The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Craig Mazin is my name.
John: This is Episode 574 of Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show, what do you do when you just can’t crack a scene? We’ll discuss why some scenes are harder to write than others and what to do when you want to throw your laptop at the wall.
Craig: Throw it hard.
John: We’ll also answer listener questions on twists, scene headers, and getting elbowed out. Plus, can something be too meta, Craig?
John: In our Bonus Segment for Premium Members, we’ll talk with Megana about what she learned from her first time attending the Austin Film Festival.
Craig: Wait, that was not Megana’s first time.
John: That was.
Megana Rao: It was.
Craig: Whoa. You and Bo were both newbies. Fun. I had a great time at the Austin Film Festival.
John: You enjoyed attending all the panels and all the discussions and really lining up for all those things.
Craig: I had one good day.
John: You had one good day, and then you got really sick, Craig. Are you feeling better?
Craig: I am, yeah. I got sick. I thought I was hungover, but I was not hungover at all. I was sick for four or five days. I don’t know what was going on. It wasn’t COVID.
John: It was not COVID. It wasn’t RSV probably. It was just something you got.
Craig: I think it might’ve been a long, lingering stomach virus or something.
John: I got a text from Craig about 15 minutes before the live show for the Three Page Challenge, and Craig’s like, “I cannot leave my room.” Me and Megana did it well with Marc Velez, who was a great guest.
John: It ended up being a good show, but we missed you, Craig.
Craig: I’m sorry. It was one of those things where I’m like, “Get up. You know there’s stage health. If you just get out on stage, you’ll feel good.” I just was on my way from the bed to the door, I’m like, “Nope. Let’s turn around and get right back in bed.” I left the room for about 12 minutes on Saturday. It was just awful.
John: We saw you very briefly and dinner, and then you went back upstairs.
Craig: I couldn’t make it. I lasted five minutes.
John: You had this bottle of Gatorade. We decided that bottle of Gatorade is contaminated, so we wrapped it in a napkin and set it aside.
Craig: That’s nice. I made sure to test myself, just to make sure it wasn’t… It didn’t feel like COVID, because I’ve had COVID before. It was a stomach thing. Now I’m never going back, because you know what happens. If you throw up after you eat a particular thing, you can’t eat that thing anymore. I guess I can’t go to Austin anymore.
John: Now in Austin Film Festival. For all we know, we’ll never be invited back again. We’ll see what happens.
Craig: I’m okay with that.
John: You know who else is never going to be invited back?
John: The former executives from MoviePass. They were indicted by the Justice Department.
Craig: Were they? Were they? What for?
John: This’ll be for security frauds and three counts of wire fraud. We’ll put a link in the show notes to the article about this. I guess I’m a little surprised, because to me, I think MoviePass was a really bad idea in general. I wasn’t surprised that it failed. I guess I was surprised it was actually a criminally bad undertaking.
Craig: Once you start lying to people, I guess it becomes a problem. Of course, what gets you in trouble faster is lying to shareholders. Lying to customers, people are like, “Meh, business.” They definitely did falsely claim things. It seems like where they really screwed up was lying to their shareholders about the value of the business and how they were doing. That’s how they get you. They could’ve just asked us. We knew.
John: They could’ve asked us. They should’ve come to us for due diligence, said, “Is this a good idea?” We would’ve said no. We said no repeatedly on the air.
Craig: We said that there’s something terribly wrong with this, it makes no goddamn sense. As it turns out, it didn’t. By the way, could you come up with better businessmen names than these guys, Theodore Farnsworth and J. Mitchell Lowe. It’s like they’re from 1880.
John: I don’t want to say pushing back, but I feel like any time you’re starting a new venture and a new business, you are faking it until you make it. It’s a question of where does the line between faking it and actually fraud exist.
Craig: That’s why you have lawyers to tell you, “Oh, no, you can’t say that.”
John: That’s true.
Craig: There’s no question that they had lawyers working with them that they were like, “Oh, you don’t want to say that.” They were like, “Shut up, lawyers. We know better. We’re MoviePass. We came up with a brilliant idea to charge people $10 for something that’s going to cost us $80.” Stupid.
John: What if the MoviePass movie makes a hundred million dollars and wins Oscars?
Craig: It’s unlikely.
John: It’s unlikely.
Craig: It’s unlikely that it will.
John: It could happen.
Craig: By the way, it’s unlikely just because any movie making a hundred million dollars and winning Oscars is unlikely.
John: The MoviePass movie is more likely than my Van Halen movie that I pitched on the show. Basically, a couple episodes back, I said I really want to make a Van Halen movie. I want to put this out there in the world and see if the universe will say, “Yes, let’s make a Van Halen movie.”
John: Thank you to everybody who wrote in with suggestions. People knew music execs and other folks. Through my agency, I was able to actually talk to the music execs involved, because ultimately, as we discussed on the show, when you’re doing a biopic, you don’t necessarily need the rights to all those people. I could just do it without all that stuff. Without the music rights, there’s not a Van Halen movie to make. There’s not a Van Halen movie to make, because David Lee Roth does not want a Van Halen movie to be made.
Craig: There you go. You know what? There’s nothing wrong with certainty, even if it’s bad news, if it’s certain bad news. It’s the bad news that’s almost bad news, but like, “Oh, if we just do this or that or write a letter or wait five years,” or blah blah blah-
John: Keep pushing that rock up that hill.
Craig: Exactly. It’s better to just be like, meh. Sometimes dead is better.
John: One thing that is not entirely dead is the Warner Bros. Television Workshop.
Craig: Segue Man. Yeah, that’s right.
John: It looks like they were closing down completely. It now looks like it’s going to be morphed into a new thing that’s part of a different arm. We asked for listeners who had experience with the program if they could write in and tell us about it. Megana, can you talk us through what we heard from these people?
Megana: Eli wrote in and said, “I can’t speak to all the programs, but getting into the writing fellowship has been very positive for my writing partner and me. The program led to two immediate benefits. The first was my mom stopped passive-aggressively telling me I should be a producer and started actual-aggressively telling others I write for HBO. The second immediate benefit was that the industry’s perspective of my writing partner and me changed. We’re showrunner assistants, and that’s all people saw when they met us. Getting into the program gave us a stamp of approval that allowed people to view us as actual writers. When my boss found out that only 21 of the 3,000-plus applicants got in, he stopped making me get his dry cleaning, so that was nice.
“The program itself consisted of weekly Zoom workshops/masterclasses with executives and writers. We developed a pilot with the program executives, which allowed us to experience the notes process for the first time. Also, we were paired up with some amazing mentors, and we got to work with and learn from all the other talented writers in our cohort.”
Craig: That sounds great.
John: That does sound great.
Craig: I really like the point that this really comes down to a stamp of approval. While that is a turn of a phrase, it’s almost literally the truth that there is this weird imprimatur that has to happen where you’re like, “Okay, I’m in this bucket or I’m in this bucket.” If all programs like this do is shift people from one bucket to the other and makes it easier for them to be seen as writers, then it’s worth it, because it is fairly arbitrary how some of that stuff works sometimes.
John: I think the thing I hope we see happening with this new revamped program at Warner Bros, and also Universal’s programs and other places, is that having a structure behind it is so important and so crucial, because people can go to film school. We had other people write in like, “I went to film school. I was a page. I did other stuff. It wasn’t until I got into this program that I actually had a structure that talked me through like, this is what I’m writing, this is the feedback I’m getting from actual executives who would be working on this, from actual showrunners, and got me that first position on a job.”
That structure is really crucial. It feels like the people who are running this program at Warner were really good at that structure. I just want to make sure that whatever we do to replace this isn’t just like a, “Hey, we’re going to try to hire some more diverse writers.” No, you actually have to have a plan for how you’re going to get them set up for success in those rooms.
Craig: This will always be part of the charity wing of these massive, multinational conglomerates. Their budget for private jet travel for their CEOs and so forth is going to outstrip how much they spend on this by I assume logarithmic amounts. That’s reality. We can bemoan that, or we can protect at least what we have, because we saw how quickly… To me, this is the equivalent of Congress debating whether or not they should keep funding NPR or something, which they actually don’t. It’s just pointless. The budget is a trillion dollars, and they’re picking on 75 million. This is a similar thing.
I hope that everybody watched what happened here and learned the lesson. In a very simple way, what happened was the company made a lot of changes and then people went, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you shouldn’t have touched that.” Everybody correctly yelled at them, and they went, “Oh, sorry, no, we didn’t mean to touch that,” even though they did. I’m glad that they didn’t. They’ve got to commit resources. They can’t just keep it limited to just a little bit of a charity organization.
John: Agreed. Some more follow-up. We were pretty negative on how much progress we really thought had been made on battling copaganda. Some listeners wrote in with suggestions for shows that they felt were doing a good job showing the other side of things. Some of those were Bloodlands in the UK, Beyond the Night, Alaska Daily on ABC, 61st Street on AMC.
A guy named John wrote in saying, “As a film professional in Chicago, let me tell you, avoiding copaganda shows while making a living takes full-time vigilance. Protest requires sacrifice, and per usual, most people take the paycheck, but not all of us, and we are out here.” Talking about the decision whether to write on that show, whether to work on that show can still be an individual choice.
Craig: I guess that’s a positive thing. Look, any working person, let’s call part of the below-the-line cadre of crew folk, they deserve to make a living.
John: Craig, you and I both admitted to the fact that we don’t watch a lot of these shows, but we had a listener write in who does watch a lot of these shows. Megana, can you talk us through Complicit here?
Megana: Complicit said, “As someone who doesn’t write copaganda but who watches a lot of us, I wanted to gently push back that no progress has been made in copaganda since George Floyd. These shows actually have had a large increase in message episodes that talk about police misconduct, police brutality, gun control, and even other progressive issues like abortion. As I watch them, I can’t help but imagine the writers who have advocated for these episodes to be included, as I don’t believe it is in their economic interest to write these themes. These shows have almost completely abandoned a ton of the good cop who plays dirty tropes they used to embrace. There’s also no longer an acceptance that sometimes the heroes may need to rough suspects up to get the truth, which was sadly extremely prevalent just five years ago.
“I understand that this isn’t really the point and the infallibility of the shows’ heroes furthers copaganda even when they are investigating bad cops in the context of the show, but in terms of the progress that can be made, I want to recognize the people who are pushing for these storylines, as I feel like it is the only reasonable hope for progress that we have. It’s a big ship to turn, so I appreciate the people leading on the rudder, or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better.”
Craig: No, I don’t think you’re trying to make yourself feel better. I think it’s important to note these things. I don’t think that we felt no progress had been made. It’s good to hear what you’re saying is out there. That’s a positive thing. I guess that it wouldn’t have been really surprising if things hadn’t changed at all, because the complexity of the writers’ rooms have changed, I would imagine quite a bit.
John: Some more follow-up on virtual rooms. Andre wrote in, “I was just getting caught up. I was listening to Episode 557 where you guys were talking about virtual rooms versus in-person rooms. I had a question about how to go about letting them know that you would prefer a virtual room. For me, I have a handicapped daughter and would refer a virtual room because I like to be with her as much as possible, because she requires a lot of attention. I know you guys have been going on about disabilities and that stuff.”
Craig: I like “going on about.”
John: We’re going on about disabilities and that stuff.
Craig: “You guys are just going on about these disabilities.”
John: Craig, off-mic and over beers, I have conversations with a lot of showrunners. This is about the Austin Film Festival. I was asking them, “What’s happening with your rooms? Are you back in person? Are you going virtual? Is it a hybrid?” What have you been hearing?
Craig: Both. I’ve been hearing hybrid. I think it’s more common now that the rooms are in person again, but with exceptions made for people who want to dial in virtually. The infrastructure is there. It’s easy enough to have some people on the big screen on the wall and everybody else sitting around the table. That’s what I’ve basically been hearing. For Andre here, it sounds like the way you would go about letting them know you prefer a virtual room is by saying, “Hey, I’d prefer a virtual room. There’s this situation with my daughter. I’d like to be here. Here’s why.” I would be blown away if a showrunner was like, “Oh, no, sorry.”
John: Like, “Andre, we think you’re the perfect writer, but no, we won’t accommodate that.”
Craig: “No, sorry.”
John: One model I did hear discussed at the Austin Film Festival was someone was setting up a room that I think they were in person Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then virtual Fridays and Saturdays. She had some writers who did not live in Los Angeles, who were flying in to be there Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then gone the other days.
Craig: That works. It really comes down to the nature of the room and who you have in there. If it’s very small, then I would think keeping it… This is just my preference would be to want to be in a physical space with people. It is easier for me, maybe just because I’m old.
John: Could be. We have one last bit of follow-up. Someone asked about act breaks and whether act breaks are going to be coming back into shows now that streaming shows are going to have ads. This thing is actually pretty long, so I think we’ll put it up as a blog post if we can. To summarize, this guy Mike wrote in and said that he was working on a show for one streamer which had act breaks but then it decided it was going to premier internationally on another streamer which did not have ad breaks.
Craig: Oh, boy.
John: He was in the editing process of this. They put in commercial black, basically a place for where the commercials go. The second streamer got the show and said, “Oh, no, we don’t have act breaks, so you need to take all those things out. Take out those black spaces.” Of course, it’s not just the black spaces. You have music that ramps into the commercial and then out of the commercial. This whole thing is set up to have those things there. It became a whole fight over the holidays over what was going to happen with this.
Craig: I’m in the thick of all this right now for The Last of Us, because as we’re approaching our broadcast date, which has been announced to be January 15th, we now have to make sure that we have all of our deliverables hitting their dates. So much of it comes down to what Mike refers to as localization. That’s the word for it. Everyone around the world needs time to take the show and subtitle it and prepare it for also, in the case of HBO, a lot of different delivery systems.
It’s much easier for a single delivery platform like Netflix, because everybody gets Netflix the same way around the world. They log into Netflix and they watch the Netflix. HBO’s not the same. HBO is on cable, it’s on satellite, and it’s also on HBO Max, so you have to prepare all of these things. All of these little ticky-tacky bits and bobs need to be figured out, how long is the space between the end of the main credits and the beginning of the show and so on and so forth.
One of the things you get into is, when you’re putting a show together, or a movie, when you lock picture, that’s your time, and then all the mixing, all the sound is laid on top of that. If you change the time, you have to go and do quite a bit of work to just get the sound mix back together to match this new time. Also, if you’re moving things like black spaces in and out, you have to redo all the color timing. It’s a whole mess. This will be an ongoing problem.
Megana: Can I ask a question?
Megana: Would it make sense then to just, by default, include act breaks all the time?
Craig: No, because if you include act breaks… This is exactly what happened to Mike. The show had act breaks. It came out of Hulu. He had to then remove the act breaks, because they were sending it over to Disney Plus, that doesn’t have commercials. Basically, the commercial black is the hole where the ad goes. You send it to the broadcaster with these holes in it, and then they drop ads into the holes. Removing the holes is work. It’s work to re-conform the mix and the color timing and the cut and the music around the fact that there are now not these holes in it. The answer is don’t change it. That’s the only real way to get through this with any kind of efficiency, but no such luck.
John: Re-asking Megana’s question in a different way, if you think your show is likely going to end up having ad breaks in it, from a creative standpoint it may make sense to think about where those ad breaks are going to be and build for them, because otherwise it’s going to be jammed in randomly.
Craig: Writing-wise, yes, but production-wise, no. There’s no way to anticipate it. Basically, you are going to produce your show to either have or not have commercial breaks. It is a binary choice. The problem is that in certain situations we find ourselves living in a nonbinary world when it comes to commercials. It is impossible to have something be flexible enough to have both ads and not ads. You need to make two versions, which is money. It’s just money and time. It’s complicated. It’s annoying.
John: For instance, I very much enjoy the show Reboot on Hulu. Because we pay for Hulu, we don’t get ads, but you can definitely tell where the ads go in the Hulu version. It’s fine. You don’t need to stress out about it. You have basically the commercial blacks. We see it goes to that and then it comes back out. It’s great. If you were to try to strip those out, it would be chaos. We’re talking about for music, but also for all the internationalizations, for all the subtitles. Those have to link to specific moments of time code. You change the time code, you’re breaking subtitles.
Craig: This is why for a guy like Mike, who’s a post-producer, he’s the person who’s shouldering this burden with his team that are doing all the technical work. It would be nice if they just picked one. HBO is tricky, because we don’t have that Netflix delivery system. We have to deliver things earlier than they do I think at Netflix, just so that they have time to get ready. What I don’t have to worry about is whether or not there are going to be ads. HBO does not air with ads.
John: That said, your show will have ads in some markets down the road. It will. We know that. We know that from Chernobyl.
Craig: That’s what happens. At that point, I don’t even care.
John: Let’s get to our marquee topic here. This actually comes from a blog post I wrote a gazillion years ago back in 2008, where I talk through why some scenes are harder to write or really how writing this one scene was so unexpectedly difficult. It took me six hours to get through what didn’t seem on the surface to be a very complicated scene. I went through all the agonies of wondering whether this needed to be two scenes rather than one scene, were they starting at the right place, could a different character drive the scene. Ultimately, it came down to, no, I actually needed to work really, really hard to get the one scene to work, and it ended up being a good scene. I thought we’d talk for a little bit about why some scenes are much trickier to write than others and what we do when those scenes come upon us.
Craig: I definitely have had scenes that I knew were the right scene. I knew that it was supposed to be here and accomplish the following things. What was so challenging was making the scene feel original, because the nature of the scene might’ve been, “There’s 500 cliché ways to do this, and I don’t want to do any of those, so now what do I do?” Also, sometimes scenes where people deliver speeches are really hard, because there’s a fine line between a good speech and crap. It’s a really fine line. The scene in Chernobyl where Stellan Skarsgård gives this kind of speech to the potential divers, trying to get them to go dive under the reactor. Oh my god, I spent so much time on that speech just to make it what I thought would be interesting and speech but not speech.
John: Craig, if you’d spent a little bit more time, would it have actually been good? I’m sorry, I never do that, but you set me up so perfectly for it.
Craig: I don’t think so. Basically, it was the best I could do but not.
John: I bring this up because it comes down to the fact that underlying this whole conversation is really about taste and recognizing this is a good scene, this is not a good scene. If you don’t care, there really are no difficult scenes, because it’s just like that. If you’re fine with crap, it’s not a problem. The challenge comes when you know what the quality level needs to be, and you still can’t get that scene to happen the ways you need to do it. Your Chernobyl example, that was in your first draft. You’re just trying to figure out how to get the scene to work on the page the first time.
I was trying to listen through some of the issues that come up, like why sometimes those scenes are big challenges here. I’ll list them through. Sometimes it’s a major shift in the story. If it’s a crucial reveal, if it’s a highly emotional moment, if the scene has really complicated geography, choreography, or simultaneity, things have to happen in the same moment, when you need to set something new up, sometimes these things are hard, because the story overall, the movie wants the scene to be short, but the scene itself wants to be long. It wants to take its time. Sometimes you just have to accomplish a lot within a scene. The needs of tone make it difficult to do the story points you needed. You need the scene to be funny, and yet it’s actually material you need to cover, and it’s just not funny, or vice versa, this has to be a big, serious thing, and yet it doesn’t feel like it wants to be that. Sometimes, obviously we talk about this a lot on the show, the issue is you’re locked in by the scene that happens before it and the scene that happens after it, and you have to connect those two things. It’s just really tough. Those are some of the things I’m encountering on a first draft when I hit a scene that is really blocking me.
Craig: I think because I’m such a planner, it’s rare for me to struggle with how to connect two scenes, because I’ve already thought that through. I did the hard work on that one a little bit earlier. I wasted my six hours earlier on that. You mentioned emotional scenes. Emotional scenes are like a car with bad alignment. They keep wanting to pull towards melodrama. It’s so tempting to just write somebody, parentheses, sobbing, “How could you do this to me? You meant everything to me.” Then you get there, and it’s just a soap opera. Figuring out to do those things in a way that is honest…
I always think about Spielberg as somebody who aims for honest emotion, true emotion, but doesn’t shy away from entertaining you while it’s happening, because there’s the mumblecore version of everything, which to me is the greatest capitulation of all. That’s just like, oh, rather than expose myself and potentially be laughed at, I will just simply have everybody feel everything at a 0.5, and therefore I’m cool. I would argue, sometimes, and sometimes it’s just cold and I don’t care and I’m bored. Trying to find that middle ground where you are both entertaining and showing restraint, this is hard stuff to do. I find it hard. Spending six hours, by the way, on a scene, I do that all the time. All the time. That’s not even that long to me.
John: If you think about it, 6 hours on a scene, most movies are about 100 scenes long, so 600 hours to write a script. That’s a lot. That’s 12 weeks to do that. It’s not impossible.
Craig: I don’t know. If there’s 100 scenes, not all of them are going to be 6-hour scenes.
John: They can’t be.
Craig: No. A whole bunch of them are going to be not that at all. Within a 60-page hour-long drama, so I’ll make it a little bit shorter for purposes of the argument, maybe there’s 3 scenes that are going to be what we’ll call 6-hour scenes. It’s no big deal. I really only write a scene a day basically, or what I consider three pages a day. 20 days to write a script is not that bad. It’s four weeks, or if it’s a movie it’s roughly eight weeks. That works.
John: The question I have for you, and I’m asking myself this, is can I always anticipate which are going to be the difficult scenes to write. You are a big outliner. From your outline, do you have a sense of which scenes are going to be the tricky ones to write, or are you surprised in the process?
Craig: I have a terrible sense. All my predictions are wrong. I’m like, “This is going to be hard.” Then I get there, it’s not hard, it’s just a lot. Then there are other things where I’m like, “I know exactly what that scene is. That’s going to be a joy to write.” Then I get there, I’m like, “Oh, no, this is not a joy to write at all.” My guesses are useless, and so I’ve stopped trying to guess. On the day, I discover is this going to be one of those days or not.
John: In Big Fish, I think I did know from the start, these are going to be really challenging, difficult scenes to write, because they’re emotional. They’re really tough to get just right. The first 10 pages of Big Fish were so challenging, because I had to set up so many different things. I knew this would be a situation where I was going to work for weeks just to get those 10 pages to work properly, which is great.
I would say going back to action movies that I’ve worked on, you think, “Oh, that should be pretty straightforward.” Then you realize the amount of simultaneity or the amount of different things that all have to happen at the same time. Charlie’s Angels are some of the hardest movies for me to write, because those scenes have to be entertaining and action-filled, but also move one of the three Angels’ storylines ahead. Those are really tough. When a scene has so many demands on it that has to do with a bunch of things, that’s where it becomes a puzzle, where I know this has to work within the framework of this scene, and yet it’s just really tough to get all those pieces to click together.
Craig: The action stuff generally, because again, I know the challenges you’re talking about, I try to address those in the outline phase, so that when I get to the action sequence, it’s just annoying, because it’s so many goddamn words, but I get through it.
The harder part for me, I think you put your finger on the first 10 pages, certainly in a movie. I will spend as much time on the first 10 pages as I do on the first 30 pages or 40, because the first 10, it’s everything. We’ve talked about this before. That’s the zygote. It’s worth spending time on those. If you can make the first 10 beautiful, the rest of the way should be much, much easier.
John: As long as you get the ship moving in the right direction, you’ll hopefully get to some good places. It’s just so often, those first 10 pages are required to do so much, and you feel like, “I have to set up this thing to get to that thing.” It’s remembering [inaudible 00:27:57] that you are both the writer who knows where this is going and the reader who has no idea where it’s going. That’s the tricky balance there.
Let’s talk about why scenes sometimes can be hard because of the rewrite. We’ve just been talking about the first draft and the obstacles there. Sometimes in the rewrite, you get those six-hour scenes where it’s like, “Jesus.” Those are situations where I’m now asked to compress two or three or more scenes down into one scene. I basically have to cover the story points that multiple scenes used to do, down to one thing. So tough.
There could be a shift in focus. There could be a shift in what I’m trying to emphasize at that moment. There could be a scene that was a major link, and that scene is no longer there, so I’m having to do the work of that, or I need to link it from one idea to actually a different place that the scene has a different job than it did before. It’s the same people in the same place, but the actual purpose of the scene is so different. The energy from the previous draft doesn’t actually make sense for where I was. Then of course, there’s the bigger things like different actors, different production things, different realities of what you had planned versus who you have now.
Craig: I try and solve a lot of the problems ahead of time. What I need to figure out and I can’t solve ahead of time, what I need to figure out on the day is shape. Shape is the trickiest thing. I know what’s supposed to happen. I know why. I now how everyone starts in the scene. I know how they end. I know what the plot points are. I know all the facts. I know what I must achieve. Now, achieving that with shape so that the scene feels like it has places to go and reversals and an interesting flow with some surprises, and then balancing out what is said and what is unsaid, how much can I say without talking, all these things, that execution stuff is where I find myself really tweaking tiny little screws and bolts to make it feel seamless and gorgeous. Sometimes you just know you’re going to be there for a while, and that’s okay.
John: Sometimes you have some stuff down on the page. You’re like, “If I move this around, I start at a different place… ” Sometimes it is just like, “I have to wipe that clean and just find a different way into this moment, a different way through this moment, because it’s not the words and who says what. It’s like, “This is the wrong way for me to get this.”
It could be that I approach the scene thinking I’m going to ask the question. Maybe I need to actually answer the question at the head of the scene and deal with the ramifications of that. You come in with the answer rather than answering the question, or the reverse, where I thought this would be the person who has the answer. No, they’re actually answering the question and exploring in the moment. I thought it was this energy level, and that’s actually not going to get the characters where they need to go. I need to change the energy level to a different thing. I need to set the tone higher. That’s a real tricky thing.
As a writer, I’m always imagining myself in the space with the characters, watching what they’re doing and seeing stuff. Sometimes I have to scratch that. It’s just like, “Okay, now let’s build a new space. Let’s build a new approach to how to get this and wind it up and see what the characters want to do and how they want to make the scene happen.”
Craig: The most important thing that you’re demonstrating is a sense that something’s wrong. To me, we should all be like the Princess and the Pea. The tiniest thing should cause us the most distress. That’s how you make it better. When I’m working on a scene, and it’s not right, and I don’t know why it’s not right, I feel terrible. I feel like I’m dying. That is important to listen to. You need that sense. You need the sense that something’s wrong. I think so many people write with this sense that they’re doing something correctly, and they just accentuate the positive, which sounds healthy, except they’re missing so many things. Really being attuned to something being not good enough, not correct, not delightful, it’s essential.
John: My daughter the last couple years has really gotten into indoor bouldering. She goes climbing all the time. When you’re working on a climbing wall, you call that a problem. Basically, you are trying to climb the wall and figure out how do I get to the top. It can be really hard. One of the things I loved in watching her is how you tackle and solve problems. “I got to this part. I got to this part. I cannot get to this next thing.” You’ll fall or drop. Then you’ll sit back, and you’ll look at the wall again and figure out, “Okay, that didn’t work. What could I do differently? What if I put my foot there rather than there? What if I try to make this reach?”
Sometimes other people will watch you do it and get suggestions. Sometimes it is an issue of you are trying to do it wrong. Other times, the answer is you just gotta do it perfectly. You actually have to make that jump and grab. It’s just like your hand wasn’t strong enough to do it. You try it the fifth time, you suddenly can make that hand hold and you can get up it.
That sometimes is writing scenes for me. Sometimes I’m just trying to do it wrong, and I have to start over. Other times, I just have to keep pushing forward. Finally, I’ll find that word, that one line of dialog that will actually make the scene work, and then I can keep climbing higher. You just don’t know from the start what kind of solution it’s going to be. Regardless, I think one of the things we can take comfort in is that, no matter what, most readers will have no idea how difficult those scenes were.
Craig: Nor should they. Not their problem.
John: Not their problem, but we do have listeners with problems.
Craig: Segue Man.
John: It’s time for some listener questions. Megana, can you help us out?
Megana: Yes. Andrew wrote in and he said, “I’m curious if there’s something that can be too meta. Apparently, Hallmark has a Christmas movie coming out about a small town where a production company is producing a Christmas movie. The premise is that a small-town woman falls in love with the star of the movie, who’s known as the King of Christmas. The movie’s called Lights, Camera, Christmas. Have we reached peak meta? Is there such a thing?”
John: Andrew, there’s no such thing as too meta. I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s a great idea.
Craig: That sounds actually like regular meta. It’s not even that meta. It really isn’t. It’s one level of meta. I think it’s fine. What’s wrong with that?
John: There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a Simpsons episode that is basically the same plot, but of course it’s better that it’s a Hallmark movie that’s making fun of Hallmark movies.
Craig: Simpsons did it.
John: Simpsons did it. Simpsons always did it. We endorse the meta here on the Scriptnotes podcast.
Craig: We do. We love a meta.
John: Oh, I see we have a listener from the UK. Craig lovers a listener from the UK.
Craig: I do.
John: We have audio for this one. We will listen to Beavis’s question read aloud in his own natural accent.
Bevis: Hey, Megana, John, and Craig. I have recently completed the first draft of my first screenplay. It contains two plot twists, one that you probably see coming, and the second that I hope is less obvious. To date, I have only shared the draft with friends and family, and so I have not had to describe or sell it to them first. I would like to pursue opportunities to ask others to read it, but I am not sure how much to reveal to any potential readers. Explaining the twists in advance would help articulate the plot and overall sense and tone of the script but might compromise the reader’s ability to objectively assess how effective the twists are. I may of course be rudely underestimating the capacity of professional readers and writers to make this kind of objective assessment.
I would be grateful if you could offer any advice on how to handle this in the following scenarios: in a log line or outline summarizing the script, in an informal conversation or an email exchange with the potential reader, in a formal treatment document.
I am based in the UK, so I would just like to say to ’90s cockney Craig, all right, mate, thanks for doing this. You’re a top geezer. [inaudible 00:35:56]. You and your podcast are fantastic. Thank you, Beavis Sydney.
Craig: Thanks, Beavis.
John: Craig, what do you think? You will have the twist in your story. In what scenarios do you reveal the twist or not reveal the twist?
Craig: There are zero scenarios where I reveal the twist. It’s a twist. Either it works as a twist or it doesn’t. You can certainly say, “Hey, look, you may be reading this and wondering WTF. There is a twist.” You could say that if you felt the need to. Even saying that does rob the twist of some power. I’m not sure there’s a world where you write an M. Night Shyamalan type of movie and give it to someone and you go, “By the way, the thing is that this village actually isn’t like in the 1800s. It’s in modern day. They’re just sealed off. That’s the whole thing. That’s how it ends.” That doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.
John: I would agree with you that if you’re talking with somebody about a project, revealing the twist in that is generally not useful unless it’s a longer conversation, and you’re really going through the whole story. In some of the written samples here, Beavis has a formal treatment document. Yeah, in that you’d have to reveal the twist, because that’s a crucial part of what’s happening there, particularly if it’s not even an end twist, like a Shyamalan twist, but a midpoint twist where everything changes like a Gone Girl. Yeah, you would have to reveal the twist in that. If you were doing an elevator pitch on Gone Girl where there’s a big mid-story twist, I don’t think you would reveal that there.
Craig: They’re twists. Keep them twisty.
John: Don’t twist it.
Craig: Keep the twists twisty. Thanks.
John: Megana, help us out with Elbowed Out.
Megana: Elbowed Out asks, “I’ve been developing a project with a production company for the last two years. It’s a true crime story, and we have the life rights of the people involved in this scandal, and the quintessential book rights. I created this project, wrote a spec pilot, the pitch deck, series treatment, but the production company, as well as the producers attached, have told me I’m not big enough to tackle a show like this. I totally understood, and we started looking for showrunners. We landed on two talented industry vets as our showrunners. When asking them if they’ll be doing writers’ room, they said, ‘No, we’re going to tackle this ourselves, because there’s too much research to catch everyone else up.’
“I’m 25 years old, and I’ll be the executive producer of the series, which is pretty nuts to me, but I also wanted to be a writer on this. I already know everything about this case, and I want to help creatively in any way I can. I’ll take notes and get them coffees if I need to. I just don’t know how to give this up and let them take over.
Also, speaking for the future, this was supposed to be a launching pad for my career, but it seems I won’t get the attention I initially thought I would. How do I nicely get involved creatively or push myself forward in this madness? Because I’m slowly being cast to the sidelines.”
John: I want to start with the good news. Hey, you’re 25 years old, you got a series set up with good people, and this could actually happen. That’s great. Don’t shit on yourself for things that may not happen, because good stuff is already happening for you.
Craig: There is good stuff happening, but there are some warning signs. There are a few red flags here that concern me, and not concerned in the way I normally am, which is, “Oh my god, Elbowed Out, you’re being abused.” I’m more concerned that a number of people have all agreed that you’re not ready to be writing on this, which makes me wonder if you might not be ready to be writing on this, which is fine. When people say you’re not big enough to tackle a show like this, if they love the writing, I think they might think otherwise. The showrunners similarly I think would think otherwise.
What I think is fair to say is this. It is fair to say to the showrunners, “Look, I get it. It seems like from what people are reading, I am not necessarily at the level you are looking for, for this work.” Honesty will take you so far, Elbowed Out. You can’t even imagine. You can continue that honesty and say, “I really want to get better. The way to get better is to work professionally and in a room. If I can’t be in a room with you guys, is there a world where maybe you let me write a draft? If you hate it, just rewrite the whole damn thing. You’re going to do that anyway. Is there some kind of participation I can do here, with full honesty that I understand what’s going on?” Then people may be like, “Look, we get it. You know what? You’ve earned a break here, so let’s throw you a bone.” I think that’s probably the best you can hope for. Full honesty is going to be the best policy for you.
John: I vouch for Craig’s full honesty within this room, with these people, with these producers. Then I think there’s another level of how you present this out to the world. You should be getting an agent and a manager off the fact that you have a series set up as a 25-year-old. People should want to represent you.
I think as you go out to the town with these representatives and they talk about, “Oh my gosh, it’s so amazing that you have a show set up,” your reps can be a little bit more aggressive in promoting what a wunderkind you are for getting this thing happening and getting you out there and getting people to read your stuff, which is hopefully good, because even if you don’t have the opportunity to do everything you could do on this one series that you got set up, you should hopefully be in a good place to have great meetings and hopefully get good jobs on other projects out there. I think there’s space for both real honesty within the showrunners and a little bit more expressive hyping of you because of what you’ve been able to do.
Craig: Definitely, there’s good hype opportunity here, certainly hype opportunity as a person that finds material and gets it set up places. If you want hype material for the writing, the writing has to be there. That’s part of the deal.
John: He says that he wrote a spec pilot. Maybe that spec pilot’s really good and it got him places.
Craig: I gotta be honest, just based on what I’m… It’s a rare thing for somebody to write a spec pilot that’s really good and then for everybody to be like, “No, thank you.”
John: I agree with you. More often, if this pilot was really good, and they were concerned about his ability to run the show-
Craig: They’d pair him with someone.
John: … they’d partner him up with somebody to actually keep going after that.
Craig: Co-showrunners, exactly, or at least you would be in a room or be part of that process.
John: Cool. Let’s take our last question from Juliana here.
Megana: Juliana asked, “When your character is moving from one room to another, do you ever end the previous scene with wording that leads directly into the slug line, or would one address the location change and then reconfirm in slug line? For example, ‘She takes her wine and heads into the INTERIOR KITCHEN NIGHT,’ or, ‘She takes her wine and heads into the kitchen, INTERIOR KITCHEN NIGHT.’ It feels more continuous shot the first way, but also more confusing to read. Is there a better way to direct this type of continuous movement on the page?”
John: Craig, I find myself doing both of these things. I do it both ways. Sometimes I do wonder, because people don’t read slug lines, whether it will actually track and make sense, and yet on the page, you can make it work. What do you do?
Craig: It depends. Juliana, here’s the good news. It doesn’t matter. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. I will often say things like, “She takes her wine and heads into the,” and then usually I’ll put a colon if it’s heading into the slug line. It’s for no reason. I just like that. That’s perfectly fine.
“She takes her wine and heads into the kitchen, INTERIOR KITCHEN NIGHT,” feels a little bit like time cut almost in that sense, like you’re starting a new… It’s an hour later and her wine is empty. If there were a time cut involved, and I was going to show that by showing, oh my god, the whole wine bottle’s empty now, or there’s now three open wine bottles, then yes, I would say, “She takes her wine and heads into the kitchen.” Period. Next, “INTERIOR KITCHEN, LATER,” is probably what I would write. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating a… If you want them to feel a natural flow from room to room, I think using the wording that leads into it makes total sense.
John: Agreed. I would probably be more aggressive, “She takes her wine and heads – INTO KITCHEN NIGHT,” because you then read INTO KITCHEN NIGHT as into the kitchen night, and flowing through. The question is sometimes that dash, I will then match with a dash on the other side of the scene header, if it’s a natural flow. Then I’m not even really acknowledging the scene header. I’m just saying it’s a continuous action that brought me to a new scene. You’re thinking the right thoughts here, Juliana. It’s basically how do you make this feel right on the page, make it feel like it is one continuous action, versus starting and stopping a brand new scene.
Craig: It’s all about your intention. How fluid do you want this to feel? If you want it to feel fluid, if you want the audience to experience this as somebody breezing from room to room, then this would be the way to do it. If you don’t, then don’t.
John: Great. Craig, it is time for our One Cool Things. Want to start us off?
Craig: Sure. I have two One Cool Things this week, which you know me, I’m making up for past crimes. The first one is calling The Past Within. I think I mentioned this earlier when I was doing the other cooperative puzzle-solving game. This is by the folks at Rusty Lake, who make all these wonderfully surreal, effed up little puzzle games. They’re all fantastic. Definitely check out the Rusty Lake games if you haven’t already. They have their own weird mythology that I can’t quite make sense of. It involves some people who are owl people and crow people and also shrimp, matches, and other strange light motifs.
The Past Within is their first game that is a required cooperative game, meaning two people are playing it on separate devices. One person sees one part of it, and the other one sees the other part. They have to cooperate back and forth to solve it. I did it with Melissa and we had a great time. It’s pretty short. The point is definitely check out The Past Within. It’s great to play with… An older kid can do this, a teenager, no problem. Also great to do with a spouse. It goes by real fast. It’s two chapters, so it’s pretty simple.
My second One Cool Thing is The Fabelmans, which has not come out yet. This is the new movie from Steven Spielberg. It is essentially the story of his coming of age. I was asked to interview him and Tony Kushner, his fellow screenwriter and producer on the film, for the Writers Guild Theater showing. In order to ask the questions, I said, “Hey, I need to see the movie first,” and I loved it. I just loved it.
John: That’s great.
Craig: The log line, I’d be like, “I don’t know. It’s a movie of his own life. It’s a movie about movies, and I generally don’t like that trend.” It’s gorgeous. Beautiful performances all around from everybody. A fantastic screenplay from Steven and Tony. Tony Kushner is… He’s Tony Kushner.
John: [inaudible 00:46:55].
Craig: Angels in America and so many other things. Just a brilliant man. They made something absolutely beautiful, that is not really about the power of cinema at all. It’s about something else that’s I think far more profound and oddly sad, sad and beautiful at the same time. When that movie comes out, which is pretty soon, I think, maybe has already come out by the time this airs, definitely check out The Fabelmans. This up-and-comer Steven Spielberg did a great job.
John: That’s great. My One Cool Thing is a sad One Cool Thing. Doug McGrath, who is a fantastic writer and director and actor, a Princeton grad-
Craig: That’s right.
John: … died this past week, had a heart attack. I really regret we never had him on the show, because he was an absolute delight of a guest and a raconteur. His credits include Emma, Infamous, Born Yesterday, Saturday Night Life, but I mostly knew him through the Sundance Labs. He was just a fantastic mentor and advisor to everyone who came into that Labs, but also to me, because he was always just such a personification of kindness and grace and wit and was just a phenomenal guy.
I’m going to put a clip in here. He was accepting an award from the Austin Film Society in 2012. He was telling a story I’d heard him tell in person about showing his movie Emma at the White House. Bill Clinton is there. I’m excising the part where Bill Clinton eats two giant bags of popcorn and drinks a soda, just to start with Bill Clinton and his reaction to Emma, which I think will fell very familiar to a lot of us.
Doug McGrath: The weird thing about watching a film at the White House with a president in the front row is that nobody watches the movie. They just watch the president watching the movie. Now, Emma is one of the great comic novels in English literature. There’s a lot of very funny things that happen in it. They’re not listening to it. They’re just watching President Clinton. If there was a joke and he laughed, about a half a second later, everybody would laugh. If there was a joke and he didn’t laugh, it was like you were at a child’s funeral. It was the saddest quiet room that you’ve ever been in. I’m like, “Hey dude, chuckle it up. They’re all looking at you.”
About three minutes into the movie, but not four, just three, three at the latest, I noticed, because I’d seen the movie a lot, and I wasn’t really paying much attention to it, I was trying to watch him peripherally out of the side of my eyes, I noticed there was a lurching motion. He lurched toward me, lurched forward, and then pitched back and dropped his head on the back of his chair and went to sleep. I’m telling you a dead sleep. Russian troops could’ve come into Washington and they would not have disturbed him. Lincoln saw more of that play at Ford’s Theater than President Clinton saw of my movie. In a deep sleep.
I thought, “Look, I’m not going to hold it against him. He’s the leader of the free world. God knows what he’s been doing all day. I’m sure it had been a draining experience for him. The guy was tired. I can’t blame him. It’s not like I had an action film to show him. Our idea of an action sequence in Emma, it’s Emma poured hot tea. I just thought, “Give him a break.”
20 seconds passes, which is like 7 years, because the audience is thinking, “Now do we have to go to sleep?” They’re all just watching him. After about 20 seconds, you know he was doing that thing whenever you fall asleep, which may be happening now for people, where you fall asleep and you think, “Where am I?” I know he was thinking, “Oh my god, where am I? Oh, I’m at that movie,” because all of a sudden, out of a dead sleep, he lurches forward and goes, “Nuh!” He looks over at me. I’m just looking at the screen like, “I had no idea you were asleep. Look at the pretty English field.” I just pretended I had no idea he’d been asleep, but he didn’t want to leave it at that.
He takes my arm. We shared an armrest. He takes my arm and he squeezes it and he says, “I love this movie.” I’m like, “Whatever. Whatever. Whatever. Whatever. It’s fine. I’m pretending I don’t even know you’re here. Whatever.” He squeezes my arm again. He goes, “I mean it. I just love it. I love it.” I’m like, “Dude, I’m voting for you. Don’t worry about it. Everything’s fine. It’s fine.” He could not leave it at that. He leans over one last time, and he says, “Sometimes the language is so beautiful, I have to shut my eyes and let the words wash over me.” That is why you want to be in this business, to be a part of an evening like that.
Craig: I only spoke with Doug McGrath once. I was very early in my career. I was at my very first job in that agency. One of the account executives had also gone to Princeton and was a classmate of Doug’s. He knew I wanted to write, and so he put me on the phone with Doug. We had a lovely conversation. He was just such a nice, warm guy. He meant so much to me. I think it was right around when his Born Yesterday was coming out. I was like, “Wow, he’s on a billboard, and I’m talking to him.” It was very cool. He also has a fantastic little cameo in Quiz Show.
Craig: Which is one of my favorite movies. Rest in peace, Doug McGrath. Very, very nice guy, very cool guy, good writer, and taken from us a bit too soon here.
John: Definitely. That is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: Our outro this week is by Matthew Jordan. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions, Craig’s not on Twitter anymore, so don’t even try. Don’t even dare.
Craig: I’m gone.
John: He’s gone.
Craig: I’m gone. Oh my god. Can I tell you how good it feels? It feels so good. It hurt for 15 seconds.
John: You left Twitter before though.
Craig: No, I didn’t leave. I took a break. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to leave my account here, but I’m just not really going to do much.” Really, ever since then, I didn’t really do much. My tweeting dropped down to almost nothing. I had a few replies here and there to people. My account, it’s over, gone. My account’s gone. It’s done.
John: For the moment, I am still @johnaugust on Twitter, but also Instagram. You can find me there. 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, which has lots of links to things about writing. We have T-shirts, and they’re great, and hoodies and other stuff too. Aline is really pushing for sweatpants, so maybe we’ll get some sweatpants in there too.
John: Aline wants sweatpants.
Megana: No, a full-on sweatsuit. She wants a sweatsuit.
John: She wants a full sweat-suit.
Craig: I want a tracksuit.
Megana: That’s it.
Craig: I want to look like an Eastern European gangster.
John: I think we need zip-up jumpsuits.
Craig: Like in the future?
John: Yeah, like Carhartt overalls.
Craig: I think of those as future clothes.
John: Whatever we make, you’ll find them at Cotton Bureau and only Cotton Bureau. Craig, you realize that there’s now knockoff merch?
John: Listeners sent in links to Scriptnotes T-shirts, of our new Scriptnotes T-shirt, the one with the cool S, on other sites that are not Cotton Bureau. If you go to one of those other sites, you’re going to get an inferior knockoff product that has not met Stuart’s quality of softness. It’s not that you’re taking money out of our pockets. You are hurting yourself by not getting the softest T-shirt you can imagine.
Craig: Is there that much of a market for these things that there’s a knockoff market? What are we, Louis Vuitton?
John: I don’t know. I don’t understand either. It’s one thing if somebody wants to make their own Scriptnotes T-shirt that it’s just the word Scripnotes in their own style and things. More power to you. We don’t have a trademark on the word Scriptnotes. Go for it. If you’re literally taking our design, that’s lame.
Craig: That is copyrighted.
John: That’s copyrighted. I have no interest in going after them, suing them.
Craig: That feels like a lot of hassle. I can’t imagine the damages of that, like, “We sold four T-shirts, so after your $400,000 lawsuit, here’s your $12 back.” I don’t think so. Anyway, I think it must be just bots just do this, right?
John: Yeah, I think that’s what it is.
Craig: Populate a marketing thing, yeah. Damn you, bots.
John: Damn you. You can sign up to become a Premium Member at scriptnotes.net, where you get all the back-episodes and Bonus Segments like the one we’re about to record with Megana talking through what she learned-
Craig: What she learned.
John: … at the Austin Film Festival. Craig and Megana, thank you very much for a fun show.
Megana: Thank you.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: We’re here.
Craig: Woo! Woo!
John: Megana, this is your first time at the Austin Film Festival. I just want to hear your honest feedback about what you were expecting and what you actually encouraged. How was your time in Austin?
Megana: It was great. It was really fun. To be honest, it was I think probably the biggest event I’ve gone to post-COVID. That aspect was a little overwhelming.
John: I was a little overwhelmed to.
Megana: As I understand, they have changed locations or venues. It felt a bit sprawling. I learned the topography of Downtown Austin as it relates to all these different hotels very well. I had a great time. I wasn’t expecting or predicting that intangible feeling of being around a bunch of people who are passionate about similar things that you are. That was really nice, that sense of community.
John: Now, you actually went to other panels and things, because when you weren’t producing Scriptnotes, you could do that kind of stuff. What did you attend? What did you learn? What is the process like going to things? Because we never go to anything.
Megana: I also wasn’t expecting how long the lines were. I don’t know if that was a new thing or a post-COVID queue culture thing where people are just obsessed with standing in lines. There were a few panels that I wanted to go to that I wasn’t able to because of the lines. Then the things that I went to, I saw managers speak and different screenwriters. A lot of the things that they were saying were similar to stuff that you guys say on the podcast, but I guess it’s just nice to hear similar sentiments come out of other people’s mouths.
Craig: Is it as good? I don’t think it’s as good. We say stuff and it sounds amazing. They say stuff and it’s like, “Fine, whatever.” That’s not how it is at all. I’m sure they were great.
Megana: It was great. It was great.
John: What was not so great?
Craig: They need to know. It’s good for them.
Megana: Sometimes it’s just hard when I meet a lot of people who are aspiring screenwriters. Say they were aspiring novelists or something. That’s great. This is beautiful. You’re creating art. Whether or not this is published, you could self-publish or you could show this to somebody. It feels like going to a conference for aspiring architects. Nobody cares about blueprints. People care about houses. A screenplay, it’s just the first step, and it requires so much work after that and so much other buy-in. That aspect stresses me out when I meet people who are so excited about the screenplay, but it feels like that’s where it ends. If you get satisfaction and joy from that, I love that, but if you don’t, then that makes me feel bad.
Craig: Because that’s what it’s probably going to be for a lot of people.
John: It will be. I don’t know how many thousands of people attend the Austin Film Festival, but most of those people were not going to be having screenwriting careers. That’s the reality. I think, Megana, you articulated something that I always felt about Austin is that it’s great, all-day enthusiasm, but I get a little sad for the enthusiasm, knowing that a lot of these people are chasing a dream that won’t happen for them.
Megana: Right. If you want to connect with people who love movies and who are interested in movies and interested in writing as a hobby, I think that’s so positive and awesome. I think it’s also overwhelming to look at that amount of people, and then all of the people I know in LA who are aspiring screenwriters. I don’t know, it does something to my heart a little bit.
Craig: I’ve felt this too. The rough part is that there’s something a bit old-fashioned, bordering on anachronistic at this point, about a conference dedicated to scripts, documents, as opposed to the making of things, because obviously they do have movies at this thing as well. There’s the film festival. The screenwriting part, just the pure, “How do I write a script?” so much of it, as you say, is focused on either a pitch for the pitch competition, that does not resemble in any way, shape, or form how people pitch things in our business, or on the creation of the documents but no concept of what happens after, when in fact, screenwriting is an integrated job. Ideally, it is writing and seeing your writing through as it’s made. It’s one of those things where a lot of people only ever do half of what the job is. It has been weighing on me.
Alec and I did a panel. Someone asked us about the value of the competition, the screenplay competition. We both told them our honest opinion, which is it doesn’t matter. If you win that competition, I don’t think it really matters. There a lot of that. Lately, I’ve just been wondering. It’s a fun thing to do. I think a lot of people like doing it. Is it a little bit of a tourist trap? Possibly.
John: Makes me think about Comic-Con or fan cons of things, where if you go to one of those things, it’s a chance to meet all the people who are making the stuff that you love, and it’s great for that, or DragCon, same thing. You’re going to see all the drag queens, but you don’t go there thinking, “Oh, now I’m going to become a drag superstar.” You’re there to celebrate a thing.
Craig: You’re not going to learn the real deal of how to be a drag star. You’re there to just see people you love, which is totally cool.
John: Completely fine.
Craig: I completely agree, that aspect is great.
John: Absolutely. The degree to which people want to just soak in screenwriter culture, [inaudible 01:02:17] screenwriter culture, it is fun for that. I think we are a part of that. Scriptnotes is a part of that. It’s part of the reason why we go back, because it’s a chance to hang out with a bunch of our screenwriter friends who we could see in Los Angeles but we don’t. We get a beer at The Driskill. It’s fun for that. I am torn, because it’s fun to be around people who like to talk about screenplay stuff. That’s great, but it’s also a little sad knowing that most people who are going there because they want to become screenwriters are not going to really progress based on their attending.
Craig: I’ve shed my tears for all those folks. I think the part that is a little uncomfortable for me is just feeling a little perhaps implicit in creating a sense of, hey look, if you purchase a special badge, you will hear a secret. Like I say to people all the time when they’re like, “Hey, I would love to just buy you a coffee and pick your brain for 10 minutes,” I’m like, “You can just listen to 580 hours of me talking with John. We’ve done it all. I’ve said it. It’s all said. It’s all out there.” I’m not sure anybody should pay for anything you or I have to say.
John: Megana, I want to get back to you here, because Megan McDonald’s gone to Austin with us before, we’ve had other people who have gone, but you are the biggest celebrity of our producers, by far. How are people with you there? I tend to hide while I’m there, but you were out there. Were people cool with you?
Megana: I don’t think anybody really recognized me. I wish I had more of that experience that you’re describing.
Craig: You’re a radio personality.
John: They recognize your voice at times.
Megana: I was just walking along the sidewalks reading questions off my phone, hoping somebody would stop me.
Craig: I love the idea of you standing, waiting for the crosswalk, and you’re just saying, “John writes in and says,” and then you look to your right at a group of people like, “Mm-hmm? Did you hear that?”
John: I will say, Craig, you missed out on the live show we did for the Three Page Challenge. Megana gets this huge round of applause, because everyone knows Megana Rao is the heart of the Three Page Challenge. It was nice to see the public validation for all the hard work you do making this show possible.
Craig: No one deserves fame more, as far as I’m concerned, than Megana Rao.
Megana: I appreciate that. I think it’s also because I don’t really want it.
Megana: It was so nice to meet our listeners. I do want to say that. Also, I feel like I introduced a lot of you listeners to my very creepy memory, where they’d be like, “Hey, my name’s this, and I wrote in,” or, “I had this Three Page Challenge.” I was like, “Yeah, and this thing happened, and then this character was there.” They were like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe-“
Craig: Are you like a Marilu Henner?
Megana: No. I read all the emails that come in. Whether or not you respond to them, if you give me enough details, I’ll usually be able to recall them. It was so nice to be able to put some faces to these emails and these Three Page Challenges that I’m getting.
Craig: Wow. I didn’t know that you could do that.
Megana: Not all the time. Most of the time I can though. I’m not going to downplay it.
Craig: I got to say, that’s impressive. That is a thing actually. I didn’t realize that you had that, because I answer emails all the time, and then they’re gone.
John: Then they’re gone.
Craig: They’re gone.
John: Here’s the nice thing about emails. I go and search back and find who was that person, what were we talking about.
Craig: If you’re Megana, you don’t have to.
John: It’s just in your brain.
Craig: You just, boop boop, “Oh yes, I remember you.” Megana, what can’t you do?
Megana: Oh, so many things.
Craig: That sounds like a good Bonus Segment for next time. What can’t Megana do?
Megana: Singing is definitely up there. One of our listeners brought a book for me that she signed, that she’d also written. That was cool. I think that was my favorite part of the experience is just being able to meet our Scriptnotes fans. I think that the Scriptnotes events were, in my humble opinion, the best events at Austin.
Craig: That’s nice to hear. I will say that in the past, I think there have been… It’s gotten a little thin. I think the cadre of people showing up, it used to be a little bit thicker with big shots. It’s got a little thinner in that regard. It’s very encouraging to see that people still listen to the show and they enjoy the show. We do have a good time. I think a lot of these panels are soaking in… You know that thing where people are so excited to be the professional on stage answering questions, that they get really self-important? We don’t do that. You get a break from all that, of going to panels where people just talk to you with unearned confidence about all the stuff that they insist they know.
Megana: There’s just no right way to do any of these things. That’s why you guys are still talking about this 500-something episodes later. There’s just so many different ways to find success or be successful in this industry.
Craig: That’s right.
Megana: I wish there was a secret you could learn over a 10-minute coffee.
Craig: See, this is my problem, because I do think people are, in a sense… There are people going there looking for that, because we still get questions like that all the time. It’s hard to answer. What I do know is that a lot of people came up to me and just thanked me for this aspect of the service that we provide, not the advice, not the topics, just caring, caring enough to take questions and to answer them and to listen to people, and in the sense that this is a give-back show, because we’re not running ads and we’re not Dax Shepard and all that. I think it does good. People really appreciate it. It’s nice to hear that from them in person. Everybody that said anything nice to me, I really was quite touched by.
John: As was I. Megana, thank you very much for coming with us to the Austin Film Festival and for sharing what you learned there.
Megana: Thank you guys.
Craig: Thank you, Megana, for… You know what for. Let’s leave that as a mystery for everyone. Now they’re like, “Oh my god, there’s a Craigana. It’s happening.”
Megana: You’ll have to subscribe to the super premium content.
Craig: The super premium to hear what Megana did. It was really helpful.
Craig: Thanks, John.
John: Thanks, guys.
Megana: Thank you.
- MoviePass Executives Charged with Fraud
- Warner Bros. Discovery Says It Will Keep Writers and Directors Workshops Alive, But Evolve to Conglomerate-Wide DEI Oversight
- The Six Hour Scene from John’s Blog
- Doug McGrath Austin Film Society Honoree Speech
- The Past Within – Rusty Lake
- The Fablemans
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- Check out the Inneresting Newsletter
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- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John August on Twitter
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- Outro by Holly Overton (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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