for them.
John: Mm-hmm. But you will actually have to do some work because in our bonus segment for premium members, we’re going to talk about fame.
John: Not the movie musical, which is fantastic.
John: Or the series, which is also good.
Craig: Loved it.
John: But what it means to be famous in the 2020s.
Craig: Yeah. It’s not great.
John: Yeah. It’s not great.
John: It’s not great. Ah, but some good news did happen this past week, Scarlett Johansson and Disney reached an agreement on Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit about the box office bonuses she’s owed for Black Widow.
John: We don’t know what the actual dollar amount was. We probably never really will.
John: But everyone is happy and singing and joy has returned to the Mouse House.
Craig: Yeah, as was inevitably the case, it was –
Craig: This was always what it would be. The only question was, you know, like, how much is it. And we don’t know. And also I don’t care. That’s their business.
Craig: But the good side is that an artist got taken care of. The bad side is these kinds of settlements actually don’t benefit anybody but individuals.
Craig: There is structurally speaking, for Hollywood, nothing has been resolved. But good news for Scarlett Johansson at the very least.
John: Yeah, I think the lawsuit did shine a spotlight on the need for us to be thinking about what we’re going to do and movies are debuting on streaming that were originally supposed to be debuting theatrically. So it got people to pay attention to it.
John: Great. But we need systemic solutions, not a settlement after a settlement after its settlement.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
Craig: That sounds great.
John: Now, while the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit settlement was probably inevitable –
John: I wonder whether the CAA acquiring ICM was inevitable. Did you see this happening before it happened, Craig?
Craig: Didn’t see it happening. Didn’t hear about it happening. Was absolutely shocked when I read it. Not shocked in a bad way, just surprised.
John: Yeah, I would say surprised but not shocked was sort of where I fell in. It’s like, oh, yeah, that’s the thing that could happen. But I hadn’t heard anything about it before. So then it happens, like, oh, well, this happened.
So ICM in the, in terms of writers, was the fourth biggest agency in town.
John: CAA was the second biggest agency. So the number two bought number four.
John: And so, they’re gonna merge them all together.
John: It has to go through regulatory approvals and antitrust.
John: But they’ll make it through that because it’s not bigger than the biggest one, so consolidation.
Craig: Yeah, sort of inevitable and I guess I just didn’t realize that it was gonna be these two agencies. So I guess now – are they changing the name or it’s just everybody is CAA now?
John: I think the plan is for everyone to be CAA –
John: But I’m not sure it’s been announced.
Craig: I do like this quote that you put here in work notes from Ariel Emanuel. So Ariel Emanuel runs Endeavour. “ICM has not been what it used to be 15 years ago. I think what CAA bought was five incredible TV writers, a very good book business, and a very good soccer rep business out of Europe.” So obviously diminishing the purchase of ICM as best he could but what I kind of liked that he’s like, I think what CAA bought was like five people that generate like a billion dollars business and also a great book business and also apparently a great soccer business. I don’t know. Like those aren’t great things.
John: Let’s talk about sort of these five TV writers because it’s not like those TV writers are bound to ICM and are now bound to CAA. They can choose to go wherever they want to go. And as can any other client of ICM. No one is contractually obligated to stick with that agency, and move over to CAA. So everyone has these choices. Some of those clients will choose not to move over and they’ll go to other agencies, which is fine. For writers, ICM was much smaller than UTA was and we really – we talk about Big Four, but really, it was the Big Three plus ICM. If you were a writer at ICM, you’re now at a larger agency.
John: Assuming you’re making the transition. If you were a writer at CAA, maybe have a little bit more competition for some of those things, like, maybe a little bit harder to get attention there. But noticeably nothing changes with the WGA agency agreement. Like this new merged agencies still has the same cap on what they can do and what they can’t do. So it doesn’t really affect any of that?
Craig: Yeah. And I don’t really think that there will be much in the way of competition changes. You’ve always competed against other writers to an extent, for jobs and things. Whether it’s inter- or intra-agency competition, even within a single agent’s roster –
Craig: There are going to be clients that are competing for things. The squeeze, I think, though will be real. I would be surprised if I don’t think that when this sort of thing happens that everybody at CAA and everybody at ICM gets together and has a big party. I think a bunch of people just get pushed off the ship.
Craig: So when agents get pushed off the ship, so too do assistants, and so do, of course, clients. So it’s going to be interesting to see how the consolidation functions for everybody other than the people who are running the show.
Craig: But if I were UTA, I’d probably be looking around for a dance partner right about now.
John: Yeah, I wonder about that. I don’t necessarily know that they need to. I mean, because – would they look for a bigger dance partner? Or would they try to take a smaller person or do they even –
John: Yeah, I don’t know if they need to, but they might.
John: So –
Craig: I could see that. But then –
John: Yeah, I could see it happening too.
John: Consolidation is the trend.
Craig: It’s the way it goes.
John: Also this past week, the Academy Museum opened up. So this is a brand new museum on Wilshire Boulevard. I got to go to an opening, a preopening thing this past week. It’s really nice. People should go visit. If you’re in Los Angeles and you like movies, come visit the Academy Museum, because you’ll see cool stuff from the history of the movies, cool exhibits, artifacts, pieces of equipment, original costumes, all that stuff is really neat. There’s a really good Miyazaki Exhibit there right now. But I think I found especially cool, which I tweeted about was they had a whole room section for The Wizard of Oz, like sort of making The Wizard of Oz. And they had this page from the screenplay for The Wizard of Oz. And I had never seen the script for The Wizard of Oz. And this was kind of cool. So Craig, as you open up this tweet –
John: And you’re seeing this photo –
John: What is your reaction to this script page?
Craig: Well, on the one hand, it’s amazingly similar to what we do now.
Craig: The font is the same. The general layout is the same. There’s a scene number, which appears to be 319, possibly.
Craig: Which is a rather – it’s on page 122.
John: The script’s long.
Craig: It’s long, but it’s at the end.
John: Yes. Yeah.
Craig: So it’s about right. The margins are a little funky. And the action is actually sort of pushed to the right and also oddly centered. So it kind of – it’s hard to tell the difference between action and dialogue. But the characters names, which are not capitalized, are above the dialogue like we do.
Craig: There’s even a bit of parenthetical like Dorothy turns around, right there, you know, apparently, you are breaking that rule of don’t put action in parentheticals in 1939.
Craig: So, yeah, kind of like weird to see the continuity of what we do today with what they did then.
John: Yeah, so what I check from this is like, while some stuff is different, and like the overall layout of dialogue and action is a little bit more how stage plays work than how modern screenplays work in terms of margins –
John: It really does look like a script, like you can hand this script to, you know, a director and he’s like, could shoot this page.
John: Like they would know how to do it. It’s completely normal and reasonable. Even stuff like the cut back to is over on the right-hand margin.
John: It really does feel like a modern script page way back in 1939. But some stuff has evolved and changed. And that’s okay. Things do evolve and change and things do move on. And the screenplay format was never handed down by the gods as like, this is how screenplays shall be. They’re just like, it was evolving and this was a stage in the evolution and pretty close to sort of where we ended up.
John: So I really dug it.
Craig: I do like a couple of things on the page and a specific one is medium, Glinda and Dorothy. And the other one is keep the camera on Dorothy as she follows Glinda’s directions. So as you can see, screenwriters have been directing on the page since the beginning of Hollywood.
John: Yes, they have been.
John: Yeah, it was.
Craig: Good lord.
John: Also, famously, The Wizard of Oz was written by a zillion people –
John: On – a whole bunch of people worked through it.
John: And so, like, that’s not a new thing that’s happened either.
John: So –
Craig: It was also directed by multiple directors.
John: Yes, it was. And like the studio was super involved in every little phase of it. So, if you get a chance to go see The Wizard of Oz exhibit, fantastic. If all you can see The Wizard of Oz is this page and the original movie, you’ll have some sense of what the connection was between this is what started on the page and this is the final movie you saw.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly.
John: Also, this past week, Netflix put out a data dump, or at least showed some numbers on their biggest series and movies, like what is actually the top hits on Netflix, which I found kind of surprising, because they’ve always been so cagey about sort of like kind of what people are watching and what are the most popular things.
John: But for some reason, they chose to put out some charts. So there’s two different charts we’re talking about. So the first is most popular series and films as determined by the number of accounts that have watched at least two minutes of that title in its first 28 days on Netflix. So you never see the whole thing. You had to watch at least two minutes of it.
Craig: So if you watched two minutes and then – oh, screw this, you apparently watched that show. Oh Netflix, come on.
John: Oh, Netflix.
Craig: Really? Two minutes.
John: So the second one is actually – it is actually a little bit more useful for us.
John: It’s a little bit more what we’re expecting.
John: So this is total view hours per title in the first 28 days on Netflix.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: So either and they could be longer things or more people are watching or people rewatching them, but it’s probably more what we’re kind of thinking, like, oh, this thing is really popular because people are really consuming it.
Craig: Correct, Bridgerton, very popular.
Craig: So Shonda Rhimes has done it again. You see a couple of things. And The Witcher, the first season was very popular.
Craig: But Stranger Things 2 and 3. Still rolling big time.
John: Oh, yeah.
Craig: Those were kind of – so Stranger Things sort of peaked, I guess, in season two and three.
John: Well, season four hasn’t come out yet.
Craig: Oh, there you go. So I guess maybe season four will be even better, as true as would I know. I started to see them too.
John: I really, really enjoy seeing number seven on the top series –
John: Is You Season 2.
Craig: What the hell is that?
John: So which was, of course, so You is that show that was on Lifetime that Lifetime canceled and – but Netflix picked it up and it became a giant hit on Netflix. And so –
Craig: What is it?
John: So You is a story – it’s a romcom about a serial killer.
Craig: Okay, I never heard of it.
John: Or sort of a stalker serial killer person.
Craig: I really never heard of it.
John: Yeah, it’s good. It’s pent actually. It’s nice.
Craig: Okay, so 457 –
John: Megana – Megana Rao, have you watched any of You?
Megana: Yes, I’ve watched a lot of it.
Craig: A lot of it. Okay.
Craig: Got it.
Craig: Have you watched Ginny & Georgia?
Megana: I had a friend who wrote on that show. And so I did watch that, too.
Craig: Money Heist?
John: Money Heist is a big international hit. So –
John: I think it’s Spanish and it’s done really well everywhere.
Craig: Looking at the films, we knew the Bird Box was this sort of Netflix film phenomenon.
Craig: What’s Extraction?
John: Extraction is the Chris Hemsworth, Russo Brothers’ movie –
John: Where he plays a guy who gets people out of dying situations I believe.
Craig: Oh, okay.
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Craig: The Irishman obviously was a big Scorsese movie. Kissing Booth 2 which I know my daughter was a big Kissing Booth fan.
John: Mm-hmm. 6 Underground was the Michael Bay, Ryan Reynolds movie.
Craig: Right. What Spenser Confidential?
John: That was Mark Wahlberg –
John: Playing Spenser like the Spenser detective.
Craig: I like seeing Enola Holmes on here. That’s our buddies Jack Thorne and Harry Bradbeer.
John: Yeah. We’ve discussed Army of the Dead.
John: Tig Notaro thing. Charlize Theron and The Old Guard.
John: And Murder Mystery was the –
Craig: Sandler and Aniston.
John: Yeah, Jennifer Aniston.
John: Yeah, Sandliston. So many of the top films are the big budget ones.
John: The sort of, like, oh, well, that’s a giant hit. I think it’s really fascinating with Kissing Booth 2 which was not expensive but had such an amazing viewership.
John: And it’s just important to remember that sometimes on Netflix, the more money you spend doesn’t necessarily mean the more eyeballs you’re gonna get.
Craig: Yeah, I’m just still giggling over the – if you watch two minutes you’re considered a watcher. Oh, it’s just silly. Yeah, pretty amazing though. I mean, Netflix has – this is their first kind of brief glimpse behind the screen. I’m still – I’m curious about this.
John: Craig, why? Why do you think they shared these numbers with us this week?
Craig: I think that the Netflix business model is curious. Where we are on our side of things, Netflix is fantastically successful. Everybody talks about it constantly. They make more content than anybody. Everybody has a subscription. That sounds pretty great.
On the other side of things, they do spend a lot of money, obviously, and I think they sort of keep spending more than they make. So some of this has to do with proving to the market that people really are watching stuff and it’s not just Netflix pretending, because there are no commercials here. So it really just comes down, I suppose, to subscriber retention.
John: Yeah. And that number they’ve always had to sort of disclose to investors to show like what their churn is and how much they’re able to grow. My theory behind why they’re releasing this information now is they feel Disney+ closing on their heels and obviously being indexed with the success that it’s become and they want to sort of show how dominant they are and how dominant they are worldwide, and so they have a new show, Squid Game, which is like, you know –
John: It’s going to be their top, by far their top performer. It’ll top all these charts as they publish them now. So I’m guessing it’s just because they now have competition and they feel the need to sort of show how successful they are on their big titles.
Craig: Yeah, you might be right. I mean, they certainly now have really serious competition from multiple outlets and there’s more coming, right?
Craig: It seems like every day there’s another streamer coming on board. So you have Apple. You have Amazon. You have HBO Max. You have Disney+. You have Paramount+?
John: Paramount+ yeah.
John: Yeah, all CBS shows. All your Star Treks. All your Survivors.
Craig: Yeah, you’ve got Peacock.
Craig: Hulu. So now we used to have 500 cable channels. Soon we will have 500 streamers. So yeah, I don’t know why.
Craig: This is above my paygrade.
John: So here is where I think it’s so fascinating is it shows that they actually do have all this data and they could share this data whenever they wanted to. So as we start talking about like maybe you need to pay, you know, folks, proper residuals for the things they do, it’s not hard for them to crank out these charts and they really do know how many people have watched what. And so –
John: That’s the thing they can do. And that data is there and accessible. It reminds me of my One Cool Things from last week I talked about how in the music streaming business, how weird the numbers and accounting really were. And again, you can always learn from like what happened in music streaming to what’s happening here. Let’s make sure that as we look at these numbers, they really are kind of measuring what we want to measure, which is, how much is my work being used and exploited.
Craig: Yeah, and maybe that’s why they’ve been holding off for so long because they didn’t want people like, say, Jack Thorne and Harry Bradbeer to know that 190 million hours were spent on Enola Holmes. That does imply that they should get paid more for, you know, the next outing. And this is true for all of these things, you know, if you get paid nothing in residuals for, I don’t know, 6 Underground, well, what does that mean? Because 83 million people watched at least two minutes of it.
John: No, because –
Craig: I don’t know what that means. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what that means.
John: Because I was only a talking head and not an actual writer on Hollywood clichés, which debuted on Netflix this past week, I wouldn’t have gotten any residuals that I wrote anyway.
Craig: Oh, yes.
John: But the writers to that show, if it’s a huge success, I don’t know where it’s going to be a huge success, yeah, I want them to be rewarded for the hard work they did.
Craig: I mean, I have a legitimate question I wish I could ask Ted Sarandos dose in all seriousness. Why would they set two minutes as the thresholds for saying that an account has watched a series or film in terms of its popularity when I think that number is kind of a joke, right? I mean –
John: Yeah, that feels too low. It feels like you want – like 15 minutes is like you’ve sort of given it a try.
Craig: And I think it’s a failure. I mean, not one of these things is 15 minutes long. I mean –
Craig: If you watch, I don’t know, two thirds of a movie, then I guess, you know, I would say you watched it, you didn’t bail out. And if you watched a single episode of a series, in its completion, meaning, you know, or 90% or more, then that’s a watch. What does this two minutes get you other than derision? It’s a very strange choice.
John: All right. Well, Ted can write in and tell us.
Craig: Yeah, Ted, explain this to us.
John: Why two minutes?
Craig: Yeah. Why two minutes, Ted?
John: Why two minutes?
Craig: Yeah, we’d like to know.
John: We got some follow up.
John: So last week on the show we talked about IATSE, which is the stage and theatrical employees.
John: You can say all the bloodline folks who actually make our movies and TV shows. They are right now, as we’re recording this, in the middle of their strike authorization vote. So by the time you’re listening to this, we’ll, we may know the outcomes of this vote. So we are living in the past and you don’t know what the results were. They would have to achieve 75% on that vote in order to –
Craig: Oh, they’re going to.
John: Go on strike.
Craig: They’re going to.
John: I think they’ll easily hit that number.
John: That’s not surprising.
Craig: No question.
John: We got a lot of good emails in. I want to highlight one from Dan. Dan writes that creatives like Craig often approach production as a crunch time to power through, and I definitely am guilty of this versus like, okay, we just sort of head down to get through this. It’s going to be exhausting but we’ll get through it.
John: And Dan points out that it’s easy to forget that the trials in production are not a temporary situation for your crew. We spend far more time there than anywhere else in our lives. And so, what’s a crunch time for us is just normal time for them. That’s an interesting perspective that I hadn’t really considered.
Craig: Certainly coming from features, absolutely, I think, writers and directors do view production as here we go, and then it’s over. Whereas crews are doing all year round. Now, running a television show, I can tell you now this is my life.
Craig: And it is –
Craig: There’s no specific end in sight. I mean, obviously, there is an end in sight. I just don’t want to see what it is, but point being, we’re gonna be in production for a long time. And so, I now feel that life and it becomes all the more important to make sure that people are being, at the minimum, not bullied and not pushed around and not made miserable and not treated poorly.
Craig: And ideally treated well.
John: Yeah. Dan also points out that script coordinators and production office coordinators, who are also IATSE, they are paid so little compared to other folks on a set. And so, he’s saying he’s paid really well but other folks are not, especially office workers. And that the production office coordinator is not an entry-level job. A multi-million dollar production literally could not function in a day without them. And some of them are making less money than a retail clerk, and that we as a union have never stood up for them until now. So, hurray.
Craig: That is a great point. And one area to take a careful look at are the places that are controlled by the people who control budgets.
Craig: The people who control budgets are always looking for places to save money. That’s their job, I suppose.
Craig: But there are jobs that people like you and me don’t see, for instance, production. I’m not in the production office, because I’m on set or I’m on location. And those jobs there, that’s areas where there can be situations like this where they’re just being underpaid, and that’s why a union is so essential.
Craig: I hope very much that IATSE gets what they want out of this and what they need. And I would say – I didn’t say this last week. I want to say it now. This is my weekly message to Carol Lombardini. Carol, you don’t want to let this genie out of the bottle. If IATSE strikes, now they know what it means to strike. And they’re gonna feel it. And that’s a taste that you can get real used to. The Writers Guild talks about striking every three years because we’re kind of a strike-y union. We haven’t struck a lot during my time and John’s time. We’ve only struck once during our time. But prior to that, we struck multiple times. There was a run in the ‘70s and ‘80s where we’re striking every couple of years, because we liked it. And you don’t want IATSE to get used to striking, Carol. Give them what they want. You don’t want to do this. You don’t want to go down this road. I know you don’t want to go down this road. You need to take care of them. Also, what they’re asking for is ultimately about what is morally correct. And I can easily make the argument why wealthy feature writers don’t deserve another penny on the DVDs or whatever. Harder to make any kind of moral argument against what IATSE is asking for, these are people who have put their hearts and souls into this, a lot of them as Dan writes in, are being paid barely anything. You got to give on this one. They’ve got to.
John: Yeah. As we acknowledged last week as well, if a strike happens, it won’t shut down all production because there are –
John: There are some places working under a different contract. And so, they’re like, it’s going to be a weird situation because it’s not like the whole, everything shuts down. It’s like, everything shuts down on certain shows.
John: But some shows made for HBO and other places that are on different contracts, which feels like an extra strange place for the AMPTP because suddenly some of their members are like not hurting me. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Craig: Yeah. And again, this I think we mentioned this last week, this is about Netflix. This is flat out about Netflix. The amount of production that Netflix funds, therefore the amount of employment for which they’re responsible is very outsized, compared to everyone else. And yeah, it’s gonna have to – it’s gonna have to get fixed.
John: Also, last week, we discussed a murder that took place in a small town in remote Australia. Jason from Brisbane, Australia wrote in to say, “I was excited to hear that you were discussing the Larrimah story for how this would be a movie, but I was surprised to hear you were citing a Medium article by an American writer. The story was covered and reported by two Australian writers, Caroline Graham and Kylie Stephenson. They created a great podcast that came out a few years back and have just released a book.” So we’ll put links to both of those resources in the show notes for this episode. I didn’t know that they had written it. Basically, I think my first exposure to this story came from a reader who sent in the link to this article, but it’s great that there were some people on the ground during that first person recording.
Craig: John, I think this makes you a bad person.
John: Aye, yeah. That’s a moral failing.
Craig: You’re bad.
John: Oh, but I don’t feel nearly as much shame as you should –
John: Because we got another piece of follow up.
Craig: Here we go.
John: Really follow up about your criticism of the autumn season.
Craig: Here they come. Here they come.
John: Uh, Megana could you chime in here?
Megana: Yeah, so we got this really thoughtful feedback.
Megana: Megana notes. “When we were –
Megana: When we recorded our bonus segment on fall last episode, I was at a farmhouse in Maine and I was cold and hungry, and got distracted by the thought of sweaters and stew. I want to make clear that the reason I love fall is Halloween, and if there’s any marketing campaign to blame for the popularity of the season, let’s just say the call is from inside the house.”
Megana: “When I was five years old, the Fox Family channel which then became ABC Family, and is now Freeform launched its 31 Nights of Halloween programming campaign. So each night in October, they play a family-friendly scary movie. That’s when I was introduced to some of my favorite movies like The Addams Family –“
Craig: Great movie.
Megana: “Hocus Pocus,”
Megana: “And … the Corpse Bride.”
Craig: Never saw it.
John: Ah, I know that one.
Megana: “And guess who has a writing credit on the Corpse Bride, ring, ring, the prince of Halloween himself –“
Craig: Oh, lord.
Megana: “Mr. John August.”
Craig: Oh, my god.
Megana: “Also, guess what movies my brother would steal the remote and flip the channel to you?”
Craig: He sounds cool. Which ones?
Megana: “That’s right. Scary Movies 3 and 4.”
Craig: Okay, your brother is awesome.
Megana: “So I just want to point out that if any institution is to blame for the rise of Spooky Season, it is not CBS –“
Megana: “Not Nancy Meyers. It is in fact Scriptnotes.”
Craig: I –
John: Wow, I feel like the mirror was just turned like back on us and you recognize like we are the problem.
Craig: And also, we’re the solution.
John: Maybe we should just surrender to Spooky Season and just say, like, you know what, it’s great. I actually never really mentioned you Yuck Someone’s Yum, if people like it, great. It’s just, I find it a little too much.
Craig: Yeah, I, I don’t, I like Halloween, you know, and I just don’t like the phrase Spooky Season actually. I think I like the idea of what Spooky Season represents. I just want a different name for it.
Craig: But I’m sure everybody else agreed with me, right Megana? No? What?
Megana: I just think it’s rich as the co-architects of the situation that we find ourselves in, you guys are all of a sudden bowing out of Spooky Season.
John: Okay, co-architect is probably overstating our role on this.
John: As just –
Craig: Just a little bit.
John: As small day laborers on the project of creating the Halloween complex.
Craig: I was young, I needed the work.
John: And by the way, Craig was mocking the Halloween complex in those two movies.
Craig: That’s absolutely right.
Craig: It’s exactly correct.
John: And really, by the time it got to Scary Movies 3 and 4, they were barely about like, you know, Scary Movies at all.
Craig: Not at all.
John: Where they? They were basically just like pop-culture movies. I didn’t – I didn’t see them.
Megana: But they’re still played all October.
Craig: Yeah, we, we were – Scary Movie 4 is where the wheels started coming off because Bob Weinstein was fully raging. But on 3, we kind of kept it to the ring, which was, which was the Scary Movie.
John: Oh, yeah.
Craig: And Signs, which was sort of a scary movie, and Saw. Saw actually was 4.
Craig: So Saw was scary. Yeah, but then it got stupid.
John: The Ring is such a genuinely scary movie.
John: It’s still really unsettling for me.
Craig: It’s terrific, excellent.
John: Love it.
John: Great. All right, let’s get on to our craft topic this week.
Craig: All right.
John: And so set up for this, Megana and I went down to Howard Rodman’s class at USC. He’s teaching a graduate screenwriting class, and once a year, I go down there and talk with him as they’re going through their index cards on their films. And so, basically, they’re laying out all their cards on a table, and then in about 10 minutes they’re sort of pitching me the story and sort of pointing to the cards and sort of show where they’re at. And it’s a good exercise. But before we started, I wanted to talk about sort of their backgrounds. And so, two of the six were actors. They had come from an acting background. So we were talking about the way in which actors approach characters versus how writers approach characters, because actors have a very different understanding of sort of their motivation with the scene, because they’re hopefully just thinking about where they are in that moment versus the writer thinks about that character over the course of the whole journey.
And that really is the same situation with index cards versus the script you’re writing, because these index cards are sort of like a roadmap for the story that you’re gonna be telling. And you’re really figuring out, like, “What is this map?” Like, “Where are we overall going?” But characters, of course, are never actually, on the whole journey. They’re just in one scene. And they don’t actually know this whole map. They don’t know what is happening around them. So it’s this weird thing that writers have to do where we have to know so much. And then at the same time, forget it all, when we actually start doing the work of writing scenes. And so for this segment, I want to talk about how important it is to forget what you need to forget, and some techniques for sort of doing all of that memory loss as you’re writing.
Craig: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I’ve never thought of it this way. But that’s pretty much what’s going on. You have to know everything. And then you have to pretend you don’t know everything. One thing that actors do have to do is both be the person in the scene and also take care of certain technical aspects that they are aware, have everything to do with the artificial nature of making a movie or television show. They are being a person. Also, they need to hit their mark. And they need to put their eye line slightly off from where they think they should put it because the camera operators asked for that. And they have to remember to pick the thing up with their left hand at this word.
Craig: So there is this weird melding of authenticity and absolute fakery. And –
Craig: We kind of do the same thing, but in a different way. We do it in terms of scope, what we know versus what they know.
John: And if we’re not doing that job properly, we’re gonna end up with characters who are functional, but not real. They’re gonna work like robots. They’re going to sort of do the job, maybe of like, moving a plot along, but they’re not going to feel real in those moments. And that’s really what I want to talk about is like how do you get them to do their jobs without sort of making it seem like they’re just doing their plot jobs? How do they do that artificial stuff, which is like picking up that prop at the right moment and make them feel like, well, that’s what they just wanted to do at that moment?
Craig: Yep, exactly.
John: So let’s talk through the things you need to forget, like things you know as a writer going into a scene. So you know the theme, you know the central dramatic question, you know what your movie is about, you know what your story is trying to tell, you know what you’re wrestling with. You know all the characters’ secrets, you know why they’re there, what they secretly want, what they could do if they could do anything, you know what happens next. And you know what happens in the scenes that those characters weren’t in. And so you know we’re all – how all the pieces fit together. And these other characters in the scene, they don’t even have a sense that there is a puzzle to be assembled. I got a puzzle reference in there.
John: Because they don’t know what – they don’t know what the shape of this whole thing is. They’re just like one little piece and then they have no sense. They actually have a function overall. So you have to know all these things. And then you have to kind of forget them.
Craig: Yeah, and part of creating the narrative and the – let’s call it the overall picture, the big meta story –
Craig: Where you’re looking down like the dungeon master and you can see everything is –
Craig: You have to design your story in such a way that it is really interesting to view from very limited points of view.
Craig: If everybody can see everything, if it’s, if you’ve built a big open building of story, and everybody sees everything, then it’s gonna be boring. There’s gonna be very little conflict. Mostly everybody will agree that they see what they see. They know what they know. And now what should we do?
But the more you design a funhouse for your characters, where they are seeing optical illusions, where they’re seeing things that make them think x, but truthfully, it’s y, and then we get to see them discover that it’s y, this is the fun. This is the fun part. This is the puzzle part. Everybody inside of your narrative should be able to see only what you want them to see. And what you want them to see should be very purposeful. It can’t just be what they happen to see. You get to shape things so that perhaps they get fooled, and the audience gets fooled.
John: Absolutely. And of course, that audience is the third important character here, because the audience is approaching any of these stories with a set of expectations. They have a sense of like what they think is going to happen next. They have information that the characters in the scene don’t have. And so, you’re always remembering as the writer is like, okay, the audience knows this piece of information, so therefore, I don’t want this character to say the same again because they already know it. So you’re always balancing, you know, where your audience is at versus where your character is at versus where you know the story as a whole needs to go. So you’re doing a lot of juggling here. And that’s why I’m just urging people to do is to do as much as you can just sort of forget that you’re juggling and just really experience this from inside the character’s point of view so that it feels alive and natural.
As I was looking at these index cards, they’re all laid on tables, that really was the god’s eye view. And I was trying to mostly focus on, is the shape of the story interesting. Are we actually moving from one interesting place to another interesting place to a new place? Does it feel like we’re progressing through time, through different locations that we’re actually on a journey that’s going to be meaningful, but the same time I wanted to be able to focus down and look at, like, this index card, this scene, is that going to be interesting? Is it gonna be interesting to watch as an audience? Would it be interesting for the characters who are in that moment? And you have to be able to do that macro and that micro looking at the same time when you’re thinking about the big stories. Like, it’s great to like lay out, you know, oh, this would be an epic journey. But are you creating an epic journey that’s going to have space for those fascinating moments inside them?
Craig: Yeah. Are you using your index cards to find your story? Or have you found your story and you’re just putting them on index cards? That’s what you ought to be doing. Because if you think your index cards are going to teach you what to do, you’re going to end up with a whole lot of index cards that suck. The work has to be done before you get the Sharpie out.
John: Yeah. So what can be useful about the index cards is like I don’t tend to card out a lot of things. But what can be useful about them is recognize that you just have too many beats or that you’re sort of doing the same thing too often, or if you stayed in the same place a little too long; that you need to keep moving. If there’s too many scenes that are kind of doing the same thing, great that you’re noticing this now before you’ve written those scenes.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, it’s a good organizational tool for sure. But when you have index cards, like John is looking at these index cards, and he picks up one of them and he goes, “Well, this one seems not quite interesting. It seems a little bit boring,” there is a big problem underneath that. Every person – every problem is a big problem in a story, when it comes down to story. If you’re looking at index cards, then the human being on the table is completely opened up. You’re looking at organs and bones.
Craig: If an organ is in the wrong place, it’s not just, oh, let’s move it over here. There’s something fundamentally not correct because the index cards and those beats should be a function of what your characters want, and should be a function of what your characters know versus what you want them to know or where you want them to be. Or, I really want a scene where this thing happens. If you ever say, I really want a scene where blankety blank happens, just stop, go for a walk, come back, and then think about what would be better for your characters instead of you, if that makes sense.
John: Yeah, and that overview thing actually come into play with one story I was looking at, and the writer pitched and did a good job pitching. But I said, “Okay, I’m looking at your cards, your story actually starts here. And I think you need to lose the first 11 cards and actually start your story here. Because you and I both believe in a first act that does a lot of work. But that first act was not doing the work to tell the rest of the story. And the actual interesting moment happened here. And you could have to start the story here and it be much more fascinating to learn about these characters in the middle of this crisis, rather than 30 pages, 30 minutes of other stuff, which is not actually going to pay off in the course of the movie.”
John: And that’s the reason why you do these cards is because you recognize, oh, I shouldn’t even write that stuff because that’s not actually going to help me tell the story that I want to tell.
Craig: Not necessarily good news here for those of you listening to the podcast, simply hearing us say this is not going to help you do it.
Craig: You kind of just need to know.
Craig: And you won’t know perfectly at first. The more you do it, the better you get at it, until eventually you absolutely know. But it takes time and experience. So just remember as you go through this and we’re talking about what you should and shouldn’t do, you’re going to do a lot of the things that we would look at –
Craig: And say, “You shouldn’t have done that,” because we’ve been doing it for 30 freakin’ years, and you maybe haven’t been.
Craig: So it’s totally normal.
John: Well, let’s focus now on that you’ve done your outline. And now it’s time to actually work on your script, and you’re in a scene. And let’s talk about how you forget all the other stuff you know when you’re in that scene. For me, and we’ve talked a lot about writing process, I need to sort of physically or sort of mentally place myself in that scene, in that location where the things are happening, look around and see what’s there and really center myself in the middle of that action, and not be thinking about, like, what just happened, or what’s happened next. It’s like what is happening in this space, who’s there, what do they want to do, who’s driving the scene and really feel that I’m live there in that moment. Because that’s going to keep me from wandering off and thinking about other moments ahead in the story or behind the story, and really focus on what wants to happen in this scene itself.
Craig: It’s essential. I’m a huge believer in the visual imagination of the space. I need to know what it looks like. I need to know how close they are together. I need to know if the lights are on or off. If there’s a fire in the fireplace, if it’s warm, if it’s hot, what are they wearing? And then, of course, I need to know what they want. And then I really try as best I can to imagine this conversation between two people and include all of the wonderful irregularities that happen between two people when they’re having a conversation. It’s weird. It’s awkward. There are stops and starts. There’s confusions. There is mistakes. We make conversational mistakes all the time.
Craig: And most importantly, reaction. In your mind, as you’re imagining a scene, try and keep your eye on the person listening, not the person talking. And at that point, once you go forward, never stop asking this question, “What would a human being do here?”
Craig: And what would this specific human being do in the context of what she or he wants?
John: Yeah. And so crucially, you’re asking that question, while at the same time half remembering and half forgetting what they actually – what you actually need them to do. And so, part of your job as the writer is to find ways to tilt your world so that they will make the choice that you need them to make, so that you can get to the next thing you need in their story. And it’s how you do that without feeling the author’s hand doing that, that makes a scene successful. That it achieves both the dramatic purpose within the scene; that it feels real within that moment. And it also gets you to that next scene, to that next moment that you need to have happen in your story based on your overall outline, your overall plan for it. That’s the challenge is that you’re constantly balancing this need for things to feel incredibly real. And the characters have agency and they’re making their own choices. That it’s not predestined. And yet –
Craig: It’s predestined.
John: They will. It’s predestined, because –
Craig: Well, yeah.
John: you are god, and you are setting sort of what is happening in this world.
Craig: That’s what we do.
Craig: That’s the trick of it all, the whole thing. Tchaikovsky definitely wanted to blow some cannons off at the end of the 1812 Overture. And he did, and I’m happy he did.
John: He would say, “Wouldn’t it be cool,” he’s like, “It’d really be cool if I shot, shot some cannons.”
Craig: Right. Right.
John: But then then he walked away and thought about it.
Craig: Right, and then he was like, okay, I think what I need to do is think about the voices in the conversation and what would need to happen. If that is the eventuality, how does that become meaningful? How does it become this gorgeous eventuality that we didn’t see coming, but once it happens, we go, of course, everything has led to this moment. And all of the stuff before it makes the cannons good. The cannons aren’t good because their cannons. The cannons are good because of all the stuff that wasn’t cannons.
Craig: And that is why every screenwriter should listen very carefully to the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky not only because it’s amazing, but it’s also quite brief.
Craig: But it is the closest you can get to two or three people talking in a room. That’s called three or four people –
Craig: Talking without anyone talking. And in fact, it’s all music. It’s wonderful.
John: Absolutely. Now, getting back to our techniques for forgetting. So you’re in the middle of a scene and how do you forget what needs to happen in the scene so it feels you’re germane for like the characters in that moment. Make sure you’re looking at one character’s want. Make sure you’re looking – either one character’s want needs to be driving the scene. An external pressure needs to be driving the scene. Some point of conflict need to be driving the scene. Because if nothing is driving the scene other than you as the writer need to get this piece of information out or need to connect these two pieces, we’re going to feel it. And we do feel it. And we can all think of examples of TV shows or movies we’ve watched where like, “Hey, that scene is just to connect these two things and it doesn’t serve a purpose,” you avoid that by actually setting yourself in that moment and really looking at like, what would this moment actually be rather than what you functionally need it to do.
Craig: That’s exactly correct.
John: Yeah. And stay curious. And just like I – some of my favorite scenes are the ones where I didn’t quite know what was going to happen. I knew sort of what needed to happen, but I really had no idea how it was going happen and I just let the characters start moving around and doing things. And sometimes they’re doing that and I’m sort of looping through my head. Sometimes it was like, as I was writing and a character said something or did something, I was, well, that surprised me. But if it surprises me, then it probably surprises the audience. And that moment suddenly feels more real. So just stay curious about these things that don’t follow your outline so methodically that it’s just doing the functional job it needs to do.
Craig: Yeah, try and apply the art of imperfection so that your characters aren’t speechifying, their lines aren’t perfectly formed, brilliantly clever, right on the heels of each other. We’ve all seen scenes like this –
Craig: Where you might walk away thinking, well, how arch and interesting those two humans were, except that they don’t seem like humans at all, do they? They seem like two, I don’t know, Dorothy Parkers locked in a battle of overly-witted wits. We don’t want that. We want real people. And I’m mostly interested in what real people think and do and vulnerability, and make sure that you allow yourself to have your character sound or behave or act wrong, which is how we do it.
John: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. Because they don’t know they’re being filmed. They don’t know that they’re, that everyone is watching them do it. And that’s part of the joy of this.
Craig: Yeah. They also may not be brilliant at talking. They may sneeze in the middle of it. They may eat something weird. They may drop something. They may start laughing at a moment they shouldn’t be laughing. These are the things you want to think about. How can I just take all the weird artificial polish off of this and make it real.
John: And my last bit of advice, if you find yourself grinding ahead and you recognize, I just can’t, I can’t be thinking about the scene just as a scene and I’m only looking at it in the context of the movie, try writing the scene in a blank document. So try like not make it the next scene that you’re writing if you’re writing chronologically for fitting between two things, try just letting the scene be the moment itself and just start it in a blank document. Let it be its own thing, and then copy/paste it back into the document, your overall script. Yeah, you might need to tweak some things to get the transition and hand off to work. But I suspect you’re gonna have a better scene that feels real to itself if, you know, let that scene not have to squeeze in the middle of a long document you’re scrolling through.
John: Copypasta, love it. Cool. So now we can forget everything we just talked about in terms of how to forget.
Craig: Great. Gone.
John: Let’s ask some listener questions. Megana, what do you have for us?
Megana: Great. So our first question comes from Gary, who asks, “Do you think that the lighting in the room where you’re writing affects your writing?”
Craig: No. Easy. No.
John: No. I think it does some. It depends on what I’m working on. I do like sometimes to be in an environmental space that actually kind of feels like what I’m writing. And so, if I’m writing something sort of dark and spooky, it’s kind of nice to have the lights be a little bit low. And something sort of creepy playing in the background. I often have like a playlist that sort of gets me into the mood for it. But I try not to be so, you know, freaky about it. Because I think you can so often make those excuses for like, oh, I couldn’t write today because the light was coming in the window wrong. No, you just move a little bit, just get the writing done.
Craig: The lighting in the room where I’m writing is the light that’s hitting me off of my laptop. That’s the lighting. It doesn’t matter, bright light, dark, whatever. It’s not to say that some people will be lighting-dependent. We’re all different. But for me, nah.
John: When I was finishing off work on the first Arlo Finch book, I was in France during a super heatwave, and I was writing these really cold wintry scenes and we were in this apartment without air conditioning, and we were just melting. And so, what I would do is I would play these – YouTube has these like these 12-hour tracks of like the environmental noises, and I played like this winter storm in my headphones. And it helped me sort of kind of feel cold and in that moment, even though I was in absolutely sweltering heat. So I think it can be good to trick yourself to some degree and sort of remember the environment your characters are in but it’s used for yourself. But no. Don’t freak out about your lighting.
Craig: Next, Megana.
Megana: Love Lauren from LA asks, “I received an email from a very big manager last week.”
Megana: “He said he enjoyed my work sent to him by a mutual connection and would like to help bring new opportunities to me. What exactly does this mean? And how should I respond? I can already hear Craig chuckling at my naiveté. I’m young with only a few years of experience on a small TV show. I’ve never had a rep and most of his clients are seasoned award winners. Eons ago in Episode Two, you mentioned managers help develop young talent. Is that what this is about? And if so, what does that entail?”
Craig: I’m not chuckling at your naiveté.
Craig: I am chuckling at you thinking I would chuckle at you. You don’t sound naive at all.
Craig: You actually sound very – normally what we get is, “I received an email from a very big manager’s brother’s niece and she said that, you know, he really liked the title that I told him that you wrote. Am I now an A-list writer?” You know, like, this is the opposite. And here’s somebody that’s working as a working writer with – I like that this particular person says only a few years of experience. So years of experience.
Craig: And somebody is showing interest in you. It’s quite likely that the big manager would not be your personal manager, if that’s where you are in your career. But big managers tend to employ other managers at their firms. And those managers are looking to develop younger talent. Of course, they are. If you don’t develop younger talent, then eventually you just become like the manager of very old people who proceed inexorably toward the grave. So –
Craig: I mean, I would actually respond and say it would, it would be wonderful to sit down and discuss how can we do that.
John: I a hundred percent agree with Craig. And this is only good news. So this manager reached out to you and this wasn’t you who sent it into a manager. And he says, like, whenever somebody reaches out to you because they read your stuff that you didn’t even send to them, that’s really good news. Good things could happen and come from that. So yes, follow up with that. Go in there and see what they’re saying. And it sounds like you don’t have anybody repping you at all right now, this could be a situation that you get a new rep.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: You should.
Craig: Do it.
John: Yeah. Megana, what else we got?
Megana: Half of One writer asks, “My writing partner and I have a question about WGA insurance minimums. Currently, a writer has to earn $40,854 a year to receive insurance. This means that if we get paid $44,000 for a treatment, or a non-original screenplay, we don’t qualify for insurance, because we only get $22,000 each. When it comes to paying us, we’re each treated as a half of a writer. But when it comes to insuring us, we have to make twice what a single writer would in order to qualify, which doesn’t seem totally logical or fair. I know the WGA has taken strides to improve the minimums for writing partnerships. But to be honest, we’re less concerned about that than not getting shut out of basic healthcare because we didn’t make twice as much as our non-partnered writer friends. Is there anything we can do about that?”
John: So, yes.
John: What you’re experiencing is a very real thing which I’ve heard for 20 years, and it sucks. And we’re the only sort of industry – I guess, there are some director teams that could hit this, but like, we’re the only part of this industry that tends to have a lot of teams, and teams split the money. And because they split the money, they fall below what they need to do to hit insurance. I know of married writer teams who will very cleverly divide the money in certain ways so that one of them gets coverage, and then the other one gets spousal coverage. There’s ways to do it. But what you’re describing is real, and it sucks. And often entering into fee negotiations, we’ve brought up partner issues and how we’re going to deal with this. And this is one of the things that does come up. To change this so that so writing teams can qualify for insurance at a lower level, or that they both can receive it, it’s theoretically possible. It’s just a matter of making that a priority in negotiations. And we’ll see if it can happen.
Craig: So here’s the issue. The issue is we have to pay for our own healthcare. When we say we have to pay for it, the companies are adding money in. But that’s the money we get. And the amount of money that the companies put in for the $40,854 minimum is not enough to cover a single writer’s health insurance for the year. Happily, we have lots of writers that make more than that. The people that earn much more are helping subsidize the people who earn less, and that’s a nice union benefit. If there are two of you together earning, let’s say, as you put $44,000, the problem is our joint health plan that is run by the Writers Guild and the companies together, they don’t even get enough money from that for one person, much less two. So the problem is simple math. And you’re absolutely right. It totally sucks. And this is one of the reasons why our entire healthcare system is failing everyone. And our negotiations have been essentially perverted for the last 20 years by this endlessly escalating series of healthcare costs. This is all we end up being able to ask for. And even though it does seem unfair, our system is vastly better than what the average American gets from their job, or from the government. So there’s really no answer here. The companies are not going to allow two people who are making a combined $44,000 and they’re not going to go for it.
John: The joint organization that runs our health plan, they’re not going to drop that thing because they probably couldn’t.
Craig: And I got news for you, we’re not going to ask for it either because we don’t want it. And this is the hard part. The Writers Guild doesn’t want to ask for that because if that happens, we will put ourselves, our health plan, in such a situation where we will really be in trouble. And then we’re gonna have to come back and give away more things that we want in exchange for just shoring up that part, and the healthcare overall will suffer dramatically. What we have to really watch out for these paper teams, those are vicious, where production companies put two writers together and force them to be a team, and then pay them this lower team amount, which is unacceptable. But unfortunately, half of one writer, I’m giving you the cold truth here, I don’t think this is going to change. And so, you and your writing partner need to concentrate on getting that number up, because that’s the only way you’re going to get there.
John: Yeah, so the two things you can do are get more money, just get yourself paid more so you’re both over that threshold and push for better healthcare system in the United States, because that’s really, that’s ultimately what’s underlying all of this is because everything that talks about sort of union healthcare is really because we don’t have a sensible system in the United States.
Craig: Yeah, in terms of probable outcomes, vastly more likely that you will just go ahead and make more money than fix what appears to be an unfixable system. So, yeah, sorry about that. But alas.
John: Any new questions on it, on down note, but thank you for everyone who sends me questions. We’ve got a whole big batch of them. So next week, we’ll try to crank through a bunch more.
John: It’s come time for One Cool Things.
John: I have two little things here. The first is a thread By Dylan Park, which I’m sure you saw, Craig.
Craig: I did.
John: Dylan was staffed on a military show, along with this other veteran, and this woman served in Afghanistan, had this amazing experience. And so, Dylan was brought in as a military expert, but this woman was like way ahead of him in a lot of levels. And then he started to suspect that she was not who she said she was. And so, I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I’ll put a link in the show notes to the thread, because it’s a very good read. It’s not Zola, but it’s a very good read.
Craig: Yeah, I loathe people who steal valor, that’s the phrase.
Craig: Stolen valor, they’re immoral. That is a deeply scummy thing to do. And I have no sympathy for anyone who does it. It’s hard for me to celebrate somebody ruining somebody else, even if he doesn’t use her name.
Craig: I mean, he could have just had one thing. I was on a show. And a lady came in and claimed to be this. And in fact, she was never even in the service. And don’t do that because I have been in service and we don’t do that. And here’s why it’s important to not do that. But the whole thing was sort of like, okay, here we go. I’m going to – and it was that there was a sort of sadistic delight in tearing her apart, which, you know, I don’t know, I just find hard to kind of – I don’t delight in those, I guess, as maybe I should.
John: Yes, I get that too. And I don’t think I was feeling like a celebration of this. But I know how frustrating it would be to be in that room with that person all the time, who you know you can’t trust and I feel like that writers’ room is a place of trust. And to have to be sitting next to this person who you just did not believe at all, I get why he was so frustrated.
Craig: Oh, completely and, and I mean no offense to Mr. Park, because he’s not – I’m not accusing him of doing anything wrong. It’s just a question of, I suppose do you like that sort of thing or not, but I completely agree. And pathological liars are a massive problem in Hollywood. We deal with them all the time. I am really – so I’m a fairly gullible person actually. I’ve had this happen a number of times where I’ve been talking to somebody and I’ve just been describing somebody else’s behavior and been so befuddled by it, and I can’t, I’m, you know me, I love puzzles and like the puzzle is not working, I don’t understand it. And they just look at me and they’re like, “They’re on drugs idiot, or they’re lying.” And I’m like, “What? Oh.”
Craig: So –
John: Oh, yeah.
Craig: Oh. And so the thought that somebody would do this is just mind boggling. I don’t know if you saw this on the similar category of sociopathic people, a woman posed as an ASL translator.
John: Oh, God.
Craig: Did you see this?
John: No, I didn’t see this, but I know it. I know how awful it is.
Craig: It’s incredible.
John: I can feel it. It’s just – so cringe, oh, my god.
Craig: Yeah, it’s super cringe. So she went – she volunteered her services to a police department actually.
Craig: And they were like, “Oh, okay.” I mean, she wasn’t asking for money. And they had a conference about something and there she was off in the corner signing and basically quite a few people who speak American Sign Language wrote in to say that she was not speaking ASL at all. She was just gibberishing. And what did she think would happen? And similarly with this woman who was posing as this super soldier who had served in Afghanistan, what did she think would happen? I mean, you can’t get away with this stuff. I mean, I’m on it. See? There, I’m gullible. I guess people do get away with it.
John: Catherine Tate, a great British actress has a character who is that sort of like falsely confident person. Like, “Oh, I’m great at tennis,” and they’ll hit and that like she can’t play tennis at all.
John: It’s exactly that feeling. It’s like, “Oh, I know a little of this,” like, no, you should not be doing this, and, uh, the worst.
John: My other small One Cool Thing is an article by Amy Hoy called How Blogs Broke the Web.
Craig: Mm-hmm, was it on her blog?
John: You and I both had blogs.
John: And you and – I think we started – were you in WordPress originally or were you in Movable Type?
Craig: I started in Movable Type. And then I went to WordPress.
John: Yeah, as did I. And the early days of the internet, we think about blogs, but there was a stage before that. So I’ll put a link in the show notes to my 1996 website. And so this article is really talking about sort of how websites originally like not time-based. They weren’t sort of that reverse chronological thing that blogs did.
John: And but because the blogging systems became so popular, everything became a blog, because that was just the easy way to do it. And they all had that reverse chronological flow. And all of the internet sort of started to follow that. Because when you and I were first reading the Trades Online, it was Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and they were like the print versions. But then Deadline came along, and it was just a blog. And now it’s still just a blog. It’s still that reverse chronological flow the same way that Twitter is, the same way that Instagram is. And so, she makes a very interesting case for a weird kind of fluke of history that this blogging stuff came along and really changed the shape of like how personal news is delivered.
Craig: Yeah, it did break every – everything has broken everything.
Craig: The web has broken everything, which is I think, what we’re getting into on our bonus segment, so I don’t want to, I don’t want to give anything away there. But yeah, you know what, the theory was great. Everybody gets a printing press in their own home. The result was an enormous amount of narcissistic horseshit in newspaper format. And it hasn’t changed. It was like, you know, when we were kids, did you know anybody that kept a diary when you were a kid?
John: I did not know a single person.
Craig: Like diaries were plot points on bad TV shows like, “Oh, my god, you read my diary,” like on The Brady Bunch, whatever. But I didn’t know anybody who kept a diary. And the reason people generally don’t keep diaries except for a very select few is no one is reading it. So you’re writing this description of yourself for nobody except yourself, which I guess is vaguely weirdly romantic or sad. But the purpose of the blogs was, oh, good, now everyone will read it. And it was all the same crap. You know what else is the same, every single day, John?
John: Tell me.
John: Ah, good segue there. Nicely done. I mean, for an amateur that was a really good segue.
Because I know that Deathloop is basically Groundhog Day with a body cam.
Craig: And yet so much more.
Craig: Deathloop is a new game out by Bethesda. It’s specifically, well Bethesda is this publisher. It’s Arkane, the company that made the Dishonored games which I love. And I love Deathloop also. If the folks who made Deathloop are listening, I’m thrilled with this game. I think it’s incredibly – it’s so much more than the concept of, oh, it’s the same day every day, because that’s not what’s happening. In fact, everything you do changes what happens on the next time you wake up again. So you are constantly changing the world that you keep waking up in on that same day, but it may be – I learned a word, onboarding. So onboarding –
John: Oh, yeah.
Craig: That’s the process of teaching people how to play your game and teaching people what the mechanics of it are and how to manage their resources and what things mean is really bad, I’ve got to say, I had no idea what the hell was going on for so long. And I finally just read a bunch of articles on the internet and go, oh, that’s what that is. It’s really bad. But once you know what it is, and you’ve read the articles on the internet, so boo on that front to Arkane and Bethesda, it’s amazing. So I love Deathloop. Excellent game. I’m currently playing it on the PlayStation 5. It looks gorgeous.
John: Yeah, it doesn’t exist on PlayStation 4, which is all I have.
Craig: Oh, yeah.
John: But maybe I’ll get a 5 at some point.
Craig: I think it’s time for a 5, John.
John: Maybe, maybe.
Craig: No. Definitely.
John: If I sell. If I sell something, I’ll buy that 5.
Craig: What are you? Are you out of money?
John: I’m running really low here. So if you want to chip in some inaudible I’m good.
Craig: “If I sell something.”
John: No, I’m kind of –
Craig: Megana is going to get to work and her desk is gone.
John: She can pick it up the pawnshop.
Craig: Yeah. “Um, sorry, I needed a PlayStation 5. Sorry, Megana.”
John: And that is our show for this week.
Scriptnotes is produced by Megan Rao, is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Owen Danoff. 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 like the ones we answered today. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin sometimes, and I am @johnaugust.
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 that at Cotton Bureau. You can sign up and become a premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments like the once we’re about to record on Fame.
Hey, Craig, I made it all the way through the podcast without losing my voice and I think my voice is actually stronger now than at the start.
Craig: Cut to: Oh, my god.
John: All right. This article is by Chris Hayes that we’re talking about. It’s from the New Yorker. On the Internet We’re Always Famous. What Happens When the Experience of Celebrity Becomes Universal? So this touches on a bunch of things. It never uses the word parasocial, but parasocial is part of that. It’s looking at sort of how once upon a time there were famous people and not famous people, but the boundaries between them are so much blurrier now. A normal person can become Internet famous all of the sudden. Things kind of suck. Craig, what were your takeaways from this article? What were you feeling as you were reading this?
Craig: This was characteristically brilliant from Chris Hayes. He’s a very smart guy. And I’m particularly pleased to see this work written this way just because he’s mostly known for being a talking head on TV. And so you would think, well, the talking head on TV would probably be in favor of talking head stuff. Nothing wrong with being – he’s an excellent talking head on TV. But this is a really well done piece. And it gets to the heart of something that I think is fascinating and important and I don’t know what to do about it and I think he doesn’t know either. Because by the time you get to the end of this I was not feeling hopeful.
And what he gets to is the heart of the fame problem which is that more and more people now can be famous, whether it’s famous briefly or not. But fame, which we always wanted to be a function of recognition, that is to say wide-ranged respect and acknowledgment and like has to turned instead into attention, which is just people staring at you and talking about you. And that is very different. And that so much of the dysfunction that goes on with a lot of the people that we see who are “Internet famous” is the dysfunction of people who are desperate for recognition and receiving instead only attention.
John: Yeah. I’m reading a book right now by Jenny O’Dell called How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. And she writes a lot about attention and really interesting phrasing that you say you pay attention to something, and really you do have to pay attention. Attention has a cost. And you are constantly deciding where you’re going to chip in those little dimes of attention and feed those meters to pay attention to a thing. Because also anything you’re paying attention to is by definition you’re not paying attention to other things around you. And so we’ve created this system in which we are constantly being asked to focus on this thing, this person, follow these people who we don’t know in real life, and we’ve created this situation where we’re just kind of functional rather than actual active participants in our lives.
It kind of goes back to our discussion of the note cards, the index cards, because it’s like we just have – we’re these characters who have a function. We’re supposed to be watching this thing, doing this thing, responding to this thing, being outraged by this thing and not being present in the moment that we actually are living in.
Craig: Yeah. And I have enjoyed withdrawing from that for sure. But there is an interesting aspect of let’s just call it slightly famous. You and I, whether we like it or not, are slightly famous.
Craig: And there’s something that Chris says here because he’s also – well he’s famous-famous I would think. He’s not Brad Pitt. So he says, this actually kind of shooketh me as the kids say, I was shooketh. It says, “The star and the fan are prototypes and the Internet allows us to be both in different contexts. In fact, this is the core transformative innovation of social media. The ability to be both at once. You can interact with strangers, not just view them from afar, and they can interact with you. Those of us who have a degree of fame have experienced the lack of mutuality in these relationships quite acutely. The strangeness of encountering a person who knows you, who sees you, whom you cannot see in the same way…”
And what he goes on to say is we’re conditioned as human beings to care for people who care for us. That is the sign of a relationship. But one of the things that the Internet does or being on a podcast or anything is it creates these one-way relationships. So that when you do meet people and they have a response my feeling is always, I mean, it is this weird disorientation of feeling like I should be caring as much as they do, and yet how could I, I don’t know them.
Craig: So I become very awkward and I guess in a sense that’s probably good news because his argument is that for a lot of people the psychological experience of fame he says “like a virus invading a cell takes all of the mechanisms for human relations and puts them to work seeing more fame.” So that’s a terrifying thought.
John: It is. He also mentions that a basketball player like Kevin Durant can have an argument in DMs with just some rando. And they’re sort of on equal footing in that conversation which is just weird. It’s one thing to sort of put someone on blast in public which I think is a real problematic thing, but the fact that why are you spending your time talking to this person who you don’t know at all and there’s just a real imbalance. And it’s not necessarily in Kevin Durant’s favor for him to being that.
It is really strange. And at the same time I want to acknowledge that you and I with our little bit of fame, we know how useful it is at times. And so there have definitely been cases where like, oh, I want to ask this person to be on Scriptnotes. I know that if I follow that person on Twitter, if I were to decide to click the follow button they will get a notification that John August is following them. And they will click through and see who I am and they will probably follow me back and then I can DM them.
Is it a little bit weird? Yeah. But that’s just sort of the time that we’re in.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t like it. I don’t. I definitely want people to see the things that I make. And I like that people listen to this show. I certainly don’t hold it against anybody or blame anybody for having what Megana has introduced us to is a parasocial relationship with you or with me. But it makes me uncomfortable because I feel accountable and responsible for other people’s feelings and there’s no possible way for me to be accountable or responsible to them. It’s just I’m not equipped to do it.
And I always feel bad in a way like I’m not enough, like if I meet somebody and they feel very strongly about – because they’re a big fan of the show or something and I’m always like, oh, thank you. And I just think you’re blowing it. You’re not saying anything good.
John: That’s the experience of Austin Film Festival to the hundredth degree.
Craig: Like what I do say here to be awesome? And I don’t know.
John: There’s a project I’m considering taking and doing, which is fascinating. It’s this thing I would like to do on many levels, but I am always weighing like, ugh, that is going to be a news story when I do it. And I can already feel what the Internet is going to say. And that sucks that my emotional and artistic decisions are all affected by what I think the Internet is going to say about it. And that is dumb, but it is the reality.
Craig: Yeah. It’s certainly there. It’s a fear that never used to exist. I think that there have been some nice aspects of that fear. I think it’s probably people used to cavalierly do things that maybe they, you know, after reflection perhaps I’m not the right person to be writing this story or that story. But it is a fear. I mean, look, I’m adapting The Last of Us. The videogame community is not shy. They love and hate in equal parts and with equal abandon, which the love part is the wonderful part. And of course when I was talking with Neil Druckmann about adapting the show I felt the fear of what would be some anger and judgment. No matter what you do somebody is going to not like it, of course. You try and do the best you can. But you also don’t want to keep the Internet’s emotional state as the number one thing you’re taking care of.
The number one thing you should take care of is the work. And then people hopefully will love it. So my advice to you – if you were calling into the show I would say you must do the thing you’re afraid of. You must.
Craig: Because you don’t want the Internet to win. And also the most important thing is it seems worse than it is. I feel like what happens is we read things and we think that everybody out there is like Alexander Hamilton writing at night like he’s running out of time. And writing these beautiful things like I have the honor to be your obedient servant letters. But here’s why you’re awful. But in fact they’re just smashing their fingers against a keyboard, very briefly, and immediately forgetting what they wrote and did. They’re on to the next thing. It was a nothing moment for them. They did not put a lot of time and thought into it. They’re just shit-posting.
And we can’t tell the difference on our side between the shit posts and the people who legitimately are deeply and perhaps aggrieved. So I would say to you you must do it.
John: Yes. The cave you fear to enter holds the answers you seek.
Craig: Yes. All right. Megana, do you have a sense of anybody having, now that you are on the show, you talk on the show, do you feel like people have parasocial relationships with you and how do you handle – have you had some fame moments?
Megana: I have had people say that they have heard my voice before. But I do not feel comfortable in a role where people recognize me necessarily.
Craig: Join the club. I’m right there with you. Which is probably, I don’t want to make a moral judgment about it, but it does feel like seeking fame for fame sake is the sign that something is wrong.
Megana: Yeah. And something I’m curious to hear you guys talk about is just like as writers I think it’s so important to have a private life and your private self and to really protect that. And I think for younger writers it seems like there’s a lot of pressure to be on Twitter and to have a really recognizable brand and voice. And it’s just confusing to me how to maintain like a public self and a private self with like nuance complicated feelings that I’d like to put into art and not constantly be generating content with.
Craig: Well, you said an interesting thing there which is a lot of people have their own brand now. But I do feel like that is almost counter to what it means to be a writer, to make yourself the thing and not the work the thing. There are some screenwriters that come along and feel a bit branded and they don’t seem to last. The ones who do the work seem to last. And I’m always going to counsel people to put the work first. And if the Internet feels like it’s getting in the way, if social media feels like it’s getting in the way, and if you feel suddenly like you need to be a kind of a person to get noticed or to be talked about then it’s time to step away. Because nothing will matter like a good script.
John: Circling back to the note card conversation, we were at this class at USC and they knew who I was coming into it, but they also knew who Megana was because they listen to the show. And that’s just an interesting moment because Megana is a more public voice on the show than any of the previous producers have been and that is interesting. They knew who she was.
Craig: It’s the dawning of the age of Megana.
John: That’s really what it is.
Megana: Well, it’s people saying that they’ve heard my voice before, but not necessarily that they like it. And so–
Craig: What? No.
Megana: It’s like when someone is like, oh, you got a haircut. And it’s like, yes, I did. Do you feel good about it? I feel OK about it.
Craig: Oh, I see what you’re saying. They simply say, ah yes, you are on the show. I have heard you. And then they don’t say, “And you’re great.” Or “I love you.” But this is exactly what Chris Hayes is talking about. You didn’t ask for that.
Megana: Or that I’m being rewired to just seek fame.
Craig: Yes. That’s exactly what’s happening. People start to rewire you and you begin to try and change your, OK, give them what they want. You know? You used to cook for yourself and people just showed up and started eating what you were cooking. And then suddenly everyone was getting angry at you about the burritos. Instead they were super into whatever the soup. And you’re like why am I caring?
John: Yeah. And it’s the same thing with Instagram or anything where you can generate likes is like, oh, which version of me tests the best and that becomes the version you post for.
Craig: Oh, my sinking heart.
Megana: Can I propose an antidote, because this is also something that I took umbrage with earlier in the show? As a lifelong diary-keeper I think it’s a helpful way to maintain that boundary and maintain a solid public self that–
Craig: You’re the weirdo. You’re the one that does it. [laughs]
Megana: I know. You just kept going on like weird, freak, yeah.
Craig: Bizarre. Probably not a real person.
John: Well, and to be fair though there’s always been a gendered quality to diaries.
John: It’s always been a thing that girls do. And even the little gay boys like me, not all of us kept diaries.
Craig: Wait, is that a little gay boy thing to do is to keep a diary?
John: It’s a little gay boy thing to do.
Craig: Is it like that, oh my god, do you know what – I still sometimes will watch just when I’m feeling a little bit low and I want to smile is the Saturday Night Live commercial with the well.
Megana: Wells for Boys.
Craig: Oh my god, the Wells for Boys is so freaking great.
Craig: It’s so good. Everything else is for you. This is for him.
John: Back to your diary though, because what I think I hear you saying is that lets you actually articulate your thoughts that you would not actually share publically.
Megana: Correct. And work out things that feel messy that I think some people who don’t have that outlet turn to Twitter for.
Craig: OK, well you made an excellent point. And I would definitely say that if there’s a choice between Q-testing and perfecting your brand on Twitter to get the most hearts, which infuse no actual love into your life, or writing a diary that no one else reads but you, I strongly would say definitely go diary. So, I’m with you on that. That makes a lot of sense.
John: Do what Megana says.
Megana: I have successfully changed Craig’s mind.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Again. This season of Scriptnotes is all about Craig’s changing. I like that for us.
Craig: Yeah. I think only Megana changes me. [laughs]
John: True. That’s fine. Maybe that was the missing thing.
John: She is the antagonist to your protagonist.
Craig: Whatever studio executive says it sounds reasonable. That’s totally reasonable. Makes sense. Yeah.
John: Thank you both.
Megana: Thank you.
Craig: Thanks. Bye guys.
- Scarlett Johanssen and Disney Reach Agreement
- CAA Acquires ICM
- Academy Museum featuring Wizard of Oz Script Page
- Netflix Data Dump
- Caroline Graham and Kylie Stevenson’s podcast Lost in Larrimah and book, Larrimah
- Twitter Thread by Dylan Park
- How Blogs Broke the Web by Amy Hoy
- History of JohnAugust.com and John’s 1996 Blog
- Death Loop
- The Era of Mass Fame by Chris Hayes
- Wells for Boys SNL Sketch
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- Gift a Scriptnotes Subscription or treat yourself to a premium subscription!
- John August on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Owen Danoff (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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