The original post for this episode can be found here.
John: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: This is Episode 570 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show, it’s a followupisode.
John: We’re taking a look at several of the big industry problems we’ve discussed over the past few years and examining what progress had been made. In our Bonus Segment for Premium Members, we’re going to tell a heartwarming story just for Craig about firing your managers.
Craig: Don’t go further. We have to talk about followupisode.
John: Isn’t that so adorable?
Craig: It’s adorable. Did you just invent that?
John: As I was typing it up yesterday in the show notes, I decided that’s what it is. It’s followupisode.
Craig: Followupisode. I’m actually angry about how many people are going to steal that. I’m angry at them, and I’m angry for you about it. Wonderful.
John: I don’t know that I actually invented it. I bet if we did a Google search, we could find someone else who’d said it before. It feels right for our show.
Craig: Then I’m going to get angry at you. Here’s the point. I’m going to get angry.
John: Craig, there are no original thoughts. Just like you can’t be angry at somebody for stealing your idea for a movie about tennis players, you can’t be upset about-
Craig: Followupisode. It’s a followupisode. I love this.
John: To help us with our followupisode, we have not one but two special guests. Liz Alper is a writer/producer who’s worked on Chicago Fire, Hawaii Five-0, The Rookie, and Day of the Dead. She co-founded the Hollywood Pay Up movement and serves on the WGA board. Liz Alper, welcome back.
Liz Alper: It’s so nice to be back.
Liz: Hello. It’s so nice to hear your voices.
John: Brittani Nichols is a comedy writer, actress, and organizer known for Suicide Kale, A Black Lady Sketch Show, and the Emmy Award-winning Abbott Elementary, on which she’s also a producer. Welcome, Brittani.
Brittani Nichols: Hello, and thank you for having me again.
John: Now, Brittani, apparently we are pulling you out of the Abbott Elementary room. I feel like it’s maybe our responsibility to give you some pitches to take back into the room. Guys, let’s help her out here. What could Brittani pitch when she goes back in there?
Craig: That’s what she was hoping for, randoms pitching her ideas on her show, because that never happens.
John: I’ve not seen any comic runners about the classroom pets. Sometimes there’s hermit crabs. There can be gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters. One hamster always eats the other hamster.
Liz: They always escape. They’re always infesting the school. They’re somewhere. It’s a treasure hunt for them.
Brittani: That’s good. Stealing that. Please cut this out so no one can trace it back to this podcast.
John: I also have really distinct memories of when it’d be rainy and so we couldn’t go out for recess, how we did recess in the classroom, and thumbs up, seven up. Do you remember thumbs up, seven up?
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: You don’t see that very often.
Craig: Terrible game.
John: I remember the way my desk would smell. I could smell the cleaner on my desk when you lay your head down for thumbs up, seven up.
Craig: I remember that smell. My parents were public school teachers, so the stories that I could share would just be… I don’t know, you guys run for what, is it 24 minutes?
Craig: 21 minutes of heavy Jewish sighing. I think that would be a very accurate episode. To my parents.
Liz: Craig, I had a similar experience growing up, but one of my parents is Asian. It was just a melding of cultures in one sigh. It was beautiful. It was a beautiful coming together.
Craig: Heavy Asian sighing is also-
Liz: The disappointment translates to any language.
Craig: Oh my god, Megana, tell us about heavy Indian sighing, would you? It’s a thing. It’s just a thing.
Megana: It’s an art form.
Craig: It is an art form of just disappointment, giving up.
Megana: With an Asian sigh, the disappointment manages to carry the entire immigrant experience in that one sigh.
Craig: All of it, yes, the whole thing.
Megana: The burden.
Craig: That’s the generational trauma.
Liz: It’s an ancestral sigh. You feel the weight of your ancestors coming out in that disappointment.
Craig: That’s right. There are ghosts in that sigh. That’s 21 minutes, for sure.
John: I just had the WASPy sort of eh. There was no special pressure on my side.
Craig: No, WASPs are not like that. They don’t have it. They don’t have the sigh.
John: We got nothing. Generational power but nothing else, I’ll say.
Craig: You probably came out better than we did just all around. It’s exciting to have both of you on, because we do have quite a bit of follow-up. John had a really good point that we do these shows and we dig into these movements that happen. There have been quite a few movements over the last five years. It is good to take stock as you go, because it’s very easy to fall into the trap of promoting stuff when it’s exciting and hot and new and everyone is focused on it, because it’s fresh injury. Then we can forget. We don’t want to forget.
John: Craig, we have two live shows coming up. Do you want to remind our listeners when our live shows our?
Craig: I do. Our first live show, they’re almost back to back, it’s on October 19th here in Los Angeles. It is sold out, because we are the Jon Bon Jovi/Bon Jovi band of podcasts. You can still get tickets for the livestream.
Craig: You can not only see the show, but also you will see all the things that ultimately we ask Matthew to take out. That’s when you’ll realize that each podcast recording is 19 hours long.
John: He cuts it down to a tight little over an hour.
Craig: A tight hour.
John: It’s a lot going into that.
Craig: Seven hours of just crying. We will also be doing two, not one, but two live shows at the Austin Film Festival. One of them will be a live Three Page Challenge. The other one will be a good old-fashioned, slightly drunk live show.
John: I think it’s a 10 p.m. start on that. It’s going to be fun.
Craig: You know when I say slightly drunk I mean medium to seriously drunk. If you’re going to be at the Austin Film Festival and you want to be considered for that Three Page Challenge, we’ve added a new checkbox on the submission form, and when I say we, I mean John and Megana have, at johnaugust.com/threepage. That’s the word three and page.
John: Very nice.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Megana, I guess we also have some follow-up from our previous episode about our going to Austin Film Festival. What did Melissa have to say?
Megana: Melissa wrote in and said, “In a recent episode, Craig and John discuss their initial hesitation to return to the Austin Film Festival this year due to the atrocious political policies in Texas, specifically towards women. As a writer born and raised in Texas, I also feel conflicted whenever I go back there, but ultimately decided to attend AFF again as well. I put together a list of local female-owned restaurants and bars within two miles from the conference center so that at the very least we can spend our vacation money at places that support the women that are stuck in the Texas hellscape.”
Craig: That’s a really useful thing to have. Thank you, Melissa, because in all fairness, John and I are returning to Austin with some conflict in our hearts. This is a nice way to help. I like this. We will be doing some other things, I’m sure.
John: If you want to follow through, there’s a link in the show notes. It goes to a Google doc that she’s put together. It’s great and talks through some really great restaurants and places that I wouldn’t have considered, I didn’t know existed. Now I will go there and support some local restaurants, some local female restaurateurs.
Let’s get to our marquee topic here. The reason why we all assembled today is to talk about what progress has been made on some social issues, some issues facing this industry. I thought we’d do it in chronological order. We’re going to look at Me Too, assistant pay, policing/cop shows, and abortion rights. I suspect we’ll find common themes between them is that it’s very easy to focus on a thing when it’s new and right in front of you, but it’s hard to keep up that pressure, and that things tend to revert to a mean, and also that the pandemic changed things. I think there was some momentum on some stuff that got derailed by the pandemic. We’ll see whether we can get that back or what is the next step on that. Let’s jump into it.
Let’s start with Me Too. Hashtag Me Too apparently goes back to 2006, but it’s really in 2017 when we first had the Harvey Weinstein articles. There was the Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey article. There was also the Ronan Farrow piece. I think we had a great villain in Harvey Weinstein at the start. We have a movement focused on holding men accountable for terrible things they were doing in the industry and outside of the industry.
Craig: We are at the five-year point. When you listen to this, it’ll just be a few days after, but we’re recording this, so essentially the day before the five-year anniversary of Me Too. In my lifetime, I can’t think of too many movements that caught fire and had as much fast impact as the Me Too movement. That is not to say it is complete impact. I think we can all look around and see that there is a line. There was before that, and there’s after that. The after that does look quite different. I guess we should dig into how different and what’s gone well and where do we still need to do work.
John: Liz, can you help us out by thinking back to five years ago and as this story broke, what was surprising to you about it at the moment? What did you see happening right away? What impact did you feel immediately, and what were the ripples after that?
Liz: It’s interesting that you guys brought up the five-year mark, because I think that was such a crucial point for so many of these movements that we see that took off. Bringing that up at the beginning, because Me Too has been so much more than just holding abusers accountable.
There was a shift when the Me Too movement came on the scene, especially for women like me, who at the time of the Me Too movement, I was basically in my late 20s, early 30s, and was realizing that all of these things that I had been told to normalize – the fact that I would be sexually harassed on set, and I had been sexually harassed on set for many, many years – that that was not okay.
Before, there was this idea of, this is part of paying my dues as a young woman in Hollywood. When Me Too burst on the scene, it shifted this view of what dues meant in Hollywood and the fact that because I was a woman, I was expected to pay a price that was so much higher than my male counterparts, or most of my male counterparts, because Me Too does affect a lot of men, as we’ve heard the stories. I don’t want to ostracize those victims either. I think it really did immediately change how we had viewed the culture of Hollywood. Suddenly, it wasn’t something to be glorified. It was something to be deemed toxic and needed fixing.
I think immediately, when all of this happened, and especially with Harvey being held responsible, it really did feel like, “Wow, maybe these awful feelings that I have, maybe these aren’t my fault. Maybe this isn’t my fault that I feel bad when this supervisor touches my rear when I’m on set or says gross, sexualized things to me when no one else is around. Maybe that really isn’t okay.” It wasn’t.
I think now, we are hopefully helping a new generation of Hollywood newbies come in and say, “You should be be protected.” It’s no longer a, “You won’t be protected. This is an open secret. This is just what you have to do in order to show that you belong here.” Now, it’s, “No, you’re absolutely right. You deserve to be respected, and you deserve to be protected, and you deserve to feel safe in your workplace.” I do feel like that feeling has permeated the Hollywood culture. That’s nice to see.
John: Brittani, I’m curious, what was your initial reaction to the Me Too movement, and how has it progressed or changed in your mind? What is your feeling about the impact that calling these people out and calling out this culture has had in the industry?
Brittani: When Liz was talking, I was thinking about what I was doing when this first happened. I remembered just how everyone was talking about it, people that weren’t in entertainment. I was still on Facebook at the time, unfortunately, and seeing people there talk about it.
I remember this pressure to share, which was I think another side of it that doesn’t get talked about a lot, because it was really nice to witness people having the freedom to finally tell these stories and feel like they were being heard. Just in my own mind, I was like, “If I don’t do this, if I don’t use this hashtag, do people think that nothing bad has ever happened to me?” I was like, “Am I now hurting by not saying yes, here is another voice, here is another identity that you might think might not be impacted by these things? If I’m not speaking up, do people think it’s happening to less people?” I just remember having that internal battle of, “Do I have to say something now or am I letting someone down by not saying something?” Grappling with that was my feelings I think at the initial moment.
Going forward, I have the same feelings that I think I have about every movement or moment, which is just it’s so hard to keep momentum going. Keeping the conversation going and talking to people about it in your everyday life feels like the stickiest way to make it present and to make it felt is to just keep having conversations with people even when this national moment or the media attention goes away, just letting people know that you haven’t forgotten, that you still are there, is how I think it still crops up for me personally.
Craig: I feel like as far as these movements go that sometimes flame up and then disappear a little bit, Me Too has been incredibly successful from just looking at the way it has turned into a steady cultural norm as opposed to a movement. New social morays were established that should’ve been there from the start and unfortunately weren’t. Now, they seem like they’re there. That’s not to say that bad things don’t continue to happen. They don’t continue to happen inside of a culture that nods, quietly approves, passively approves. It does seem like there has been real change in that regard. It’s nice to see.
I think that in a strange way, it also affirmed how many good people there were, in a nice way, because after all these things came to light, there were still so many women who were still working happily hand in hand with men. There were so many men that were still working happily hand in hand with women and continue to. There are men and women, lots, most, I believe most, who are capable of working together in a way that is respectful of each other. Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but I feel like we did illuminate perhaps some of the better angels of our nature. Am I a Pollyanna?
John: I don’t know. Let’s look at what has been achieved, because I think if you’re looking for the good things that have happened out of this, there was accountability for some really terrible people who did some terrible things, and so Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby.
Craig: Les Moonves.
John: Les Moonves. We had other showrunners who are no longer running their shows.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Maybe a good thing. Also some big misses, like Donald Trump still got elected after doing clear sexual harassment. I would agree with you that this notion – let’s use the term open secret – this idea that we would just look the other way at people who were doing this stuff, that probably has changed over the past five years, that we recognize, “Oh, you cannot be doing that. He cannot be doing that. This is a problem.” I think we’re more likely to believe a woman who says that a thing happened from the start. Actually, this might be a good time to bring out a listener question here, because Megana had a person, Stay Or Go, who was talking about a project that has a known harasser involved with it. Do you want to read us through this question?
Megana: Stay Or Go wrote in and said, “Recently, I was in talks for a project when the producer mentioned he had an actor with a proven in court of law history of abuse in mind to play the lead. I’d worked for this producer before, and in the past, he’d been quick to call out abusers. I was surprised and asked if he was aware of this person’s checkered past. He said he was aware, but then segued into a lecture saying there are two sides to every story, Me Too was a good thing in theory but had gone too far, and so on. I politely passed, and the project moved forward with another writer and the actor in question. Then a week later, I found out a different producer that I was currently working for also decided to hire this very same actor.
“I work in the low-budget genre space, and no matter the producer, well-documented abusers always seem to find their way onto the list of casting suggestions and are usually defended any time I try to steer the conversation away from them. I understand getting any movie made is hard. These names still trigger financing. They’re looking to work. No one wants to be reduced to their worst moments for all their days. Yet very few have faced real consequences or shown remorse beyond the customary apologetic press release. That’s not even getting into alleged abusers. Given that a no-name like myself has little influence on who may come aboard later in the process, is this simply a reality one has to begrudgingly learn to live with?”
Craig: That’s a tricky one.
John: That’s a tricky one, because I think it actually speaks to this moment that we’re in, is that maybe we’ve knocked out some of the worst, biggest offenders, but there’s people we know have some history we don’t feel great about. We’re like, “What are we going to do about this?” We’ve had the conversation about John Lasseter, who was let go from Pixar for his issues. People have the decision whether they’re going to work for him at his new animation company. Liz, when you see Stay Or Go’s letter here, what’s your instinct? Could Stay Or Go choose to not work on a project that might have a bad person involved on it? What’s your instinct?
Liz: When I hear that letter, she’s absolutely right, because the people who have seen the consequences of Me Too have been the ones with the highest profile, because they have the most to lose, because what they really value is their public image. Their public image is what gets them work, what gets them jobs. If you are flying below the radar, you are essentially escaping any sort of significant consequence. That’s something that we’ve seen not just for sexual harassers and the Me Too movement but also for chronic emotional, mental, sometimes even physical abusers and bullies in the industry who maybe have no history of sexual abuse or harassment but are harassers of a different nature. I think asking those questions and demanding an answer is exactly what she should be doing. I think to continue doing that, she’s going to be able to find the people whose values align with hers.
At this point in our industry, if you can say no, say no, if you can say no. Don’t ever feel like you are less than or you are condoning something if you are in a position where you have to take the work. That’s the thing that I feel a lot of people in the industry struggle with, because how do you feel like you are a morally righteous person if you are agreeing to work on a project that has a known abuser attached to it? Quite honestly, the reason is because you have to fight another day. You have to be able to be here to fight another day, because you have to be the one that others hook up with in order to actually enact that change. If you’re not here for us to bring into the next phase of justice in this industry, then we’re worse for it.
Really, it comes down to can you take the work, do you think you can forgive yourself for taking the work, knowing that it’s so you can have the money to survive in this industry for long enough to bring about HR reform or any sort of workplace reform that is necessary to ensure that people like that don’t get jobs and that there are actual solid consequences to the actions of those who are flying under the radar. That’s something that you will have to decide.
You should also know that you should be able to forgive yourself if you find yourself in a position that you have to say yes, because that’s usually what happens is that people are in a position where they cannot say no and feel as though they are part of the problem when they’ve been put in that position, they haven’t been given a choice. I think what she’s asking is really, “What do I do in order to survive this?” which is something that I’m asking every single day. There’s no good answer to it. It’s just take it case by case and see what your tolerance for it is.
John: Brittani, I remember at the start of all this, we would have workshops, we’d have panels, groups would come together to try to figure out what it was that we were going to do as an industry to grapple with this. There was always talk. There was a special committee formed. Anita Hill was leading a thing. There was going to be anonymous reporting lines. None of that structure seems like it really happened. There’s the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, but there’s not a hotline you call for sexual harassment or for the issues that Me Too was grappling with.
When you encounter a situation like this or your friends encounter a situation like this, what is your advice to do when you’re either facing abuse or dealing with a person who is taking unfair advantage of situations? What is your advice to writers facing these situations?
Brittani: Be loud about it to the people that you trust I think is unfortunately where we’ve landed with all this. I think that the things you’re talking about, things that Liz just mentioned, so much of it is about accountability. What I always say when people talk about accountability is that when you’re asking for accountability, something bad has already happened.
We’re not putting in enough effort, I think, into prevention, into how does this stuff trickle down. We’re always having these very high-minded, high-level conversations about bad shit. So much of our energy is put into that, when so often there are just warning signs, red flags left and right about the way that these people interact and the way that they treat people. That’s not the only bad thing they’re doing. That might be the only bad thing that people think rises to some level in which it needs to be addressed. That’s why I think we’re going… When people are weird, you should very openly be able to talk about people behaving weirdly. That is usually a sign that something more nefarious is going on.
I think until, as writers especially, we have an established norm for rooms where even low-level abuse is just not allowed, we’re always going to be dealing with what do we do in the aftermath instead of what can we be doing to make sure that these black dots on the white page, that we pay attention to them and that we don’t just ignore them.
Craig: That goes to who actually does carry out the work, because in the early days of these things, there are organizations and there are panels and blue ribbon commissions and so forth, but ultimately, it’s just everybody doing the work. It’s all of us, day to day, who work with other people, trying our best to treat each other better. That part, again I’ll just be a bit of a Pollyanna about it, does seem to have improved somewhat. I think that people are thinking more about each other. It just feels like even if they’re dragged into it kicking and screaming that empathy and putting yourself in other people’s shoes and asking yourself how would this feel to another person does seem like more of a thing.
When I started in this business in the ’90s, the culture was… I don’t know if this was left over from the ’80s and whatever amount of cocaine was still just exogenously in the air, but it was aggressive. It was very competitive. It was all very cutthroat. It doesn’t seem as much that way anymore.
I never want to downplay what a movement has done positively, because we can lead to despair. I think that even though our business is still very imperfect and there are still people that have yet to be exposed, there are more and more people who are being exposed. That’s 2% of the situation. Then 98% of the situation is just the day-to-day business of working with each other, which seems to have improved somewhat. Progress, but not perfection.
John: I would agree with you there. I think as I look back to the conversations we had on Scriptnotes early on in Me Too about writers coming and talking about their experiences, I don’t envision those writers having the same experiences five years later that they did then. I think the norms have changed enough about what people can get away with, that the most egregious things have not been happening, and that some better conversations have been happening about how to do stuff. Liz, Brittani, how much progress do you think we’ve made on Me Too over the last five years? It doesn’t have to be a report card, but some progress, a little progress, a lot of progress? What’s your feeling?
Liz: Yeah, some progress. This is my opinion. I think it’s possibly going to be an unpopular one. We’re five years into a movement that’s attempting to undue attitudes towards women that have existed for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. The fact that women in I believe it was the 1960s or the 1970s still couldn’t get a credit card without their husband’s approval and signature… This is the very, very beginning of progress. Yes, some progress. Please keep it coming. Also understanding that five years I don’t think can solve what hundreds and hundreds of years of this sort of misogynistic-based culture that we live in in this country has brought. I think we’re trying.
John: Brittani, no progress, some progress, lots of progress? What’s your feeling on Me Too?
Brittani: I think there’s been some progress. I think that if we think that the progress is going to happen via systems that have always failed us, as Liz has mentioned, we’re never going to get where we want to be. I think Craig is right in that so much of this is about personal responsibility and people reckoning with their own behavior. I think in that letter, it really came down to one dude saying, “No, but this one is different,” until people realize that that’s what everyone thinks. There are a thousand people saying that, “This time, this friend, this person that I know, this was the exception to the rule. I get it, but this one doesn’t count.”
Until people really are willing to be uncomfortable and willing to make other people uncomfortable and really willing to deal with a high level of discomfort themselves, we’re never going to get where we’re trying to go, because we can’t rely on any structure or any corporate entity to inject morality into an inherently evil business, which is everything. Capitalism is evil. We’ll never figure it out if we’re depending on the people whose entire goal is to just make money, and they don’t care about us.
John: Fast forward to September 2019, so Episode 419, we reflected on Me Too and asked what other issues we are not addressing in our industry. Listeners wrote in about assistant pay. That was the first episode where we started talking about assistant pay. Megana Rao got so many emails about assistant pay and stories stacking up and stacking up. As we started telling those stories and started getting outraged on people’s behalves, Liz Alper stepped into the fore and helped start up the Pay Up Hollywood movement, where you’re surveying and talking about how much assistant staff in Hollywood were getting paid and how egregiously low it was. Liz, talk us through those early days of Pay Up Hollywood and this discussion, what happened, and where we are now, if you can, the overview of Pay Up Hollywood.
Liz: At the very beginning of Pay Up Hollywood, it was, for me at least, very akin to when Me Too exploded onto Twitter, because again, it was this curtain being pulled back, where all of a sudden, all of this anger and these abuses and this entire industry-long history of abuse and culture of taking advantage of people at the very beginning of their careers was really outed as being the awful, demoralizing, corrupt, and just cowardly thing that was happening in our industry. It was this wild time of everyone feeling like they could share their horror stories without fearing repercussion for once. They could share these publicly.
As Brittani mentioned, there was also this pressure of feeling like you had to share your stories whether you were comfortable doing so or not, because you were worried that if people weren’t really coming out and sharing the worst of their experiences, then the worst of their experiences would be swept under the rug, or people would look at the state of the industry and go, “This isn’t so bad.”
It really became this moment in time where assistants felt, I don’t want to say completely a hundred percent felt safe to share these stories of the awful things that happened to them. I don’t think anyone ever feels truly safe sharing that. I think for once, assistants realized how much they deserve to be better treated and better paid and that they’re worth that, when they had spent years and even decades in Hollywood being told that they have to earn that. It was a dangling carrot that just kept being pulled higher and higher and higher. It was crazy. It was a big, empowering moment that happened when we first exploded on the scene.
John: One of the big differences between Me Too and Pay Up is that we actually had numbers here, because we can actually ask, “How much are you getting paid? What is your weekly take home pay?” and see that that is not going to actually be able to afford an apartment in Los Angeles. It was more concrete in a way that what we could have with Me Too.
Liz: I think the other thing is this really was born… I’m sure you guys heard a lot about this at the time too, is that assistants felt very left out of the Me Too movement, and rightfully so, because for them, the people who had really in their minds seen a lot of progress with the Me Too movement were people who were higher up the food chain, people with larger profiles, who were saying, “If this could happen to me, imagine what’s going on for other people.” Assistants were the other people. It was something that we were able to get concrete information for, because we realized that concrete information had not been gathered necessarily for me too in seeing which pockets of the industry were being left out of the conversation.
Craig: I think there’s a nice intersectionality, if you will, when we help people who are at the assistant level while we are also as an industry making an effort to bring in more women and more people of color. You start to hit a lot of different sectors, because that’s where everyone’s coming in. We have this big lobby for our business. Forever until whenever, we’re talking about three years ago or so, forever, the point of the lobby was you’re getting hazed. That was basically it. You’re getting hazed. It was celebrated. It was funny. It was laughed at. There were articles in the LA Times giggling over how Scott Rudin abused his employees. It was part of our culture, the way that frat culture does that stuff. The idea was you’ll pay your dues and this is how it is and then you become an employer and now you continue the cycle of abuse, lol, ha ha ha.
That more than anything I think has been the thing that has been examined. I know that still there are people who mistreat assistants all the time. Even though we did get some big wins with the agencies raising their payments and just some general attitudes, it’s always going to be an issue. I do think that at least we no longer celebrate a culture of abusing assistants. That’s huge. It’s sad, but it’s huge.
Liz: I remember, and I’m sure you guys have experiences like this, and Brittani, I think you may have some experiences like this too, but being assistants and almost comparing war stories of who is getting the most crap at work, who had something thrown at them. There was this survivalist mentality, where it was, “Because I’m able to take all of this abuse, this must mean I’m meant for greatness, because look how much I can handle.” There are assistants now who have talked about the worst abuse that they have gotten is coming from some former assistants who had internalized this idea that this is what it’s supposed to be, this is how you become a great contributor to Hollywood. I don’t think anyone has that attitude anymore. That’s great.
Craig: That is great.
Liz: That is great because that’s normalizing toxicity in a way that Me Too shone a light on as well. It’s huge.
Craig: I do think that a lot of us who come to this business have had, let’s just call it complicated childhoods. Not everyone, but many of us. We are already vulnerable. We are already seeking approval and love. We probably, a lot of us, already have some experience doing exactly what you described, which is essentially winning the battle between yourself and a person who’s attempting to drive you insane. I had definitely had experience like that myself here in this business, where simply because I was able to withstand the madness, I withstood the madness. I’m so glad that this is changing, that that is no longer seen as the test of success, because it shouldn’t be. What for? How about we just get rid of the people who create the madness? There’s a thought. Then we can just do our jobs somewhat happily. It’s hard enough without all the rest of it.
I know people complain all the time, because I see them on Twitter complaining about woke woke woke woke woke woke. If I have to see the word woke one more effing time and how, “Oh, the costs… ” It’s the telling of the costs of just going out of your way to be thoughtful. I’m not getting into policies or anything. I’m just saying generally, what is our individual burden when it come to Pay Up Hollywood or Me Too? Take a moment to just be a little bit thoughtful. You will fail. You’ll have your moments. Everybody isn’t perfect. Everybody will mess up. When you mess up, own it and apologize. Make amends. Move on. I think the more you make empathy and considering other people part of the way you go through it, in theory, the more it will come back to you. God, you know what? I’m very positive today.
John: You’re very positive.
Craig: It’s disturbing.
John: Someone check his medications here.
Craig: This is really weird.
Brittani: If I could just hop in, because I think Liz named me as someone who possibly had assistant experience. I just want to go on record and say I was not privileged to be an abused assistant. I didn’t have a car for the first three years that I was in LA, and so I couldn’t be an assistant. I think that that is also a part of the conversation that sometimes gets left out when we’re talking about this low-level pay, about the people that can’t even afford to have that low-level pay, to get into these entry-level positions. I don’t have the numbers specifically. I don’t think this is a thing anyone is keeping track of.
I see it in the support staff of the shows that I’ve been on. Sometimes, a lot of the times, actually, the room is more diverse than our support staff, because people just can’t afford to be support staff. They don’t have the support system to be able to be paid $17 or whatever it used to be for 6 years and then maybe get a script if someone’s being kind, and you get 22 episodes in year 7. It’s just cutting out so many people.
The people that are getting pushed out of those spaces because they can’t withstand that abuse of pay and emotionally, they never get to make it to the next level, because they don’t have the resources to withstand what is expected of people that are at the, quote unquote, entry-level position, which oftentimes is not an entry-level position.
Craig: I think that’s so important. One of the things that we all hoped – I know, Liz, we talked about this quite a bit in the early days of Pay Up Hollywood – was really that we would try, and by improving the entry, improving the starting position, that you would make it possible for people who otherwise could not afford to take on these terrible jobs, that other people could afford it. Otherwise, we were going to get a lot of kids whose moms and dads were paying for their apartment and their car and their insurance, and not a lot of kids who didn’t have that available.
There is absolutely nothing stopping any of the large institutions in Hollywood or even individual, fabulously wealthy showrunners from, for instance, purchasing a car that could be used for an assistant. People are so much richer than they ought to be. There’s this stinginess. By the way, that is also part of our culture. That’s not Hollywood culture. That’s American culture, that poverty’s good for you, and if I give you stuff, then you’ll be lazy. This goes back to the Puritans. It’s very Calvinistic. We behave as if the crucible is what proves merit. We’ll come back around to this when I get to my One Cool Thing today. The crucible doesn’t prove merit at all. At all.
John: All it does is burn things. I have some real life follow-up from last night. I was at the Simpsons premier party at Universal, which was tremendously fun. It was the Halloween episode. I highly recommend the Halloween episode.
We were waiting for it to start, and a young woman came up to me, and she introduced herself saying that she was one of the people who wrote in early on in Pay Up Hollywood. The name she used for that was Christian. Hello, Christian. I asked, “What happened after that time?” because I almost vaguely remembered who she was when she wrote in originally. She said she ended up quitting her last assistant job and just focusing on writing, because she came to this town to become a writer. She had realized that for two years as an assistant, she hadn’t written anything. Basically, she had no capacity left to write when she came home. She had these depression piles around her apartment and couldn’t get focused on anything new.
She felt like some progress had been made, at least in terms of having the conversation about Pay Up Hollywood. She was getting originally minimum wage, $13 an hour for this work that she was doing, incredibly long hours. Sony wouldn’t pay for her cellphone usage. She was supposed to have a stipend for cellphone usage for using her own cellphone. She both wanted me to know she was thankful for us having the conversation, but also that things hadn’t turned out so great.
I asked her, “What advice would you give to somebody who’s moving to town to become a writer and wants one of these writer assistant jobs that always get lauded as being the thing to do?” She said she would recommend to get on one show and be an assistant learn as much as you can on that one show, meet as many people as you can, and then get a job as a receptionist at a law firm, where you can actually make some decent money and actually have brain space to write. That’s her perspective on this.
I think it’s worth thinking about that maybe we are so glamorizing the support staff role as how you’re going to get started in the industry that we’re forgetting that it’s not just the money, it’s the time and the brain space and everything else, that we may be over-hyping what these roles need to be and how foundational they should be for a person coming into the industry.
Liz: It’s really hard, because what Pay Up Hollywood does… I honestly can’t sum up what we do better than what Brittani said we needed, because our entire mission has been trying to bring a spotlight to the low pay and the fact that this creates a barrier for a lot of people to get into Hollywood, the fact that Hollywood is not a meritocracy, it’s a pay-to-play industry. If you cannot afford to be here, then it doesn’t matter how well you can write. It doesn’t matter how talented of a director or how good of an agent you could be if you can’t even afford to get onto these apprentice traps. Ultimately, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to break in. I think she’s right that you absolutely need the brain space to be able to write. You need to have the emotional and mental health to be able to write.
The one thing that I have to disagree with and the thing that I hate disagreeing is that you really do have to make sure that you’re networking all the time, because it really does come down to who do you know, who are the people that can represent you. I think you guys have talked about this on the podcast before too. When you get signed by an agent or a manager, the first thing that they ask you is, “Who do you know that we could put you in front of right now and they’ll staff you on their show immediately?” That plays a huge role in who’s getting signed nowadays. I think that’s more of an asterisk to her advice, because it’s great advice.
I just want to make sure that this part of it isn’t glossed over because unfortunately, is the assistant track glamorized? Yeah, because there’s this idea that it’s all upward trajectory, just like with movements. With Pay Up Hollywood and from Me Too and everything that we’re doing, there’s this idea that in order to be successful, it always has to be upward momentum. The truth of the matter is it is jagged. It is signs and cosigns. It is all over the place. Sometimes it is flat-lining, and then you’re revived. It’s just about being able to keep going forward. If you can’t afford to keep going forward, then it’s game over, so yeah, it’s hard.
John: Liz, unlike a lot of the things we talk about on the show today, there is an ongoing structure behind this. Payuphollywood.com, people can go there. It’s now an official organization that you are helping to run. You have funding from Women in Film. There’s some ongoing work here. That ongoing work is you’re continuing to do this survey to figure out what their real life conditions are on the ground. Obviously, at the start of the pandemic, Craig and I and a bunch of other people tried to raise money for emergency relief for folks who were out of work because of the shutdowns. What should a person do who wants to learn more about Pay Up Hollywood right now? What’s the next step for them?
Liz: First, I’m not going to let you gloss over the emergency fund that you two especially helped raise half a million dollars for, because that was massive. That honestly helped a lot of people who really, really needed it at the time that the pandemic hit. It’s important for us too, because it really shone a light with how few protections there are for the support staff and honestly how few resources, how few financial resources, how few mental health resources there are. If you’re in that position, you don’t know where to go.
We’ve just launched our website. We’ve just received funding from Women in Film. That’s huge, because as a grassroots movement, the work has been done mostly by a group of three. Three people trying to change a living wage in this industry, making sure that people are aware of the fact that people cannot afford to work in Hollywood and are going hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, most likely, in many instances.
For us, we realize that this structure is going to let us expand. I think a lot of the bulk of our wins have been with what we’re looking at as more administrative assistants, so writers’ assistants, script coordinators, people who tend to work in office buildings, who have set hours, who have more structure in their jobs than assistants on set, like set PAs, hair and makeup PAs, any production PAs. This structure’s going to help us expand our exposure to those people.
It’s also giving us time to hire a couple… Hopefully, if we can raise the donations, we’ll be able to hire someone whose full-time job is going to be figuring out solutions and helping us make connections to expand our influence throughout the industry, in different parts of the industry than the ones that I’ve had immediate access to. Being a writer and producer, it’s easier for me to know how to reach people in the writing world rather than people who work in reality television.
It’s upward momentum. It’s slow upward momentum. Hopefully, with this expansion, we’re going to be able to talk to a lot more people, not just in agencies and in writers’ rooms and with showrunners, but people at the DGA, people who are onset line producers, mail room heads, people who are also suffering from being woefully underpaid, working in parts of the industry that are crucial to the creative process and not even remotely compensated for it, and also areas that people are saying we need to see more diversity, we need to see more women, we need to see more people from historically under-served groups who are also coming from a background that can’t normally afford to work in these positions. We need their presence. We’re just not willing to pay for it. We’re hoping that we can get them to say we need their presence, and we are now willing to pay for it, because we understand how crucial this is to the process.
All of this structure is letting us get that message out and reach more people who feel the same way we do and just didn’t have an outlet to express it. We’re the outlet. We’re the ones who are gathering all of the resources from the Entertainment Community Fund to JHRTS, all of the organizations, SELA, who can help with financial resources, mental health resources, Legal Aid in case you’re in a situation where you feel like you’re being subjected workplace abuse and you don’t know where to turn.
We’re hoping we can be a hub for support staffers in this industry to turn to if you have a question or you need to be pointed in a direction or you’re looking to contribute to the data and to the picture that we’re building, to show really how bad it is, but also how we can fix it, how we can course-correct, to ensure that we’re not just looking at things that are going to fix the current state, but preventative measures.
We’ve always been campaigning for a 3% increase in salary for every support staffer and really every worker from assistant to coordinator to even manager, because a lot of those people are taking on assistant duties in order to just have a better title, just making sure that we are looking at the sort of measures that are going to keep us from being in this situation again, because we really are coming to a head.
It’s what Craig said. We’re looking at a homogenized industry where the next generation of decision makers are all going to be cut from the same background, and there will be no diversity in storytelling, there will be no diversity in thought, because the people who are in those roles are all the same. That’s really sad.
John: Payuphollywood.com is the place where you’re going to go to start with that. Liz, again, thank you for everything you’ve done to keep that fire burning. Let’s go on to a listener question from Gabe. Megana, can you help us out?
Megana: Gabe wrote in and said, “Post the George Floyd uprisings, I expected some kind of change in our industry that perpetuates the myth of the hero cop, not huge changes at first. The police procedural industrial complex is too big and lucrative to dismantle immediately, but I expected to see less new copaganda shows and movies.”
Craig: That’s a great term.
Megana: “The tide of new cop shows getting announced hasn’t diminished. If anything, it’s grown, often with showrunners and casts from historically marginalized backgrounds, to show how inclusive copaganda can be. Why aren’t there a flood of shows about private investigators, defense attorneys, and restorative justice? Perry Mason was in production before George Floyd, but it shows that you can make commercial procedurals without making cops and prosecutors the heroes. In fact, our industry used to do it a lot. Are they being pitched but no one is buying?”
John: Brittani Nichols, based on your Twitter feed, I think you have strong opinions about policing in America. How do you feel about what’s happened on television in terms of our fictional portrayals of policing on the screen?
Brittani: I hate it. I can’t even really speak to it intelligently, because I refuse to watch it. I have a friend actually who is going to be directing an episode of the new Rookie spin-off with Niecy Nash. She’s like, “Oh yeah, and Niecy’s character’s dad, who’s formerly incarcerated, and so there’s this really interesting conversation that they’re having.” I’m like, “Yeah, they’re having the conversation embedded in a show that is still largely about how even if it’s not that cops are good, it’s that this one cop is good.” I’m waiting for the show where it’s just plainly, “No, there’s no good cop. This is what’s happening. This is how this is insidious, and you are complicit, even if you think you are good,” and showing the realities of bad cops. What was the show based on-
John: The Shield, Michael Chiklis.
Brittani: The Shield, sure.
John: Reaching way back for that.
Brittani: The Shield. I was watching it with my girlfriend, who is a journalist who focuses on police accountability in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Watching it, she was like, “This is satire, right?” I was like, “No, I don’t think that it is.” I’m not really old enough to have been watching it live and only have looked at Wikipedia and articles to be like, no, I think this was a very well-regarded show that just simply because it was a slightly more interesting, greedy look at sometimes cops are bad, that was enough. Just the bar is on the floor when it comes to these shows. I don’t think they should exist.
Craig: They continue to exist. My guess is they will not stop making them, because procedurals, they’re easy generators. When you have to make all these shows, you know that a process is going to get us lots of these shows. Copaganda always is heroes. The problem with portraying reality… This is a really interesting question. Let’s say I’m wandering away from the world of the limited series and I’m talking about an ongoing series that is going to show the reality of how police function. That’s going to be a very frustrating show to watch, because basically, every week, the bad guys win. That’s a hard show to write. That’s a hard to show to write. It’s a hard show to watch. I don’t know how I would approach it in a way where I wouldn’t feel beaten down by it. That’s a challenge more than anything. I think I would do it. I would do it if I could figure out how to do it.
John: Liz, you wrote on some of these shows.
Liz: I did, yeah. I wrote on The Rookie.
John: You are a copagandist.
Craig: Yeah, you copagandist.
John: You must still know people who are writing on these shows. Tell us about the conversations you’re having with them or they’re having in their rooms.
Liz: It’s hard. It’s hard. I also want to point out that the script that I wrote that got me on these copaganda shows was a high-concept sci-fi take on Treasure Island. Someone was like, “This is a great cop show writer. This is someone who can write grounded shit really well.” This is not my fault. That said, I have a lot of people on these shows that I love and respect. I know that they’re struggling with exactly this topic, because they feel culpable. They feel responsible putting this on the air. The question is how do we do this show responsibly, because if I don’t, someone who doesn’t give a shit will come in and do it any way that they want.
John: Isn’t that people who worked in Donald Trump’s office, that same idea of like, “Oh, it’s going to be someone worse if it’s not me.” It gets back to some pretty fundamental problems. The problem is the structure of the show itself. It’s what you’re doing. I need to credit Megana here, because she actually did a list of all the shows that are on the air right now. It’s staggering. Craig, help me read through this list, because you forget how many shows there are.
Craig: It’s extensive. CSI: Las Vegas, Blue Bloods, Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Law and Order: Organized Crime, Chicago PD, Chicago FBI, The Equalizer, NCIS: Los Angeles, SWAT, NCIS, NCIS: Hawaii, FBI, FBI: International, FBI: Most Wanted, Cops, and then there’s police-adjacent.
John: These are lawyer shows.
Craig: Lawyer shows. We’ve got So Help Me Todd, SEAL Team, Jack Ryan, 911, and Your Honor. Then there are new shows coming, Reasonable Doubt, The Calling, East New York, The Rookie: Feds, Criminal Minds: Evolution, and The Recruit. If you are interested in watching some shows about police officers and the prosecution of citizens, you have a choice. You have a choice. Look, we have friends who work on these shows. My thing is, ideally, the shows begin to slowly incorporate a sense of reality. That would be good. I’m honest. I don’t watch most of these.
Brittani: I just want to hop in and say they won’t. They’re not going to do that.
Craig: They’re not going to do it.
Brittani: There are so many of them for a reason. It’s not an accident. It’s not, “Oops, the procedurals are great.” No, the cops want these shows to exist, because they want people to think that they are good people. I would like to challenge that, doing a show that is realistic and does show that these systems suck and that the people that are policing are often the scum of the earth and doing things that are unimaginably terrible in ways that people watching television have absolutely no idea about.
We watch shows about bad white men all the time. People get on board. Mad Men. Breaking Bad. Succession. All these shows, they’re not critically going, “Yes, I understand that they are evil, and I’m conflicted about enjoying this television show.” No, everyone just cheers for the bad guy. I don’t think that that would be an actual barrier, because Americans love cheering for bad white dudes.
Craig: Yes, but Americans are also authoritarian. I believe this, that there is this incredibly strong authoritarian streak throughout a lot of white America in particular. They love to, quote unquote, back the blue. They like the badge. They like that stuff. They don’t mind police brutality. I’ve always said that there’s a huge segment of this country that doesn’t protest when Black people are brutalized by the police. They also don’t protest when white people are brutalized by the police. They don’t care. They like it. That’s where some of the audience is here, I think.
I think people like antiheroes or they like rooting for white guy villains like Tony Soprano and Walter White. When you put the uniform on, suddenly it’s this different thing. There’s just something that happens where I think people want to see those people being the dark, vengeful father that protects us. There must be something in our bones, because look how many of these shows there are. It’s hitting some dopamine, right?
John: Craig, I’m going to put a link in the show notes to this article that Megana found from Vox called How 70 Years of Cop Shows Taught Us to Valorize the Police. One thing the article points out really clearly is that cop shows weren’t always this way. Cops used to be bungling cops. They used to be fools. It was really the rise of the police procedural and the need to actually use the police as consultants and everything else and to shoot in Los Angeles that the police became more noble and more noble and more noble and infallible.
The film and TV industry, there’s some of the responsibility for the current state of policing in America based on it’s assumed that the police know right. We’ve talked before on the show about the CSI effect. We just assume if they’re showing this proof, then that proof is proof, and those bite marks really must’ve come from this person, because we’ve seen it on TV. I’m frustrated. I don’t see a solution here. Brittani, do you see a solution? We take them all off the air. How do you fix this?
Craig: They’re not coming off the air, so what do we do to counter this?
Brittani: I would love to see anything. These shows are the greatest works of fiction that exist in entertainment. Anything that just realistically counters these narratives I think would be valuable, because yeah, I think you’re right, they’re not just all going to disappear overnight. Having a show that does show what cops are actually like and what they’re actually doing and does not balk at how people will respond, I would like to see that. I would like to see someone actually try.
John: I think it’s safe to just summarize that we’re feeling that little to no progress has been made on copaganda since the George Floyd protest. Is that fair?
Craig: I don’t see any. I detect no progress.
John: Let’s wrap up this topic by something that’s almost brand new. This is showrunners for abortion rights. We have 1,500 of the top showrunners, creators, directors, signing a letter asking the studios for what they are going to do to help safeguard abortion rights for crews who are working in states that are now limiting abortions after the fall of Roe versus Wade. This is new. This is fresh. As we’re recording this, new stuff may have come out. As we’re recording this, no specific plans have come out of any of these studios for what’s going to happen next.
John: Shocking. My question for the group though is, based on the conversation we’ve had about these previous topics, where do we see this going in the next few years? Obviously, thing could change, the legal landscape. We don’t know what’s going to happen there. This movement for safeguarding reproductive rights for people working in these states, what happens? Is there going to be enough of a structure? Is it going to revert to a meme? Are we going to forget about this? Are we going to still be talking about this five years from now? Brittani, what’s your instinct? Do you think this is going to be a thing we’re still grappling with five years from now? This letter from the showrunners, will this still be a part of the conversation?
Brittani: It’s just annoying. Whenever I see 1,500 showrunners do anything, I know that absolutely nothing is going to happen.
Craig: Nothing will happen. Oh my god, I love you so much. I’m one of them.
John: Craig and I signed it.
Craig: You’re right. We have to try. I love an open letter. It’s absolutely true. The people behind the open letter have been doing things, which is really nice. Whatever you call the steering committee, there’s a group of women at the core of this who have been trying quite hard. I think getting the list of 1,500… First of all, there is not such a thing as 1,500 top anything in our business. That already is giggly worthy. I sense from you what I feel in myself, which is it’s a good effort but we are still coming hat in hand to the employers and saying, “What are you going to do?” What I think the employers are going to do is nothing. That’s what I think they’re going to do. I think they’re going to put some window dressing up. They don’t want to stop shooting in Georgia. They don’t want to stop, and they’re not going to.
John: Liz, do you have any instinct about what’s going to be happening five years from now? Will we still be talking about this letter five years from now, the same way we’re talking about the Time’s Up articles?
Liz: Do I think the letter is going to make people at the studios do anything that’s right? Not all of them. I think that what they’re going to see is a financial risk. When we’re talking about the studios, they talk in terms of profits. Right now, Craig, I know you said we’re never going to stop shooting in Georgia.
Craig: They won’t stop.
Liz: I actually wonder what would happen is that they use it as a smokescreen, like, “We’re not shooting in Georgia because it’s the right thing to do,” but really it’s because Georgia’s getting more and more expensive to shoot in, because I’ve worked on a couple of shows right now where I’ve said, “We could shoot this in Georgia,” and they’re going, “Georgia’s too expensive.” I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens.
Craig: They’re still going to be shooting in Louisiana. That’s the thing. There are too many of these places where they want to go. It’s easy for them to say, “Hey, we shot our show in Canada. If we do it again, we will shoot it again in Canada.” That makes me comfortable. I individually refuse to, say, work on a show in a state that does not guarantee reproductive health rights for women. I won’t do it personally, but I’m rich. That’s no skin off my back. I’m not a hero.
The people who are in the situation where it’s like, “Hey, you’re getting a show for the first time. You’re going to make a show for the first time. This is going to be your career. You will go on. We’re shooting it in New Orleans.” There’s a choice. The only people that can prevent that from happening are the studios, and they’re not going to. What they will do is probably guarantee individual employees some sort of payment and assistance.
Look, there are a bunch of things that our industry does that I just shake my head at and laugh. Any time our industry talks about how progressive they are, sometimes I want to barf, because of the people that so many of these studios are in bed with financially and the way that they will go on. They will host Democratic candidates in their mansions, and then they will turn around as the people who run the studios and go ahead and pump more money into states that won’t guarantee the safety of their own employees. They may be waiting to see if Georgia changes, but that’s not going to stop them from shooting in New Orleans. New Orleans isn’t changing. Louisiana’s Louisiana. It ain’t happening there.
It makes me really angry. I’m just blown away that they couldn’t even just do something. They couldn’t even be bothered with window dressing. I don’t think it’s because they’re locked up in a hundred committee meetings sweating over this. I think that they just go, “Oh look, if we wait three weeks, something will happen. Someone is going to send a dick pic to the wrong person, and that’s what everyone’s going to talk about, and everyone will forget about this.” To some extent, they’re right, because no one’s holding their feet to the fire on this, no matter what we do.
Liz: I will say just one last thing about that letter though, because I know you and John both signed it. I have talked to a lot of assistants, as I normally do, who were very happy to at least see the letter, because they felt it was a show of solidarity. That’s what I feel that letter did best is show solidarity with a lot of people who right now don’t necessarily have the access to each other like we do, who felt, “Okay, I feel like if I worked for those people, I could be safe. This is someone who actually values my safety, and that means something to me.”
Craig: I love that. By the way, the real percentage is probably 80%. If you worked for 80% of these people, you would be safe. I always think at least 20% of these people are absolutely shameless hypocrites, but at least 80%, I think… Again, I want to credit the women that put it together. They’re really doing the work. All we did was we sent money and we signed a thing. They put it together. They’re pushing the agenda. They’re trying to make stuff happen. What they’re doing is the real work.
John: We know how hard the real work is, because early on in Pay Up Hollywood, we were doing the real work. I remember being on calls with Liz. We were trying to talk to this agency boss about raising their minimums. We all know how hard that is. I think if we want to wrap up this whole segment, just say that the things we’ve learned is that it’s very easy to focus on one flashpoint moment. It’s very easy to focus on, “Oh shit, this decision came down, and abortion is now up for grabs.” It’s easy to build up a lot of energy around that. It’s hard to keep it going. I’ll be curious whether showrunners for abortion rights will have the structure to keep things going or if it needs a structure to keep things going. Copaganda, there was no force behind that, so it’s hard to make any of those changes happen. Wow, the follow-up is that it’s tough. It’s tough to do these things, man.
Craig: Things are happening.
John: Things are happening. Some progress has been made. It’s not like we’ve gone backwards on everything.
Craig: In the last 5 years, there has been more progress in our industry over all of these issues than there has been in all the other 25 years now, I think, I’ve been doing this. That’s something. At least because I’m old, I have the perspective of time. There was nothing. Nothing at all happened with any of this for about 25 years. Of course, nothing happened with any of it in all the time before I showed up. Really, I think there is room for hope here. Even as we struggle and fall down in some areas, there’s room for hope. There has been a lot of positive change.
John: It’s been a long episode. We’ve gotten through so much. I think we deserve some fun. I think it’s time for some One Cool Things.
John: I will do my One Cool Thing first, which is a New Yorker article by Leslie Jamison on the history of Choose Your Own Adventure books. I was going to save this for a How Would This Be a Movie, but I think it’s actually just a good article to read independently, the history of how these two men came to form Choose Your Own Adventure and then went to a publisher, took it away from the publisher to defend their brand, how they figured out the algorithm for Choose Your Own Adventure books. They were a really important part of my literary life for about three years in elementary school. I just loved them. I think if you’re a person who read Choose Your Own Adventure books, you will enjoy this article on the history of the Choose Your Own Adventure brand.
Craig: I love those books. They’re wonderful.
John: Craig, what you got for us?
Craig: I have an article. This is an article in Current Affairs, which is a somewhat thinky internet publication, a magazine of politics and culture. It’s wonderful. It goes right to something that I’m very passionate about. It’s written by Aravind “Vinny” Byju. It is called Why You Hate Your Job. It is an investigation. He says, “A theory on the function of bullshit jobs: to maintain the illusion of meritocracy and to provide status and prestige for elites.” Oh, does this go right to my happy place. He draws a distinction between bullshit jobs, which are jobs that they don’t do anything, but they are hard to get, there’s a competition for them, and they signify your elite status, as opposed to shit jobs, which are jobs that are underpaid, where people are treated poorly, but the job itself is perfectly noble, like for instance teaching or being a janitor.
It’s rather long, but it’s brilliantly written. It’s just a gorgeous exploration of how we create a competition system for elitism, and we keep putting velvet ropes in front of things and making people fight over them. When you do that, they will. Then on the other side of the velvet rope is a bunch of bullshit. Well worth reading because I think the entire higher education system is a nightmare in this country. Why You Hate Your Job by Aravind “Vinny” Byju.
John: Fantastic. Brittani, do you have a One Cool Thing to share with our listeners?
Brittani: I sure do. My One Cool Thing is a little off the beaten path, I guess. It’s my girlfriend.
Craig: My heart. We’re in trouble, because I don’t think we’ve ever done… John’s never done his husband. I’ve never done my wife. This is really bad. Go ahead, ruin everything for us. I don’t care.
Brittani: Her name is Cerise Castle. I’ve mentioned that she’s a journalist. She has done this thing called A Tradition of Violence: The History of Deputy Gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which is a 15-part investigative series. She also just did a study on copaganda for Color of Change. I don’t think it’s out yet. She just has worked on so many of the things specifically surrounding television actually and police. I hope people just go check her out. She has a podcast about it that’s going to be coming out October 19th called A Tradition of Violence. It’s going to hit on just so many of the things that we talked about today. She’s @cerisecastle on Twitter. She’s very cool.
Craig: That’s amazing.
John: Excellent. Cerise Castle, a One Cool Thing.
Craig: Amazing and romantic.
John: It is. I like it so much. Liz, how about a One Cool Thing for us?
Liz: It’s not going to be nearly as good as Brittani’s. I’m obsessed with tallowtok. If you watch TikTok, there is a wonderful creator named Mirenda Rosenberg. She lives in Ireland. She’s an expat. She is very much into sustainable living. She lives on a budget, so one of the things that she does is she makes soap with tallow, which is cut off beef fat. She gets it cheap from her local butcher. She walks you through the process of how to make soap. She’ll also walk you through her small homestead in the Irish countryside. It’s really relaxing. It’s something that I watch almost daily, because she’s just a very giving and very generous person when it comes to her knowledge and how she gardens, how she makes soap, all of the different processes.
Her entire philosophy is, “I’m going to teach you how to be zero waste in an easy and affordable way, because I’m broke, you’re probably broke, let’s be broke together, and we can still do good things for the environment.” It’s tallowtok. If you just follow that hashtag on Twitter, it’s easy to find. It is genuinely some of the greatest mental hugs you can give yourself right now.
John: Love it. That was our show for this week. Thank you, Liz and Brittani, so much. Reminder, it’s a last call for Writer Emergency Pack XL on Kickstarter. If you want to get a Writer Emergency Pack XL, you can get that now on Kickstarter. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long wait until we get them back into stores. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao.
John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: Our outro this week is by Holly Overton. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you could send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust. Liz, where are you on Twitter?
Liz: I am at @lizalps.
John: B is hilarious, it’s true. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts and sign up for our weeklyish newsletter called Inneresting. There’s lots of links to things about writing. You can ign up to become a Premium Member at scriptnotes.net, where you get all the back-episodes and Bonus Segments like the one we’re about to record just for Craig about the success of firing your reps. Brittani, Liz, thank you so, so much for joining us on this incredibly detailed followupisode. You’re the best.
Craig: Thanks, guys.
Liz: Thank you guys. Thank you very much.
Brittani: Thank you.
John: This happened. I swear this happened in real life. I’m trying to think the best way to get into this. About eight months ago, I had a phone call with a TV writer, a colleague. He’d been a staff writer on a couple shows, actually I think some copaganda shows, but was finding it really hard to get his next job and wanted some advice. We did the normal things that Craig and I would do. We talked about what he was writing, what new samples he was working on, what shows he was going out for. He was making really smart choices, but he was really concerned that he was just never going to get hired again. This is also pandemicy times, so everything was up in the air. I channeled that inner Craig, and I said, “Maybe the problem is your reps.”
Craig: Thank you.
John: He said he really liked his reps but yeah, maybe that was part of the issue. He wrote me back the next week and told me he’d fired them and was going to sign at a new place. Fast forward a year. He and I exchanged emails this week. I asked if I could share his experience. Craig, I think maybe you could read the bold parts here, because this is what you want to hear.
Craig: This is what I came for. “I just wanted to check in with another update. Thankfully, the switch to new reps has continued to pay off. Frankly, it’s been downright miraculous. I’m several weeks into a staff job on another show and will be heading out of town next year to produce it. In the last few months, I’ve also sold a pilot and a scripted podcast. It’s felt like a complete 180 from the doldrums of the pandemic, my reps, and the lack of anxiety that having bad reps caused has been a huge part of the turnaround. Thanks for the good advice.”
John: I wrote him back and said, “What is it about this new reps that is so much better? Are they doing more? Are they positioning you better? Is there something else?” He wrote back.
Craig: “It seems to be mostly about relationships. Even though it’s a boutique management company, everyone in television seems to know them, love them, and hold them in high esteem. That patina seems to get transferred to me as a client. It’s also a strategy. They’re very targeted in their approach and push hard for things that are good fits, and they ignore everything else. They’ve been very up front about the fact that they don’t put clients up for jobs or send them on pitches unless they think there’s a 50% or higher chance that it will end with success. I think part of it, frankly, is that I’ve been able to be a better client, because I’m not so constantly panicked about trying to manage my own reps.” Exactly.
“I feel the wind at my back in a way I haven’t in a long time, and it’s made my work better and my approach to everything that much more confident. I didn’t realize how much my lack of faith in my team was affecting my ability to sell myself.”
John: Craig, are you misting up a little bit? I’m honestly a little emotional.
Craig: I’m horny. I’m horny. This is not sad. I love it. The reason that we say fire your manager, fire your agent, it’s not blithe. I think a lot of times, we are so cultured to think that if you get an agent or a manager, you’ve somehow broken through and made something happen. They are the first people to say to you, “You could be a professional.” That psychological bond is very powerful. It is so powerful, not only can it withstand their poor performance, it often just masks it completely. You just don’t realize that they’re not special, they are not anointing you with any authority that is objectively relevant, and in trusting them to do things for you, you’re actually worse off than you were when you were afraid and doing it yourself.
If things aren’t working, there’s really no point in clinging to that raft. The raft is not there to make you feel good. It’s not there to make you feel like you’re a represented writer. It’s there to get you a job. If it doesn’t get you a job, move on to a different raft.
John: Now Brittani, you are in a writers’ room, so you get to talk with writers all the time about what they’re doing, what they’re working on. I bet reps come up a fair amount. Is this the kind of conversation you’ve had with people in your rooms?
Brittani: Yeah, I famously enjoy fake firing people. I just tell people to fire people all the time. I don’t currently have agents. A lot of people in our room actually don’t. I tell them just don’t do it unless you really feel like you have a solid reason to do so.
Craig: You have a manager?
Brittani: I have a manager, yeah.
Craig: And a lawyer?
Brittani: And a lawyer, yes.
Craig: I feel like if you have 15% going out the door, that’s nothing, whether it’s an agent or a lawyer, manager and a lawyer. I know some people have both. My guess is they’re overpaying. Sometimes the combination works well. I continue to have strong feelings for you, Brittani, because I just like your style.
John: My role on the podcast is to introduce Craig to people who he’s obsessed with suddenly. Brittani, I’m sorry. This is what happens to you next. Liz, what’s your feeling as you’re listening to this letter? Is this an experience that you could understand or relate to?
Liz: Oh yeah, good for that person. I fired a manager and reps before. I’m very happy with my people. Right now, I have an agent and a manager. My agent is someone who has terrorized business affairs until I get the white boy money is what we call it. I’ve gotten paid more with her than I ever had. I’ve known her for 10 years. She’s the only Middle Eastern agent in the game right now. She has absolutely no tolerance for anybody that doesn’t show respect to her BIPOC clients as they do to her white clients. She is my lioness. I love her. I love her to death. It’s a good match.
John: Nice. We’ll leave it on that. We’re not telling everyone they need to fire their reps immediately. I guess we’re saying hey, if there’s a problem, don’t hold onto your reps because you think you’re not going to get another one. You’re probably better off without those reps. Brittani doesn’t even have an agent right now, and look, she’s producing Abbott Elementary. You can do it.
Craig: You can do it.
John: Thanks, all.
Craig: Thanks, guys.
- Liz Alper on Twitter
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- List of Female Run Restaurants in Austin, TX from Melissa
- Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades by Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey and Alyssa Milano’s Tweet and From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories by Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker
- #MeToo, Five Years Later: Accusers Reflect by THR Staff
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- How 70 Years of Cop Shows Taught Us to Valorize the Police by Constance Grady for Vox
- Studio Response to Showrunners for Abortion Rights
- The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books by Leslie Jamison for The New Yorker
- Why Your Hate Your Job by Aravind “Vinny” Byju
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