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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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Jul 10, 2012

It's two parts craft and one part business as Craig and John discuss the alarming earnings report coming out of the WGA, plus a deeper look at setting and POV.

For feature screenwriters, it's hard to find a silver lining in the WGA's report on 2011 earnings. Numbers are down significantly, both in total dollars and the number of writers earning anything at all.

2011 earnings chart

Of course, you don't have to be employed to write a script, so we spend the rest of the show talking about two crucial aspects of screenwriting: choosing effective settings and deciding on POV.

Setting is both a macro and micro decision. Early on, you need to figure out where your movie takes place. Everything about your story will be impacted by the world you choose. Then as you write individual scenes, you look for environments that provide opportunities and challenges for your characters and for the director. Film is a visual medium, so smart screenwriters consider what settings will suit a big screen.

Perspective, or POV, is about figuring out which characters have storytelling power in your movie. Which characters can anchor a scene without the hero? Which characters can do voiceover? The choices you make greatly effect audience expectation, so it's worth thinking about at the very start.

Finally, we talk about the Three Page Challenge. On an upcoming podcast, we'll be critiquing three pages (and only three pages!) from listeners' scripts. If you want to participate, visit johnaugust.com/threepage for details.

LINKS:

UPDATE 7-12-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jul 3, 2012

John and Craig look at how to write satisfying third acts. That doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending, but rather one that feels earned.

If the first 10 pages of a script establish a contract between reader and writer give me your undivided attention and I will make it worthwhile the last 10 pages are where that contract is paid out. This is where screenwriters generally need to spend much more time, yet it's often hurried and rushed.

Looking at the headlines, Craig fills us in on Hayden Christiansen's lawsuit against USA Network's Royal Pains and what it means for screenwriters. (Expect to be signing new forms.)

We also discuss a listener's lament that studio execs have learned all the wrong lessons from the success of Avengers (and the failure of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).

All this and vocal fry in the new installment of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 7-6-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jun 26, 2012

This week, John is a bit under the weather, so Craig takes over moderator duties as they tackle four listener questions:

➤ When you spec a script based on a producer's idea, who owns it?

➤ And on that topic, do producers ever really buy an idea?

➤ How much divine intervention or other coincidence can a movie support?

➤ How do pen names work for screenwriters?

In follow-up, Clive Barker is writing but not directing that Amazon Studios project. John regrets the error. And in verb-related news, metal can't pound, but it can pound flat, oddly enough.

All this and two cool things in this week's Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 6-28-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jun 19, 2012

This week's episode finds Craig and John answering questions about agent etiquette, business cards and those troubling rewrites that unravel everything.

From there, John goes on a small tirade about weak verbs and Dungeons and Dragons-style scene description. Good writing: It's not just for novelists.

There's some language geekery as well, with a look at the hidden micro-classes of verbs that prevent a reasonable speaker from saying things like, "Whisper Tom the joke."

All this and more in the 42nd installment of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 6-21-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jun 12, 2012

On the 41st Scriptnotes, John and Craig discuss screenwriting software, knowing when to start, and the Game of Thrones finale. But before moving on to new business, they update us on two topics of podcasts past.

Last we heard about Disney and Amazon Studios, there was a vacancy atop the former, and the latter had decided to become a WGA signatory. Now, Disney has hired Alan Horn as chief, and Amazon has announced its first project but with no mention of the writer.

After they weigh in on these new developments, John tells us about the pros and cons of writing his most recent script in Scrivener, which opens up into a larger discussion about where screenwriting software seems to be heading.

Craig and John then adress a common frustration of beginning screenwriters: How do you know when you're ready to move from the planning phase onto page 1? Diving into a script too quickly is a recipe for second-act problems, but overplanning can be just as dangerous. Where's the sweet spot? What must you know about your story before you start, and how much familiarity is overkill?

They then move onto a listener-requested discussion of the Game of Thrones season finale, plus this week's two One Cool Things.

Rawson Marshall Thurber, enjoy this Google alert made specially for you, courtesy of episode 41 of Scriptnotes.

LINKS:

UPDATE 6-14-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jun 5, 2012

Craig and John talk about Craig's decision to abandon his once-bustling blog, while John weighs the pros and cons of comments and community.

How important is feedback? The Scriptnotes podcast gets overwhelmingly positive reviews 99% are five stars but how much of that is helpful or constructive?

We also go into follow-up about The Death of Screenwriting (as a career) and announce the first-ever Scriptnotes Live podcast, coming this October at the Austin Film Festival.

LINKS:

UPDATE 6-7-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

May 29, 2012

Craig and John take a look at the difference between plot and story with some help from the Littlest Pet Shop and Game of Thrones.

Plot answers the "what" questions: What happens next? What is in the mysterious vault? What secret was the dowager keeping?

Story, however, is much more concerned with the "whos" and "hows" and "whys." Characters have their own needs and impulses. The trick of good writing is to match up what the characters want to do (motivation) with what the screenwriter wants them to do (plot).

Mild spoiler alert: In the last few minutes, we discuss recent developments on Game of Thrones, but in a general-enough way that it's not likely to impact your enjoyment if you're behind. Still, caveat spectator.

Finally, two bits of housekeeping:

  • If you subscribe to us on iTunes, please leave us some feedback. For next week's show, we’ll read the reviews ranked “most helpful” live, no matter what they say. Which may be a terrible idea. We'll see.

LINKS:

by William Wallace Cook

UPDATE 5-30-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

May 22, 2012

John and Craig open the listener mailbag and sprint through twenty questions in just under an hour.

➤ When John sets a timer for himself, what is his work/break interval sweet spot? (1:12)

➤ How do you break up with your manager? (2:16)

➤ Are there any tricks for organizing files when writing out of order? (3:42)

➤ Why join the WGA? (5:35)

➤ What "lingo" do Craig and John use in story meetings? (13:48)

➤ Will a writer be held back by English being her second language? (17:33)

➤ Is it better to release a short through festivals or by putting it online in parts? (19:37)

➤ Do John and Craig have tips for juggling multiple writing jobs? (21:17)

➤ What is a safe LA neighborhood with good schools for a writer/father who is making the move? (25:56)

➤ Do Craig and John's finished movies look like they imagined while they were writing them? (30:23)

➤ Is it a smart idea for a 23-year-old aspiring screenwriter to pick up and move to LA? (34:05)

➤ If a character's race is not specifically mentioned, why is he or she assumed white? (34:57)

➤ Is it okay to refer to specific actors while pitching? What about in the script itself? (39:12)

➤ How did John and Craig meet and decided to collaborate on Scriptnotes? (41:18)

➤ Are screenwriting contests or studio writers' programs the right step for a 30-year-old mother of one living in Ohio? (42:34)

➤ Why would anyone would want to become a screenwriter in today's studio climate? (46:38)

➤ If your spec pilot begs to be a premise pilot, is it better to use a non-pilot episode as your sample? (49:15)

➤ Why does page length change when converting files from Movie Magic to Final Draft? Which page count is correct? (51:29)

➤ If your historical epic has a lot of required backstory, is it okay to meet the protagonist on page 30? (53:41)

➤ Is there shame in running with an idea someone else freely posted online? (55:23)

All this and just slightly more on episode 38 of Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 5-24-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

May 15, 2012

Screenwriters can learn story and structure, but the ability to create real, tangible characters is more elusive and ultimately more important.

The best gauge of good writing is whether a screenplay's characters feel distinct and alive. A lot of that comes from how the characters speak: what they say and how they say it.

John and Craig offer some tests to see if your screenplay's dialogue works:

  • Could you take one character's words and have another say them?
  • Can you picture a specific actor speaking each character's lines? Or, even better, are there actors you can't picture saying them?
  • Do the characters all sound like you, the writer? Or do they have distinct voices?

This week's listener questions include recycling material, writing large-group action scenes, and possible novels. Craig then rants about the evils of Zynga and the wonder of 1Password.

How do you do an imitation of Denzel Washington? Find out on episode 37 of Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 5-18-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

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.

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