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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.

Show Notes

  • 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.

Speaker 2: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between

you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join

Indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a

light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show.

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.

Mark Dawson: Oh, yes, I did. We did forget. Yes. So her name is Gina Dana of no fixed abode, or at least

that not, not notified to us. So thank you very much, Gina, for supporting the

podcast and joins several hundred supporters who generously chip in once a

month and help us to do things like transcripts and all that kind of stuff, which is

not cheap. But we do like to do. Not everyone likes to listen. Some people like

to read. Yeah. So they could do that. So yes, thank you very much, Gina and

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.

James Blatch: I have been into the attic and there's some there's some merchandise. Perhaps I'm

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,

it's great.

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. Yes. The Titan.

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

the lobby.

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,

James Blatch: didn't ask you actually

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

admire six.

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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