The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: This is Episode 544 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Last week, Megana and I answered 20 listener questions without Craig. This week he’s doing the same without me, because I am not here. This introduction is prerecorded and the show is completely in the hands of Craig and producer Megana Rao, so God help us all. I now turn over hosting duties to them.
Craig: Hosting duties belong to us. In our Bonus Segment for Premium Members, Megana and I will finally have a chance to discuss millennial stuff. Megana, welcome to our show.
Megana Rao: Thank you, Craig. Thank you for having me.
Craig: We both feel a little bit naughty right now. I think that would be fair to say, right?
Craig: You mentioned that we felt a little bit like perhaps when the teacher leaves the classroom and we’re put in charge of the class but we’re not really in charge of the class, or like if our dad owned a store and he left and we had to work the cash register.
Megana: It’s like, what amount of freedom do I have but I still care about the store?
Craig: Because you’re the good kid, and I’m the kid that clearly doesn’t care. If something goes wrong, ultimately you’ll be held responsible, not only by our parent, but by your own overactive conscience. You also love me, so you’re really torn here. You’re in a tough spot. All we can do is talk about keyboards. Logitech K860 does have Bluetooth, Megana. Are you aware of this?
Craig: We’re getting into follow-up here. This is what John would normally structure for us. I’m going to read this. Joseph wrote in regarding the keyboard discussion. He went through the same journey that I did, from Microsoft Sculpt to Logitech K860. He knows that he’s never been tempted by John’s crazy, inverted thing, and neither has anyone else.
Megana: Have you ever tried using it?
Craig: Yeah, I did. I think at his house I sat down and did it for a minute and went, “Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope.”
Craig: Joseph was saying while the Logitech does work with Logitech dongles, it also works with regular Bluetooth. What? What? I’m going to have to try that shortly. That’s exciting. I’m into that. Oh my god. Then apparently you and John took a typing test.
Megana: In Episode 543 that John and I recorded, we followed up on the touch typing conversation you guys had, because I was feeling very insecure that I didn’t know what touch typing was, and that maybe I didn’t know how to type properly, but turns out I do.
Craig: Oh, Megana.
Megana: I took a typing test.
Craig: This is so good.
Megana: I got 81 words per minute and 100% accuracy.
Craig: I think anyone over 70 I think is starting to get into really good territory. Once you hit 100, you’re getting into zip zip, and then anything over that, you’re talking about professional stenographers and so forth. 81 words a minute is terrific. It’s terrific.
Megana: Thank you. Thank you. John got a 62 on his stand-up keyboard.
Craig: Which means probably on a regular keyboard he would be 4,000 words a minute.
Megana: Exactly, in the hundreds for sure.
Craig: It sounds like I’m going to have to take this one. Once we finish recording here, I’ll sit down and bang this out and report back dutifully.
Craig: How I do. Megana, for the love of God, just honestly. Apparently, there’s a bonus question here.
Megana: Yes. Today we’re going to get into 20 questions that listeners have wrote in for you.
Craig: Oh, my. Oh, my.
Megana: There was one question that came in through Twitter that asked, “Did Megana take Craig’s advice to watch Barton Fink?” As follow-up, we’re going to answer that here. I have watched Barton Fink now. I really enjoyed it. I understand why you recommended it to me.
Craig: I’m glad that you liked it. Obviously, a lot of Barton Fink is somewhat obtuse by design, but it’s an incredible view of the screenwriter, both as victim and also as wretch. Dig in a little bit. Tell me what struck you about it. I’m curious.
Megana: First of all, absolutely unexpected turn of events in it. Brilliantly executed and very satisfying by the end. As I was watching it, I was like, “Where could this possibly go?” I’m not sure that I had any of my questions really answered, but I felt very pleased by the end.
Craig: That’s great.
Megana: Barton Fink as a character was so painful to watch, perhaps because of some self-loathing, him talking over John Goodman’s character about how much he wants to be the voice of the common man and never lets him speak.
Craig: The common man. “You don’t listen!”
Megana: When he’s talking about how much he envies John Goodman because he leads the life of the mind, oh god, it was –
Craig: “I’ll show you the life of the mind.” One of the things about Barton Fink that I love so much is that in addition to the kind of baked-in inauthenticity of the writer, I guess the Coen brothers turning the lens back on themselves in a fascinating way. It also is a pretty disturbing examination of writer’s block and the weird, creepy decay that can happen in your own brain where things are just melting inside your mind. The entire hotel that they’re staying in begins to melt.
Megana: The wallpaper.
Craig: The wallpaper. The paste that comes out the wallpaper is the same as this infectious ooze coming out of Madman Mundt’s ear. It’s all this creepy connection. I have all these deep theories about Barton Fink and what I think about it.
I was lucky enough to work on a movie that John Goodman was in. He is lovely, such a sweet guy, very quiet. I wouldn’t say shy. Maybe a little bit. A little bit shy in his own way. I walked over to him at one point when he was alone, and I said, “This is a wonderful moment for me because I’m such a fan and also I get to ask you about Barton Fink, because I have all these theories. I would just be fascinated to know what you thought.” He said, “I have no idea what it means.” He said, “Those guys are geniuses. My job, as far as I could tell, was to make sure that I knew my lines on the day. On the day, I really worked hard to make sure I knew my lines and was able to say them the way they wrote them. I have no idea what it means.” I was like, “That is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” In my life. We did talk about the scene where he’s running down the hallway and how they did the fire, so it was fun. Anyway, point is, John Goodman doesn’t know what it means, so I think you’re allowed to think it means whatever you want it to be. I’m glad you liked it, at the very least.
Megana: I did like it. I love the Hollywood of it. I love the head of the studio. It was so fun. It’s like, yes, I know that Michael Lerner’s character flipped so quickly, but what a joy to be on that ride while you are.
Craig: I’ve been there. As awful as they were and continue to be, there’s something of the Weinsteins in there. When they wanted to charm you, boy did they go all the way. Everybody comes here and imagines a moment where somebody who runs a studio, who’s famous and powerful, tells you to your face that you’re a genius. When it happens, it flips switches in you you didn’t realize you had. Then later, boy when you fall down or when they throw you down, boy does it hurt. When I watch that, I’m like, oh man, I know exactly how that feels. I’ve been in that meeting. I’ve been in both of those meetings. The berating of the underling is something incredibly familiar to me as well.
Megana: Oof, yeah.
Craig: Yeah, oof.
Megana: We need an episode that’s a guide of how to deal with that narcissistic charm, because it is…
Craig: Oh boy. Yeah. We do. There’ll be a lot of therapy in that episode. A lot, because ultimately, you can’t do anything about them. You can’t. All you can do is identify the breaks in your own system that they are sneaking through.
Craig: In this way, they illuminate for you. They give you a little bit of a gift. They shine a light on things that need to be fixed. You just need to know when it’s happening.
Megana: It’s like a pressure test of…
Craig: It’s a pressure test, because they are there to find their way in through the breaks and gaps and lean on the parts of you that hate yourself and need approval. They find them. They’re so good at finding them. You don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late. Each time it happens you get a little bit smarter, you get a little bit better.
Megana: Are you ready to get into the 20 questions?
Craig: Yeah. The deal is I got to answer all 20 of these, right?
Megana: Oh gosh, I haven’t thought of what the alternative would be.
Craig: I’m going to do it. You know what? I’m going to do it.
Megana: You’re going to do it.
Craig: Let’s do it. We’re going to do it.
Megana: Our first question came from Julien, who asked, “My script’s been professionally read a couple of times and is heavily based on true events. However, the notes say I should weave real moments throughout the script, which I already did, a lot. How do I notate reality? Is it kosher to have an explanation page at the end, or footnotes?”
Craig: What Julien’s saying is that people don’t seem to be recognizing the real moments throughout his script, which I think is not going to be helped by an explanation page or perhaps Julien saying, “No, but I did.” The whole thing with notes is they’re just being the audience. If people in the audience don’t get that you are being real, it doesn’t matter if you’re being real. You actually have to be aware how that’s coming across.
What I would say probably is, “Okay, thank you for that note. Here are a number of real moments. Did they feel real? Did you think they weren’t real? That’s something that we can address or talk about, where are we losing a sense of authenticity.” It could be possible that they just don’t know at all. If you put it in the form of a question, you’ll be better off. If you say, “Dear idiots, here are 12 places I put true events,” you’re probably not going to last. If you say, “Okay, that’s really valuable. Here are 12 places where there were real events, but it seems like it’s not coming across as real events, so let’s have that discussion and figure out maybe how we could do better at that together,” because they may go, “Oh, good lord, we didn’t know. Okay, thank you.”
I’m not sure what the story is. Sometimes when real stories have very wild elements, you have to be aware of that and figure out how to ground them so that people actually believe it could possibly be true. Sounds like you just need to have another conversation with people. When it’s been professionally read, I’m just wondering who are these professionals, what does that mean, and can you get some follow-up from them.
Megana: With Chernobyl, you had a podcast where you did notate reality. You were talking about the events that were real. Most of them were the decisions that you made behind that. I guess I’m curious, is that something that you wanted to do so that people would buy into the show more?
Craig: No, the opposite. I wanted to make sure people knew what we had made up. I remember having this discussion with HBO, because at first they were like, “A podcast? Why? What are you talking about?” They thought I meant a marketing thing. I was like, “This has nothing to do with marketing,” because of course nobody was going to watch Chernobyl or listen to the podcast. I really was like, “This is just because we live in a time when everyone scrutinizes everything. I know they’re going to be scrutinizing this show. If we put stuff out there and don’t acknowledge that we’ve made certain changes to history, people are going to point their fingers back at us and say, ‘You guys made a show about lies and you lied,'” which would be true. If you can be transparent about where you had to dramatize or adjust to fit years of reality into five hours, then it’s much harder for people to point fingers at you, which is why I insisted that each episode of the podcast appear literally 12 seconds after each episode initially aired, so there was no gap. It was like, there you go, no waiting.
There were a lot of moments when I was writing Chernobyl where I was concerned that people just would think, “That’s not real. You just made that up,” because people made crazy decisions that were hard to understand. It was important to me that I present them in a way where the audience could at least say, “Okay, I kind of understand.”
There’s a moment in the first episode where Dyatlov is thinking, and then he’s just like, “The tank. That tank. It’s big enough to have caused this explosion,” because he’s come up with a theory of why it exploded. It felt like I needed a moment where I saw him convincing himself, because otherwise I would be wondering, why would a person just leap to that conclusion and then never question it in any way. There’s moments like that to just help people understand the reality of the human foibles behind the bad decisions.
Megana: That’s so interesting. I’m watching The Dropout that’s about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. I find myself asking, because there’s a lot of really specific beautiful details that are in there, and I’m constantly asking was that real, where did that come from. I just don’t know if that’s a helpful question for me to be asking as an audience member.
Craig: Probably not. I think if you’re watching a documentary, it’s always a good thing to ask, what is the perspective involved here, is there an agenda, because editing is a wonderful, powerful thing. Documentaries are questionable, should be questioned, should be interrogated and held to task if they distort. Drama is drama. The point of drama, even when it’s based on reality, is not to journal, but rather to instruct in some manner of humanity. Dramatic instruction. What are we going to learn from the character? What are we going to learn about human behavior and nature? It is not there to be a full book report on a nonfiction event. Some events I think it’s best to be as accurate as you can be. I tried to be with Chernobyl, because I thought actually the beauty was in the specifics, and in a way in the journalism of it.
There’s been a terrific documentary about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, so probably not much of a need to be perfectly documentarian again with the drama. Can you do the voice, by the way? Can you do the voice? Can you do it?
Megana: We’re hoping to change the world.
Craig: That’s great. That was great. Wow. Someone said once that–
Megana: There you go, that’s it.
Craig: That Elizabeth Holmes’s voice was just the voice that women do when they’re doing an impression of a dumb man.
Megana: You know what? That does feel right, because as I accessed it, I was like, this feels familiar, this feels like a pathway that I’ve used before.
Craig: Maybe it was Aline who said that. I can’t remember who said it. Maybe it was Aline. I just thought that was the funniest thing in the world. Anyway, great job. That character should come back, like Sexy Craig, every now and again. Theranos Megana.
Megana: That’s really helpful advice just for writers, dramatizing real events, that you’re not writing a documentary.
Craig: You’re not doing a book report. You get to decide how close or how far you want to be.
Megana: Next question. Andreas writes, “I wanted to ask how you approach writing jobs where you’re brought in quite late and asked to make the dialog funnier, touch up specific storylines, scenes, characters, or make cultural references more specific, etc. How do you curb your writerly instincts that you yourself would tell the story in an entirely different way and just focus on the job at hand? How much feedback on the overall story is expected of you?”
Craig: That’s a great question. So far I have not been called in for cultural references, weirdly. They made a whole movie about Staten Island, never called me. I was shocked. I do get called in from time to time, quite late, later than you would ever imagine, to make dialog funnier or touch up specific storylines, scenes, or characters. Yes, this happens all the time. It takes a certain kind of writer to do it. Not everybody can do that, because you are in a very different mode. You’re in a problem solving mode.
You need to understand production. I think that’s really important, because that’s what you’re writing for at that point, production, almost always. That means you need to understand scheduling, you need to understand who the actors are. Oftentimes you’re being put on the phone with them, because they’re upset about things. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat and been a therapist for famous people because they’re unhappy with the script. Partly, I have to just listen and hear what they need and then come back to everybody else and say, “Look, whether you agree or not, this is what they need. They can’t do it unless they get what they need. I’m going to give them what they need, but I now have to do it in a way that also gives you what you need,” because what they need is more action, or this scene needs to be better.
Sometimes what I suggest is that they have put their fingers on the exact right problem, all of their solutions are wrong. We should not do any of those things. I’m not going to do the seven things you asked me to do. I’m going to do these four things I think you ought to do instead. Oftentimes, and I’m not patting myself on the back as much as just pointing out that I have a job to do and they have their job to do, I’m right, because that’s my job. That’s what I do. Their job is different. In a good way, they’re trying. They’re trying to say, look, we know what a problem is and we have a suggestion of how to fix it, but they are not going to think of the things outside the box. Sometimes, you have to just go outside of what exists and say what we need is actually an entirely different scene in a different spot that is going to solve these 12 problems in one fell swoop.
You have to be a problem solver. You need a lot of experience. It takes time. Nobody who is a fairly new writer to business is going to be pulled in for stuff like that or relied on in that kind of way because they just haven’t done it enough. It’s very specific work. Very specific work.
Megana: Getting back to our screenwriting RPG framework, that seems like a very specific instance where you need a lot of wisdom and confidence.
Craig: Yeah, you need a tremendous amount of wisdom there, because there’s no way to survive that whole thing. Everyone is upset. When you walk into those situations, there’s tension. Everyone’s scared. They’re scared not only because they’re in a scary situation. They’re also scared of you, because they don’t know what you’re going to do. Everyone is quietly lobbying you to not mess everything up, meaning we’re going to call you in here and we’re going to tell you that we have some problems. Please do not tell us that we have 29 problems. Please do not tell us that we actually have six other problems that we don’t think are problems. Please don’t make our director leave. Please don’t make our actors angry. Please don’t make us upset.
You just have to listen really carefully and then understand that what everyone wants, what they’re dreaming of is that you’re going to sit down and go, “I have the solution. The solution will not upturn the apple card. It’s going to answer everyone’s questions. It’s not going to upset anyone. It’s not going to set you back in a huge way. We’re not going to tear all the stuff down. we’re just going to do this fairly easy series of things, and it will be much, much better.” That’s what they want and that’s in fact exactly what you have to deliver. It has to be effective. Not easy, but they do pay you a lot, so there’s that. Best money in Hollywood. Weekly production rewrites.
Megana: Speaking of money, I think this is going to be a question you’ll like, Please Convince Me to Drop Out of Film School wrote in and said, “I’m 23 and wrote my first screenplay in 2020 and got good scores on the Blacklist and met a director hoping to make it. He’s been taking the script around trying to get us a deal. He’s had it read by Paramount, HBO, etc. The most exciting news he told me was that Paramount liked it so much that they recommended it to their team.
“With my very first script already having made it as far as it has, it’s given me a lot more confidence in my ability to turn this passion into something real. Now, the problem is, I haven’t written a second script. I have the idea. I’ve slowly been mapping it out, but working part-time and going to school full-time has left me with virtually zero space to fit in my just-for-fun hobby. Obviously, I can’t quit working, but at this point it’s starting to feel like school not only isn’t benefiting me anymore, but that it’s actually holding me back from jump-starting my career. On the other hand, I’m four years into it, and I would only have about two terms left to finish my degree. It feels like either option I choose results in a waste of my time, either finish the degree and waste the next year of my life getting something that I don’t think will help me instead of actually writing, or I drop out and have the last four years of my effort and money be for nothing.”
Craig: Sunken costs fallacy here, writ large. It comes down to this. We struggle with the notion that we’ve wasted time and money. We struggle with it so much that we insist on finishing something that is a waste of time and money, which means spending some more time and money. What will that degree get you? I don’t know. As far as I can tell, nothing. We were on set just yesterday and I turned to Bo and I said, “Did you learn any of this at NYU, any of this?” She said no in such a hard way. It was the hardest no I’ve ever heard.
Megana: I don’t know that Bo has any soft no’s though.
Craig: This was one of the harder… It was like a no and not even close. It was sort of like she went to school and she was supposed to study how to make television and movies, and then when she arrived in Hollywood and saw how we made television and movies, it seemed like what she had really been studying was veterinary medicine and they just called it television and film studies because it had nothing to do with what we do. Nothing.
If Please Convince Me to Drop Out of Film School is 23, he’s already young, he’s getting some interest, he’s just starting. 23 is a fantastic age to be starting, because you have lots of energy. You have lots of enthusiasm. Everything is still exciting. You have lots of scripts ahead of you. You don’t theoretically have a family. As John and I pointed out, children are not zapping your life away. You can really make inroads.
As he points out, he’s just languishing in this school to get a piece of paper that no one will ever ask for. Ever. The only paper anyone’s ever going to ask to see is a script, if that’s what he wants to do. Furthermore, the degree will not get him anything anywhere else. In fact, all it’ll get him, and I think this is something else Bo and I were talking about, is that he will qualify to teach at film schools. That’s what those degrees give you, as far as I can tell.
He can finish it another time. It’s not like they go, “All that time is gone.” You can always come back and finish, I think. Take a year off. Take two years off. You don’t have to decide right now whether or not you’re going to flush the prior four years. Take a couple years off. Work on your career. If it happens, don’t go back. If it doesn’t happen, and you want to go back and complete it to get the paper and do something else, do it. Seems to me like you don’t have to make this choice right now. You can punt. I would punt. I would take the two years. I would take some time off, write some scripts, get some work, and see how this actually functions instead of whatever film school is teaching you.
Megana: I do agree with a lot of that, but I just worry that that piece of paper would get him a foot in the door or some entry level jobs and it would help him as his resume is being screened through a job at a big agency or something, that he has a completed degree. Not that I agree with that, but I wonder if that would help him to have that.
Craig: I don’t know where he’s going to film school. If he’s not going to NYU or USC, I’m not sure what networking there is available. Film schools are barfing out humans at a remarkable rate every year. They’re not all getting jobs because they went to a film school. What if he just went to a temp agency and got placed and started working at a company somewhere? Paramount’s looking for people to be assistants. You don’t need to have a film school degree to get those jobs, do you?
Megana: I think that you might. That’s what I’m worried about is I feel like even those jobs are so competitive. I’m very bad at rationalizing with the sunk cost fallacy, so I know this is a weak point of mine. He’s so close.
Craig: I think we’re getting to the real of it. I can hear your parents talking through you.
Megana: It’s like just do the two more terms and then do whatever you want. Become the doctor and then become a writer.
Craig: Become the doctor and then become the writer. This is your parents, and by the way, a useful voice to have. The internalized parental voices are important to an extent. We don’t want to nourish them too much. If we don’t have them at all, then we theoretically might head down sociopath lane. Don’t you agree, or perhaps I shouldn’t lead the question, do you agree that he can take a break, see how it goes, and then come back?
Megana: Yes, I do think that he can take a break. I am a huge advocate for taking time off before or during while you’re getting higher education, because it is such a privilege to be able to take classes and to spend time learning. I think you want to set yourself up in a way that you are getting the most from that experience that you can.
Craig: I think it’s a privilege to not go to film school. Anyway. Sounds like at least we agree on this. You can take some time, punt on the decision, see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, then you got an option to finish it and do what Megana’s parents would want you to do.
Megana: Correct. I hope Please Convince Me to Drop Out of Film School writes back and lets us know what he does do.
Craig: Yes, please. Yes, please do, Please.
Megana: No Context asks, “What tools do you use to keep track of notes and ideas that happen when you’re not at your desk, visual or analog?”
Craig: Here’s where John and I probably diverge. I have no doubt that John has an entire team of people working on a perfected software application to do precisely this. In the meantime he has six or seven different integrated processes.
Here’s what I do. I email myself. That’s it. It’s pathetic. On a given day of writing, I will typically think about what I’m writing that day in the morning, walk around, take a long shower, whatever it is, and then I know what it is. I don’t need to write it down. It’s in my head. It’s the scene of the day. I can do it. Sometimes when I’m thinking ahead about things that are coming or moments, as I walk around I will stop and go, “Okay, there’s actually a specific way I just said that line of dialog in my head that I want to make sure for this flow of lines that this leads to this leads to this interesting twist of line. I’m going to just quickly tap this out to an email to myself,” and I send it and then I have it and then I refer to it. That is as analog as digital gets, I suspect.
Megana: John’s answer was actually surprisingly more analog. He just uses index cards.
Megana: He has stacks of index cards around the house.
Craig: What? When you say index cards, you mean individual miniature iPads of his own manufacture that are in the shape of an index card, that synchronize to some Cloud-based–
Megana: No, I mean paper and pens, pens with ink. I don’t know. Who’s the robot here?
Craig: Megana, I feel like I’m going to cry. Oh my god, never meet your heroes. Never meet your heroes. Oh, man. Wow. You rocked my world there.
Megana: Paul asks, “Will Zoom pitches still play a big role in post-pandemic life or will this all go back to in the room?”
Craig: Zoom pitches are here to stay. It’s not that we will eschew the room completely, as we did when we were in lockdown. Of course there will be in-room meetings. Inevitably, the Zoom pitch is here to stay because people’s schedules are tight, because they are all over the place. They’re traveling all the time. They’re in different spots, because of convenience, because a lot of people now have home offices that are just as comfortable and obviously more convenient than the at-office offices. While I don’t think the room is gone, the Zoom room I do believe is here to stay. What do you think?
Megana: It makes so many of the logistics of my life easier that I imagine that that’s probably true for everyone.
Craig: Certainly if you’re the kind of person who is going to a meeting as opposed to a person who’s receiving a meeting, way easier to do Zoom. When I started working on The Last of Us with Neil Druckmann, we had a series of early story sessions. Because he was still hard at work on The Last of Us 2, I would go to the Naughty Dog offices in Santa Monica. Driving to Santa Monica for me is–
Megana: From Pasadena?
Craig: That’s right. Essentially I said, “I can meet you roughly between 11:30 and then I’m leaving by 2. That’s it. I’m going to be nowhere near the edges of the day.” We would never do that now. We talk to each other all the time. I’m in Canada right now. He’s in Santa Monica. By the way, not that much further than Pasadena. It may actually be faster, because I could fly and land at LAX and get to Santa Monica faster.
Craig: We Zoom all the time, and we will continue to, and we’ve all become incredibly used to it. If one thing the pandemic achieved, other than a horrifying death toll, is it normalized video conferencing, which prior to the pandemic, people forget, everyone was like, “Eh.” Even Google couldn’t get us to do it. We were like, “Eh. FaceTime, ew.” Then suddenly–
Megana: Google had Google Meet, but yes.
Craig: They had it, but nobody liked it.
Megana: Yes, but coming from working at Google, I used it all the time.
Craig: Of course. Of course. That’s like, “Coming from a cattle prod factory, I did occasionally use a cattle prod. I didn’t like the feeling of being cattle prodded.” It was not and continues to be not a good solution. Google does a lot of things brilliantly well. Google’s social, what was it called, Google Circles or something?
Megana: Oh gosh. Google Plus.
Craig: Google Plus. Google Minus.
Megana: That was tough. Speaking of The Last of Us, Matt asks, “When you have a project to write where you’re the main stakeholder, do you subconsciously change your style? John and Craig talked before about Ryan Johnson’s scripts being for himself to direct, so he can do what he likes with regard to the rules. Basically I’m wondering if Craig has so much to write for The Last of Us in such a short amount of time that he’s going gonzo freestyle.”
Craig: Oh no, I don’t have a gonzo freestyle. Hopefully, people don’t think that I wrote all The Last of Us in a short time. The Last of Us, which is entirely written and we just have a little bit more to shoot, was written over the course of essentially two years. I’m a very deliberate writer. For the scripts that I was writing while we were still in production early on, because the production of this is rather lengthy, they were so well outlined and thought through. I mean thoroughly outlined. I’m not praising myself. The writing of the script was not ever going to be anything approaching gonzo freestyle. I don’t know how to write gonzo freestyle. The only things I write gonzo freestyle are birthday cards. Even those sometimes I deliberate.
The fact that I am over-empowered and have too much authority has not made me any less fastidious or nervous, because ultimately, you can say you’re the main stakeholder, you’re in charge, you’re the boss, the audience is waiting. If there’s one thing that people who wrote comedy features know, it’s that they’re out there with their knives and you are going to have to face the music sooner or later, so do what you can to get it right and never just think, “Oh, I’m in charge. I can do whatever I want.” You’re not in charge. The audience is in charge.
Megana: There are so many other departments that you have to communicate with. It’s not just about shorthand between you and the director.
Craig: Oh, certainly. In this case it’s me and the directors, because we have quite a few, because there are 10 episodes. You’re putting your finger on something huge. Every department has 4,000 questions. You are accountable to them as well. The one thing I can never do is say to our special effects team or our costume team, “Oh, that’s an interesting question. I don’t know. I don’t know.” Ever. I am not allowed to say that. I have to know. I can’t make it up in the moment either. I have to pre-know what I mean and what I want, because they will say… Look, in good ways, they want to make sure that I’m getting what I want. They will say, “Here’s what we’re planning for this.” Sometimes I go, “Oh my god, nailed it, perfect.” Sometimes I say, “180 from what I want. That’s okay. I see why you did that. Here’s what I want instead.” What I can’t do is go, “Oh. Huh. Maybe.” They’re like, “What would you want different?” “Hm. Oh, I don’t know. Do other things and let me see them,” which maybe other people get away with, but we have too much to do.
I am accountable to everybody that’s working around me. They need fast answers because we’re on a schedule over here. This train don’t stop. I am accountable to HBO. I am accountable to my creative partners, my other producers. I’m accountable to my actors, because on the day, if they go, “What does this mean?” and I go, “I don’t know,” that’s not good.
Then ultimately, I’m accountable to the audience, which is why editors are a good early punch in the face. Editors represent the audience. They advocate for the audience. They don’t know how hard it was to write that line or how hard it was to get that day shooting. They don’t know about the weather. They don’t know if the actor is cranky. They don’t care. They just look at the footage and they’re like, “This is bad, so I think I’ll do this instead.” They don’t care. That’s actually quite refreshing, because once shooting is over, you get to shake it off like a wet dog, take a breath, and then say, all of the creation, the raw creation, is completed. This is what we have. Now, let us begin the final act of creation, which is narrowed into this world of finite possibilities, as opposed to that world of infinite possibilities. No gonzo freestyle for me. Sorry, Matt, or you’re welcome, Matt, if you’re not a gonzo freestyle guy.
Megana: Sort of a follow-up question to that, because how you got to where you are now, Cat asks, “How did you find your voice and what are some steps to produce your own if you’re having a hard time finding it?”
Craig: I have no idea. There you go. I have to gonzo freestyle that one. I don’t know. Someone, maybe it was Scott Frank, he said he doesn’t like to delve too deep into the how did you get your voice question out of terrible fear that it will make him self-conscious about something he didn’t realize was just his voice. It’s a little bit like if somebody ever says back to you, they’re like, “Oh my god, you have this interesting vocal affectation that you say this thing all the time.” You’ll suddenly realize that you say it all the time and you’ll say it less.
Neil Druckmann, the other day, not the other day, it was a couple months ago, I asked him a question and he went, “Correct.” He went, “By the way, that’s what you say all the time. You know that?” I said, “What?” He goes, “Yeah. Instead of saying yes, you go, ‘Correct,’ just like that. ‘Correct.'” He’s like, “Correct.” I’m like, “Oh.” Then I was like, “I don’t know if I do that.” Then seven minutes later I heard myself do it and I went, “Oh, no.” Now I don’t do it as much because he ruined it.
I don’t want to stare too much at this other than to say I don’t know, but that is a metaphor. Don’t get too tripped up, because I think maybe voice is just a small word for confidence in your own mind’s organization of words, thoughts, and feelings. You have a point of view. You have thoughts. You have a way of saying things. Whether you realize it or not, you have your own quirky bits. If you become confident that your quirky bits and your way of presenting things are interesting to other people and you continue to invest in that, other people might point at it and say that’s your voice. Thinking about what your voice is and trying to find it is counterproductive, because that’s calculated and it will never work. You want other people to tell you afterwards about it. What’s your voice?
Megana: That’s really helpful. If you define it too much, then you also somehow limit yourself and limit the potential of what it could be.
Craig: You can’t hear it. You can’t hear your own voice the way other people do. Even the sound of your own voice physically sounds different. Really what you’re saying is how did you find the way to do things that create the following impression in other people and how can I do that. I don’t know. Megana, you have a voice. You have a very specific way of thinking and talking and presenting things. If I heard 12 people and all the voices physically were turned into the same pitch, I think I could still pick you out.
Craig: Because it’s about your mind.
Craig: It’s about the way your mind works. Friendship. Is that a millennial thing to just go, “Friendship.”
Megana: No, that’s just me.
Craig: That’s just you. See, you have a voice. You have a voice.
Megana: Oh gosh. We can’t talk about it too much, because then it’ll go away.
Craig: I know. I’m ruining it. I’m ruining it. Next question.
Megana: We’re going to do some quick ones. Christopher asks, “What’s the best way to format a quick flash of memory three seconds long or a quick image? Do you simply write it in description or add a CUT TO?”
Craig: Oh, easy. I usually will just, in an action line, all caps, say FLASH TO: colon and then return and then write the little bit that I’m flashing to or even keep it on the same line with the colon. I might put the stuff that I’m flashing to in Italics. I may say FLASH BACK TO: or MEMORY FLASH: or something like that. I don’t add CUT TO’s. I just write it into description and then flow. Basically, I’m just including it the way you would experience it watching the movie.
Megana: Another craft question. Brilland asks, “Purposeful pauses, beats. When should silence carry a scene?”
Craig: Constantly. Constantly. Here’s a quirk of mine. Okay, Cat, I’ll give you a little piece of the voice. I know, because I feel myself doing it and I don’t care, I write the following thing, I don’t know, at least 12 times a script: “They sit quietly, then,” or, “There’s a moment, then.” I’m writing that all the time, because I believe that people pause. There are moments when people stop because they don’t know what to say. The importance of those moments is that they inform how the next line must be, because when you break a silence, you break it in a certain way. You don’t break it without deliberation. What you say next has been considered, because that’s what was happening in the wait. Somebody didn’t want to say something, made a choice to say it, thought about how to say it, and then they said it. I think this is incredibly valuable, because most of the time when we’re talking it’s extemporaneous, it’s flowing, it is impulsive. We make mistakes. It’s clumsy. It’s not well thought of.
I like movies where people speak brilliantly and quickly, like Sorkin or Tarantino, but it is mannered. It is not meant to be a reflection of how humans actually speak with each other. They don’t do it that way. That is more of a stylized presentation of reality, which is wonderful. Those guys are excellent at it. It’s not my jam. I’m not excellent at that. I like clumsiness. I guess I just dig a little bit more in drama work into the authenticity of how people speak to each other. Pauses are a huge part of it. Do not be afraid of silence. Embrace the silence, for in the silence is great opportunity. Just like we just had.
Megana: I was trying to hold for silence for a bit, but I am conscious of your time.
Craig: We did it. We did it.
Megana: Hannah from Minneapolis asks, “How important do you think reading classics/popular literature is for both improving your writing and for social capital and respect within the TV/film writing industry? Do other writers expect that of you?”
Craig: This is such a good question, Hannah. When I first started, I would go on these meetings, and for whatever reason, I don’t know what it was at the time, but in 1994 when I was having these meetings initially with producers and so forth, and I was working in comedy, they would reference the Peter Sellers film The Party all the time. They would talk about The Party. I had never seen The Party. I had seen The Pink Panther. That was when I was a kid, because my dad made me. I hadn’t seen The Party. I would just go, “Oh yeah,” because they would never say, “Have you ever seen The Party?” They would be like, “It’s like The Party. If we can aim for The Party but do this or this or this.” I’m like, “Oh, absolutely. Yeah, that’s great.”
The funny thing is, in 1994 watching a movie that was slightly obscure was actually hard to do. You had to find it somewhere and rent it. I was just like, “I got to go and rent The Party at some point.” I finally did and I watched it and I was like, no offense to Party fans, like, “Wah? Wah?” I guess when I was done, I thought like, oh, I think what they mean is cheap. I think they mean a comedy that’s mostly in one building that there’s a party in. That’s the whole movie. I don’t know.
Anyway, it is a little important. Try and keep up as best you can. At some point, it will be impossible, and that’s okay, because you’ll be old, Hannah. When you’re old, nobody expects you to know anything other than old stuff. They think it’s adorable when you know new stuff. When you are young, yeah, you do need to be plugged into what’s going around. You should be, because that’s the time of your life when you would be. It is helpful to know what the hell is out there, and look, too much for everybody to watch. Do you feel a pressure, Megana, to keep up?
Megana: I do feel a pressure. It’s also a desire. I want to see what’s out there and what’s going on. I love television and film, so that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. Her question asks, “Reading classic/popular literature, how important is it for improving your writing and for social capital?” I think that a lot of the writers that I talk to, I’m not talking to them about classic literature. I think that’s something that they probably have read. A lot of my writer friends have lots of references, whether that’s a very random nonfiction interest that they have or a specific genre of television shows that they watch or types of books that they like.
Craig: By the way, you don’t have to be. You could also be just really into what you’re into, and people know that one of your quirks/voice is that you don’t know what the hell is on TV right now, but you are a master of 1960s action films, and that’s okay, as long as there’s apparently some interest.
What will happen, Hannah, is if you start doing well in this business, then the reference that you’re most familiar with, the TV show or the film that you’re most familiar with is the one you’re making. Then that’s the only one in the world. There’s only one television show I really care about right now, and that’s The Last of Us. That’s all I work on. That’s all I think about. That’s my job. The fact that I haven’t seen 12 other things that have come out in the last month, no problem, because no one needs me to. They just need me to make the thing that they want me to make, and hopefully they’re happy with it. Then in the in-betweens I catch up a little bit, as best I can with some things, but the truth is, I feel like it’s more important when you’re in your early stage, your young years in the business.
Megana: I agree with that. I also think agents and producers tend to be really plugged in. It’s incredibly important for them, with good reason.
Craig: That’s their deal is they need to know everybody and everything, because that’s their trade. They’re not sitting down and writing stuff. They’re watching and reading, watching, reading, watching, reading. They have to know everything. I could certainly see where your fancy boss mentioned something and you haven’t heard of it, then they’ll throw a stapler at your head.
Megana: The classic Hollywood punishment.
Megana: Anders asks, “What are some important questions to ask oneself during the pre-writing phase?”
Craig: What is this about? What is the point? Why would anyone care? Would anyone want to watch this? Why would they want to watch this? If I create it in such a way that they feel compelled to watch it, why will they keep watching it? How will they feel at the end? What is the purpose and point of all of this? Then get into the rest of the stuff. I think that people forget to ask that first. Why? Why should this exist? There’s a lot of television. There are a lot of movies. There are a lot of books. There are a lot of songs. Why should this one exist and why would people care? It’s not about being cruel to yourself. It’s just about, again, respecting your ultimate boss, the audience.
Megana: I guess going back to what Hannah’s question, what you were saying about that, is that it is important to be plugged in culturally so that your writing is responding to the moment.
Craig: Yes, and not only to the moment as you see it, but the audience consists of people much younger than you, when you are old. When you’re young, it doesn’t, unless you’re writing for children’s television. If you’re in your 20s and your 30s, you’re probably writing comfortably for people in their 20s and 30s, and that’s no problem. Most stuff is aimed in that, whatever, 18 to 45. That’s the big classic TV demo. If you’re in your 30s, yeah, of course you’re writing for people between the ages of 18 and 45. You are between the ages of 18 and 45.
As you get older, you may forget or discount what 20-year-olds might be interested in, and you will certainly, certainly, you will overestimate how important things that are important to you are to others. In Hollywood right now, I’m sure there are people that are trying to remake things that people really enjoyed in the ’80s, but no one in their 20s cares because the ’80s is 5,000 years ago to them. When I started out early on, so again, let’s go back to 1994, and Disney was attempting to do a film adaptation of My Favorite Martian. Have you ever heard of My Favorite Martian?
Megana: I have.
Craig: What is your awareness of it?
Megana: I think it’s a show.
Craig: Go on.
Megana: Was it on Nick At Nite or Turner Classic Media?
Craig: Yeah. I’ll get you off the hook. They did make a movie. They did it. They made a movie. I did not write it. They made it in 1999. The movie My Favorite Martian was based on a television show that aired on CBS from September 29th, 1963 to May 1st, 1966. Now you can imagine that I, who had been born in 1971, and who felt that things from the early ’60s were essentially from the Stone Age, how I felt hearing that Disney wanted to make a live-action movie of this that no one would care about, because they were overestimating how beloved the things that were beloved to them were, because the people who made it were children who watched that show and loved it. Right now there are things that children are watching and loving that eventually they’re going to want to make a movie of and people are going to be like, eh, because we don’t care. We just don’t care.
Part of this whole thing is just making sure that… Just ask yourself, okay, what would people not like me think? What would people who are not my race, my gender, my age, my orientation, what would people not like me think of this? Are they going to roll their eyes hard? Because man, in 1999 when they put My Favorite Martian out, I’m sure a lot of people went, “Okay, whatever,” but they did it to themselves. Everyone’s going to do it online right now and in your face and they’re going to make fun of you. Just interrogate yourself before you start writing.
Megana: Fair. Leah asks, “Do you have tips on simplifying a complex world for an audience? Any other exemplary scenes like Minority Report’s PreCrime Unit or Chernobyl’s courtroom reactor explanation?”
Craig: Thank you for putting me in there with Scott Frank’s excellent script. The tips are that you need to be a teacher. Again, you’re thinking about other people. You don’t want to bore people. No one likes homework. No one likes sitting in a classroom. Whatever it is about your complex world that thrills you, that makes you passionate, that excites you, hold onto those bits and relay those bits and build your case carefully and always with an eye at keeping them interested. Take breaks.
You notice the courtroom, one of the reasons I structured that the way it was was, A, I just didn’t want to do the usual, okay, episode 1 is a sunny day and then it ends with something exploding. The other reason was because I knew that when it was time to walk people through what happened and solve the mystery, that I wanted to give them breaks. Otherwise, it would’ve just been awful. You may enjoy those scenes as they exist, but if it was just 40 minutes straight of that stuff, you would pass out, because you just can’t. You’re stuck in a room for too long. Give them breaks. Structure it. Make it interesting. Teach them carefully and use what makes you excited as a signifier for where you ought to put your sign posts along the way.
Megana: Super helpful. We’re going to do another little lightning round. Adrian asks, “In what part of writing the script do you think about music? Not like the movie Yesterday where the plot revolves around the music. I’m particularly curious about music rights you don’t own.”
Craig: I don’t think about it much, only when I think to myself, oh, a song would really add something here, hearing vocals and pulling people out of the reality for a bit and hearing something. Then I think about it. Then I do a little research. I also remind myself, I don’t need to solve that now unless I’m literally seeing somebody singing it on screen. Yes, I think if you’re making Baby Driver and you’re Edgar Wright, it’s incredibly important to think about that. That would be more like the movie Yesterday. The plot revolves around it, but also I think somebody like Edgar also really does key in how he writes and creates scenes to pre-imagine songs that have to go there and function like that. I don’t, for what I do. I would say just listen to yourself and ask that question. Don’t get too bogged down in it if it’s not crucial to what you’re doing.
Megana: David asks, “Should the writer acknowledge in a note that they are aware that something a character says is insensitive or ignorant if that detail will be confronted later in the series?”
Craig: Oh wow, that’s a really interesting thought. It’s a pretty rare circumstance, I would imagine, where you’re writing something that’s going to be in a series. Maybe if it’s a pilot, then yes. I think if it’s a pilot, so that script exists on its own, and if somebody says something like that, I think it’s fair to acknowledge on page 38 someone says something that is insensitive and ignorant and upsetting, it will be confronted later in the series, to let people know you are aware of that, so you don’t just get this note back like, “What’s wrong with you? Do you not live in the world right now? Do you not see how people are functioning?” Yeah, that’s perfectly reasonable to do.
If you are in a flow of a season, that means the show’s already running. There’s probably a room or at least there’s a showrunner or other people, so people will be able to just pick up the phone and discuss it. When I say pick up the phone, I mean text each other. I guess if you were doing a pilot where that would be coming back around, and you don’t have the opportunity to address it right then and there, it’s not a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all.
Megana: I wasn’t expecting you to say that.
Craig: Oh, what’d you think I was going to say? “No! Wrong!”
Megana: No, just to have good faith that it would be resolved or addressed later.
Craig: I don’t have that faith. I got to be honest. People surprise me all the time. They really do. They surprise me, because when you’re like, “Do you not know how that’s going to… You don’t get how that’s going to come off, really? You’re not on Twitter? You don’t read?” Let’s put it this way. If I saw that in a pilot script, I would not go, “I hate that.” I would think that’s reasonable, you’re taking care of me.
I wouldn’t spell it out, other than to say there is a moment. You don’t even have to say on what page, because they might flip right to that page. You might just say there is a moment in the script where someone says something that is insensitive and ignorant, it will be confronted later in the series. Perfectly fine. Smart.
Megana: Cool. Tom in LA asks, “I have a script that’s been optioned and reoptioned, two times, different 18-month options. During that time I was paid to do a rewrite. Then another writer was brought on to do a pass. The option has just lapsed, and I was wondering what happens now. My agent says that it’s not as simple as just getting my original script back, since the production company did spend money on development. I’ve had many producers hit me up for the rights, but my agent said any new producer might have to repay the original producer. My hope is to get rid of all the changes and start with a script that I originally had.”
Craig: Here’s what I think is happening. Tom writes a screenplay. It is optioned and reoptioned. It is not purchased outright. The rights to the screenplay belong to Tom. The producers have paid him some money to have the exclusive right to develop that at this point, meaning he can’t sell it to someone else. They then pay him to do a rewrite. Kind of curious why they didn’t just buy the script at this point, but okay. They pay him to do a rewrite. Now what that means is that’s a work for hire. The rewrite is something they do own.
Now, at this point I’m very confused, because I as Tom’s agent never would’ve allowed this. The reason why is, they’ve created… I don’t know how this works. In their agreement, they must have created them in such a way where they own this, regardless of whether or not they own the underlying rights, because he’s granted them the… I don’t understand how this functions, because essentially, they’re… If they don’t have the ability to properly own that rewrite, which they would, as work for hire, because he says it’s WGA, once the option lapses, that rewrite doesn’t have any value to them at all. Meanwhile, Tom’s problem is, if he goes to sell the script that has reverted [unclear 00:57:50] the original script to somebody else, he obviously can’t sell those rewrites, because somebody else owns the rewrites. What his agent is pointing out is, anybody else buying this thing knows that the other company’s out there with the rewrites. Any rewrites they ask for, if they come even close to what was in the rewrites the other company owns, they’re going to have to buy those out from the other company or they’re going to get sued.
This is a mess. I don’t see why this went down this way. I would say you can say your hope is to get rid of all the changes, Tom, but the problem is, other people might ask for the same damn changes. Now what do you do? Do you write them? Do you say, “Oh, I can’t do that. I can’t do that change because I did it once before for someone else, or I can do it, but I can’t do it the way I would normally do it.” It’s a mess. If this is going to go somewhere else, I suspect your agent’s right about this, new producer would just have to repay the original producer and then some to buy out those things. Why was this done this way? I don’t know.
If you’re going to option something, you’re holding back the big, valuable thing, which is copyright. If they want you to do a rewrite, don’t sell it. You do the rewrite and it’s for you. You’re doing it for you. It’s your rewrite too. You own that also. It’s like I own a house, but I’m going to let you come and own the first floor. I will own the foundation and the second floor. What am I supposed to do with the foundation and the second floor, without the first floor? It doesn’t function. Confused about how this went down. Would not recommend that method. Yes, I think your agent is right that it is not as simple as just getting the original script back.
Megana: Oh man, that’s so tricky. Poor Tom probably hasn’t been paid. Two times 18-month options for three years on this?
Craig: He got paid to do a rewrite, so he was paid. That’s the problem. In a way, you just have to understand, if you’re going to sell it, sell it. There’s nothing wrong with selling. That’s what we do. We’re professional writers. Brush off anyone that calls you a sellout, because that’s a feature, not a bug. You’re a professional. You get paid. If you’re going to sell out, sell out. Don’t rent out and sell out at the same time. You’re going to do worse than you would’ve otherwise. Otherwise, you took a little bit of short-term money and you, I think, muddied the water on something that could’ve been more valuable if it had been kept intact.
Megana: Got it. I guess I feel for Tom, because I can understand how in his position he would want to get paid, but your advice is…
Craig: Absolutely, without question. This is why I’m just wondering where his agent was on this one, because I would just say, look, if you guys want to develop this, let’s do it right. Now, if they were like, “No, we just want to pay WGA minimum for a rewrite, I smell a rat. They’re making a very low commitment for something that’s valuable and disruptive to the chain of title and I would just advise my client to say, no, hold out, let’s sell this. If they have a plan for how they want to develop it, convince a studio that they have a plan, and then have the studio buy the script and finance the development of this property. That’s the way we do it, or in the network or the television production company. I agree with you. I commiserate with Tom completely.
Megana: Richard asks about another project that hasn’t gone as well as he’d hoped. He says, “I’ve recently finished my first film, a short on a very low budget, and it stinks. I tried so hard, put everything into it, but it’s rubbish. I’m not too disappointed, as it’s my first attempt and I only had 10,000 to work with. It made me wonder what it’s like to make a flop when the budget is 10 million as opposed to 10,000. More specifically, when do you know it’s going to tank? Audience viewings, opening weekends, or way before? Secondly, how do industry people dress it up? Are they honest and admit that it’s a turkey or do they wrap it up in ‘maybe it will have a second life on DVD’ sort of rhetoric? Thirdly, what’s the follow-up for the writer specifically? Do you lose work? Do people start answering your calls? Is there resentment from the people who took a chance on you, or is it understood that some films just sink without a trace?”
Craig: Oh, man. Richard, I’m sorry. For what it’s wroth, we’ve all been there, except for Lord and Miller. I don’t know, Chris and Phil have never tasted the… No, I take it back. They have. They have. Every time I say this to them, they’re like, “Ah, [unclear 01:02:36].” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, right.” You got fired before any… Okay, you were fired, but you didn’t have a bomb under your name, see, so your track record is 100%. I still hold them up as the rarest of rare unicorns.
For the rest of us humans, it happens. It often happens early on. It is devastating. It is particularly devastating the first time, Richard. Yes, it’s your first attempt. Yes, you only had $10,000 to work with. This was going to be a small thing. I’m sure you also were thinking to yourself as you were making it, people have done things with $10,000 before and made big, wonderful things. You know it. This one hurts. It hurts more than it will ever hurt again, because you have nothing else to compare it to. You are currently oh for one. Oh for one is rough. When you have one victory under your belt, it buys you at least a certain amount of emotional ability to withstand another flop or two, because you feel like, okay, I’m not just Ed Wood, but most normal people are walking around nervous that they’re Ed Wood as they’re trying to do something good. Feel your feelings.
I’ll tell you that the difference when the budget… Budget’s irrelevant, to me. I think for producers and network and studio people, that’s a huge part of it. They don’t care. Oh, whatever. They’re looking at budget cheats and they’re looking at what they’re accountable for. As an artist, humiliation is humiliation, and failure is failure, no matter what the budget is. Sometimes the only factor is how much you cared. If you care a lot about the thing that cost $10,000 and you cared sort of a little about the thing that cost 10 million, the $10,000 failure will hurt more.
When do you know it’s going to tank? Audience viewings are definitely a big indication. There’s no question about that. A bad opening weekend, unless you are one of the .01% of movies that somehow just keep on trucking and build and build and build, that’s a pretty good indication. The first time you watch it, you may think it’s… If you just watch it and you go, “That’s just absolutely unsalvagable,” then it’s unsalvagable.
How do industry people dress it up? There’s a certain layer of people in our business that are paid to lie and will do so. The way they dress it up is just by announcing that everything’s fine and it’s great. They use that to get their next thing. I think the non-creators, the business folks, when they sense a flop is coming, they just work hard to make sure that they’re protected and already have the next thing working, so that they can’t be fired and ended permanently. For the rest of us, not so easy.
What is the fallout for the writer specifically? Depends. If you have created a television show, you are the showrunner and it fails spectacularly, that is on you. I do think there’s going to be a bit of a work your way back in process. If you are a writer in feature films, generally speaking you are not going to be blamed. People will blame the director. It is the only upside to a system where the writer is demeaned and deprived of any positive credit whatsoever. It’s that when there is a disaster, they just blame the director. Is there resentment from people who take a chance on you? Only if you fought them tooth and nail every step of the way and told them they were idiots and insisted on things and wouldn’t change things and then it failed and then, yes, they will absolutely resent you.
Do you lose work? Not if you already had work ahead of time. Always keep the treadmill going. Do people stop answering your calls? No. It doesn’t really function that way. People weirdly love to talk to you when something has just failed. It makes them feel better about themselves. Is it understood that some films just sink without a trace? Yes. Sinking without a trace, vastly preferable to being noticed while you sink. Lots of boats sank, but everyone remembers the Titanic. Be one of the boats that quietly sank that no one talks about.
Megana: Gosh. John is so good at segues. I’m really appreciating that skill level now.
Craig: You’re missing segue man.
Megana: I’m missing segue man.
Craig: That’s an interesting point. The thing that you just said has nothing to do with the next question. So-and-so asks…
Megana: Speaking of films…
Craig: Segue lady.
Megana: Ryan asks, “Screenplay examples for instructions come in waves. Tootsie, Star Wars, Casablanca. Which scripts from the last 20 years do you think should get taught in film programs?”
Craig: Oh my god. Of the last how many years?
Megana: 20 years, so 2002.
Craig: I’m the worst person to ask this question of, because I don’t know. Taught in schools?
Megana: Taught in film programs, your favorite institutions.
Craig: None of them. None of them, because it doesn’t matter what they teach you. There are things that are instructed to me that don’t mean anything to anyone else. There are things that other people seize on that just blow their minds and make them be in love again with movies. The answer is what blows your mind. The premise is flawed. Indeed, it is the premise upon which these programs are constructed, which is to say there are objectively valuable, wonderful films that if you study and dissect all the way down to the atomic level, you too will be able to create. You will not. The people who created them created them. You’re going to create what you create. There’s no Codex.
What are the movies that film schools obsess over? We all know that they have an unhealthy obsession with 1970s and particularly with Spielberg and Scorsese and Coppola, but also then they like to go to the Italians of the earlier years, ’60s and ’50s, Sica and Fellini, and they should. They’re wonderful movies. Also, what are we looking at there? Those guys all sound alike. They all look alike. A lot of the movies come from certain schools of thought and ways of being. All those men came out of the years they were born, in the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s. Now when we talk about the movies that come out now, all those people were born in certain years and they did certain things and it doesn’t matter. You just like what you like. If you don’t like The Godfather and you don’t like Reservoir Dogs and you don’t like Casino and you don’t like The Bicycle Thief, that’s okay. You don’t like them. That’s fine.
What do you like? Why love it? Some of these movies, you watch them and something sings in you, starts singing. Listen to the thing that starts singing in you. In the end, these schools and all of the thousands of para-academic discussions that happen around films, on Reddit and everywhere else, are just people being critics, not in a boo I hate it or yay love it way, but rather in an analysis way. People are critiquing films. They’re analyzing films. They’re discussing them. They’re breaking them down. What they’re not doing is creating anything. They’re just contributing to the howling tornado of film opinion. In that howling tornado, there are about three or four people I’ve ever listened to where I thought, oh, I’d like to listen to them more talk about movies. I’d like to listen to them more talk about television. My answer is, the ones that make you sing. Those are the ones.
I don’t care what they choose to teach in film school, at all. In fact, I almost feel like don’t watch those movies. Go find other ones, because all you’ll end up doing is you’re in a camp where they’re all teaching you how to play Kumbaya. Then you leave and you start writing Kumbaya-like songs. Just go listen to your own music. Do your own thing. Do I sound like a hippie or do I sound like… I don’t know.
Megana: It also relates to the thing you were saying about My Favorite Martian. If you were going to an institution where someone was teaching you something, they’re teaching you the things that were important or meaningful to them, but those references have changed because you are a different age than them. You are a different person than them. I feel like there’s a lot of parallels to what you were saying earlier on that too.
Craig: I just feel like I’m on an island sometimes. I feel like I’m alone.
Megana: I guess you are your own sort of little cult leader, like, “Do what makes your heart sing.” I don’t know what you would call your acolytes, your followers, the Mazinites?
Craig: I wouldn’t have any. I would say that that’s already disqualifying. You fail to be a Mazinite if you’re following me.
Megana: That wouldn’t stop them.
Craig: Really what I’m saying is be your own cult leader and make sure that your cult is a cult of one person, which is you, and show us something new, or just show us something you. Why do we care what six grouches in a conference room that smells like bad coffee think we should watch? Bicycle Thieves, by the way, not The Bicycle Thief. I’m an idiot.
Megana: We’re almost done with the 20 questions. We have one more.
Megana: Spencer asks, “I’ve heard from a few different sources that one learns more from writing a large number of scripts and focusing on quantity over perfecting a single project over the course of several drafts. However, no one talks about the point at which one should put that script down, after just one draft, after two or three. While I feel comfortable putting a script down when I feel like it’s good, what is the point at which the learning stops and I should start a new project?”
Craig: Wouldn’t it be nice, Spencer, if there were a graph, we could just go, draft amount quality increase, chart it, hit the sweet spot, and stop there? I don’t know if one learns more from writing a large number of scripts and focusing on quantity. Focusing on quantity is a weird way to start. Over-perfecting a single project over the course of several drafts, here’s the uncomfortable truth. If you want to be a professional writer and continue to work and have a lengthy career, you need to both focus on quality and perfecting a project over the course of several drafts, and quantity. You have to do it a lot.
I think sometimes when it’s early, you think, is it better to write eight different scripts or is it better to write eight different drafts. The answer is, write 400 drafts. That’s the answer. You can say that those 400 drafts are over three movies or they’re over 58 movies. Doesn’t matter. You just have to write way more than you think. Way more. If you’re worried now about whether you should be doing two or three drafts a script or should you be doing five drafts a script, those numbers are not different. They’re the same number, as far as I’m concerned. Quantity of scripts will create a lot of pdfs. Nobody cares. You want to talk about a quantity of scripts, the collective screenwriting humanity has written a massive quantity of scripts. You are competing against the rest of the world. You’re not going to hit their output, which is four million bad scripts a day. I would try and write one good one. How about that? You know what? There we go, Spencer. Just start and say you are allowed to write and focus on quantity when you’ve written one good one.
Now when people say you learn more from writing a large number of scripts and focusing on quantity, I have no idea how that functions. It could be that if you write lots and people give you lots and lots of feedback and each one gets better, then yes. I wouldn’t call that quantity as much as evolution and improvement. At some point you need to be able to write good enough to be a professional screenwriter.
Is it better to perfect one pitch or learn five pitches? Doesn’t matter, if you’re never going to be a Major League Baseball pitcher. Probably a false dichotomy. Most of these questions I just end up disputing the premise and then saying a lot of things that must cause tremendous discomfort in people, because what I do is I sow uncertainty. I sow uncertainty because indeed it is uncertain.
Megana: We all have to be more comfortable with it. I think you’re doing us a service, all of us Mazinites.
Craig: Dammit. I don’t want anyone in this church. Get out. That’s how all my sermons begin, with, “Get out.” All right, well, if you’re not going to get out…
Megana: You can’t help but speak in slogans. Like you said, what did you say, be you, be…
Craig: See how bad that slogan was?
Megana: No, you had a really good rhyme. I wish I could rewind this and go back.
Craig: You’ll be able to later. I have perhaps the trappings of a cult leader, without any of the ambition.
Megana: What is the line?
Craig: They always say you want to elect someone who does not want to be president. That’s the person you want to elect as president. I do not want to be a cult leader.
Megana: It will inevitably happen precisely because you don’t want to be a cult leader.
Craig: I can’t wait to just disappoint people on a weekly basis as I refuse for us all to live in one compound, and I insist that we do not randomly murder people to make a point.
Megana: The cult is wondering, Craig, what is your One Cool Thing for this week?
Craig: My One Cool Thing for this week, so everyone is caught up in Wordle, of course, Wordle Qordle Septidurdle Schmurdle Fertile Framle Lamle. That’s exciting. As somebody who is an avid solver and loves puzzles of all kinds, I love it when everybody nerds out over puzzles. I wasn’t surprised to see the New York Times, of course, bought them, and we discussed this before. I wanted to call out a little bit of old-school New York Times variety, since people are interested now in what I would call a variety puzzle. It’s not a crossword, for instance. The New York Times also features variety puzzles. If you have a subscription to their puzzle service, which is not too expensive, and I think much worth it, they have the typical things like Sudoku and so forth. They have, every Sunday, in addition to the Sunday Times crossword puzzle, there is a variety puzzle.
There’s a kind of puzzle called Split Decisions, where there’s pathways of letters that then split and then resume. There might be three letters in a row, and then it splits, and on either side there’s two letters, and then it resumes with another four letters. There are words where the only difference between them are those two letters in the middle. As you fill them through and they cross each other, you’re able to fill the whole grid. It’s fun. I think one of the more venerable forms is the acrostic. Have you ever done an acrostic, Megana?
Megana: I’m Googling it now. Is this just a crossword puzzle?
Craig: It is not at all. An acrostic is, in its traditional form, is a quote, some sort of pithy quote. Maybe it’s 20 words long. It is presented to you in grid format, just straight across, white squares, black squares separating the words. Then you are given a list of clues below. They’re not for the words in the quote. They’re their own things. As you fill those in, under each letter is a number. All of the letters in the quote have a number. You’re answering one kind of clue and then assigning those letters to various spots in the quote above. As you begin to fill in the quote above, you can start figuring out some of the clues below. As you figure out the clues below, you can figure out the quotes above. It is a really interesting way of doing things.
There is a lovely reveal at the end, because you get a really interesting answer and all of the letters, the first letters of these things will ultimately also spell out the name of the author and the book or source from which the quote comes. It’s all very clever. It’s well done. You can do it online, which is the best way to do it. When you do it on paper, it is tedious. “Okay, so this letter goes to, oh, here. This one goes to this.” Online it’s super easy to do.
I believe they’re a husband and wife team, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, have been doing the New York Times acrostic for as long as I can remember. Every two weeks, without fail, they deliver. It’s wonderful. It’s like a mystery. It resolves itself a little bit like a mystery. It’s fun to watch it all come together. If you love puzzles and you do have a New York Times crossword puzzle subscription, definitely on every other Sunday online check out under variety puzzles right there the acrostic by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.
Megana: Very cool.
Craig: How about you?
Megana: My One Cool Thing for this week is a podcast called Not Past It. It’s produced by Gimlet and hosted by Simone Polanen, who is one of my dear college friends. That’s why it’s also not weird if I say that if honey could speak, it would sound like Simone.
Craig: Oh, my.
Megana: She has a lovely speaking voice. She’s very smart and very talented. The premise of the podcast is each week they look at something that happened that week in history and provide more cultural context and history around it. She has a lovely episode called The Last Queen of Hawaii. Spoiler alert, the US government does not look good in this story.
Craig: Wait, what?
Megana: Yeah, I know, shocking.
Craig: We’re the greatest country on Earth.
Megana: I know. She has another episode called World’s Most Famous Virgins. It’s spectacular. In 30 minutes she goes from the Virgin Mary to the Jonas Brothers and George Bush purity politics.
Craig: That’s amazing.
Megana: Lots of fun episodes. Really bold swings. Give it a listen. It’s called Not Past It.
Craig: I love that you’ve referenced in the notes here Mary’s immaculate conception. Even Catholics a lot of times will mistakenly believe that the concept of the immaculate conception refers to the conception of Jesus, but it does not. It refers to the conception of Mary herself.
Megana: This is so fascinating to me. The biological mechanisms that they traced sin with are so interesting. Something she talks about is how I guess the Catholic Church determined that original sin from them taking this bite of the forbidden apple was then solidified or manifested in Adam’s sperm, so all of us who are the product of sexual relations are burdened with–
Craig: We’re tainted.
Megana: We’re tainted. We’re tainted.
Craig: We’re tainted. Something had to break that line, and they had to break it when Mary was born.
Megana: Mary could not have been a product of sin because then she wouldn’t have been pure, but then what about Mary’s mom?
Craig: Mary’s mom was sinful and that’s the miracle is that somehow Mary was born without sin. You could say, hey, Catholic Church, if you can just stop it wherever you want, just stop with Jesus, or what about Mary’s grandma, whatever, the rest? That’s when you realize that all of modern religion in this fashion is as if 8,000 years from now people discovered this ancient record called The Simpsons, believed it was true, and then built an entire series of laws and moral determinations around it. There was no Garden of Eden. It’s so stupid, but it’s very organized.
Megana: It’s the power of storytelling, Craig.
Craig: I know, cult. It is a cult. That’s what it is, just all cults.
Megana: That’s our episode for this week.
Craig: Who’s Scriptnotes produced by?
Megana: Megana Rao.
Craig: What? Who’s it edited by?
Megana: Matthew Chilelli.
Craig: Our outro is by whom?
Megana: Let’s just go ahead and say Matthew Chilelli. We haven’t picked one out yet.
Craig: If you at home have an outro, to whom or to where should you send a link?
Megana: To email@example.com.
Craig: Oh. That must also be a place where they can send longer questions, but for shorter questions on Twitter–
Megana: Where are you at, Craig?
Craig: I am @clmazin and John is @johnaugust. We must have T-shirts. They’re surely great. They’re from Cotton Bureau. Megana, where can we find the show notes for this episode and all episodes?
Megana: At johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts and sign up for our weeklyish newsletter called Interesting, which has lots of links to things about writing.
Craig: That’s all great and fine, but what if I want to sign up to become a Premium Member? Where do I go?
Megana: You can sign up at scriptnotes.net, which is also where you can get all the back-episodes and Bonus Segments, like the one we’re about to record.
Craig: Right now. Megana, that was a joy. Honestly, if people at home aren’t clamoring for you and I to do this every day, there’s something wrong with them.
Megana: You guys can request more content with hashtag #craigana.
Craig: Yes! Hashtag #craigana. Thank you, Megana. That was fantastic.
Megana: That was fun. Thanks for a fun episode, Craig.
Craig: What should we talk about today on our Bonus Segment for these fine folk?
Megana: I think that it’s time for us to face on issues of millennials.
Craig: It’s happened. I’ve been clamoring for this for a while as well. Megana is a millennial extraordinaire. Unlike a lot of my grouchy generational cohort, I love millennials. I think they’re great. Millennials are better at a lot of things than we were. Also, millennials, as they get into their dotered ages, the dotage, as they arrive at dotage, meaning they’re in their 30s and 40s, they’re going to be running this business. I’m going to need a job. I need millennials to take care of me. I think it’s time for us to dig in a little bit more into this generation that a lot has been said about, but probably quite a few misconceptions have been formed about, and who are indeed going to be shortly assuming the mantle of being in charge of this whole place. Megana, it hasn’t happened yet. Millennials have not yet taken over Hollywood, but surely it’s coming.
Megana: I think I would argue that it is happening. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a millennial, Greta Gerwig, Michaela Coel, Chloe Zhao. I think that there are a lot of millennials who are doing exciting things in Hollywood right now.
Craig: There are a lot of exciting millennial artists. The question is, where are the millennials who are in charge? I think about Hollywood, and Hollywood has always been very good at exploiting the young. They practically invented the art of it. When it comes to running things, I do remember when I started out, most of the people that were running things were white men who were seemingly between 50 and 60. Right now the people that seem to be running things seem to largely be white men and women between 50 and 60. Is that always going to be the thing? Are millennials going to get there a little faster? It certainly seems like the one thing that your generation is not patient about is changing stuff.
Megana: Are you saying in terms of studio heads and executive leadership?
Craig: Yeah. I’m saying why haven’t you stormed the Bastille yet and taken over? In I think it was the ’80s, CAA was swarmed from a bunch of, they called them the Young Turks, but I think they were all in their 30s. They were the millennials of their time and broke away from the old, frumpy agencies and began their own thing. It seems like that some sort of millennial revolution is going to happen sooner or later. There are some things that are built in to the way life functions right now that might make it a little bit more difficult for them than it was say for Baby Boomers in the ’80s, specifically the fact that our world is falling apart, slightly.
Megana: I don’t know. I wonder if there’s some economic reasons why it would be tougher for millennials and the industry to assume that sort of risk.
Craig: Oh, really? You seem to be suggesting that perhaps there have been some sort of multi-year pandemic and shutdown and that housing costs were at an all-time high and that the entertainment industry itself had undergone some sort of minor upheaval, like the disappearance of the theatrical film business. Things are changing too damn fast. It’s hard to get a hold on it.
Megana: Also, things aren’t changing fast enough. As we’ve talked about with the Pay Up Hollywood stuff, the cost of living in LA is increasing very quickly, but other things like wages are not matching that.
Craig: Millennials found themselves trapped in between two things. The business is transforming, but on the other side all this other stuff isn’t transforming, but just continuing, including, I think probably, as much as Hollywood likes to pat itself on the back, diversity at the higher levels of things probably is not where it ought to be. I think we can say for sure. I don’t know, from my point of view, as Oldie Olderson, to seem rather hopeful, I will say from my longer point of view, things are definitely better now in lots of ways than they were back then. Shall I count the ways or will it be depressing?
Megana: No, I’d like to hear it.
Craig: For one, the consciousness around diversity didn’t exist. I’m not going to say that it’s higher now. It literally did not exist at all. No one talked about it. If you were to say something like, “Oh, that’s weird, everyone in this room is a man,” then somebody would be like, “Whatever. Shut up.” No one would care. Much less, “There’s no one in here who is a person of color.” No one cared about anything. It just was not a topic at all. That has changed dramatically, and certainly for the better. The ability to make yourself known to the world was a zero back then.
Now everyone has a megaphone to the planet. What we do with the megaphone, certainly there are toxic impacts. Everyone does have a megaphone to the planet. The amount of material that’s made now is I believe larger than it was then. We can say, “Hold on, they made lots and lots of movies back then.” Yeah, true, but there were essentially three networks, and now there are streamers that put out so much context. Netflix alone I think makes more stuff in a year than everybody combined made in 1994. There is more stuff, but I suspect that you’re going to tell me, there are some areas where things are worse or have not improved at all.
Megana: I think with more content and the more shows that we’re getting from streamers and places like Netflix, we’re also seeing shorter season orders and smaller rooms, and so whereas on a network show in the ’90s you would have, what, a 22-episode season?
Craig: Yeah, or 26 episodes, something like that, something nuts.
Megana: If you were a staff writer on that show, there’d be so many opportunities for you to write an episode or go to set, because there’s just more material to be written and to be worked on. Now it seems like you have to elbow your way in to get one out of six or eight episodes on a streamer.
Craig: That’s a great point. That’s a great point. The streaming business has introduced a slight McDonaldsization to how we employ people. The people who are always going to get squeezed by that are the people who are on the younger end of things. In your cohort, is there any sense that at least you’re no longer the rookies, that it’s Generation Z are in the rookie zone, and you guys have a little bit of seasoning, picking up a little bit of authority as you progress through this business?
Megana: Gosh, I don’t know, it’s hard because right now the mood feels so like we’re all sort of coming out of this sluggish, depressive few years. I talked to so many millennials who have been assistants for sometimes over 10 years and I don’t think that that’s something that older generations necessarily dealt with. I would imagine that it’s more like welcome to the bottom.
Craig: Oh, my. Welcome to the bottom, that’s a decent title for… That’s depressing.
Megana: Not for all millennials. I don’t know whether that’s because the idea of pursuing film and television as a career has become more popular, so the people who are pursuing this, the pool has expanded. I don’t know, I’m curious what you think about that.
Craig: Everyone talks about everything more, so yes, it’s possible that everybody wants to do this. I think there is more of a sense that everybody can do anything they want, because access in a way became both worse and better at the same time. I guess when everybody has a megaphone, nobody’s listening to anyone, so there is that problem. I’m part of the weirdest generation, Generation X. We don’t know what the hell we are. We never considered ourself really generational. Nobody likes Baby Boomers. I think we can all agree on that. They’re the worst. Even they agree. They know. They know they’re the worst. I don’t think we ever thought of ourselves as a cohort in a really weird way. I just didn’t. Is there a sense among millennials and/or Generation Z that Generation X is the problem, that we’re the ones that are blocking the path up or creating that kind of permanent bottom?
Megana: No. I think we should just continue to blame everything on the Boomers.
Craig: Great. Thank God.
Megana: Do you think it’s Generation X that is the problem? I don’t think it is. Generation X, let’s define terms, that’s 45 to 55?
Craig: Yeah, I think that’s about right. Let’s see, Generation X is born between 1965 and 1980, so I’m a younger Generation X kind of person. It seem like actually you can go even up to 62 kind of thing. Oh no, 1965 is just 57. Then 1980 is young. Now we’re talking about 42. 42 to 57. Let’s just call it 40s and 50s. That seems reasonable. The 40s and 50s people, we are mostly in charge of this business. There are definitely some Baby Boomers sitting on boards and thing, but not too many that are still in charge, I think. It seems like we’re the ones that are in charge. I don’t know, I hope that we would be doing better than our Boomer people before us.
For a generation that has been labeled as soft and afraid and fragile, it’s endured quite a bit. I don’t see that as a reality. I worry about this permanent bottom thing. That’s bad news. There’s something that happened, I noticed, in the feature business, where studios empowered producers, and producers became incredibly abusive of screenwriters, and it got to the point where essentially we were running out of screenwriters, because everyone just left. Nobody wanted to do it. Either they never got a chance to get good because they were replaced constantly and treated like widgets, or they fled to television. We were running out of feature writers.
Towards the end of my feature career, because I started really concentrating on TV, I was getting a stupid amount of calls for work, to the point where I’m like, “I am not this good. I don’t deserve this number of phone calls. No one’s left. This means no one’s left.” When I say no one’s left, no one’s left who has 20 years of experience. No one was allowed to become experienced. Everybody who wasn’t allowed to become experienced was punished for their inexperience, and so all that was left were the few people from my generation that had been allowed to become experienced, who essentially had been allowed to fail, because they kept making movies. They were doing things. We were taught.
There’s no system for teaching. I’m worried that the same thing is happening everywhere, that no one is allowed to learn and be taught, and so we run out of people to come and refresh the troops, to be the new A-list people of tomorrow. For all the lip service that we pay to bringing new kinds of people in, it doesn’t matter if we don’t teach and nourish the next group. This is nerve-wracking to me. Actually, I’m shooketh, as millennials say. I’m shooketh.
Megana: I have a question for you, because I think feature films are interesting, because I had a friend who also pointed out that a part of this problem with trying to have a career as a feature writer as a younger person is that the mid-range studio films don’t really exist anymore.
Craig: That’s right.
Megana: It’s very hard, and reflective of what we’re seeing is that it’s almost impossible to go from being someone who’s making these low-budget indies to then being granted the reins to a major studio tent pole. To your point about teaching, who taught you? What was your process like? Do you think that it was the opportunity to make some of those mid-tier movies?
Craig: Yes, which is all I made for a while, because the movies that I made, generally speaking, cost between $18 million and $50 million. That was the meat and potatoes of our business, movies that weren’t tent poles, that weren’t massive budget items, that were producable and shootable and makable and releasable. If they failed, they failed. If they hit, they really hit. That was great. Everybody loved that. That was where you learned. There was a lot of it. Then there were rewrites and there’d be other rewrites, but you learned, because there was stuff to move around in between. Then it all just went away. Who do people hire? When they don’t have a lot of stuff to make, they hire the most experienced, quote unquote, best writers they can find who are available, because there’s not that much stuff. Then what happens? Those people age up.
As we get older, we start to lose touch. Our goodness becomes more narrowed to certain areas and we are less good in other areas. Comedy, notably. I’m not being ageist. I’m just being factual, that people who are in their 60s cannot possibly be plugged into what is culturally relevant to people in their 20s in the way the people in their 20s are. Just factually impossible. There was nobody then left to turn to, because so few people had been trained, because there was nothing to train them with.
It was like if you get rid of the Minor Leagues in baseball and you just go, look, everybody has to just come from high school and then we’re going to throw you into the Major Leagues and you’re good or you’re not good. No one’s trained. You just keep going, okay, well let’s just trade for the people who have been trained in the Minor Leagues when they existed. Then those people all get old and then what do you do?
I’m worried that the same thing is happening in television because of the way, like you say, the shorter season orders, the mini rooms, how fast things go. People don’t get trained. They cannot grow up with this system. They start carping at each other and blaming each other for things, because when there’s scarce resources, people start to hurt each other in their attempt to get those scarce resources. It’s a mess. Basically, what I’m saying is I’m worried about your generation, especially when I’m saying, okay, people have been an assistant for 10 years. Some people want to be assistants. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t, and you’re on your 10th year, that’s problematic.
Megana: Last question for you, I see the benefits of what you’re saying and how it would grow the next generation of writers, creators, directors, executives, people to move up into leadership roles. Do you think that there are business benefits towards doing that, because I don’t think that it would necessarily change unless there was an economic impact that studios would also see.
Craig: A massive benefit for studios. It’s research and development. Other industries understand this inherently, but in Hollywood, everyone is so focused on what you just did and are you making money right now that they don’t have time to think about sowing a field for the future. As far as they’re concerned, they’re going to get fired soon anyway also. What are they doing? Growing the next generation of brilliant writers to benefit the person that knocked them off the perch? This is the issue. I’ve said as much to people who run studios, that ultimately somebody is going to be left without a chair in the musical chairs game, and they’re not going to have people who are any good to write these things, because they’re not being trained properly at all and they don’t care. They don’t care, because that’s going to be somebody else’s problem.
If I were the chairman of one of these corporations, not just the person running the studio, chairman of one of these corporations, the answer is pretty simple. Look, there’s certainly plenty of good in what they call their training programs, which are almost exclusively focused at increasing diversity in the hiring pool. Those are fine, but they’re not the same thing as getting hired and working. The experience of being hired and working in the real situation, not a simulation, but the real deal, live fire on the battlefield, there’s nothing like it. That’s how you learn. That and that alone is really how you learn. They are not going to get, they meaning the businesses, are not going to get the people they need at the level they want unless they start increasing those opportunities and that means paying people and keeping them on longer so that they can live and afford a home and can have a family and learn and get better. We had this for, I don’t know, 100 years, and then we just suddenly went, meh.
Megana: That’s really helpful. I’m also interested to hear what other people have to say and would love for people to write in with their experiences.
Craig: Yes, and as always, tell me I’m wrong. I would love to be wrong about this, but I’m worried.
Megana: Unshake Craig.
Craig: Yeah. I want to be an optimist. I do. I think every pessimist wants to be an optimist. This is not a rosy picture. The fact that my generation’s cranky about your generation isn’t going to help. Tell me I’m wrong or tell me I’m not even right enough. That’s my other favorite kind, like, “You weren’t angry enough.” Sorry.
Megana: As always, do what makes your heart sing.
Craig: Do what makes your heart sing.
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