In Scriptnotes episode 294, John August and Craig Mazin discuss several listener inquiries in depth, and focus on screenwriting mistakes and tricky questions. They also bring up the live show again, which is currently (at this writing anyway) set for May first.
They start by discussing Aaron Sorkin’s lack of realization that racial minorities and women have more difficulty finding work in Hollywood than straight white men do, and the huge explosion of social media platforms like Twitter dragging him for it. I hadn’t heard about any of this story before somehow, so it was an interesting topic to listen to Craig and John discuss, as was their ripping apart of the Beverly Hills Screenwriting Competition for being a fraud, but after those two topics were over they got into some things I really, especially enjoyed hearing about.
One was if a writer should or should not capitalize “God” in dialogue. I’m inclined to agree with John, in that I write upper or lower case depending on the intent of the character speaking. (So, a highly religious person saying “Oh God” in horror at something is probably actually asking for help, while someone who isn’t is just using it as an expression and I’d write it “Oh god.” I hadn’t really thought abstractly about how or why I write that before though, so it was fun to think about.
Another interesting topic was mistakes. Things that are under-researched, or false, or stretched (in-show examples including things like knocking over the king when winning Chess and messing up plays in a Baseball anecdote). I tend to over-research, I think. I once spent four hours going through the history of Catholic Saints for a play about two homeless men living in a basement, just because I wanted to be pulling from some things with character names, and I did the same thing to get the exact timing and scenery of a train ride from part of New York to another part, even though it wasn’t specified in script the exact start or end points of the character moving. I just like it–it makes the world more real I guess–but even so, I’m sure I have glaring mistakes in some things I write–making some mistakes is unavoidable (at least when solo writing). I’d be inclined to agree with John and Craig that you should try and research and avoid mistakes as much as you can, but sometimes you need to change things for timing and narrative reasons, and you should try to be forgiving of understandable mistakes, because they do happen. Definitely. To all of us.
There was also a discussion about over-used film elements, like splashing water on your face, or putting your hand over your mouth when shocked, or leaning against a door and closing your eyes, or staring at the phone receiver after getting bad news. I thought it was funny, because I have actually unironically done the thing where I get somewhere “safe” and lean against the door and shut my eyes–it feels good. But now I wonder if the reason I do that is because I’ve seen it in films so many times, I think it’s a normal response and subconsciously adopted it? And while I’ve never stared at a phone receiver or splashed water on my face to calm down, I routinely cover my mouth when shocked or appalled by something. Again, I wonder if that’s something I do naturally, or if I learned it from movies. I definitely want to ask other people about this and find some answers.
There was one topic discussed I disagreed on, though. John and Craig talked about languages in Game of Thrones and about having people speak in non-native languages so the audience doesn’t have to deal with subtitles–which I understand, I know some people refuse to even try subtitles–but Craig described constant use of a different language as “annoying” and they both agreed there is a “natural disconnect” between an audience and characters speaking a language they do not understand. And that’s wrong. I’m sure it’s true for some people, but it isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for me. And it’s not a “natural” disconnect, if anything it’s an “acquired disconnect.” I’ve watched foreign films in plenty of languages I don’t know, and a whole lot of Japanese animation, and it doesn’t bother me at all, there is no disconnect. In fact, there are several shows I can think of right now that I would have to look back and check to be sure that they really were in Japanese instead of English, because it is so easy for me to get into the story through subtitles that I literally don’t remember it as being in Japanese. I remember guying my sister a DVD copy of Gyakuten Shoujo Nozaki-Kun, an anime about a manga artist, and looking for one with an English dub (because I thought that’s what we’d watched) for half an hour before realize the show had never even been dubbed in English and I was just remembering it wrong. Just now it took me a minute to remember if I saw Free! subbed or dubbed before I remembered that I watched it before the dub came out. It doesn’t matter. Good stories and good characters are good stories and characters, and people who care enough to try (and of course have the privilege of not having any processing disorders which make something like reading a sub while watching a film difficult) won’t have a “natural disconnect.”
Anyway, they finish with the one cool things Jonathan Coulton’s video to All This Time, and a site called Every Noise at Once. My beef with subtitles aside, it was a fun episode to listen to.