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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Jan 3, 2012

Craig and John look at the year ahead, from resolutions (we don't have any) to reunions (20th!). Along the way, we discuss archery, piano and left-hand weakness.

The bulk of the episode is a discussion of Charlie Kaufman's BAFTA speech about screenwriting and screenwriters, artistry and artifice. Which of us comes down on the side of self-examination and the purity of intentions? The answer may surprise you!

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UPDATE 1-9-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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