The original post of the episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 490 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. It’s important to stretch because today on the show we’ll talk about secrets and lies, both how they inform characters, but also how they work in a story. We’ll also answer listener questions about realism, pre-laps, and the dreaded note “why now?”
Craig: Oh, why now?
John: Throughout this episode I will be challenging Craig to solve our first ever How Would This Be a Movie mystery. The case of the fatherless child.
John: Mysteries. And in our bonus segment for premium members we will discuss post-pandemic travel and generally the idea of post-pandemia.
Craig: Well, that sounds like a good idea, because I think the horizon is visible.
John: The horizon is visible there. We can tell that we are on a round globe because of the horizon and the way that living on a sphere gives you that kind of horizon.
Craig: There are people – I know everyone knows this –I’m stating it because sometimes I just need to say it out loud. There are people who are currently insisting the world is flat.
John: Yup. They are. Because of YouTube.
Craig: Because of YouTube. We’ve got to take YouTube off the Internet.
John: And I will also say the pandemic and disbelief in the pandemic and such is related to flat-eartherism and anti-vax people. It’s all that system of belief and it’s challenging to get people past that. We’re not going to solve it on this podcast.
John: Instead we’re going to talk about things that screenwriters can solve, like pre-laps.
John: And the question of why now.
Craig: Yeah. Why now?
John: One thing we were able to solve is we’ve added more scripts to Weekend Read thanks to our producer Megana Rao who has gone through and added Mank, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, First Cow, Malcolm and Me, White Tiger, The Personal History of David Copperfield. So a good list of 20 or more of the For Your Consideration scripts are now up there in Weekend Read.
John: They’re free to read and download. And they are digital so they will take up no space on your kitchen counter, unlike screeners. So, Craig, I want to have a little conversation about screeners because for whatever reason this year it especially bugs me that I’m getting screeners for movies that were only released on digital platforms and I’m getting a physical copy of this thing that premiered on Apple TV Plus.
Craig: It’s enough already. And I understand the argument which is that there are a number of older – so all these screeners are for awards and there a number of voters who are older who may not be as comfortable with streaming as they are with physical DVDs. But I don’t even believe that anymore. Like, come on, it’s easier to stream something than to play a DVD. You don’t have to change the input on your TV or anything. I don’t understand it.
And it’s the plastic. It’s the delivery of them. They send them by FedEx. Sometimes I have to sign for these stupid things. Do you know how annoying that is?
John: I got a UPS sticky note saying I have to sign for this thing and I’m sure it’s a screener. I’m never going to sign it.
Craig: Well that’s the thing, right. So you get that notice. Hey UPS was here and we had something for you and you need to sign for it. And you’re like oh my god was it something great? No.
John: You know what? Send me a code. If it’s really important, send me a code and I will type in the code and I’ll watch the thing. But realistically they’re all on the apps and we just don’t need them.
Craig: It’s crazy.
John: Let’s stop.
Craig: Yeah, let’s stop. I mean, what do we have to do? Listen, you’re a member of the Academy, right?
Craig: And I’m a member of the other academy. So between the two – although the other academy, I don’t think that there are – well, no, there are.
John: There are.
Craig: There are. They do do the TV things, yeah.
Craig: Enough of that.
John: Enough of that. All right, I’m eager to get you started on this mystery, and we’ll sort of revisit this mystery throughout the course of this, but this came in as a How Would This Be a Movie and I thought it could be a movie, but it could be more interesting as a thing to challenge Craig with and for us to discuss how real life articles can lead in different ways to movie adaptations.
So here is the set up. What I’m going to tell you is based on a true story. And we’ll have a link in the show notes to the actual articles. There are many articles that have been written about this thing that happened. I’m going to add some character names and details, mostly so it’s easier for us to talk about, but also so we can think about it as a potential movie.
John: So this happens in Washington State, 2014. A couple, they are Roger and Annabeth Gleason. They’re both in their late 30s. They’ve been married for three years but it’s been a rocky relationship. They’ve been separated at times and Roger has been working out of state at times. They both apparently want to have a kid, though, but they’re having fertility issues on top of all of this.
With the help of IVF they have their first child, a son named Lucas. But there’s something odd. Lucas doesn’t share a blood type with either Roger or Annabeth. So, given this setup, Craig, what do you think is the next thing that happens?
Craig: I would imagine the next thing would be some sort of DNA test to see if the parents are the parents.
John: Yeah. And that is in fact what happens. Roger takes an at-home paternity test. And he learns that he is not the father.
Craig: Roger, you are not the father! Sorry, I had to Maury it. OK, so got it. But now the really interesting thing is, and I’m just sort of cheating because of the title of this thing, does mom take a maternity test?
John: Yes. So the question of sort of the paternity test and what the next step is is interesting. So I’ll set us up for our next segment by saying they end up writing into an online service called Ask a Geneticist, a blog. And he recommends that they need a more complete test. Because what’s going through their head right now is the question of like, wait, if this kid doesn’t match up, like we went through an IVF lab. Is it possible that the wrong sperm was used? That there’s something really wrong. Is there a lawsuit that we could possibly be filling?
Craig: And also the wrong egg.
John: Yeah. Exactly. So this expert is going to recommend they take a more extensive paternity test, a more expensive and complete genetic test, and the results of that in our next segment.
Craig: The game is afoot.
John: All right. Let’s do some follow up on previous segments. We talked about text chains on screen. Do you want to see what Sam wrote to us?
Craig: Yeah, Sam says, “I couldn’t help but respond to your recent discussion about empty text chains on phones as I saw this executed well for the first time just a few days ago. In Ted Lasso we see a text chain between Keely and Roy that includes previous texts and also captures their personal characteristics. For example, in the pre-thread we can see Roy who curses often and vehemently has included a bitmoji of himself cursing. Really well done and thoughtful detail on a well done and thoughtful show.”
Well, OK, so it seems like at the very least Ted Lasso is getting it right.
John: Yeah. So I really enjoyed Ted Lasso and I think that attention to detail is really important in the way that character is reflected it’s sort of all little choices along the way. Speaks well to Ted Lasso there.
John from Stockholm, Sweden wrote in to say that this reminds him how characters onscreen get off phone conversations much more quickly than they do in real life. And his question is, “This got me thinking about where do you, specifically you, draw the line between something being unrealistic and just being economical from a writing and filmmaking place?”
Craig: Yes. So very often in movies characters will call somebody and not even announce themselves either. So you’ll hear somebody say, “Hello,” and they’ll say, “Listen, we’ve got a problem.” And the person goes, “OK, what are we doing?” But they don’t say, “Hey, it’s Craig, do you got a minute?” They don’t do anything, ever, ever. And when the conversation is done one of them nods as if the other one can see and then hangs up, which in fact on the other end of the phone would just seem like a dropped connection.
Craig: We do this because a lot of that filler does in fact take up space. It’s anti-dramatic. It tends to deflate tension. And generally speaking we just kind of go along with it. I think we’ve been trained by movies to just sort of go along with it.
John: I think a thing we do as writers very often is we will try to come into the scene after the phone has already been picked up, or leave the scene before the call is completed. Basically you don’t want to be in a scene where someone has to pick up the phone or hang up the phone if you possibly can avoid it. And yet if there’s really no way to avoid it you try to do the shortest reasonable thing that won’t stick out to a person. So I think my internal litmus test is when I notice that something is odd because they’re not doing it, or as an audience member we’ll just roll with it because it’s just sort of the convention. And that’s the test you’re always asking when you’re trying to optimize these things.
Craig: Yeah. I think that there’s room now for you to actually do these little extra handles and bits and goodbyes and hellos as long as you do them in ways that are interesting. Then people might appreciate it. Do it quickly. I think this actually becomes a directorial thing of pace. You know, if your deal is that you’re calling somebody and going, “Hey, it’s me…,” you can just as easily go, “Hey, it’s Craig, listen…” Fine. “OK? All right. Bye. Bye.” That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it.
John: Yeah. One of the nice things about the time we’re living in is people are tending to picking up their cellphones, so you can see who is calling you. So you can imagine like, OK, I see who is calling so I’m just going to start getting into it.
John: And you can sort of skip over that stuff. I think it’s always worth thinking about like what is the realistic way out of this conversation and what is the quickest version out of it? And do I take the quickest version or do I go even a little bit faster because of just movie logic.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t know, I feel like there’s a fun in wallowing in some of the things that we’ve eliminated. Just in sort of a modern way to get hyper realistic about those things. It’s kind of fun to indulge in some of those things. Like shoe leather.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Because like, OK, so everybody understood, like nobody wants to watch people walking. If they’re going to go from this spot to that spot, the walking part is super boring. But if you wallow in it it could be kind of fun. So, I don’t know.
John: It’ll strike people as odd because you just don’t see it in on other things. Going through all of the nonsense chit chat.
Craig: Let’s reclaim it. Let’s reclaim shoe leather.
John: Evan wrote in this week writing, “You’ve been talking recently on the podcast about how you feel there’s a lack of female characters who make ethical decisions. I’ve also noticed there are no female characters with big redemption arcs, at least none that I can think of. Some of our most beloved characters are men who begin evil but are ultimately redeemed, like Darth Vader, the Hound, or Kylo Ren.
“And we have a fair number of female villains, like Cersei Lannister, or Amy Dunne from Gone Girl, but it seemed to me that evil women in fiction remain evil. I’d like to hear your thoughts on why there are no such stories or such few examples of female characters who are redeemed at the end.”
Craig: This is true. I was scratching my head on this one. And I don’t have great examples. I was thinking about Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max, Charlize Theron’s character, who she is a military general for the big bad villain. But she kind of makes a choice to be good really early. So I don’t think that’s a redemption story. The one that I actually thought was the closest was Helen from Bridesmaids. That’s the Rose Byrne character. Because she clearly is the villain. And then by the end she is good. She does the right thing. But not still then in the way that we think of these kind of mythological evil to good.
And I think partly it’s because a lot of male writers view women through this very binary – they used to call it the Madonna Whore complex where a woman is either a saint or a sinner. There’s no room in between, nor is there room for redemption because men are seen as morally striving and women are seen as just morally complete. They just come out good or bad. That’s it.
Craig: Whereas men are on some sort of path to goodness. And that’s just not true, but I think it’s just a function of the predominance of the male voice in our culture.
John: I was thinking through back to fairy tales and sort of other children’s lit where you do see broadly drawn villainous characters. And so you look at Maleficent, and so in the original Sleeping Beauty she is a just a thorough villain. She is a fairy queen/witch/villain. And then her redemption really comes in sort of a complete re-imagination of who that character is. Basically it’s not the character changes. You change the frame on who that character was in order to have her be not a villain throughout the whole story.
John: The same with Wicked. In the Wicked Witch of the West in Wicked you see who she really is. It’s like, oh, this is all an act. She’s not inherently evil. It’s the world, it’s the system itself that is inherently evil. So, reinventions are not arcs. They’re just different characters. Different frameworks on a character behind it.
So, listeners write in. Give us some other good examples of female characters who have an arc from villain to hero or something more like a hero, because we’re having a hard time thinking of more of these. And I think it’s probably related, again, to sort of who was telling those stories and sort of what the biases they had in creating them.
Craig: Yeah. And it illuminates a big space to fill. Anytime you can’t really think of a lot of examples of something that is an opportunity to write your own. So, I would encourage people out there. Who are scratching their heads wondering what should I write to think about this as a good prompt.
John: For sure. All right. Let’s get back to our mystery, Craig.
Craig: Ooh, great.
John: Where we last left off there was a desire to have a more complete genetic test. So, that genetic test happened. The couple actually ended up going to 23andMe, which is not what you would think of, but was a much better test. And the results came back and they revealed that Roger is in fact not Lucas’s father, but Roger is his uncle.
John: So, Craig, where is your storytelling brain going? Where is your detective brain going when I tell you that the man who thought he was this kid’s father is actually his uncle?
Craig: Well, I immediately wonder if Annabelle, I believe was her name, the wife.
John: Annabeth. I’m sorry.
Craig: Annabeth. I wonder if Annabeth was having an affair with Roger’s brother.
John: That would be a very natural suspicion. Roger has no brother.
Craig: Well Roger thinks he has no brother. [laughs]
John: That’s really fascinating. So, you as the screenwriter, the person who gets the chance to invent things, what would you like to invent? Like if this was all the story that you had where would you want to take this thing and what’s your conception of who this brother that Roger doesn’t think he has – what’s the scenario there?
Craig: Well, it’s going to be fraternal twins separated at birth, one of whom finds out that through some reason or another he was denied the cushy life that Roger, his brother, got. And he comes back for revenge and seeks it with Roger’s wife.
John: I’m asking why – so why did you go to fraternal twin rather than just an older brother or younger brother? What is it about twins that is interesting to you?
Craig: Well, because it’s contemporary. It’s a little easier to imagine the separation not being something that Roger wouldn’t be aware of. Let’s say it’s an older kid, generally speaking if you have a child and then you have another child a few years later you don’t then boot the older one out. Although I suppose if he was a really bad seed you might want to.
Whereas twins, if they’re separated, it is conceivable that they wouldn’t know about each other. And obviously an older kid would know about a younger one. So there’s a certain plot convenience to twins.
John: Yeah. OK. That’s for sure. But in some ways I think it’s harder to imagine that twins got separated. I guess if Roger knew that he was always adopted. So, if Roger was adopted at the start it would make more sense. But it’s not like twins get separated and one stays with the family and one gets shipped off.
Craig: Generally speaking it is not an easy separation. That is correct.
John: I have friends who have families through adoption and it’s interesting that it’s like, oh congrats, you adopted this baby, that’s awesome. And then six months later it’s like, oh, now we have a four-year-old, too, because it turned out they had a sibling.
John: Which is great and exciting and it’s lovely to have families together under one roof, but sometimes you anticipated having one kid and suddenly you have six because it turns out there’s a whole bunch of other related kids out there.
Craig: That is a risk you take with adoption and also biological procreation. Because sometimes the doctor comes to you and says, wow, four heartbeats. Didn’t happen to me, but it does happen. So, yeah, life is a crapshoot.
But, yeah, so I’m just doing the genetic math here. Roger is the child’s uncle. That means it has to be either, well, hold on. There’s another possibility.
John: Tell me.
Craig: The other possibility is that Roger and Annabeth are brother and sister. But then he would still be the father?
John: Yeah, he would still be the father. There’d too much overlap.
Craig: That would be really confusing. So, it seems like Roger has a brother. There’s a brother in the mix.
Craig: And we’ve got to figure out how that brother snuck in there.
John: Great. That’ll be our next segment. We’ll get into what could possibly be happening here with the brother, because I’ll just whet your appetite by saying Annabeth has been faithful.
Craig: Wow. How?
John: All right, let’s get to our marquee topic which is secrets and lies. So, many episodes ago we were talking, it was like a random advice episode, and we were talking about blood donation. And you and I got into our little disagreement about whether if I had a rare blood type I should donate and it became this thing. And then in a bonus segment we talked through sort of my reasons for why lying about being gay to be allowed to donate blood I thought was problematic.
I mentioned this book by Sissela Bok that I read in college which I thought was terrific. It’s called Lying: Moral Choices in Public and Private Life. I just finished rereading it. It’s still really, really good. It’s a book from 1975 that’s still surprisingly relevant to the things we’re facing today. But I wanted to in this topic talk about secrets and lies because I find them so interesting for writers, both in terms of plot and story, but also characters. And really be thinking about how secrets and lies relate to characters. And so I thought we could dig in a bit here and encourage our listeners to look at their own scripts from the aspect of what secrets are people keeping, what lies are they telling, and how that is driving story.
Craig: Yeah. I feel like we’ve talked about lies before. I don’t know that we’ve talked about secrets per se. But I have a sense memory of talking about lies. And I believe that all humans are liars. That lying – we think of lying as a sin, like theft, or whatever is going on with Roger and Annabeth. Something happened somewhere. But that it is a crime. But the truth is it’s actually – while it can be a crime, it is also an inherent fundamental part of human behavior. And we innately understand that there’s a range of lies that cover a kind of spectrum of morality.
The fact that your character is a liar is essential to making your character seem real. Nothing is weirder than characters that apparently say what they think.
John: Yup. They feel broken. They feel like they don’t function within a real society. So, let’s define our terms a little bit so we make sure we’re talking about the right things. Let’s define a secret as something that is being hidden. And so that could be a truth that I don’t want you to know. My secret shame. My secret history. It could be a literal thing, a secret passage. It could be a secret message. I would say a secret takes some action to maintain. You have to sort of keep a secret up. And so generally at least one person has to know the secret. If not then it’s not really a secret anymore. It’s just like lost information. So there’s a truth that’s out there that is being kept from view.
Craig: Sounds about right to me.
John: And then a lie, let’s define that as a deliberate deception. So it’s not inaccurate information. It’s deliberately not giving out the truth. There’s a truth that could be told, that could be shared, and you’re not telling it. And weirdly a lie can kind of outlive the liar. That false story can persist long after that lie has been told and long after that liar has died.
Craig: Oh, I mean, most of human civilization is built on lies. Religion. [laughs] Basically they’re all lies. I mean, they’re stories, but if you tell people that they really happened that way then they’re lies. Most of our actual history is like what we think of as what really happened. A lot of it is just lies told by the victors.
John: A famous history book I think from the ‘80s, Lies My History Teacher Told Me.
Craig: Right. All of it.
John: So, when we say these can drive both plot and character, like Big Fish is about a secret that is misperceived as being a lie. That’s fundamentally what’s driving it. It’s the question of like is Edward Bloom’s past concealing a secret or is it all a lie, and sort of the relationship between those. Chernobyl, of course, is nothing but lies and secrets all the way down.
Craig: Yes. And very much about the corrosive quality of that stuff.
John: And they’re related phenomena. So every lie fundamentally conceals a secret because there’s a truth that’s being kept out of you. So every lie is a secret. And every secret has a lot of potential for lies. Because you’re going to start telling lies to maintain that secret. It’s almost impossible to keep a secret without lying. It’s challenging to. And I think a valid thematic question for a script could be can you maintain a secret without a lie? Are all secret-keepers fundamentally liars?
Craig: So, not always, but often. And there is a very enjoyable, in the way that horror movies can be enjoyable, like a stimulating, exciting aspect to watching somebody spin a web of lies and attempt to keep it working and going.
John: Oh yeah. The plate-spinning aspect of it is great.
Craig: The plate-spinning aspect. I mean, that was Dexter. The entire series essentially the joy of it I think was pretty much just watching Dexter keep the plates spinning. And the more you tell, the more you tell.
John: Yeah. The more I dig into it it’s hard to imagine a story that doesn’t have some aspect of a secret in it. And so there’s really obvious genre examples, like spy thrillers, anything with blackmail or infidelity. A mystery. There’s a secret generally within those. There’s some truth that you’re trying to uncover. There’s some detail that the protagonist is trying to unearth or themselves hide from view. And even in a love story, I mean every love story tends to have a moment where one character loves the other character but doesn’t want to confess to it. There’s some aspect of secret in kind of every story. So it’s always worth asking what secrets is the protagonist trying to discover. What secrets is the protagonist keeping from view? And that can inform both story but also specific behavior within scenes.
Craig: Yeah. And it might be helpful to organize it a little bit in this way. Secrets are the things that get revealed at the end. Lies are grenades that are going to go off at some point and the explosion leads to the end.
So, in The Hangover the lie is calling back to Tracy and saying everything is fine, we’re just here in Vegas. No problem. When they know that’s not true. The secret is the secret/mystery of where is Doug. Well that lie is going to blow up before where is Doug is discovered, or at least almost does.
So, we know when we’re watching these things that eventually it’s going to go. Even in Dexter, where it was all the plates spinning, one by one they would bring people in that the lie would fail on. And then the truth would be shared. And you just feel that sense. The tension of a lie is like a bowstring being pulled back. Eventually the truth will out.
John: Yeah. And you as the storyteller have to decide what is the audience’s relationship with that secret. And so we as an audience in Dexter know what he’s actually been up to, because we can see all the things he’s been up to. We have his point of view on those situations. But you could make another choice where it’s a surprise until the end. Like that secret is revealed. That’s the twist at the end. That’s the M. Night Shyamalan reveal at the end. There’s a whole different level. The filmmaker was concealing a secret truth from you. And so that’s a relationship you have to have.
And in some ways it goes back to that notion of every secret is to some degree a lie because you are deceiving your audience into believing one set of realities when in fact a very different set of realities is happening.
Craig: And that’s kind of what a twist is. It’s a secret that you didn’t know was in the movie. And there’s a big difference between knowing there’s a secret and waiting to find out what it is. And having no clue that there’s a secret and then discovering that there was one all along.
John: Yeah. Because you entered into the movie with one set of assumptions, a kind of contract that you had assumed you had signed with the storyteller. And they had made different assumptions about what that would be. Or they had relied on your misassumption in order for this thing to work properly.
John: Magic tricks work the same way, too. Jokes work the same way. It’s that element of I have led you to believe a certain thing and I’m going to take you to a different place than you expected.
John: Yeah. But let’s talk about lies. Because as you said earlier for normal human interaction some degree of deception is absolutely required. Like just all the social niceties of how are you doing, doing just great. There’s a lie inherent to that because we’re not all doing just great. We’re all just struggling and getting by. It’s a lubrication that sort of gets us through this. This shared deception that things are a certain way.
Craig: Yeah. We don’t necessarily have a great grasp on our own truth either, which is why we lie a lot. And it’s why characters lie a lot. I mean, so a typical way we express the notion of a white lie is I think something that might be upsetting to somebody. I don’t want to upset them. So I give them a different version, a watered down version, or a polite version that’s acceptable to them. But even the thing that I’m thinking, maybe I’m just thinking that because I know they can’t hear it.
It’s like you can scream in your car because you know that no one can hear you, but maybe that’s why you’re screaming also. Because you know that no one can hear you. It’s like a feedback loop.
Craig: It’s not necessarily true that the one thing is more true than the other. Sometimes I think that the white lie is the truth. It’s the extreme thing I’m thinking that isn’t the truth. Whoa.
John: And there’s also lies we tell really for good intent. There’s the extreme versions where you lie to protect someone’s life. Basically there’s a killer at the door and they say, “Where’s Tommy?” And it’s like Tommy’s not here, when Tommy is hiding under the bed. That’s the kind of lie that even a strict moral philosopher might justify in some way. I think justification is really a fascinating word. The taking of something that you know is not right and making it seem right. That’s justification.
So there’s those extreme examples, but there’s kind of the patronizing lies, like this is for their own good. There’s a good purpose for this. It’s why we don’t tell kids the whole truth. This is why we let them believe in Santa Claus. The person is not ready for the lie so therefore it’s better for us to tell them that. And they may be agreeing to that, or they may not be agreeing to that. And those are the ethical/moral quandaries there.
Craig: Yeah. Sometimes I think things get retroactively turned into lies. I still don’t think that – when Obi-Wan Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker, “Darth Vader killed your father.” I think that was real. And then later it was like, you know what, that was a lie.
John: Yeah, I mean, how do you want to approach that? Do you want to approach that from like what the intention was when the line was written? Or retroactively we’re saying that was metaphorical?
Craig: I think, yeah, so I think retroactively saying it was metaphorical. And the reason I bring it up is not because, look, I don’t know, maybe George Lucas always knew that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. Spoiler! But because it’s so flexible, lying or a rubber re-relationship to truth is so inherent to the way we think and speak that almost anything could be a lie. Even from people that seem saintly. You just give them a good, you know, reason for it and off you go.
John: Yeah. That’s why through these last four years when the New York Times would keep a list of lies that our former president said, yes it was helpful to label them as lies rather than–
John: Deliberate falsehoods. But there’s also fundamentally that question of like if a person doesn’t recognize that they’re lying do we hold that to the same standard? It’s tough and fraught. And I look at the Edward Bloom character in Big Fish and it’s like is he a liar or is he a bullshitter? Yeah, OK, it’s all a gradation here. And we have to make choices as writers what we’re letting our characters do and how the choices that they’re making are going to impact the characters around them.
Craig: And that’s the big one is what is the impact of these things. And building a good story around a single lie can be incredibly effective. Galaxy Quest is a story built around a single lie. So it’s a sin of omission. These aliens thought the show was real and the cast of the show does not disabuse them of this notion. And you know inevitably they’re going to find out. It’s inevitable. Just as in every romantic comedy where somebody is posing as something they’re not, you know inevitably they’re going to find out. And we like that.
We like watching people face the shame of lying and then recover by expressing truth, because it gives us all hope. Even if in reality typically when you’re discovered to be lying in that fashion you are rejected permanently because you hurt somebody in a way that is not – there’s just no coming back from it.
John: Craig, what I think you’re speaking to is we have an expectation in our movies that there will be a cause and effect. And so therefore if this is thing is setup then the event will happen. If that car goes over the bridge it will explode in ways. We sort of have this set of reasonable expectations that these causes will lead to these effects. And I think we have an expectation that lies will eventually be exposed and there will be consequences for those lies.
And it’s disturbing when the villain gets away with the lies. And when the villain gets away with whatever actions that they’re taking. So I think that gets to, again, it’s the audience’s and the other characters’ reaction to those lies in some ways are more important than the intention behind those lies.
Craig: Correct. Because at the end of the movie when somebody says, “I lied, but here’s why I lied, I was afraid…” And then so that’s what she says. And the guy is like, “I love you.” And then they kiss. But then like what happens a month later? We don’t see that part. When he’s like, wait a second, you’re a liar. Like I don’t know if I believe you.
John: You fundamentally deceived me on all this stuff. Yeah.
Craig: You lied to me with a straight face, like While You Were Sleeping. Wait, hold on a second, you’re a liar. And that is kind of funky. But we don’t see what happens after the movie so we’re OK with it.
John: Yeah. To wrap this up, getting back to the Sissela Bok book that I’m reading, one of the things she keeps coming back to is that notion of in any situation in which you are attempted to lie ask yourself would this also be a situation in which violence might be a reasonable choice as well? So like to protect someone’s life, well, you might avoid violence but you might use violence in order to protect someone’s life. You might lie in order to protect someone’s life.
In movies, just like the same way characters will lie to each other then like forget it all, these characters have gone through sometimes these incredibly violent things and have killed people in front of each other and it’s like, oh yeah, now everything is fine and we’ll never kill anybody again. Really? Is that how it’s going to happen? You’ve broken the seal on the mortal violence.
Craig: Right. Yeah.
John: All right. Let’s get back to our mystery. Where we last left off we had just learned from a genetics test that Lucas is in fact the nephew of Roger. So Roger is the uncle to this kid who he assumed was his son.
Craig: And Annabeth, his wife, was not – she didn’t cheat on him. She was faithful. So she has not slept with anybody but Roger.
John: Absolutely. And as you recall this kid was conceived through IVF which may or may not be relevant. So I just want to make sure that that was still noted in there.
Craig: Noted. Was there any new information?
John: Yes. So there is some new information. We have done this genetic test. I think it was the blogger that they wrote into said like, you know what, there’s one other thing I want you to go check. And it turns out that this mystery which we believe began in 2014 actually began 30 years earlier. And the womb that we needed to look at was not the womb in which the son was born, but the womb in which the father was born.
John: You had theorized – remind me your original theory of who the real father of this kid would be.
Craig: Oh, he ate his own twin in the womb.
John: He ate his own twin in the womb.
Craig: Wow. But the twin still had some sperm.
Craig: Whoa. [laughs] That’s awesome. That’s so crazy.
John: So let’s put all this together.
Craig: Oh, I solved it.
John: You did solve this. And so you solved this, and then we’ll also talk about what the story implications are behind all this. But so, yes, 30 years ago in the womb Roger was a little embryo there and he had a fraternal twin in there as well. At some point Roger’s embryo absorbed the other twin, which apparently happens. They’re realizing a lot more often than people think it happens. And so Roger is technically a chimera. He has genetic information from two different individuals. When you do more extensive genetic testing on him you’ll see there’s two completely different individuals living inside this. And some of the genetic information that he absorbed was in fact what led to sperm cells. So his sperm is actually of his brother who never existed.
Craig: My god. So his brother gets the ultimate revenge. Like you don’t destroy me. I destroy you!
John: Indeed. You will never father children and I will father children.
Craig: My line will live forever. Oh, babies in the womb.
John: Babies. So, that is the actual truth behind this and so we’ll link to some articles about this. And so I made up the characters’ names, but everything else that I described is basically what happened. So, in reaching the resolution of this mystery what are the other interesting story points for you? Because I don’t think this is necessarily a movie, but tell me what things of this spark your narrative interest.
Craig: Well, right away I think of it as a test of trust. Because if two people trust each other and then someone comes along and then another person comes along, and then a third person comes along, and all of them provide rock solid evidence that trust should not be there. We have entered an interesting story of faith which is trust in the absence of any reason to trust. And that is interesting.
It’s romantic, to some extent. I can certainly see that. But it also can bring up other things. So, there’s an interesting kind of story where something happens and there’s a misunderstanding. I thought that you were not faithful with me, or something. It turns out you were. But the opening, that little opening discussion has led us to discover other things.
John: That seed of doubt.
Craig: Force Majeure is a good example of this. The movie where there is an avalanche and a man instead of sort of shielding his wife and children kind of runs away. [laughs] And that leads to a long, difficult kind of explosion of a marriage. And so that’s kind of where I would imagine it going.
John: So, I think it also speaks to the idea of objective truth versus subjective truth and the idea of like well science says this is not genetically your offspring, and yet by all normal standards this is your offspring. No other man was involved in the creation of this child. So it is you.
But also the notion of identity. Roger assumed he was just one thing. But he actually is kind of two things. And people who have chimera syndrome or whatever you want to say, they will tend to have other manifestations of like this other twin that’s inside you to some degree. So there could be discolorations of skin. There can be aspects of that other person inside you.
So, The Dark Half, the Stephen King story, is sort of the most extreme example of that where the twin starts growing inside the other person. But that is thematically interesting. I assumed I was just one thing, but now I realize I am two things. And it’s making me question who I am.
Craig: I would blame all that kid’s annoying stuff on my brother. I tried to kill him. I tried to kill him in the womb, but this is his kid. You know, my brother. It’s not my fault.
John: Yeah. It’s fun stuff. And, of course, we’re assuming that in a time in which IVF is more common and multiple embryos can be implanted at the same time, it can just be really complicated. It’s that idea of sort of the simple half from one and half from the other. Our assumptions about sort of like the fatherhood and parenthood of a child may be really just myths.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, we don’t know what we don’t know. And that’s what makes a good story.
John: There’s interesting stuff there. I don’t think we have a – the conclusion of this mystery is not the conclusion of a movie based on it.
John: It could be an M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end, but it would have to be for a kind of different story that got us there.
Craig: The problem is it’s super convenient. It feels a little bit like evil robot twin. And in the end when you find out the reaction from the audience I would assume would be, “Ooh, OK.” [laughs] But, fine, great. Well, I guess everything is fine now. But, you know, it feels like more of a thing that might pop up in a short mystery than in a movie.
John: Hey, let’s imagine that instead of being a normal parenthood situation this is some sort of murder mystery or some sort of serial killer thing. Roger in some ways like he could leave evidence at a crime scene that could never be traced to him. That’s interesting.
Craig: Well, but it will be. Because–
John: It’s sort of half-traced to him.
Craig: Yeah. That’s the thing. If his sperm is the sperm of his brother that he absorbed then any sperm sample would be traced to him. So you have to be able to be like, OK, if I nick a vein you get my brother, if you nick an artery you get me. Then that would be pretty cool.
John: It would be pretty cool. I mean, we’re in a time now where there are those databases where they are finding serial killers through relationships to cousins and things like that. So, it becomes fascinating. The idea that there’s people who never existed who are the villain.
Craig: The Dragnet is tightening around your neck, my friend. We’ll get you, John. We’re going to get you.
John: Eventually it will all come to pass.
Craig: Oh yeah. They’re zeroing in.
John: All right. Let’s go to some questions.
John: Megana Rao, our producer, if you could come on the line and talk us through some of the questions in the mailbag today.
Megana Rao: OK, Great. Julie Plec asks on Twitter, “What is the origin of the ‘why now?’ note? Why is it at the top of every exec checklist? What are you favorite shows and is there a why now in every single one of them? This note drives me bananas. Help me resolve this pet peeve of mine. Happy to be right or wrong. To clarify, the note in question is why is this story launching for this character now as opposed to why are we telling this story now.”
Craig: So, Julie Plec is the executive producer of Vampire Diaries.
John: And Roswell and other great shows. She’s been a guest on our podcast before. She’s a smart writer. So if Julie Plec, an incredibly successful showrunner, is getting hit by this note this note is endemic and can never be destroyed.
Craig: Yeah. So, I don’t like it either, because I think there are plenty of stories that just happen because they happen to happen. And that’s fun. Life is a bit random in that regard. And sometimes understanding the why now makes everything feel a bit too neat. Why is it at the top of every exec checklist? Because there is peer pressure. I think people pick stuff up and then they spread it around. It’s memetic.
John: I also feel it’s one of those questions that they don’t have to kind of defend for themselves because you’re going to give them some answer and they’re going to be like, oh, OK. But it reveals none of their cards to ask why now. Because they could love the story and they could ask why now. They could hate the story and ask why now.
But let’s separate out the two why nows, because Julie is specifically talking about in this story that’s already established why is this particular storyline happening to this character now versus why is it time to tell – why is this the time to remake Grease, for example. And so that’s a whole separate beast and that timing stuff is complicated.
The why is this happening to this character right now, you can parse it as what is it about this storyline that is particularly interesting to this character now versus what are the existing plot mechanics that are going to generate the story now. And I think as the writer hearing this if you can hit the ball back and say like this is why this storyline right now for this character is going to be so exciting based on the other things that have happened, or this is so ripe, you’re more likely to succeed than just talking about the mechanics of the show overall.
Craig: I think that executives have tropes the way that writers have tropes. So, we’ve talked about clams. Writers can say, “Oh my god, it was the date from hell,” because it requires no thought. It’s just, bloop, there it is. Done. And I think sometimes there are notes like this where if you have to say something, well, you could probably get away with that one and just, bloop, there it is. Why now. And the real answer to why now is because I said so. That’s why now. Because.
John: Because Julie Plec is the showrunner, dammit.
Craig: Because you know what? I thought people would be interested. That’s why.
John: Now, I do know that we have quite a few development executives who listen to this show. We even did an episode where we talked to a bunch of them. So, if any of them want to write in and sort of tell us their motivations behind asking the why now question, or want to promise that they won’t ask the why now question again, we would love to hear it.
Craig: Well, I don’t know if they’re going to be able to do that. But there is probably some kind of story where it feels so unmotivated that you can’t get into it, because it just seems like, you know, for instance – I understand this. A character works at a pet shop. And they are really bored. And when our story begins they go I’m so bored I’m going to rob the pet store. Well, OK, but why didn’t you rob the pet store yesterday or the day before, or month before? You’ve been there for seven years. Did something happen? I understand that one.
John: That’s a reasonable question.
Craig: Yeah. That’s reasonable. But the why now as in like, OK, but why…what’s the why now of Big Lebowski? Why is this happening to Lebowski today? Because it just did. That’s the way it goes.
John: Why did he meet the beautiful woman on the bus today versus yesterday? It’s like that’s not a reasonable question.
John: Because it happened.
Craig: Because it happened. Bingo.
John: Megana, what else do you have for us?
Megana: All right. So Cassie in LA asks, “Before last November I rarely encountered a pre-lap in a script. Now the pre-laps are everywhere. I read a script the other day with a pre-lap scene every third scene. Am I crazy for thinking this is insane? Reading wise a pre-lap tends to take me out of the story. That’s why I don’t use them. But with all the pre-laps popping up I can’t help but wonder am I missing out? Are you guys team pre-lap or team let the editor figure that stuff out? And if you are pro pre-lap how many are too many?”
John: Applause for getting through as many times as you had to say pre-lap.
John: Pre-lap. Pre-lap. And you had to ask the question without even defining what the term was first, so let’s make sure that we all are talking about the same thing. A pre-lap in film or television scripts is when a character in a scene starts talking before we’ve actually made the cut. And so like if you hear my dialogue before you actually come to me in that next scene that is a pre-lap. So it’s bleeding the dialogue across into the next scene.
Craig: Or any sound. You know, like if it’s the sound of a lawnmower and then you cut to a guy mowing a lawn.
John: Exactly. And I am team pre-lap. I believe they are sometimes a useful way to convey the feeling of what it’s going to be like to be experiencing this on a screen while reading it on the page. So, I will use a pre-lap when it is useful. I think it can be overused like any technique in screenwriting. But Craig where are you on pre-lapping?
Craig: Yeah. It’s one of the transitions. We had an episode where we walked through many, many ways to transition between scenes. Transitioning between scenes is one of the things that separates the accomplished craftsperson from the not accomplished craftsperson. And having the audio begin before we get there is one of the ways we do that.
I do it all the time. I just don’t use the word pre-lap. What I’ll say is, are you ready, “We hear, yada-yada.” And then I go, Interior, blah-blah-blah, and there it is. It’s happening. So, I use it all the time. And I would say to Cassie or to anybody, look, I understand – sometimes when people say such and such takes me out of the story and whatever the such and such isn’t story material but rather format material, I get a little squirmy in my seat. Meaning you can handle it. Just do it. You’re fine.
We’re not so precious as readers that we fall apart if we see pre-lap. If it’s a good story you can deal with it. Think of it this way. If someone handed you Raiders of the Lost Ark and it said pre-lap every third scene would you throw it out? No.
Craig: No. You work through it. But for me, I don’t tend to use any what I would call formulistic old style mechanic instructions like pre-lap or things like that. I’ll just say, I’m more impressionistic. We hear the sound of a such-and-such rise as we find ourselves in, Interior, Bathroom.
John: Yeah, but if a character started speaking before the cut would you mark them as pre-lap in their parenthetical or in their character cue?
Craig: I must admit I almost never do that. All of my pre-laps are non-dialogue.
John: So as a member of team pre-lap I will use the term pre-lap I think only when the character is speaking before the cut. And I think Cassie has likely not only seen a ton of pre-laps, but has seen a ton of bad pre-laps which is why she’s noticing them. I think a pre-lap is useful if that character’s dialogue or the sound we’re hearing has an interesting contrast with the scene that is just wrapping up. And therefore starting it early actually gives us something. Gives us a little punchline to a joke. It helps do a thing to make that transition have extra weight and extra meaning.
If it’s just there as a stylistic flourish then it’s pointless and shouldn’t be there.
Craig: I feel like we should just record something that says, “If it’s done well it’s fine.” And we have Megana read a thousand questions in a row and we just keep hitting this button.
John: We press the little button.
Craig: Yup. If it’s done well it’s fine. If it’s done well it’s fine. Yeah.
John: Megana, what else you got?
Megana: So, JW writes, “I’ve been an appreciative listener of Scriptnotes for years. Thank you both for providing so much of your personal wisdom. That said, I have to take issue with the concept that reappears on this podcast every now and then. ‘You have it or you don’t.’ While I understand that there are well meaning reasons for repeating this phrase, I believe this line of thinking borders on elitist. I also fear that it is dangerous. Someone who has a grandiose personality but is it not self-aware enough to judge their potential lack of talent might never be dissuaded from pursuing a writing career, even if they’re told point blank that they ‘don’t have it.’
“Meanwhile many talented albeit sensitive writers could take the wrong lesson from this mantra. Such writers include myself. I quit writing for two years because I was convinced that I didn’t ‘have it’ after a vicious bout of imposter syndrome that was enhanced by the ‘you have it or you don’t’ mentality. Ultimately my inner voice told me I had to go back to writing. I’ve since sold a spec feature and went on to receive steady work in recent years.
“I love you both but I feel like I must alert you to a potentially problematic mantra that I repeatedly hear make its way back to this great podcast.”
John: Well, JW, thank you for writing in with that. And also congratulations on your sale. Craig, what’s your first reaction to hearing this?
Craig: My first reaction is that “that said” is my favorite phrase in the world. I love you, I respect you, I think you’re an amazing person. That said…oh boy.
I don’t understand. That’s my response. I don’t understand this. You do have it or you don’t. And you’re proof of it. And the fact that you were confused about it doesn’t make it true or not true. I think you’re arguing for us to just hide something that’s true because some people that don’t have it will think they do, and some people that do will think they don’t. But the phrase “you have it or you don’t” is not at the root of a lack of confidence in your own writing ability.
I have it. And I feel a lack of confidence all the time. I have it just means the potential. That’s what it means. It means you have the potential to be a successful writer. You have the materials. But now you’re going to have to do a whole lot of work. You’re going to have to pick the right thing. You’re going to have to apply yourself. You’re going to have to fix it. And you’re going to have to bust through all of the limitations of being a human being to get to something that’s good that people want to make.
I think you’re just putting way too much, I don’t know, influence. It’s a fact.
John: I’m trying to balance two competing instincts here. So let me sort of talk this out. On one hand we’ve discussed before that when it comes to being a professional basketball player there are objective metrics you can look at. OK, you have the skills to be a professional basketball player or you don’t. And if someone were to say like, “No, no, keep trying, keep trying. You can make it,” when it’s clear you can’t make it is doing no one any service.
And something like writing though there are not those same objective traits. And so while Craig or I or other folks could recognize like oh that person is a really good writer, we can’t necessarily recognize like oh that writing is not good yet but maybe they’ll get better over time.
And, yet, in our experience we’ve noticed common traits of writers who never make, who never flourish, and who struggle for many years and eventually decide oh you know what I’m happier not trying to be a screenwriter. And so in making that observation I think that comes to the expression of “you have it or you don’t,” or some essential skill to writing that not every person has. And I don’t know that JW would disagree with that. I don’t think that JW – my hunch is that JW doesn’t believe that pick a hundred people off the street and anyone of them could become a screenwriter if they just applied themselves enough.
John: Maybe JW does. But I don’t think that’s where we’re getting to.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, you have it or you don’t is a tautology. Right? It is absolutely logically from an Aristotelian point of view 100% true. It’s like something is either A or not A. That is always true. So, “you have it or you don’t” is a fact. The reason we repeat is because a lot of people promote something else, which is anyone can do this if they blankety-blank-blank-blank which are saying with the repetition of this tautology is not the case.
When you say that you believe this line of thinking borders on elitist I would push back and say it is not bordering on elitist. It is elitist. It is not elitist in the sense of snobbery, cultural snobbery. It’s elitist in the sense that there are a very small amount of people that seemingly have the ability and skill and toolkit to make it through and have a movie made, or a television show produced. It’s hard to do. Just like athletes.
I mean, we have no problem saying he’s an elite athlete. But we have a problem saying he’s an elite artist? Why?
John: Well, I think here’s one difference is that we talk about the skill, opportunity, and toolkit, but also is opportunity. And also is access. There’s things – there are obstacles in the way of someone becoming a successful screenwriter that have nothing to do with that person’s talent, but actually their circumstances. And I think we’ve acknowledged that repeatedly on the show and how important it is to increase access to opportunity and access to outcomes that are there.
So JW is not really talking about sort of those problems, those sort of systemic problems. JW is talking about how repeating this idea that “you have it or you don’t” dissuaded them from pursuing for a time. Yes. And I mean sometimes congratulations on having some imposter syndrome rather than this false bravado that you couldn’t do this thing.
John: I’m really happy that things worked out for you. I’m really happy that you got past this roadblock of self-doubt. I think a thing we’ve also tried to communicate a lot over the course of this show is that successful writers have a lot of self-doubt and that it’s not just a thing that aspiring writers suddenly get over. It’s not you become successful and you suddenly have no self-doubt anymore. That’s still a part of this career.
Craig: Yeah. When it comes to people who are struggling through limited access or struggling through a system that has an inherent bias it’s even more important to acknowledge that some people have it. Let’s just talk about the positive part. That’s why we need to open access to everybody and make sure that there aren’t artificial barriers because there are so few people that have it that you don’t want to lose the people who do through nonsense and bad behavior.
David Zucker when people would ask him how do you – what’s the secret for making it – he would always say, “Quit now. You’ll never make it.” And if you refuse to believe that you’re halfway there. That was his sort of Zen, Koan kind of paradox.
You obviously were able to push through, JW, meaning you are proof positive that us saying “you have it or you don’t” doesn’t stop you from being a successful screenwriter. And I’m never going to stop saying it. [laughs] Ever. In fact, I’m going to say it twice as often, just because I’m cranky.
John: And I would also encourage JW that whatever lessons you’ve learned, whatever helped you get through that, share that. Because other people might take inspiration from your example. But also remember that you are one example of the situation. And there’s a survivorship bias that is inherent to like, well, because I made it therefore anyone else can do what I just did. And that’s not reality. That’s just not how it goes. And so when we talk about sort of like the many hundreds of people we’ve encountered through our careers and the patterns we’ve recognized, that’s what we’re talking about.
Craig: Correct. That’s a great point. Great point.
John: All right, Megana, thank you for these questions.
Craig: Thanks Megana.
Megana: Thank you guys. Bye.
John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a game I actually texted to Craig because I thought he would enjoy it and I think he enjoyed it.
Craig: Loved it.
John: It’s called Kitty Letter and it’s by the Oatmeal, Matthew Inman, and the folks behind Exploding Kittens. It is a delightful little word puzzle where you’re trying to form as many words as possible while your opponent is trying to form words off the same tile set. It is just so specific to Matthew’s sense of humor and sort of how it all works.
I like that he coded it largely himself because it feels like a kind of thing I would do. I just really enjoyed it. It’s become a great little game to play when I have five minutes when I’m waiting for a call. So I really recommend Kitty Letter. It’s available for iOS and for Android.
Craig: Yeah. It was great. Matt did a terrific job. And it is so finger printed to him. No surprise it involved cats that explode. And also very odd-looking cartoon people with very dramatic expression and explosions of anger and joy. And it has a lovely – there’s a single-player adventure part that you can go through, like story mode, and it has a lovely ending. It was just great. I played it all straight through in like an hour. I loved it.
Well, my One Cool Thing is also a game, also for iOS, and possibly Google/Android, but I don’t care, called Inked. I don’t know if you’ve seen this. It’s pretty well-promoted.
John: The trailer is beautiful.
Craig: Yeah. It’s really, so I mean I think the real value of this game is in fact the aesthetic of it. In and of itself it’s not something we haven’t seen before. It is a platform puzzler I guess you would call it where you are moving through a space and you need to manipulate certain objects in order to get through this space or move some objects where they have to go, so you have ramps and things like that.
And so the controls are very touch-based. You’re not running around or dodging or ducking or anything like that. But what makes it really run to play and look at is that the entire thing is done as ballpoint pen sketches. That kind of classic blue-lined look. And they just got it. I mean, they just nailed it. Maybe it’s fountain pen look. I don’t know. But it’s really beautiful to look at. And it is fun to play. So, check out Inked on iOS.
John: Fantastic. And that is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro is by Daniel Green. Hey Dan.
If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send the longer questions like the ones we answered on the show today. For short questions on Twitter you can find me @johnaugust.
We have t-shirts and they are great. You can find them at Cotton Bureau.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts and sign up for the weekly-ish newsletter we make called Inneresting which has links to things about writing.
You can sign up to become a premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and the bonus segments like the one we’re about to record on where we would dream about going to vacations in our post-pandemic wonderful life.
Craig, thank you for helping solve the mystery of the Case of the Fatherless Child.
Craig: Case of the Devoured Twin.
John: If I had said the devoured twin, if that was the title it really would have spoiled it, wouldn’t it?
Craig: It would have given it away.
John: It would have given it all away. Most of mystery is about finding the right title. That’s what I’ve learned today.
Craig: The butler did it.
John: Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thanks John.
John: All right. It is time for our bonus segment. This suggestion came from our premium listener Andrea, or maybe Andrea. She’s from the UK, London. So she may pronounce it Andrea. Who knows? She asks, “After this is all over, what countries, cities, or other types of locations would you most want to travel to that you’ve never traveled to before? And why?”
Craig, what’s on your list, your bucket list for travel in a post-pandemic world?
Craig: Well, I’m an interesting person to ask this question of because I don’t necessarily have a lot of wanderlust. I’m very much a homebody.
But the other day I was talking about the fact that I’ve never been to Tokyo.
John: So good.
Craig: And I’ve never been to Seoul. And I thought I could do like a Japan/Korea combo trip.
John: And as you recall that’s where I was last January. So when we brought Covid back to the US – oh shoot, I wasn’t supposed to say that.
Craig: Yup. It was you.
John: We were in Korea for Big Fish and then we were in Northern Japan skiing with a bunch of Chinese skiers.
Craig: I think I would probably – that sounds like fun. Now, I say that and then cut to miserable jetlag and I’ll be cursing everything. But I think that that sounds like a good plan. And I do probably my very first trip regardless no matter what is going to be London because our whole Chernobyl was intending to have a bit of a reunion around the BAFTAs. But the BAFTAs were obviously not held in person and so we did not have that opportunity. And so I’m hoping that maybe by the time it’s like Christmas/New Year’s we might be able to have that London reunion. Because I miss those folks.
John: Our plans for last spring break were to go back to Paris to visit all our friends in Paris, because longtime listeners of the podcast know I used to live in Paris. And it would be our first time back to visit our friends there for quite a long time. So we had actually rented the same apartment we used to live in. And we were very excited to go back and just have our Paris life back for ten days. And then of course the pandemic shut down everything there.
So, Paris is definitely the first place I need to go once the world opens up again. That’s just a high priority and I can’t wait to get back there. But I would say there have been a lot of other places that were on the list that were like oh eventually we need to get to that place. And I feel an increased urgency just because the pandemic shut this down this one time. Who knows what’s going to stand in the way of future trips.
So I definitely want to go to New Zealand. We have Paris friends who live there now so I want to go and visit them. New Zealand just seems like a wonderland that doesn’t have Covid. Iceland, always high on the priority list. But then even places that are kind of always going to be there but I just feel a new urgency to get to is like Machu Picchu and other sort of great historic sites around the world. I want to get there before the next thing happens that keeps me from going there.
Craig: Yeah. I never thought about the next thing.
John: Yeah, but even if it’s not a thing that shuts down the world, we’re of an age where bad stuff can happen. And suddenly it becomes impossible for us to travel someplace.
Craig: Oh right. I get what you’re saying. Like suddenly just your knee.
John: Just your knee. Or mortality.
John: So this week one of the things I needed to do was – so my mom passed away December 5, and it turned out her name was already engraved on the headstone and her birthday was there but I needed to add her date of death. And so I was calling the cemetery to do this and it cost $425 if people are curious about what that is.
But a site I found which was so remarkable and how I knew what still needed to be done is somebody had gone through and photographed all of the headstones in this cemetery where my father is buried, or where my mom is going to be buried. And so I could just look up and I could actually see a photo of my dad’s tombstone, which was just awesome. There’s a service that just does all of this. Or there’s a website that keeps them on. I think it was just a volunteer who takes all the photos.
And so I was looking there and I realized my father was only 60 when he died. And in my head he was like much older than that. And it really brought a sense of – the realization of the shortness of life at times. Because he died when I was pretty young. And so I always think of him as being old when he died, but he really wasn’t that old.
Craig: Well, he was. It’s just so are you.
John: He’s not that old, because I’m not that old. That’s what I’m saying, Craig.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, when my dad died last year I definitely felt older. I mean, I think I said as much on the show. The buffer between you and the great beyond has been removed. You’re next.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: I’m the next Mazin man to die.
John: There’s no generation, yeah. If you were to die before your father that would be a great tragedy, but if you were to die after your father it’s like, oh, this is just what happens.
Craig: It’s about how it should work.
John: But happier topics, like imagining a post-pandemic life seems much more possible and plausible now than even a month ago. It’s surprising how quickly spring has come in a sense of this global disaster.
Craig: Yeah. I do feel like things – I mean, statistically the last couple of weeks have been remarkably good. It’s hard to say that when people are still dying, but relatively speaking the transmission rate and the hospitalization rate have plummeted, particularly here in LA County. Obviously plummeting from quite a steep rise that we experienced over the winter.
There is an acceleration of vaccinations. I think they said something like 50 or 60% of Americans over 65 have now been vaccinated or something. It’s like a really big number.
John: Yeah. It’s a crazy number.
Craig: And they have been saying that unfortunately because generally sucked at being good pandemic practitioners the infection rates were so high in the United States that we have started to also creep up on herd immunity just because of infections. So in LA County there is one estimate that half of all people in LA County were infected by Covid.
John: That seems too high to me and yet also it was just terrible here. So I could see both sides of that. I would say personally I am – and as a family – we are not sort of letting down our guard at all at this point. At some ways seeing that the end is near has strengthened our resolve to like–
John: –not get during this time.
Craig: Yeah. It’s the short timer syndrome. The guys who were in war, they always say the most scared they are is right before their last three days. Because people do unfortunately catch it right there at the end. So, like you we are sticking to the plan and wearing the masks and social distancing and all that stuff. But, man, I cannot wait to get that jab in my arm.
John: I’m very excited for it.
Craig: I’m ready.
John: And it’ll be good when it happens.
John: I would also say we’re starting to make some summer plans. Are they plans which we could cancel if we needed to cancel? Sure. But we are actually putting down deposits on some things just because that’s what you do. And you sort of recognize that you have to not just prepare for the worst but prepare for pretty good as well.
Craig: Yeah. I think that that makes total sense. We are, too. I think we’re presuming that Jessie is going to be able to go to a summer program of some sort or another. Obviously last summer all the camps and things were canceled. And, you know, look, I’m preparing to produce a television show.
Craig: Obviously there are ways to mitigate production. Testing everybody constantly. But, you know, we’re hopeful that not only will we be able to get through with good testing and practice, but also that no one will get sick. And that’s really the goal.
John: I would say one of my biggest surprises is that so much production was able to figure out a way to happen. You and I have friends who have been in production kind of this whole time. And one just wrapped a show and managed to get through without any infections or anything shutting down. Others have been on and off and on and off because of it, but they’re still shooting, which is a great testament to the hard work and skill of a bunch of people doing it. And in some cases luck.
Craig: In some cases luck. But I do think that they landed on good systems. And once tests were plentiful, I mean that really was the key. That’s where we just ate it as a country. Our lack of testing capacity killed us. Literally killed us.
John: Yeah. I’m also kind of hopeful that – will there be another pandemic in our lifetimes? Probably? It’s just probably going to happen. Will we be much better set up for it?
John: Yeah. We actually recognize that it’s a real genuine threat and we can shut stuff down quickly and surgically and just be much better ready to deal with it.
Craig: I was actually thinking about this the other day. That the next pandemic everyone will just put on a mask, including all the people that were belly-aching about the masks during Covid. Because at this point they’ve sunk that cost in. Like they’re the bellyacher. They just can’t admit it at this point. They can’t start wearing a mask now. It’s too late for them. They’ve said too much dumb crap on Facebook. But the next one? They’ll stick a mask on.
John: And so, yes, it turned out that wearing a mask was much more important than washing your hands, but the next time I’m going to wash my hands, I’m going to stay at home, I’m going to put on a mask. I’m going to do all the things until they tell me I don’t have to do some of the things. I’m going to do all of the things.
Craig: Yup. I’ll do all the things. Because, you know, I don’t want to suffer.
John: Yup. I want to live.
Craig: I want to live.
John: Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thanks John.
- Download Weekend Read to read the ‘Awards 2021’ scripts
- Lying: Moral Choices in Public and Private Life by Sissela Bok
- Julie Plec on Twitter
- Kitty Letter Game
- Inked Game
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- Gift a Scriptnotes Subscription or treat yourself to a premium subscription!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Daniel Green (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the episode here.