You can find the original post for this episode here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Well, my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 428 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast we’re going to be talking about best practices for assistants who write and also the state of WGA negotiations on both the studio and agency front. Plus in a bonus segment we will make our final ruling on cats.
Craig: Which is what everyone has been waiting for for 420 some odd hours.
John: Yeah. Craig has opinions on cats and so I cannot wait to get into what those opinions might be.
Craig: Mmm. They’re hard. Hard opinions.
John: They are fixed opinions on cats.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: All right. Some follow up. We have a live show coming up. It’s December 12. We have amazing guests. Craig, remind us who the guests are.
Craig: We have Kevin Feige, who is the mastermind of all things Marvel. He is in many ways probably one of the top five most powerful people in our entire business. Lorene Scafaria, who is our longtime friend, writer-director of Hustlers, and charter member of the Fempire. We have Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman who are the co-creators, co-writers, and co-stars of This Close on the Sundance Channel I believe. They are fantastic. And it’s a live show. A little bit of a twist. Both of them are deaf, so we’re going to have something we’ve never done before at a live show. We’re going to have multiple interpreters so that they can essentially be signed what we’re saying and what the audience is saying and reactions. And then someone else can interpret their signs for those of us who hear.
So that’s going to be interesting. We don’t have anything else I think for that show, but how much more do we need? I will say it is selling out rapidly. We’re already pretty close to sold out, which is not surprising.
John: No, not a bit surprising. Also at this live show we will be providing details on the new premium feed which Craig just minutes ago tested out. So, that will be exciting to share. We’ll share what happens.
Craig: It works. It definitely works. No, you guys want to totally come to this. I mean, come on. Come on!
John: Come on!
Craig: Come on!
John: So we are recording this on a Friday. On Sunday, so after we recorded this but before you hear this episode we will have the town hall on assistants. So this is a thing that I’m going to be participating in where we gather together a bunch of assistants and we talk through issues that assistants are dealing with. Obviously we’ve talked a lot about this on the show. But that will be a chance to get a bunch of people in a room to talk through those things. So I hope it went great. There was theoretically a livestream. We’ll see how that goes.
There was theoretically audio recorded, so if it’s useful we’ll put that in this feed. If it’s not then we won’t. But I’m looking forward to that conversation/I enjoyed that conversation.
Craig: Well, I’m sorry I can’t be there. But I’m sort of now rooting for some kind of riot just because I think it would be amazing to watch. I can say – I can’t really get into specifics – but I have been talking to some people. And things are happening. There are legitimate discussions happening, both from a – how would I put it – a kind of perspective we are going to change the way we are doing things point of view. And there are also interesting things happening where what I’m hearing from individual people is that when it’s time to hire assistants HR and business affairs, their attitudes have changed literally within the last month. Word is getting out.
John: Word is definitely getting out. I’ve had a lot of those same kinds of conversations that you’ve had with employers and other folks involved with these decisions. So hopefully as we roll into 2020 some progress will be made. But I believe some of that progress will happen at the top, a lot more of that progress will happen at the bottom. A thing I’m always reminding myself is that the assistants who are sort of leading this conversation right now will grow up to be the people who are running this town.
So, if nothing else were to change, the fact that they are focused on now means that as they become ensconced in these positions of power they will have a perspective on sort of what is appropriate for assistants.
Craig: Or, they will abandon their principles.
Craig: And turn evil.
John: Yeah. Let’s hope not.
Craig: Yeah, no, of course. We don’t want that. But if there’s one thing literature has taught us is that people can go bad.
John: People can go bad. While we’re talking about assistants, we have had a lot of discussions on different areas in assistant-dom and we really are trying to scope this out to not just be about assistants working in the TV writing space, but assistants overall in the entertainment industry. So anyone who is on a desk, working on a job in order to get that next job, that’s who we’re sort of looking at for these assistant discussions.
But there are some emails that have come in that are very specific to the writer assistant life. And so I wanted to focus on those today. I asked Megana to find some emails that really spoke to this and as always she is going to be our voice to the assistants. So let’s start with an email that Megana is reading.
Megana Rao: Peter writes, “Here’s one aspect that I haven’t heard you guys discuss yet. Assistants taking on writing duties. I just wrote my second outline for the show I’m an assistant on. Two other assistants have also written outlines. I get the impression that some feel as though this is the sort of thing that assistants do to prove themselves as ideal candidates for a promotion to the writing staff. And it’s one of those things that some people would say, ‘I’d kill for the chance to do that.’ I understand that. And I understand that I’m fortunate to be in the position that I’m in.
“But the point of view changes when day in and day out you’re the first one in and the last one to leave. You make minimum wage. And if you’re lucky you somehow negotiated a 60-hour guarantee. So once you’re done doing the full day of the non-creative, behind the scenes, keep the machine running duties, and you’re then asked to go home with the notes and write the outline that night, you can’t help but feel shortchanged just a little bit.
“One way to make it better? Maybe through us a story credit or something. I’d be happier being known for the creative contribution, to be able to say I contributed to the process. I’m here because I want to be a writer.”
John: Craig, what’s your first reaction to Peter’s email?
Craig: Oh Peter, OK, so look. This is not me saying that you’re being treated well, nor is it me saying that you’re not being treated unfairly. However, we have to be really clear about what writing is and what writing isn’t. And we’re going to see in another letter or some input from another person that there are cases where writers are really being ripped off here when it comes to credit. I’m not sure this is one of them.
When you are given notes or you’re told to take notes and then put them into an outline order, I don’t know if that really is a story-creditable thing. Story credit is for the creation of a story. It is not for the organization of other people’s notes or thoughts into a format. There are times when it can be contribute-able. If you’re given a bunch of notes and you’re told make this into a story outline, even though there isn’t enough here for a story outline, and you have to create elements within, yes, then you are creating and you’re writing.
If you’re given the outline and you’re told to put it in prose format out of notes and bullet point into prose, I’m not sure that is something that is creditable as story credit. Our writing credits must be protected very, very carefully. If we dilute them we dilute them for all of us forever.
So, yes, I understand that you feel shortchanged by this. And really what I suspect, Peter, and I could be wrong, is that if you were paid reasonably well, that is to say not minimum wage, and you do have a 60-hour guarantee instead of what you’re getting which is 40 hours to work 60 hours, and if you’re not working all day long and all night long for people who don’t seem to appreciate you then this would be OK. The solution is not to water down the meaning of a story credit. The solution is to pay you fairly and to treat you well.
John: Absolutely. A thing that is so challenging about – especially this writer assistant who is in the room who part of their job is to take what’s on the whiteboard and put it on paper, to take the notes that are spoken in the room and put it on paper, that is a very challenging job. It’s not quite writing. And that’s what we’re trying to distinguish, like writing from what that sort of transcribing job is.
What I do want to make sure we don’t overlook in Peter’s email here is that he’s basically doing all this work during the day and then they say, “OK, and when you go home write this up as a thing.” That is beyond your 60 hours. Now when you go home, this is your homework.
John: And that’s not cool at all. That’s not legit. So, if this is part of your job, it needs to happen during your job time, or you need to be getting overtime for that at home work they’re putting on you. Because if they sent the writer home to do that, well, that’s kind of part of the job. But this is not part of your job, so therefore you shouldn’t have to be doing this work at home.
Craig: Totally. Now, we have an interesting version of the same issue but different enough that I think my response is different. I’m kind of curious about yours. It’s from Paul.
Megana: Paul wrote, “One my previous show at one of the big streamers the episodic scripts were ‘group written.’ That meant scenes were split up amongst all writers and then compiled into a sort of Franken-draft. Though I had broached the idea of perhaps getting a half a script on this show that ask was rebuffed, which wasn’t a big deal because I had expected that response.
“However, when one of the episodes rolled around I was assigned roughly half of the scenes. This meant I wrote about 30 pages of the script’s first draft, which was about 56 pages in total. No credit was offered and by this point I knew better than to ask. This showrunner had made a point of telling the support staff that the way we needed to show that we cared and were invested was by asking and looking for extra work to take on for free. Writing scenes seemed to fall under that umbrella. And I’ve heard he’s continued to run his room this way.”
John: Great. So here he is writing scenes. Writing scenes is writing-writing. And so that is – we’ve crossed this boundary between like these are notes, kind of a vague outline, to OK if you’re actually writing scenes then you are writing scenes in a show.
Now, I’ve talked to friends who are on shows that are kind of group written, where everyone just picks a scene, they paste it all together into a Frankenstein script, and they kind of rotate among the writers on staff who gets credit for it, because basically everyone has been writing on everything.
Here’s the challenge. The role of the union, like the Writers Guild, is to define who does certain jobs. And if you are doing that job of actually writing-writing and you’re not a member of that union that is a problem. There’s a reason why the WGA exists is to protect that job so that not everyone does that job. That said, I am fully mindful of the fact that you are probably aspiring to do that job. And so I want to have a discussion about what are the best ways to let you get some experience actually doing the job you’re trying to do while not getting abused by this system. Craig, your thoughts?
Craig: I completely. I don’t quite understand, Paul, what your, well, I think I do understand what your showrunner is doing here. You say, “Hey, how about throwing me half a script? I can draft up half a script, maybe I’ll do it with another assistant, or maybe one of the writers could mentor me and we can co-write a script together and in this way I can actually be hired as a writer and get paid a minimum thing to write a script.”
Now, the showrunner says, “No. No, no.” Which is fine. They’re allowed to say that. I mean, they have a fixed budget for writing. They have other writers to handle who may not want to share credit with you. They may want to get their own piece of credit. Paying you may not be something as easily done as waving a wand because it has to go through a whole thing. And then you’ve got to join the union. And by the way they’re going to charge you your dues. And there goes that money.
Regardless, what happens is they do it anyway. And this is where I get angry on your behalf. Because as you say one of the episodes rolled around. You were assigned roughly half of the scenes. OK. That’s it. You’re hired as a writer. Now, they can’t hire you as a writer without hiring you as a writer. That’s just wrong. And they can say, “Hey, look, we are giving him a shot that nobody else would give him and this is how we find out if he can write or not.” Absolutely not.
No. You know how you can find out if he writes or not? The same way you found out everybody else can write. Ask to read one of his original scripts. There. Now you know. He can write or he can’t. No, that’s just, eh, let’s just get this guy to do free work for us on our show and give him no credit for it because we don’t want to hire him as a writer. We don’t want to go through business affairs. We don’t want to pay him his P&A and all the rest of it. Well, you know, I just think that’s wrong. And I think that for my fellow writers who are in positions to hire other writers, hire them or don’t. And if you feel like being generous and giving somebody an opportunity, do it the right way. If they fail they fail. But at least you weren’t exploiting them.
John: I do feel like there’s an opportunity to support that writer without giving him or her full scenes, or like this is all yours to do. And that probably does involve pairing them up with someone who is actually on the writing staff to figure out how they’re going to approach this thing. And if I were an aspiring TV writer I would love that opportunity to prove myself and to sort of go in there and do that work.
But at the point where you are assigned material responsibility for writing scenes that are supposed to be in the actual script itself that does feel like you’ve crossed a line there. And that just doesn’t good or cool or right.
So essentially if you are shadowing the person who is assigned those scenes, that I’m OK with. I don’t know if the union is OK with it, but that feels like the kind of thing which is what you want this writer assistant to have the ability to learn how to do. Beyond that, like you I’m concerned.
Craig: Yeah. No question.
John: Now, these conversations have been about TV writing which is where I expected most of this to happen, but we got an email that was about feature writing. Let’s take a listen to that.
Megana: Leslie reached out with an example from working on a feature. “I worked as a writer’s assistant for a studio feature film. I was kept on even after the writer’s room wrapped and ended up working on set throughout production and post in a writing and creative producing capacity. I was frequently asked to write scenes or ‘turn our notes into scenes.’ Often I was the only person who actually possessed the Final Draft file of the script so I was responsible for all of the writing changes anyways. Sometimes the writing was very tightly based on notes, and other times they’d leave a lot of room for me to actually write the scene.
“Because of all of this I asked if I could be credited in some way. I was told I could have a consulting credit, or essentially some type of staff writing credit. However, about a year later as they were actually finalizing credits I was informed they could not give me this credit officially, but that I was welcome to use it on my resume.”
John: Craig, talk to us about Leslie and the situation she finds herself in.
Craig: Well, this nightmare is the result of these feature rooms, which I hate. I just won’t do them. And they come up every now and again and I always very politely, because it is polite, I’m not angry about their existence. I just personally cannot reconcile the job of writing a feature, which I feel is an individual authorial act, with being in a room with a whole bunch of people, which feels like something that is more about episodic television where you’re not being authorial to a specific closed-end narrative but rather churning an ongoing hopefully endless narrative. So here we have one of these films that have these rooms. So it’s not being written by a writer. It’s being run like a big old TV show.
And it seems like here once again Leslie is in the same spot Peter is in. It’s not here’s a bunch of notes, please put them in outline format, meaning organize them and turn the bullet points into prose. This is turn the notes into scenes. She’s being asked to write scenes. At this point I have to say not only is she being abused and exploited and treated unfairly, but the writers who are asking her to write scenes are literally ripping off the studio. Because the studio didn’t hire Leslie to write those scenes for that movie. They hired those writers to write the scenes for this movie.
And this is where they make us all look bad. They really, really do. I find this behavior reprehensible. I do. You don’t want to feel like you’re always angry at your own people, but you know when your people screw up you feel it more. You just do, because you’re embarrassed. This is embarrassing to read. And then even worse, when Leslie says, “Hey, can I be credited in some way,” they tell her you can have a consulting credit, which doesn’t exist. The Writers Guild will not allow those for the reason that people would hand them out like candy. Or essentially some type of staff writing credit, which does not exist in feature films.
John: There’s no such feature credit.
Craig: So they either were lying to her, or literally just didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. Either way, either way, this is just wrong. Really just disappointed to hear this.
John: Now, I’ve not been involved in one of these feature room situations. But reading Leslie’s letter got me thinking back to some movies I’ve been on that have had so many writers back to back, where like a writer is on for a week, a writer is on for a week, a writer is on for a week, that essentially there was always an assistant who was kind of the keeper of the script, who was the person who was like making it all make sense. And I’m thinking of one specific example where she ended up becoming a really great writer herself and god bless her.
So there are situations where there is a person who is responsible for sort of keeping the script kind of intact and ends up doing – I mean, I’m trying to distinguish the clerical work of getting those scenes in there and actually making Final Draft make sense and sort of the weird production stuff from the writing-writing. And I do feel sometimes a person in that position ends up kind of doing the writing because they’re making the editorial choices about what’s actually going to make it in and what’s not going to make it in. Or situations where like you’ve described being on a set where you run through the scene, this is not working. You and the director and maybe an actor figure out what’s going to happen. And then you, Craig Mazin, talk about your kit and how you sort of get those pages up and right.
We all know of movies where the person who ends up actually typing up that scene is not really a writer-writer, but is basically the person who is putting down on paper what the actor and director and whoever else figured out what was going to be the scene that we’re going to shoot in an hour.
John: And that’s not really writing, but it’s frustratingly all confusing.
Craig: There is script coordination. And somebody who is figuring out how to fit everything into one master document and making sure the revision levels are accurate and the scene numbers stay correct. That is a job. It’s not writing. But it is a job. Somebody who is taking dictation and typing things down into script format, it’s not writing, but it is a job.
Now, I tend to – not tend to – insist really on being the sole person who does that. I like being my own script coordinator. I maintain the files. I handle the revisions levels. I do all that stuff because, well, I trust myself to do it. And I don’t like handing my baby over to anybody else.
The thought of somebody making editorial decisions in a coordinator position is terrifying to me. I mean, that’s our job. And whoever is in charge of that movie, theoretically the producer, if the producer has lost that kind of level of supervision over the creation of this stuff then I don’t even know what to say. This is just shocking to me.
So, yeah. You know, I think that when it comes to features we should be in charge of doing our jobs for god’s sakes. Look how every other union is.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: I mean, go ahead and try to move a C-stand on a set.
Craig: But apparently we like it. Apparently there are some writers who enjoy other people just sort of casually writing and not receiving credit or payment or acknowledgment. It just makes no sense.
John: Now, if some of these examples had murky aspects to them, I think this one is the least murky of them all. Let’s take a listen to our fourth and final letter that we’ll look at today.
Megana: Derek writes, “My first big break was as a writer’s assistant for a dramedy. It was a mini-room with only four writers, two creators, and one sort of showrunner. There were also two non-writing producers who would sit in on the room sometimes and consult. Since the room was so small they were really open to my pitches, which was great. I offered a lot of story and dialogue ideas and I felt like my contributions where welcome.
“When it came time to write the final episode of the season the two creators offered me the opportunity to do the first draft. This was partly because they liked and trusted me, but also because they were focused on revising other episodes and time was running out. I was thrilled to have the opportunity and didn’t want to mess it up by negotiating the details. There was also the very real issue of time pressure.
“I was offered the script in the morning and literally had to start writing that night after the room broke. There also wasn’t a formal outline for the episode, so I was working off of basically a paragraph of ideas. I wrote the entire episode in two evenings after working as a writer’s assistant in the room during the days. I delivered the script to the room and the other writers really liked it. They put their own polish on some of the dialogue and then we passed it onto the studio and network where it was received positively.
“After the whirlwind died down I decided to focus on how to get credit for my work. I talked to the show-runner who was very supportive of me, but didn’t think it likely that the creators would willingly share credit. She also didn’t feel like she had the social capital to throw her weight behind me.
“The episode aired a month ago with large chunks of my original draft intact. I had crafted entire scenes that made it all the way to my television screen, but no one would ever know.”
Craig: OK, John, well how are you going to handle this thorny, well-balanced moral conundrum?
John: Yeah. I want to go through here with a highlighter and sort of mark like problematic, problematic, problematic. Let’s start from the beginning. A writer’s assistant for a dramedy. It’s a mini-room with only four writers, two creators, and one sort of show-runner. And two non-writing producers who would sit in the room sometimes and consult. So, from this we have this tiny, tiny staff of which Derek is really kind of a staff member because he’s being asked to pitch on things. He’s being included in stuff. And I’m sure this is exciting for Derek because this is an opportunity.
But ultimately it becomes clear that he’s being treated as the staff writer, not as the writer’s assistant. And so when he’s assigned a script you are assigned a script. You should be hired as a writer. That is just – that’s absurd. And so the minute you were assigned a script you were assigned a script and that is completely WGA covered work.
Now, if we go back through the Scriptnotes transcripts and back episodes you will see that some of the people who had those first breaks, really important steps in their career, they kind of got that script and that became the thing. I don’t want to sort of diminish what a great opportunity that is. But it’s also this is your chance to be recognized as a writer on a show. And the fact that Derek was not recognized as a writer meant that he wrote this script that became the script in the actual series and he’s not credited as the writer and has no ability to arbitrate for credit on this thing that the wrote.
Craig: Yeah, this is just a shame. I mean, to be clear if you’re in a situation where you aren’t a writer, you’re an assistant, and you volunteer ideas, you volunteer pitches, thoughts, ideas, well that’s on you. In other words, just because you say them doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to pay you or employ you. And they may even use one of them. But, you know, again, you volunteered that. So, that’s OK, something to think about. If you notice that the things you’re volunteering are getting in there you can say, “Hey, if you like the free samples I’ve been giving you would you enjoy paying for a subscription?”
Craig: And then find out if they’re interested. Then you find out exactly how much they like your work. Because if they say, “Actually no. What we really like is the way you get lunch correct and how you’re here in the morning and here in the evening and you type well,” well then you know that OK I guess maybe I had an inflated understanding of the value of my pitches, because they basically seem to be saying we don’t need those actually.
But if they love them, then that’s an opportunity for them to step up and hire you as they should. The two creators offered me the opportunity to do the first draft. Now, for those of you in Derek’s position listen carefully because here’s what has to happen. You may think as a new person in Hollywood or somebody that’s kind of on a lower rung on the endless ladder of success that when the two show creators or the somebody producer or the somebody executive comes to you and says I’m going to offer you an opportunity, you may rightly think that the person in charge has offered you an opportunity. It is also true, however, that of the 14,000 people that act like they’re in charge in Hollywood about 12 of them are. And the rest are full of crap.
So these two – I picked out this detail. There are two creators and one sort of showrunner and two non-writing producers. I’m already suspicious that these creators may not actually be in charge. So the question is who is really in charge. Did they know I’m being offered a script? Or not? Because if you end up going to the person who is in charge and they say, “Whoa, no, no, no. Did not authorize,” then there’s a real problem.
So if somebody offers you a script then what you have to do is go to one of the producers that you know is involved in business-y stuff and say I’ve just been asked to write a script. I assume there’s some sort of paperwork I need to sign for a writing employment deal. And if they say, no, we’re not employing you as a writer then you’re not writing the script.
John: That’s what it is. So, I think what Derek needs to say is Yes And. So basically say yes. Say enthusiastically yes, you’re so excited to do this, and what do I need to sign so that you don’t get in trouble later on. Nothing gets weird and murky. So not you, Derek, but you as creators. You as the show get in trouble later on. Because you are so excited to do this and what do I need to make this legit so that everything goes smoothly?
Craig: I mean, Derek, just so you’re aware, you could hire a lawyer and sue the production company that put that out there because they don’t own the material you wrote. So when we’re hired as writers we’re hired as employees. And we are work-for-hire employees, meaning the copyright of what we do is not ours but rather the company that employs us. That’s why they can put it on the air. They own it.
But they don’t own what you wrote.
Craig: You can just say, oh, by the way, you guys infringed my copyright. It’s not that you could have used that material anywhere else because it’s a derivative property of their copyright, but they don’t own your unique fixed expression. This happens. And this is the only way to wake people up. I’m not saying you should do that necessarily, because you may think well there are reprisals associated with that and there probably would be. But on an ongoing basis I hope everybody listening understands if somebody asks you to write a script find an adult, not them, but an adult that works on the show, who works in the money adult section. Let them know you’ve been hired and ask them to go ahead and generate an MBA writing agreement, a WGA-covered writing agreement that you could then submit to a lawyer, have them review it, and then you sign. And now voila you’re a proper writer.
John: And they would pay you scale. They would pay you the absolute minimum they could pay you, but guess what? For an assistant that’s great money. And more importantly, it’s credit.
John: It’s credit and it’s also you’re getting paid to do the job that you want to be doing.
John: Hurrah. So, let’s try to figure out any takeaways from these four emails we listened to–
Craig: Burn it all down! [laughs]
John: So a thing that’s very clear to notice here is that this is writers treating assistants poorly and asking them to do writing that they should not be asking them to do in some cases. And we see this sort of continuum of like you know what taking those notes and putting them into outline form, it was probably not story and it’s probably actually the job you were being hired to do. Once you start writing scenes, once you start writing scripts, then you are doing WGA-covered work. You are really being a paid – a professional Hollywood writer. You need to be paid as a professional Hollywood writer. And it needs to be done under a WGA contract.
Craig: 100%. And to our listeners who are writers and I assume there’s many of you, just don’t do this. Don’t do this to other human beings.
Craig: Why, by the way? You know, it doesn’t take much, honestly, to do the right thing. And I know enough people who do the right thing and who don’t suffer from it and who probably sleep a little bit better than you. Why don’t you join their ranks?
John: If you’re one of these people who actually does run a show and you want to slip a note to me or to Craig to tell us your side of all this, that would be great. Because Craig and I are not in the business of employing a lot of other writers, so you may actually be able to come to us with some best practices that we’re not even considering about sort of how you both protect the role of the professional writer and provide opportunities for these writers who desperately want to be doing this job in the room. So help us out here.
If you are listening to this saying like oh Craig and John got it wrong, tell us how we got it wrong
Craig: Tell John. I don’t care.
John: And we’ll have Craig read that aloud and he’ll read it in a funny voice.
Craig: [laughs] As always. I’m so reliable.
John: You are. All right, let’s get onto our next topic. Negotiations. So we talked a lot about agency negotiations, but a new phase of negotiations is also coming in. Every three years the Writers Guild renegotiates its contract with the AMPTP. These are the people who produce movies and television shows, so basically the big studios and other production entities. Over the history of this podcast we’ve talked about this a zillion times. We’re always talking about the run up to the negotiation and this and that. And a strike authorization vote and all these things. In fact, Craig and I really first got to know each other on the picket line back in 2007/2008 when we were going through that whole labor drama.
Craig: That was really the primary benefit of that strike.
Craig: You and I met each other.
John: We did. So let’s sort of set the table before we get into things to talk through kind of the timeline of like how this all goes because sometimes it gets confusing where we’re at in things. So, generally what happens is a year before the contract is about to expire the WGA begins meeting in small groups with screenwriters, showrunners, other folks to hear sort of what the issues are. So, the contract is up in May. So, a year before they start talking with certain people and that has happened.
And then they put together a negotiating committee, and so this negotiating committee is the people who are in the room talking with the people from the studio side about the issues. And I have been on the negotiating committee. Craig, you have been on the negotiating committee, too, in the past, right?
Craig: I have.
John: And it is not often thrilling. It takes place in the Valley.
Craig: It’s punishing.
John: It’s long days.
Craig: Yeah. It’s long days and people talk at length. You listen at length. And then you don’t go into the room where things actually happen. It’s really one of the most punishing forms of guild service there is.
John: It is. And so I’m going to be doing it again this time.
Craig: Lucky you.
John: They announced the negotiating committee. I’m on there. A bunch of familiar names are on there. Michele Mulroney, Shawn Ryan, and Betsy Thomas are heading up the negotiating committee. Looking through the list there’s five members who are predominately screenwriters, so me, Michele, Dante Harper, Eric Heisserer are there. There’s a lot of wide representation of TV writers as well. So that part of the process has started, so the negotiating committee begins meeting and talking through strategy and other issues.
Part of what they are basing that strategy on and what the issues are is based on a member survey. So that survey is still active as we’re recording this. As I guess it closes on Wednesday. So if you’re listening to this episode on Tuesday and you got an email saying take the survey that survey is there waiting for you to look at.
And I thought Craig we might talk through this survey is pretty short but basically asks you to rank your top four issues that you want to focus on out of a list of 14 items. So I thought we might talk through in a very broad sense what are 14 things that the guild was asking about interesting he survey.
John: Pension and health is always there. That’s a given. Pension and health is always a thing that is part of this negotiation. First off, addressing TV mini-rooms like we just discussed in the emails today. So TV mini-rooms are where you get together a bunch of writers to break a series, break a season, sometimes write a bunch of episodes, and then everyone goes away. Then they come back when things are actually produced. A challenge with TV mini-rooms is that often it pushes people’s pay down very, very low because they are getting paid minimums for the time that they are in the room writing, and then they’re dragged out as producers for a very long time after that. So it’s an issue that is affecting a lot of folks working in TV these days.
Craig: People seem to both not like them and also that’s all that everyone is doing. It’s weird. I mean, it seems like some of these things we’re kind of weirdly complicit in. I mean, I always just – it’s worth saying, we’re the ones in charge. We’re in charge of TV. The people that are running these mini-rooms, that’s us.
Craig: Then we have establishing a foreign box office residual for feature films, which would be great. So right now if you’re credited as a feature film writer you receive residuals for the reuse of your work here, but you don’t get it for the release of a feature film in foreign theatrical markets. I think that means like theatrical release.
John: Theatrical release. Yeah.
Craig: So I do and you do receive monies if for instance they’re rerunning one of our things on a channel in France. But television episodes receive additional residual compensation in foreign markets I assume for the first airings of things. We do not. That would be cool. I mean, I don’t know how we’re going to get that. [laughs] It’s just sort of like, hey, can we have a lot more money? No. Oh, OK.
John: Yeah, it’s a weird parity thing. I think it’s, you know, I think foreign theatrical didn’t use to be a big revenue stream or as big a revenue stream as other things were. But now as Asia gets built out with movie theaters, as China gets built out with movie theaters, it’s worth more now.
Craig: I guess. It seemingly has been worth – people have been talking about how much the foreign market has been worth for features since I got into this business. I mean, I just–
John: But as theatrical?
Craig: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember there was like a freak out in like 1995 when people were like, oh my god, there are movies that are making more overseas than they do here. Yeah, no, it’s always been an enormous thing for us. I mean, yes, the China thing is different. Right? I mean, that’s a kind of thing where one market can actually be more than the domestic market. But, no, I mean, generally speaking what was the rule of thumb? 60/40. Some movies were 50/50. Even if it was 70/30, the point being that’s a huge amount of money. As a feature film writer who feels very much like our segment of the union has gotten short shrift over many years, this is a lovely pie in the sky thing to ask for. But it’s not really – I would much rather see some more practical things occur. My personal point of view.
John: All right. Point three. Establishing minimums for comedy variety series on streaming services. Right now there are no minimums for comedy variety series made for streaming services. That feels like it needs to be fixed.
Craig: Yeah, no. I mean, there should be minimums for everything I would think. Makes sense. We have improving the 2017 MBA span provision for writer-producers. So this was something new that we got in 2017 in our last negotiation which protects writers that are paid on a per-episode basis who are then their episodes are spread out over a long amount of time, right. So if you’re paid for an episode, a per-episode basis, and you’re supposed to write three episodes over the course of a normal amount of time, well that’s how much money you get for this amount of time.
But if they spread those episodes out over the course of a year suddenly your annual income has gone down to nothing and the fact that you’re held exclusive to that company means that you can’t go work somewhere else. It’s a real mess. So what happened was we got additional compensation for the extra weeks that writers and writer-producers were spending on these things. So I guess we’re trying to improve that.
John: Next, improving compensation for staff writers by adding script fees and/or eliminating the “new writer discount.”
John: So this is a situation where if you are a staff writer on a television show, the money you’re getting paid for your weekly gets counted against the script that you’re actually writing, so you tend to not get actually paid for the script you’re writing as a separate fee. Just the money you’ve gotten along the way sort of buys them a free script out of you. That doesn’t feel great.
John: There’s also this first 14 weeks thing, this new writer discount. So addressing that.
Craig: I mean, that should just be like number one. Just editorializing. I believe when we talk about like hey somebody who has a huge movie that made $400 million in China, can we get them more money? I go, uh, OK. Or, this nonsense where the companies are punishing our most vulnerable and newest members who are making the least. That should be like job number one of the union is getting rid of crap like that.
So, hopefully we can.
John: When you took your survey did you park that as number one?
Craig: I don’t recall how I ranked anything. But it was definitely something that I checked off. I mean, to be honest with you I was probably shading towards features because we get screwed over so much.
John: I get that.
Craig: Yeah. Improving diversity and inclusion in hiring. Well, this is an evergreen. Again, I have to point out we’re the ones doing the hiring.
John: Often we are the ones doing the hiring. Next, improving feature roundtable minimums.
Craig: Ooh. This sounds familiar.
John: Yeah. This sounds familiar. Craig is – I would say it’s not a hobby horse. Sounds like the wrong thing. This is an issue that you focus on a lot and you focus on a disagreement on how things are interpreted. If there were good strong language on this that raised the minimums on that I think I’m guessing Craig Mazin would be happier.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, right now there is I think the studios are abusing an inapplicable part of our agreement that says that they don’t have to pay a whole week, which should be the minimum unit of payment to us, but rather they can actually pay one-fifth of that, a day rate, for these roundtables that happen on all sorts of movies. Because what happens in those roundtables are people are actually doing real work. They’re contributing things that are creative. That’s why we’re hired for them. We should all be paid the weekly minimum, which frankly is not that much more than some of them pay anyway. But again this is something where it starts to put money in people’s pockets.
It may help – if it helps one person hit the health minimum for the year so that they can provide health insurance for their family it would warm my heart. There is no reason that we shouldn’t be able to get this. This feels incredibly doable. And I have no reason to believe we’ll get it anyway. [laughs]
John: Well, speaking of getting more money into people’s pockets, this is a thing that’s been a long time frustration of mine. So improving minimum compensation and terms for writing teams in TV and features.
John: So as far as like I know I think we are the only union in which two people have to share minimum on something, which is nuts. And so if you’re a writing team you get paid a minimum as if you are one person even though you’re two people. That is why you’re so attractive sometimes for TV rooms because they get two brains for one salary. Something has to be improved there because it’s not fair and it makes it harder for those people to qualify for insurance. It makes it harder to make a living. So, we need to make improvements on how treat teams.
Craig: Yeah. It’s going to be a bigger issue in features than in TV because the minimums are so much larger.
Craig: So that’s something to take a look at. But it does hurt us. And I think maybe there is, well, there’s a fairly obvious compromise, right? I mean, they have never paid two people on a team the price of two individuals. But perhaps they could pay two people who are working as a team 1.5 times the individual rate. I mean, there’s an answer. So hopefully we get there.
John: I think there’s an answer as well. Improving options and exclusivity protections. So this is something that first occurred in 2014. I think I was on the committee at the time we got this in. It limits the ability for companies to basically hold people away from employment while they’re figuring out whether there’s another season of the show. And this was a thing that really was generated by writers saying like this is crazy. I’m being held out of work because they can’t make a decision about whether they’re picking up the next season of the show.
Craig: Yeah. And so this is a great thing for us to have. It applies in a nice way to those of us who are making less. Right? This is a good example of the union protecting the people who need protection the most. And obviously the way you improve this is by raising the ceiling and defining upwards how many people something like this covers.
John: Agreed. Next, improving residuals for original TV and feature programming on streaming services. Residuals on streaming services is complicated, because residuals are by definition when you when you take something that has had one life and you put it on to a new platform, and so the residual value being captured is a different thing when it’s only existing in one ecosystem. And yet these things clearly do still have residual value. That is why these companies are making these things because people still watch these things. So how we figure this out is complicated.
Craig: It is complicated. However this is one of the terms that is not writer-exclusive. This is something that would be industry-exclusive. In all likelihood meaning 100 million percent chance the DGA is going to be negotiating ahead of us. This is the kind of term that will likely be set by them.
John: Mm-hmm. Improving TV weekly minimums. So it’s how much writers and writer-producers get on shows that they’re writing on weeklies.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t see improving feature minimums. It’s weird. Funny that.
John: Funny that.
Craig: Guess we forgot again. [laughs]
John: Paid parenting leave.
Craig: This feels on trend for the world. And so right now what we have in our agreement, and this is fairly new, is eight weeks of unpaid leave. So really all that says is if you give birth to a child, and this is a – I don’t know, is this for both genders or just–?
John: Both genders.
Craig: That’s nice. So if you have a child, a new baby, you get eight weeks to be with them without being fired. But they’re not paying you, right? There are obvious ways to improve that. I’m not sure length is the answer. I suspect it’s some reasonable financial agreement there, too. And we should not – in most developed civilized nations there is some kind of paid parental leave.
John: Next up, requiring at least a two-step deal in theatrical contracts.
Craig: Yes. God, yes. Yes.
John: Yeah. I would say even more so than raising minimums this is what puts more money in the pockets of feature writers who are working near – especially who are working near the minimum.
Craig: This is my real hobby horse. This is something that’s I’ve been banging on them about for years. And the way it should work is similar some of the other television provisions that apply to people who are earning under blankety-blank amount of money. I don’t need a guarantee of two steps, and neither do you. But if somebody is earning near scale or even twice scale, frankly, they need to get two drafts because with only one draft in place they are not only losing money, they are being exploited and having to write two drafts anyway. And it is exacerbating practically every problem we have within that system. And if I were in the room the argument I would be making to our friends across the table is that this is a way for them to rest creative control back from some of their producers who simply develop stuff into terrible places.
John: I agree with you. Finally, script fee parity across platforms. So, trying to make sure that you get the same rate whether you’re writing a one-hour for premium cable, basic cable, SVOD, you know, whatever service. It’s the same script and trying to get parity no matter which platform you’re writing it on. This has always been a goal. I believe even to this moment like CW pays less than other places do. It’s madness. This is, again, an evergreen goal, but I think it’s heightened by this time that we’re in where there are so many platforms. And you’re like who am I even writing this for? And it’s not been clear what venue this thing is going to go on.
Craig: This one is an uphill battle, again, because the DGA has a – I doubt that they’re going to be getting directing fee parity across platforms. So this is a tough one. But, sure, why not? As long as we don’t get parity downwards which is, you know, there’s a certain Monkey’s Paw aspect to these negotiations. Sometimes–
John: Be careful what you wish for.
Craig: You get something and then you go, oh no. I mean, very famously the guild struck over definition of foreign cable pay something or another in early 1980s. And the directors did not and took the other definition. And we won. We won. We got the definition we wanted and then later realized that the one the directors had was actually better. So then we went back and said actually, no, we don’t want this thing anymore that we struck over. We want theirs. And to that day and to this day the companies have grinned and said, no, no, no, no, remember, you guys struck for that. That’s yours now.
So, you know, fun.
John: Fun. So these 14 points everyone is surveyed on. That information feeds into the committee. The committee meets to discuss, prioritize, set things. Ultimately they will come up with a sort of pattern of demands. Basically they’ll list these are the things that are most important. There’s generally a membership meeting where they talk through those things. They talk through what’s going to be happening. Generally it’s a vote on the pattern of demands, saying these are the things we’re going into these negotiations with. And ultimately a negotiation starts happening.
That’s still a ways down the road. But I wanted to sort of lay out the overall timeline of how this stuff goes because I would say over the last couple weeks – maybe over the last month – I’ve been hearing this slowly banging gongs, like oh there is going to be a strike happening. And none of what I’ve just laid out here to me indicates that reality.
So, I just want to put a bucket of cold water on a little of that talk right now because what’s actually happening is what’s actually happening which is that right now we’re voting on which of these things are most important to us.
Craig: But, you know, to be fair regardless of what is true or real, everyone apparently that employs us is convinced there’s going to be a strike. And they are acting accordingly. So, if we want them to stop acting like that I suppose we could do something. We haven’t done any of the things that would make them stop thinking that. And so they’re going to continue to think that. And they’re going to continue to behave in accordance with that, which means almost certainly that they will do predictably what they do when they think there’s going to be a strike. They’re going to hire a lot of people, rush, rush, rush, set dates for delivery before the termination of the agreement. And then if there is a strike then there is. And if there isn’t, then they’ll just whatever, deal with that backlog like they did when we almost struck in 2014.
John: Talk me through what you think the WGA would do if they wanted to make people not be saying those things.
Craig: Yes. I can think of a number of ways. I probably shouldn’t just blab them here on a podcast. Happy to have that conversation with you off mic, because you don’t want to just walk out there and say, “We’re never going to strike.”
John: Yeah, that’s not helpful.
Craig: But on the other hand clearly as a result of the rhetoric surrounding the agency campaign and the general tenor of membership meetings the companies have decided reasonably or not that we’re hell bent for leather. And that this is all part of a larger plan that all of this is wrapped up in one big total war against everyone. And that’s how they’re going about it. And we can giggle all we want but in the end if they are convinced, they’re convinced.
And one of the great dangers of them being convinced that we’re going on strike is that they will precipitate the strike.
John: Yeah. That’s the danger.
Craig: That’s the problem. That they’ll say, look, they’re going to strike no matter what. What we can’t do is come in there, offer them something reasonable and have them spit on it and go on strike, because then they’ll never take that and we’ll have to come up with something better. Therefore let’s just go in there, offer them a bucket of crap so that they’ll do the strike that they were going to do anyway, and then we’ll negotiate a real deal, which is kind of what happened in 2007.
John: So if you are summarizing this for Deadline, or basically just transcribing this for Deadline–
John: I think Craig says like Craig advises studios, “Don’t offer a bucket of crap.”
Craig: Yeah. Please don’t offer a bucket of crap. I would say to the studios don’t presume we all are going on strike. Because I actually don’t think the union does want – I mean, union leadership. I don’t really see it. I don’t see this like we’re striking no matter what. Of course we’re going to drive a hard bargain. That’s what we do. And of course we want things and of course there are things that are always strike-worthy. I mean, if they come in with rollbacks and stuff like that, you know, I’ll be out there waving the red banner. That’s fine.
But this current belief, this inherent belief that we’re going on strike, while I understand it from a certain point of view I often feel like I have to translate this strange political machinery of our own union to other people. I actually don’t think we are hell bent for leather and going on strike and I think we would much rather prefer, as per usual, to get a deal that follows the pattern of the DGA but addresses certain writer-specific things that we need to have addressed. Most primarily I will add the area of features which have been neglected completely for well over a decade.
John: I would say that’s probably a Craig priority.
John: In this negotiation.
John: So you brought up earlier the agency stuff, so let’s talk a little bit about the agency stuff which we haven’t talked about for a bit. So, some stuff that has happened in the meantime, Abrams Agency, Rothman Brecher both signed the new franchise agreement. It’s similar to the existing franchise agreement. Packaging fees got sunsetted through January 22, 2021. There are new modifications that allow an agency to have up to a 5% ownership interest in an entity engaged in production or distribution. So that is 5%, basically you can own 5% of a production entity is a new thing in this latest round of stuff.
Craig, I know I’ve been holding you back from talking about this so let’s get some Craig Corner time here. Tell me what you want to tell me.
Craig: I don’t know. What’s there to even say? I mean, if it takes us seven months to sign Rothman Brecher, uh, then by my calculations to sign UTA, CAA, William Morris, and ICM it will take us 14,980 months. So I don’t know what’s – I just think in general whatever our strategy was, if we had said to the membership in the beginning FYI if we all do this then we think in seven months we will at least have the Abrams Agency and Rothman Brecher. I think you would not have gotten a 95% vote.
This has not gone the way we would have hoped. And at this point I don’t see any reason why it would. I think the large agencies have essentially said, “Yeah, no, no, we’ve moved on. We’re going to figure out a way to live without you.” And they are.
And our unilateral disarmament is going to have grave costs for us. But there’s nothing I can do about it. And it’s going to continue this way. And I think the general feeling among a number of members I’ve spoken to is just a kind of, oh well, that’s that.
John: All right. So frequent listeners of the podcast know that one of the frustrating patterns we always get into is like Craig says something and I say like oh I would want to respond more fully to you but I can’t because I know things, because I’m on the negotiating committee, because I was on the board and such. And it puts us in this weird place. And so a thought I had is that because I know things that you don’t know there’s a frustrating mismatch of stuff. And I can’t tell you the things that I know, but an opportunity might be for me to type up like four facts that I know that let me perceive the situation very differently than you perceive it. Because I think we’re both very rational people.
John: And so I think it probably is frustrating for you recognizing that John seems to be a rational person yet he’s responded to these things very differently. So I thought maybe I could type up these four facts, put them in a document, and encrypt the hell out of it with a long password.
John: And then so I’m going to send you this document after we record this.
Craig: And I have to guess the password. [laughs]
John: And when this is resolved, when this is resolved–
John: In which we obviously have different timelines of when we think this is going to be resolved, then I will send you the password–
John: So it’s somewhere between tomorrow and 14,000 years from now.
John: I will send you the password. And you will open up the document and you’ll say, huh. And I’ll be curious then sort of what perspective would be on this conversation we had just now. Because I think I feel the frustration of the audience sometimes in the sense of like how are they seeing these things so very differently.
John: And it might be a way to sort of bridge a little of that gap, honestly only for my sanity.
John: Not for yours.
Craig: No, I understand. That makes sense. Because you don’t want people to think you’re irrational. I mean, here’s the thing. I fully acknowledge that I do not know the things that you know. What I do know is that for a long time you and others have said that you know things that we don’t know. But actually nothing has happened. Nothing that I would call significant and let me just define it as always as CAA, UTA, ICM. I’ve given up on William Morris Endeavor.
And so because we have heard a lot of versions of we’re real close, things are happening. In the election one of the things that people kept throwing out there was that the people who were daring to fulfill their constitutional obligation to the union and volunteer to serve by running for office were undermining the union because there was a major agency that was moments away from signing a deal and because of this challenged election they were not doing it.
I have to assume one of those was the Abrams Agency or Rothman Brecher. I don’t know what else to say. Well, that was the big prize. Eh, you know. So we’re just sort of stuck here not knowing. All I do know is it’s been the longest – I don’t know, I’d call it a labor action – by this union that I’ve ever been in. It’s approaching the longest it’s ever done. I think eight months is the limit.
John: So, winding back through time, there was a moment at which you were running for the board. You hadn’t decided to run for vice president. And I was so excited that you were running for board because I knew you would get elected and I knew you’d be on the board and actually have the information. And I was thinking, oh, Craig will now actually know what I know. And it will be great. And so that didn’t come to pass and many things happened in the meantime.
There’s a scenario in which you had stayed running for the board and you could have known these things and I would be fascinated to have these conversations with you.
Craig: No question. And I know this must be frustrating for you, too. But I do wish that the leadership of our union would recognize that there is a serious cost to not informing us of anything. We know nothing ever. I mean, this is different than an AMPTP negotiation. We know when we’re negotiating with them. It’s a thing. And there’s only one of them. It’s a thing, right?
This stuff where we’re just sitting here going oh good, I’m so glad they took weeks to refine their agreement with Rothman Brecher. That’s really just about the fact that whatever 90% of us were represented by four companies. And those four companies are still – we’ve heard zero. And I can certainly what they say is that there’s absolutely nothing happening. And that could be a lie. But it would be nice if it were a lie for our side to prove it. But we don’t hear anything. All we get are these overly rosy announcements that we have made a major breakthrough with some company that just doesn’t rise to that test of being a major breakthrough. I don’t know what else to say.
John: I hear what you’re saying. And I look forward to being able to send you this document. Here’s something I would propose we do. We got a question in about moving to Los Angeles. I’ll read the question. And I think weirdly you and I are not the right people to answer it, but I think some of our listeners are the right people to answer it.
Craig: Oh good.
John: So let’s read the question and then invite people to write in, for a change not about assistants. Mark from New York asks, “This podcast has taught me nearly everything I know about screenwriting. More recently you’ve even inspired me to make the move from New York City to Los Angeles and pursue a career in writing for TV. I fly out at the end of January and I want to hit the ground running. What advice would you give to someone who is about to make the move to Los Angeles? Other than securing an apartment and transportation, what should I prioritize once I arrive? Is there anything I could be doing in the months leading up to the move to increase my chances of finding work? Finally, if each of you could do your first years in Los Angeles differently, what would you change?”
Craig: Great questions.
John: So these are great questions. And for me and Craig it’s more than 20 years ago and I just feel like so much is different. But I think for a lot of our listeners that is a very recent thing. And so if you are a person who could help answer Mark’s question I’d love to hear it. So if you have moved to Los Angeles in the last, you know, five, ten years and could talk to him about what you did and what you would do differently, I think that would be a great help to Mark.
Craig: Do you remember, I bet it was this way when you got here, too, because we were about the same. When it was time to rent an apartment there was a fax number that you could call and you would get faxed a sheet of available apartments and rents and phone numbers.
John: I remember going to West Side Rentals where you’d actually on Tuesdays and Fridays I believe you could pick up the Xerox packet and it would be there exactly at noon and it was a race to get those apartments.
Craig: Yes. [laughs] Yes. Yes. I mean, you’re absolutely right. We are not. We are old. I mean, we’re – I mean, I don’t even know if the temp agency I applied to even exists anymore.
Craig: Well, it probably does.
John: I’m sure it’s an app now.
Craig: It’s an app. Everything is an app. It’s a robot. Everything is a robot.
John: All right. Let’s do our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is something that other people have used as a One Cool Thing, but it is genuinely really amazing. So, this is a solar mirror breakthrough. So solar power can happen in various ways. You can have the things where they’re shining on the photo voltaic cells. This is more the classic kind of thing where you have a bunch of mirrors pointed at one area and you’re making it super-hot. And it goes all the way back to the idea of Archimedes’ mirror where people had to polish shields and they were burning a ship. It’s that idea but done with computers that can precisely manufacture these mirrors and precisely aim them.
And the breakthrough that happened this last week was they were able to hit a thousand degrees Celsius.
John: And when you get something that hot you can actually unlock a bunch of industrial processes that are really helpful, like making concrete, or splitting water up to make hydrogen and oxygen. So it’s potentially a really great breakthrough. I’m sure there’s lots of other things you can apply that kind of energy generation to. So, anyway, it was just a good example and actually clear to follow things. Because so often when you look at sort of technology and energy it’s just really complicated. And here you can see like, oh, I get it. The mirrors are pointing at that thing and it’s making it really hot.
Craig: Make stuff hot.
John: Make stuff hot.
Craig: Make stuff hot is how we generate energy. I mean, if you can make stuff that hot using mirrors then you should be able to heat up a whole big bunch of water into steam to turn a turbine and make power.
John: Chernobyl was heat to generate steam.
Craig: Yeah. They all are. Every power plant we have, whether it’s a dam, or coal, or nuclear, or gas, it doesn’t matter, that’s all of them. That’s what they all do.
John: Well, that’s actually not true at all.
Craig: What? Which one does something else?
John: I mean, a dam is just using gravity to generate electricity.
Craig: No, but it’s spinning.
John: It’s spinning but it’s not heating anything up.
Craig: Well, that’s true. You’re right. You’re right. My point is it’s spinning a turbine.
John: Yes. Exactly. Turbines.
John: For sure.
Craig: I mean, it’s photo voltaic. Goes directly to electricity, but if you’ve got these mirrors all pointed at something to heat it up it feels like it could be pretty cool. I could be wrong. A bunch of physicists are going to write in and tell me. You know what? I don’t care.
John: Not a bit.
Craig: I don’t care.
John: Well, one thing I love, when you fly out of Los Angeles sometimes and you look out the window you can see the big solar array sometimes. And those are so cool.
Craig: Yes, they are. And the wind farms.
John: Oh, I love me some wind farms.
Craig: Yeah. You know Trump thinks they cause cancer.
John: I think the worst things that happens with windmills is they do kill some birds, but you know what?
Craig: They do. They kill birds. I mean, I eat birds.
Craig: Chicken is good.
John: Chicken is good. Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?
Craig: I do. So it’s not necessarily something you’re going to want to go out and buy immediately, but the promise for the next year I think is quite good. So like you I purchased the new MacBook Pro. 16-inch screen. I believe you feel it is too large for you, which makes total sense.
John: It’s too large. I returned it.
Craig: Makes total sense. And I like you had been working with a 13-inch MacBook Pro. It is quite a bit bigger. That’s, you know, I’m getting used to that part. But the part I’m really happy about is the keyboard. So Mac sort of infamously changed their keyboard a few years ago for their portables to this, what do you call it, Butterfly switch thing? Is that what it was called?
John: Yeah. From scissor to butterfly.
Craig: From scissor to butterfly. So the key had much less travel. It was kind of a more hard feeling. I got used to it, like everybody else. The problem was that they were not very reliable. And I like many people had to bring my laptop in to get the entire keyboard replaced because some tiny little thing broke somewhere. I mean, they paid for it, but at this point now they’re replacing tons of keyboards. It was a huge problem. And, honestly just didn’t feel great to type on that.
I thought it did at first, and then it got annoying. So, this one they’ve gone back. And it’s joyous. I can only presume that for a company that so rarely admits it made a mistake and really would prefer that the rest of the world catch up to them, in this instance they have essentially admitted they made a mistake. And therefore in the following months and days the smaller MacBooks, the smaller laptops, the ones that aren’t quite as expensive as the MacBook Pro, they will all start getting this new keyboard. So, new keyboard coming, it’s inevitable. We should be all fine in just a few years.
John: Yeah. So I am still using my old 13-inch MacBook Pro. I don’t even know what year it’s from. It still has like the large USB ports and such. I love it. But I’m ready for a new computer. So once the 13-inch version of this comes with this keyboard I’ll be in heaven.
Craig: Yes, you will be.
John: All right. Stick around after the credits because we are going to be talking about cats. But for now that’s our show. As always it’s produced by Megana Rao. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Michael Carmen. If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send your assistant stories or your advice about moving to Los Angeles.
For short questions, on Twitter I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We love to answer your short questions there.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also the place where you find transcripts. We try to get them up about four days after the episode airs.
Come to our live show. There’s still some tickets left as we’re recording this. You should come join us there for the live show. So in addition to those guests there’s always some sort of game stuff.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: And you get to see me and Craig in our natural habitat.
Craig: I might wear some reindeer ears or something this year. I might be festive.
John: You haven’t sung a song for a while, either. So maybe some singing would be in order.
Craig: Yeah. You know what? Maybe we’ll do a song.
John: Maybe we’ll do a song. I’d love to do a song.
Craig: I wonder like I’ll do a song with maybe Kevin Feige and I can do some sort of duet.
John: Perfect. Do it. Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Craig, cats. I’m happy to talk about either the musical Cats which could include the film Cats, or talk about the actual furry beings called cats.
Craig: You know, I’m not – I was never a huge fan of the musical Cats. I’ll just say it. I love Broadway. I love Broadway shows. And I’m not one of these people that’s a snob against Andrew Lloyd Webber. I think Evita is amazing. And, you know, Jesus Christ Superstar is amazing. And I really love Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat. I just never loved Cats because I think it suffers from the structure that it came from which was just a bunch of episodic poems about individual cats. And so it just sort of, you know, you meet a cat, you meet a cat, you meet a cat. It was just never my thing.
That said, Memory is in the what, top five Broadway songs of all time?
John: Yeah. A remarkable song.
Craig: It’s incredible.
John: I have never seen Cats. And so I know kind of what happens in it. I know it’s largely plotless. It’s a bunch of people just auditioning to die in a way. So, never having seen Cats, but I’m always curious to see things, so I’m going to see the Cats movie and I’m going to go into it with my heart open and ready to be impressed. So we’ll see about that.
Having discussed Cats the musical, now let us discuss the actual beings called cats. They’re small furry creatures who sometimes live with us. Craig, what is your opinion of cats as a species?
Craig: I mean, how did this happen? How did this happen? I understand dogs and their value. They show affection and they have utility. And they protect you. And they watch over you. And if you are sight impaired they guide you. They’re remarkable. They’re remarkable creatures. And I don’t understand how cats even became a thing. They just seem to me to have no more value than, I don’t know, rabbits. What do they do? What do they do?
John: So to stipulate, you and I are both dog owners. We are both dog lovers. You have an amazing dog named Cookie, I have a great dog named Lambert. Dogs are wonderful. But I don’t want this to be a cats versus dogs discussion. Let’s just talk about cats on their own merits.
John: So as a person who loves dogs I also love cats, but I love cats at a distance because I’m very allergic to cats. So I’ve never been able to invite one into my home. My daughter has been advocating very hard for us getting a cat. It won’t happen, because Mike is just never going to allow a cat into our house.
Craig: God bless him.
John: But I enjoy other people’s cats. And I actually like other people talking about their cats and here’s what I think I find so fascinating about it. Whereas dogs are wolves who sort of came very close to us and ultimately we changed them into being a thing that is useful to us, that’s why we have such a codependent relationship with our dogs, cats never really quite there. They’re domesticated in the sense that they are comfortable living around us, but they are still small lions. They are still wild creatures who just happen to be in our homes. And I think that’s what people find so fascinating about them is that they are not just even mercurial. If we were to die they would eat us.
Craig: Oh, within seconds. I mean, my feeling is that if you fall down and you are dying, a dog is going to in a moment of clarity attempt to dial 911. Like it will have its finest moment. A cat will start eating you before your last breath. I don’t understand them. I don’t.
John: But in some ways maybe you don’t understand them the same way you don’t understand people who do things that risk their lives to do. People who are climbing without ropes. Like free-soloing.
John: That to me is sort of like the emotional aspect of having a cat. You know it’s not actually – it doesn’t care about you, at least not in the same way that a dog or a person would care about you.
Craig: How many people have we just lost? I mean, of the amount of people that listen to our show?
John: Most of our listenership, yeah.
Craig: 40, 50, 70%. Gone. Permanently. People are very emotional about their cats. So I want to acknowledge that I’m really joking. I mean, it’s not that cats are evil or bad. And nor do I doubt the depth of affection people do have for their cats, and people do. And I have all sorts of – Lindsay Doran who is one of my most dearest of friends, who I love very, very much, is obsessed with her cats. She loves them. And, you know what? And I love her. So, I accept that. I don’t understand it, but I don’t have to.
That said, you and I are right. [laughs]
John: So, I’ve had two cats in my life. One was this tiny little kitten. Tiny little black kitten showed up on our driveway. It was a Friday afternoon. There was no parent around. So, we took the cat in. I started feeding it. And we ultimately found it a home. But the cat lived with us for about a week. And so I called the cat Friday. And I will try to post a photo of Friday the cat because this was ten years ago. I was reminded as I was looking through photos. And Friday was a great little cat but ultimately could not live with us.
The best cat I’ve had the chance to meet though is a neighbor’s cat named Raleigh. And so it’s an actor who lives two doors up, and her cat will just kind of wander into our yard sometimes. And this cat is the most – not dog-like cat – but the most sociable cat. Will hop up and just sort of hey you eating lunch, that looks good, let’s take a look.
That is a cat that made me appreciate sort of what it’s like to have a cat who is in your life a lot and where you could see what the cat was thinking. It was sort of an alien thought process. It wasn’t sort of – I couldn’t quite put together what its thoughts were. And it did suddenly scratch me. But it was intriguing. So I can definitely see the value of a cat like that.
Craig: Expressionless faces with their dead eyes. The closest I ever was with a cat was Melissa had a cat named Tiggy. And so when I first started dating her and I went home to where she lived I met Tiggy and Tiggy was apparently vaguely brain damaged or something. It had never weened and it had been hit by a car. I don’t know what the excuse was. All I know was that Tiggy would jump on you and then sort of I guess cats have this instinctive behavior of kind of kneading with their paws if they are nursing.
So it would just knead you with its paws, and its claws, which hurt. And drool. So it would just sit on you, and hurt you, and drool on you. That was it. That’s actually the most affection and, yeah, interaction, physical interaction I’ve ever had with a cat. Usually they just stare at you like you’re something on the bottom of a shoe.
John: Yeah. That’s cats. Last point I will make is why cats haven’t had the tremendous influence on human civilization the way that dogs have, we would not be humans if we hadn’t sort of domesticated dogs the way we did. Cats did and probably do still perform an important function of like getting rid of mice and vermin, other things which would be unpleasant around us. So they have a utility certainly and in rural places especially.
Craig: Yes, for sure. And don’t forget that they do steal babies’ breath. So they help thin the population.
John: Absolutely. Like babies you don’t want. Only the evil babies.
Craig: Jerk babies. That’s how you find out your baby was going to be an idiot. A cat just, you know. None of that is true. Old wives’ tales.
You know what cats do do? They actually do create huge health problems for pregnant women because of toxoplasmosis, which is–
John: That is not good.
Craig: The nasty little thing that they poop out in their weird litter box.
John: Yeah. Litter box, again, a thing which cat people are willing to deal with. Litter boxes.
Craig: I mean, what?
John: And they’re saying, “You’re picking up your dog’s poop. Is it any different?”
Craig: Yes. It is. Because it’s not inside my house. How about that? It’s not sitting in a bunch of weird gravel.
John: All right, Craig. I’ll be back with you next week with whatever listeners we have left.
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