The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August, and this is Episode 566 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show we have the incredible Ashley Nicole Black filling in for Craig. She’s a writer, an actor, a producer, a dog mom. She’s everything you could hope to ever be. Welcome back, Ashley.
Ashley Nicole Black: Hello. I will try to fill in Craig’s shoes and talk about Chernobyl or something.
John: Yeah, and puzzles. Mention puzzles a lot. I think I emailed you about your incredible hosting of the WGA Awards a while back. I think it’s fantastic that you show up to this podcast still wearing that incredible dress. Just last night you were hosting on the Creative Arts Emmys. You were one of the presenters. Talk to us about that.
Ashley: Sam Richardson and I presented the awards to the makeup artists, one of my favorite parts of production, so I was very happy to do that. It was really fun. They make it really easy and fun, actually.
John: Now something like this, we were talking that there’s a New York version and an LA version, and we’re going to cut it all together. What was the process like being in there for this? How long did the Emmys take for you?
Ashley: I was actually surprised, and I don’t know why I was, because obviously, they do this every year, and it’s a very professional production. They have it so perfectly foolproof. Someone walks you exactly where you’re going to go. They point you exactly where to stand. There’s just no way to mess it up, which is really nice.
John: That’s great. Since you’re a guest on this podcast, I want to make it just as straightforward and simple, so I pitched some really light and breezy topics for you. I think we’ll talk about abortion, cultural appropriation, fan culture and critics, so just no sweat. This will be an easy, easy, breezy podcast for you.
Ashley: At least I don’t have to wear heels.
John: That’s the whole bonus. We’ll also ask you some TV questions, because you are the person who knows about television. In our Bonus Segment for Premium Members, let’s throw a party. I want to talk to you about entertaining at home in 2022.
Ashley: That’s my actual area of expertise, so this is going to be good.
John: I’m looking forward to it. Reminder to everybody that we have a live show coming up here in Los Angeles. We already emailed out to our Premium subscribers about first dibs on tickets. As we record this, I don’t know if there are any tickets left for the live show, but there will be a livestream. If you’re a person outside of Los Angeles or a person who didn’t get tickets and want to watch the livestream of the show, you can follow the link in the show notes to that. We’re so excited to have an audience, to be back in a theater telling jokes and hopefully learning about screenwriting. Please come to our live show, or at least virtually come to our live show when we throw that.
Other news, WGA West elections. Every year we elect new people to the WGA board. I know some of the incumbents. There’s also really good newcomers. We’re not going to do a normal Scriptnotes where we talk through all the candidates and who’s great and who’s not so great. They’re all kind of good, so I would just say read through the statements, pick people that you really like. Ashley, have you already voted?
Ashley: No, I’m not a member of WGA West. I’m a WGA East. I haven’t voted yet, because I feel like I don’t know a ton about the candidates, so I’m still figuring that out. I know which issues are important, but then you have to see which candidates agree with you. Still figuring it out.
John: Still figuring it out. As I look through the possibilities, I’m always just trying to make sure that I get diverse representation of different kinds of writer careers, because in our guild, we have screenwriters, we have television writers on series, we have comedy variety writers. We have a whole range of people. I want to make sure we have at least somebody in that room who knows all this background, so I’m trying to pick my candidates based on that. I always encourage people to look through the candidates’ statements, which are really good this year. Everyone do fill out your ballot and vote for your WGA West or your WGA East elections. We’ve stalled long enough, Ashley. Got to get to something challenging here.
Let’s talk about abortion. A group called Showrunners for Abortion Rights had a letter that went out that was asking the studios to clarify their policies on what they’re going to do to protect their crews and staff in states where abortion access is going to be increasingly restricted. I know this was a subject that was near and dear to your heart on one of our previous Scriptnotes. Your One Cool Thing was an abortion fund. This is something you’ve been thinking about since before this decision came down.
Ashley: Yeah, and it’s an interesting time that we’re in, because obviously, abortion has been a legal issue for so long, and now it’s, for us at least in entertainment, but I think for a lot of people, transitioned to be a workplace safety issue. I think that that’s the transformation that people are slowing wrapping their heads around, including our employers, that now you’re in a situation where if you’re sending employees to work in a different state, they have different access to health care based on where they’re working, and also different access to human rights, which is not a typical situation for a boss or an employer to be dealing with. We’re in an uncharted time right now.
John: Absolutely. As we talked about on the show before, Craig said maybe we shouldn’t be filming in states that have these abortion restrictions. I wanted to offer a point/counterpoint, two of our listeners who wrote in with emails talking about the two sides of that issue. Megana, if you can talk us through these two emails.
Megana Rao: Alex wrote in and said, “In Episode 561, Craig made a plea to stop working in states in which there are abortion bans and called out Georgia specifically. This isn’t the first time Georgia has faced boycotts, but I implore you to reconsider your public support for a boycott of the Georgia entertainment industry. I’m a Georgia-based writer and actor and a supporter of women’s rights and abortion access. This state and the entertainment industry here is full of women who are fighting on the front lines to keep abortion safe and available for women, especially those who are most vulnerable. I fail to see how a boycott of the Georgia entertainment industry would do anything but starve these brave women of resources and support to continue their fight. I believe your plea should be the opposite of a boycott, to instead flood the state with people and funding to help it flip fully blue and become a safe haven for women seeking abortions.”
John: This perspective on a boycott of Georgia is talking about the harm that was going to happen to the women who would otherwise be employed in the state in productions and such. It really is a thing to consider. We have moved so much film and TV production to Georgia that if you suddenly pull that out, what are the people who are trying to make their living there supposed to do? Ashley, what’s your feedback?
Ashley: And some people who moved there because Hollywood put so much production there. It’s like it really is you’re playing with people’s bottom lines there. It’s really tough. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know that there is one right answer. The one right answer is to have universal human rights in every state in the country. That’s not something Hollywood can make happen on our own.
It is really tough, because I do understand this person’s point that you’re saying in support of women’s rights, you’re abandoning the women in Georgia, but also at the same time, if you don’t do that, you’re asking women from other states to go to Georgia and be in a dangerous situation. There is no right answer, unfortunately.
John: Let’s listen to Erica’s perspective on this.
Megana: Erica says, “I wanted to add a point that a showrunner friend made to me. We’re not just discussing access to abortion here. I worked well into my pregnancies. If I’d been working on a set in one of those states and an emergent situation developed, like preeclampsia, ruptured placenta, the chances that I would receive the best possible care are severely diminished. Doctors in these states will not and cannot legally provide an abortion until a woman is actively dying, not even if the fetus is not viable. If there’s a heartbeat, the mother has to be actually dying, and then it may be too late, or she may have complications related to not being treated properly and quickly. Our childbearing colleagues are taking a risk when they take a job in these states. I don’t think any of us should have to turn down work we love and want to do because we’re afraid we may not get proper health care. I’m with you guys. We should pull out of states that fail to provide health care for women. I don’t think women should be calculating their life risk versus career benefit when taking a job as a writer, director, actor, or crew member.”
John: This is a lot of really good points on the other side here. Erica’s talking about if you are a person who could potentially get pregnant, you may decide not to even take that job because it’s in a state where you don’t feel safe working. That is not good for this individual person, but also for the industry. You’re not going to be able to get the people you want to get working on that production because they don’t feel safe there.
Ashley: They’re also making the point that the issue goes beyond abortion. It’s health care. There have even been stories in these states of people not being able to get their arthritis medication, because technically the arthritis medication could be used to cause an abortion or whatever. It’s not just women. It’s not just people who may need abortions. It’s really everyone is just going to have a lower standard of health care in this state. Some people may opt out of even taking those jobs. The people who would have to opt out are people who are already grossly underrepresented in our industry.
John: My suspicion is that we’re going to find coming out of this is a lot of showrunners and other people who have the authority to decide where they’re going to shoot. They may not publicly say that they’re avoiding Georgia or they’re avoiding Texas or a certain state for a reason, but they may just quietly not go there. I’ll be curious to see whether a year from now the number of productions is down or things have changed, not because people have actually made a statement saying this is the reason we’re not going there. It’s just because it’s just easier to not go to one of those states, which is sort of a soft boycott. It’s a boycott in all but name.
Ashley: I think that’s true. I think that’ll be true also outside of the work that we do. I can see college students. As a parent, do you want to send your student to a state where you know they won’t be able to get health care if they end up needing it? I think there’s going to be a soft divestment across the board. Politically it’s really scary for the states to become even more siloed from each other when people are not taking jobs and going to college in different states and moving around and becoming even more separate. It’s not a great path to go down, but I think it’s where we’ll be going.
John: When we had Liz Hannah on the show most recently, she was talking about the show she was filming. She was in I think Georgia for… It could’ve been North Carolina. She was outside of Los Angeles for a long time, and she became pregnant while she was there and was not revealing that she was pregnant. Her pregnancy was a big factor in this production that she was doing. It was nothing she could’ve anticipated. I just wonder whether a lot of people are going to be going into productions thinking, okay, maybe for something short, we can get in, get out, but for something that is 8 episodes, 10 episodes, it’s longer.
Craig and I did go back and forth a lot about are we going to go to the Austin Film Festival, are we contributing to policies we don’t like by going to the Austin Film Festival. We decided it’s probably better for us to go and go loudly. Again, it’s short. We’re in and we’re out. We’re not assuming any risk to ourselves or to people who might want to come to it. It’s all complicated. It’s all a factor. Until there’s universal agreement on what those rights should be, it’s going to be tough to sort out.
Ashley: It’s unfair that we as individuals are now all having to figure this out for ourselves. The whole point of democracy is that we have a government who makes safe choices for us as a group hopefully, and instead now we’re in this situation.
John: Let’s bring it back to where we started, which is the showrunners who are coming to the studio saying, “You need to tell us what your policies are going to be,” which is probably the middle ground here, which basically if you are going to have productions in these places, how are we going to make sure that not just writers but directors and actors and crew are going to be able to have their health care needs met if they’re in one of these states where abortion is prohibited, where there are going to be policies there that are going to be interfering with people’s ability to get the care they need.
To date, we haven’t gotten great answers back from a lot of the studios. That’s what the next round of pushing is, is trying to make sure there’s consistent policies for studios that’s not just ad hoc one production at a time.
Ashley: I think the studios maybe would’ve preferred not to take this on, but it’s like, unfortunately, this is what it is. If you’re asking people to travel for work, these are things that you have to think about. There’s also a lot of tricky legal issues in it for them. If some states are making it illegal to help someone obtain an abortion, if the studio does help you travel or whatever, then they’re legally liable. It is a very tricky issue. It will take time for them to figure it out, regardless of what their excitement level is to do it.
John: For sure. We have explored that topic. We got through it. Take a breath. Let’s do something much easier here. We have two questions about photos. Megana, can you help us out?
Megana: Michelle asks, “Months ago you all mentioned putting a link to a song within a script. I feel like Megana was the one who mentioned it, and I can’t find it in the show transcripts, but it’s driving me crazy. Is it appropriate to put a link to a song or a specific image in a pdf script? If so, how would one do that?”
John: We found it. It was Episode 533 where we talked about putting links into songs and to images. Ashley, do you ever do this? In any of your scripts, have you put in a link to a song or something you want people to click through to see?
John: How would you feel about that if that were in a script you read?
Ashley: I’m curious what your answer is, because you’re much more experienced than I am. I would feel like the script was written by a young person. If I was reading a script, and it had a link in it, I’d be like, “Oh, this person’s young.” I think for songs, I usually just put the title and the artist of the song, and the person can stop and look it up if they want. For an image, I would probably just describe the image and probably what it makes the character feel like to look at it. I’ve never thought about putting a link in a script.
John: What I hear you saying there is you don’t want to stop the read, saying you’ve got to stop everything you’re doing and click through to hear, because they may never come back to the script. It’s also the script’s job to convey what the thing is.
That said, I’ve started putting links in scripts to certain things when it was important, when I needed to get a very specific reference on something so people could see what something was. For a musical, I have put in links to this is what the song sounds like, so you can actually play the song while you’re reading through the lyrics. I have done that.
In Highland, it’s easy to do. Links just work in the new Highland. I tried it in Fade In, just to make sure it would work. If it works in Fade In, it probably works in Final Draft. It’s a thing you can do, but not everyone’s going to love it. Just be aware that it’s a choice you’re making. Megana, when you were doing it, it was for a pilot?
Megana: Yeah, it was for a pilot that was also a musical, so I wanted the references to be in there.
Ashley: I also wrote a pilot that was a musical. I wrote the lyrics in the script, and then the music was just sent along also, so they could click on and listen to it. When I did that, the producers were like, “Actually, don’t even put the lyrics in the script. Just describe the song and include the song in the email.”
John: Lots of good choices there. It’s going to depend on what you’re doing and how you want to do it. I tend to put full lyrics in things, particularly if it’s specifically moving the story forward, like it’s doing dialog work. If it’s just a moment where it’s the song, and that’s the whole experience, then yeah, just summarizing it or conveying the feel for it is probably going to be more important than what every lyric was in there. Let’s continue with Brett’s question here.
Megana: Brett from New York says, “In your recent VFX episode, you all discussed practical photos versus VFX replacements of photos in movies. Craig mentioned that printed Photoshopped photos always look really bad. This is something I’ve noticed as well, and it always manages to take me out of the movie. The weird thing is Photoshop can be really convincing, especially in the year 2022. My question is, when it comes to movies, why is Photoshop often so noticeably terrible?”
John: Ashley, is this a thing you’ve seen? I feel like whenever I see the framed photo of here’s the family, it’s like, oh, that doesn’t feel quite right. Have you seen convincing versions of it?
Ashley: I didn’t think of it this way, but Brett is right. When you see Photoshops on the internet, they look really real, and on TV they often don’t. I think he has something there. I think possibly it’s because they’re taking… Sometimes it’s like they’ve taken a photo of one actor on set and a photo of another actor from 10 years ago and are trying to put them together or they’re de-aging actors. If you’re trying to print that out in time to shoot it practically, that’s just really, really fast. It may not be enough time to do that practically, whereas if you put it in in post, you can have more time to get it looking good.
John: If I remember right, in the episode, they were talking about how a lot of it is just time, because they’ll put the little green card inside the picture frame, knowing we’re going to put that in later on, because we’re not going to have time to get something that looks really good right now.
I also wonder if it’s just whose responsibility it is, because it’s going to be art department. Unless it’s a physically held prop, it’s going to probably be the art department who’s going to be responsible for doing that. It’s not their expertise, so they’re going to go out to somebody to do it. They may just not have the best resource to go out and find that, because they’re busy doing a thousand other things or trying to get the furniture in the room, not necessarily the photo inside the frame. It may just be a matter of specialty there. Photoshops can be really good, really convincing. It’s just planning. There’s a lot to plan for with a production.
Ashley: I feel like just a lot of times it’s a picture of these two actors when they were children or whatever. Just hire two kids and take a picture of them. I think you think it’s cheaper to do the Photoshop, but it doesn’t cost that much to take a picture of a kid. By the time you spend hours on that Photoshop, you might’ve spent more money on it anyway.
John: You could take a photo of two kids, but you can also probably find a photo you can buy of two kids that looks realistic and believable, because as an audience, we want to believe that those are the actors. You’re pointing the camera at them. We’re going to believe that it’s them. That they are believably children is more important than that they are necessarily direct matches for who those two kids are.
Ashley: That’s how I feel.
John: Now we’re going to get to some questions that you are especially well suited to answer here. Megana, Andrew has questions about TV.
Megana: Andrew wrote in and says, “I promise I’m not a total dum-dum, but I’ve somehow remained ignorant on a certain question, even after listening to 95% of the entire Scriptnotes catalog. What are the differences and similarities between the following TV jobs: showrunner, head writer, creator, and executive producer. In case there’s multiple executive producers in television, I’ll clarify that I’m referring to the one that gets called the EP. At one point in my life, I used these phrases interchangeably. Then I listened to John’s interview with Stephen Schiff in Episode 337, and now my understanding here is just one big shrug emoji. Further confusing things for me is that I don’t see all of these terms in TV credits or on IMDb. How do I know based on credits who the primary creative voice is behind a show?”
John: Lots to go through here. Let’s take these terms one at a time and see if we can figure them out. Ashley Nicole Black, how do we know who the creator of a show is?
Ashley: First of all, I have to say I love this question. I have literally gotten this question from friends who are in a writers’ room, being like, “Hey, so I’ve been here for two weeks. Who do you think my boss is?” I’m like, “Talk to me about the body language in the room. We can figure this out.”
John: That’s great.
Ashley: Andrew should not feel bad about not understanding this. It is genuinely very confusing. The creator is usually the person who originally came up with the idea for a show. That’s just a genius idea that sprung from their head or something based on their life or, and this is a little weird, but if the show’s based on a book or a movie, but they’re the ones who turned it into the TV show, they’re still called the creator, even though someone else originated that idea.
John: It is a WGA credit. WGA determines created by as a credit. You’re going to have to have written something. You’re going to have to have written the thing that is the template for what the whole thing is. Craig got a created by credit on Chernobyl. Most of the sitcoms you’ve ever seen are going to have a created by credit. Does The Black Lady Sketch Show have a created by credit?
Ashley: Yeah, Robin.
John: Robin is the creator of that show. Megana and I were talking with a woman who had a show, and she was the creator, but she was not the showrunner, because she was a playwright, she was brand new at this. She created the show. She was the underlying vision of it all, but a different person was brought in to be the showrunner. She worked with this person, showrunner, to actually get the show up and going.
Ashley: Also, depending on when that person comes in. If they come in during development, they may also be called a co-creator. If they come in after, then they may just be called the showrunner.
John: Let’s talk about the word showrunner, because a showrunner is not a credit you’re going to see in IMDb. Showrunner is a term of art for the person who is responsible for the overall running of the show on a creative level. There’s still going to be producers who are drilling down to every little bit of the budget, who are going to be doing logistics, and other folks. Can you talk us through a showrunner like you were on Ted Lasso? What does a showrunner on a show like that do?
Ashley: The showrunner on a scripted show is running the whole process. They’re running the writers’ room. They’re running set when you’re on set. They’re running post. They’re just the boss through the whole process. Where there might be other mini bosses at different parts of the process, they’re the ones who are over the whole thing.
John: Now how about in comedy and variety? You were on Samantha Bee’s show or even other sketch shows. What’s a showrunner like there?
Ashley: There, the job of showrunner can be split into two jobs of showrunner and head writer. The head writer is running the writers’ room and overseeing all of the departments in terms of getting what was written realized. You may also have a showrunner who is a separate person, or the showrunner and head writer can be the same person.
John: I think Saturday Night Live, I think Colin Jost is the head writer. Tina Fey was the head writer for a time. In script TV we think of them as being the showrunner, but Lorne Michaels is probably really the showrunner, is probably the person who’s most responsible for getting the show up every week.
Head writer is also a term though, confusingly, we’ve seen with some of the Marvel projects. The writer we’d normally think of as being the showrunner doesn’t have that title, so they’re listed as head writer. There’s either, quote unquote, “no showrunner,” or the director also has some of the showrunning capabilities, and so the head writer is the person responsible for delivering the scripts, but is not necessarily the person responsible for delivering the finished cut to the studio.
Ashley: Another term that’s not on here is the number two, which when my friend was like, “Who do I tell that I need a day off?” I’m like, “Who’s the showrunner? Who’s the number two?” Sometimes the number two is the person who’s doing the day-to-day running of the room or of set. They’re the person who you would talk to about personnel issues and stuff like that. Maybe the showrunner is just doing the higher order of creative things, or maybe not. It differs based on how every different showrunner runs their show.
John: If you’re a writer on one of these projects, you’re going to have to figure this out, because if you’re on a Shondaland show, maybe she’s directly involved in all the stuff that’s going on, but maybe she’s not, because it’s on its 17th season and there’s a different person who’s responsible for that stuff. You will have to figure it out. There’s no great way looking at the credits to know who that person is at any given point. You just have to ask and figure out who the person is responsible for what kinds of things, who’s the person who’s looking at every cut.
On a Greg Berlanti show, in the Greg Berlanti universe, there are shows he’s probably very directly involved, and there are shows where he’s not really directly involved. Instead, he is an executive producer. Now we need to talk about executive producer and how it’s a meaningful and a meaningless title, because there’s so many executive producers listed on any given show.
Ashley: There are so many different kinds. Any show that I’ve worked on, there’s executive producers who you work with every single day, and then there’s people who the first time you ever see their names is in the credits when the show rolls.
John: I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you see Sandy Gallin as an executive producer. I’m like, “Oh, that person must be really involved in the day to day.” No, that person produced the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie but was not involved directly in the series itself, but has EP credit on every single episode of the show.
Ashley: Andrew’s not wrong to be confused.
John: It’s totally natural to be confused there. I will say that one of the things that film has tried to do is to make it more clear who was the producer of the film, who was the person who carried over the line. When you see the PGA credit at the end of a person’s name, that’s meant to indicate this person was really responsible for producing the movie. We don’t quite have that in television. One way that Andrew could help figure this out though is the person whose executive producer card comes first at the end of an episode tends to be one of the more important people, or the last executive producer card before we get to the director and writer tends to be the more crucial person, but you can’t always count on that.
Ashley: It does change over time, because let’s say in the first season that person was producing the show. In a Season 5, they may not be around anymore, and someone else is, but they still have that credit. It’s difficult to tell just from looking at the credits.
John: We have a good follow-up question here from Tim.
Megana: Tim asks, “I’m a baby writer with few credits and decent connections who’s about to take out a pitch for a one-hour drama with a small production company. Should I try to land a showrunner before we take out our pitch, or can we try to package other forms of talent first and try to get a showrunner after we land a deal?”
John: Before we get to this question, Ashley, how do you feel about the term “baby writer?”
Ashley: I know some people don’t like it. I don’t care either way about it. I can see why it’s literally infantilizing. I can also see why there needs to be some sort of term for someone who is a writer but maybe doesn’t have the production experience or whatever, because I think people feel like they have to get to a certain level before they can call themselves a writer. I don’t agree with that. If you sit down and write a script, you’re a writer. There is a difference between, “I sat down and wrote a script,” and, “I’ve had five years of production experience and now I know which EP is the one to ask for money from,” or whatever.
John: I go back and forth on “baby writer,” because I think when someone self-describes as a baby writer, I get it, because it’s trying to make it clear, like, “I’m new to this.” It can be a term of love. You want to protect a baby writer. I get that. That infantilizing thing can be real, so a new writer, maybe a less experienced writer may be a better way to describe that thing. Let’s get into the meat of Tim’s question, which is should he try to attach a showrunner to this pitch before it goes out. Ashley, what’s your instinct here?
Ashley: I think it really depends on what kind of pitch it is. This is another overused term. If the pitch is, quote unquote, “execution-dependent,” it can be really helpful to have a more experienced showrunner in your camp, because for example, if you’re writing the next Jurassic Park, from hearing that pitch, the studio knows, okay, we know what this is going to be. There’s going to be big dinosaurs, and they’re going to escape, and probably someone’s going to have to save the day. If your pitch is the next Friends, it’s friends living in an apartment, they’re like, “We have no assurances that you as a baby writer can execute that.” If you had say one of the showrunners from Friends who’s now attached to your project, it’s like, “Oh, we know they can execute that. If they’ve chosen to hitch their wagon to you, then they have some belief in you that would make us feel confident as a studio.” I think it depends on what kind of pitch it is. The more execution-dependent it is, the more it would help to have a more experienced person with you.
John: I think what Tim is recognizing is at some point he is going to get partnered with somebody, because he doesn’t have the experience to actually run a show. Somebody else is going to come in. He’s wondering, okay, if I reach out and find the person and bring that person on now, I at least have maybe a little bit more control over that, which I get. In my experience, it can be tough to get that showrunner attached before you go out with a project, because the people you want are going to be busy. They’re going to be doing lots of other things. They may not be available to read your thing or meet with you, or they don’t want to take their time to attach themselves to a project that may or may not happen down the road. Some people will. Some people won’t.
The other thing you have to keep in mind is certain places love certain showrunners. They have good relationships with certain showrunners. You might attach somebody who has a really terrible relationship at NBC, and therefore NBC’s off the table.
Ashley: That was the other thing I was going to say is the studio will have people who are on deals, people that are already paying. They’re going to want to attach someone they’re already paying rather than paying a new person. Also, if you have to find a showrunner, that’s going to be very difficult. Ideally, that would be someone you already had a relationship with, someone who’s a mentor to you, who is invested in you and wants to help you to the next level. If that person exists, then yeah, absolutely, you should be working with them. If you’re trying to find a stranger, you might be better off pitching to the studio, and if they like it, them connecting you to a stranger who they have more investment in and are more willing to want to buy something from.
John: It’s no surprise that Mike Schur is an EP listed on a lot of other great comedies, because those are intended to be things where writers who were in his room, who he’s worked with before, said, “Hey, I have this time,” and he can go out and godfather it and help get it set up. That’s a very natural way this works. He has relationships at different places to make that possible. A person who might really just be a fantastic showrunner to carry this over the finish line may not have those relationships or may not be the right person for a lot of different places. I would say unless your managers or your agency really has a perfect fit who’s going to be just the right person for you, I wouldn’t burn a lot of time trying to attach that person before you go out with a pitch.
Ashley: You’re almost better off spending that time looking for a gig in the room. Then you’ll get to know that showrunner. Maybe that person won’t turn out to be your mentor. There’s no guarantees. You’ll also learn a lot from being in a room. Developing organic relationships with people is always more worth your time than cold calling and trying to find someone.
John: Let’s get into another more challenging topic on cultural appropriation. We have an email here from Kevin.
Megana: Kevin wrote in and said, “I thought you might like to share this resource with your listeners. It’s a book and now series of writing workshops by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward called Writing the Other. Their focus is prose writing, but the relevant lessons translates to any medium. I know you and Craig are not necessarily down with the whole writing workshop industrial complex, but I found the exercises and thinking around how to approach the topic useful and helpful. If nothing else, I think their book is something most writers should read.”
John: I was familiar with the book, but I hadn’t seen the workshop. I bought workshop, and Megana and I watched the video and looked through the stuff. There was some good stuff there, and there was some stuff which didn’t all land for me. I wanted to bring up the topic, because it’s not just theoretical. I was actually on a Zoom this past week with the studio, and they were asking some cultural appropriation questions about this project I’m working on. It was one of the first times someone just said the words out loud. I think it’s always been in the background of conversations, at least for the last five years or so. Is this a thing in the projects you’ve been working on, Ashley, that comes up?
Ashley: I am a Black woman, so probably not as much. No, also, because what’s interesting to me about the idea of a book or a workshop, and if it’s helpful, people should read it or take the workshop, but because I mostly write television, you are writing with a group of people, so someone of that culture is available to you. You should find them and hire them. You can read a hundred books, and to me that’ll never be as useful as just having that person or hopefully people in the room with you to speak up for their culture and their experiences. In film, it’s a little different, because people do tend to write films alone. Again, nothing’s stopping you from bringing in another writer at a certain stage in the process and making sure you’ve gotten it all right and hopefully paying that person. It’s such a collaborative medium that you don’t necessarily need to ever be appropriating because there are so many… You have to have collaborators to get TV and film made.
John: Something you brought up on an earlier episode was you have people in a room who are representing a range of viewpoints and backgrounds and experiences to make sure that you’re not relying on the one Black person to stand in for all Black people, particularly if that person is not a high-level writer. It can be exhausting to have to be the go-to, “Oh, is this okay? Is this okay?” person.
Ashley: Yeah, a hundred percent. Then it’s an extra job that person is doing on top of their writing job, whereas if there are several people… I just worked on a show that had a really diverse, really great writers’ room. The other Black writer and I disagreed on almost everything. I love him, but we just… I’m from the West Coast. He’s from the East Coast. We disagreed on a lot of things, and that’s productive. If there was only one of us, then you would be taking just my word for it. This other point of view does exist, and luckily it was also in the room.
John: Let’s talk about cultural appropriation, because it’s not quite the same thing as representation or inclusion or sensitivity. It’s a bigger macro idea, like can you take something that’s out there and pull it into your project and what are the best ways of thinking about that. I guess we have to start with the rabbit hole of what is even culture. Culture is anything that’s discussed on the podcast Las Culturistas. That’s what we’ll decide there.
Ashley: Agreed. I’ll take that definition.
John: I’ll say culture is the things that are innate and special to a group of people. Culture’s always about groups. It’s not about an individual thing. That could be language. It can be food, religion, music, arts. They’re generally markers of group identity. Ethnicities and national origins are cultures. Ballroom drag is a culture. Liking something or being a fan of something isn’t necessarily a culture. Being a super-fan of the Big Bang Theory, that’s not culture. That’s a thing you like a lot, but there’s not a group identity formed around Big Bang heads, at least as far as I know.
Ashley: I think a part of the appropriation conversation too is a lot of times, and not always, it’s things that a group of people have been oppressed for. One of the things that comes up a lot is hair. There are specific Black hairstyles. Can a white person do that hairstyle? The reason why it’s a sticky issue is because Black people have literally been fired from their jobs for wearing that hairstyle. It becomes something more than just, oh, it’s a fun hairstyle that we can all share when it’s something that people have been oppressed for.
John: I think sometimes people feel like, “I don’t have a culture,” or, “Culture’s a thing that other people have, but I don’t really have a culture.” It’s because they’re generally in the dominant culture, so they’re not even aware that they’re in this culture. It’s the way fish don’t recognize that they’re in water. They’re all around it all the time. If you’re reaching and pulling something from a culture that’s not your own, you might say, “It’s fair. They can take stuff from mine.” It’s like, no, there’s a power imbalance there as well.
On a writing level, I think you’re going to ask yourself, “Am I the right person to write this, or should it be somebody who’s part of that culture, who should be writing this idea or writing this true story or writing something?” As we focus mostly on writing on this podcast, am I the person who should be doing this, or is it something that’s better done by a different person?
Ashley: Also, why and from what perspective? Me personally, I was raised Christian. If I were going to write a story about another religion, am I writing it as that person experiences it or am I writing it as a member of the dominant culture, going, “Hey, look at this different thing.” What’s the best way to actually tell that story? Might it be better told from a first-person perspective? I think sometimes people may not even realize that they’re not in the POV of their character. They’re showing you a character.
John: One of the things, going back to things you can do as a group that you can’t do individually, I was thinking about Seth Meyers jokes you can’t tell. This is where he’ll have a desk bit where he’ll bring up two writers on staff. He’ll read the setup, and they’ll read the punchline. They’re basically jokes that would not be appropriate for him as a straight white guy to be telling but that are funny. It’s a chance to put them out in the world. Amber Ruffin can tell jokes that he can’t tell, using the platform to get that material out there.
Ashley: I love that segment. Amber and Jenny are actually two of my best friends. What it necessitates in Seth is his ability to share the screen. I think that’s actually the tough part of it. I think a lot of people are on board with the idea that, “I guess there are jokes I can’t tell, and I won’t tell them.” The next step that not everyone is on board is, “And so I will push my chair to the side and share the screen with these two other people and allow them to tell them, because they’re good jokes, and they should be told, even if they’re not for me.” I feel like that’s the next step we’re trying to get to.
John: We’re writing podcasts about, as we talked about, showrunning and putting stuff together. A lot of the choices we make are going to be reflected in other departments. It’s going to be reflected in wardrobe and hair and makeup and music, top to bottom. There can be things that aren’t necessarily on the page but are going to be reflected on the screen that can feel like cultural appropriation. I guess that’s where you need to be mindful of who you’re hiring and how you’re bringing in outside experts maybe to watch what you’re doing to make sure that it’s appropriate, not appropriation but appropriate, and reflects your actual ambitions with the piece.
Ashley: You have to get I think more granular than people are used to or maybe want to, because I think a lot of times people have the same department heads that they work with all the time. Let’s say in this project it’s more diverse or you’re dealing with a group of people that you haven’t written about on other shows. That same department head may not be able to service that story. We just have to be honest about that and granular about it. When they say, “Don’t worry, I’m going to hire someone from that community,” are they bringing them in for one day? I know this is a big issue in wardrobe, where they’ll bring in day players to dress those characters on that day. Are you really getting the best work when that person is there for one day versus there the entire production to be able to speak to everything, to have enough power as an actual member of a staff versus a day player, to be able to speak up if something isn’t working? Those are the kind of things that showrunners don’t usually involve themselves in, but you have to if you are dealing with a culture that’s not your own or that isn’t often well represented.
John: Ashley, on seasons of Black Lady Sketch Show where you are both writing and performing, did things come up ever, as you talk about, like, “That’s not a thing we could actually touch, because I think it’s too specific to one group that we can’t bring it into the… It doesn’t feel like our joke to be able to make.”
Ashley: There were definitely conversations. That was a writers’ room that was all Black. Then there become issues around class. Obviously, a lot of people who work in television are in one social class, and a lot of people who watch it are in another one. What can we authentically speak to?
There are difficult conversations to be had about what is the point of view of this, who are we celebrating, who are we making fun of, and then also being really specific, because that’s a cable show, the writers’ room is gone when the show is being produced, being really specific in your script of what these people are dressed like, what they look like. Especially in a sketch show, regardless of culture, in sketch comedy, you really have to keep your foot on the neck of how jokey things get, because man, do costumes love to go wild. They’re like, “Isn’t this outfit hilarious?” It’s like, “Yeah, but no human being would ever wear it. We got to bring it back in.” Especially when you’re dealing with culturally tricky issues, you don’t want it to start looking like the person is the joke versus the scenario or the script is the joke.
We would actually put cover pages on our sketches. I wrote that Basic Ball sketch, and just being really, really specific on what the casting and the wardrobe and everything should be to get that point across that these are queer people who are basic, not that we’re making fun of queer people or calling queer people basic. Everything has to be so right for this expression to make sense and be what we wanted it to be and not be the default that people expect, which is, oh, we’re making fun of this group of people.
John: We’re getting back to one of our favorite words on this podcast, which is specificity, which is making sure that you’re really narrowing down to these people as characters rather than as broad types. As long as you’re talking about characters and what characters are doing and what they are wearing and saying and doing and their motivations, you’re in much safer territory than if you’re just putting a stereotype out there or a type of person out there, which is especially challenging with sketch, because it all happens so fast.
Ashley: It’s actually, I would say, made me a much better writer, which is why we are always advocating, I know you guys do this on the podcast all the time, for writers to be involved in production, because when you have those conversations and you found out what that wardrobe person or that hair person or that set dresser thought you meant when they read your script, it makes you a better writer. You’re like, “Oh, I see how that word threw you off. Okay, I’m going to think about that more carefully.”
I had a conversation with another department because I described characters as rich. They’re like, “What does rich mean? We saw a $2 million house and we saw a $12 million house. Which one should we shoot in?” It’s like, oh yeah, that makes a really big difference. I think it makes your scripts better when you get to have those conversations with people.
John: Sounds great. Let’s get to a potentially simpler question. This is from Nick.
Megana: Nick asks, “I’ve been pitching different TV show concepts in general meetings, and 9 out of 10 have enthusiastically asked to read this one specific idea, so I went off and wrote it. After a few drafts, I got script coverage. The analyst, who is usually extremely critical of my work, rated my pilot in the top 3% and said they were supremely confident in the salability of it and that it would entice viewers from all across the globe, and if made, had the chance to acquire a cult status, much like Breaking Bad or Money Heist. I also got similar unusually positive and excited feedback from trusted colleagues. I sent the pilot to my managers, and they said it was a difficult project to go out and sell, and told me to shelve the script and focus my time on developing new ideas. I guess I’m confused and frustrated. When I pitched this around, executives seemed really excited about it, and when I sent the script around, I got the same response. My questions are, should I ask my managers to at least send it to the executives who have asked to read it, if they don’t want to even try to go out with it? I’m confident and passionate about it, so would it be wrong for me to try to move it around town without them? What would you do in my position?”
John: I’ll speak for Craig. Craig’s answer is to fire your managers. That’s always Craig’s default answer, firing managers. Here there’s some sort of disconnect. The problem may be the managers or there may be some issue where the managers may correctly see that it’s not sellable, but if this is a good script, people should read it. That’s my frustration is that it doesn’t have to be a giant blockbuster sale. If people are going to want to read the script, people say they want to read the script, you give it to them, and they like it or they don’t like it, you got to at least put it in their hands. I think Nick needs to be a little stronger than his managers here. Ashley, what’s your instinct.
Ashley: I feel like some information is missing here, and not on behalf of Nick. Someone is either being too nice or too mean to him, and he needs to figure out which it is. Either when you’re pitching in generals, and you’re like, “Oh hey, I have this idea. It’s the next Breaking Bad.” Maybe the execs are just being nice and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s a great idea,” because everything’s a great idea in Hollywood until they don’t buy it,” or maybe it is a great idea, they heard the idea, but the managers actually looked at the script, and the script is not there yet. Rather than saying that and giving specific notes, they’re just going like, “Write something else,” which is also maybe not the best manager, because the best manager is willing to look you in the eye and go, “This isn’t there yet. It needs a rewrite. Act Three doesn’t work.” No, they’re not writers, but they should have some specific notes for you if that’s the case.
Maybe the script is good, and it is there, and these managers are just not doing their job, in that even if they don’t get it, they don’t love it, it’s not a show that they would watch, if it’s still objectively a good script, they should be sending it out. If it’s not, then they should be specifically telling you, “Here’s what doesn’t work and what I think would get it there.”
John: Managers aren’t magic. It may not be their taste, or there might be some other reason why they are not enthusiastic about this particular project. You got to get it out there.
I’ll go back to my own story. I wrote an early draft for Go, and I gave it to my agent, and he’s like, “I don’t get it.” I realized, “Oh, then he probably shouldn’t be my agent.” I left that agency. I used the new script to get a new agent. It was a big success. People really liked it. We got it set up, and it became a movie.
Nick, this may be a signal to you that these are not the best managers for you. It looks like you might have a script that, based on other people’s feedback, may be really good, may be a good time to use that to get different representation.
My instinct would be, you should get the contact information for some of these generals that you had and just drop them an email and say, “Hey, I’d love for you to read this.” If your managers are going to be pissed about you going around behind their back, maybe it’s time to leave your managers.
Ashley: I agree. The only thing I would add to that is, get the contact information, but before you send it, have one more good writer friend who’s really honest with you read it. If they agree, they’re like, “Yeah, this is ready to go,” then send it.
John: We won’t have time for a big, deep dive into this, but there was an article by Lucas Shaw writing for Bloomberg this last week, called Critics and Fans Have Never Disagreed More About Movies. What I really liked about it is it had charts. I always love things with charts. They were talking about how in 2022 movies, the divide between what’s been a success, a blockbuster, and what audiences will rate highly versus what critics will rate highly, is the widest gulf we’ve ever seen. We have things like Jurassic World: Dominion, which makes a gazillion dollars, but it gets really bad reviews, same with Uncharted, The Gray Man, yet it’s really popular with audiences. I assumed it was always that way, but if you look back to 2005 and other years, there isn’t that big gulf between a blockbuster and critic response. It’s worth asking, has something changed about critics? Has something changed about audiences? Ashley, what did you make of this?
Ashley: I think this is such a fascinating question. I don’t know the answer. I do think we’re in a very particular moment that can’t be overstated, that what people want right now, two years into COVID, isn’t necessarily reflective of what they wanted five years ago or five years in the future. I think we’re in a really particular moment where people are watching more things at home, people are working from home more, people are just looking at entertainment differently. Some of that big popcorn fare is just going to be more popular than it would’ve been pre-COVID, I think. I don’t have any scientific basis behind that other than just my attention span is different, and I’ve heard that from a lot of people. I think that’s going to be part of it.
I think there’s also this weird thing that’s going on with fandom and criticism right now, where sometimes what fans like or don’t like about the movie actually has nothing to do with the movie. There hasn’t been a really concentrated conversation about that now. You see a lot of like, “There’s a Black person in this TV show. I’m mad.” You’re going to be very different from the critics on that, because critics are going to be like, “Is the script good or bad? Are the costumes well-designed or not?” If the fans are like, “Actually, the makeup of the cast is the thing that’s most important to me,” then yes, of course they’re going to be far apart on that.
John: What you’re describing, we saw this with the new Lord of the Rings TV show, where the reviews are pretty good, and the fan reaction can be really negative. That’s not what we’re seeing this last year though in terms of the movies, where the fans have always been way ahead of the critics here. If we look back at 2005, that chart, there are some movies that are more what you’re describing there, with critics being ahead of the audiences. You look at War of the Worlds or King Kong or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, my movie, the critics were much higher ratings than what the fans were. In the case of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I think that’s probably based on, “How dare you ruin my childhood, the movie that I loved in my childhood, with this new version?”
Looking at the 2022 movies, there are a couple things that are very closely clustered together. Top Gun: Maverick and Batman, both the critics’ and the audiences’ opinions are very close together. Of all the movies in the top 10 or 15 here, those are probably the movies with the biggest buzz. I would say that there’s something about when critics like a thing and audiences like a thing, not only is it financially successful, but it enters into pop culture in a way that’s different. All of these movies, they’re the only ones I hear people actually talking about. I don’t hear anybody talking about Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or the Minions movie now. There was a moment when it was coming out where it’s a cultural meme. The other ones just disappeared.
Ashley: What those two movies that you mentioned have in common is they’re really story-forward. Obviously, critics are going to be into story. Audiences will love it when they can get it, but audiences are also happy to watch a movie with not a lot of story that has a lot of cool explosions and special effects and stuff like that. That makes sense to me, that if there’s both, great, it’s going to be a huge hit, but if there’s only one, audiences are not going to not watch a super fun movie where dinosaurs are fighting robots because the story’s not there.
John: It’s also important to remember that this is really the first two thirds of the year. All the Oscar-y movies will be closer to the end. There may be a few of those that are both critically acclaimed and do really well with audiences. Maybe it won’t look so skewed by the time we get to January 1st.
Ashley: Also maybe not. I feel like more and more, the Best Picture nominees are going to be five or six movies my parents have never heard of. The divide is very real. There seemed to be a real shock that CODA won. I’ll say CODA was my favorite film of the year. It was a good movie.
John: CODA was a good movie. I think you and I were people who were actively thumping for like, it’s funny. It’s funny. It’s charming. People always assumed it was going to be an eat your vegetables movie, and it wasn’t. It was actually surprisingly raunchy.
Ashley: It’s a funny family film with some beautiful music in it. What’s not to love. I think we’re now so used to Oscar movies being movies that are not for the… CODA, my family could sit down and watch on Christmas. Those movies are not often Best Picture nominees. That is interesting.
John: It’s come time for our One Cool Things. Ashley, do yo have a One Cool Thing to share with us?
Ashley: Yes, it’s very practical, because I went to the Emmys yesterday.
John: We’re all going to go to the Emmys eventually.
Ashley: We are. It was also 105 degrees yesterday. This is something we will all experience. There’s this company called Thigh Society. They make these really lightweight shorts to put under your dress to just cool your region when it’s 105 degrees and you’re wearing a long, hot dress on a carpet. If you have a wedding or a fancy event to go to, and it’s really, really hot outside, check out Thigh Society. Put sometimes little shorts on under your dress. It’ll make your day much more comfortable.
John: That is amazing. I also have something that’s about comfort. These are Mack’s AquaBlock Swimming Earplugs. I like swimming. I don’t like getting water stuck in my ears, which always happens when I swim. I’ll have water stuck in my ears for hours afterwards. I can’t actually get it out. I can’t get it out. The solution is to not let the water get in. There are these special earplugs you get that have these little phalanges on them. You pull your ear. You slide it in. It blocks really, really well. You can’t hear a damn thing while you’re swimming. Who gets to hear while you swim? It makes swimming just much, much more pleasant for me. If you’re a person who gets water stuck in your ears, these are the best earplugs. They’re cheap. They come in packs of three. You can reuse them for forever. I highly recommend the AquaBlock Swimming Earplugs.
Ashley: That sounds great. I think I have a weirdly shaped ear. Earbuds don’t want to stay in. If those get in there, that would be so good for me.
John: I suspect these will work for nearly anyone, because they really go in deep. They’re a little scary to put in, but they do the job. Cool. That is our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Bryan C. Sanchez. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin, I’m @johnaugust. Ashley, what are you on Twitter?
John: Fantastic. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts and sign up for our weeklyish newsletter called Inneresting, which has lots of links to things about writing. We have T-shirts, and they’re great. You can find them at Cotton Bureau, including our brand new Jon Bon Jovi Scriptnotes shirt, the one that has the S’s like you would draw on your Trapper Keeper at school. You wouldn’t draw on your Trapper Keeper. The doodles you would do in geometry class.
Ashley: On your iPad.
John: You can sign up to become a Premium Member at scriptnotes.net, where you get all of the back-episodes and Bonus Segments, like the one we’re about to record on how to throw a party. Ashley Nicole Black, it’s always a party with you. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Ashley: Thanks for having me.
John: All right, Ashley, you are I think the expert I want to talk with about entertaining at home in 2022. Let’s get into it. Do you like having people in your place to celebrate something? Do you like having people over?
Ashley: Yes. I love to entertain so much. It’s the number one thing that I’m thinking about when picking where to live. I love it. Do you?
John: I do love it, but I would say that we got really rusty. We used to have people over a lot, and then we had a kid, and so we had people over less. Then of course the pandemic happened, and we didn’t have anybody over at all. Two weekends ago, we had nine friends over, and we had a game night. It was really fun, but it was also like, “Oh, I forgot how to do all this. How do I plan for enough drinks? How do we segue from this to that? Do we email everybody? Do we text?” I want your answers on things, these questions. How much advance notice do you want to give for you’re having people over to your place?
Ashley: That’s a good question. I feel like it depends on what it’s for. I feel like the shorter the notice, the less people should expect. If you invite someone to something a month ahead of time, there’s going to be a tablecloth involved. If you text someone, and you’re like, “Hey, come over in an hour,” then you’re probably going to eat pizza.
John: Yeah, which if fair. Are you an emailer or a texter when it comes to that kind of thing?
Ashley: I personally like to email, because I like to have all of the information in one place, so RSVPs or if people are sending that they have allergies or anything like that, in an email, that you can just go to one email chain and see everything, versus trying to juggle a bunch of texts.
John: Do you tend to put everybody on the to or the cc or bcc people for this? Do you want to expose everyone’s emails to each other?
Ashley: It depends on what group it is. If it’s my group of girl friends, then we’re just texting the group chat. If it’s people who may not know each other or someone on that list is, quote unquote, “famous,” then I’ll hide each other’s email addresses.
John: That’s fair. How much are you trying to mix up established friends and friend groups versus folding in some newcomers? To what degree is that a priority for you?
Ashley: I am really big on wanting to introduce people to people who I think will like each other or people who have similar energies. I really curate. You do have those friends who we love, and may God bless them, who don’t mix well with a group. Sometimes maybe they’re not going to be invited. We go on a one-on-one hang with that friend. You want to do that in a way that nobody’s feelings get hurt or whatever. My entire home is set up for comfort. There’s nothing fancy in my house. Every surface is comfortable. There are no less than 500 pillows in this home. Everything is covered in dog hair. Everyone who I invite over I want to feel that comfortable. That makes you have to curate who’s there.
John: Now I remember, thinking back to, way back when Rawson Thurber was my assistant, and he was throwing a house party with his friends, and he invited me over to his house party. We were close enough in age that it wasn’t weird on that level, but it also was strange being, “I’m your boss. I’m here.” It would’ve been weird for him not to invite me, but it was weird for him to invite me. How do you feel about inviting work friends or work colleagues to places? How do you balance that?
Ashley: Work friends, I think totally easy, totally pro. I’m really lucky in that I’ve worked with so many great people who genuinely are my friends. I always try to make sure on any show the women have at least one gathering, get-together. If someone else doesn’t suggest it, I will, because it’s just important to have those off-the-records conversations and stuff. Now I am transitioning more sometimes into a boss role, and that becomes a little bit trickier. Colleagues is totally fine. I’m still figuring out the etiquette of being someone’s boss.
John: Now I don’t know your setup. Do you have an assistant? Do you have a full-time person who is keeping your calendar?
John: How much are you involving them in this process, or is this all Ashley by herself doing stuff?
Ashley: Ashley by herself if it’s just a personal thing. Weirdly, my production company is throwing a party right now, so my assistant is working on that. It is a weird thing. Do you ask your assistant to help you plan a party and then not invite them?
John: I have not. Megana’s on the call here. There have been times where I’ve been doing a political fundraiser-y kind of thing. It’s going to be a backyard thing, so Megana’s going to help me get some stuff together for it, but also I want to invite her as a person. That becomes an awkward balance there. Would you invite your assistant to a party with friends?
Ashley: Yes. My assistant is my friend, so yes. Also, there are some things that if I invite my assistant to, then I’m paying. It’s just doing it in a way that’s cognizant of what all the relationships are when you’re both friends and boss-employee.
John: For my 30th birthday party, I threw a party at my house and invited just a shit-ton of people, and it was really fun. We had bartenders, had plenty of alcohol, and I had absolutely no food at all, which was a mistake, but is also very much a 30-year-old man’s [inaudible 01:04:47] of throwing a party. Where do you come in terms of what you as the host should provide and expect guests to provide? Do you nudge people to bring certain things? How do you message that?
Ashley: I learned from my mother’s school of event throwing. I think as a host, I should provide everything. I don’t expect that when I go to other people’s parties. I know that that’s weird, but if you’re coming to my place, food, alcohol, dessert, everything has been thoughtfully curated to go together. If you want to bring something, that’s great. I wouldn’t have a party unless I wanted to feed people. Also, I don’t want people to get too drunk at my house, so there will be substantial food.
John: You’re going to a friend’s party. What are you bringing with you?
Ashley: Probably a bottle of wine.
John: That’s a good classic choice.
Ashley: Or my dog. A lot of times I feel like my dog gets invited to a party, and they know that she needs a ride, and so I am also welcome to come, and she’s the party favor.
John: I’ve always been a bottle of wine person, but I will say that someone at this last gathering had brought a bottle of the George Clooney tequila, Casamigos. It was a huge hit. It was really good. A drinkable liquor like that was a good choice.
Ashley: I love a Casamigos or a good dessert. Some people don’t drink. No one’s ever saying no to a Porto’s cake.
John: Let’s talk about people who don’t drink. We’re trying to always be mindful of that, and so providing nonalcoholic beers but also interesting things to drink that are not alcoholic. Do you have any go-tos for that?
Ashley: I love to make a lemonade or some kind of mixed drink, sparkling. It’s not like, “Oh, here’s a can of Coke.” It’s still something kind of special and something that matches the theme. If you’re doing Mexican food, then you’d do margaritas and then maybe do a cucumber lime nonalcoholic drink or something.
John: Oh my god. Megana, you’re a slightly younger generation. Any thoughts you have in terms of hosting or going to a party in 2022?
Megana: I agree with most of what you’re saying. I think for some of my friends, we just don’t have a ton of space, and so being a little bit more creative with where we’re hanging out. I agree. I also love to host and always make sure that I have a lot of food, but don’t expect the same thing when I go to other people’s places.
John: Let’s talk about this, because Ashley, you’re in a place big enough now that you can have a group of people over. I’m trying to remember, were you ever in New York? Were you ever in a really small apartment?
Ashley: Oh yeah.
John: Was it much harder to entertain?
Ashley: I would say also the added wrinkle to that now is COVID, so you want to have outdoor space.
John: You do.
Ashley: Or at least access to air flowing, which even some people who have a big enough home, if you don’t have that indoor-outdoor access, that becomes an issue now. In New York, definitely much smaller places, and the balcony that’s big enough for two people to stand on. What we would do in New York, I don’t think this was because of the space, I think it was just because of how life in New York works, we would throw a party that started at noon and just kind of didn’t end. People would come at different times. People would come at noon and have lunch, and then some people wouldn’t show up until 5. Then some people would still be there at 2 in the morning. It’s just like people are more so in and out than having one big group at a party.
John: Let’s talk about the COVID of it all, because what we did for this last one was we asked, “Hey, everyone rapid test before you come, or if you don’t, we’ll have rapid tests here, and so you can hang out outside until your rapid test comes back clear.” We know that the rapid tests aren’t perfect, but I would say that it made everyone feel much more comfortable being indoors for our game night, having had the rapid tests. I don’t know what that’ll feel like a month from now as more people get the booster shot vaccinations, but from where we were at right then, it was helpful. Ashley, you’re probably COVID testing for work, but are you asking people to COVID test before coming to something at your house?
Ashley: I haven’t asked people to COVID test. I will put in the email that, “I’m assuming you’re vaccinated, so if that’s not the case, speak up,” although most of my friends work in this industry, so most of us had to be vaccinated for work. That’s a safe assumption. The place where I live now is really lucky. It has a really nice yard and an indoor-outdoor feel, so we can just leave all the doors open.
John: That’s great.
Ashley: Then my house will be full of bugs for three days after the party. That’s just part of it.
John: Ashley, thank you for your party advice. I do feel like we learned something good here. I definitely learned that I want to come to a party at your house, because it sounds like an amazing, amazing time.
Ashley: If you like to eat a lot of cheese, come on over.
John: Fantastic. Ashley Nicole Black, thank you again for being an amazing Scriptnotes cohost.
Ashley: Thank you.
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