Underground Railroad of Love

Scriptnotes: Ep. 293
Play

Special guest Irene Turner joins Craig and John for a new round of “How Would This Be a Movie?”

In this episode, we look at Jake Halpern’s article on Canada-bound refugees, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s moving personal ad for her husband, and the porn-filled saga of Prenda Law.

Irene’s latest film, The Most Hated Woman in America, debuts March 24th on Netflix.

Stay tuned after the closing credits for a bonus segment from the new rom-com podcast You Had Us at Hello by Tess Morris and Billy Mernit.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.


We’ve had enough of these freeloading lottery winners

The American Health Care Act is only 122 pages long. It’s so short that White House spokesman Sean Spicer gave us yet another meme when he compared two stacks of paper to show how lean it was.

Clearly, this is a tight and focused document. No cruft, no useless bureaucratic nonsense.

Except for the six pages about lottery winners and whether they are eligible for Medicaid.

No, really. You can download the full thing and check it out for yourself.

This bill is bad news for nearly everyone but the very rich. So why does the lottery winner section bother me so much?

I think it’s because it so clearly shows the Republican animus towards the poor. It’s another chapter in the fiction of “makers versus takers” and “welfare queens.”

I’m certainly no fan of lotteries. I think they’re a way of shifting state expenses onto citizens who can least afford to pay for them.

But targeting lottery winners for special scrutiny is ridiculous scapegoating. It’s ginning up a problem that seems easy to solve, rather than actually addressing health care in America.


#Trypod reviewsday

In the spirit of #trypod, my reviews this week are all podcasts I started listening to this year.

The goal of #trypod is to help the podcast-unaware by literally taking their phones, installing a podcast app, and subscribing them to something they’ll like.

Here are some good choices:

Science Vs.
Host Wendy Zukerman tackles one topic each week (Acne, Climate Change, Immigration) and sorts the facts from the fiction. It’s delightfully written and produced, and would make a great first podcast for someone transitioning over from NPR-style shows.

Missing Richard Simmons
A great podcast for people who’ve only listened to Serial. Host Dan Tabersky tries to figure out why Richard Simmons has disappeared from public life. Smartly plotted and emotionally generous.

Do By Friday
Each week, hosts Merlin Mann, Alex Cox and Max Temkin face a different challenge, from meditating to watching Les Mis. Episodes wander very far afield from their stated topics, making it much more of a hangout show. That’s either your taste or it’s not.

Pod Save America
A weekly politics podcast hosted by Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor. They’re liberal wonks and speechwriters, not journalists, so it’s interesting hearing their unfiltered take on our chaotic democracy.

I’m also leaving these reviews on iTunes. The reason you always hear podcast hosts pleading for reviews is that it affects the popularity algorithms, increasing exposure.


The reality of quote-unquote health insurance

Small business owners are often lionized by politicians as job creators. Innovators. Real Americans.

I don’t usually think of myself as a small business owner, but that’s what I am. My company (Quote-Unquote Apps) makes software for Mac and iOS. I oversee three full-time employees.

After salaries, health insurance is our single biggest expense. It costs more than the servers. It costs more than the App Store’s 30% cut. It’s a lot.

In fact, most months, the amount we pay for health insurance is the difference between our being borderline profitable and genuinely profitable.

An outside consultant might look at our books and say, “Man, you need to do something about those costs.”

They’d be correct.

The way health insurance works in the U.S. is maddening and unsustainable, both for individuals and small businesses.

The way it is now

I have two very different experiences with health insurance.

As a screenwriter, I get my insurance through the Writers Guild. It’s considered a “Cadillac” plan, which seems an appropriate moniker: pretty nice, but not something I would necessarily pick out myself. I don’t pay for it directly. When a studio hires me to write something, they are required to kick a percentage of that fee into the health fund.

So while I’m on my union plan, Quote-Unquote’s health insurance covers my three full-time employees: a designer, a coder, and my assistant.

I honestly don’t know the laws about whether a company our size is required to pay for health insurance. But as a practical matter, I can’t imagine having an uninsured full-time employee.

They’re not just co-workers; they’re nearly family. I care about their safety and well-being. If a medical crisis were to befall one of them, I’d feel morally compelled to help them pay the bills, just as I would for a sibling.1

So they definitely need health insurance. It’s not a question of whether, but how.

We originally had a small company plan, but with the dawn of the Affordable Care Act, it made more sense for employees to pick their own plans on the exchanges.

This shift came with some pros and cons:

PROS:
– The plans are slightly cheaper, mostly because the employees are fairly young.
– The plans are portable. When they stop working for me, they can keep their plans.

CONS:
– Employees have to research plans every year.
– Reimbursing employees for health insurance counts as taxable income.

Bring-your-own-insurance has given employees more choices and more responsibility, but I’m not convinced it’s a better experience overall. Because here’s the thing:

You shouldn’t have to think much about health insurance.

With my Writers Guild plan, I don’t have any choices. There’s no better or worse WGA insurance. It just is. As a union, we can negotiate on coverage and co-pays, but it’s not up to me as an individual to tailor a plan. I can make decisions about whether to see a doctor who is inside or outside the network, but that’s about it.

For my employees buying through the exchange, there’s no limit to the time they can expend comparing plans and choices.

While the ACA requires insurance companies to offer similar plans, there are always factors beyond the checklists. Some companies have better reputations. Others have larger networks. Every choice has trade-offs, and each employee has to decide what makes the most sense.

But the choice itself has a cost, too. It’s time you’re not spending doing your job. It’s mental energy burned and frustration and worry. It’s a tax on productivity.

The way it’s headed

Defending the GOP’s new American Health Care Act, Paul Ryan argues that his plan “is about giving people more choices and better access to a plan they want and can afford.”

For the poor, the gap betwen a plan they want and can afford seems to be alarmingly vast.

But even for better-off Americans like my employees, Ryan fundamentally misunderstands the reality of getting health insurance.

People don’t want “more choices.” The problem isn’t a lack of choices. It’s a lack of affordable quality health care.

People don’t want “better access to a plan.” They want better access to health care.

“More choices” is the kind of markets-fix-everything logic you hear from people who are already on Congress’s Cadillac plan. Paul Ryan doesn’t have to pick health insurance on the market. Like my WGA insurance, his simply comes with his job.

I don’t know whether the GOP’s plan or something like it will pass. It’s obviously flawed and widely despised, yet that seems to be the hot new trend these days.

As a small business owner, I’m determined to keep my employees covered with health insurance one way or another. Still, I’m convinced that we’re doing it wrong as a nation.

Health care shouldn’t be tied to your job at all. Whether you’re a screenwriter, a Congressman or a preschool teacher, your employer should be paying your salary, not determining which doctors you’re allowed to see. Our current system is a relic of an older age. We’re an aberration among world economies.

As both an employer and an American, I don’t want more choices, more freedom, more flexibility in health insurance. I want health care. I want there to be one imperfect plan that simply works, and to hold our elected officials responsible for its continual improvement.

  1. Paul Ryan would probably say that this is paternalistic, which is a way of dismissing guilt when it’s inconvenient.

Question Time

Scriptnotes: Ep. 292
Play

John and Craig answer listener questions about credits and casting, pilots and professional experience. Does Tom Ford really need his name on the poster twice? Kinda. It’s complicated.

The live show with Rian Johnson has been postponed, likely to April. We’ll keep you posted.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 3-16-17: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


Pour one out for “Hold my beer”

Here’s a delightful structure of Twitter joke that is getting awfully clammy:

I haven’t done meaningful forensics on “hold my beer,” but my best guess is that the phrase was originally used as setup rather than punchline.

That’s how the Twitter account @HoldThisBeer uses it:

Similarly, this BuzzFeed article from 2014 uses “hold my beer” as context for foolhardy fails. That’s also how you see it used on r/holdmybeer.

In this format, “hold my beer” is the frame, not the art.

But it’s as a punchline that “hold my beer” really comes into its own.

Here’s the generic structure:

SPEAKER A: There’s no way to top this outrageous thing I said or did. SPEAKER B: Hold my beer.

Since it’s destined to die from overuse, let’s look into how it works.

Speaker A has to be well-known — at least to the target audience. If we don’t recognize the name, the rest of the joke won’t make sense. In some cases, a headline takes the place of Speaker A.

The thing Speaker A did or said needs to be plausible, with bonus points for recent. There can’t be anything strained about the setup.

Speaker B needs to be recognizable. As with Speaker A, the joke only works if you know who Speaker B is. Either the speaker is already famous, or is temporarily famous because of recent events. The speaker can also be the tweeter:

Speaker B either just did something foolish, or can be imagined doing something foolish. To me, this is one of the most interesting aspects of this structure: it works both speculatively or retroactively. But like all things Twitter, the time horizon is very short. It’s hard to imagine the joke working more than a day or two after the inciting event.

When you encounter failed “hold my beer” tweets — and trust me, I found a lot of them — it’s usually because the writer missed one of these four important aspects.

Life after beer

The carcass of a dead meme can provide home for other jokes that subvert the expected payoff:

And it’s worth paying attention to the variant forms that continue to chug along, such as “hold my drink” and “hold my earrings.”

In the end, I think “hold my beer” has been a great joke structure for a time that feels bonkers. Every day as we scroll through Twitter, we silently ask ourselves, “Wow, could it get any crazier?”

Hold my beer.