When you read articles claiming every Hollywood movie loses money, an obvious question arises: "Why do they keep making them, then?" In this installment, John and Craig explain how the film industry spends and makes money.
It's a big and complicated topic. You could easily spend a semester studying it
John did but this overview should give you a sense of how it all works.
The most important thing to understand is that each film is accounted for separately. Studios charge distribution fees that earn money for the company without paying down the investment in each movie. That's how Theoretical Pictures can turn a profit even when each of the last 20 films it has released shows a loss.
Because we're throwing a lot of terms around this episode, here's a handy cheat sheet:
John couldn't remember the name of it (The Paramount Decree) but it's worth reading up on the 1948 court decision barring studios from owning movie theaters. Not only is it a fascinating anti-trust case, but it greatly influenced how the modern film industry works.
UPDATE 11-17-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
Craig and John go through the mailbox to answer listener questions. Can great actors save bad writing? What happens when writing partners split up? Are flashbacks always a bad idea? Should a young British comedy writer move to America?
All this, plus discussion of Halloween, Screenwriting.io and dressing up dogs.
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UPDATE 11-7-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
Craig and John tackle a listener question about the early stages of a screenwriting career: deciding which meetings to take, which projects to pursue, and how not to go broke in the process.
Once you've been hired for your first paid screenwriting job, the temptation is to pop the champagne corks and ditch that studio apartment in Koreatown. While every success is worth celebrating, the transition from "aspiring screenwriter" to "working screenwriter" can be unexpectedly brutal.
Checks come late, notes come often and opportunities can lead you astray.
Back when you were an aspiring screenwriter, anything seemed possible, because it was all make-believe anyway. Why not write a 14th-century comedy about strudel-makers?
Now screenwriting is your job, and that means making choices about what kind of career you want, what you'll write, and how you'll keep a roof over your head.
UPDATE 10-27-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
John and Craig discuss why screenwriters want to please people
and how it often hurts them and the movies they write before a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of going to film school.
We frame our film school discussion around John's generic list of why people choose to go to college or graduate school:
That last point led to our alternate title for this podcast: Film school: An expensive way to get laid.
Craig got a new microphone, which seems like cause for celebration, but it picked up a tremendous amount of room noise. We'll be working on that for next time.
Thank you to all the listeners who lavished stars and praise upon us in iTunes. Being classic Good Boys, that kind of validation is like mana to us.
UPDATE 10-25-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
John and Craig answer a listener's question about whether (and how) to ditch an ineffective manager, then discuss daily work habits, hardware and software.
Other topics include Lion's reversed scrolling, stalking strangers on Google, and why there will likely never be a Final Draft Pro.
If you're enjoying the podcast, you might consider giving us a hefty number of stars over on iTunes. I suspect most subscribers are coming to us through johnaugust.com, but a few more reader testimonials on iTunes might convince a few more potential listeners to tune in.
If you have a question you'd like me and Craig to tackle, drop us an email.
UPDATE 10-19-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
John and Craig look at the new fall shows and how little kids become screenwriters, with discussion of D&D, Malcolm Gladwell and daisy-wheel printers.
For this installment, I wanted to focus on how people become screenwriters. Not "how to"
there are countless terrible books on that. Rather, what is it that calls people to such an atypical career, one that you can't necessarily practice as a child or learn all at once in college?
UPDATE 10-11-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
In episode five of Scriptnotes, Craig and I dive deep into the esoterica of the WGA, copyright and separated rights as prelude to a discussion of two ongoing lawsuits: Jessica Bendinger vs. the Bring It On musical and Harlan Ellison vs. In Time.
Most installments of the podcast are very back-and-forth, but this is a case where Craig simply knows a lot more than I do, and can explain it better, so I shut up and let Professor Mazin do the talking.
The truth is, most screenwriters never need to worry about the vagaries of copyright and labor law that make our professions possible
the same way cinematographers don't need to know the exact chemical formulations of developing baths, and gaffers don't worry about the overall power grid for Southern California.
But it's still good to be aware of the issues affecting your part of the industry, because small disruptions can ultimately have big consequences. In particular, I'm worried that a string of copyright-infringement cases could lead to situations analogous to the patent warfare happening in technology.
UPDATE 9-28-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
In episode four of Scriptnotes, Craig and I discuss migraines, kidney stones and zombie apocalypse preparations before we segue to the main topic: how screenwriters work with directors, from the first meeting to on-set etiquette to giving notes in post.
Screenwriters and directors often come at a project from different directions. The writer is trying to explain the movie he's already written; the director is trying to explore the movie he's planning to make.
By understanding what a director wants and needs, you stand the best chance of getting your movie on screen in a way that satisfies both of you.
UPDATE 9-24-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
This week, Craig and I follow up on our earlier comment about kids being the death of screenwriters, then dive into the process of outlining a script, from index cards to whiteboards to spreadsheets.
Along the way, we discuss Curious George, Torchwood and V.
We're now listed in iTunes. You can subscribe here. Ratings and raves are welcome. Questions and feedback are much better posted below, since we can answer back.
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UPDATE 9-21-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
For our second podcast, Craig Mazin and I decided to tackle the question we've both been ducking since we started our blogs: "How do I get an agent and/or manager?"
It's an intractable question because while most working screenwriters have representation, no two of them got it the same way. If you ask a panel of writers, you'll hear a series of anecdotes, but you won't get a better sense of what next steps you should take.
Craig compares it to losing your virginity, which seems fair. I opted to flip the question to ask, "How do I get the right agent or manager to notice me?"
We won't typically devote an entire episode to one issue, but this one seemed to require it.
In related podcast news:
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UPDATE 9-7-11: The transcript of this episode can be found here.