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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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Sep 4, 2012

John and Craig are all action this week, looking at how screenwriters write those things characters do in a movie.

It's a part of the craft that often goes unnoticed unlike dialogue, you don't hear the writer's work but smartly-written action pays dividends, helping readers see the movie you want them to make.

We follow-up our discussion with a look at four (!) samples from the Three Page Challenge that focus on action, with ample praise for those that do it well and some suggestions for those who fumble a bit.

Also this week: a short history of (annoyed grunt), better known as d'oh!

If you're listening to the podcast on the site, do us a favor and also leave us a review on iTunes. Great reviews help other listeners find us, and further Craig's singing-to-a-stadium agenda.

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UPDATE 9-7-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Aug 28, 2012

Craig and John celebrate one year of the podcast by going H.A.M. on the passive voice, the present progressive and other reductive nonsense rules.

While you should feel free to split infinitives, we'd strongly recommend you avoid the 100+ lines of really bad dialogue you'll hear far too often in movies. Thanks to Go Into the Story for compiling these.

After that, it's time for six listener questions, on topics ranging from spec scripts 101, overseas copyright, to following up after a chance meeting.

All this and more on the first anniversary episode of Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 8-30-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Aug 21, 2012

John and Craig answer four listener questions, on topics ranging from scene headers to ticket sales. And which is better for an aspiring screenwriter: a low-level job at a major agency, or a steady 9-to-5 job that allows time to write?

Then it's another round of the Three Page Challenge, with three new samples submitted by brave listeners. Our ongoing thanks to everyone who sent in pages. We have plenty you don't need to send more.

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UPDATE 8-24-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Aug 14, 2012

Screenwriters are often not the healthiest folk. We do our work at computers, surrounded by snacks, so it's no surprise many of us get fat. But it doesn't have to be that way.

This week in the podcast, we talk about how to not be fat. We're not doctors or nutritionists, but we're relatively healthy members of a cohort that is relatively unhealthy, so our advice might point you in useful directions.

Craig lost a ton of weight on a very low calorie diet, supervised by a doctor, and felt it was the only way to hit his healthy target weight. That was several years ago, and he's kept the pounds off through sensible eating and exercise.

For the last eighteen months, John's been eating a slow-carb diet much like that outlined in The 4-Hour Body. It's been remarkably easy to keep up, with its restrictions offset by one cheat day each week.

In addition to the fat talk, we discuss the upcoming WGA Board elections, sumo wrestlers, head tits, Jaclyn Smith and secret e-smoking.

All this in more in the new Scriptnotes.

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UPDATE 8-17-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Aug 9, 2012

John and Craig talk critics, and how trying to anticipate their reviews can cause paralysis.

It's funny how the screenwriter only seems to get mentioned in negative reviews. Well, not funny, actually. Frustrating. And possibly statistically verifiable, so listen in if you're looking for a research project.

Also this week: Craig's insomnia, traffic apps, bake-offs done better, and capitalizing on a big star attachment. Plus fun things you can do in the shower!

All this and more in this slightly-delayed Scriptnotes!

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UPDATE 8-14-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jul 31, 2012

Craig and John look at the results of the WGA screenwriter survey, which found widespread reports of bake-offs, prewriting and other shenanigans.

If there's any solace to be found, it's that it's not just you. Things are frustrating for the vast majority of screenwriters.

After some follow-up discussion about the low percentage of women screenwriters, we get to the meat of this week's podcast: round two of the Three Page Challenge, in which we look at the first three pages of listener-submitted samples. If you have a chance, read the PDFs ahead of time. You can find them in the links.

Big thanks to Sarah Nerboso, Jesse Grce and Austin Reynolds for inviting us to talk about their work on-air.

Also discussed this week: groin injuries, Japanese documentaries, earworms, and John's feel-free-to-use motto: "Ikea: For Now, It's Fine."

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UPDATE 8-2-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jul 24, 2012

Craig and John tackle a question screenwriters ask themselves at every stage in their careers: of all things I could write, which thing should I write?

For working screenwriters, these questions are complicated by rights and money and personalities. But for the aspiring screenwriter, the choice is just as daunting. A screenplay is a huge undertaking, involving months or years of work. Each script carries an opportunity cost: choosing to write this project means not writing something else, or at the very least pushing it further back.

While the variables are different in every case, John and Craig offer some framework for answering the question.

Also this week, John discusses the death of Richard Zanuck, who produced three of his movies. From listener questions, we look at pitch-fests, illegal acts, and shows about your buddies.

And in cool things, Craig talks e-cigarettes while John has mixed opinions on the Nexus 7.

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UPDATE 7-26-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Jul 17, 2012

Craig and John skip Comic-Con so they can discuss annoying and unproductive habits of development executives, along with advice for working with screenwriters.

The back half of the podcast is devoted to the first-ever three page challenge, in which we critique listeners' samples and offer suggestions. If you have a chance to read the samples before listening to the podcast they're in the links below you'll get more out of it, but we try to summarize things so that it's useful even without the text.

Let us know what you thought of this experiment (on Twitter @johnaugust and @clmazin) so we'll know whether to do a round two. We received more than 200 entries for the challenge more than enough, so please don't send any more. If we do another pass, we'll pull from what we have.

Our thanks to everyone who wrote in, and especially to Ajay, J. Nicholas and Bryan for letting us talk about their stuff online.

Also discussed this week: standing desks, music theory, laptop speakers and inflated podcast numbers.

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UPDATE 7-19-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

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.

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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.

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

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