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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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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.

LINKS:

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.

Feb 28, 2012

This week, Craig and John get all Miss Manners to talk about best practices, bad behavior and throwing writers under the bus.

Short advice: Be charitable, be cool, be nice.

Note that we recorded this episode before the Oscars at which Jim Rash, Nat Faxon and Alexander Payne received the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.  After that acceptance speech, one could imagine a follow-up conversation, but we'll probably just be done with it.

Have been both the re-writer and the guy being rewritten, we also discuss how to best handle these awkward situations. (Pick up the phone and call the other writer, for starters.)

We finish up by answering a listener question:  How soon is too soon to follow-up with a producer who is reading your draft?

All this, plus discussion of Robin Quivers, Aline Brosh McKenna and a rumored Scriptnotes drinking game.

LINKS:

UPDATE 2-29-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Feb 21, 2012

For their 25th podcast, John and Craig tackle listener questions.

How does a screenwriter option a novel he wants to adapt? John has optioned two novels one through a studio, and one on his own while Craig recently optioned his first. In each of these cases, we found the psychological aspects to be just as important as the legal ones.

When can a writer say he "wrote" a movie particularly if there are other credited writers? John and Craig disagree a bit here, with John trying to draw the distinction between "worked on" and "wrote."

Finally, should an aspiring writer focus on television or features? The answer from two feature writers may surprise you. Or not: television is pretty damn good these day.

Links:

UPDATE 2-22-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Feb 14, 2012

John and Craig open up the listener mailbag to answer questions about formatting lyrics, foreign dialogue and title trademarks. We also dive in to discuss overall deals, which are common in television but quite rare among feature writers.

Also this week: The launch of the plain text screenwriting format Fountain, and John's love for the all-singing, all-dancing, Superbowl-sized NBC network promo.

There's also brief discussion of some sporting event that happened two Sundays ago.

Links:

UPDATE 2-16-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Feb 7, 2012

After last week's depressing reality-check, Craig and John float back to the lands of joyful possibility with a look at theme, or central dramatic argument, or whatever you choose to call that narrative glue that helps hold a story together.

Theme, like structure, is one of those screenwriting terms that entrances newcomers and annoys veterans. Or at least it annoys John.

Generally, when you're talking about theme, you're trying to answer the question, "What is the story really about?" Your plot might concern a spy and stolen nuclear missiles, but the intellectual/emotional heart of the story is whether any man be trusted. Or whether all good acts are selfish. Or if men and women can be friends. (Nora Ephron's Bourne Identity.)

Also discussed: John's love for OmniFocus + Siri, braindead tasks, and cancer but only briefly, because this will be a happy show, god help us.

Links:

UPDATE 2-9-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jan 31, 2012

Following up on their conversation about "five figure advice" for newly-employed screenwriters, Craig and John discuss the changes and challenges that come when writers start making six figures that is, more than $100K per year.

High-class problems? Sure. Not many aspiring screenwriters will reach that level of success, or sustain it. But in our experience, it's shortly after having "made it" that many writers find themselves flailing financially, because it's such a different experience than living paycheck-to-paycheck.

At what should point should you form a loan-out corporation? Should you pay off your student loans? Do you need disability insurance? How about a 401K? And how do you set up a line of credit at a Las Vegas casino?

Esoteric topics to be sure, but if you gather together a group of working screenwriters, this is what they'll eventually be talking about the career rather than the craft. Ultimately, a lot of what we discuss this week applies to anyone working for themselves.

Also touched on this week: the difference between casting TV and features, and The Cinema School in the Bronx.

LINKS:

UPDATE 2-1-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jan 24, 2012

Craig and John discuss the screenwriter's role in casting, then segue to the New York Times profile of producer/executive Lindsay Doran and her approach to story.

Doran argues (persuasively) that successful movies are often less about whether the hero wins or loses, but rather how his achievements are measured. For example, a character's victory is much more satisfying when there is someone to share it with the real moment isn't the game-winning touchdown, but when the quarterback kisses his wife afterwards.

She's not pitching happy endings, but rather positive outcomes. It's an interesting way to look not just at how we tell stories, but also which stories we tell.

We also touch on the advantages of mentally casting your movie as you write, writing (or rewriting) for the cast you are given, and the delicate art of making someone think he came up with an idea on his own after you plant it in his head.

This and more mind-control tips on the 21st episode of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 1-26-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jan 17, 2012

John and Craig take an in-depth look at how screenwriting credits are determined. In some ways, credit arbitration is a luxury problem the movie you wrote got made! but it's one of the most controversial, contentious and misunderstood parts of a screenwriter's career.

Ideally, you're the first, last and only writer employed on a movie. For Go and The Nines, that was the case. In situations where more than one writer works on a movie, figuring out who deserves credit can become an ordeal.

Most non-animated Hollywood features are written under a WGA contract. Part of that contract specifies that the WGA ultimately determines who receives screenplay and story credit (which collapses into "written by" credit if the same writer receives both). This week, we take a look at the rules, principles and guidelines, and offer advice for writers who find themselves facing a credit arbitration.

Plus, a quick visit to CES.

LINKS:

UPDATE 1-18-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jan 10, 2012

Craig and John take a look the week's news, including the WGA nominations, Warner's shift to a 56-day video window, the folly of SOPA and the launch of Bronson Watermarker.

Along the way, we discuss Hoda Kotb, Marcus Bachman, and how great HBO Go is. (Really, it's great, and other studios should follow its lead.)

All this and more in episode 19 of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 1-11-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

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