The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Bonjour et bienvenue. Je m’appelle John August.
Craig Mazin: Je m’appelle Craig Mazin.
John: [French language]. Craig, we’re back. You’re back from Calgary. I’m back from France. We are back in our native home city of Los Angeles.
Craig: Correct. We were both in countries where things on wrappers are printed in French.
John: That’s true, yes, and French rappers rap in French.
Craig: French rappers are the best. I assume you were there for fun.
John: For fun, yes.
John: Spent some time touring the UK, looking at some schools for our daughter. Then we were just back in France for the first time since the pandemic. Longtime listeners will know that I used to live there. It was nice to be back and seeing my old haunts. The boulangerie which was our favorite place to get pastries every day was still there, but slightly less good than it was before.
John: Something happened.
Craig: Life happens, John. Life happens. It must’ve been nice to return there. It must’ve been nice to be overseas and not working. I can’t say I was overseas. I was over-border. I was over over-border.
John: You were over-border, yeah. I did no Scriptnotes work at all.
Craig: That’s wonderful. That’s great. Look, wasn’t it nice?
John: It was so nice.
Craig: Let’s just say, without freaking anyone out, I will simply say sometimes it’s nice to not do Scriptnotes.
John: It really is.
Craig: It really is.
John: [inaudible 00:01:23] not be thinking about it.
Craig: If you don’t realize that you’ve got… Oh, it’s not a big deal. It’s just that there’s this splinter. It doesn’t hurt. Then one day 10 years later they take the splinter out and you’re like, “Oh, wow. It’s actually way better without that splinter.” Nobody should get nervous or anxious.
John: Don’t worry.
Craig: Don’t get anxious.
John: Everything’s fine.
Megana Rao: I am really anxious.
Craig: No no no. Megana, sleep.
Megana: I don’t like where this conversation is going.
John: Let’s get to today’s episode so that Megana gets less nervous. Today on the show, effing magnets, how do they work? More specifically, how do you create characters who both pull in the viewer and pull themselves through the story? We’ll look at techniques for adjusting the magnetic fields. We’ll also catch up on a lot of news on animation writing, the CW, and more. There’ll be no Bonus Segment at the end for Premium Members, because instead, they just get a whole Bonus Episode we just created, where we talk with the creator of Wordle and the author of 50 Years of Text Games about ways to use words for fun and profit. It was a good conversation, yes, Craig?
Craig: It was fantastic. I think everybody will enjoy it. Naturally, the two of us make sure that it is of interest to everyone, including people that don’t play word games, because there’s universal things that need to be examined, and they were.
John: Craig, I think we had one text exchange during my entire vacation, which was Craig writing, “Hell froze over.” I had no idea what the context was. We can now say that hell froze over because Craig Mazin was invited to join the Motion Picture Academy.
Craig: If you’re a longtime listener, you know that was something that was never going to happen, and it happened. I was invited to join the Motion Picture Academy. I am now in the Motion Picture Academy. I’m a part of a very exciting and interesting freshman class.
John: Craig, you are now an Academy member. I’m so excited to be attending Academy events with you and such and making fun of speakers and-
Craig: Oh god.
John: …doing all the Academy business.
Craig: I will say that the number of emails that I receive per day has shot up dramatically. I guess I’ll have to figure out how to manage the email influx from the Academy. It’s nice. I am excited to vote for the Oscars. That sounds like it would be a fun thing to do.
John: It’s fun to do. It’s actually a really well-designed voting system. Of course, you’ll be a part of the Academy app, which is where you’ll see all the screeners, which is actually really well-designed.
John: It’s good stuff.
Craig: I think it’s wonderful. I think it was our own Aline Brosh McKenna, the living Joan Rivers of Scriptnotes, who may have put my name forward. I should thank her for that. It was also gratifying because you can become a member of the Academy simply by being nominated for something or you can become a member because people think you ought to be. In my case, it was the latter. That was nice. It’s always nice to be wanted. Yay, Academy.
John: Hooray. A bunch of news happened, Craig, while you were getting your Academy membership and I was overseas. The Animation Guild ratified their new three-year contract. We’ve talked about animation writing many times on the show. Animation Guild represents all folks who work in animation in different fields, a lot of artists, a lot of different people. They also represent some writers who work in animation.
There was a long and vocal campaign to try to improve the conditions of writers working under Animation Guild contracts. This contract did some things better. It established new job tiers for promotion. There’s a Level 1, Level 2, a supervising animation writer, all who got some pay bumps. There’s a new more junior level called associate animation writer, which is lower paid. It looks like some progress. It also looks like not very close to what an equivalent writer would be getting under a live-action WGA deal. It can both be significant progress and not what these writers should be receiving.
Craig: That’s right, nor will it ever be. Because of the circumstances surrounding the Animation Guild, specifically that it is part of IATSE and not a writer’s guild, they will not ever have the kind of bargaining power we do. They don’t have as many members by far. Also, their strike threat is essentially de minimis, because IATSE’s not striking so that animation writers do better. They will always struggle to do the best they can. They do, I honestly think, do the best they can. The people who work there care a lot. They are not defensive about the fact that their collective bargaining agreement is not as good as ours. They are aware of it. They don’t deny it. They do the best they can. That’s the most important thing. They did get a pretty decent turnout, which I think is really important. Member turnout apparently tripled compared to the last vote.
If there’s one thing that I guess we could look at as a decent thing, it’s just additional codification of what IATSE got, which was an enshrined 3% minimum wage increases annually over the course of the contract. That used to be the standard across the industry, and then suddenly it went down to two and a half. Hopefully, we can all return to the 3%. Anyway, I think all in all a successful negotiation for Animation Guild. Well done to the folks who run it and all the folks who voted.
John: I also just want to commend the animation writers who kept speaking up very vocally about how important it was and how their jobs are different than other folks who are working in the Animation Guild. They’re the first people on board in a project. They have very specific needs that are different from other folks. I think it’s great that they spoke up and were so insistent throughout this. This is not the last we’ve heard about animation writing and making sure that animation writers are paid what they should be paid.
Craig: I expect that we’ll be hearing about this every three years, as well we should.
John: Other news, so Craig, you and I have not talked very much about the CW, but we should probably explain for international listeners, because the CW is just a weird situation. Way back in the day, we had two different networks called the WB and UPN. Shows on the WB that were so famous were Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel.
Craig: The Buffyverse.
John: All the Buffyverse, but also Dawson’s Creek was a WB show. My own show, which lasted seven episodes, only four of which aired, called DC, was a WB show.
Craig: Great four episodes though.
John: It was really just a phenomenal four episodes. UPN, which was another Paramount-based network-
Craig: United Paramount Network.
John: Yeah, which had a bunch of shows. Those two merged, and they became the CW. The CW is the home to things like Supernatural, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s owned jointly by Warner Bros and CBS. It’s always been a strange partnership. They are trying to sell the CW now. It looks like it’s going to be bought out by a group called Nexstar, which represents a bunch of the stations that actually broadcast CW shows.
Craig: This is the I guess natural fallout of the move to streaming, because basically Warner Bros is all in on HBO Max, and CBS is all in on Paramount Plus. Then the question is what exactly will the… By the way, what is with the the?
John: The CW?
Craig: Yeah. We don’t say the NBC, the CBS, the ABC, the HBO Max.
John: We don’t say the CBS.
Craig: It’s just there for whatever reason, the CW. I guess they started with the WB, because it wasn’t WB. It was the WB.
John: I guess, yeah.
Craig: The weirdly named the CW will try and fit into this forgotten, perhaps neglected spot, which is the independent network. It’s possible that it could work. I just don’t know what their programming exactly will be, because all the programming they had is owned by these other entities. They’re not buying the programs. They’re just buying the name.
John: They’re buying the name. They’re buying the network and the ability of the network to brand shows. Warner Bros and Paramount will still own a part of it. I think the reason why I want to talk about this on Scriptnotes is that the CW shows were an important birthplace for a lot of writers. They were shows that ran 20 episodes a season or 22 episodes a season. There was a lot of work there. The CW canceled a bunch of their shows. That’s a bunch of writers who don’t have jobs suddenly.
I think we forget about the nature of seasonal employment. These were shows that would start early fall and go through into the spring. In this streaming era, we see much less of that. Those were really good jobs for a bunch of people. I’m concerned that whatever this new network becomes, it’s not going to have scripted shows to the same degree. We’re going to lose out on a great training ground for a lot of writers.
Craig: It won’t be. Don’t be concerned. Just deal with it as reality, because they will not be making scripted television the way that the CW or the WB or UPN even did, because it’s too expensive and because you can make a lot of money with unscripted programming at lower margins. That’s how you compete. Look, ultimately, all of the networks are going to go away. They’ve been around forever or what we imagine forever to be. They’re going away. We’re not going to have NBC, CBS, and ABC at some point. They’re just going.
John: I agree with it.
Craig: Then it’s just going to be Disney Plus and Paramount Plus and Peacock and then all the other streamers we know, HBO Max and Apple TV and Amazon and so on and so forth, Hulu and etc. There’s not going to be network television anymore. There’s a redundancy there that everybody can see. Everybody. We all know it. At some point, I think NBC… Honestly, Derek Haas is keeping NBC on, as far as I can tell.
John: The Chicago shows?
Craig: Yes. When the Chicago shows run their run, which probably will be 40 years from now, then and only then will NBC finally be like, “Okay, we’ll just be Peacock.”
John: Some follow-up. On our bonus topic a couple weeks ago, we talked about adulting, basically what are the things that made you realize that you are now an adult and what those felt like. I proposed on Twitter, “Hey, what are some useful markers you found of adulthood?” Our listeners sent through some really good suggestions. I thought we would read through some of the listener suggestions for things that mark you as possibly an adult. “Getting excited about water filter speed.”
Craig: What? Water filter speed.
John: Yeah, like getting a home water filter or how fast your Brita pitcher filters.
Craig: I see. Yeah.
John: “Throwing out plastic cups and replacing them with glass.” Yeah, so getting permanent things rather than temporary things.
John: “Hiring professional movers.” That is a real mark of it, when you’re not relying on your friends to drag you through. My friend Andrew Lippa said, “A mark of adulthood is initiating conversations that will likely invite conflict.” Recognizing I’m going to say this thing, I know this is going to make you mad, but I’m not going to actually avoid saying it because I know it’s going to make you mad.
Craig: I’d consider that also part of my adolescenting, to be honest, but that was me.
John: That was being provocative though.
Craig: I think that’s what “initiating conversations that likely invite conflict” is.
John: I think it’s recognizing that it’s not being afraid of conflict.
Craig: Oh, I see. You’re not starting something, but you’re not avoiding it either.
John: Yeah, exactly.
Craig: Got it.
John: That’s how I took Andrew Lippa’s-
Craig: Got it.
John: Knowing Andrew the way I do, that’s how I read that. Chuck Wendig, who’s a very smart writer, he said, “Being excited about things like showers and bedtime.”
Craig: Bedtime in particular has really become… I used to really dread it, and now lately I’m like, “Can I just get into bed? Can I get into bed now? Oh my god, no, it’s 8:15. I can’t.”
John: Along those lines, “Being excited when you have no plans for the weekend.” So good. “Wanting a low-key birthday.” “Seeking empty beaches.”
Craig: Empty beaches. I never wanted full beaches.
John: I never want to go to the beach. I hate the sun.
Craig: You really should not ever-
John: I should not be in the sun.
Craig: No. When you were an Eagle Scout, were you just in a full beekeeper costume?
John: For a variety of reason, I’ve pretty much always worn hats, which has helped a lot. I would say my one advice to people is just put on a hat, because it’ll help you out so much. I do remember on a horseback trip wearing a ball cap and having my ears get incredibly badly sunburned. That’s not a fun thing when you’re just peeling dead skin off your ears.
Craig: You need a brimmed hat.
John: I need a brimmed hat. That’s what I need.
Craig: For sure. That’s why I’m saying beekeeper. If you look into beekeeper costumes, I think you will-
John: I think I’ll be happy. We have some follow-up on our discussion about gun violence. Megana, do you want to help us out with this?
Megana: Nikolai brought up, “In Donald Glover’s brilliant show Atlanta, LaKeith Stanfield’s character Darius is at a shooting range. Around him, Second Amendment enthusiasts are shooting at human targets, which Darius shoots at a target of a dog. He’s approached, and the men tell him, ‘You can’t shoot dogs,’ to which Darius replies, ‘Why would I shoot a human target?’ I’m certainly not doing the scene justice, but I think the point still holds.”
John: I haven’t seen Atlanta, so I haven’t seen this beat. I think that’s a really clever idea for a moment. It’s also an interesting way to bring up the ideas of why are we using guns and what’s okay about guns and what’s not okay about guns.
Craig: It’s pretty setuppish. That’s my favorite word. I got that word from Hannibal Buress, setuppish.
Craig: Isn’t that a great word?
John: It is. It’s pejorative but not dismissive completely.
Craig: It’s just saying you’re luring me into something. It’s setuppish. It is clever.
John: It is clever. I like it. Follow-up on remote writers’ rooms. Help us out.
Megana: Allison wrote in and said, “A follow-up to that great question about remote writers’ rooms. Why must writers’ rooms be in LA when so much production is remote? Wouldn’t it make sense for Disney to have writers’ rooms in Atlanta, for instance? I live and work in Portland, Oregon, where we have a thriving TV and film scene. The productions may hire local camera operators, directors, actors, etc, but the writers’ rooms are always based in LA. This above the line/below the line divide never made sense to me. Making writers’ rooms local to the locations could go a long way to bridging this divide.”
Craig: Interesting point.
John: I think I remember some anecdotes of a show that did actually put its writing staff in the place where it was shooting. It’s so unusual that I think it just stuck out because I’d never heard of that before.
Craig: There’s a really simple reason for this, Allison. Money. When you take people from where they live and ask them to live somewhere else, it costs money. You have to pay them a per diem. There’s a weekly fee that they get just for living expenses. You have to put them up somewhere. You have to feed them. You have to take care of their travel back and forth and all of that stuff. It’s just money. Now if it were me and I had a writers’ room, which I don’t, but if I did, yeah, I probably would’ve wanted them with me. Then I’m sure HBO would’ve said, “No, we’re not spending all this money for people to be up there and be there when you need them during production, but when they’re not needed during production, then… “
Ideally, a lot of this stuff is written before you get into production. We do hire below-the-line folks and then bring them places and put them up and pay for them, because sometimes we need specific people. Cinematographers, camera operators are a good example, and obviously actors. Basically, bottom line, Allison, dough.
John: Yeah, dough. Also, I think it’s understanding the timeline of when you’re shooting these things. Craig’s right to say ideally you’ve written all the episodes before you start shooting, or you’re getting close to that. The exception would be if you were doing a traditional network show like one of the Baltimore shows like Homicide. I think Homicide may have actually had its writers’ room there in Baltimore, because they were right there on set doing all the stuff. You basically needed to have those writers be right there on set to do the things. It was great. That is a possibility there for a network show where you’re not writing so far ahead of what production is. For most shows, it’s not going to work. I think Allison also may be thinking that they’ll hire local writers to do that thing. No, they won’t. No showrunner’s going to find the six writers they want for that show in Portland. They’re just not going to find that. It’s not going to be a thing that works out.
Craig: Even if they were there, it doesn’t matter, because you need writers where you are before you get to Portland. You can’t get to Portland unless you’ve written a lot.
John: When we had Liz Meriwether and Liz Hannah on the show talking about their productions, they did have writers on set, but they had to bring in one writer at a time, because that’s what they can afford to bring. That was great and helpful for them. That’s what they could actually do.
Craig: That is industry standard.
John: We have some follow-up on disclaimers. Megana.
Megana: Frank from LA wrote in and said, “I wrote a pilot that’s a Real Housewives style reality show spoof about plus-size male models. When I was first taking it out, execs who read it blind without meeting me or without seeing the web series it was based on thought I was making fun of fat people. It was so frustrating, because I was doing the exact opposite. The feedback was largely tepid and/or cautionary, until I added a second page that said, ‘The author is loud, queer, and overweight. In their head they could be Naomi Campbell if only the world would let them.'”
John: Here’s an example of a preface page or an epigraph, still debating what those are going to be, that was helpful for Frank in getting his script read because people did not understand the context of who their writer was and how they should be reading the script without some sort of introduction there. Craig, what do you think?
Craig: It’s everything, so well done, Frank. The fact that maybe you didn’t think about doing that initially is not your fault. What I love is that you then thought of doing it. There’s nothing questionable about this. To me, context in the course of humor is incredibly important. We’re all grown up enough, especially now, to understand that some things are funny when certain people say them, and some things are not funny when certain people say them. You could boil it all down to the punch up/punch down thing, but I tend to think of it more as self-criticism versus outward criticism, self-awareness versus otherness.
If I write a comedy, and I suspect this is going to come up later when we get to our One Cool Things, and I am criticizing American Jewish culture, I’m doing it from inside my group, and that is different than if somebody else does it from outside. It just is. We don’t have to even get into why. We all know and understand this inherently. I think it’s actually brilliant and puts people at ease. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to like the script. What they can’t do is say, “Oh, I don’t feel comfortable here, because I think somebody’s just teeing off on other people.”
John: Well done. I agree. I think it’s a good use of that preface page or epigraph. You can use either term.
Craig: Prologue, whatever.
Craig: Epigraph, I think that’s what we’ve settled on.
John: I think we settled on preface page. Let’s get to our marquee-
John: …topic here. It’s been a while since we’ve had a marquee topic. Craig, while I was on this vacation, I read a book. I read Jason Kander’s new book, Invisible Storm. If you don’t remember Jason Kander, he was a candidate for Senate in Missouri who lost but came really, really close and was just a phenomenon in Missouri. He was also then going to be running for president. He decided not to run for president, ran for mayor of Kansas City, pulled out of that to announce that he basically needed to stop because he had tremendous PTSD and basically could not function as a candidate. The book does a really good job of talking about those decisions and what he was trying to suppress but ultimately couldn’t suppress.
It got me thinking about, so often on Scriptnotes we’re talking about what characters want, what they’re driving towards, what they’re aspiring to become. That always feels like a pull. We’re being pulled in one direction. In the case of Jason Kander, he was really being pushed away from something. He was basically trying to escape from this PTSD. So much of his success was actually a fear-avoidance mechanism, trying to get away from this thing. Basically, as long as he was running really fast, it couldn’t catch up. He believed it couldn’t catch up. I like that push-pull dynamic that a magnet both can be drawing towards something but also repelling away from something else. I thought we might talk about what characters are trying to do looking at both what they’re being pulled towards but what they’re pushing against.
Craig: The pushing against part is probably a universal thing. I think everybody is afraid of something. Fear is a huge part of what it means to be human and therefore a huge part of writing human characters. What we find is if we simply write somebody as being afraid of something and moving away from something, the story isn’t very interesting, because they’re just hiding, and they’re hiding overtly, and we just are waiting for them to stop. It’s more interesting when we think what we’re seeing is the story of somebody driven toward something positive. It’s only then that we realize that their positive motion forward is really in lieu of what they’re afraid of doing.
John: As we look back to some of our deep dive discussions on Clueless or on Little Mermaid, these characters will express their wish, the thing that they’re trying to go towards. They’re also leaving home. Sometimes that leaving home is being pushed away from that too. Sometimes they are pushing off against the wall as they’re swimming away. Figuring out what that wall is can be really, really important. Figuring out what it is that they don’t want themselves to become, what it is that they are afraid of becoming, what it is that they are loathe to face again, can be what’s driving them. In really successful stories, and I think Kander’s real life story is successful in its way, it’s finally having to confront that monster, confront that thing that you were trying to escape, is part of the journey that gets you through to the end. It gets you into your third act. It’s finally facing this thing that you’ve been trying to avoid the whole time.
Craig: Exactly. This is very simpatico with the whole how do you write a movie podcast that we did. The revelation of what it is that terrifies you is something that should happen. It’s almost like a little horror movie inside of every movie, whether it’s a comedy or an adventure. There’s this daunting realization that the problem, the thing that you were not looking at is the following. You weren’t even aware of it necessarily. What a lot of first acts do well is give you all the clues as to what might be the problem. We notice early on in our stories that our characters are not merely pulling towards something, but they’re good at it. They’re often competent at it. It’s much more interesting if the thing you’re pulling towards is something that you’re good at, because then theoretically you can just keep going.
John: That’s a thing that we see with Jason Kander, who’s very good at being a politician and raising the money and doing the things and being on the phone constantly and doing all the things it took to be successful as that and was using those things to have this vision of where he was going to end up. Really, he was distracting himself from the work he needed to do. It reminds me of when we had Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the show. We talked about Fleabag. Fleabag is a character who is… Her forward momentum really comes from constantly pushing people away and basically building a distance between herself and other people. You don’t see her going after a thing as much as pushing people away and using the conventions of talking to the audience and other things to create a space around her. It’s only when she’s finally confronted about this that she can make the progress and growth she goes through at the end of the series.
Craig: It’s one of the ways that we connect with the quote unquote unlikable character, which is why this character isn’t likable is the worst note that anyone can get. Shame on everybody who gives it. Their unlikability is often about how they are pushing things away, and doing so in a way that allows them to get through life. It’s often very funny. Pushing people away is probably better presented through comedy than through drama. It gets very heavy very quickly when you’re just like, “Screw off,” constantly. The notion of, it was just misanthropy, I guess, it’s funny. They’re funny people, because we’re like, “Yeah, everybody does stink. That is stupid.” Then you realize, wait, that’s the part of me that is a bit afraid of things. I think it’s really important that we get to see people being repellent.
John: I think back to Melissa McCarthy’s character in Can You Ever Forgive Me. We had Marielle Heller on the show talking about that. That is a miscreant character. She does not like the outside world. She does not trust the outside world. We see her doing specific things to protect herself from exposing any vulnerability. Of course, for the movie to succeed, it has to introduce characters who can break through that armor and give her things that she actually wants to see and make her step outside of her comfort zone to let some people in. Of course, her whole scheme falls apart in the process. That’s an example of a movie that’s not a comedy and yet does do that job of I have a strong magnetic field that is pushing everyone away from me and succeeds.
Craig: There are obviously comic moments in that movie. Melissa McCarthy is a fascinating example, because I think basically every character she plays, with rare exception, is somebody that is pushing people away. Zach Galifianakis, also very, very famous for this. What makes them so good at it is more than just their talent, which is exceptional. They also just have this interesting humanity in their eyes. I’ve always said among comic character actors, or just comic actors I guess you’d call them, that some of them are a little scary, and some of them you want to just take home and hug. Jim Carrey, I think his characters always have this mania that’s a bit terrifying, and so it’s exciting.
John: You would not want to give him a sharp knife. I would not be comfortable.
Craig: Exactly. You don’t want to give him a sharp knife. There’s a danger about his… Sacha Baron Cohen, there’s a danger there. Then when you look at Steve Carrell or Zach or Melissa, it’s like… For whatever reason, there’s just something about Steve Carrell where I just want to take him home and hug him. Those characters tend to do really well when they’re pushing people away, because you know inherently they’re not being mean or cruel. They’re just hurt.
John: When you get the note about likability, I think the corollary note to that is relatability. Sometimes those characters who might seem unlikable, as long as they’re relatable, as long as we can see aspects of things we would ourselves do and protective mechanisms and defense shields they’re putting up in our own lives, we can relate to them, even if they’re not classically likable human beings, they’re not picking up and hugging puppies. We can see ourselves in them. I think that’s an example of something Melissa does so well is that in the characters she’s playing, you can see why she’s doing what she’s doing. You can understand she’s trying to push you away and she’s still letting you in.
Craig: I think that relatability is ultimately essential for every single character that is ever… The only characters that you can get away with being not relatable are I guess dispensable ones and very broad ones, so James Bond. The classic template for James Bond movies is that there’s a main villain who usually is somewhat relatable, but then that main villain has an interesting sidekick, so Oddjob or Jaws, Nick Nack. They are always very thin characters. By and large, everybody, villains, second bananas, leads, everyone at some point or another must be relatable, even in ways that are seemingly incompatible with their circumstances. For instance, Thor is a god, and yet really all those movies are asking us to relate to him on a very not godlike level.
John: I would say the most successful Thor movies are the ones that pierce the Thor character the most and reveal his inner flaws and his humor and his dissatisfaction with himself and his own situation. It’s not the ones where he’s awesome, it’s the ones where he’s flawed are the ones where you’re going to be most curious to follow along.
Craig: If you were Chris Hemsworth, do you think you would ever wake up in the morning being like, “Pretty flawed here.”
John: I think the success of one of these films though is showing beautiful people who are still flawed in relatable ways. That’s obviously one of the great challenges we face as writers is to have characters who are compelling and driven and feel like a movie can center around them, and yet we’re still seeing through to some of their vulnerability. I think the Iron Man character that Robert Downey Jr plays is a very good example of this, because he is an asshole. He’s fundamentally not a sympathetic character, and yet he is written with a specificity and with a vulnerability that lets you see behind the surface. He could be both. He could be pushing you away, literally pushing you away with his little magnetic jet hands, and at the same time letting you in to see what’s there.
Craig: We’re going to get so many angry emails. “Those are not jet hands. Those are Propulsors.”
John: Repulsors, yes, I’m sorry.
Craig: I don’t know what the hell they are. It’s really interesting. Separate topic we should talk about one day is the unfortunate phenomenon that no matter how much representation we talk about and the improvement of representation on film, the one area where human beings just seem to really struggle with is we want good-looking people on screen. We want them. Black, white, disabled, doesn’t matter, but all we ask is that their faces have symmetry. We are fascinated with the lives of people who have symmetrical faces. It is so weird to think of. When you really boil it down, it’s like, what is happening there? There’s not a chance that people’s facial symmetry is a statistical reflection of their actual interest value as humans. What are we doing? What is happening? Anyway, I just find that fascinating.
John: Yet facial symmetry doesn’t make you a movie star. Tom Cruise is a good-looking person and was a good-looking person growing up, but it was his actual charisma, which is not his physical body, that made him the star.
Craig: Yes. Really, what it comes down to is if you have this much talent and your face is this symmetrical, you can be a movie star. If you have even more talent than that, but your face is terribly not symmetrical-
John: You can be a voice actor.
Craig: You’re not going to be a movie star, because people just don’t… They don’t care. That’s what so strange. It’s so strange, because there are some incredible actors out there who don’t have whatever that is that’s the facial symmetry that we all demand. Then we miss them somehow. Then there are actors who we all know are famous because they’re very good-looking. A lot of the people who are now famous for being famous, I think a lot of that is just… Anyway, side topic. We’ll come back around to that on Episode 730.
John: The last little point I will make here, which we’ll reference again when we come back to this topic, is it reminds me of… There’s this phenomenon of hockey players who are born in a certain month are much more successful. I think it’s probably because of that. It’s because this actor was so beautiful and was so handsome and was cast in these roles, they learned how to become a much better film actor, and they kept getting the work. They improved as an actor because they kept getting more chances to play and more chances in front of the screen.
Craig: There is no question that… I can’t remember the comedian who said the secret to happiness is be good-looking. You laugh, and then he starts talking about it, and you realize, oh my god, yes. Yes, apparently, that is the secret. Everything gets a lot easier. Everything. Everything. All of your successes are over-praised. Your failures are ignored. Everybody is interested in you and wants to be around you and are attracted to you. It’s this interesting magnetic thing we’re talking about.
John: Last bit on magnetism I would just say is a lesson I learned as I’ve been thinking about this over the last few weeks is that obviously, always be looking for what a character wants, because what a character wants is going to be driving them in a lot of cases. Just never forget the corollary question is what are they trying to get away from. What are they pushing against? What are they trying to push away from themselves? You’ll find some really interesting details and maybe some interesting characters and situations by looking about what it is that they are repelled by and see whether that can be additional driving force for you in figuring out your story and basically your protagonist’s journey.
Cool. Let’s go into our One Cool Things. I have two recommendations for you, both things you can see on streaming. First off is Fire Island, written by Joel Kim Booster, which is a delightful retelling of Pride and Prejudice but all told on Fire Island. Really, really nicely done. Delightful. You can find it on Hulu. It matches very well with our Clueless episode, which we just aired last week, which is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. This is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, all set on Fire Island. Very much recommend you see that.
Also, if you’ve not seen Heartstopper, which is a really well-reviewed and popular show on Netflix, I would recommend it. It is a small gay British high school show that is just really smartly done. It’s weirdly chaste and based on these great graphic novels by Alice Oseman. If you are in the mood for something just light and delightful, I would recommend Heartstopper for you.
Craig: I have to watch the show. Bella Ramsey, who plays Ellie in The Last of Us, and a guy named Steve Oben, who is one of our costume department geniuses, they were obsessed with this and would talk about it all the time. I have to watch Heartstopper. In a lovely way. They just said it puts a smile on your face.
John: I was describing it to Megana as being like M and M’s, where you eat an M and M and suddenly you’ve ate the whole bag. You’re like, “Wait, where’d the show go?” They’re very short episodes. It’s just delightfully done.
Craig: I’m in. How could my One Cool Thing this week not be the James Webb Space Telescope?
John: Pretty amazing images.
Craig: You and I are old enough to remember when Hubble blew our minds. By the way, I feel bad for Hubble. Hubble’s been out there killing it for decades, and then James Webb shows up. It’s not enough that James Webb is so much better than Hubble. Now it’s supposed to be like, “Look at this shit from Hubble. Look at this shit photo from Hubble. Now look how much better it is from James Webb.” It’s so mean.
Anyway, it is kind of incredible. The images that we’re seeing are startling. They are not of stars, but of galaxies. They are closeups of galaxies. They are sections of sky that show dozens or hundreds of galaxies, each of which, of course, contain countless stars and planets. All of this is just mind-blowing. Interestingly, most of them do look a little bit like… Remember when we were kids, John, you would go to the store and there were those little vending machines where you’d put a quarter in and you’d turn the dial and you’d get a little plastic egg?
Craig: Inside the egg was candy or a toy. One of the toys was this clear, super bouncy… The Super Ball. A super bouncy ball.
John: Super bouncy ball, yeah.
Craig: Inside a lot of them was a billion sparkly things.
John: It’s glitter. It’s glitter inside a rubber ball.
Craig: That’s what the universe is. It’s a glittery Super Ball. It’s mind-blowing, portrays a kind of vastness that our brains are simply incapable of processing fully. My One Cool Thing this week, James Webb Space Telescope, and you know what, also the Hubble. Hey, Hubble.
John: Hubble’s doing great.
Craig: You are the OG, Hubble.
John: 100%. I got to see the James Webb Space Telescope before it launched. We went down to Northrop Grumman and got to do a tour. I’ll talk through how you get to see it. You are going up three stories, up to this glass observation bay, and looking down at a bunch of people in beekeeper suits basically, that Craig would be happy with, just completely vacuum-sealed, because this whole thing, which has this giant gold mirror, a speck of dust on it could ruin everything. Years of years of construction for this. It felt impressive. I could not even imagine launching it into space. To see the results that they’re able to get off of it is just incredible.
Craig: NASA has been, I won’t say quietly, but not noisily, being amazing for a really long time, and particularly I think for the last 10 years or so, in terms of what they’ve been able to do with Mars and now with this telescope. I have to say the reorientation away from man space travel towards investigative space engineering is great.
Craig: It’s great. I don’t need a guy on Mars. What’s he going to do? He’s going to walk around. Who cares? Show me more of it and analyze it.
John: Put some more robots there. Let them dig around and pull stuff up.
Craig: How about this? HD cameras are preferable to putting a person there, so that that person can be like, “Oh my god, I did it.” We’re like, “You did it.”
John: You look at this telescope or even the rovers we have on Mars, they can work for 10 years-
Craig: Thank you.
John: …and keep doing stuff, versus a guy who can be there for a week and you got to fly him back.
Craig: We get excited because we can watch it, and he’s walking on Mars. We’re like, “Oh my god, it happened.” Now what? The cost and the danger is extraordinary, and for not a great amount of information, not as much as you can get from diagnostic and investigative equipment like this. Hooray, NASA is what I’m saying.
John: There’s things that we’re able to do on the space station with humans there which seem great. We’re able to run experiments and really do stuff on the fly. Fantastic. I don’t feel a pressing need to send people back to the moon or back onto Mars. We’re good. We’re good.
Craig: We’re good.
John: We can focus on some things on Earth here that can be much more useful.
John: Agreed. Like making Scriptnotes, which is a-
John: … podcast produced by Megana Rao.
John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: Our outro this week is by Adam Pineless. Thank you to everyone who sent in outros. I put out a call for them, and now we have a whole bunch of new ones in, and they’re so, so good. We’re stocked, but we’re always looking for new outros. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin, I’m @johnaugust. We have T-shirts and they’re great. You can find them at Cotton Bureau. You’ll find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts and sign up for our weeklyish newsletter called Inneresting, which has lots of links to things about writing. You can sign up to become a Premium Member at scriptnotes.net, where you’ll get all the back-episodes, Bonus Segments, and Bonus Episodes, like the one we’re putting out this week on word games. Craig and Megana, thank you for a fun show.
Megana: Thank you.
Craig: Thank you guys.
- Animation Guild Members Ratify New Three-Year Contract
- As Nexstar Deal For Control Of The CW Nears Finish, Ownership Structure Comes Into Focus
- John’s Adulting Twitter Thread
- Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD by Jason Kander
- Fire Island by Joel Kim Booster on Hulu
- Heartstopper Series on Netflix and Graphic Novel by Alice Osman
- James Webb Space Telescope
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- Check out the Inneresting Newsletter
- Gift a Scriptnotes Subscription or treat yourself to a premium subscription!
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John August on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Adam Pineless (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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