SPS-375: The Popcorn Principles: Screenwriting Tips for Authors – with John Gaspard
John Gaspard returns to the Self Publishing Show with insight into his film-influenced writing structure. He details the skills that help him craft engaging stories that show, not tell. Listen to the writing tips he has adapted from interviewing filmmakers into his process.
- Using film structure to aid your writing.
- Timing your Scenes.
- Knowing when to cut unnecessary sequences.
- Keeping your readers interest by withholding information.
- Tackling perfectionism
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SPS-375: The Popcorn Principles: Screenwriting Tips for Authors - with John Gaspard
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Speaker 2: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
John Gaspard: We have better taste than we have talent when we're starting out. So we know when
something's good, we have good taste, but we don't have the talent to reduce it
yet. And so you start to write it and you go, oh, this is terrible. Yeah, it's
supposed to be terrible.
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There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me James Blatch
Mark Dawson: And me and Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Mark Dawson, you have a very important announcement to make regarding we have a
new Patreon supporter. We forgot.
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everybody else. And if you want to sponsor the show, you can go to
patreon.com/ self-publishing show. And I think once a week, by the way, I think
it once an episode that the
Once an episode, yes. It was very, it was very gratefully received. everyone who sort of silver Bill have
been around for years, which is very kind of
James Blatch: Them. They're going to be rewarded soon, whether they like it or not, with some items of
Mark Dawson: James is going into the attic.
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wearing sort of one looks back to front for complex reasons, but some hoodies
and baseball caps and t-shirts is going to be going to our long-standing patron
supporters. little treat. Okay, look, we have a good interview today with John
Gaspar. I really like talking to John. He's been around the block a bit. Hope he
doesn't mind me saying that. Makes him sound old.
Mark Dawson: Still there now.
James Blatch: Yeah. Worked in the film industry, has worked alongside people like John Favre, Bob
Odenkirk, and Steve Soderberg was at Berg. Never know. And he has
Mark Dawson: Steve Soderberg Good, good mate.
James Blatch: Steve and John has put together, he understands story really well and he particularly
understands it from filmmaking, but that does obviously me. It's more or less
the same thing in novel writing. In fact, a lot of the techniques they use in script
writing are really excellent in novel writing because it tightens your book and
tightens your story to get into scenes late and leave early and all that sort of
thing. That's what he is really big on. So he's written this brilliant book which is
called The Popcorn Principles on How Novelists can use those same tips that
they use in Hollywood to improve their books. And we went through some
choice ones in this interview. We could have spent, we could have done a four
hour interview. I promise you with this, you are going to enjoy it and you're
going to learn something from it as I did. So let's listen to John Gaspard and then
Mark and I will be back for a quick chat at the end.
Speaker 2: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: John Gaspard, welcome back to The Self-Publishing Show.
John Gaspard: I am thrilled to be back. I'm surprised to be back, but I'm back.
James Blatch: Hey, it's fun to to have you here. Last time we talked about your magic based fiction
series. I can see you got an Eli Marks if you're watching on YouTube. Eli Marks
branded top there.
John Gaspard: Bowling shirt. Yes.
James Blatch: Bowl. It's a bowling shirt. There you go. and you've been going great guns with that. I think
you're quite inventive in a imaginative with your marketing. That's what we
learned last time. But today we're going to learn a bit about using film story
structure to help us with our novels. Is that right?
John Gaspard: yeah. Story structure and also just sort of some of the tricks of the trade that I discovered
in, in, in interviewing a lot of filmmakers. I've made a number of independent
films myself, but I also written a couple books that are primarily just interviews
with pretty well known filmmakers like Roger Corman and j f Rowe and Steven
Soderberg. just, and these books are for filmmakers tips on how to do a, a
better, simpler, lower budget version of what you're trying to do. But I found
that I was using a lot of those same techniques when I switched over to novel
writing and I started just taking notes on it. Because I'm often asked to talk
about that because when you're doing book panel things they want to look for
that interesting hook. And my hook is I made a a half dud dozen low budget
movies. I sold some stuff to tv and then I switched from script writing and
screenwriting to novel writing and making that leap. I found there's some things
that they're doing in filmmaking that we can do in novel writing to make stuff
James Blatch: Yeah, I mean, there's obviously a lot of crossovers because the obvious point to make is a
good story, is a good story. It needs to be told whether whatever the format is,
whatever the medium is.
John Gaspard: Yes. movies are all structure that is the most important part. Well, character is very
important, but the structure, at what point do we tell you what in the story, the
spine, and you only have 90 minutes to do it. And so it's pretty easy to kind of
step back and look at that spine. It's a little harder in novels because we have
more words and we can take little jots off to the side and it's sometimes harder
to see where that spine is and where we need to fix things. So I found that by
looking at some movies and looking at some of these tips, I was able to make
what I was writing better. I wasn't using it as the foundation for the writing, but
just looking at the tips, I could go, oh, I should go back and do this, or I should re
and do that. I need to remember to do this, remember to do that. So it's a very
helpful sort of checklist as to what are they doing right that I can be doing.
James Blatch: Yeah. What do, if any novels, typically a hundred thousand words,
how many words would it be if it was just the film script?
John Gaspard: Well, I recently took a a, a film script that I'd co-written with a friend of mine called The
Sword in Mr. Stone and turned it into a novel thinking it would be easy and it's
not. but most film scripts are probably 12,000 words. Wow. Maybe 15,000. and I
remember talking to someone a writer friend who said, well, you must love the
fact that with movies you can write tons and tons of dialogue. And the fact is,
you can't, you can run tons, write tons and tons of dialogue for a novel, but
movies, everything has got to be pretty tight and there's got to be a reason for it
being there. It either progresses the story of the character or gives your laugher
all three. So they're generally very, very tight.
James Blatch: Yeah. There are some things I I'm jealous of with movie writing and that if you've got
somebody who's troubled or in a particularly emotional state, but they're not
verbalising, they might be by themselves. That's something I can visualise
filming. You can see it on their face. You can see the, the rain on the pane of
windows, they look out. It's very difficult to do that in a book because you are
obviously having to describe it. Yep. And you don't want to tell, you want to
show. So I am occasionally jealous of, of filmmaking techniques to help tell the
John Gaspard: You know, I wish I could remember the name of the actor, but a famous actor was talking
to a young actress who was trying to do a very dramatic scene and he took her
aside and said, you don't have to do all that. The violins will do the rest of it for
you. And it was true, she didn't need to do much. The music was going to do
that. And in novel writing, you know, we can't do that. yeah. I was talking to a
playwright friend recently who writes plays and screenplay, and I said, you're a
very good writer. You should write novels. And he said this too many words, I
don't want to write. Yeah. It's too many words and I don't want to describe, you
know, what the sunset looks like. And I said, well, with my Eli Mark's novels,
they're all first person. And Eli never describes what the sunset looks like. So it's
a little bit easier first person, but there are still 10 times as many words in a
novel as in a screenplay.
James Blatch: Yeah. So you've written a book, John four Novelists?
John Gaspard: I have. I've written it's a, it's a brief little book called The Popcorn Principles, A Novelist
Guide to Learning from Movies. And in it, I've taken 25 things that I've learned
from talking to the filmmakers that I talked to for my filmmaking books and
taken the principles, those 25 that I think work for novelists and set them down.
this is not a book that's going to help you write your book from beginning to
end, but it is a book that's going to help you make your book better.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. Well, I dont know if we can do all 25, but should we have a probably not.
Should we try and pick out some of the key ones and have a little sign flesh, a
couple of those out?
John Gaspard: Sure. You want me to jump in and just tell you some of my favourites? Well, one of my
favourites is they call it in the film business. And I'm sure novels talk about shoot
the idea in a scene of coming in as late as possible and leaving as early as
possible. Yeah. And the best analogy that I've ever heard is, think of it as a party.
You want to show up when everything's up and running and you want to leave
before it all dies down. and in film we can just cut when we want to. The next
thing, in the example I use in the book in the 1964 movie, the Producers with
Gene Wilder and Xero Moel there's a couple long scenes that the editor talked
Mel Brooks into just cutting the, basically taking the middle of both scenes,
including them together and getting rid of the ends.
And as a writer, Mel Brooks was very much against it. but as you see, when you watch the the movie it,
it's much more impactful because of what you take, you take out. there's a real
power in taking things out and, and that's sometimes we, we'd love our scenes
to go on and on when in fact we should cut them. In fact, even Aaron Sorkin,
who is pretty darn good at writing a scene, has said that his new rule is he tries
to, when he is done writing a scene, cut the last line out and see if it makes it
better. And it usually does. And I've done that in the Eli Marks books. And it's
true, you, you often tend to write one more line, then you really need to. And if
you do that over 26 or 36 chapters, it, it's getting a little flabby. So that idea of
of just getting in as late as you possibly can to the scene and then getting out as
quick as you can is something you can see happen in movies. And it's something
you can pretty easily adapt to your writing.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's such a good good tip. I think get in late, leave early and it is something we
forget. I thought, I think I read the same Aaron Sulkin clip as you where he, he
said if I don't think he said something like, I rarely read a scene that wouldn't
benefit from losing the first line, the last line.
John Gaspard: Yeah. Yeah. It's amazing. It's just amazing. But it, and it's, and it's simple to do. There's,
they're kind of a corollary to that that I learned from editor friends of mine. and
they call it cutting the shoe leather, which is get rid of any of those things of
people walking from one place to another, which you can really see. For
example, the example I always use is the old Colombo TV series, which they
were 90 minute Movie of the week, so they're probably, probably 70 some
minutes long. There's a lot of walking between places. and if you compare it to
Ryan Johnson's new show Poker Face, which is a, has a direct connection to
Colombo. I mean, he's even using the same font for the title as Colombo. And
the same premise of we see who the Murderer is up front, they get rid of all
that shoe leather.
and it's, it's stuff sometimes we'd like to write about how we got from point A to point B, but again, if
we're looking at, get into the scene as late as possible and get out of the scene
as late as possible and get rid of the stuff in between we don't need you'd be
amazed how taking things out makes things better. My favourite example, and
maybe people remember the movie, Tootsie, there's a very pivotal scene with
Dustin Hoffman in his agent's office, and he is talking to his agent about trying
to get work. The agent is saying, no one will hire you. No one will hire you.
Dustin Hoffman lays out in that scene. And another nice thing about that scene
is it's a really good ex dispositional scene and that it's a funny argument and
they get a ton of information out. That's a whole nother point.
But at the end of the scene that the, the agent says, no one will hire you. And Dustin Hoffman says, ah-
huh. And you see 'em thinking, and then they cut, and the next cut is one of my
favourite cuts. And all of filmmaking, it's a busy New York Street. You see people
walking toward the camera. And then we begin to see this woman in the centre
of the screen, and it's Dustin Hoffman dressed as Dorothy Michaels. We've
made the instant cut from him in the office to that. And in the D v d
commentary on it, the director, Sidney Pollock said, we shot all that in between
stuff. We shot him talking to drag queens. We had him trying on wigs, trying on
clothes, trying on girdles. We had a whole sequence. And it just was much more
powerful to go, this is the thing I need to do, boom.
And make that cut. And if we can see in, we're, when we're writing, and I've done it myself, the very
first Eli Mark's novel had a scene where it's like Eli describing how I got from
point A to point B, and I went, I'm doing it. I'm doing shoe leather here. Yeah.
I've just got to, I've got to cut it out. It's what William Faulkner said. Cut out
those parts that readers tend to skip. And I think sometimes if we're honest with
ourselves as we're reviewing our writing, before you get into deep editing, you
might sometimes glaze over a paragraph, go, yeah, I know that paragraph. I
know that paragraph. Well, that's, that's your mind telling you do, do you really
need it? Do you really need that? And you, is that shoe leather and can we cut it
James Blatch: Yeah, there's a great comedy writer. I'm going to try and find his name, but I won't be able
to, I'm sure on TikTok, who I follow. And he talks about shoe leather a lot
because he gets asked, he gets asked a lot of questions and he said, how do you
deal with, with the time it takes pupil to go to the fridge or go next door? And
he said, we don't do it. He said, that's shoe leather. We just don't. And he, it's
the most common thing they get told in the writers room cup, the shoe leather.
So you'll see if you watch Big Bang Theory or whatever in the later sitcom is,
there's no mucking about unless it's a point, unless there's a point to it. And
that's, that's really the question we need to ask ourselves, I guess here is if you
want them like in back to the big bang theory, if you want them walking up the
stairs, you better down. Well have a reason for that. And it'd be integral to the
story. Otherwise, it's shoe leather. Yep.
John Gaspard: When, when I was making low budget features, I never got to use a crane because I didn't
have the money for a crane. But I always remembered the advice of an editor
friend who had said, if you're doing a crane shot with people walking and you're
like coming down and you see them coming down to the building, he said, you
better have some pretty darn important dialogue happening there, because as
an editor, if there's nothing going on that shot except for a crane shot, I'm going
to cut it. Yeah. And, and I've always thought about that is what do, what are we,
you know, what are you trying to do with the shot? But is it really, really
necessary? And can you get rid of it? Yeah, of course. Now it would be a drone
James Blatch: Yes, of course. Well, cheap and helicopters and cranes. we yeah, I used to do pieces to
camera, not a news reporter. And we used to have an editor who used to say,
you're walking from nowhere to Nael. He didn't use the word naff, you're
walking from nowhere to Nael. Why are you walking? So he always used to say,
do a walking piece to camera. Yeah. But be sure you're trying to tell a story with
that. Where you going? What are you revealing if you're just walking towards a
camera? It's just stupid. I used to get told off. Anyway.
John Gaspard: Do you remember the you ever see Eric Idol's movie of the Rus, his takeoff and
James Blatch: The video? Oh yes. Yeah, he does. He
John Gaspard: Has a great shot where he's walking down the street and obviously there's a car in front
of him that's backing up and the car starts to speed up and he's started to keep
up while he's telling
James Blatch: The running story
John Gaspard: And he ends up running. Yeah.
James Blatch: Perfect. Mickey take of how stupid that that walking piece to camera often is. Yes. do you
know, we've just done one tip and it's been brilliant and I've loved dissecting
that bit. So get in late, leave early. Love it. That's such a good tip. And and yeah,
note very few scenes will, will not be better for for doing even that afterwards.
Okay. Should we do another one?
John Gaspard: Sure. let's see. Well, this one, this one is a bit more ephemeral, but it's something I keep
in the back of my mind. And I call it Keep Lester awake. And the reason I call it
keep Lester awake is I got to talk to a really great film director named Stuart
Gordon. Stuart Gordon, director of the movie ReAnimator, and a bunch of other
horror films. But before he was a horror film director. He directed in Chicago, he
directed a lot of theatre kind of avant garde theatre cutting edge theatre. And
he said to me one thing he always thought about while directing his place was
Keeping Lester awake. And I said, what do you mean? He said, well, I had a very
wealthy patron and she would come to every production and we loved having
her because she gave us money and she loved the shows, but she would bring
her husband Lester along and Lester would invariably fall asleep and snore.
And I became his mantra to make sure there's always something happening on stage to keep Lester
awake. And I always think about that when people say, well, I want to read a
book. I'm going to take a book to bed and help me go to sleep. It's like, I don't,
that's the exact opposite of what I'm trying to do. I want you to keep awake and
if, and that, so as I'm looking at scenes, I'm going to, is this, is this keeping, do I
need this? Is it keeping Lester awake? Is it grabbing onto the reader? Or is it just
something I put in cause I had to put in or wanted to put in, or worst of all, and
I'm as much of a sinner on this as some people who have to do a lot of research.
Did I put this in because it took me a long time to find this thing and I want to
have this little factoid in there? Is it really keeping Lester awake? So it's the idea
of constantly making sure that everything is moving forward and there's
something going on so that whoever reading it won't be able to fall asleep. And
in my mind it's Lester,
James Blatch: Keep Lester awake, unlike that one as well. The key here I think is to trust your reader,
isn't it? In, in deciding what to leave out and what to put in. That's one of
Stephen King's great sort of themes is that you don't have to explain everything
to the reader. It's better for the reader to be Yeah. But Dan, Dan Brown does
this brilliantly in his books. The reader's slightly ahead of him which is very
clever because you feel great as a reader and want to turn the next page.
Whereas you, if you overexplain stuff that's, that loses a little bit of the reason
people are reading.
John Gaspard: Yeah. There's a filmmaker I talked to a couple guys, made a movie called The Last
Broadcast, which was about it was a digital feature about some people who
went out into the woods and were terrorized and died. And it came out one
year before the Blair Witch Project and didn't do as well as the Player Witch
Project, but was sort of the same premise, but their documentary he used what
he called Theatre of the Minimal, which in their film world meant we don't have
to have all the details, we just need to have a few of the right details. And the
audience fills in the rest. So, for example, they're doing an interview with a
supposed psychologist. They didn't need to have a ton of stuff, they just made
sure there was a diploma in the background on the wall. So you got the sense
that you were in a doctor's office.
And I think I try to do that as much as possible, which is put in just enough detail that the reader knows
what I'm talking about. But not to overload them with detail. Because I happen
to have done all this research and I know this stuff now. it, there's a tendency to
want to tell them everything. And I think it is much stronger to tell them less
and also to keep them, let them get ahead. You know, there's two books that I
always recommend when people say, what should I read? If you want to be a
writer? the Popcorn Principle is not one of them. although if you want to read,
James Blatch: It's, it's sounding like it, it should be, to me, I'm, it's fun. I'm all over
John Gaspard: It. From, from a, from a standing start, you're probably better off reading Bird By Bird and
then reading Stephen King's on Writing. And I believe it's at the end of on
writing that he prints a good chunk of a story that he's written and then includes
what the editor has done to it. And it's really telling because you think, oh, well
Stephen King, he just writes it and they publish it. Like no, the editor, he or she
is going through and doing all kinds of stuff. personally I think they could have
often gone a little further and cut even more stuff because he had long books,
didn't he? Because he has long books that sometimes end and then end and
then end. but it's interesting to look at it and just realize because that's one of
the hardest parts I think for people starting novel writing, is it is really
Particularly when you and I are sitting here and saying, yeah, there's 60 to thousand to a hundred
thousand words. That's really intimidating. I was lucky that I worked in
corporate communications for 30 years where I was writing video scripts and
proposals and speeches and things. And so I'm, I'm not intimidated by the blank
page at all because I know that I'm, I know it's going to be written. And so that
part is removed from me. And for that I'm very lucky. But for someone starting
out, you get this impression that you have to be able to just sit down and write
it and it's going to be perfect. and it's not, it's not going to be perfect. When
Stephen King sits down and writes, it's someone who's going to have to come
back and, and fix it. I'm remind reminded of I think Ira Glass who had this really
brilliant insight about creative process where, and I'm sure I'm screwing it up
somehow, but the idea was, the problem is that we are, we have better taste
than we have talent when we're starting out.
So we know when something's good, we have good taste, but we don't have the talent to reduce it yet.
And so you start to write it and you go, oh, this is terrible. Yeah. It's supposed to
be terrible. Nobody tells you that. So when looking at the example that King
puts in on writing, it is nice to go, oh, this guy has written 50 60. I don't know
how novels he is written now. He still has an editor who has to help him fix stuff.
And that's one of the key lessons I think in the book, is the idea of it's, I call it
just stop getting ready and start writing. and it was something that I run into all
the time in the film world where people want to write a screenplay, they want
to make a movie, and they do so much prep and prep and prep.
And I got to listen to this podcast after read this book after, read this interview after to do all these
things when in fact what they should do is just sit down and do it. And they're
going to learn by doing. and the best film example of that is Robert Rodriguez
who made El Mariachi and then went on to make a ton of other movies. He
famously put himself in the hospital for a drug test for 30 days. And he took the
money that he made from the drug test and he made El Mariachi for I think
$7,000. That's what he did. And his thinking was I'm going to screw up, but I'm
going to screw up and learn. And it's well worth $7,000. It's far cheaper than a
film school to go do it. Well, to write a novels far cheaper than $7,000, you just
have to be willing to be bad at first. And, and, and that sort of thinking that I'm
just going to go do it and get it out of my system once and be bad is the
stumbling block that a lot of people just won't go over cause they want it to be
great right away. And it's just not, it's not going to be.
James Blatch: Yeah. Yeah. I think it's a Hemingway quote, isn't it? Everybody's first draught is shit. Yeah.
And that's one of the great writers. and I always think from my experience, it, I
didn't realize it at the time that all the writing I did, cause I wrote an entire
novel through it away, wrote it again through, threw it away, and then wrote it
a third time. And the first one was huge. It was like 130, 140,000 words. I, I felt it
was hard. It was difficult. This is rubbish. I'm not going anywhere. And only now
looking back to, I realized that every sentence I wrote got me to where I ended
up. And there's no shortcut to learning how to write. You have to write and it
has to be shit. You have to go through that phase. You just got to sit down and
write, write every day the single best advice. I think you can give a new novelist
new writer, just write every day, even if it's shit. Keep using that word. Yep.
yeah. And and it is, by the way, I'm writing a first draught now, which I can tell
you I've stopped writing it about three days ago cause it was so shit. And now
today I've told myself off and I'm back into writing it because that's okay. It's
going to get me to where I'm going to go.
John Gaspard: Yeah. You just can't, this whole perfection thing, you just got to get over that. Even when
it's done, it's still not going to be perfect, but it's going to be as good as you can
get it at that time. And, and you can, you know, you can Spielberg it or Lucas it
and go back and take out the guns or
James Blatch: Let's not do that.
John Gaspard: It's best not to do that. It's best to to leave it alone and, and move on. You know, when it
comes to the I'd feel very lucky because of the 30 years of writing corporate
stuff where I had to write every day and you have no choice. I remember going
to a pitch meeting and we had our boards and we had everything all worked out
and the client said, you can take as much time as you want because the people
who are going to pitch after you aren't coming. And I said, because we knew
them, I said, are they okay? They said, yeah. They just, they called and said they
don't have any ideas. And I thought, I didn't know that was an option. to not
have an idea. and so having that background, and then also the other thing
that's been a huge help for me that is an advantage that I realized late later on
that I had was I shot movies that I wrote.
And so I would write a scene, I would shoot a scene, I would edit a scene. And if I found in the editing
that I didn't need that scene the editor would be very mad at the writer who'd
made the director go shoot that. Because in a low budget movie to go shoot a
whole scene that you don't need is if you do that a couple times and you've
used up your budget. So I've learned early on to figure out what it is I really
needed in it. And of course it's so much easier in a novel to just go, oh, we don't
need chapter three. It's gone. As opposed to, I don't need that scene that took
me two days to shoot and I had to find that location. And all those actors are
going to be very upset. It's just much easier in the novel world. Yeah.
James Blatch: This is good stuff. I'm enjoying it. In fact, I'm thinking, you asked me what I watched on the
planes. I just got back from Canada and I watched the Fletcher reboot engine,
but I also watched the reboot of Star Trek and the new one. And I was shouting
at the screen, not out loud because people would've thought I was insane
because they did. I mean, this is a big budget production, I assume they did so
much telling in the first two minutes a captain in charge basically with an
underling who she's going to make captain. I mean, Jesus, we've got their life
story with them just walking along. And I thought that's so unrealistic that
people would be all the way down onto an alien planet and then have a
conversation about why they're there. and I thought, just treat me a bit more of
a grownup. Oh, by the way, it got better. And I'm, I'm getting into it. But it's not
to say that you'll watch, you'll watch a big budget film or TV and they won't be
making these mistakes because it just underlines how hard it is to get this right.
John Gaspard: Exposition is really, really hard to to, to bury it and to hide it. and I, I put a couple
examples in the book that I really like that one was groundbreaking at the time,
but it's been done to death, which is the first nine minutes of the movie Citizen
Kane, which is a newsreel of Charles Foster Kane's life. and it it, it hits all the
high points we're going to see in the movie from a slightly different point of
view. And what viewers today don't understand is that news reel, that particular
nine minute segment is making fun of news reels at the, at the same time that
it's telling the story. But it, it does the same thing that Bill Paxton does at the
beginning of Titanic when he, one of his crew members and he are talking to
Gloria Stewart and they're showing her the, the CD rendering of the c g i
rendering of the ship and how it broke apart and, and they're basically giving us
ex position. Yeah. but they've kept it interesting. Although I would say that
particular character of Gloria Stewart is maybe the last person in the world. You
have to tell about what happened.
James Blatch: She was there, she noticed the way notice to do at the time. Yeah.
John Gaspard: But also in Jurassic Park, they did the same sort of thing where they have the original
Jurassic Park. They have a theme park ride that the guys go on that shows them
how the dinosaurs were created. And it was a very clever way Yeah. Of getting
that exposition out as opposed to, and I just saw it in a show the other day
where they cut to a policeman talking to a sub a suspect in interrogation room.
And the, and the character actually said, okay, Harry, let's go through this again
one more time. What happened? And I, recognize you've got to find a way to
get that information out. it, you just have to try to be more clever about it.
Sometimes in movies and TV shows, they just don't have the time. I mean, they
got to tell you the stuff and, and you got to get it out that way.
But there's a play by Tom Stopper at one Act play called The Real Inspector Hound. And the play opens
with a cleaning woman in a, in a, in a sitting room. And she turns on the radio
and as she turns it on, I'm going to read here because I have it in front of me.
She turns it on and voices, we interrupted our programme for a special police
message. The search still goes on for the escape. Mad Men who is on the run in
Essex County police led by Inspector Hound, have receiver report that the man
has been seen in the desolate marchers around Muldoon Manor. And he goes
on. And I thought, it's such a funny way to get that information out because it's
so obvious. Starts making fun of it.
James Blatch: Yes. If you're going to be, you may as well just do that. And again, everyone will laugh
thinking, oh, here we go. I think Star Wars is a great example of, of not of, of
what Stephen King wants people to do. It's just say less. You don't have to tell
everything because, because it's actually quite exciting when things unfold and
it's slightly mysterious to you what they're doing there. If you look back at
Styles, and it's such a familiar film now, it's quite difficult to look at fresh eyes.
Loads of stuff is not really explained. I don't real, as a kid, I didn't really know
what was going on the first time I watched that. And it's gradually grown to, you
know, one of my favourite films now. But that's fine as well. That's a good way
of doing it. You don't have to be clunky about this.
John Gaspard: Yeah. In, in the book, I call it, don't spill all your popcorn in the lobby, which is don't tell
everybody everything upfront. they don't need to know everything upfront.
They can learn things. It's more fun to kind of learn things along the way. Yeah.
my favourite example and it is a plot point but it's from butch casting Sundance
Kid, and I think it's a fair game to talk about it now, is when they're running from
the Posse and they're standing on the top of the cliff and the only way out is the
river hundreds feet below. And Butch says, we'll jump in. They won't be able to
follow us. We'll swim to the other side. We'll, we're fine. And Sundance says, I
can't. I can't, I can't. And he finally says, I can't. I don't know how to swim.
To which Butch says, are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you. Now this little bit about Sundance Kid
who's the coolest guy in the world, can't swim. William Goldman was smart
enough to just wait and wait and wait and wait and put it there. Yes. He didn't
have to tell us up front anything about it. And I think when you reveal stuff like
that two audiences, they appreciate finding it out. we talk about, or sor Aaron,
so, and I talk about 'em all the time in the West Wing, the reveal of President
Bartlett having Ms is is dolled out very sparingly throughout season one. In fact,
I don't think he was even halfway through season one before Sorkin figured out,
he, he knew he wanted a dili debilitating disease that would not necessarily be
visible and he wasn't sure what it was.
But there are clues throughout that sort of reveal. Audiences love that. so don't tell them everything
upfront. They don't need to know everything upfront. They can be a little bit
curious about why is that happening? Why is, why is, what is that? I mean, when
my wife and I watch you know, streaming shows we watch a lot of British
mystery sorts of things. there's always that wonderful moment of why did he or
she do that? And you don't find that out for a while. Anthony Horowitz, when he
did Mag Pi murders as a TV version of his book, did a brilliant job on that. He has
a series from many, many years ago called Collision, which is I think five
episodes. And it's explaining what happened, what happened to make a car
accident happen on the a 12 or something. And over five episodes you find out
about all the people who are involved in it. And he does not tell you everything
about, you have, you have to sit in confusion sometimes for two or three
episodes about what's going on. And then they tell you. And I, I think that's a
much more engaging way of doing it than spilling all your popcorn right there in
James Blatch: Have you seen Happy Valley talking of British Series?
John Gaspard: We haven't started it. I know about it only because I follow Nicola Walker on Instagram
and all she does is promote her friend show Happy Valley. Really charming of
her to do that.
James Blatch: It's I think it's one of the best written Okay. TV series. We'll be on the list in recent recent
times. I warn you now it's grim. But it's very, very good.
John Gaspard: We just watched the, the Banshees of Inner Serum so we can handle, we can handle
James Blatch: Grim. You can do that. okay, look, I think we've got time for at least one more.
John Gaspard: I'll give you my favourite. Which I use throughout life. and it it is, it'll take you a second to
get it because it took me a second to get it. But once you hear it you'll never
forget it. I don't probably building it up too much. Bob Odenkirk, who's probably
best known and Better Call Saul in Breaking Bad was a sketch performer and
writer long before he did that and also made some low budget movies. The
Wonder, which was called Melvin Goes to Dinner, which I highly recommend
Melvin Goes to Dinner, is a five character play that Odenkirk saw in Los Angeles.
It was a late night thing that was, these five actors did. It is four people sitting
around a table in a restaurant and a waitress. And a couple of people know each
other. They all kind of know each other, but don't all necessarily four know each
And it's the revelations you find out that happen over, over their long dinner. and it's, the play version is
called Firo Giants. The movie version is called Melvin Goes To Dinner. And they
shot it essentially in one night one long night in our restaurant because the
actors knew all the lines, they'd done the play forever. and in talking to Bob
Odenkirk about it, he had a lot of really good, smart things to say about low
budget filmmaking. because he is a very smart guy. And I said, what piece of
advice would you give to filmmakers if you think that they're missing? And he
said, don't hesitate to hesitate. And I said, what do you mean? And he said, well,
in the film world, if I'm shooting a scene, I'm on a set. I've shot the scene, I've
shot all the pages for that scene.
Don't pack everything up and go away because you've got the set, you've got the actors, you've got the
cameras, you've got everything there. Don't hesitate to hesitate. Take a
moment and ask yourself, what else can I do with this before I shut it down?
And that's a phrase that I use all the time, particularly before I finish a book. I
don't hesitate to hesitate, I stop and I put it in the drawer for a couple weeks.
And I'm very lucky because I don't, I'm independently, I'm, I'm me. I don't have
a, I am the publisher. I I'm not following someone else's schedule. I don't have
to get something to somebody. I'm not driven that way. And that's just the way I
like to do it. But the idea of just stopping, taking a breath, looking around, take a
break, come back, look at it again.
it's, it's a rare thing we're given. because as Odenkirk went on to say, I can't do that anymore. We don't
have time to do that. I had the same thing from Steven Soderberg when I was
talking to him about Sex Lies and Videotape. And he said I had a 31 day shooting
schedule on Sex Lies and Videotape. I have never felt more leisurely on a film
production ever since then. The next movie I made or the second one after that
George Clooney, when I'm blanking in the name now, he said it was a 45 million
budget. He said, I feel like I had a gun to my head every day. So we're very lucky
when we control our schedules and a lot of times we've made up our schedule.
It's a pretend thing we made up that said the book has to go out on, you know,
April 15th or whatever.
We made that up. we can stop. Let it sit for a minute, look at it, take a break and come back and see
what else we can do to it. That may, in the case of filmmaking, require
reshooting. In the case of novelists, it may require rewriting. in the film world,
there is no shame in reshooting. More and more people are now budgeting a
couple days to reshoot. And I think budgeting some time at the, when the book
is quote unquote done to maybe rewrite is not a bad idea because it, two weeks
from now, you might have a whole different take on something or you might,
you might wake up and go, oh, that's a, oh, that's the line that needs to close it.
so I, I just I have Bob Odenkirk in my head saying, don't hesitate to hesitate.
James Blatch: Yeah, that's nice. Full circle. Cause we talked about cutting stuff out. That's not necessary.
But actually you can sit back after those two weeks and think, what's missing?
,you know, what might be missing from this? It might be something small,
something clever. Like you often think these, these very clever little details and
stories. Like he drinks from a whiskey Tumblr in chapter one, and then she drops
that Tumblr when she hears he's died in chapter 30. And some lovely thing that
not everyone's going to see, but you can put that in afterwards. That's the
beauty of it. It looks like it's cleverly done right from the beginning. It's exactly
the sort of thing that helps tell the story on different layers. Let
John Gaspard: Let me give you one more real quick example cause it's one of my favourites. And it's the
idea of callbacks, which is exactly where you would find that sort of thing at this
point is when you'd be going back and sifting through. Have I missed anything?
my favourite callback of all time is in the movie Casablanca when Claude Rain
says at the end Roundup Usual Suspects. he says that because by saying that he
is not having to tell his men that Humphrey Bogart has killed the Nazi, he's
found a way to save them both by saying Roundup usual suspects, which is a
phrase that he's used I believe twice earlier in the film as sort of a grim
throwaway line. the writers, the final writers and Casablanca, the Epstein
brothers were assigned with writing like the last quarter of the movie while
they're shooting the movie.
So movie shooting, Epstein Brothers are working on the ending and they have a very- pretty block down
idea of what needs to happen at the end of Casablanca. He know, we know that
he, he's got to make the decision with Thinker Bergman. He's got to shoot Major
Strauser da da, but they keep hitting this thing of he's killed Major Strauser.
Why doesn't the local prefect Claude Reigns arrest him right there? Because
essentially he's killed his boss. How do we get, how do we make that happen?
And they're driving to work one day and they turn to each other at the same
time and say, round up usual suspects. It was something we said earlier in the
movie, it was something we had no idea we were going to call back. It allows
Louie to repeat something he said earlier and to also as a character note, let us
know that he is not entirely transactional in his relationships. That he does have
some feelings from your bogar, which then leads to the closing line, Lou, I think
this is the be beginning of a beautiful friendship, which was written in the
editing and dropped in that line, came even later. So this idea of just stopping
Take a breath.
James Blatch: And it's also your thing you said earlier about perfection doesn't come out the first time.
John Gaspard: Not at all.
James Blatch: This, this Casablanca, a lot of people think is like a perfect film, but all these bits were
added in in the last, you know, last, last gasp in the edit room. Looks like they
were crafted there for years. yeah. So now what was I was just thinking of In the
Loop, I think is the British comedy film. Sort of documentary style. It slightly
annoyed me about that, Phil. I loved the film, but there's a bit of a Chekov's gun
moment in there because the, the sort of ebullient us general in the Pentagon
has a live grenade on his desk and he's always thumping his desk. I thought, for
God's sake, that's got to explode at some. I was so disappointed that film ended
and it didn't explode and there was this like massive red blob in his office.
John Gaspard: Well, it's probably you're probably very upset with all the pies that are seen in the
background of Dr. Strange Angelov in the war room that we never see the pie
fight. But they did, they did shoot a pie fight. They just turned out. But you can
see them in the background. Yeah. The movie originally ended with a huge pie
fight and in the editing as one of those things where it's like addition by
subtraction Cooper clicked at it and went, ah, that's just totally not working with
everything else. But but you can't see them in the background. They're all,
they're, they're waiting to be used.
James Blatch: Gentlemen, you can't fight in the war room. Yeah. Great line. And that's another movie
that's close to perfection. brilliant, brilliant. John. Honestly, we could have gone
for another hour and we're going to have you back and we'll do some more of
these I think this has been a really useful interview for people to listen to.
Certainly for me. I'm going to grab your book. Just give us another plug. Give us
the title and where we can find it.
John Gaspard: Sure. You can find it. Boy, I think you can find it everywhere. I'm, I think I'm, am I wide?
Yes. I think I'm wide with it. Yeah, I'm wide with it. It's called The Popcorn
Principles, A Novelist Guide to Learning from Movies. And I will give a little plug
to ai, which gave me the title to Popcorn Principles. That was not my original
title. And it just as I just heard Joanna Pen go she had one of her longer episodes
about chat whatever that thing is called, called
James Blatch: Tpc.
John Gaspard: Yeah. Saw this, I I just type in what my original title was and said, gimme a funny version
of this. And I came back and went, all right, you win.
James Blatch: The robots are winning. Okay. John, thank you so much.
John Gaspard: It's always pleasure, James. Take care.
Speaker 6: This is The Self-Publishing show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Yeah. Really good book. Mark. I really love talking to John about that. I know you haven't
heard this interview yet, but you are going to listen to it and I think even, even a
seasoned writer like yourself can't help but be helped by that sort of tip from
somebody who's been at the sharp end of Hollywood.
Mark Dawson: Oh yeah. I've seen there's never stop learning. It's you, I, you picked this up all the time
and I had a chat with someone who we are publishing with Fuse yesterday and
chatted about a book that he's thinking about writing and it was, you know, it
was good to address that in a critical way. not critical as in critical, but kind of
constructively critical way to help him to hopefully cross something that's very
commercial. and that's, yeah, that's based on my experience and things I read
and, and he had some ideas too and it is just, it's a good exercise to kind of dig
in and, and try and hone something and, and John, so with John's experience
would be perfect for that as well.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well I think it's a really good idea to have a kind of buddy who you do this for. It's
expensive to hire a book coach each time you want to write a book, but having
somebody you'd give your outline to in exchange for when they write a book,
they'd give their outline to just having a call and going through stuff. Because
the third party, I mean I'm doing this now for our romance authors in Fuse, who
we are going to publish shortly. It's obviously not my genre, but I've read
enough romance and I know how work, they're just having a second pair of eyes
on an outline or, or in this case a manuscript and saying, wouldn't it be better if
this is a bit tighter or whatever is a really good thing. I think we can all help each
other like that. I might have to find someone who will be my, my writing buddy.
Mark Dawson: You know,
Mark Dawson: Good,
James Blatch: But you know. Okay.
Mark Dawson: It's not happening.
James Blatch: yeah, I mean I have my little my little tiki bar group we call ourselves and which is really
brilliant for discussing stuff, but it'd be good
Mark Dawson: I think one of those authors might be number one of the US at the moment.
James Blatch: I think one of those authors is Yeah, we should say
Mark Dawson: And and number four
James Blatch: And know, I know that Lucy and Tim listen to the show. They're often driving, so they're
doing a lot of driving at the moment. I saw a video of this is Lucy's school we're
talking about whose follow up book for things we never Got Over has hit
number one in the store and obviously brought the first book back into the top
five as well phenomenally successful. I saw a video that someone took an a
store in Florida yesterday just trying to find the end of the queue. It was snaked
all the way through the shop. Wow. Out the door. It was incredible. She is a
rockstar. Yeah. And couldn't happen to lovelier people. And we should also give
big shout out to Tim who is oh, not, it's a cliche, isn't it? The power behind the
throne. But he, he, yeah,
Mark Dawson: That is a, that is a
James Blatch: Cliche cliche that's avoid that one. But he,
Mark Dawson: He's a, he, he's a supportive partner. He, he
James Blatch: Business very more than that. He's a very important part of the the, the business. He's
he's the ads man and wanted a lot of that stuff, that book.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I had a good chat with Tim when we were in, in Tampa last year really. He really,
really, you know, he, he's always someone in the, in the business and it
sometimes there's the author as well. The author also has those skills. Well,
with Tim's very good in that kind of structured way and able to see things
strategically. And also I think he's got six screens, which appeals to me, Hey,
hey, I think I saw a picture of his office once
James Blatch: he's got screen envy.
Mark Dawson: I've got, well I've got three, three screens, but I could, you could never have too many
screens. Although if I had six screens, I wouldn't be able to see the view that
way, which is very nice. So I think I, I'll stick with three, but yeah, I can, I can
James Blatch: Yeah, threes, three's good. You'd have to stop building up, wouldn't you? You'd end up
with this. Bang. I think that Scott Scott mission control,
Mark Dawson: It's what he is done also is famous. Terry Fresher did that as well. Terry f Fresher had six
greens, what? 2 2, 2 T. and God know how he had a computer powerful enough
to, to run six greens in there in those days were, I guess he did. But yeah, these
powerful max these days can do that in their sleep. So
James Blatch: Yes. Well, although my MacBook pros on his last legs, I need to mention that to you at
some point. Dip into SPF coffers.
Mark Dawson: Well, I was, I was actually thinking about bio bio by one myself. Anyway, we get, we can
tell away, right? Maybe we'll have, we'll buy, don't tell John. We can, we'll buy
one. And I
James Blatch: Think he's after well as well, so.
Mark Dawson: Oh
James Blatch: God. He can have a map of care. look, okay, that's it for this week. Thank you very much
Mark Dawson: We could, we could sell that to him. Is this good for his health? Yes. It's not, it's not as
heavy. Anyway, yes, carry on.
James Blatch: thank you to John Gaspard and that book again, if you want to get it, and I've got it on all
days, the popcorn principles on how novelists can use the same tips from
Hollywood to improve their books. and of course to our team who put this
podcast together. Thank you very much indeed, all of you. And thank you for
listening. That is it all that remains for me to say, is this a goodbye from him
Speaker 2: And a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Speaker 2: Goodbye. Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing
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