The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: This is Episode 586 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the show, we welcome back one of our earliest and most frequent guests, Aline Brosh McKenna, who has just made her feature directing debut.
John: Hey, Aline.
Aline Brosh McKenna: Woo woo woo!
Craig: Welcome back, Joan Rivers of Scriptnotes.
Aline: I’ve been doing a lot of interviews, so I’ve answered to every kind of name. I got Aline [AY-leen], I got Aline [AH-lin-ee], I got Aline [ah-LEE-nay], I got Borsh. I got McKeena. I’m answering to everything these days.
John: If people listened to Scriptnotes, they would know that your name’s Aline.
Craig: I do like Aline Borsh. That’s pretty great. I might start calling you that.
John: It’s good stuff. We’ve now all directed feature films. It’s great.
John: We’re going to talk about feature films and feature filmmaking and all that stuff. We have a bunch of TV stuff to talk through and a zillion listener questions, so we’ll get into it. Aline, I would propose that in our Bonus Segment, you and I could interrogate Craig about this third episode of The Last of Us, which we just watched. We’re recording this a week ahead of time. I also want to dig into Craig’s inexcusable decision not to have Bill and Frank do any jigsaw puzzles during their years in isolation.
Craig: Not puzzles.
John: They could’ve had jigsaw puzzles, and not once, because-
Aline: They would! They would!
John: They totally would’ve!
Aline: He would’ve handmade them.
John: Because Bill is methodical, and Frank is artistic.
Craig: I will explain to both of you why you’re both absolutely dead wrong.
Aline: I want to know what games they were playing.
Craig: I will tell you.
Aline: I feel like [inaudible 00:01:41] it’s like an old Monopoly set or something, or an old Battleship set.
Craig: You’ll find out. You’ll find out.
John: Content you can only get as a Premium subscriber.
Craig: Yes, totally worth the 4.99.
John: A hundred percent. Just for that one answer, yeah.
Craig: It is 4.99, right?
John: Yeah. For a year, it’s a lot cheaper. Just buy the year.
Craig: Guys, do the year.
John: Aline, Craig, did you see that Showtime and Paramount Plus are finally combining their thing down to one brand?
Craig: They’re Showmount Plus now.
John: Showmount Plus now.
Craig: That’s weird, because there hasn’t been any other kind of strange consolidation going on. There has been. What I’m excited for is in 12 years we’re all going to be working for HBO Plus Mountflixmazon.
John: On Mifflin Penguin Random House.
Aline: Isn’t it all going to be Silicon Valley? Aren’t we all going to be working for the tech companies? Why doesn’t Google have content?
John: They have YouTube, and that’s their-
Craig: They tried.
John: They tried.
Craig: They tried.
John: They had YouTube Originals. They had YouTube Red.
Aline: I see.
Craig: They do. Do they still do YouTube Red?
John: No, I don’t think so.
Craig: It’s been folded into other things, because the show I remember from YouTube Red was the new Karate Kid, Cobra Kai, but that’s on Netflix now.
John: It’s a Netflix show now. Ed Rosson had a show that was a YouTube Original as well and all that stuff.
Craig: Google I guess was just like, “We’re too busy making all of the money in the world in advertising. We don’t need to spent more on content.”
Aline: It is interesting though. These companies do have different culture from Hollywood. They really are run differently. I think the three of us came up in a time when it was like, insert name of studio chief. Let’s just say it was Bob. It’d be like, “Oh, Bob hurt his back, but he forgot his back pillow, so you don’t want to ask him today.” Or let’s just say the person’s name was Lisa. It would be like, “Lisa, her husband broke his tooth surfing.”
It used to be so personal. You were so in the zone. Especially this was true when you’re waiting to hear on TV stuff. It would be like, “Oh, the president of the network was supposed to read it, but his daughter accidentally cut bangs, and so he can’t possibly be reading it.” There is something about tech companies, where they don’t say things to you that are egregiously personal like that. There really used to be a sense of there were a bunch of delis. You went in and everyone screamed and grabbed a number. Now it definitely seems much more like Madmen.
John: It’s all corporatized.
Aline: It’s all behind glass. You’re being very polite. You have to show your ID. Craig has this look of a complete scowl on his face.
Craig: No, that’s my resting Jew face. I completely agree with you. I was just thinking how you can never say, “Oh, we can’t go pitch Netflix today because the algorithm’s wife’s husband broke his tooth.” The algorithm has no feelings whatsoever.
John: Not a bit.
Craig: That’s my agreeing with you face, Aline. Imagine what my not agreeing with you face looks like.
Aline: Oh, boy. I think Craig and I decided a long time ago. I use your agreeability index frequently. One is the most agreeable, and 10 is the least, right?
Aline: I’m in a 6/7 zone. I’m in a 6/7 zone. Where are you?
Craig: I like to live in the 8. Disagreeability meaning your willingness to disagree with the general consensus around you.
Craig: I have high disagreeability. I’m not looking to do it, but I have no problem doing it. Other people are like, “If nine people in this room all agree we’re doing this, I’m going to be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that too.’”
Aline: Where are you?
John: I’m probably more conforming in a lot of ways, but there’s definitely things I will stick out and-
Craig: You’re a 5.
John: I’m a 5.
Craig: You’re right in the middle. Most people probably are.
Aline: I think you’re a 4/5. Craig and I, if we’ve ever gone to have to order or pick a restaurant or go someplace with a puzzle group or whatever, Craig and I are definitely the least agreeable, for sure.
John: I’ll go anywhere, as long as there’s food I can eat. I don’t eat a lot of stuff.
Craig: As long as you can eat food.
John: As long as you can eat food. Showtime and Paramount Plus has become Paramount Plus with Showtime, which is I think what we’re already subscribed to, because we get Showtime through our Paramount Plus [crosstalk 00:05:57].
Craig: I think I’m subscribing to Showtime and Paramount Plus.
John: Maybe save some money.
Craig: What happens now? Cancel one of them.
John: Let’s segue to HBO and HBO Max, because it was announced this week that Westworld is one of the shows that they’ve taken off the service. They’ve now sold them to different FAST services.
Craig: Tell people at home what it is in case they don’t know.
John: Free ad-supported television, which we used to call AVOD, but FAST is the new name for it.
Craig: We used to call it television. When we were kids, it was television.
John: It’s streaming television. It’s on demand. It’s not continuously playing.
Aline: It’s like Pluto. Pluto is that, right?
John: Pluto is one of those. They sold these specifically to I think Roku and Tubi.
Aline: Can I ask you a question?
Aline: Our residual definitions for cable are pretty good, right? Cable broadcasts are pretty good.
John: Cable broadcasts are pretty good. Actually, AVOD/FAST is also pretty good.
Craig: It’s okay.
Aline: That was my question. Obviously, the aftermarket on streaming is bad, but now the streamers are moving to this thing which seems in every way to me to be cable television. Are our definitions good on those Tubi, Roku, Pluto?
Craig: They’re not great. They could stand to be improved.
John: They could definitely stand to be improved. Here’s my question though. This is not clear in any of the articles that I’ve seen. Is Warners licensing these shows to these services or is it some sort of partnership?
Craig: Licensing. It’s gotta be straight up [crosstalk 00:07:25].
John: If it’s straight licensing, then it’s actually not a bad thing, because what they would actually be calculated on is the license fee that Tubi or these places are paying. Yes, it can be hinky, just because it could be a package of shows, and you have to split up the package and the fees.
Craig: They already do stuff like that.
John: That already happens.
Craig: It’ll be complicated, and none of us will understand it. That’s the most important thing for everyone to know.
John: We’ll never understand it, ever. Aline, you get to a good point, that it’s a little bit more like what we used to have with residuals when they’d show up on other services. That was at least an income stream. The concern with the stuff that was made directly for streamers is there was no income stream for residuals after three years.
Aline: The definition which is rent at home I know is a great one.
John: I love that.
Craig: That’s the best one.
Aline: That’s the best one. It would be great to have something. That’s an on-demand… Anyway, somebody will sort it out, and we will be sorting it out shortly.
John: While we’re talking about things being a little bit more like they used to be, have you noticed that some of these streaming orders have gotten larger and larger? Daredevil’s getting an 18-episode season order. Andor was two 12-episode seasons. That feels more like TV.
Craig: Yeah. They definitely don’t do it like that at HBO. I know that much. There has been this thing. I have to say I would be surprised if it catches on. It just seems like from a business point of view, it seems a little crazy to just… For instance, Lord of the Rings, they renewed them before it even came out. I don’t know. Wait until one episode airs. That’s what HBO does. They’re like, “Just in case.” It makes sense. Even if you internally renew it.
John: You want that press bump.
Craig: However that works. I would be surprised if that trend continues, because these shows are expensive to do.
John: They are.
Craig: All of them.
Aline: Also, where do you add your value? Where are they getting the value? If they’re getting value from ads, then they’re going to want to do more episodes. Where are they making their money? The 25-episode season, when you’re doing traditional advertising, that’s a big windfall for them.
John: One argument maybe is they’re making more money by reducing churn. If they have 18 episodes of a Daredevil season, and they’re releasing those once per week, you’re going to have to keep your Disney Plus membership up for at least half the year, and that helps.
Craig: It’s this weird calculation they have to do, where they go, “Okay, we are going to keep people or make money off of ancillary markets or ad-supported on another tier, the more episodes we have. However, the more episodes we ask our creators to make, theoretically, not always, but theoretically, the quality begins to decrease, because it’s just —
John: They can’t make the same kind of show.
Craig: No. The more time and energy you put into something, theoretically the better it gets. You have this 8-to-12-episode season model for your prestige. Let’s all show up and buy a subscription because it’s part of the culture. Then you have these other kinds of shows that could be making a terrific amount of money for them, some of which can be excellent. There’s still great stuff on network television. It’s an interesting calculation, and thank god I don’t have to be the one making it, because that would be bad.
Aline: Talent is also driving it, because from their point of view, the value they get from having done eight episodes and then being able to do two movies in the year two, in a lot of ways that’s where… They all want to be flexible now. They all want a slightly limited order.
Man, I really have such respect for the days of sitcoms kicking out 120, 150 episodes. We did 62 on Crazy Ex, which is actually, I discovered this week during my Girls rewatch, is the exact same number of episodes as Girls. It was a lot. It felt like a lot. It’s so nothing compared to Raymond, Friends, Office, hundreds of episodes.
Writers are very nimble. They really are. I think writers have done a very good job of… We’re all pivoting as fast as we can to whatever the new model is. I think there are so many opportunities now to go places. I think there’s an upside to finding a spot that can really support your piece and really understands your piece. There was a thing in broadcast where you felt like things were getting less special handling.
I think now there’s more attention being paid to everybody coming together to craft this. You could feel it. You can feel that when they’re making these investments, that yeah, if you’re making 8 or 10, you have a different level of scrutiny from if you have to make 25 of them. I’m assuming that people give you notes at some point or like, “Yeah, this looks good.”
John: Also, you literally could not create some of the shows that we’re talking about. You would have an impossible time trying to make 20 episodes of The Last of Us. You would still be shooting The Last of Us. It would be a different show.
Craig: Also, it’s just too expensive. That’s the other thing is there are certain shows that people expect to be somewhat cinematic in nature. They go to different places. They’re a spectacle. For a typical network show, like say the kind that our friend Derek does, there’s a fire station. That is a central set you could live on. You can roll 50% of an episode inside this confine. That’s incredibly helpful. Sitcoms, that’s all they were, by and large. It’s way easier to go through those episodes and shoot them. When you’re out there running around like you’re making the way we would make movies, there’s just no way to do 20. That would kill you.
Aline: We did bonkers stuff on Crazy Ex. We had episodes with 70 strips. So did Jane the Virgin, so many strips. I remember talking to Jenny about how she shot things in the hallway in her office. We shot things in Michael Hitchcock’s office, in our office. Our finale, there was a scene that took place in Guatemala. Guatemala was our PA’s parking spot. On our schedule, it said “Guatemala, dot dot dot, PA’s parking spot” on our strips. We just did so, so, so many. It was kind of a fun thing to feel like how crafty can you be.
Aline: How can you repurpose things. It was funny. Making it an inexpensive show, relatively inexpensive show, was actually great preparation for making a bigger movie, because I’m so used to cutting for budget, and I’m so used to making a tiara out of tinfoil, that when we were scouting for the movie, people would have to say to me, “Wait a second. Don’t pick anything yet,” because I was so apt to be like, “Oh, this is going to work. This is going to work.” It’s like, “Aline, this is supposed to be the seashore, and this is a conference room.” I was like, “No no no, we can do it. We can do it.”
It was like I had come up doing Summer Stock and then I got to Broadway. That really was Crazy Ex. We worked at the outer edges of our financial capacity just all the time and repurposed things and repurposed sets and two-walls and one-walls.
I’ve done a segue for you, if you’d like to use this as your segue. It was good preparation for doing something where I went from shooting seven pages a day to shooting two pages a day.
John: Let’s take that segue, and we’ll jump back to our follow-up in just a second. You came on the show before, talking about this movie. One of the things you did say before was that you had to unlearn some of the habits you had learned in terms of the thinking always about schedule, thinking always about budget, recognizing that there were people whose job it was to do the job you were doing as a showrunner, to make sure that the trains ran on time, and that your job as a director was just to get what you wanted. You really had to focus on the artistic side of it, and not so focused on all the business side of it all. Now that the movie’s done, and it’s going to be out on Netflix for people to see, tell us what day it drops on Netflix.
Aline: It drops on February 10th, Friday.
John: February 10th.
Craig: Why are we all rap artists now? Everything drops.
John: Everything has to drop. Everything has to drop.
Craig: We used to just put movies out.
John: When does it come out?
Aline: Craig, I’m dropping it. I’m hoping it blows up.
Craig: Exactly. We drop things. I don’t drop anything. I’m not cool enough to drop stuff.
John: When do your episodes of your show come out, what time of day?
Craig: They come out at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday evenings.
John: Aline, do you know what time of day Your Place or Mine comes out?
Aline: I don’t, and I need to find out. You know what? Someone asked me yesterday, and I don’t know. Man, what I love about HBO is it’s so on mama’s schedule, because I’m eating dinner at 6.
Aline: I’m watching my show. Mama’s taking her bath and going to bed. I always love that the HBO stuff is on at 6. It’s a delight. 9 o’clock is too late.
Craig: We get that benefit out here on the West Coast. We get to see stuff at 6 p.m. I’m actually now really fascinated by this Netflix thing, because it’s true, they always talk about what day something is going to be. Is it 12:01 a.m.?
Aline: I’m going to find out. Should I find out while we’re talking? Let me see if I can find out.
John: If you can figure out while we’re talking, we’ll do it and we’ll have an update live in the course of the show.
Aline: That’d be a live time… I’m going to ask right now. When things post to Netflix-
Craig: You don’t have to do it out loud.
Aline: … at what time? Do you know why I do that? Because in the writers’ room when I have to send an email or a text in the writers’ room, I feel like it’s so rude for them just to watch me type, so I often read it out.
Craig: You think yelling it at them while you do it is going to…
Aline: It’s always the answer. Always the answer.
John: Weirdly though, Aline has developed the ability that she could say one thing, type a completely different thing. While she’s basically firing this writer who’s in the room right now, she’s saying the other thing. It’s really an impressive skillset she’s developed over the course of seasons.
Craig: I need to learn that.
Aline: You can’t see that, but I’m making an eggplant parm right now.
Craig: Oh god, I wish that were true. By the way, I’ve made eggplant parm. You know what? It’s a huge pain in the ass.
John: It is, because you have to-
Aline: The draining and the salting [crosstalk 00:17:54].
Craig: The draining and the salting and the dehydrating, but it’s essential. Then when it’s good, it’s good.
John: It is good.
Craig: It is so annoying.
Aline: It is.
John: I’ll still take a chicken parm over an eggplant parm any day of the week.
Aline: I can’t believe I’ve never told this story on the podcast before, but one day on Crazy Ex, we were sitting around talking about our favorite foods. People were like pizza, doughnuts, ice cream, pasta, whatever. It got to me and I said, “At the end of the day, what I really love is a well-cooked vegetable.” Rachel looked at me and goes, “Don’t say that to people. Don’t do that.”
Craig: She’s right.
Aline: She goes, “Everyone’s going to hate you. Don’t say that. That’s not a good answer.” She’s like, “Just say butter pecan ice cream.” You know what the truth is? I love a well-cooked vegetable.
Craig: Aline, don’t say that to people.
John: Let me try to wrestle this conversation back to the making of your film. One of the things I’m curious about is… Up to this point, we’ve talked a little bit about production over previous episodes. You were shooting in LA for New York and other things like that. When it came time to actually promote a movie, you’ve promoted a ton of movies, big movies, and you know what that looks like. How does it look to promote a film that’s going to be debuting on Netflix? Does it feel the same scale? What’s the same and what’s different to you?
Aline: I’m in the zone of I can’t compare it to having a big movie come out as a director, because I’ve only been a screenwriter on those. Any whisper of information that I could glean as the screenwriter, I was so… All the information I could get was basically from the director or the producers if I had a good relationship with them, or sometimes the studio person would loop me in. Now I’m so super looped in that sometimes I have this moment of being like, “Oh, you want to know what I think of this spot or this clip or this?” It took me a while to get used to it.
Also, I can’t compare it to other marketing PR departments, but the people at Netflix are incredibly nice. Very, very nice, very on top of it, very helpful, very good communicators, so I have felt looped in at every step. I haven’t had that feeling of disorientation that I always had with movies as a screenwriter where I was always trying to… Like a mutated mushroom, I was always trying to get into people’s brain-
Craig: That’s weird.
Aline: … and figure out what was going on. Now I know what’s going on, so that’s been really nice.
John: One of the things that’s going to be different though about this film is that usually by Friday evening you would know did the film work or did the film not work, did the film do great or did the film tank.
Craig: Box office.
John: You’d get a read on the box. You’d hear the East Coast box office numbers. You won’t have that. You’ll have the reviews, which will be great. You’ll have Twitter reactions and social media stuff. You won’t really have a sense of how big the cultural-
Craig: You get numbers the next day. Netflix numbers are bananas. I don’t know what they’re based on. Honestly, I legitimately don’t. I don’t know how I would even interpret them. For other outlets, there’s a little bit more of a firm, “Okay, Nielsen says this many people watched it. Linearly, this many people watched it on the platform.” Then as the day goes on, or the week goes on rather, they keep telling you as people are watching. As a movie goes, it’s one episode that they will just continually accrue numbers for and keep filling you in on. It’s Netflix, so I fully presume that they’re going to let us know that 14 billion people watched it. That’s what they do.
Aline: I think they mostly give you good news. I think where it’s not performing, I don’t think they give it to you. I think I’ll know mostly if it’s working well. Those days of waiting for your movie to come out and looking at the tracking and calling your other friends and saying, “What does this mean?” and looking at the other. It was so stressful calling. The only way that I remember you would get box office is from calling the New Line box office number. That went up at 11:30.
Craig: We would call William Morris. They also had a little recording where you would call in on Saturday morning, and an intern was explaining your fate to you. You’re waiting for your movie. It’s like, “In fifth place. In sixth place. In seventh place.” You’re like, “Oh, no.”
John: Oh, no, not even there.
Craig: “In ninth place, your piece of crap.”
Aline: We’ve all had that feeling. We’ve all had that feeling. Somewhere in my saved emails folder, I have an email that Craig sent to me when one of the movies I wrote that bombed bombed. Craig wrote me this beautiful email. I just remember it was like, “Because you are Aline, you’ve written 15 screenplays in the time it’s taken for… ” It was a very comforting pep talk email because it was very public. It felt like you were just waiting to be defenestrated and it was terrifying, those bad box office numbers.
John: No matter what, you won’t have those, but you won’t also have the good box office numbers. That’s a point, a thing I would get to is, we’ve had friends who’ve released movies on Netflix. Rawson Thurber has movies on Netflix. They’ll have the big headlines about “the biggest thing ever,” da da da, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as $200 million.
Craig: Because they say that every movie does that.
John: That’s the problem.
Craig: Netflix is a little bit the boy who cried wolf.
Aline: We didn’t grow up with these barometers. I remember running into Rawson and he was like, “Red Notice has been seen by everyone who’s eaten waffles within the last year with their right hand, everyone on the planet Earth.” He had metrics that were so intense. I don’t know. It’s going to be a new experience.
Listen, I think the barometer for myself of what success is is a little different. I think we’re all different about that and what reactions bother us, what don’t. It used to bother me if I had a close friend and they didn’t see the thing I wrote. Now I don’t care at all. It used to bother me in the beginning, because it seemed so momentous to have anything come out that I…
I’ve gotten much more, I think, defining the success by the process. You’ve gotta somewhat let the rest of it go, because obviously, we can’t control it, and because it’s like, yeah, we knew what $200 million meant, we knew what $100 million meant, and now these things are…
We have a saying in our house. When we’re trying to figure out if someone’s famous enough for something, Will will say, “Maryann McKenna doesn’t know who that is,” his mom. I think it’s the same thing with success. If I call Maryann McKenna and try to explain to her how many minutes were streamed, they’re not those clear touchdown arms you’re looking for. You never want to do that anyway.
I think like what just happened with Craig’s, the third episode of The Last of Us, which you could feel… I like to think I was quite early to the twits with that.
Aline: As I’ve been looking around, that episode got a huge reaction. I don’t know what its numbers will be or how they will compare. You can feel that it made an impact on people. I think in a world where we’re not leaving our house as much, we’re not going to the movie theaters, we’re not getting that box office, you have to define success differently.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was very poorly rated, but people thought about it and wrote about it. I was particularly honored by the number of people that wrote intelligent things about it the day after it aired. That was really, really an honor to go to those recap places and see how much care and effort people had put into it and how well they knew the show. That’s nice, because before the internet, you’d have a movie come out, and if it didn’t do well, it felt like it disappeared.
John Gatins, our friend, has a great expression. When you finish a movie, he always says, “You just wrote someone’s favorite movie,” because among the three of us, we’ve written some stinkers, for sure, but I’m sure we all have-
Aline: … someone who comes up to me and goes, “Hey, that stinker that you made was my favorite movie, and we watch it all the time,” or, “I’ve seen a hundred times.” I think there’s a lot of ways to define success that are different from the cold, hard metrics. That being said, I love the cold, hard metrics. Love them.
John: Let’s give one thing to our Scriptnotes listeners. Folks who have listened to this podcast from the beginning and know who you are, what’s one thing when they watch the film they can look for, like, “Ah, that’s the thing Aline told me about that I’m looking for, because she told me on this podcast.”
Craig: Add value to our podcast is what we’re saying.
Aline: I’m going to preview something for you. I’m trying to think if I have a Craig or a John reference in this. I don’t, because I definitely referenced Mazin in Crazy Ex. There is a line that Tig Notaro says, that she improvised in one of the scenes. We all laughed really hard. I was like, “That’s never going to be in the movie. It’s just too dirty. It’s never going to be in the movie.” Not only is it in the movie, it’s in the trailer. It’s a moment where she says, “I hope you have a good time going to New York. You might meet someone, so you better get waxed.” Reese goes, “Waxed?” Then Tig goes, “Waxed,” and points to her butt. Then Reese says, “Oh, that’s not going to happen.” That was a really funny improv, but I was like, “That’s never going to be in our PG-13 movie,” and it’s there.
Craig: It is.
Aline: You can thank Miss Tig for it, because that was an improv.
Craig: She’s amazing.
John: We love it. We have a little bit of follow-up to get to before, so let’s truck through that. Megana, help us out on the cereal mascot movie, because it’s something that Craig and I talked about. Why is there not a Franken Berry, Count Chocula-
Craig: Is there one?
John: Kind of there is.
John: Megana, help us out.
Megana: Dustin from Atlanta wrote in and said, “The corporate food mascot film Craig pitched in Episode 585 kind of already exists as a horrific bargain bin DVD called Foodfight! The battle between the world’s most beloved brands and the forces of darkness features computer animation so hauntingly cheap that it shocks the conscience to see the celebrities and products who willingly attached their names to the project.”
John: Here’s who’s in this.
Craig: I just love “shocks the conscience.”
John: We have Mrs. Butterworth, Mr. Clean, Chef Boyardee, Charlie the Tuna, Chester Cheetah, the California Raisins, but also Christopher Lloyd, Hilary Duff, Eva Longoria, Charlie Sheen, Ed Asner.
Aline: What? What?
Craig: It’s all animated though.
John: All animated, yeah.
Craig: If you can sit there in your underwear and pick up a check for a hundred grand for a day’s work-
John: I can’t fault them.
Craig: I would. I would be Mr. Clean, no problem.
Aline: Wow. You stop at Mad Men before that.
Craig: You know what? That doesn’t shock my conscience. I guess he’s saying that the quality of the animation itself. Have you heard about this Christmas animated movie? I gotta find this article that I read. It was an animated movie. It is not just poor animation. It is impossibly poor animation. It actually did air on television.
John: Love it.
Craig: Once. There’s this whole cult that’s grown up around it. Basically, the people that did it, it was a very poor script, and then they used something like Microsoft slideshows, some off-the-shelf thing for children. I gotta dig this up. That one does in fact shock the conscience.
John: Further follow-up about state-sponsored script consultants. We had a person who wrote in to say like, hey, here in the Netherlands or in Europe, they have script consultants who are paid.
Craig: By the state.
John: By the state, who are editors. Holden wrote in. Megana, what did he say?
Megana: Holden said, “In discussing Lorenz from Vienna’s question on Episode 585, it appears all three of you missed a key point that should’ve been made. If a government is funding script consultants, it would be an easy way to control the narrative for various media projects, thus enabling the state to make sure it’s seen in a positive light.”
Craig: If we’re talking about generally non-democratic states, theocracies, or whatever you would call Russia, kleptocracy, mobocracy, then absolutely. If you’re talking about Austria or Denmark or France, no. I think the consultants aren’t there to impress upon screenwriters the necessity to valorize France, for instance.
John: There’s definitely state funding of films, and sometimes through taxes and other things to do that. Sometimes that’s how you keep a local film market going, make it possible. There’s always going to be a question of political influence there. Yes, it’s good to be mindful of it, but I don’t think it’s the number one thing to be thinking about.
Craig: No, I don’t either.
John: We have a bunch of listener questions, but more important than any of those…
Craig and John: Megana Has a Question.
Aline: Megana has a question. Megana has a question.
Megana: Oh my god, I love that. Is that what harmony is? I always pretend I know what it is, but I truly have no idea.
Craig: Of course you do, Megana. Harmony is simply the blending of voices to create chords, like on a piano.
John and Craig and Aline: (singing)
Megana: It’s just that there’s multiple, okay. My question is, a few weeks ago we re-aired this 2013 segment where all three of you were talking about the process of finding your voice. Given that Aline has just directed her first feature, I’m curious what’s been your process for figuring out your professional ambitions? Are you guys doing the things you imagined you’d be doing 10 years ago, 20 years ago? How has that changed, and why?
Craig: Megana does have a question.
Aline: That’s a great question.
Craig: That’s heavy.
John: That’s a good question. Craig, I want to start with you, because go back 10 years to the start of the podcast, you did not seem to have an ambition of doing television. Television was not interesting to you. That’s been a professional change. What other ambitions have changed?
Craig: I don’t know if I’ve ever had really specific ambitions. I’ve always wanted to make stuff that people saw. I’ve been making stuff that people have seen for a long time, but I think probably what changed maybe about 10 years ago, ish, was a desire to make things that I would want to see, more than just things that other people would want to see. That’s definitely had a pretty fundamental impact on how I do things.
John: I would say I’ve always had the ambition of doing one of everything. If I see somebody else doing a thing, like, “I want to do that. People are having a podcast? I want to have a podcast.” I’ve always wanted to do those things. I think one of the things I recognize about that ambition is that sometimes you don’t get to the second one of those things for quite a long time.
I directed a movie, and it was a really good experience. I had opportunities to direct movies, and instead, I did a Broadway show, and now as I need to go back to actually direct another movie, it’s just been a long time. It took longer than it probably should’ve to get back to there. I don’t know that my professional ambitions have changed that much. I’ve always wanted to play in all the sandboxes, and that’s what I’ve been going for.
Craig: What about you, Aline?
Aline: I think for me it’s actually more of a personal ambition than a professional ambition, if that makes any sense. In connection to that voice episode, I came into the business feeling like I have a way of expressing myself that seems to make people laugh or be interesting. That’s really what I have.
Then just fighting to be heard and express myself in the way I wanted to, you have to sell things. You have to attach a director. You have to listen to the director. You are a screenwriter, so you are not the prime mover. As you guys know, I’m an opinionated gal, and I like things a certain way. I’m glad I learned these skills.
There was a way of being political that was very important as a screenwriter and as a woman, frankly, to learn how to speak other languages that could get you where you needed to go. One thing that has changed really since I became a showrunner was I felt like I could express myself as an artist comedically or as a writer, but also just be more me.
I’ve inherited from my mom a bit of a sense of I’m a magpie. I just pick up shiny objects and like to wear them. I have very few neutral items in my closet. I have a lot of colorful patterns and things that are fun.
Aline: Just like Craig, which is something that I’ve always always… Our big point of connection. On set, I started wearing the things that I enjoy, that make me happy. Actually, on the movie, it got to be a fun thing. We would talk about our clothes and what we were wearing or play music.
I think as a screenwriter, there’s a certain seemliness. There’s a certain lieutenant-ness that you built into your personality. You’re very diplomatic, especially if you’ve ever done a production rewrite. You’re the diplomat. You’re the person who’s bridging gaps. Not that I don’t still do that, but I feel that I’m able to do the things I want to do in a way that is the most me and not feel as inhibited. It also goes back to having immigrant parents and hairy arms and the things about growing up. I feel like I’m able to express myself better now.
There is a line in Your Place or Mine where Reese says, “As my drunk mother once said,” and there is no reference to her having a drunk mother anywhere in the movie. There’s no reference to her mother having alcoholism. It’s not part of her backstory. I just flew in the line, “As my drunk mother once said,” because it made me laugh, because it feels very true to life. It is something that you would learn about something through a blurt.
I think as a screenwriter, I would’ve pitched that to a director, and they would’ve been like, “That’s not in there. There’s no precedent for that. It doesn’t, strictly speaking, make sense.” It doesn’t. It makes me laugh. It made Reese laugh. It’s in the movie.
That ability to just say to people, “Hey, trust me, this resonates with me. I think it might resonate with other people because it resonates with me and I think this is funny and I think this is interesting,” and learning to really be that person, whether it’s being a showrunner or a director or frankly just a screenwriter when I still do that has been a journey for me to be my full self at work.
Megana: Thank you.
John: Let’s let Craig be his full self as you tackle this next question, because this one is so tailor made for Craig to answer.
Megana: Carl asks, “I’m a mid-level TV writer at the cusp of becoming upper level. I’ve made the decision to part ways with my agents. I’ve been with them for seven years. Although I like them, I think we’ve mutually lost that loving feeling. Correspondence is minimal. Phone conversations are quick and impersonal, even when they’re congratulating me on a new staffing gig. Anyhow, I’m fortunate to have been consistently working throughout my TV writing career. Now that I’m finding jobs on my own, I think it’s time to move on. I’m currently on a show, so I feel like the time to strike is now. My questions are, what’s the healthiest way to let go of my agents and do I fire my agents first, then find another one, or is it the other way around?”
Aline: These are my favorite Craig questions. My favorite.
Craig: I do enjoy these.
Aline: In fact, somebody was once having an issue with their agent, and I almost got you on speakerphone with them, because Craig’s agent advice is my favorite. Hit it.
Craig: Always fire your agent. You definitely are in the perfect zone for agent firing. You want to fire them. They have lost the loving feeling. You’re working. That means that it shouldn’t be a massive problem to find another representative, especially if you’re working steadily. I assume that you have another representative in your life, whether it is a manager or more likely an attorney. Pretty much all of us have an attorney. You want to talk to that attorney first.
My experience, full disclosure, I haven’t fired an agent in 15 years. I don’t always practice. I like my agents. What can I say?
I think the honorable way of going about things is you fire them first, and then your attorney lets the other places know, “So-and-so is available.” Then you look around and see who wants to meet. You have those discussions, and then you pick somebody. You may say, “What if nobody wants to be my agent?” I don’t really think that’s going to be a problem. It doesn’t sound like that would be a problem.
More to the point, they all talk. You may not even get a word out. You pick up the phone to call. Let’s say you’re at CAA. You pick up the phone to call somebody at Gersh. Before anyone answers the phone at Gersh, CAA will know. I don’t know how they… They’re fungus. They have threads underground, and they just know. My recommendation would be to talk to your lawyer, and then yes, you would want to normally let the first agent go and then start looking for a second.
John: Aline, same advice for you?
Aline: Yeah, that sounds all right to me. I’ll tell you where my brain went. I wanted to thank Craig publicly for making monsters that don’t look like vaginas, because every movie-
Craig: You weren’t listening.
Aline: When they finally unveil the monster, it looks like a big, slimy vagina. The monsters that you created in your show are so interesting looking to me. When you had that closeup of the guy from the side, I haven’t seen that exact shape of monster. I enjoy that. It always felt like in these movies, TV shows, you get to the monster, and it’s just a big, slimy mucus membrane with a big aperture. Thank you. That has nothing to do with the question.
Craig: You’re welcome. No, it doesn’t.
John: Actually, here’s how I think we tie this back in. I think you call up your current agents and start talking about how much you enjoy the monster design. As you get into these little bits, “Really, the reason I was calling is I don’t think this is actually the right setup. I don’t think this is actually working write. I’m going to be starting to look for other representation.”
Craig: You’re fired, but how about those clickers? Thank you, Aline. I have to give credit where credit is due. All of the amazing people at Naughty Dog, the company that made the video game, they are really responsible for… We have adapted it so that it can be done and be convincing in live action, but all inspiration was taken from them and their total, and I mean total, lack of vagina monsters. You will not see a single vagina monster.
Aline: You know what I’m talking about. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
Craig: Oh yeah. There’s this thing that happens somewhere along the line. I don’t know where it started, but in my mind I want to say Predator all the way back in the ’80s-
John: That feels right.
Craig: … where alien or monster mouths have split mandibles, so when they open, the whole mouth becomes basically this large, slimy orifice. It just keeps sounding like Stranger Things. The monster in Stranger Things, it does the same thing. The mouth opens and becomes four pieces.
John: Petals out, yeah.
Craig: Everybody loves the four-piece mouth. Our people are not monsters. Our people are sick.
Aline: They put something tonsilly at the top, which looks rather clitoral to me. I’m sorry, I’ve derailed the show.
Craig: Or you’ve finally put us on track, that after all this time, we finally have found what we’re… Listen. As everybody knows, I am an expert in female reproductive health. I’m, again, not licensed. I have not gone to medical school, and nonetheless.
John: I think we need to find a question that can really apply your female reproductive health to our listenership. Megana, do you have a question cued up that relates to female reproductive health?
Megana: Nat in LA asks, “My writing partner and I are repped by our first agent together and are approaching our first staffing season. I’m also pregnant with my first child. At what point do I communicate my pregnancy with our agent? We love our agent, trust them, but I worry that my pregnancy could come in between me and my writing partner’s career, either preventing us from getting work or making our first job complicated with a summer due date. I’d like to think my pregnancy won’t prevent us from getting a spot in a writers’ room. If worse comes to worst, my writing partner could represent us when I need to give birth, rest, etc, but I also know that pregnant women scare even the best of employers.”
Craig: That is a question about female reproductive health. If you trust your agent, I think it’s essential for you to tell your agent, because your agent is only, what, maximum three months away from finding out? They’re going to see you. Eventually, you will start showing. It will become clear. This isn’t something where you will want them to be shocked. I think part of an agent’s job is to handle that for you and advise you.
You’re absolutely right that people have been, I’m going to call it problematic, fully problematic about pregnant women in the workplace. It is against the law for them to discriminate against you for being pregnant. It is your right to be pregnant and not to have recriminations or exclusions. Your agent and your attorney will be the best advocates for you, so I would bring them in on this one as soon as possible. That’s my instinct.
John: I’m going to do a counterpoint, and we’ll let Aline be the deciding vote.
John: I don’t think you say anything. I don’t think you say anything until you are at a point in your pregnancy where it’s just going to be so obvious that you actually have to communicate it-
John: … because you do not know what opportunities you’re going to be missing, because it’s out there or because the agent feels like, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t put that writing team on that list, because I know this is a thing that’s coming up,” or this thing could be shooting overseas or whatever. I don’t think you say anything. I think you’re only asking for trouble revealing something that doesn’t need to be revealed.
John: Tiebreaker. Aline, help us out here.
Aline: I’m tending more towards John just in terms of it’s not really anybody’s business. There definitely can be repercussions. Whether they’re conscious or unconscious biases, there are going to be people who are going to be thinking, “Are they going to want to sit here? Are they going to then nurse?”
This is one of the hardest things for women to negotiate, because at the point where you’re in your reproductive years, you’re probably also in the building of your career years. If you’re very well established, things work around you. In your early 30s, you’re probably still…
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling your agent when you’re six or seven months, and it’s going to be very obvious to anyone that you go in to meet. You don’t want the agent to have heard about it from the person that you’ve met with for the first time.
I think at the point where you’re actually being sent up for jobs, you can say, “Hey, you know what? I’m due in May.” Then I think partly if you want to make it a non-issue, you have to act like it’s a non-issue. I really wish there was some guarantee that people are not going to be heinous about it.
The only thing I will say is that one upside to letting people know, letting bosses know, is that their reaction will be telling about what kind of experience you’ll have on that show. On our show, a lot of people got pregnant. We had people nursing in the room and pumping in the room. We had a little room that they could go into to pump or rock the baby. I know Jenji’s room was like that. It’s not industry-wide. If you are being hired by someone who seems like they’re going to be a big asshole about it and won’t hire you, you’re probably saving yourself from a crappy room.
Craig: Just to be clear, this question is about whether you tell your agent, not about whether you tell an employer.
John: I think you have to assume that if you tell your agent, it could get out there. What happens if that person does know? Did the agent tell them? Then you’re maybe losing a little trust in your agent.
Craig: I hear what you’re saying. Nobody wants to be the first person that gets mowed down on this thing or the 9,000th person that gets mowed down. We do need to change the culture somehow.
Aline: Listen. You go to your agent. You say, “Yeah, I’d like to staff.” Then they come back and go, “Craig, August wants to staff you.” You go, “Oh, great. By the way, I’m pregnant. I’m due in May. Anyway, when’s my meeting?”
Craig: That’s my point is that that seems like you’ve disrupted your relationship with your agent, because now you’ve put your agent in a weird spot.
Aline: Your agent doesn’t need to know when they’re putting you up for jobs whether you’re pregnant or not. You can just tell them before you get an interview.
Craig: It sounds like the person asking the question is concerned about it. That’s what I’m coming from. She seems very concerned about it. Somebody needs to counsel her on this, other than us on a podcast. We don’t know her. We don’t know what level she is in her job. We don’t know how frequently they work. She’s saying she loves her agent. We don’t know who that agent is or anything like that. Ultimately, I guess what it comes down to is no matter what advice we can give, she’s going to have to follow her instincts on this.
John: I think instincts are important.
Aline: I would say when it feels pertinent. If you’re sitting in your house not working, your agent doesn’t need to know what’s going on in your uterus. If you are actually up for something, if you get a big movie job, and they’re going to want you to go somewhere, you go, “Great. Singapore, that’ll work. I’m going to give birth, and then I just need two months.” I just think it’s better to talk about it when it’s in the context of something that actually needs to be administered.
I have always had very close relationships to my agents, and most of them have been women. I would’ve erred on the side of like, “Hey, I’m pregnant. Let’s put our heads together and figure this out.”
There is no one right way to do it, especially because, as Craig said, culturally we’re still very bad. This is one of the things on which we are the worst. This bias is so deep. It’s not just our business. It’s really, really tough for women to be looking for jobs when they are pregnant or have newborns. People just have these preconceptions.
I just will say from my perspective, having worked with so many pregnant and nursing mothers, they were very devoted to their work, great workers, figured it out, made it work. Men too. There’s a lot of really devoted parents who want to go and hang out with their kid. We need to change the language around that too, because if a man’s having a baby, he’s not paying that same price, but then we also don’t give them the same opportunity to go and be parents.
Craig: We get nothing.
John: We get parental leave.
Craig: Yeah, now we do.
John: That was only in the last contract we got parental leave.
Craig: Yeah, the last contract. When my kids were born, there was no like, oh, you get to… Nobody cared.
John: Aline, as a person who’s staffed shows before, the fact that Nat would be coming in here with a writing partner, does that change your thinking about it at all? Does that maybe feel like, oh, at least I’ll have one of those people in the room? That’s my first question for you.
Second question is, now so much more is being done on Zoom, and so even if she were home, she could still be participating, or if she’s on bedrest she could still be participating. Do you think that makes it easier for her to be landing this job?
Aline: Yeah, the partner thing does make it easier, because people will perceive that you won’t go to zero. Working from home is still a thing. God, it’s really hard to work from home when the baby’s there. I got an office when my son was 18 months old, because it was just so hard to do it with him. It was actually easier for all of us if I wasn’t there physically. These are really personal choices.
We just are not a country that’s very good at laying out the most family-forward way to do this. You’re relying on individual bosses. It’s one of the things about Hollywood that’s still a little weird. We’re all in these individual fiefdoms with individual bosses. Again, when you meet with folks, try and make sure… If this is somebody who’s really anti-family in general, those can be really nightmare jobs.
John: Lastly, I’ll point listeners to, if you have more questions about pregnancy and working, Liz Hannah’s episode where she comes on and she talks about… She got pregnant while she was making her show and basically kept it from everybody and wore baggy clothes all the way through production, because she knew it was going to be a real problem. Basically, she did not want to be the showrunner, director who everybody was so obsessed about your pregnancy. Those are factors too.
Craig: No question. If your instinct is to do that, you should do it. Like Aline says, it’s your uterus, it’s your body and situation. If you trust somebody in your inner circle to bring them in and basically say, okay, just like my partner and I, if she has a partner at home, we know that I’m pregnant. You can bring a trusted partner in and say, “Now you know I’m pregnant, and let’s make that part of our internal planning before we go and do anything.”
Aline: “Can you find me someone that we know is not an asshole about these things, has regular hours, might be accommodating, has kids themselves?”
Aline: I’m sure you guys have talked about it on the show. The showrunners with bad personal lives are brutal to work for. Brutal.
John: It’s come time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a game I just played this last weekend called Salem 1692. It is a good game that Craig will enjoy because it’s like Werewolf or Mafia. There’s a social deception or a social deduction game.
Craig: I do like that.
John: You are, as you might guess, either a witch or not a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. You’re trying to figure out who the other witches are. We played with seven people, which felt like the right number of people. It’s a card game. You have these alibis in front of you. You make accusations against people. It moves pretty quickly, which is a nice thing.
There’s an app on your phone that can do the moderator, do the Craig role in terms of telling people what to do. Ultimately, we found that once a person was dead, they should take over, and a human person should do it, but it’s a good way to get started. The box it comes in is gorgeous. It’s a fun, good game for any group of people that you’d want to play a board game with.
Aline: Invite me over, August. Come on.
John: Next game, you’re over here.
Craig: What about you, Aline?
Aline: I have a very short one, but I’ll add if you like that sort of thing, Mafia, The Traitor on Peacock, delightful.
John: I’m so excited to see The Traitor. Alan Cumming’s hosting it.
Aline: Oh my god. If you like that sort of game, you’ll like it.
Craig: I saw images of this thing.
Aline: I watched it. I got real bingey on it. I watched it in two days.
Craig: The thing about reality programs that I often get caught up on, weirdly, and that knocks me away from them, is the music. It’s like there’s one computer making the overly dramatic music for all of them. I just keep waiting for one of them to be like, “We’re going to go with jazz. Let’s just see what happens.”
Aline: This one is loosely set on Alan Cumming’s Scottish Highland castle. They do a lot of music which is riffs on that. It’s fun. It knows it’s silly. He knows it’s silly. He’s wearing fantastic outfits. It’s really pretty delightfully done. My thing is, as we all are trying to drink more water, and obviously, all of us growing up, we never drank a single glass of water, pretty much ever.
John: Never drank water.
Aline: Maybe a Dixie cup.
Craig: Water’s disgusting.
Aline: Dixie cup here and there. Here I am with my… I’ve discovered these Nuun. It’s a product. They look like Sweetarts. You put them in water, and they make it lightly carbonated. They have very few calories. They have electrolytes in it, whatever that is.
Craig: Thank god.
Aline: It tastes good, makes me drink a lot more water. I was getting a lot of La Croix guilt, because there’s just so many cans with the La Croix. It felt so wasteful. These little Nuun tablets-
Craig: How do you spell Nuun? How do you spell it?
Aline: N-U-U-N, Nuun. N-U-U-N, I think it is. Yeah, Nuun.
John: Mike has those too. They’re good.
Aline: They’re good.
Aline: There’s a variety of flavors. Six bucks and you get 10 or 12 drinks for that. When you don’t feel like drinking water because it doesn’t have any flavor, this feels like a little treat. It’s a little sweet. It’s not aspartame or sorbitol either. I don’t like fake sugar very much. It’s just a little splash of hydration and electrolytes.
Craig: Little zhuzh.
John: The three of us talked. I think we were backstage before the last live show. I’m trying not to drink on weekdays, because as I get older, it’s harder to recover from it. I’m always looking for something else to drink instead of a cocktail or instead of a glass of wine.
Aline: I have this theory now that I think we’re going to look back on drinking the way we look at smoking.
Craig: I won’t.
John: It was delightful. Do you have time to think of a One Cool Thing?
Craig: I think we got two great-
John: We had two good ones there.
Craig: We got two terrific cool things. I’ll be back next week with a great cool thing.
Aline: You’re a sufficer. You know that.
Craig: On this topic, I am an absolute sufficer.
Aline: What’s the opposite of a sufficer? Optimizer. Optimizer.
Craig: On this one, I’m [crosstalk 00:56:14].
Aline: Craig is, in this instance, a relatively disagreeable sufficer. I love it.
John: Love it.
Aline: Sounds like we’re done, but John, and you don’t have to broadcast this-
Craig: We’re done.
Aline: … but two people told me that you’re working on something so huge that it cannot be discussed.
Craig: Oh my god.
Aline: Then someone else told me that they read a pilot that you recently read, and it was maybe the best television pilot they’ve ever read.
Craig: Wait, that he’s recently written or read?
Aline: Written. Sorry, written. Sorry.
Craig: I was like, why is that a compliment to him? Somebody said you read something that was amazing.
Aline: Somebody said that you’re working on something so huge it cannot be discussed and that they recently read a TV pilot that you wrote and it was one of the best TV pilots they’d ever read.
Craig: Is it true?
John: It’s true I wrote a TV pilot. I think it’s really, really good.
Craig: I’m excited.
John: I don’t want to jinx anything by revealing it. I’m specifically keeping it a secret from friends, because I think it would be really exciting just for it to come out.
Craig: Love that. Boom.
Aline: I’m hearing rumblings, and I wanted to pass that along to you, because-
John: Thank you. I love that.
Aline: There’s bullshit rumors. There’s bullshit when people say to your face, “Oh, I think this is going to do great.” You’re like, “Shh.” When you start to hear these things where people are abuzz… They were like, “Do you know anything about it?” It’s huge and stuff. Whatever it is, I’m excited about it.
Craig: That’s exciting.
John: I’m keeping a lid on some stuff.
Craig: Keep a lid on it.
John: Keep a lid on it.
John: It could make it difficult to make Scriptnotes, but we’ll make it work.
Craig: Or we just let Aline do it.
John: Aline and Megana take over the whole show.
Aline: That’s it. We’re ready.
Craig: [crosstalk 00:57:53].
Aline: The John August hive is going to…
Craig: The hive will take over.
John: That’s our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao.
John: Edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Nico Mansy. 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 questions. On Instagram and elsewhere, where should we find you, Aline?
Aline: I am still on Twitter, alinebmckenna. I am on Instagram, abmck. My company had an Instagram, Lean Machine. I’m sickeningly online probably for the next two weeks. I have encouraged people who don’t want to hear about this movie to unfollow me. My Instagram is just littered with Your Place or Mine promo. I’m very sorry if you are a personal friend of longstanding. You are definitely looking at your spouse and being like, “What the eff is wrong with her?” I got a movie coming out. I’m trying to do something.
John: You were emailing while we are talking to the people in charge. Do we know what time is it coming out?
Aline: 12 a.m. 12 a.m., so basically Thursday night.
Craig: It’s right there.
Aline: 12 a.m. EST.
John: February 4th.
Aline: February 9th technically. February 9th technically.
John: February 9th.
Aline: February 10th, but now I’ve just found out midnight February 9th. You guys are going to stay up until midnight, aren’t you?
John: Stay up late on February 9th so you can watch it.
Craig: Just so people don’t get confused, let’s say 12:01 a.m. February 10th. I think that’s going to-
Aline: Correct. Correct.
Craig: Otherwise, everyone’s going to get so confused.
John: I want Netflix’s numbers to show at 12:01 suddenly a bunch of people. That twas the Scriptnotes factor.
Craig: The Scriptnotes factor.
Aline: I will tell you that the other day I was talking to one of our old-school friends, and he was saying, “I’m just really thinking about what works on different platforms.” Then there was a pause, and I was like, “Did you ever think we would say a sentence like that?”
Craig: What works on different platforms.
Aline: Trying to figure out what works on different platforms.
Craig: Super Mario, it’s a platformer. Donkey Kong.
John: When’s it going to drop on streaming.
Craig: When’s it going to drop. That just sounds urological, doesn’t it?
John: 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. I think you’ll find them at Cotton Bureau. They’re basically all I wear.
Craig: That’s all I wear.
John: Hoodies also, so comfortable. Aline, do you have a hoodie? Do you have a Scriptnotes hoodie?
Aline: Sorry, I have very, very old Scriptnotes apparel. I have vintage Scriptnotes apparel.
Craig: What is happening over there?
John: Why’d you move your microphone?
Craig: Legitimately, what are you doing?
Aline: I put it to the side.
John: We still have a Bonus Segment to record. We still have a Bonus Segment to record.
Aline: Oh yeah. Oh, sorry. We have a Bonus Segment. Sorry. Sorry sorry sorry. I don’t have any current… We’ve taken a little break on this, but Megana and I are going to work on some female… You know what I think, Megana? Also a set. A workout, seamless sports bra and leggings set. Wouldn’t that be great? Like something you get from Outdoor Voices or Girlfriend Collective with Scriptnotes on it.
John: No idea.
Craig: Girlfriend Collective.
Megana: It’s going to drop soon. Look out.
Craig: It’s going to drop.
Aline: Like a Nikibiki vibe. If anybody knows what Nikibiki vibe… It’s a Nikibiki vibe.
Craig: I’m obsessed.
John: You can sign up to become a Premium Member at scriptnotes.net, where you get all the back-episodes and Bonus Segments. Matthew, god bless you. You’re going to have so much work on this episode. I apologize. Aline, thank you so much and congratulations on your movie.
Craig: Thank you, Aline. Congrats.
John: We’re here for the Bonus Segment, and now we get to talk about Episode 3 of The Last of Us. Episode 4 will have already come out by the time this one’s dropped, so who knows?
John: Dropped. We’ve gotta say dropped as much as possible.
Craig: Everything keeps dropping.
John: What games would Bill and Frank have been playing? What activities would they have been doing, other than sex? They certainly don’t have puzzles. They totally could have had puzzles.
Craig: Neither one of them are interested in jigsaw puzzles, because jigsaw puzzles aren’t puzzles.
Craig: I am correct. Here’s what I think happens. My dad had this setup in our basement of a World War II reenactment on maps with little pieces and things. He was solo playing this war scenario game. I think Bill would absolutely be doing that. When Frank shows up, Frank is like, “No no no, I don’t want to do that. Let’s start with some simple things like Charades.” I think that they would’ve absolutely played Charades. I think it’s a fun thing to do. It doesn’t take up any resources.
John: Playing Charades just with each other, I guess.
Aline: How do you play Charades with two people?
Craig: You write a bunch of things down. Frank is only doing the charading. Bill only guesses. Bill doesn’t act. Bill doesn’t perform. It’s really just can Bill guess these things. I think they’ve done something like that. I think they might play cards. I don’t think they’re big on board games per se. That’s not how they connected. Neither one of them does crossword puzzles, which is a huge shame. Terrible shame.
John: Of the two of them, Bill would be more likely to do crossword puzzles.
Aline: You don’t think there’s an old Scrabble set knocking around there that they’re playing with?
Craig: They may have tried a couple of times.
John: Bill’s mom has Scrabble.
Aline: Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots?
Craig: No. You know what? There probably would be this old, musty Parcheesi that perhaps they pull out every now and again.
John: Yeah, because he would’ve also had his childhood games, because that’s apparently the house he grew up in.
Craig: It is the house he grew up in. He’s so into his survivalist stuff. Games are frivolous and will distract you from your goal, which is of course to defeat the forces of Armageddon.
John: Indeed. I want to talk to you about the filming of the episode, because I was curious, how many days did that episode take? There’s a lot happening. Aline measured how many strips were in an episode. The number of strips, number of setups and scenes in that were so vast. A lot happens.
Craig: Not as vast as some of our other episodes. I think that one was pretty on target for what our… Generally, our episodes were between 18 and 22 days of shooting. That one was probably around 19 or 20, I’m guessing.
John: What we’re seeing for the house-
Aline: Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa.
John: Eighteen to 20, that’s a lot of days.
Aline: Eighteen to 20 per episode?
Craig: That’s right.
John: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you had all that time.
Aline: We had seven.
Craig: You were half-hours, in fair. You were half-hour.
John: They were not a half-hour show. They were an hour show.
Craig: You were an hour.
Aline: They were an hour show, 44 minutes, 42 minutes.
Craig: Forty-four minutes, okay. This was 72 or 73 minutes.
John: It was lengthy.
Aline: It was a whole ass movie. That’s why I tweeted what I did. John, you were wanting to ask something, because what I wanted to say about the episode is, have you guys done testing with dials? You’ve done testing with dials, right, [crosstalk 01:05:10]?
John: I’ve done dials, yeah, for a pilot.
Craig: I’ve never done it. I’ve heard about it.
Aline: I’ve done it. People really tend to… They’ll crank it. You’ll see somebody crank it. If you have dials in our house when Will and I watch something… Man, we are PB and J. I love the setup. I love the first 10 minutes of every action movie. Epilogues are my favorite. In every action movie or genre piece, there’s always the rest, where they make a campfire, whatever. I love those purely human, non-genre things.
The first two episodes are much more propulsive in genre stuff, which I do enjoy, but I am the one who’s always waiting for those human moments, because that’s what my work is. That’s what I love the most. This for me started with some genre stuff. I’m enjoying it. I love it. Literally, that episode to me is like a jar of honey-laced… I’m just rejecting drugs. It’s just like a big box of sprinkles, and I’m going to eat them all, because that is exactly what I love, which is watching human behavior in extreme.
Craig: I’m glad you liked it.
Aline: It is the best piece of anything I’ve seen about what it felt like to live through a pandemic, which is like, there’s just us here, these little decisions, I’m rotating the plate in a certain way, and that means something, and just all the human, human moments.
For me, it was very moving, because I’ve been married for 25 years, so pandemic or not. We’re empty-nesters now. It’s just two old people in a house, puttering around and saying, “Do you want the spring beans or do you want the green beans or the asparagus?” I really related to that.
Knowing that Craig’s been married a long time and how much he loves his family and the sweet, emotional, human, but also very concise way in which Craig is a sweetheart. I really do have to find this email that Craig sent me when my movie bombed. There’s just a particular way in which Craig is kind, and it’s very un-flowery. It’s very concise and simple.
The thing is, if the writing is too emotional, I won’t cry. There was so much space left for me to cry. I don’t cry very often in TV shows. The characters I love so much, but there’s just a particular kind of humanity that I find in Craig’s work that is this simple… Also, two more things. It’s funny. I really hate when these more masculine genres… No one’s funny. No one’s farting. No one’s giggling. No one’s barking a shin. It’s like, guys, that’s not what life is.
Then the other thing is, my god, every heavy genre thing is shot like Fincher. All these people owe Fincher money. It’s like that blue, brown, gray, milky. I love the way this show is shot with, when there’s bright sunlight, there’s bright sunlight. There’s vegetation everywhere. It doesn’t have an onerous stylistic overload, which I feel like a lot of these pieces really have. There’s something that feels almost very totalitarian. You’re trying to do a dystopia, but you’re dystoping me. This one is like, no, this is what the world is like, and there’s still sunshine, and there’s still strawberries, and there’s still wine to be poured.
When I love something, I really… Will will tell you. I was so excited about it because of all those things, but it really, really made me cry.
Craig: That’s very sweet. I’m very glad.
John: I have an actual question for you. What has impressed me most about-
Craig: That was outrageous, wasn’t it?
Craig: That was the most dismissive thing I’ve ever heard in my life. “I have an actual question.”
John: In addition to a phrase, I have a question. One of the things I enjoyed most about the episode was that we went through this long thing with Bill and Frank. It was gorgeously done and detailed and precise, but the fact that actually it had a purpose to pay off into the Ellie storyline. At what point did you know that was going to happen? From the initial conception, that was always going to be there?
Craig: Had to be.
John: Had to be. What did change though over the course of the writing, because one of the things you talked about on the podcast is sometimes you’d get really smart notes from people. Were there any things that you got notes on for the first draft to this last draft that things grew and changed and improved?
Craig: In all honesty, this largely was there in the first draft.
John: From the start.
Craig: There were changes that I made primarily for some practical considerations. Basically, that was what I wrote.
Craig: It was just sort of there.
John: It’s lovely when that happens. I’ve had a couple of movies where it’s happened, and other times there have been discoveries along the way. I was curious whether there was something that was a development, like someone’s like, “Oh, but what if… “
Craig: I have to tip my hat to HBO. They read it and they were like, “We love this.”
Craig: “Here are a couple of little things.” As we go, like I said, for budgetary purposes or location purposes or whatever, you have to change some things here or there, but it’s pretty much whatever.
Aline: It’s the biggest departure from the game, right? How did you decide to do that?
Craig: Yes. In the game, your perspective is always pinned to Joel, or later in the game, the perspective shifts, and you play as Ellie. Your perspective is always pinned to one or the other. You never leave them.
In the game, you must share the perspective of Joel as he arrives at Bill’s town. There is no Frank. Bill is angry and grouchy. He’s got the town rigged. The whole thing becomes a mission of figuring out where a car battery is, to get, to put in this car. It’s very mission-based because you need game-play. The character’s terrific. It’s just very different. It’s serving a different purpose, because the nature of that medium is quite different.
You do eventually find Frank, but in the game, Frank is dead. You don’t even see his face. You see his feet, because he’s hanged himself. He and Bill, you eventually figure out… Bill mentions him as his partner, and you just presume in a heteronormative way he’s talking about business partner or smuggling partner. It turns out, no, it’s a romantic partner. They basically broke up, and one of them lived on one side of the town. One of them lived on the other. They stopped talking to each other completely.
Then Frank was trying to leave, got infected, and killed himself and left a note behind that was the most bitter note ever. It was like, “This happened, and anyway, I’m better off. I’m glad I’m dead. It would be so much better being dead than spending one more day with you.” That relationship was presented in the game as a negative omen for Joel, like this is what happens to you if you don’t let anyone in.
John: Would a player always have found that, or could you have gone through the section and never discovered that?
Craig: You will always discover Frank, but that note is something that you have to choose to pick up and read. It’s one of the hallmarks of how Naughty Dog does their games. Those notes are gorgeous. There’s all this great stuff in it.
I thought that because we can shift perspective, we had an opportunity to, first of all, tell the story of what happens over 20 years through the lens of a relationship, which is generally what interests me, and then also to see a success.
These two guys love very differently. One is about improving the world, and the other is about protecting what matters to him, which is one person. They take care of each other, and they complement each other perfectly. They get to grow old together. They take care of each other. When it’s time to go, they go out on their own terms. As Nick Offerman playing Bill says, “I’m old. I’m satisfied, and you were my purpose.” To me, I needed the audience to understand that you can win. This is a brutal world. Aline, good news, there are going to be a lot of the dial turning scenes for you.
Aline: Cupcakes. Cupcakes.
Craig: Many, many more cupcakes coming, but it’s a tough world out there. The whole thing is about challenging Joel to open his heart up to this kid and what happens if he does and what are the risks and costs to him, but you can do it.
Like you said, there’s no point in doing the Bill and Frank story if it doesn’t have any direct bearing on Joel’s character and his relationship with Ellie. There have been a few people who just missed it. I don’t know how exactly, because it’s pretty clear. Bill leaves a note. Bill would never write the things in that note if he hadn’t met Frank. The note is about Frank. What he’s saying is, “You and I are here for literally only one reason, to protect the one person we love.” Joel has failed twice now. He’s failed to protect his own daughter. Now he’s failed to protect Tess. This is his last chance is this kid. If that note isn’t there, he’s a different man. That is why that story’s there.
Aline: That’s what is so great about TV is that you can take that detour and you have that time and you have that real estate. I’m always surprised if people don’t use it, or frankly, they overuse it. Sometimes things are so incredibly un-propulsive that you’re like, dude, give me a story, something. That balance between moving forward and resting is so…
You could probably do a podcast about that, an episode about that, where you move forward and where you rest. You need to let the audience rest. A lot of times, they just don’t let you. That’s why I often fall asleep in big budget movies, because when they get to the monsters, the vagina monsters and the flying caterpillars, I’m out. I’ve lost my human rooting interest.
Craig: How can we not call this episode vagina monsters and flying caterpillars?
John: I think so.
Craig: That’s pretty much what’s going on here.
Aline: That’s really what I care about, and so I really miss that. It was so funny, because one of the things that you do, Craig, that’s so confident, is that you don’t over-expositoritize. That’s what I was saying to you. That’s even in the racking, that you don’t rack. It’s like you can see it. You can see it. Then you had mentioned Bill and Frank a bunch even in the first two episodes. When I realized who it was, I turned to Will and I went, “That’s Bill and Frank.”
Craig: That’s what we’re going for.
Aline: I think that we sometimes forget how important it is for an audience to discover something. That’s one of the reasons it’s really important not to be noted to death, because when you’re noted to death, what people are doing is like, explain, explain, explain, rack now, rack now, explain exactly who they are. I am Bill. I am Frank. An audience is smart, and they’re going to get it.
The joy that I had when I realized, oh, this is who they’ve been talking about this whole time… What is this? What is the meaning of this? How are they going to meet? How is this? Because I trust you as a storyteller, I was like, oh, this is going to… To watch where the touchpoints, where the bones were going to drop in…
I think in action and genre particularly, it just gets bony towards the end. It’s just all fish bones. It’s like, let me still have my… When you go back and look at movies, even Die Hard or Rocky or things like that, you’re shocked at how little happens. So much happens in our movies now that it’s just like, I feel like there’s a point that usually comes at minute 62 where I’m just punched in the face for 20 minutes. I will get overloaded and fall asleep.
One of the things, Craig, is that because you come from writing comedy, because you come from writing things that weren’t super dramatic or whatever, I think you have a confidence in your comedic resting abilities. All the best stuff in most of these movies is… My favorite thing in Bourne Identity is when he washes her hair in the sink.
Craig: You are going to continue to enjoy this show, I think, because that’s definitely so much of what we do. It’s not to say that there aren’t going to be some sequences, including some enormous ones. The reason I wanted to do this show in the first place, it’s always primarily been about relationships.
The first couple of episodes are always hard, of anything, because you are building a world, introducing people, causing trauma, staging plot, and then motivating the things to begin. I will say that at this point with that episode, the first act of the season has concluded. We now begin the second act. We are ready to go with Joel and Ellie on this journey.
Aline: Felt that. Felt that with the car driving away. I felt that.
Craig: There are more, “Oh, that’s what that means,” to come.
Aline: You want a mix, right? You want a mix of things you’re discovering and things that are fed to you helpfully, because the other thing is I get very confused. I’m every joke TikTok about the mom who’s like, “Who is that? What is that? Who is that?”
The episode, spoiler alert, where you’re like, “When you step on the mushroom thing over here, it’s going to activate the other thing,” I was like, I’m just now counting down to when we activate all the outdoor mushroom people, which is not a sentence I’ve said ever before. I think it’s fine to do also the Mac and cheese story stuff.
In some point in Devil Wears Prada, she says, “If you can last here a year, you can have any job you want in the publishing business.” We say it one time, but it gets you through. You’re wanting to go, “Just quit, lady. Quit complaining and quit.” It’s such a good illustration for people of, you want to have those very clean, clear things, and then you want to have those delightful discovery things. To me, it feels like this is a chef who’s been cooking a very long time and has a lot of confidence and is not sweatily…
I’m just going to mention one more thing. Thank god that the people who are supposed to look like shit look like shit. I’m not kidding, because one of the weird sexist things is that when you watch a show, the men look like shit, and the women look like they stepped out of a hair and makeup trailer. Thank you for making… The women are supposed to look like shit. They look like shit.
Craig: I don’t know if I would go that far, but I would definitely say that we tried to keep everybody fairly realistic in the world. One of the things that was interesting about this episode is that we could depict two men not looking like shit, because they had a shower, they had clothes, they had resources.
Aline: That was nice. That was nice.
Craig: I did have this crazy moment on set where I had… We didn’t shoot our episodes in order.
John: How late in the season was this shot?
Craig: After the episode I directed, we went into this one. Then we went back and did the one that was the week before, because we needed time to put a lot of the effects in place. This one, we were like, “This isn’t as effects-heavy. We can do this one first.” I’d just come off directing that episode.
Every day, poor Anna Torv had to have this puffy eye thing stuck on to make her look all beaten up, which was incredibly uncomfortable. She was a real trooper about it. I get them out of the trailer. They come to set already ready to go. They just go back and get their touch-ups while we’re setting up after blocking. We’re doing this, and we come to the scene where they’re having their lunch, which is a flashback. Anna walks on set, and I’m like, “Oh my god, you’re beautiful.”
John: It was fun to see her out of all the distress makeup.
Aline: Again, that’s important. Her looking like you would, filthy, I’m sorry, but that’s a feminist act.
John: It was important for her to look great at that moment.
Aline: How many times in these movies where the man looks like a man would look and the woman looks like she’s had a vanity pass. Exactly what you said, which is then when someone gets a shower or a meal or does their hair, it has impact.
Craig: You notice it. Connie Parker was the head of our makeup department. She did such a good job. Makeup is like magic to me. She did such a good job of putting makeup on without ever seeming like anybody was wearing makeup, which is hugely important, especially when we’re talking about aging Pedro, because we aged Pedro every morning to play an older version of himself.
When we’re doing multiple versions, Anna Torv just got beaten up. It’s the next day. She’s not quite as beaten up. Now we’re going back in time. She’s not beaten up at all. As we go through this story, keep an eye on us, Aline, and keep giving me the makeup reports.
That was something that was important to me. There are shows that everyone, men and women, everyone first of all is gorgeous, and their hair is perfect and their makeup is perfect and everything is perfect and the lighting is perfect. We tried to be be more realistic.
Aline: The hardest I’ve ever laughed at that was… What’s the movie that Kevin Costner made in the West that was such a… Dances with Wolves. Dances with Wolves, people look generally pretty grubby. He looks pretty grubby. People look like they might in the West. Cut to Mary. What’s her last name? She has a several-thousand-dollar Jose Eber haircut. She has the most fabulously feathered hair. It’s incredible. It’s like how you would possibly have cut all those precision layers and then curled them with your round brush.
I’m very, very sensitive to that kind of thing. It really pulls me out. The women waking up with their full makeup on, all those things really pull me out. I think you don’t need it. You don’t need to add levels of un-reality. Again, I feel like this comes from confidence and from Craig being a competent chef who’s left in the kitchen to do what he needs to do. You don’t have anybody saying to you, “We got this beautiful woman. When is she going to rip her dress into a mini dress?”
Craig: That’s why she’s here, to be beautiful.
Aline: I’m going to be embarrassed if-
Craig: There are no mini dresses. Hair cutting will occur.
Craig: We talked a lot about hair and hair cutting and how would they be cutting their hair and what it would mean for them and all sorts of things like that. We try as best we can to… Look, in the second episode, Ellie wakes up, and pretty much the first thing she says is, “I have to pee.” No one ever has to pee in movies or television, but we do. We have to pee. The first thing I do when I wake up, I don’t know about you guys, I pee.
John: You go pee.
Craig: Anyway, our people pee.
Aline: No, I turn to the very handsome man in bed with me, and I’m fully made up. Then I start kissing him, even though I haven’t brushed my teeth.
Aline: I keep my bra on. It’s bonkers what we accept. I think what’s smart, Craig, is you’re in a genre world. You have enough tropes to go around. You don’t need to add extra ones. That’s what I really admire. Genre is there to give you those guardrails. When people ask me about romantic comedy, it’s like, sure, I’m going to have some of the things that you associate with the genre, just like you’re doing a zombie thing. Dead people looking weird are going to go argh across the frame, for sure.
Craig: They’re not dead.
Aline: That doesn’t change that you can still have a reality and emotion and talk about human beings. Genre gives you some nice guardrails with which to do it. I think Craig has an exceptional understanding of genre. If it’s identity thief, it’s going to use those conventions as a guardrail. To me, it’s like you’re going to use your genre pass on the zombie stuff, and by the way, do it well. I think that the enoki mushrooms are-
Craig: Not vagina monsters.
Aline: They’re not vagina monsters.
John: I think all Aline and I are saying is that it was a terrific episode.
Craig: Thank you.
John: A puzzle may have been too much, but it would’ve been fantastic.
Craig: Would’ve ruined it.
John: That is our episode.
John: Thanks, Craig.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Thanks, Aline. Bye.
Craig: Thanks, guys.
Megana: Thank you.
- Watch Your Place or Mine on Netflix at 12:01am on 2/10/23
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