potential is a muscle

a blog about writing, shooting, climbing, eating, loving, cooking, cheese, money, teaching, my wife and kid, my dogs and being brave. And bacon.

transcript, who knew? of Scriptnotes

John: All right, let’s next go to Mr. Jeff Pulice.

Craig: Okay.

John: Now, this is a very special Three Page Challenge entry.

Craig: Yeah it is.

John: So, people who listened to the Q&A from the live show, the holiday live show, will know that Jeff Pulice was there in person and he asked us why have you not done my Three Page Challenge. And so Stuart was there and we brought Stuart up and said like, hey, do you know this guy, do you know his Three Page Challenge.

And then Stuart revealed the elaborate system by which he figures out Three Page Challenges.

Craig: [laughs]

John: And after that revelation we said, Mr. Pulice, we will find your Three Page Challenge and we will feature it on the next time we do this. So, this is Mr. Jeff Pulice’s.

Craig: And I thought his name was Police as in cops, but it is Pulice like Pulice if you’re going to be appropriately Italian. So, Jeff Pulice, there’s no title on this but we fade in in a sitting room –

John: And I think he told us what the title was though at the — How the Genetti Brothers Saved Hollywood or Created Hollywood.

Craig: Oh, okay, well that’s a good name. So, we begin in a sitting room in the morning and the title says “Bayonne, New Jersey, 1902.” It’s a dingy apartment and Roxy Huston, who is a 20-year-old hot woman with red hair is getting into a bathtub and she’s barely dressed. The tub is cold as ice. And we reveal that this is being filmed. Carlo Genetti, 27 years old, is kind of the producer of this little film that we’re making. And his brother, Primo, is the cameraman. And they’re using an Edison Moving Pictures Co. camera. And it’s quite clear that they’re making a porno.

And so she gets into the tub and is following the direction to pretend that the ice cold tub is, in fact, nice and warm and comforting. And now it’s time for Jamie to come in and find her. And Jamie is not hearing his cue. Finally Jamie, the horny landlord, comes in and delivers his line, “Two weeks late with the rent? You’re in hot water now, you little tramp!” But the film has run out because Jamie took too long to come in and it’s just not going well.

We cut outside to the street and there is a horse-drawn wagon full of Irishmen, burly Irishmen, holding baseball bats and axes, and they are led by a man named Eugene Cortland who has apparently been hired by Mr. Edison to beat up the Italians — Italians in general, I think, and he delivers an inspirational speech about how these Irishmen are going to win the day by beating up these awful Italians.

And then we’re back to the sitting room where Carlo is patient explaining to his actor, Jamie, that it’s really important that Jamie figures this out and gets this done, gets the scene done so that they get paid and he gets paid. Carlo gives Roxy one last little bit of instruction, and that is our three pages.

John: Our three pages. I like the idea of this a lot. I do very much like the idea of looking at the start of the film industry from a titillating perspective and a somewhat inept perspective of like trying to make this little film in someone’s bathtub and this is what creates the industry. We don’t know where all this is going, but I liked sort of how it started. And I can sort of see how it started.

I had some issues and concerns about the rules of the world. For instance, this is a pre-sound time, so it shouldn’t matter that he comes in and says his line, but he says his line. That would be a title card. I felt like there were jokes that could have been put in there that didn’t happen because of the nature of a silent film about this, but that’s fine.

Where it lost me, honestly, when we get out to the street and we see Cortland, and Cortland has his speech. It was just — I had a really hard time parsing his dialogue and sort of even what he was talking about and why we were listening to him talk right then. And so I was so eager to get back into this bathroom, the sitting room, and continuing with the filming of the movie.

Craig: I agree with you just about in all ways. I think that this is a great idea for a movie. I love the idea — I think porn is fascinating, particularly –

John: I would question like, so clearly we’re not supposed to see her boobies. The goal is that it’s near-porn.

Craig: Yeah, it may be so that it’s near porn. But the idea is that it’s whatever porn counted for in 1902. This is a pornographic film. When she’s getting into a tub and then this guy is going to say, “You’re in hot water now, you little tramp.” I suspect then she’s going to have to have sex with him to pay the rent.

So, we’re dealing with a porn of the kind, and porn is part of our culture now in a way it has never been before. And underlining, it’s an old saw, but porn is always the first proof of new technology. And it’s quite likely that this is true that porn was an early use of motion picture film cameras.

So, it’s a really interesting topic and I like the way it starts. There’s a comedy. There’s a light tone to it. There are two brothers. I like the quiet brother, doesn’t say anything but mutters in Italian. There is a truth to that.

And I like the way it was written. It was a little overwritten here and there, but in general good details. I could see the room. I could see her getting in. I could see the direction of it all. And I think that the sound issues, it seemed that the problem was that they just ran out of film, because Jamie was late on his cue. I also — but I do agree with you that there is a tonal issue when we go outside to this guy, Eugene Cortland.

This was a common thing at the time that companies would hire thugs to do their bidding. Carnegie was most notorious for this sort of thing, but here you have a character, an interesting character, a villain and I want this villain to be better. I think, you know, like Bill the Butcher was such a wonderful guy, such a great villain, such a terrible, wonderful guy. This guy, his thugs are a little too goofy. I think there was a mistake here that Jeff makes.

Cortland is sitting with all of these guys and then he begins a speech sort of dead. “Gentleman, what do I hate?” No one does this out of nowhere. And they answer, they drop the N-bomb, which is always going to put people back on their heels a little bit, especially if it’s in service of a joke. And then he says, “No, no, no. I hate these Dagos.”

And then he delivers a speech. And the speech is kind of a Bill the Butcher speech, but to me I would much rather see a realer version of this scene, particularly because he’s going to be the villain. I want to believe that there’s a real threat here. And I want this to be truer, maybe, to the way it went.

John: I would also, let’s take a look at this from a pacing point of view. So, we have about a page and a half first scene, and then we get out to the street and that’s another page that we’re out there and it’s just a dialogue scene. How much better it could be if we had that first scene, just keep it exactly the way it is, then cut to outside and we see guys getting out of the truck and they’re getting their baseball bats and their stuff. And so we see that something is about to happen. And then we go back in.

So, we don’t really introduce Cortland by words yet. You just see that there is all this activity happening outside. Frenzy, frenzy, frenzy. And then we go back inside and suddenly there’s tension to be back in that sitting room because we know something bad is about to happen. Something is about to show up.

Craig: Correct. And what you’re really putting your finger on is the absolute lack of transitions between these two moments and they need transitions. You’re correct. Because all we’re going to know is we’re in a room and then we’re outside, somewhere. We don’t even know if we’re in the same town, for god’s sakes.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, you’re right. You do need that transitional element. You need to have Primo cross by the window cursing, and then we look out the window and we see this thing pulling up. And then we’re down on the street. We see these guys come out and it also gives you an opportunity to learn about Cortland in a more interesting way. All of these men are getting their bats and their axes. And maybe one guy looks at Cortland and says, “I’m a little uncomfortable with this. Do you really think that we’re going to need to use these?”

And Cortland takes the bat from the guy’s hand as if to say you don’t need to use this and then whacks him on the head with it. [laughs] You know, give us something where we go, ooh god, this is a bad guy, other than a speech. Speeches are wonderful for later.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: When we’ve established that this is a bad guy. Then the speech will be surprising and will reveal some interesting things, I think. But you’re absolutely right that there is a big lack of transition here and this is precisely where screenwriters get into trouble with directors. They don’t provide these transitions. The directors will begin to rework things to get the transitions. Much better for us to be a participant in that process.

John: Yeah. Where the narrative is actually creating the transition. And by going to outside you’re increasing the tension and by coming back inside you’re increasing the tension. Every time you cut, every time you move from one place to another place, you should be sort of providing energy on both sides of the cut, of the transition. And we’re not feeling that here.

Craig: Especially when we want tension. Especially when we want to feel like Carlo is having this casual discussion with an actor and he has no idea that 40 Irishmen are about to head up to the fifth floor to beat the crap out of him.

That all said, I’m very hopeful about this.

John: I am, too.

Craig: I think this is a really good idea for a movie. It could be terrific. And I think this is something that Jeff can do. I like the dialogue. I thought there were a lot of good things in it.

John: Now, I took it that Cortland and his men were there to beat him up, or Kodak sent them there because he didn’t want his cameras used to make porn. Is that what you took?

Craig: Well, he’s working for Edison, so yes.

John: Or Edison.

Craig: I think that that’s exactly right. That Edison does not want his cameras to be used for porn. And that’s an age old problem where people that make technology don’t want it used for porn, but until porn actually popularizes the technology — it’s the birth of this strange symbiotic relationship, this embarrassing relationship between technology and porn. So, for that reason I find it very fascinating, particularly if it’s real.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, I’m hopeful. Very hopeful.

John: I’m hopeful, too. And so that detail about it being Edison and being his camera, in the very first page we’re seeing the detail on the camera, which is great.

But right now on page two we’re tipping the Edison of it all. It would be more interesting to me if we just don’t know why these people are showing up. And so our mind can start to race. What are the reasons why these people are going to show up to do this? Is it because it’s porn? Is it because it’s a girl? Because these guys are behind on money?

And then it would be a nice surprise that it’s about the camera. That it is Edison himself who sent them.

Craig: Exactly. And if they do beat these guys up and then Cortland leans in to poor Carlo, who is slumped on the floor, picks the camera up and says, “Mr. Edison thanks you for your choice in cameras, but requests again that you not use it for this filth,” and then walks out.

We would go, ooh boy, Edison is a jerk! [laughs]

John: Yeah, and then smashes the title card. And you’re off to the races.

Craig: You’re off to the races. Exactly. It’s just about transition and structuring the reveals here. But some good stuff.

John: So, Jeff Pulice, thank you for standing up during the Q&A and getting us to read your script.

Craig: Nice work, Jeff. Good job, Jeff.


Last day of spring break…oh and Easter

(typed the guy who only, ONLY goes to church for midnight mass on Christmas night and then rolls everything together in a kind of year in review prayer deal…but it’s sincerely meant. Fervently, even.) (And with love and compassion; just protect the people I love, God, and if the Nicholl people could just…see what I’m trying to do, that’d be, wow.)


my foot surgery is on Wednesday. i don’t get it: give me general anaesthesia at 6 pm, then send me home? I don’t want to spend the night at the hospital, but why start cutting at 6? It’s weird. and then a few days of Netflix and ebooks; good, I’ll learn something. I’m getting as fat as a lord. Maybe try eating vegan while on crutches, an interesting challenge.

I’m doing grades, well obviously not, I’m blogging. Donna and I both will take advantage of the slightest distraction to avoid grading. But it’ll get done and it’ll get done tonight. 


Other approaches to Genetti: they get chased across country, stopping in Chicago, maybe? Meeting kate there? Then they have to run to L.A. You want 4 acts? I’ll find 4 acts.

or it’s Kate’s story. i love writing about women, but then what’s her beef with edison?

I should update more often

D’s been gone since..tuesday. and the house is still standing, so far.

Today, I went to the WGF event in Beverly Hills. The only big things of note to happen:

I got to shake John August’s hand and tell him how much the podcast meant to me…I got a little verklempt, didn’t push for a photo with him, just glad I got to say it.

Big ol’ something-something Butler from the last time I saw John AUgust was there; man, I guess he can fly whenever her wants. 

Other than that, came hime, took a nap, then saw my kid play the lead in his school’s musical. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HE WAS THE LEAD UNTIL FRIDAY NIGHT. EFFORTLESS; he’s amazing, the only one on stage who knew what he was doing. Geez, I hope he doesn’t want to become an actor. Ain’t going to encourage or discourage, just see what happens.

Genetti possible changes: brothers…or friends? A jew and an italian, going against the stereotypes. I still like brothers.

major re-think: Edison all the time, demanding that his people find these men, really pushing the effort, insulted be the way they stole the camera he had stolen…

A new theme: Edison is the idea of becoming/being American IN THEORY, he talks about it all the time, theorizing, lecturing…meanwhile, men like the brothers are becoming American IN PRACTICE, actually doing it, with the sweat of their brows and the work of their hands. Take that.

At one point, do things get so hot that they pull a Butch-and-Sundance and go to Mexico for a while, stimying the efforts to catch them? Until they get chased back by Mexican military?


The Daily Routines of Geniuses

Juan Ponce de León spent his life searching for the fountain of youth. I have spent mine searching for the ideal daily routine. But as years of color-coded paper calendars have given way to cloud-based scheduling apps, routine has continued to elude me; each day is a new day, as unpredictable as a ride on a rodeo bull and over seemingly as quickly.

Naturally, I was fascinated by the recent book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Author Mason Curry examines the schedules of 161 painters, writers, and composers, as well as philosophers, scientists, and other exceptional thinkers.

As I read, I became convinced that for these geniuses, a routine was more than a luxury — it was essential to their work. As Currey puts it, “A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” And although the book itself is a delightful hodgepodge of trivia, not a how-to manual, I began to notice several common elements in the lives of the healthier geniuses (the ones who relied more on discipline than on, say, booze and Benzedrine) that allowed them to pursue the luxury of a productivity-enhancing routine:

A workspace with minimal distractions. Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. William Faulkner, lacking a lock on his study door, just detached the doorknob and brought it into the room with him — something of which today’s cubicle worker can only dream.  Mark Twain’s family knew better than to breach his study door — if they needed him, they’d blow a horn to draw him out. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office; only his wife knew the address or telephone number. Distracted more by the view out his window than interruptions, if N.C. Wyeth was having trouble focusing, he’d tape a piece of cardboard to his glasses as a sort of blinder.

A daily walk. For many, a regular daily walk was essential to brain functioning. Soren Kierkegaard found his constitutionals so inspiring that he would often rush back to his desk and resume writing, still wearing his hat and carrying his walking stick or umbrella. Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks every afternoon — and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Tchaikovsky made do with a two-hour walk, but wouldn’t return a moment early, convinced that cheating himself of the full 120 minutes would make him ill. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck. Erik Satie did the same on his long strolls from Paris to the working class suburb where he lived, stopping under streetlamps to jot down notions that arose on his journey; it’s rumored that when those lamps were turned off during the war years, his productivity declined too.

Accountability metrics. Anthony Trollope only wrote for three hours a day, but he required of himself a rate of 250 words per 15 minutes, and if he finished the novel he was working on before his three hours were up, he’d immediately start a new book as soon as the previous one was finished. Ernest Hemingway also tracked his daily word output on a chart “so as not to kid myself.” BF Skinner started and stopped his writing sessions by setting a timer, “and he carefully plotted the number of hours he wrote and the words he produced on a graph.”

A clear dividing line between important work and busywork. Before there was email, there were letters. It amazed (and humbled) me to see the amount of time each person allocated simply to answering letters. Many would divide the day into real work (such as composing or painting in the morning) and busywork (answering letters in the afternoon). Others would turn to the busywork when the real work wasn’t going well. But if the amount of correspondence was similar to today’s, these historical geniuses did have one advantage: the post would arrive at regular intervals, not constantly as email does.

A habit of stopping when they’re on a roll, not when they’re stuck. Hemingway puts it thus: “You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.” Arthur Miller said, “I don’t believe in draining the reservoir, do you see? I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.” With the exception of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — who rose at 6, spent the day in a flurry of music lessons, concerts, and social engagements and often didn’t get to bed until 1 am — many would write in the morning, stop for lunch and a stroll, spend an hour or two answering letters, and knock off work by 2 or 3. “I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool,” wrote Carl Jung. Or, well, a Mozart.

A supportive partner. Martha Freud, wife of Sigmund, “laid out his clothes, chose his handkerchiefs, and even put toothpaste on his toothbrush,” notes Currey. Gertrude Stein preferred to write outdoors, looking at rocks and cows — and so on their trips to the French countryside, Gertrude would find a place to sit while Alice B. Toklas would shoo a few cows into the writer’s line of vision. Gustav Mahler’s wife bribed the neighbors with opera tickets to keep their dogs quiet while he was composing — even though she was bitterly disappointed when he forced her to give up her own promising musical career. The unmarried artists had help, too: Jane Austen’s sister, Cassandra, took over most of the domestic duties so that Jane had time to write — “Composition seems impossible to me with a head full of joints of mutton & doses of rhubarb,” as Jane once wrote. And Andy Warhol called friend and collaborator Pat Hackett every morning, recounting the previous day’s activities in detail. “Doing the diary,” as they called it, could last two full hours — with Hackett dutifully jotting down notes and typing them up, every weekday morning from 1976 until Warhol’s death in 1987.

Limited social lives. One of Simone de Beauvoir’s lovers put it this way: “there were no parties, no receptions, no bourgeois values… it was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work.” Marcel Proust “made a conscious decision in 1910 to withdraw from society,” writes Currey. Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Fernande Olivier borrowed the idea of Sunday as an “at-home day” from Stein and Toklas — so that they could “dispose of the obligations of friendship in a single afternoon.”

This last habit — relative isolation — sounds much less appealing to me than some of the others. And yet I still find the routines of these thinkers strangely compelling, perhaps they are so unattainable, so extreme. Even the very idea that you can organize your time as you like is out of reach for most of us — so I’ll close with a toast to all those who did their best work within the constraints of someone else’s routine. Like Francine Prose, who began writing when the school bus picked up her children and stopped when it brought them back; or T.S. Eliot, who found it much easier to write once he had a day job in a bank than as a starving poet; and even F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose early writing was crammed in around the strict schedule he followed as a young military officer. Those days were not as fabled as the gin-soaked nights in Paris that came later, but they were much more productive — and no doubt easier on his liver. Being forced to follow the ruts of someone else’s routine may grate, but they do make it easier to stay on the path.

And that of course is what a routine really is — the path we take through our day. Whether we break that trail yourself or follow the path blazed by our constraints, perhaps what’s most important is that we keep walking.


the big accomplishment: I entered the Nicholl Fellowship contest

which is the most prestigious contest in the world and we’ll see what they say. They’ll say what they will.

I just want this foot surgery to get done. 3 weeks, then 4 weeks on crutches and no driving. I may go insane. I’ve been eating like a moron and only gained 6 lbs.

Scripts go out. New ideas to work on. A re-imagining of ‘Three Days of The Condor’? Atomic Monks? rewrite ‘Higher’? My coach appears to be off the grid. Whatever I choose, the outline must be flawless. And I hafta have a solid, SOLID 2nd act.

I promised to buy my wife the diamond ring she wants to add to her wedding band. Why not? It’ll make her happy and it’s a big birthday for her. I hope I have a few more big birthdays with her.

Now I need to clean the bathroom and grade more papers. Arrgh.

the weekend

was very nice. Friday night, ate dinner at The Habit (good burger) and had an earthquake (good quake) (No damage). 

Saturday…Saturday, I added two scenes to Genetti and thought- either I re-write the whole damn thing – based on some arbitrary sense that I couldn’t possibly be good enough, and do it before April 10th- or it’s good enough to submit. Yeah, almost 8000 scripts were submitted to the Nicholl Fellowship last year…guess I’ll have to be better than all of them. If not? I’ll rewrite it from Kate’s point of view. See that? See what I did?

Then, my wife tried to charge me THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A JOKE ABOUT HER HOME TOWN. I went, I got the cash, I left if for her. She tried to return it three times before i would accept it, along with her promise to never do that again to me. It was a joke. Then we went to dinner with my family. Gosh, it was fun. My mom sparkles in any light and my dad, I am so glad he is my dad. My brother…ordered a dinner salad before his plate of fried lard, then had two bites…symbolic pre-penance, some would say.

Today: I cleaned, did laundry, looked at the script again, thought about ‘Three Days Of The Condor’ with a girl in the lead…went to Walmart, had a double-double and now I am going to bed.

fascinating: she teaches people to have charisma

Charisma is, in part, the ability to be genuinely mindful of others; to be emotionally aware. If intuition were our guide, we might assume that this couldn’t be learned. We might think that it was a blessing enjoyed by those born with an extra dose of empathy and the intelligence to make use of it. We wouldn’t imagine that charisma could be encapsulated in a series of tools, any more than a novel could be condensed into a tweet. Which is not to say that Olivia and her peers don’t succeed in making their clients more charismatic. But perhaps only in Silicon Valley would a group of engineers think they could hack their way to charisma with a series of neuroscientific shortcuts.”


there is such a movie there!


Time to stop being such a little whiner about my foot.

Geez, there’s a woman on Dancing With The Stars…she’s dancing…and she ain’t got no legs, Lieutenant Dan.

this weekend: well started off by finding out that an acquaintance…died. John Gullett; he was one of the members of ‘Zombie Protection Drill’ writing group. He was always dressed in amazing, quirky outfits, always had a bright smile. You’d think he was stoned all the time, nope, he was Bahai and just seemed that way. I was early to one of our meetings and he was outside with a huge 35mm camera around his neck. I asked him if he had taken up photography and he said: no, but my friend said this was a good look for me. And I guess it was. He never actually WROTE anything and we would rib him about that. He did write something, an absurd little sketch about a guy being blown through various scenes by a strong wind, finally to land in his own bed. I mean, we’re screenwriters (I am, Dan, Josh, sometimes Chris) so wtf do we say about that. Eventually, he stopped being invited; someone said, if John’s there, I ain’t going because it’ll be two wasted hours of my life. Died in his sleep. So young.

Friday night, went to tim’s. we watched ‘Her’ and vaped and ate a huge pizza. Fun night. Saturday…tried to see ‘Grand Budapest’, got shut out so went to El Farolito for so much Mexican food. Sunday: shot skeet with trevor, my best was 14 out of 25, gotta get out there more. hung out there, came home, tried for smooching, got shut out, so I graded EVERYTHING.

what are ten things my bad guys could do to f stuff up?

1. go after the genetti family

2.send a spy out west (not jamie or roxy)

3. go to LA when they are out of town; cortland gets enraged…no, it was a long trip.

the fact is that I need to up the enemy action and tension- BUT THE BONES OF IT ARE GOOD.

So I go to the Nicholl fellowship page

And the max earnings limit is now 25K…
So i am back in. Deadline is April 10th. I might enter two if I can get TOTY whipped into shape.

Shit just got real!

Genetti changes: Cortland being an asshole; he sees an Italian market on his way to catch movie pirates- he goes in and beats the Italians inside, smashes their stuff…without saying a word

WEller dealing with reporters asking about Edison’s new invention: why is he keeping it so secret, this man who announces every thought he has?

(And he can’t put out the new camera until he can be sure that the original, the one Primo built, is safely locked away and not causing any problems for his reputation as a genius)

Have Edison talk to Weller, light a fire under him- this needs to be wrapped up; Edison still thinks all of this movie business is foolishness, but if he can use it to put good American ideas in good American heads…they’re simply people, really, they’ll think waht I tell them to think…


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