The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 417 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the podcast we’re going to take a look at the issue of idea management. What do you do with all of those half-formed ideas for various things to write? We’ll also discuss screenwriter’s quotes and answer some listener questions. To help us out on all of this, welcome back Aline Brosh McKenna.
Aline Brosh McKenna: Woo! What!
Craig: I almost want to do like when Kermit waggles his hands around and goes, “Nah!” I don’t know why. It seems appropriate.
John: Yeah, Kermit’s hands are sort of like the inflatable car lot things.
John: They wave by their own magic.
Aline: Do you guys remember in that original Batman show that sometimes Catwoman would be on?
Craig: Of course.
John: Oh, I love Catwoman.
Aline: But you would watch in the credits to see if she was on that week.
John: I never watched the credits to see if she would be on.
Craig: I would not.
Aline: They changed the credits. If she was going to be in that episode it would be like, “And…” and then they would show a picture of her. And I would be very excited because I knew that it was going to be a Batman episode with Catgirl. Catgirl or Batgirl?
Craig: No, no, Batgirl or Catwoman. Catwoman was Eartha Kitt.
Craig: Catwoman was Eartha Kitt. But I don’t remember who Batgirl was. Did they have a Batgirl on that original Adam West show?
John: I bet they did because the commissioner’s daughter was Batgirl. Here’s maybe what you’re suggesting though is we need to change the introductory bloops if it’s going to be an Aline episode so everyone knows, oh my gosh, this is an Aline episode.
Aline: Yes. And I can sing something and just mock something up.
John: Before we get started to our big topics we have some follow up listener questions and I thought maybe Aline would read the question because you’ve never gotten to read a question for us.
Aline: Great. Oh, it’s this question that I tried to shove back at you? OK, I’m going to read a question.
Aline: Lochiel writes, “I grew up with D&D basic, then advanced, and played up through Gen 2. I love or loved D&D, but Dungeon World is in my opinion so much better. The game is much less crunchy and can be learned in an hour. The best part of the game is that the players and the DM share narrative control in a much more collaborative way. It would be beyond awesome to witness some people as creative as you guys playing Dungeon World.
Craig: Yeah, it would.
John: Well, Craig, yeah, that’s good. So, maybe we can discuss some Dungeon World here.
Aline: This is obviously a question for me.
John: Yes. 100%.
Aline: And my answer to this would be that I would think that Dungeon World would be a store where you could buy stuff for your dungeon.
Craig: Like a sex dungeon?
Aline: That’s what I would think. Where you would be kitting up for your BDSM dungeon. Is that not correct?
Craig: Right. It’s your BDSM superstore.
Aline: That’s what I would think it was.
Craig: Yeah, come on down to Dungeon World. [laughs]
John: So this is follow up on our episode from last week with Alison Luhrs from Wizards of the Coast. Wizards of the Coast makes Dungeons & Dragons, the official Dungeons & Dragons. Dungeon World is a separate gaming system that is very free-form, very loose, and Craig you and I actually did play a campaign in Dungeon World. I DM’d one. And I liked it more than you liked it. It is very free-form and loose. And I think we found it a little bit too free-form and loose. Is that accurate?
Craig: Yeah. I think so. I mean, the story part of playing Dungeons & Dragons is definitely a huge part of it. And, look, Lochiel, it’s really just a question of preference, right? I mean, you’re sort of arguing that vanilla tastes better than chocolate and some people will agree and some people won’t. I prefer Dungeons & Dragons or say like Pathfinder which is a similar, because I enjoy some of the rules minutia. I enjoy the constraints of combat. I think that’s fun. I think it’s just the leveling up and all that stuff. I just, I like it. I like it more. It gives me more of what I want.
But I also understand where some people would be like actually that’s the worst part of it all. I just like pretending and talking and such. The one thing I will say about Dungeon World is it feels a bit arbitrary. In other words success and failure feel a bit kind of at the DM’s whim as opposed to kind of influenced by statistical calculation.
John: So I remember Michael Gilvarry being frustrated like when is it my turn to swing a sword. The lack of initiative and the lack of sort of structure within combat was frustrating to him.
John: But I do enjoy reading other games’ sort of inherent mechanics and seeing sort of how they do stuff. Like I think the new Paranoia has a really cool system for how it works. There’s a role-playing game called Kids on Bikes which is very much a Stranger Things. And how that all works in success and failure is clever. But you know what? I like Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I’m old school.
Craig: Yeah. I’m with you. And Aline obviously we know that you strongly prefer Pathfinder.
Aline: Do you have a question on fall fashion?
John: We do. We have so many.
Craig: We do.
Aline: Something about belted tweed jackets?
Craig: Let me ask you a question, in all seriousness Aline.
Aline: High-waisted leather pants?
Craig: Am I a spring, a fall, a winter? What am I?
Aline: Oh, no, that whole thing is a scam.
Craig: That’s garbage?
John: That color theory?
Aline: I’m saying in terms of your look–
Craig: Oh yeah, yeah, my look.
Aline: Yeah. You’re in the hoodie and J-Crew shirt area. But, you know, Craig, if I took you to a mall I could work with the existing aesthetic but I could tone it up.
Craig: You could plus it. Come on down to Dungeon World. We’ve got– [laughs]
Aline: We could do that. But you might want to do that with Melissa.
John: Let’s transition to a topic that we all sort of know more about. So, a story that was in the news this last week was about the controversy over sequels to Crazy Rich Asians and who was getting paid what for it. Without diving too deep into that situation, I thought it was useful for us to have a conversation about how are screenwriter quotes even figured out or even what quotes are. How does a screenwriter know how much they’re worth and how much they’re being paid for a project? Because over the course of 20 years I’ve seen the amount I’m being paid per project go up and go down for reasons that probably wouldn’t be apparent to somebody outside the system.
So we haven’t really talked about money as a screenwriter for a while, so let’s talk about how much a screenwriter is worth.
Aline: So one of the things that changed and I think it’s about four or five years ago was no quotes. A no-quote thing was issued.
John: Tell me how you perceive that.
Aline: To me it was perceived a little bit like there’s no quotes, tell me your quotes. Because it is a world where you’re sort of making things up. You know, Hollywood is an interesting system in that your pay rises based on certain intangibles. And they are not just how the things you’ve written have performed in the public sphere. They can also be determined by oh you wrote a script that got a director. You wrote a script that attracted actors. You wrote a script that people like. You wrote a script that got a bidding war. Even if those things didn’t get made. And that’s why I think that system seems really byzantine irrational to people because it is based on intangibles. And it’s a marketplace where things are worth what someone will pay for them.
John: Craig, could you start us out, the conversation. Talk to us about the floor of how much somebody gets paid. Because I think we need to talk about scale before we talk about above scale.
Craig: Yeah. And maybe also just quickly before we talk about no-quote system is, we should probably talk about what the yes-quote system is, too. A lot of people see this phrase “quote system” and they don’t know. So, first thing, the floor of what a writer gets paid in Hollywood when you’re working on a Writers Guild project, that’s going to be pretty much everything other than most feature animation. It’s determined by the Writers Guild. It’s determined by our collective bargaining agreement. So every three years the Writers Guild negotiates a new deal with the AMPTP. That’s the organization that essentially represents the companies in those negotiations. And that is the minimum we can be paid.
So, you start from there. And then because our business is an over-scale business, which makes us different. Typically a union will negotiate salary floors for everybody working in the plant. So if you’re a welder you make this much money per hour. And if you’re a welder for this many years you make this much money per hour. In our business, no. It’s all over the place. Most people are making more than scale and how much more than scale is up to you and your representatives and the marketplace, which is where the quote system comes in to play.
And all the quote system means is that you’ve been paid some amount of money by someone that someone else agrees is legitimate. Meaning I go to Sony, they say, OK, we want to hire you for something. And then my representatives say, “Well his quote for that service is blotty-blah because Disney paid him that.” That’s it. That’s the sum total of the quote system.
Now, doing better than your quote or when they say no-quote, that’s a whole other ball of wax.
Aline: Right. They can’t do that, though. They can’t do that anymore. They can’t ask for your quotes and they can’t–
John: Let’s talk about the change. So, traditionally over the last 15 years, ten years ago, that was the starting point of any discussion. So the very initial projects I was hired to write I got paid scale. Probably most of us got paid scale, which is the minimum they could possibly pay us. It’s like getting minimum wage. And then after you’d had a couple projects, things get made, you start creeping above that. And so if I got $200,000 on a project, you know, the next time I was going to make a deal for some place my quote was $200,000. And so we were trying improve upon that.
But as Aline is saying they’re not supposed to be asking for quotes anymore.
Aline: Right. So then it becomes a supply and demand question ostensibly. But one of the things that if it sounds like a somewhat amorphous system, it is. And so obviously it leads to and can lead to unfairness because a lot of these things are perceptual. And you can’t control perceptual things. You can’t, you know, when your agent comes back and says, “Well, they perceive that this happened as opposed to this happening on this project and that’s why you’re going to get this and not that.” There’s not a lot you can say back.
And I have a friend who has been trying really hard to make it so that everybody publicizes what they get paid because, you know, especially if you’re in a group setting like a television show and you want to know, OK, what are other supervising producers with six years of staff experience, what are they getting, you’re only getting that anecdotally or through your representatives. So some people are an advocate of everyone should just publish what they’re getting paid so then you can compare. But you are in this world of what in your resume earns what dollars.
And I will say that because the atmosphere has changed a little bit more in terms of like we do discuss bias more, I have now numerous times been told, “Hey, I think if you were, I mean, a man you would get paid differently. And the demand for your services would command a different price.” You can’t obviously prove that and you can’t “accuse” people of that. But, again, whenever you’re in the realm of perceptual things with humans it’s something we’ve talked about before, like people’s idea of what a director looks like is a 30 to 60-year-old man with some facial hair, you know, and cargo shorts or pants, or some kind of a vest. And that’s what they picture. So when they look at a 90-year-old – sorry, 90-year-old.
Craig: No, do it. I like that.
Aline: Yeah, a 90-year-old works. Or a hundred pound fashionably dressed 26-year-old female, just for example, it’s a perceptual thing. And so I have numerous times seen not just in my own career but in other people’s careers where what seems to me that people are doing equally well and then come to find out that the men are being paid more. And that’s not just true with screenwriters, obviously. I think that’s across the board in Hollywood. And I don’t know how you standardize that system without doing kind of what Craig suggests which is publishing people’s salaries so that you can say, “Hey, you know, my movies have earned this much, or my TV shows have gotten this rating, or whatever, and so I see what this person gets paid and I would like to be paid concomitantly with that.
John: Nice use of concomitantly. I’ve never tried that word in real life.
Aline: But, you know, it is a vague – when you get, you guys know, when you get on the phone with your lawyer so often the first thing they offer you is crazy shocking because in the no-quote environment instead of before where it felt like it was building on the pay you’d gotten sometimes they come back and they’ve made a number that sets you back seven years and the question is why. And it’s based in these things which are, you know, size of the budget, scale of the movie. But again these perceptual things. So, it’s an interesting system because it has, you know, it’s a little bit of the court of the Louis XIV. It’s like Tulip Fever. It’s a little bit things command the price that they command and you can’t really get behind.
But I will say that, you know, some of those things are steeped in assumptions that people make about certain – and it also translates into genres. So certain genres the people make extremely more money than in other genres irrespective of the box office performance. If they think well you can write this super hero movie in success that movie is going to make a lot more money than this movie about three girls on a road trip which, you know.
Anyway, it’s why it’s an imperfect system at the best.
John: Well let’s talk about the no quotes in two different ways that it comes up. I think it was California law that changed where you’re not supposed to be asking for quotes on previous things, and so that was a change. The other thing that happened over the last five, seven years is that increasingly projects at studios they really kind of didn’t care what your quote was. They said like we are paying X dollars for this project, are you interested or not interested. And so things that are like this a $500,000, it’s not more than that, and that’s a thing that changed, too. And that was a supply and demand thing as well because there were fewer projects.
John: And so some of us had to take a haircut to take some of those projects on. So there’s an objective reality which is the dollars you’re being paid, but the subjective quality is how much are you worth. And value is not an easily calculable thing. It is a matter of opinion and that is a reality.
Aline: And what you’re saying, the landscape of the business is changing and another really interesting factor in this is television and film are fusing and melding and, you know, what does years of experience in television, what does that translate into feature wise? When I started they would disregard your television quotes in features and they would disregard your feature quotes in television as if you had been fixing airplanes an then you show up to paint a Renaissance master.
Craig: They still do that.
Aline: Guys, these things are related. So they are still doing this. And I think Craig you experienced this.
Craig: Oh yeah.
Aline: But that’s going to change as more people are doing both, freely doing both, moving back and forth. And they are going to expect their high quotes in some areas to translate into quotes in other areas because what is the big difference. What is this artificial gulf that we’ve created?
Craig: Well, when we talk about all of this stuff, I mean, the amusing part is the law may say you can’t ask what their quote is, and yet they’ll know because they talk to each other. This is something that maybe people don’t know. The division within each studio that negotiates how much a writer gets paid is called Business Affairs. So it’s different than people who are hiring you. This is another interesting thing. Usually, well I guess it’s sort of like in a big corporation human resources is there to determine salaries, right. So you get hired by somebody and then they send you over to HR and a negotiation occurs. In Hollywood it’s business affairs. And the business affairs executives pick up the phone and call each other. They know exactly what you’ve paid.
And, more to the point, when it’s time for you to make a deal if you like the amount of money you just got paid you’re telling them. So, we can say it’s a no-quote time but it’s not. What you just got paid is known by both sides. Or, it is confirmable by both sides. So that’s the first thing.
And the second thing is when we talk about what you’re worth we’re talking about what the market decides they’re going to pay you at that moment. The hard part is it has absolutely nothing to do with your actual worth as a writer. What you’re being paid now is actually what you were worth. It’s never what you are worth. It’s what you were worth before this moment.
So when you’re a new writer you are worth nothing. [laughs] You were, right? That’s all you have to show is nothing so they pay you like that. When you just had a hit movie they pay you like what you were worth on the hit movie. They’re always behind. They’re always lagging.
Aline: When you as a creative person become part of a negotiation I’ve always found it really challenging because there’s things that I just want to do them. And so I don’t want to get immersed too much in the pay because I’m desperate to do it. And your representatives in a way are there to buffer that enthusiasm so that you have, you have a stronger hand. Because if you’re saying to your lawyer I’ll just take, just take it, just take it, you’re really cutting them off at the knees. But if it’s something you’re dying to do, you know, we’re not usually driven by money. We’re driven by the love of the material. And so it’s very challenging just to empower your reps to say, “Well, if it’s shitty walk away from it,” when it’s something you want to do. And you have to have some sense of like, no, this one is worth it. Maybe I’ll take a little pay cut on this one because I believe in this and I think in success this will really work for me.
But I have always found that transition from you’re talking to the creative executives and you’re all on the same page and it feels great and you’re going to go do this thing and then the first offer comes in and your lawyer is like, “This is atrocious.” And it’s hard not to take it personally. And sometimes it is personal in the sense that they are lowballing you because they think they can for whatever reason and it hurts.
Craig: They do it every time. They literally do it every time.
Aline: Your lawyer is trained to say, “Hey, don’t feel differently about this project because of this,” but it’s almost impossible not to feel that way. And because business affairs is a different department and you’re dealing with people who only deal with money and only deal with deals, but then they have to translate these intangibles of like we really, you know, the creative person has their heart set on John August. When they first read the book that was the only person they could picture so they desperately want John August. But the business affairs person has to pretend like they don’t care if it’s John August. And sometimes they do.
John: Well let’s talk about leverage because that is the way that a screenwriter ultimately increases the amount they’re paid for that project. And leverage can come from a couple ways. But the biggest one is the freedom to walk away, to say like, “You know what, I’m not taking this deal. So if this is where we’re stopping then I’m stopping and I’m moving on to the next thing.”
Leverage can also come from kind of being perceived as being irreplaceable by other creative elements. So that director desperately wants you. That star desperately wants you. We have a friend who is sort of the only person who can get along with a certain actor and so she’s worth a lot on those projects because she’s the only one who can sort of handle that person. So those are reasons why a person can get paid more.
I would say classically coming off of a hit movie, like you got that bump on your next movie and your next movie after it, I see that happening a little bit less now than five years ago just because the business has changed. Again, the supply and demand of how many projects there are out there is different.
Another way that you can increase your quote or the amount that you’re being paid on this project is by working for one of the new places. And the new places will tend to overpay because they’re desperate to get in business with certain people.
Aline: In certain moments. I mean, you know, if it’s your passion project you’ve got to be prepared to take a haircut. But I think one of the things that’s interesting, you know, the three of us have been in this business a long time and it was kind of the same for a long time. It was a very calcified, for better or for worse, it was understandable. And some of the things of like, Aline, you’re not going to get paid as much as the other people, I mean, those were codified, too.
Technology and the rise of all these other means of distributing have effected everything. And it’s exactly what you said, you know, movie quotes are not what they were, TV quotes are not what they were. You’re in a sort of a more freeform environment and there’s wonderful things about that but there’s also, you know, in some ways they have us over a barrel and they are trying to redefine backend. Redefine all the ways in which screenwriters are being paid. And it’s one of the reasons there’s sort of a lot of tumult and discussion among writers because I’ve never seen a more rapid period of change.
Craig: We’re also in the middle of a rapidly increasing income disparity which echoes what’s going on in the economy at large and the world at large. What used to be a kind of gentle bell curve has been accelerating even more and more, so now the question really isn’t, well, what’s my quote and how much am I being paid and can I get a bump – that’s what they say is a raise is a bump. Can I get a bump? What’s happening is that the writing business is starting to separate between employees, just standard old employees who are more and more just being pushed towards scale, and mega deals.
In my career the thought of a writer earning nine figures – that would be over $100,000,000 – for a deal that went on for two or three years was kind of astonishing. It’s happening all the time now. And so we are moving out of what we’re all familiar with. And the mega deals seemingly don’t care about, well, I guess you get what you get. And what’s concerning to me is that the opportunities for new writers coming in are going to be defined by this new system which is essentially, oh yeah, we don’t really do live over-scale. Do you know what I mean? That’s the fear is that over-scale essentially just goes away and everything is just sort of scale. It’s like, well–
Aline: I also just, I mean, we’ve talked about this before, but I don’t know how I would have broken into the feature business given what I write. I would absolutely now be going in through the TV door.
Craig: Of course. Of course.
Aline: Where minimums are different. But, you know, just to be writing sort of character-based comedies often, most often with female leads, they’re making so few that – there used to be a pipeline and all of that is going now into these television–so the other thing is that the feature business is much more steeped in–
John: In giant IP. Yeah. Absolutely.
Aline: And so it is a different – if you are person who can take one of those pieces of IP and make it make sense, there’s wild rewards in that. And those people’s careers have skyrocketed. And also it’s kind of sucked up a lot of our A-list talent. You know, I always think of like people who would have been doing Three Days of the Condor or All the President’s Men or all those, you know, Sydney Pollack, Alan Pakula, you know, a lot of those movies. They’re doing big genre franchise movies. And I wish that they could do both at the same time because I do mourn a little bit the original character-based movies that we all grew up on. And because a lot of the people grew up loving these genre pieces they’re making these IP movies. And I do mourn a little bit the movies they might have made if we were still making those personal pieces.
Craig: They’re gone.
Aline: They’re on TV.
John: They’re on TV.
Craig: They’re on TV. And when it comes to movies you’re absolutely right. They would not – if you were starting out and you were writing romantic comedies or character studies or smaller let’s say call it a $25 million budget with a female lead, no question. They’re just not making them. And nor are they making the movies that I was writing when I started out. If you want to make sort of a family PG-13 live action or PG live action comedy–
John: That’s me.
Craig: Yeah. It’s television. You know, you’re going to Netflix now. They’re just not doing it.
Aline: But unless you have Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
John: Or Aladdin.
Aline: Or Aladdin.
Craig: Exactly. But even then, I have to say even now I got to argue that in 2019 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a harder bet. Because we talk about these big movies and IP and stuff but we’re not saying the word “superhero” which we need to. Because the superhero thing has essentially transformed Hollywood. The theatrical movie business is the superhero movie business. Period. The end.
Aline: And we’re way deep in the bin there. People are like, oh, are you pitching on Oatmeal Boy, and you’re like, what? There was one issue about that character in 1964. We’re deep, deep in the well there. And there are so many kind of big classic pieces of novels that have yet to be adapted. It’s so funny because somebody once said to me they never made a Mata Hari movie. And it’s just something that I think about. But if you had done a Mata Hari comic in 1972, you know, and people collected it and whatever you could shove that through.
But it is funny. We just have gotten – I run into people and they’re working on superhero stuff that – I mean, obviously I’m not an expert. But we’ve gone deep, deep in the well there.
Craig: Well, they don’t even have to go that deep in the well. They just remake.
Aline: Keep making the ones, yeah.
Craig: I mean, I think everybody kind of giggled when the fourth version of Spider Man had come out. But now it’s sort of like, oh, what’s this year’s Spider Man? That’s it. Just every year there will be a new Spider Man. And every year there will be a new Batman.
Aline: That’s like those old Tom Mix westerns, you know, from early Hollywood. You would just go that character, they would just do latest adventures or comic books.
Craig: The only thing is like in the old days they would crank out programmers, like Wallace Beery wrestling pictures, or [Odors] as those of us who do crossword puzzles love to say. But they were low budget. They were cheap stuff to flood the theaters.
John: They’re filler.
Craig: Nobody does that anymore because it’s the opposite now. Everything has to be a massive event. So either you’re doing superhero movies or you’re doing Star Wars movies. And then there’s animation. Or, in the case of Disney, live action animation. But there is no space really for other stuff. There’s the tiniest space which I find myself now when I’m working in movies that’s where I live. In this tiny space. Which is why I’m quite happy to be embarking on a television journey because, you know, I–
Aline: I’m just imagining you trying to pitch Chernobyl as a feature. Like having ten meetings in a week where you go in and pitch Chernobyl and executives sort of come in expecting you – what does Craig have? Like expecting some fun comedy with big comedy stars. And here’s [laughs] Craig saying–
Craig: That’s why I didn’t do it.
Aline: So he’s vomiting. He’s bleeding out from his face. And, you know–
John: There’s male nudity but it’s not funny male nudity.
Aline: But there was a world where you would have conceivably pitched and made that movie and that’s why I think there is a giant hole in the marketplace for somebody to start a company which makes a lot of the stuff that’s now going to Netflix. Other kinds of stories, character-based stories, but female leads, non-white leads. To sort of have a woke, for lack of a better term, studio that opens its doors to everybody who wants to be doing stuff like that because if you make them for a price they can work huge. And the upside can be huge. And you can make Girls Trip and you can make Mamma Mia and you can make Get Out. And for someone to really open the doors on a big company like that that is run by executives who are not all named Matt. That would be incredible and I think we would all run to that person.
And I understand that financially now the amount of money that you need to be that person is almost too astronomical to exist. But I am waiting desperately for someone to make the superstore, the big box version of Fox 2000 with big funding that we can all run to for those projects. Because people have an enormous hunger to still make them and to see them on a big screen.
Craig: Question for you. Didn’t you just describe Megan Ellison and Annapurna? And didn’t they just go bankrupt?
John: Or A24. Fox Searchlight.
Aline: But are they taking the Girls Trip swings? Are they taking the Mamma Mia swings? Or are they taking more of the art – which again, and love those more arthouse type movies, obviously a thing I love. But I’m talking about more the sort of commercial in-the-box comedy character-based, you know, Bad Moms, Get Out is a good example of, you know–
Craig: Well Jason Blum obviously has a very successful business making genre films.
Aline: But I’m just talking about non-IP driven original content that is run by and includes a wider swath of the community who are desperate to tell those stories. I am sure every writer, we all have something in our drawer that we would love to do that way. And frankly right now people are going to streamers to do that.
Craig: I would. I mean, I’m just being honest with you. I would. I mean, unless I had something – I mean, look, Mamma Mia would be – that’s different because that is IP and all the rest of it. If I had something that was akin to, well, if I had something that I thought was an interesting $25 or $30 million movie I would be going to a streamer without question. Without question.
Aline: So maybe that’s a hole in the theatrical feature environment then. Maybe not.
Craig: They just don’t do it. I mean, the problem is you’re right. There is this massive hole there. But you can’t get a movie in theaters without distribution. And these major studios control it.
Aline: And giant marketing costs.
Craig: Well, exactly.
John: So there’s a project I’m doing which may end up at Netflix. And part of the discussion was it was hard to envision what the Friday night of this movie would be. It’s just like could you get enough butts in seats on Friday night to make this smaller comedy work. But if it were on a streamer that pressure is just not there. And so I think people would find it in their own time and it wouldn’t be that sense of like it has to be this giant weekend.
Aline: Interestingly though, when those movies drop on Netflix they do get humungous, crazy-huge eyeball numbers on the first weekend.
Craig: So they claim. [laughs] So they claim.
Aline: No, well I do believe that. Because–
John: Always Be My Maybe is a good example.
Aline: You guys know you turn on your streamer box and that’s the first thing there. And they have this marketing which is insane. You pay to subscribe to this service and it’s pushing something on you. And you’re not sure what you want to watch and everybody looks at each other and says great. And it’s new and it’s being promoted to you. So, you know, there’s nothing – so I don’t know, maybe this new studio that we’re creating is a subscription service.
John: So let’s bring this around and talk about where we’re at and sort of what we can do to sort of make this better.
Aline: The quotes?
John: The quotes. I do think in a world where quotes become less important the transparency in terms of what you’re getting paid is helpful. And I see more of that happening in TV. And in TV there are clear rungs that you’re going up through. So if people publicize like I’m a story editor on this show, this is what I’m getting, that is truly helpful for people figuring out am I getting paid more or less than sort of the average for this role.
A thing I’m going to probably do and I’ll just commit to actually doing it now is on Aladdin it’s going to be one of the probably last movies that’s going to have traditional residuals. And so I’ll just publicize, as I get each green envelope on Aladdin I will put up on the site how much I’m getting from those envelopes because it’s going to be huge. That’s a big movie and this is classically how writers were able to make a living is the constant residuals that come through.
And those are going to go away, too. And that’s another future topic, but figuring out how we sustain a career without the good residuals we’ve traditionally had is going to be a challenge.
Aline: Data would help the representatives. Because if you had data about what everyone was getting paid your agent could say, you know, this person and this person have a similar track record, or this person has made a special contribution in this way. And here’s another instance where someone did something similar and this is how they were recompensed. So, secrecy always benefits certain groups.
Craig: I agree. I mean, having representatives would also help representatives. Because when I listen to this—
Aline: Well, the lawyers generally do the, right?
Craig: Well lawyers do the negotiating of the hard numbers. Or a lot of the internal numbers. But one thing that agencies can do, particularly the big ones, is say I can tell you exactly what this person got or this person got. They’re really good when you can talk about participation, backend. They know how those things work. Because we’re not the only deals that impact us. Again, because we’re over-scale there are other people like actors and directors and agents who are making certain kinds of deals that we can also make, depending on what the kind of movie is.
So having more information like that is great.
Aline: And also these are intangibles, agents have long relationships with these folks and bring them numerous people. And so they can be saying, “Hey, F-you. Step up. You know what’s right.”
John: And at the same time they can also be saying, you hope that they’re always advocating on your own behalf. But they could also be advocating on other people’s behalves or trying to get this other thing to happen.
Aline: Or trying to protect a relationship.
John: Exactly. So it does work both ways.
Craig: It does. I mean, we’ve all paid 10% to agents our entire careers I guess because we assumed that it was working in our favor.
John: All right. Let’s move on to the marquee topic for today which is idea management. So this came up to me because there’s a couple projects that I’m sort of noodling on, so I’ve not really started writing them yet but they are things that are in my head. They’re like the shiny jewels that I pick up and hold in my virtual hand and stare at them and do a little work on and then set them back down. And we haven’t really talked about this on the show which is that sort of early stage of holding onto and sorting through your ideas before you start writing and some best practices on that.
Because what really occurred to me this past week is I had some insomnia and I realized I was doing that rather than actually letting myself fall asleep. I was like so worried about holding onto this idea and focusing on it that I couldn’t set it down and actually go to sleep. So, Craig let’s say you have a good idea, it’s midnight, you’re headed to bed. You have a good idea. Do you get out of bed and write it down? What do you do with that idea that occurs to you?
Craig: If there’s something that happens right there while I’m in bed, my iPad is on my nightstand so I’ll just send myself a quick email. I have in the past said to myself you’ll remember this and then I don’t. I just remember not remembering it and being very angry. But that’s not really where most of my thinking happens. By the time I’m going to bed I’m just tired and I want to go to bed. Most of my thinking happens, well, most of my freeform thinking happens in the shower. That’s where I like to just think.
Aline: We’ve established this.
Aline: We’ve had a lot of mind images of Craig in the shower over the years if you’re a Scriptnotes fan.
John: Aline, you have that late night idea, what do you do with that idea?
Aline: So I do a lot of my thinking in the bathtub.
Craig: Oh, it’s the same thing.
Aline: It is the same thing. A bathtub. But also when I go to sleep I try and think about something that I’m noodling on or have to solve. And I don’t think I wake up instantly with the answer but I do try and noodle on it because I know that that’s a fertile period. I will say like Rachel and I frequently had this conversation – I don’t write things down very often because I feel like if it’s a good idea it will persist and it will return to me. And I know a lot of people who think I’m insane who are real note-takers. And for them they need to see it concretized. If I start writing on an idea too soon I’ll kill it. It’s like I’ve over-watered the plant.
So I have to kind of keep it in a back-burnery place where only my subconscious is working on it until it’s kind of formed before I start putting voice to it, because there’s something about rendering it that sort of makes it less magical and interesting for me. So if I’m going to email myself something it’s a line of dialogue. Sometimes I think of lines of dialogue in the bathroom or in the bed. And then sometimes it’s plot stuff that I cannot fix. So, I would say the bathtub especially is a place where I go, oh, you know what, that’s where I go. And then I will put notes – I usually use the notes app. And kind of get it down.
But again I try and get it down in a skeletal way because somehow if I fully express an idea in print it doesn’t engage me in the same way.
John: I totally get that. You just did an over-watering metaphor which I really do like because it does kind of feel like it’s a garden that you have to tend every once and a while because if you don’t actually pay attention to the thing it can just wither and die on its own. And sometimes it’s best that it wither and die. Like it really did not want to be anything that you pursued. But also things can overgrow and just become too crazy.
And like I’ll try not to put something down in print and fix it in one form because I know it’s growing in different things and it could be combining with a different idea. You know, these really inchoate ideas they’re sort of competing for attention in your mind. They’re trying to get brain cycle. Like, no, no, think about me, think about me. And that’s the only way that they can actually become real projects.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t, you know me, my whole thing is I don’t write the script until I know exactly what the hell it is that I’m writing anyway. So in a weird way what we’re talking about here is this kind of idea gathering process. That is the process for me. I’m gathering ideas and writing things down on notecards and putting snippets of dialogue in little clustery files. But I don’t start writing anything until I see it. It’s like, oh, I always think of this wonderful scene from Searching for Bobby Fischer. Do you love Searching for Bobby Fischer the way I love it?
John: I do not recall it well, so obviously I don’t.
Craig: My god. Aline? Big Searching for–?
Aline: I haven’t seen it recently.
Craig: Oh, Steven Zaillian wrote and directed, brilliant. And there’s a moment where Ben Kinsley as the grandmaster is teaching this little kid. And he’s looking at the board and Ben Kingsley says, “You can get to checkmate in five. Don’t move until you see it.” And the kid is looking at it and he goes, “I don’t see it.” And Ben Kingsley says, “Don’t move until you see it.” And the kid says, “I don’t see it.” And Ben Kingsley says, “Here, I’ll help you. And he takes his arm and he wipes all the pieces off the board and they all clatter to the floor. It’s gorgeous. And he says, “There.” So now the kid can look at the blank board and then imagine the pieces and then he sees it.
And a lot of times for me I’m like don’t write it until you see it. That’s the way I kind of think about it. Don’t write it until you see it.
Aline: There’s also a thing that can happen where if you iterate something before you’re ready it creates a box or a fence in your brain and you can never get over it to where the good idea was. And so I fear that a little bit. Like you don’t want to start putting in those 2x4s and beams until you really know what you’re doing because you can get trapped in your edifice and then you can’t ever – because I was talking to another writer yesterday about sometimes you see something on the page and it’s so not what you want that you’re like I don’t remember writing, I don’t remember being a writer, I don’t remember what stories are. Have I ever seen a movie? It can block you.
So, I’ve written – a lot of the stuff I’ve done have been originals, 27 Dresses, Morning Glory, Crazy Ex, were all ideas that I had for a very long time. And what I tend to do is I store them up and I think about them until I meet the person.
John: Now did you have a list of those ideas?
John: So just floating in your head somewhere? It’s like I want to do a movie about that.
Aline: They’re floating in my head. And then 27 Dresses I was like, you know what, this is a good idea. I should do this. Because my best friend Kate had been in 12 weddings at that point and it was insane. And I could see that the wedding industry was getting to this point where she was asked to do stuff that was bonkers.
And I pitched it to a lot of people. I think I pitched that to 11 people and the person that I didn’t know who latched on to it right away was John Glickman. So when I find often a collaborator or person I know this is the right person who can help, you know, water this with me and then I’m in a process. And with Morning Glory that was JJ. I pitched it to JJ I think the first time I met him. And then Crazy Ex was an idea, the title and the character – because I think there’s – I really relish and am giggly about all the moments in my life when I’ve been a crazy ex, even if it’s just like I want that sweater and there’s only one left in the small, you know, and I stalked it. And I always loved that idea.
And when I met Rachel I went, boom, that’s how to do it. So, I think it’s nice to carry around a little suitcase of notions in your brain and then when you think, oh, you know what? Now’s the moment to do it. This wedding stuff is getting so over the top that a movie about a perpetual bridesmaid, this is a good time to do it. So either the circumstances or you meet a person or you think of the genre. You know, you have an idea and you think, oh, the way to do this is, you know, this is a movie about terrible in-laws, but it’s Meet the Parents, or it’s Get Out. It takes a certain form.
And to me if the thing isn’t good I’ll forget about it.
John: Craig, do you have an idea suitcase?
Craig: No. I’m not a big idea person like that. In other words I’m not a big “here’s an idea for a movie.” I was like that early in my career because early in my career you were rewarded for that. Over time it seems to me that my skill isn’t so much in coming up with a wonderful idea for a movie. My skill it seems is figuring out how to write a movie. So, and that kind of meshed nicely with the way the business evolved because suddenly—
Aline: Well I would argue that that’s not true of Chernobyl.
Craig: Well, Chernobyl isn’t an idea. In other words, Chernobyl – it’s a topic.
Aline: The way you did it. Well, it’s a topic, but the way you did it and the way you chronicled it.
John: That’s execution rather than idea.
Craig: Correct. I think of that as actually the best example of the fact that I can execute things. But I don’t think of it as like, in other words what you do there – I used to do it. I don’t. I don’t know if I was ever really good at it to be honest with you. I mean—
Aline: So just to bring this back around, one of the reasons I’ve always done that is because that’s how I got hired. And there was not a lot else out for me. I was not being offered the big IP. Even back in the day I wasn’t getting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I wasn’t well-known enough in those days. And that’s, you know, that’s why I chased Devil Wears Prada. Talk about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I chased that. Every single time they replaced the writer I said to my agent, “Get me in, get me in, get me in.” Because there’s so few things like that.
So I wasn’t getting – because there weren’t – there were so few pieces like that. Annie is one. Weirdly Cinderella was a thing that I came up with and pitched, strangely. That’s how long ago that was. That was before they were doing that. Annie is an example of like that’s a big piece that got given to me, but one of the reasons I did that is because for whatever reason I just have not been gifted with things that already had momentum. Annie was one, but not often.
Craig: At least in the beginning I certainly wasn’t either. So I was coming up with ideas and things. Some of them were really bad, but then they made them. Right? So they made some movies, some of them did OK. Most of them didn’t do well. What happened was I got stuck on sequels. And I guess at that point I was able to demonstrate some sort of executional ability.
But, yeah, when you start out you do kind of need to go here is my suitcase, here are my samples. Would you like to buy? And I do remember, you know, I mean, look, there’s a movie that I co-wrote with my partner back then called Senseless. It’s just a bad idea for a movie. It’s really just terrible. It’s a terrible idea for a movie.
The reason it got made I think is because it was in the middle of the video era when they would make anything. And, you know what? Penelope Spheeris did her best to direct and Marlon Wayans was really funny. And Matthew Lillard was really funny. But the idea was just dumb. It was just a bad idea for a movie.
Aline: Some ideas don’t work.
Craig: I mean, but that one honestly mystified me – I remember my writing partner and I were taking a walk and we had just pitched this thing. Because we were, again, we were like we need to get the suitcase out. No one is giving us anything. We have to make our own opportunities. And he said, “Do you think they’ll make that?” And I said not a chance. Not a chance. And then they did.
Aline: So one thing I would say for aspiring writers, when you are breaking in and you start to get those round of general meetings they’re going to say to you, “What do you want to write? Is there an article? Is there an idea? What do you have?” Wait a second. Get to know this person. Have a nice general meeting. Just chat in general about their movies. Hope you bump into them. Don’t give your babies, because in the beginning, you know, anybody who wanted to meet with me I’m a more reticent person so I would meet someone and five minutes into it they would say, “What is something you’ve dreamed of writing your whole life?” And I would think I just met you. I don’t know if I want to entrust you with that.
But I’ve seen young writers often, they’re just so excited to be in a meeting with someone that they take one of their idea babies out of their suitcase – not a good place to keep babies.
Craig: Put holes in it.
Aline: And they give it to someone and then that’s where it loses its momentum. So if you have something that’s near and dear to you in the beginning you might want to write it, or wait until you find someone who is truly a champion. Because the other thing I was naïve about is people take these general meetings with you. They actually haven’t read your work.
And one of the funniest – I don’t know if I’ve told this story on this podcast before – but I was in a meeting, my very first round of general meetings. And while I was sitting there an assistant walked in and said to the executive, “I have that coverage on Jersey Angel you wanted.”
John: Your script.
Aline: And I was so dumb that I didn’t know that that was – she hadn’t read it. And was taking the meeting as a favor to my agent. And so that was a person saying, “Gee, what are your hopes and dreams. And give me those things that reside in your soul,” who hadn’t actually read my script.
So, just, you know–
John: So I’m taking a lot of generals right now because there’s just a bunch of folks who over the years I’ve never met, or all the executives moved from one company to another so I’m just taking those generals now. And I’ve found that, granted I’m not at the beginning of my career, but I will generally go into those meetings with some sense of like, OK, these are the kinds of things they might be looking for. And so I may not pitch a specific story, but I’ll pitch like this is a story area that I’m really interested in. Like I just read an article about this thing and I think there’s probably a great movie to be made that’s looking at the reality of this but also pushes it into this fantasy aspect. And so those are helpful things to have as you go into those things.
Just give them a sense of like what your taste is and what’s interesting to you. And a lot of times I really am pulling some stuff out of the old idea suitcase. Like I’ve always wanted to do something with this place. Or like this old idea, I realize now in 2020 is actually more about this and that is a point of discussion. So, a deal I’m making now was out of one of those general meetings where I had an old thing but I realized like, oh, actually the way you make this story now in 2020 has a whole different [valence].
Aline: You said something so brilliant once and I think about it a lot, so I’m going to make you repeat it. Somebody said I have two ideas and I don’t know which one to write. And you said pick the one with the better ending.
John: That was Episode 100.
Aline: Ah, I love that piece of advice. And to go with that is I would say pick an idea that suggests a structure. Because sometimes I’ve had ideas – that’s why I had not done Crazy Ex because I didn’t know what the structure of that could be. And it wasn’t until Rachel and I started talking about it and I realized it was a TV show so you could kind of examine the prism. I was worried that a movie would be too reductive and broad.
Pick an idea that suggests a structure to you. Because if it just seems like a good idea for a movie, and I will tell you something quite counterintuitive. Things that are set on the backdrop of a wedding, rom-coms, a lot of people their first movie is like, “Oh, it’s the destination wedding. Or it’s the wedding where you find out your divorced parents fall back in love or whatever.” Weddings are brutal structurally because they are not escalating. So, your rehearsal dinner to your ceremony to the football game on the lawn, they don’t have a natural escalation in stakes. Actually it seems like that’s a structure. It’s not. And I’ve wandered down that garden path more than once because I’ve written a bunch of things that have weddings in them. They’re actually very difficult.
If you’re starting out and you have an idea, the one that suggests I have to be there by Tuesday to get a thing is probably the easiest the one, the simpler one to write. Something that suggests a journey. Suggests a story.
John: Like your Crazy Ex-Girlfriend example, Arlo Finch I had in my head for a very long time and I just didn’t know what it was. It’s not really a movie. It’s not really a TV show. And then I had a conversation with a middle grade novelist and I realized like, oh, this is a middle grade novel series. That’s what it is. I started writing that night and that became the thing. So, you do hold on to those things not knowing quite what form they want to take, but you know that there’s a thing there that’s interesting and appealing.
Aline: But I still think I would still argue Craig that the idea of doing Chernobyl in the way that you did it is a great idea because, you know, you could make a lot of Chernobyl movies but they would have been the more typical accident of the week kind of thing. So it’s just – it’s a cool idea just to examine that because it’s not something that people know enough about. But also the way in which it was done is a cool idea. I think.
Craig: Well thank you.
John: Take the compliment, Craig. She’s complimenting you.
Craig: I mean, you know, I’m not good – I’m really bad at compliments. Mostly when somebody gives me a compliment my mind immediately starts creating a very good rebuttal.
Aline: Or you think, “What an idiot? What a dummy?”
John: They couldn’t recognize the real me, because if they knew the real me they’d be disappointed.
Craig: I don’t think you understand. See, I’m not really very good. That’s kind of, yeah. Well, you know, Chernobyl couldn’t have been a movie anyway. That’s true.
Aline: Part of your idea was we’re going to really look at this in a very granular beat-by-beat and the millions and millions of bad decisions that go into something like this. And that’s what makes it a great cautionary tale because all these disasters are a collision of a million mistakes, human and technical. And you need time. You needed episodes for that to unfurl. And a movie might have constrained you. Also because movies are going to follow a more traditional escalation crescendo structure which sometimes things don’t want to be. And those make you be phony.
Aline: Sometimes the form is a terrific idea. I haven’t seen it, but doing Emily Dickinson’s life as sort of like an emo-teen-pop thing which they’re doing on Apple, I have no idea what that’s like. But it’s taking the biopic and making it, from what I’ve seen it looks like a cool Ariana Grande video. That’s a cool idea.
Craig: Have you guys ever heard someone pronounce biopic “bi-opic?”
Craig: It’s amazing. Every time it happens I get so excited.
Aline: I have to stop correcting. We have a thing in our house but with fewer and less. And two of us are quite strict on it and one of us is really annoyed.
Craig: That would be Will, your husband, I’m assuming.
Aline: No, he’s a bit of a stickler in a way. One of my children finds it very annoying to be policed.
John: And your dogs are like I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Aline: Yeah, we’re idiots.
Craig: We don’t speak at all.
John: Let’s answers some questions here. First question is an audio question from Nathan Morris.
Nathan Morris: Hello, my name is Nathan. I’ll give you a dollar each if you can guess where I’m from by my accident. I’m currently living in New York. I have a question about working with actors. I’m a writer-director. I’m working on a little passion project right now to prove to the world what I can do. It’s all improvised. I wrote large backstory for each of my characters. During casting and workshopping with them was really fun and some ideas come up that the actors thought of about the characters I created.
I used a couple of these in the edit I’m putting together now and I’m wondering should they be credited as writers because they did create the joke? I don’t want to annoy anyone, piss anyone off, or just be a dick. Yeah, so I’d love to know what you guys think about that. I’m especially interested after hearing your Veep episode. Armando Iannucci is one of my heroes.
Craig: I’ve got to tell you all I did was listen to his accent for the first half of that question. I have no idea what the question was.
John: So here was his question. He made a short that involved a lot of actors who were doing improv.
Craig: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
John: He is wondering whether he should credit them as writers for the improv.
Craig: No. So, the, well, listen, it’s entirely up to you, Nathan, how you go about these things if you are not working within our Writers Guild world. In the Writers Guild world writing credit is for literary material. That means specifically material that has been written down on paper. So ad-libs, things that come up on the day that actors are putting out there are not considered literary material so it’s not creditable as writing.
If you are creating something that is highly improvisational you can consider it. But I would point out that even in shows like—
Craig: Curb Your Enthusiasm, right, which there is a very strict outline that’s been written but inside of those scenes the dialogue can be often very improvised, those actors are not getting writing credit either. It’s just sort of understood this is how it works. Also I think he’s from South Africa.
John: All right. Aline, what is your impression both of what Nathan should do with his actors and where he’s from?
Aline: He’s from Australia.
Craig: It’s one or the other.
John: I’m pretty sure Australia.
Craig: Those two are always in my mind competing.
Aline: Interesting. Yeah, there’s a lot of the Christopher Guest movies and Curb are examples of the story is preset. They’re given material and then the dialogue is – what I wouldn’t do is spring it on anyone. Just make sure going into it that they know what examples you’re following and that this is how you’re going to be doing it.
It’s different if they’re sitting in a room with you and you’re typing it together.
John: Yeah. I think our consensus is that these actors sort of knew going into it that this was an improv situation. They probably don’t have an expectation that you are going to be giving them writing credit for this. But, of course, what we really care about is where you’re from and Nathan has an answer. So I actually heard the answer so I know. But I wasn’t convinced – I was thinking South Africa originally, but I was also thinking it could be a British accent, like a specific one that I was just missing. But let’s hear Nathan give us his answer.
Craig: Oh good.
Nathan: My accent is from…New Zealand.
Nathan: Aotearoa. That’s the Maori name for my country. And we also have tall poppies [in germ]. Some would say greater than the Australians. Maybe that’s tall poppy syndrome right there. OK, I will stop wasting your time.
Aline: I feel bad about that because my sister-in-law is from New Zealand.
Craig: It’s really close. I mean, honestly, I mean Australia certainly is closer to New Zealand than South Africa. But I make that mistake, I mush those two together all the time. All the time. Mush those three together I guess all the time. Shame on me.
John: Shame on us. Monica asks, “Hi John, what was your budget on God and how did you go about funding it?” So God was a short film I made with Melissa McCarthy in 1998. We shot on 35mm film. We shot on short ends. We got the film pretty cheap but processing is expensive. So the full budget on that was $30,000. You can now make that same movie for $3,000.
Aline: John, where can people see The Nines?
John: The Nines, anywhere. It’s actually streaming kind of in all the places. It’s on iTunes but it’s also everywhere else.
Aline: It’s so good.
John: Thank you very much. So Melissa McCarthy’s character in God shows up again in The Nines. And as we all know Melissa McCarthy is a treat and a gem and a wonder of our age.
Aline: And Ryan Reynolds in it. It’s really good.
John: Thank you. Paul asks, “I watch a lot of movies and notice that it usually starts raining at the beginning of the third act or the end of the second act when things get bad in the story. Is this a tradition that should be used? Is it a crutch? Is there a way to stop using rain as a crutch? Should it be written in the script or left to a cinematography decision? I don’t hate it when I see it but I don’t love it either. It’s in many of my most beloved movies of all time. Help.”
Aline: I mean, it’s a huge rom-com trope.
John: It is a trope.
Aline: We made fun of it on the show. It’s a huge rom-com trope. You know, using the environment to reflect the inner feelings of a character, so as things are darkening the weather is reflecting that. That’s why you can call it out in a comedic sense because climaxes of romances in romantic comedies are people speaking to each other in the rain which is a thing I’ve never done. Dude, it’s raining. Let’s have this fight under an awning. People will stand there getting drenched with rain drenching them. Women with like their shirts drenched having a romantic conversation with someone. So, externalizing people’s emotions in the weather can sometimes reinforce the atmosphere, but sometimes can just make it seem like hilariously people’s emotions are being externalized.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a trope. I mean, is it a crutch? I don’t know if it’s a crutch. Although I do agree that there are times when you want to see your characters at a low moment and you decide it’s not enough to just know that they’re feeling terrible. You have to also rain directly on them, like those cartoons where a little cloud follows someone around.
Aline: But have you guys ever just stood there while it was raining?
Craig: Yeah, no.
Aline: And spoken to someone?
Craig: No. I mean, unless I was so depressed because I was at the end of my second act. I mean, that’s the point. It’s silly but there’s a lot of silly stuff in movies. Like the fact that usually people don’t have rear view mirrors in their cars. So, I would say, look—
Aline: And they talk to people who are sitting in the middle of the back seat.
Craig: And they don’t say goodbye when they hang up a phone.
Aline: All these things we love.
Craig: All these things we love.
Aline: I think it can be cartoony. I mean, I love a sunlit noir. I love a movie where someone is going through some horrible noir. After Dark, My Sweet is the one I think of. Where it’s a noir but it’s Jason Patric being sort of bathed in horrible, horrible California sunshine instead of dark.
Craig: Yeah. Glaring hangover light.
John: So a thing that people who don’t make movies probably don’t realize is that whenever you write rain in the script, when you actually show up on set it is miserable generally because like the rain towers and the whole process of getting people wet and getting people dry and shooting in the rain is a huge hassle. You’re trying to protect everything. So I learned this firsthand on Go which does have rain in the third act. And it’s a hassle. It’s fully appropriate in Go. It actually serves a character purpose. It’s part of the reason they hit Ronna. But good lord, rain is a brutal thing.
Craig: Rain is hard to do. One thing, Paul, you would not do is leave it up to the cinematographer. The cinematographer does not make that decision. The cinematographer has to figure out how to shoot it. But, yes, it is absolutely within your domain to write that into a script. And then, you know, people can discuss after if they want to do it or not. But, yeah, it’s definitely something you should be deciding.
John: It is time for our One Cool Things. Now, Craig you and David Kwong just finished a massive puzzling expedition. It was like five days of work I believe?
John: Six days. So I’m going to break precedent and I’m actually going to recommend a puzzle thing. This is called Reg Ex Crossword. And so it’s the perfect Venn diagram intersection of what’s interesting to me and what’s interesting to you. So Reg Ex or regular expressions are the computer code that helps do pattern matching. So it’s how you find text within text. It is really esoteric and strange. This is a crossword puzzle situation where the clues are actually just regular expressions so you have to figure out what letters could possibly match up with those things. It’s very ingeniously done.
Craig, I hope you will clear out your afternoon schedule so you can try some of this.
Craig: I shouldn’t, but I will.
John: So, weirdly a cross between what we love about crossword puzzles and also what we love about Sudoku and only certain things can fit in certain boxes.
Craig: It actually sounds like a cross between what I love about crosswords and what I love about you.
John: Aw, Craig.
John: Aline knows that I’m blushing right now.
Aline: He’s blushing. Do you guys know what Sooth is?
John: Sooth is the relaxation app.
Aline: Sooth is a massage app.
John: Oh yes. Yes.
Aline: Sooth is an on-demand massage app. And I’ve got to say I’ve used it for a bunch of years now. It’s great.
John: We’ve used it.
Aline: And I’ve had many, many massage therapists. You can request the same one. But the beauty of Sooth is that you’re like, you know what in about an hour I’m in the mood for a massage and I have time. And they’ll come to your house and they bring the table. And I’ve had many, many Sooth massages and they’ve been different people and they’ve all been pretty great.
You know how sometimes you go to a spa and someone starts and you’re like this is – what am I doing?
John: There’s going to be 45 more minutes of this.
Aline: There’s going to be 45 minutes of nothingness. These are really good, strong massage therapists. I’ve only had women because I’ve had too many creepy male massages in my life. So I can only speak for the female massage therapists on Sooth. But they’re really good. They come to your house. And what’s nice about that is when you’re done, you know, and after they go you just get in your shower. You’re not in a spa. That’s a whole – I don’t like things that are a whole thing. Going to get a massage can be a whole thing.
But Sooth makes it into a really easy, pleasurable way to get a massage in your home.
John: Nice. That sounds like an ad for Sooth but it’s actually just a One Cool Thing. Craig, what’s your One Cool Thing?
Craig: Well I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Assassin’s Creed Odyssey yet.
Craig: I’ve been playing it. So, hat’s off to Ubisoft. Every Assassin’s Creed game is kind of the same thing. I mean, it’s amazing. And yet it’s sort of like, well, you know, the Big Mac works for a reason. People like it. And in this game you’re running around Ancient Greece which is cool because you get to talk to Socrates. But what my One Cool Thing specifically about the game is sex. There is sex in Assassin’s Creed and it’s hysterical.
You know the old cliché of two people start kissing and then they just sort of pan over to a fireplace? So that’s what it is every single time. But the best part is you can play the game as a man or a woman. It’s kind of ingenious actually. There’s a beginning where there’s a brother and a sister and something terrible happens and they’re split apart. And then they have to kind of find each other over the course of time and they’re rivals. And so if you choose to play as a woman, well, you’re the sister. If you choose to play as a man you’re the brother. And then they just flop the other things. But what doesn’t change are all the people that are interested in having sex with you. And your choice is to have sex with them.
I have had sex with everyone. So I played this character, because you have an option. You can turn down people. I turn down no one.
Aline: Just the pulled quote from this episode is Craig Mazin for Deadline Hollywood. It’s going to be Craig Mazin, “I’ve had sex with everyone.”
Craig: My favorite thing happened the other night. For whatever reason I had sex with this woman that I used to have sex with that I hadn’t seen in a while. Then I go rescue this guy and he’s so into me right from the start, right? I’m playing as a guy. So he’s into me from the start. And then he has a brother. And he and the brother are very different. I’m like, OK, I kind of see what’s going on here. This brother is into guys, or if I’m playing as a woman he’ll be into women. It doesn’t matter. The point is he’s into me and the other one is not really. A sad story.
No. They both are. I have sex with brothers, not at the same time, but separately. And then they both find out.
Aline: Next quote. New article. New piece. “I had sex with brothers.”
Craig: I had sex with brothers. And then I dumped both of them. It was great.
Aline: Have you guys seen the Black Mirror with Anthony Mackey in it?
John: I have seen that one.
Aline: You have?
John: It’s sort of that situation.
Aline: Yeah. Craig have you seen that one?
Craig: I’m living it, man. I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I’m having sex with everyone.
Aline: Well, it can get tricky.
Craig: One of the quests in the game is you have to go get somebody’s like armor from a special blacksmith. And you go to the blacksmith and he’s like, well, and he’s like a big burly dude. He’s like, “I would, but you know, I don’t know. Maybe if you make it worth my while.” I mean, he’s literally saying, “You know, if you have sex with me I’ll do it.” And I’m like, done. In. And he’s like, “The only problem is I need special herbs to actually have an erection.” So I have to go and like kill some mountain lions or something so I can collect herbs to give it to a blacksmith to have sex with him in exchange for armor.
I mean, that’s a day. That’s a freaking day.
Aline: What’s going to happen when we find out this is not actually happening?
Craig: Yeah. There is no game called Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. [laughs]
John: Craig is just sitting there staring at a black screen. [laughs]
Craig: Or I’m doing it. First of all, I have to find a blacksmith. A real blacksmith.
Craig: Brothers. I have to find brothers. I have to find an old flame. I want to be clear. Every single, and I urge people when they’re playing Assassin’s Creed, whether you’re playing as a man or a woman, have sex with everyone. Because you end up kissing everyone and then like the camera just drifts away. And the best part is the next thing that happens is like time has passed and you’re alone. They’re gone. So you have sex with people and they just leave. It’s perfect. It’s a perfect world.
Aline: It’s perfect for our Tinder age.
Craig: It really is.
Craig: It’s like, hey, yeah, I’ll have sex with you for armor. And you’re gone.
John: That should be the title of the episode. [laughs]
Aline: I’ll have sex with you for armor and then you’re gone.
Craig: And then you’re gone. It’s fantastic.
John: Oh, that is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Victor Krause. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. But for short questions on Twitter Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Aline, do you want to be Twitter mentioned now?
John: Great. You are @?
Aline: I’m @alinebmckenna.
Craig: @alinebmckenna. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts. We get them up the week after the episode airs.
You can find all the back episodes of the show at Scriptnotes.net. And you need to sign up there if you want to use the app to listen to back episodes. So some people were having a hard time listening to back episodes on the app. It’s because you have to go to Scriptnotes.net to log in there. The app exists for iOS and Android.
You can also download 50-episode seasons at store.johnaugust.com. Aline, you use the Scriptnotes app?
Aline: Oh yeah. I do. I do. I’m not a completist, but I’m pretty close to it. I’ve been an early fan and I was an early fan partly because when you’re a screenwriter you’re so lonely and the fact that there was a show where I could listen to two of my friends talking was so nice.
Craig: It was like you weren’t alone.
Aline: Yes. And it was like my buddies are over and we’re talking about screenwriting. But as you know I’m a legit fan and I recommend the show all the time. And so I did recently when I was writing a script I went back and I did kind of a deep dive into the early episodes.
John: Well, Aline, thank you for being a super fan and also for coming back again on the show.
Craig: Thank you, Aline.
John: To be our buddy and talk through these issues with us.
Aline: I just looked it up and Batgirl and Catwoman, they were both on Adam West, but I can’t remember – and fans will tell us which one used to appear in the credits.
Craig: And Eartha Kitt was Catwoman right?
Aline: Julie Newmar did the first two years, and then Eartha Kitt.
Craig: See, I’m an Eartha Kitt fan because she would [purrs]. She was great. She really leaned into the purr.
Aline: She was the greatest.
John: Yeah. And she would have sex for armor.
Craig: I mean, honestly I think you would, too.
Aline: I’m getting Craig a t-shirt that says Will Have Sex for Armor.
Craig: Yeah. Don’t say it like it’s bad. It’s good.
John: Craig, thanks so much. Have a great week.
Craig: Thanks guys, bye.