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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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May 8, 2012

John and Craig open the 36th Scriptnotes with a brief discussion about contracts, and then face writer's block head on.

"Writer's block" is an overused term. When a writer claims to be suffering from it, he is usually wrestling with some combination of three common problems: procrastination, perfectionism, and fear. "Writer's block" is a romanticized catch-all that distracts from these real issues.

Screenwriters can use a range of techniques to get over the hump, from setting a kitchen timer, to breaking work down into manageable chunks, to writing in an order that makes sense for the way you work.

They then take two quick listener questions before closing out the episode with this week's One Cool Thing (TM).

It's Tuesday! So head over to Panda Express and get yourself a celebratory meal to enjoy with episode 36 of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 5-9-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

May 1, 2012

On the 35th episode of Scriptnotes, John and Craig discuss the small, currently leaderless world of Walt Disney Studios, along with its challenges and opportunities.

With so many of Disney's distribution slots taken up by DreamWorks, Marvel, Pixar and Bruckheimer, whoever gets the job of chief probably won't be making many movies on his or her own. Yet the Disney brand is one of the only ones that still means something to ticket-buyers, so finding a way to make Disney movies feels like a priority.

A discussion of Gregory Poirier's recent article on misguided cost-cutting segues to a letter from a veteran Hollywood screenwriter frustrated by just how bad studio development has gotten. That's followed by more listener questions:

  • What distinguishes a well-developed character from a flat one?
  • How should a recent college graduate from Colorado go about starting a screenwriting career?
  • Where do pitches come from?
  • How long should it take for your agent to return your call?

John extols his favorite site for sheet music, while Craig gets nostalgic for his first real computer, the Franklin Ace 1000.

All this and more on Scriptnotes: A podcast about parking, and things that are interesting to parkers.

LINKS:

UPDATE 5-4-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Apr 24, 2012

Craig and John take a brief look at the misguided Girls backlash and complaints about nepotism in Hollywood, before segueing to a bigger discussion of spec scripts and positioning:

  • What are "spec farms," and how can you avoid them?
  • What should you do if you and your reps/producers disagree about whether your script is ready to send out?
  • Is it a good idea to post your script online?
  • How should you introduce characters in an ensemble? How many is too many?

Todo esto y más en el 34° episodio de Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 4-26-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Apr 17, 2012

Craig and John just have to talk about the double-barrel craziness of the Joe Eszterhas/Mel Gibson spat. How often do you have screenwriters lobbing incendiary accusations at movie stars?

Well, pretty often, actually. But almost never so publicly. And the already-certifiable, formerly-A-list-ness of it all makes it especially gossip-worthy, so forgive us if we go on for a while.

That settled, we follow up on the Amazon Studios deal and what it means for screenwriters not currently in the WGA. One listener calls Craig an idiot, which leads to a discussion about what "professional screenwriting" even means.

John wants aspiring screenwriters to stop using the term "breaking in," because it doesn't accurately reflect the early stages of a writer's career. Meanwhile, Craig takes umbrage at the idea of "trust fund screenwriters."

We end with some questions and answers:

  • What is a screenwriter's quote, and how does it get determined?
  • How do international screenwriters get U.S. visas?
  • Can animation writers get WGA coverage?

All this and more in the new Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 4-19-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Apr 10, 2012

Craig and John answer questions about specificity, television and what to do when your great idea sounds too much like a movie that's already been made.

The big news this week is potentially very big news: Amazon Studios has completely revamped their business model, ditching the terrible parts and transforming into something potentially very good for writers. Notably, Amazon is now a WGA signatory, which offers the promise of residuals and credit protection for screenwriters.

Will it work? It's too early to say. But when a new player with deep pockets enters the film industry, it often helps loosen the purse strings. More importantly, the Amazon deal sets a precedent for other tech companies considering taking the plunge.

Along the way, Craig talks about directing and John takes his daughter to work. All this and more in this episode of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

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

Apr 3, 2012

Craig and John take a look at Toph Eggers's apology, which segues to a discussion of apologies in general and laugh tracks.

The bulk of the episode is spent on listener questions:

  • After making a spec sale, what should a writing team do next?
  • When handing in a rewrite, should you preface your changes in an email?
  • How do you handle file-keeping with multiple projects and drafts?
  • What is a "spec script auction?"
  • What do you do when your manager keeps pushing you to write things you're not interested in?
  • How do you format verse (like Shakespeare) when it's used as dialogue?
  • What do you do when your scene has 23 characters in it?

All this and more in this week's Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 4-5-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Mar 27, 2012

Craig and John offer advice on handling revisions once your screenplay moves into production.

Why do you lock pages? How do you add scenes once the script is locked? Why are some pages different colors? And what comes between page 15 and 15A?

Get it right, and it should be smooth sailing. Get it wrong, and you have a frustrated crew and a lot of cleanup.

Television series generate so many scripts that they generally have their own internal systems, with designated staffers to handle the process. But for small-to-medium-sized features, the screenwriter is the script department.

The good news is that it's usually pretty straightforward, especially if you follow some best practices to make life easier.

Also discussed this week: science fair projects, historic atrocities, and the origin of "wackiness ensues."

Standing on the shoulders of giants in episode 30 of Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 3-28-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Mar 19, 2012

Craig and John tackle five listener questions on topics ranging from greedy managers to lazy agents to throwing in the towel.

  • What happens when a manager wants to attach himself to your spec?
  • How much detail should a screenwriter provide about wardrobe?
  • When is it okay to give up on screenwriting?

Also discussed: St. Patrick's Day, The Book of Mormon (the musical), and the Koren/Eggers idiocy.

All this and Americans Against Mayonaise in the new Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 3-22-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Mar 13, 2012

John and Craig turn from the pen to the knife to talk through the whys and hows of cutting pages both the cosmetic trims and the deep cuts.

Your script is probably too long. Here's how to fix that.

Craig also discusses his WGA seminar on surviving the feature film development process, and his vision for a screenwriters training program analogous to the well-regarded TV showrunners program. He drafts John to teach one segment.

The last few minutes degenerate into a conversation about Skyrim, Arkham City, American Idol and uxoricide. So, be forewarned.

From killing your darlings to killing your wife, all in this week's Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 3-16-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Mar 6, 2012

Celebrating Leap Day, John and Craig play the game of "What If?" Specifically, what if we each were handed the reins of a major Hollywood studio?

We discuss what we'd movies we'd make, what standard practices we'd change, and how we'd address the shifting realities of movie-going and home video.

Could we really do it better? Doubtful. It's easy to play make-believe, but much tougher when you're reporting to a major multinational corporation.

Still, there are things that everyone seems to get wrong, and it's worth the conversation about what could be done better. And if any tech billionaires feel like investing, you know where to find us.

Before that long conversation, we answer a bunch of follow-up questions:

  • When optioning a novel, is there a rule of thumb for what percentage of the total purchase price the option should cover?
  • Does the WGA cover a novelist's based-on credit?
  • What does it mean when a novelist has a producer credit?
  • What is Daniel Wallace's role in the Broadway version of Big Fish?
  • What's to stop a screenwriter from writing a novel version of his spec, and then having his script be "based on" it?

All this and more in this episode of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 3-8-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

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