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Scriptnotes Podcast

Screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss screenwriting and related topics in the film and television industry, everything from getting stuff written to the vagaries of copyright and work-for-hire law.
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Now displaying: 2011
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Dec 20, 2011

Craig and John explain what producers do at least, what they're supposed to do and discuss the myriad subclasses of producers that litter the opening titles of many movies.

Which is the more impressive credit producer or executive producer? In film, it's the former. In TV, it's the latter. But whatever the title, producers are integral to getting a movie or TV show made.

Craig feels producers can be either anxiety buffers or anxiety conductors. John breaks down four essential roles you find producers filling:

  1. The general. This producer keeps things moving forward and protects the production. She forces you to make decisions.
  2. The diplomat. This producer makes sure crazy people feel respected, even when they're being giant pains-in-the-ass. He talks the actress out of her trailer.
  3. The creative. This producer reminds everyone what kind of movie they're trying to make. She performs quality control for the production.
  4. The bulldozer. This producer will smash down a phone booth to help the director get his shot. (This actually happened.)

Some producers can fill multiple roles (like diplomat-creative), but you'll often find these qualities spread out among several people on a production, regardless of the size.

Who's that fat cat, and how did he afford such a fancy cigar? Find out on episode seventeen of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 1-4-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Dec 13, 2011

Craig and John plug a book by their very first sponsor and discuss elective brain surgery, before tackling an exhaustive but illuminating list of questions from listener Daniel Barkeley.

They're residual questions about residuals, which seems very meta:

  • Do TV show creators get compensated for every rerun?
  • How do residuals differ from profit participations and foreign levies?
  • And where does new media fall in all of this?

Thirteen conversations about a few things, on episode sixteen of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 12-15-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Dec 6, 2011

Craig and John look at why the books and seminars purporting to teach screenwriting are generally terrible, trying to reduce the hard work of the craft to a series of formulas and templates.

It's a rare podcast in which I sway Craig's opinion whatsoever, but if you listen really carefully, I think he leaves the show just slightly less negative about screenwriting books than he started. It's all about degrees with Craig.

Plus, we get a visit from the LAPD, follow-up on residuals, and a bit more about unionizing videogame writers.

LINKS:

(Note that none of the books listed above are actually recommended. But we talk about them, so it feels fair to provide links.)

UPDATE 12-13-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Nov 29, 2011

Craig and John take a look at awards-season screeners before diving deep into a discussion of how residuals work and why they're so important to screenwriters.

Plus, a visit from Craig's cleaning lady, who thinks he's insane.

Near the end of our discussion on residuals, I give some actual numbers on an actual movie. Percentages are abstract; money is money.

I chose Go because I had the most data on it, going back to 1999. It's also useful because the movie was only moderately successful at the box office.

As you can see in the charts below, residuals taper off over the years but that long tail still adds up:

go residuals

Keep in mind, there's a possibility that residuals could spike if another home video medium takes off digital downloads or rentals, for example.

I went into the podcast thinking I could easily reverse the math to figure out how much the studio has made off the movie, but as Craig points out, it's more complicated than it appears at first. Most home video is calculated as 1.5% of 20% of gross earnings, so in order to get an accurate number I would need to sort out how much of Go's residuals are coming from home video (and not television licensing).

But we can still get a sense of minimums: Go brought in at least $30 million in the aftermarket, and likely much, much more.

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UPDATE 11-30-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Nov 22, 2011

John and Craig tackle reader questions about self distribution, pseudonyms, separated rights, and studios' feelings about international versus domestic box office.

They also explain the fallacy of equating effort in with value out, discuss why the WGA should address sweepstake pitches and coverage for videogame writers, and offer a Kentucky-born 21+ cure for the common cold.

This and more on the thirteenth Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 11-27-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Nov 16, 2011

Craig and John discuss musicals, split time lines, split personalities and the human brain.

How does your inner-screenwriter affect how you see plays? Why is writing the second act of a screenplay such a slog? And is hearing voices in your head an asset as a writer? All this and more in the twelfth episode of Scriptnotes.

We spend a good chunk of time talking about the iconic musical Follies, and while there are some good screenwriting lessons to learn, no one will judge you if you skip forward to our discussion of brain books (17:30) or second-act malaise (20:30).

If you haven't Liked us and you like us, consider Liking us: facebook.com/scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 11-18-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Nov 8, 2011

When you read articles claiming every Hollywood movie loses money, an obvious question arises: "Why do they keep making them, then?" In this installment, John and Craig explain how the film industry spends and makes money.

It's a big and complicated topic. You could easily spend a semester studying it John did but this overview should give you a sense of how it all works.

The most important thing to understand is that each film is accounted for separately. Studios charge distribution fees that earn money for the company without paying down the investment in each movie. That's how Theoretical Pictures can turn a profit even when each of the last 20 films it has released shows a loss.

Because we're throwing a lot of terms around this episode, here's a handy cheat sheet:

John couldn't remember the name of it (The Paramount Decree) but it's worth reading up on the 1948 court decision barring studios from owning movie theaters. Not only is it a fascinating anti-trust case, but it greatly influenced how the modern film industry works.

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UPDATE 11-17-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Nov 1, 2011

Craig and John go through the mailbox to answer listener questions. Can great actors save bad writing? What happens when writing partners split up? Are flashbacks always a bad idea? Should a young British comedy writer move to America?

All this, plus discussion of Halloween, Screenwriting.io and dressing up dogs.

We have a Facebook fan page: facebook.com/scriptnotes. Like us, follow us and force your interests into your friends' feeds.

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UPDATE 11-7-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Oct 25, 2011

Craig and John tackle a listener question about the early stages of a screenwriting career: deciding which meetings to take, which projects to pursue, and how not to go broke in the process.

Once you've been hired for your first paid screenwriting job, the temptation is to pop the champagne corks and ditch that studio apartment in Koreatown. While every success is worth celebrating, the transition from "aspiring screenwriter" to "working screenwriter" can be unexpectedly brutal.

Checks come late, notes come often and opportunities can lead you astray.

Back when you were an aspiring screenwriter, anything seemed possible, because it was all make-believe anyway. Why not write a 14th-century comedy about strudel-makers?

Now screenwriting is your job, and that means making choices about what kind of career you want, what you'll write, and how you'll keep a roof over your head.

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UPDATE 10-27-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Oct 19, 2011

John and Craig discuss why screenwriters want to please people and how it often hurts them and the movies they write before a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of going to film school.

We frame our film school discussion around John's generic list of why people choose to go to college or graduate school:

  1. The information
  2. Certificate/degree
  3. Access to special equipment
  4. Structure
  5. Professors/instructors/experts
  6. Peers
  7. Alumni
  8. Enjoyment

That last point led to our alternate title for this podcast: Film school: An expensive way to get laid.

Craig got a new microphone, which seems like cause for celebration, but it picked up a tremendous amount of room noise. We'll be working on that for next time.

Thank you to all the listeners who lavished stars and praise upon us in iTunes. Being classic Good Boys, that kind of validation is like mana to us.

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UPDATE 10-25-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

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