Episode 1: Michael Arndt, “Endings”

Michael Arndt talks with OnWriting host Jordan Carlos about his free, video tutorial, ENDINGS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE INSANELY GREAT. In the video, the Academy Awar-winning screenwriter explores how great endings work with a close analysis of the climaxes of STAR WARS, THE GRADUATE, and his own screenplay, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

LISTEN HERE:

Click here to watch a video version of Arndt’s lectures ENDINGS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE INSANELY GREAT and BEGINNINGS: SETTING A STORY IN MOTION.

Arndt wrote the screenplays for LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) and TOY STORY 3 (2010). He also received shared screenplay credit for OBLIVION (2013), THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013), and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015).

OnWriting is a podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The show is hosted by Jordan Carlos. Mix, tech production, and original music are by StockBoy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on!


TRANSCRIPT

Jordan Carlos:    I’m Jordan Carlos. And you’re listening to On Writing, a screenwriting podcast from the Writer’s Guild of America East. This is a show about the stories we see on our screens and the people who make them happen. You’ll hear from writers on the film, TV, news, and digital media industries about their work. From pitching to production, from process to favorite lines, and everything in between.

Today, I’m speaking with screenwriter Michael Arndt about his video-lecture “Endings: The Good, The Bad, and The Insanely Great.” Michael’s first feature-link screenplay, “Little Miss Sunshine” earned him the Academy Award and the Writer’s Guild Award for Best Original Screenplay. He also wrote the screenplays for a few other low-budget, indie films like “Toy Story 3”, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” “Endings” explores how great film endings work through a close analysis of the climaxes of “Star Wars,” “The Graduate,” and “Little Miss Sunshine.” And Michael is clearly a generous man, because he has made “Endings” available to watch online for free. Just visit pandemoniuminc dot com slash endings dash video. We’ll also include a link to the video in our show notes so be sure to check it out.

Michael, thanks for joining us today. I ‘m not good at introduction at all.

Michael Arndt:  Yeah.

Jordan Carlos:    So I usually hold them until later.

Michael Arndt:  Got you.

Jordan Carlos:    But we are joined by Michael Arndt, who is a fantastic and amazing screenwriter. You’ve written “Little Miss Sunshine” and you also recently wrote the new, not the newest Star Wars, but Star Wars-

Michael Arndt:  Episode 7.

Jordan Carlos:    Episode 7, right?

Michael Arndt:  The Force Awakens.

Jordan Carlos:    The Force Awakens, that’s it. I really liked that one, as well.

Michael Arndt:  I guess I would joke that I have the distinction of being the first guy fired off as Star Wars franchise, recently.

Jordan Carlos:    Really?

Michael Arndt:  Like in the last couple of months.

Jordan Carlos:    Oh, man. I’m glad I brought that up. [crosstalk 00:01:51]

Hey, that’s a nice problem to have. I can imagine. But you’ve come today to talk about a documentary that you made, “Endings,” which was just phenomenal. I just watched it last night and I didn’t know, it was kind of like an unknown-unknown. I didn’t know I didn’t know all this stuff. It all just came together.

Michael Arndt:  About writing.

Jordan Carlos:    Yeah, about writing. I thought it was just some kind of [inaudible 00:02:12] but you basically blown the part and waived it in a good way to illustrate that the things that we love have a certain mechanism to them.

Michael Arndt:  Underlined structure.

Jordan Carlos:    And underlined structure. First of all, I want to know where did this documentary stand from with you? I’d love to know the evolution.

Michael Arndt:  The evolution of it is not really a documentary, it’s just a web-video. It’s just meant to live on the web so that it can be a resource for writers to go check it out and just get a few ideas if they’re ever stuck with their own writing to just go look and- I basically made it because there’s a documentary I wish, or is a web-video that I wish I had had 25 years ago when I first started writing.

In 1998, I had written a bunch of screenplays and they all had this edgy, downbeat on happy endings. And none of them had these screenplays, I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t have a producer, I didn’t have anything basically. So I’m sitting down writing screenplay number six and I was like, “Okay, maybe I should try doing something different.” My brilliant insight was that people actually prefer being happy to being unhappy, so maybe I should try writing happy endings. And I thought, “okay, not only am I going to write a happy ending, I’m going to write the happiest ending of all time. I’m going to write the happiest fucking ending possible.” My goal was to drive the audience insane with happiness. And I was thinking about what constitutes a happy ending.

For me, my favorite happy endings were the ones in which it looks like the worst possible thing is going to happen and then one second everything flips over in the best possible thing happens. So, I knew that that was the kind of ending that I wanted, but I didn’t know what the story was going to be attached to that ending. I spent like six months just trying to think of what story would lend itself to that kind of ending and I was thinking sports movie or romance, romantic comedy or something like that. And then finally one day I couldn’t think of anything and I was sitting at home watching TV of course, and there was an image footage of a child-beauty pageant and they’re always little, skinny, blonde girls parading around, prancing around in costumes. And i just thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be great if a little chubby girl got up there?” And you just thought that it was going to be the worst thing in the world. You just thought it was going to be the most humiliating, mortifying moment of her life and instead the music came on as she just starting dancing in [inaudible 00:04:11] Way and I was like I know that’s a good ending. I know that’s going to be a good ending.

Jump forward five years, I wrote Little Miss Sunshine, it got made into a movie and in the process of writing that screenplay, I really knuckled down and I was studying Star Wars, the ending of Star Wars a lot and trying to look at the mechanics of how a happy ending like that really works. I had a bunch of inchoate ideas about that and when I first got to Pixar, this was at the beginning of 2006, all the writers at Pixar got invited to go to a screenwriting expo in LA and just give a speech about screenwriting. So I said, “What would they want me to talk about?” And they said, “You can talk about anything you want.” So I said, “okay, I’m going to write- I’m just going to put together this little lecture about endings.”

I did that back in 2006 and it was since then I sort of being building on it and expanding it. I’ve given the lectures of it, at Disney, at Pixar, at Warner Brothers, but also sort of at Sundance, also gone down to Austin a couple of times. Toronto, Vancouver, Shanghai, I’ve gone all over the world-

Jordan Carlos:    At this point, I just watched it last night and I have to say that you are at the of it of being Jonah of screenwriting because you’re giving away some really good trade secrets for-

I just watched it and I was like, “Oh, that’s how I can improve my writing overnight.”

Michael Arndt:  I hope- if it’s helpful to you hopefully it will be helpful to other people.

Jordan Carlos:    It’s super helpful. You talk about the fact that we- I personally understood the more physical stakes, right? and kind of the internal stakes, but then I didn’t understand the third set which I’d love for you to describe right now.

Michael Arndt:  Again, I say in the video when I first started out, I read a book in which, as you say, people talk about the external stakes of your story and the internally, the emotional stakes of your story, but again, it was me watching the ending of Star Wars over and over again and going like, “Why is Obi-Wan come back and talk to Luke in his cock-pit, you know, when he’s sitting there trying to blow the Death Star” and I thought to myself, “finally” and this is the classic problem in screenwriting and the classic problem in storytelling in general is how does your good guy defeat your bad guy. How does your David defeat your Goliath? And it can just be that he’s stronger or that he can withstand more pain or something like that.

The way in which your good guy defeats your bad guys is important in that it speaks to the meaning of your story. I decided not only is there, in a good story, an external set of stakes and internal set of stakes, I feel like there is a philosophical set of stakes. I feel like a lot of times it gets clouded when people talk about theme, but what’s really going on- theme obscures the idea that what you really have often in a story is a contest between two sets of values and as I say in the video, usually there is a dominant set of values and there is a non-dominant set of values. It’s really the contest between these two values and the struggle between those values.

One of the value systems is going to prevail. Sometimes in a tragedy, the bad dies and prevails and that becomes a tragedy. The outcome of the struggle between those two value systems that are embedded in your story becomes the meaning of your story.

Jordan Carlos:    Right. So, those kind of value systems, in Star Wars I believe it was the philosophy of altruism and being there for someone else, that has its day when Han sweeps back in his will, correct?

Michael Arndt:  Well-

Jordan Carlos:    That’s also philosophical victory, correct?

Michael Arndt:  Right.

Jordan Carlos:    So that he kind of gets over himself and helps Luke out.

Michael Arndt:  I was just thinking about this yesterday and I never quite figured this out before. Actually, the ending of Star Wars is super brilliant because the way that you blow the Death Star is not just that Han becomes a team player, right? And you have your classic console moment where he comes back and he becomes a team player and he embraces the values of cooperation and democracy. But also just part of that you have a moment in which Luke is embracing- is using the force and embracing the force. It just seems like he pushes aside his computer targeting system and so all the other excellent pilots where there trying to shoot the target, but they weren’t using the force.

It’s really the way to defeat the bad guy in Star Wars is not just one thing it’s two things because A. you have to have Han come in and embrace the values of team work and cooperation but B. You also have to have Luke, and that speaks to sort of this broader notion of community. We should place the values of community over the values of individualism. Thirty seconds before that though, you have a bunch of team players with Luke and they’re all using their computer targeting systems to try and blow the Death Star and Luke is the one guy who doesn’t do what everyone else is doing. He is the one guy who listens to his heart or he listens to Obi-Wan in the cock-pit and he trusts his feelings and he pushes aside the computer targeting system.

What’s incredible to me, at least, about the ending of Star Wars is that you’re vindicating both those system values. You’re vindicating the progress of the individual, Luke in his cock-pit, plus but you’re also vindicating this notion that we can all do better in the world by working together.

Jordan Carlos:    Can I ask this, I think you mentioned in the documentary, that this kind of method is impossible to write, or not impossible, but hard to write the first time out? That it comes from subsequent drafts.

Michael Arndt:  Yes.

Jordan Carlos:    Okay, so what led you to that conclusion?

Michael Arndt:  There is no way that you can plan everything out going forward. The process of writing is figuring out what you think as you’re thinking it, basically. Then, going down a bunch of blind alleys and bumping your head into the wall and just stumbling around and it’s all trial and error.

Usually, the way I started screenplays is I get these huge delusional bursts of enthusiasm and I think, “this is going to be the greatest thing in the world.” And I sit down and I write my first draft and is not great. Then I go, “oh, but I know how to make it better and I do a second draft and then it’s still not great and then I do a third and a fourth draft and still not great and then at that point, you have to sort of sit down and go, “okay, what am I missing? What am I not seeing here?” And it’s that thing where you you come home, you try to plug it all in by yourself and when you totally fail you go, “okay. Now I have to sit down and actually read the directions on how to do it.”

I feel like this, hopefully, the video is when you get to your tenth draft and you’re banging your head against the wall and you’re going, “why is this story not working?” You can go, hopefully, perhaps, take a look at this video and it will give you some ideas as to how other films have worked. Actually do work. [crosstalk 00:10:27]

Jordan Carlos:    So this is a video for series writers.

Michael Arndt:  It’s for everybody. I was hoping to make it accessible to pretty much anybody. I have my little cartoon-y animation in it and stuff like that and I-

Jordan Carlos:    And it’s based on fairytales.

Michael Arndt:  It’s based on fairytales that’s the idea. The feel I structured goes back to Joseph Campbell, the structure based on the organic logic of how a narrative unfolds. If a narrative is about a character changing then there are ways that that happens over and over again in the history of storytelling.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes. Once upon a time, then this happened …

Michael Arndt:  And one day.

Jordan Carlos:    And then one day. Absolutely. My daughter is in the room, I’m always- shout out to her, I’m always making up stories like that. Or she is making up stories and they do follow that structure.

Michael Arndt:  It’s very helpful. Sometimes just as a screenwriter and I’ve done this with other writers or with my own script, you just go, “okay, forget about all your little jokes and stuff like that. Just tell me the story as if it were a fairytale. Just go, ‘Once upon a time there was a little girl in a basement and she’s watching TV and she wants to be a beauty queen. And she practiced every day with her grandpa, but she never got a chance and then one day her aunt Cindy called and the whole family didn’t know what to do and then they decided they all had to get into the VW bus and head off to down the beach.'”

But if you go back and start counting your story as if it were a fairytale, you can really clarify- you can feel where it starts to get fussy, you can feel where it starts to get weak and so I always feel like just going back to that classic structure is a great way to just beta-test around a story.

Jordan Carlos:    I really enjoyed the [inaudible 00:12:09] that you’ve given in writing any screenplay, but I have to ask, what’s your process? Do you cave? What’s your thing?

Michael Arndt:  It’s the old, delusional, burst-yourself confidence at the beginning. I mean, I say in the video that none of these ideas that I’m talking about help with the most important part of storytelling which is just come up with a great idea. And coming up with really great characters and coming up with something that’s going to make people lean forward and get excited. And also, I feel like there’s a value to audacity, something that’s going to feel a little bit dangerous that you’re doing.

Jordan Carlos:    Where were you when you wrote “Little Miss Sunshine”? Did you write it in a coffee shop, did you write it in your apartment?

Michael Arndt:  I was sitting on my ass in my little one bedroom walk-up in Brooklyn, basically.

Jordan Carlos:    Wow, which neighborhood? So people can get into- [crosstalk 00:12:53] which apartment number?

Michael Arndt:  I was right on the border between Bushwick and East Williamsburg, but this was 20 years ago.

Jordan Carlos:    That’s a heck of a border.

Michael Arndt:  Yeah.

Jordan Carlos:    Now it’s just East Williamsburg. Now it’s just Williamsburg proper. It’s okay, because the train don’t go there no more. It’s really getting taken away.

But so you made it all up in your apartment. I find it fascinating to see where people write, what moments- did you feel desperate? Did you have another job? Was it like [Shushank; 00:13:19] you were trying to dig out of a situation-

Michael Arndt:  No. The truth is, what happened was I had gotten out of film school and the rule of thumb always is that it takes ten years to break in as a screenwriter, right? It takes-

Jordan Carlos:    Or to be an [inaudible 00:13:32] filler.

Michael Arndt:  Exactly. So I was like, “okay, I’ll give myself ten years.” And I kind of really got serious when I was about 25 and so cut to ten years later I was 35 and nothing had happened. I’ve written a bunch of screenplays and there was- I just didn’t have an agent or anything like that. I entered a few contests, I got a little bit of good feedback, but there were a lot of people when I was starting off which basically nowhere. And had happened was, what really happened was at the time I was working as an assistant for Matthew Broderick, the actor. He got hired-

Jordan Carlos:    For an event.

Michael Arndt:  Yeah. I was the personal assistant. I’d go pick up the mail and walk the dog and stuff like that. And he got hired to star in Godzilla, and so for about nine months my salary was paid by Columbia Pictures instead of by Matthew himself and they gave me, for some reason, Columbia paid me a lot more and I was suddenly able to save up a bunch of money. So at the end of that year I had 25 thousand dollars in the bank and I thought, “I can either spend this to get a nicer apartment or I could go on a vacation or I could buy a car, something like that,” and I was like, “All I want,” at this point I had a bunch of ideas in my head, and I just felt, you know when you’re a writer and you’re just starting out, one of the biggest problems is when you have time to write.

You can write on the weekends, you can try and write when you come home from work, but that’s exhausting and the thing that you’re longing for most as a writer is just the time to have everybody leave you alone so you can sit down and write.

Jordan Carlos:    Time is money, but money is also time.

Michael Arndt:  Money is also time and I figured I had this money in the bank and I basically quit my job and I gave myself a year to get all my screenplays written and the hope was that I would get an agent during that time. So I basically, I sat down and wrote seven screenplays in one year and “Little Miss Sunshine” was one of them. And at the end of that time, there were two scripts that seemed like they were the strongest candidates and I sent both of them to a friend of mine, Karen Casama, and she had just directed Girl Fight and got signed with the Endeavor Agency.

She read both scripts and she liked “Little Miss Sunshine” better. She said, “Can I give this to my agent, Tom Strickler?” And so I said, “Yes, please.” Then I waited six weeks and I didn’t hear anything.

I was really on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I really thought that if there were good news I would’ve heard it after six weeks. I sort of thought if there’s some- because at this point my mom was saying things like, “hey Mike, isn’t there something else you want to do besides writing screenplays?” Plus I was out of money, I burnt through most of my money, so-

Jordan Carlos:    The Godzilla money.

Michael Arndt:  I was going to have to go back and get another job again.

Jordan Carlos:    Godzilla 2, maybe. Yeah.

Michael Arndt:  Something like that. I was thinking I was going to be a clerk in a rental store or something like that- in a video rental store. Anyway, after six weeks Tom called me back and said, “I read your screenplay, I think we can do something with it.” Yeah. It took a couple of months, but the screenplay sold and then it took four more years.

Jordan Carlos:    It’s kind of crazy, right? To have a career in New York in the applied arts. Do you feel like to be an artist in New York, to be a writer in New York, and just try to break in New York City is tough because it’s all out in Los Angeles, right?

Michael Arndt:  It’s all out in Los Angeles and I think that A. I was lucky that everything was so cheap back then in Williamsburg. You could go to Domino’s and get ants for four dollars instead of 50 dollars. It was just great, and those were the days, man. It was cheap in Brooklyn. I also went to film school in NYU and when I got out I was like, “Should I move to LA or should I stay in New York?” I chose to stay in New York in a weird way. I probably could have broken in a lot more quickly if I’ve gone to LA. But I don’t think I would’ve ever …

Michael Arndt:  -broken in a lot more quickly if I’d gone to LA, but I don’t think I would’ve ever written Little Miss Sunshine if I’d been in LA, because I hesitated for a long time to write it, I just thought it was too small, and too kind of indy, and I just thought “Who’s going to care about this little girl and her body image issues?”

Jordan Carlos:    Turns out the world.

Michael Arndt:  Yeah a lot of people did, but it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing that you would hang a feature film on, so I finally wrote it just kind of to get it out of my head, you know?

Vladimir Nabokov had this great line, somebody asked him why does he write the novels that he writes, and he just said “To get them out of my head.”

Jordan Carlos:    And that’s how you feel about

Michael Arndt:  That’s especially how I feel about this video.

Jordan Carlos:    Yeah, that’s what I was going to say.

Michael Arndt:  I’ve been giving this lecture for ten years now, and I’m like “Ugh, I am so tired of these ideas,” I just want to be done with it.

Jordan Carlos:    So what is it about the last two minutes of a film? I mean, sometimes, I always hear it’s the last ten minutes, you say it’s the last two.

Michael Arndt:  To me, it’s the last two because, an it’s amazing when you look at the ending of Star Wars or the ending of The Graduate, like it breaks down to almost exactly two minutes, from the time Obi Wan starts talking to Luke to the time he goes “Remember the force will be with you,” it’s almost exactly two minutes. You can time it. Or from the time Ben runs into the church to where he runs out of the church, it’s two minutes.

And again I think, this is the hardest thing about any kind of ending like this, is that you want, to give a little bit of a spoiler, you want to have your external stakes, your internal stakes, and your philosophical stakes all seem on the verge of defeat, you want them all to turn over, and in a logical connected with each other, and in as close proximity to each other as possible. So you want it to all happen as quickly as possible, and it’s really, really, really hard to figure out endings in which your three climaxes, philosophical, external, and internal are all happening right together with each other.

Jordan Carlos:    Oh my gosh, yeah.

Michael Arndt:  But if you can do that, it’s great. If you can do that your audience will have this total explosion of euphoria because it’s all happening so quickly, but getting all those climaxes as close to each other as possible, is I think, one of the most difficult things in screenwriting.

Jordan Carlos:    A total death star explosion.

Michael Arndt:  Exactly.

Jordan Carlos:    Exactly.

Michael Arndt:  Exactly.

Jordan Carlos:    So let me ask this, so you have three films of course, that are in the vid, you’ve got Little Miss Sunshine, The Graduate, and of course, Star Wars. Are there any that didn’t make the cut that you find still satisfying, but just you didn’t have time to include, or?

Michael Arndt:  Yeah, no, I mean people have asked me, one of the questions I get a lot is “Are there other ways to write an ending?” I’m like “Of course there are!”

There’s tons and tons of great endings out there. What I’ve called “The Insanely Great Model,” is only a small subset of the kind of endings that you can do.

Jordan Carlos:    But what about a great ending? See, that’s the hard part. Like you can write all these different kinds of endings, but at least just one, just give me one good ending, you know? People struggle to make one good ending.

Michael Arndt:  Yeah, no, exactly.

Jordan Carlos:    That’s what I mean.

Michael Arndt:  Exactly. Oh, I would just, to me, I mean my favorite ending of all time is Late Spring, by Ozu. The Ozu film from ’48.

Jordan Carlos:    I don’t know that one.

Michael Arndt:  Oh, it’s really great. I mean it’s such a heartbreaker.

Jordan Carlos:    We’re going to cut that out, that I don’t know a film.

Michael Arndt:  I made a list here actually, it’s Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, that’s a great ending, doesn’t subscribe to the ‘Insanely Great,’ formula at all. Late Spring by Ozu, also My Neighbors the Yamadas the Isao Takahata animated film, such a great ending. So great, and just nothing at all to do with external or internal stakes or anything like that. Also I love Pan’s Labyrinth, that was a really smart ending.

Jordan Carlos:    That I’ve seen.

Michael Arndt:  Yeah.

Jordan Carlos:    Okay, now we’re back on track.

Michael Arndt:  If people want to talk about alternative story strategies, I would recommend reading Paul Schrader’s book, ‘Transcendental Style in Film,’ and he’s just issued, I’m going to give him a big plug, he’s just issued a new release of his book, it was his doctoral thesis, and he just wrote a new forward in it, and he talks all about what he calls “Slow cinema,” and he’s talking bout Ozu, Bresson, and Dryer, but he talks about a very different model of storytelling than the one I’m talking about here, and it’s brilliant. It’s a great analysis of how a different kind of storytelling works.

Jordan Carlos:    A stillness, is that what you mean, or?

Michael Arndt:  He’s talking about how, well you have to read Schrader, because he’s so eloquent on this, but I’ll just say it’s ‘Transcendental Style in Film,’ gets a big thumbs up from me.

Jordan Carlos:    Okay, okay. Where have you seen it lately at the box office?

Michael Arndt:  A really great ending?

Jordan Carlos:    Yeah.

Michael Arndt:  You know, there’s, I feel like there’s a lot of good endings out there, but something that’s insanely great, like something that you just go “Oh my god that was so great,” those kind of endings don’t come along very often. I’d say, I talk about 8 1/2, the Fellini film, that’s a great, great, great ending, and that actually, that’s an ending that sort of does subscribe to the ‘Insanely Great,’ model, because he’s not going to make the film, he’s alienated from his wife, and he hasn’t been able to figure out a coherent and unitary story about his own life.

Jordan Carlos:    About his own life, yeah.

Michael Arndt:  And he climb, he goes to the press conference, climbs on the table and shoots himself, and then the next scene is they’re tearing down the sets, they’re not making the film, and then you have this great, what I call the “Antagonist’s Aria,” of his screenwriter saying “It’s better that you didn’t make the movie,” like if we artists, if we can’t come up with something perfect, it’s better for us to remain silent, and it’s this great, again, antagonist’s aria, where you’re having the bad guy’s values articulated by your hero’s closest ally.

Jordan Carlos:    If we can just speak for a moment about the antagonist’s aria, it’s a term that you coined, correct?

Michael Arndt:  Yeah, I just came up with, I think that a lot of times, especially in something like a superhero film or an action film, those films tend to be antogonist driven, like it’s, you know, usually James Bond is not driving the plot, James Bond is trying to stop, you know, Blowfield or whoever is actually driving the plot forward. So it’s you antogonist who’s actually the narrative locomotive or engine that’s driving the story forward, and I feel like it’s super, to me, a lot of times your villain, or your antogonist is the organizing principle upon which the whole story turns, because they are the most virulent embodiment of the dominant values of that universe. They’re the apotheists, they’re the spokesmen of it, and I feel like it’s always very important to have your bad guy, or the person who represents the forces of antagonism, to give voice to those values, and to say “Here’s the way that this world works, buddy, and you better get with the program.”

I’ll give you a small example, and I was just thinking about this, we’re all familiar with the antagonist’s aria in a superhero film, or Die Hard or whatever, right? But there’s a great antagonist’s aria in The Big Lebowski, right? Because your inciting incident right is they come and they pee on his carpet, right?

Jordan Carlos:    They micturated on his rug. It was a valued rug.

Michael Arndt:  It tied the room together. So then The Dude, he goes and he just wants, he goes to confront the real Lebowski, and the real Lebowski, no one’s more laid back than the dude, right? He’s the most laid back. So of course your antogonist has to represent the opposite ethos, so there’s nobody more uptight, basically, and achievement oriented, then the real Lebowski. And he gives this great speech where he goes “The bums lost, Lebowski, condolences the bums lost,” and then Jeff Bridges walks out of there and it’s this great thing that, it makes Jeff Bridges’ laid backness heroic, because you’re creating this universe where everybody is kind of uptight and on edge, and that stands in stark relief or contrast to The Dude, you know?

I just was thinking about this recently, like how important that scene with the real Lebowski is, just in making you like The Dude, and making you root for him, because you’re introducing this antogonist, this bad guy, who is so uptight, and so tightly wound, that you naturally then, sympathetically side with The Dude, and he becomes this heroic figure.

Jordan Carlos:    I have to say, I now see it everywhere, because I was watching one of our great American films, Captain Underpants this morning with my daughter and my son, and my son asked for it by saying “Tra La La,” which is Captain Underpants’, I don’t know if you have kids, or anything like that yet.

Michael Arndt:  I’m looking forward to it.

Jordan Carlos:    Okay, alright, well, that is the kind of cinema that I’ve been watching as of late, but even in that movie there is that antagonist’s aria, which is spelled out by the principal, who says “I’m trying to run a very drone like, beehive school, and your pranks are stopping all of that.”

Michael Arndt:  Yeah, there you go.

Jordan Carlos:    I couldn’t believe it.

Michael Arndt:  The other thing that’s really important though is, that you want your villain to be smart, and I think that you want your villain’s point of view not to just be “Aha I’m a mean guy and I like doing bad things to people,” but they just say “Look here’s the way the world works,” so if you go It’s A Wonderful Life, with Mr. Potter, you go through the whole movie, and everyone goes “Who’s the richest man in town? That’s Mr. Potter!,” he has the most money. Even George Bailey goes “Well gee Mr. Potter you’re the richest man in town, everybody knows that.”

Jordan Carlos:    Yeah.

Michael Arndt:  You know, so that even George Bailey is seeing the world through Mr. Potter’s eyes, which is, he’s the richest man in town, he did everything right in life, and he’s going to basically take over the town if George Bailey kills himself, and it’s only when you get to the end, right? George Bailey solves his internal problem, which is “I want to live again, I want to live again, I love my wife, I love my family.” He solves his external problem which is “George, George, it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle, we have $8,000!” blah blah blah, but George Bailey still feels like he’s a loser, right? ‘Cause he never left Bedford Falls, he never went to the big city, he never made a huge fortune, he never became a rich man like Mr. Potter until his war hero brother flies through the blizzard, raises a toast and goes “To George Bailey, the richest man in town,” and now you’re inverting the meaning of “riches,” are, right?

You’re going from a literal, a shallow, literal reading of the word “riches,” to a deeper, sort of more poetic, more metaphorical meaning of the word “riches,” but up until that moment, you thought that Mr. Potter was right, you thought that Mr. Potter, and he was right, he is right, your villain is right in the most literal minded way, and a lot of times your hero’s epiphany is just changing the meaning of a single word.

Jordan Carlos:    So this feels like, this video feels like a very good reaction to what you see on a landscape right now. What are you seeing? Are you discouraged by what we see at the box office now, or?

Michael Arndt:  I’m actually pretty optimistic.

Jordan Carlos:    Oh you are? Okay, good, okay.

Michael Arndt:  I feel like, I mean, I think we have some of the most –

Jordan Carlos:    ‘Cause it felt like a pounding on the desk, like “Okay, let me, you know, this has gone on for far too long.”

Michael Arndt:  I’ll just say that I feel like we have a bunch of incredibly talented directors, and a lot of incredibly talented writers out there doing incredibly great work, and I think that I’ll just say, Alfonso Cuaron, Paul Thomas Anderson, Inarritu, all the usual suspects are these incredible directors making these incredible films, and so, to me, the art of cinema, as long as there’s a handful of directors out there that are able to kind of get the money to do what they want, you know, something like Moonlight is just so beautiful, it’s great, and you go “As long as there’s a handful of films that come along each year like Moonlight, or whatever, name your favorite, I think cinema is healthy.”

And so in terms of storytelling, it’s a tricky thing because audiences are getting smarter and smarter and smarter, and you can’t really do a Star Wars ending anymore. If you just set it up between good guys and bad guys, what made Star Wars work in 1977 was that, for the previous decade, you had your good guys getting killed, like Butch and Sundance got killed, the guys in Easy Rider got killed, Cool Hand Luke got killed, all the good guys for ten years were getting crushed by the system, so that when you got to 1977 we’d had ten years of good guys getting killed, so when Luke actually lived at the end you really thought “Oh my god,” like Luke might die.

Jordan Carlos:    He’s locked on, yeah.

Michael Arndt:  If you set it up as an A or B choice, the good guys are going to win, or the bad guys are going to win, right now your audiences know that the good guy’s going to win, and the only question is how you’re going to do it, so what I was trying to do with Little Miss Sunshine, for example, is you create a false choice, you go like door number one is that she wins the contest, but you don’t really want that, because it’s cheesy, right?

Door number two is that she loses the contest, but you don’t want that, because it’s awful, you know, and it’s going be horrible.

And so you hopefully are creating a situation which your audience doesn’t see any good outcome possible, and then you open door number three, which nobody saw coming, hopefully, and that’s what I think works about that ending is that you’re opening up this sort of new possibility that your audience didn’t see.

Jordan Carlos:    Well this introduction of the philosophical arc, I mean, how important, listen, we both are swimming in the same soup, we know what’s going on in the world.

Michael Arndt:  We’re all trying to write good stories.

Jordan Carlos:    We’re all trying to write good stories.

Michael Arndt:  We’re all in the same boat together.

Jordan Carlos:    Right, how important do you see it to people’s every day? Like the philosophical battles that they see onscreen, right, because Americans more and more are watching TV, we’re watching movies more than ever. What are the philosophical stakes for you as a screenwriter?

Michael Arndt:  I think that, I mean this is a great question, because I feel like one of the things you’re also battling as a screenwriter is the so what factor. You go like, okay, I say in the video, the hero got the pretty girl and got the bag of money, but like, so what?

Or the heroine, the girl, she got the dream job that she always wanted, and she got the cute guy, you know, and she overcame her rival, but so what, you know?

And so this is why, again, I feel like it’s important to pay attention to how your hero is either going to prevail or not prevail, because again, it’s speaking to an underlying set of values that are embedded in your story, and if you can convincingly create a contest between two value systems and you have one that’s saying “You should live your life,” let’s just say “You should live your life pursuing money,” or “You should live your life pursuing love,” right? And you just go, okay, those are two valid points of view, and you’re just going to create a story about that, you could have either one of those values prevail in the end, let’s say you want this to be about the triumph of love –

Jordan Carlos:    Over money, right.

Michael Arndt:  Then all you do is you want to create a situation where it’s 99 to 1, it looks like pursuing money was the smart way to live your life, right? Then you go, oh the poor hero was just a fool to bet al his chips on love, because it’s just not going to work out for him, and when you turn that all around, and you go, because he stuck to his guns, he or she got exactly what they wanted, then people can walk out of the theater and they make a choice, they go “I’m going to wake up in the morning, I’m going to eat my Cheerios, and what am I going to do with my life? Am I gonna spend an extra four hours at work sucking up to my boss, or am I going to go home and play with my kids and like cook dinner for my wife?”

And so I feel like the having –

Jordan Carlos:    I say suck up to boss. You gotta stay paid.

Michael Arndt:  I think we all do.

Jordan Carlos:    Can you tell me this? Can you name a movie that got it wrong? Are you at liberty to say one?

Michael Arndt:  Well, I’ll just say that, there’s no wrong, it’s whatever you choose. Whatever you want your story to be, I think that if you look at Shakespeare, a lot of times, I’ll just go to the end of Lear.

The end of Lear he loses the kingdom, it falls into chaos. He loses Cordelia, you know, Cordelia dies at the end, and his other daughters betray him, but Shakespeare gives Lear this moment of lucidity at the end, it’s right before Cordelia dies, where he started off as this [inaudible 00:32:34] foolish old man, he starts off as the most vain person in the world, and there’s this great moment where they come to arrest him, they come to arrest both Cordelia and Lear, and they’re like “Okay, buddy, we’re taking you to jail, we’re taking you to prison,” and Cordelia goes “No, no you can’t, he’s the King, you can’t put him in prison,” and Lear has this great speech where he goes “No no no, let’s go to prison, it’s okay, like, we’ll laugh and pray and sing and tell old tales and laugh and build butterflies, and take upon us the mystery of things as if we were God’s spies,” and he’s [inaudible 00:33:02] this ultimate humility, that as long as he can be with Cordelia he’s happy, and it’s just a great moment, it’s a great moment of internal transformation, so that even though you get, and then, you know, you have this horrible, gut wrenching thing that Cordelia dies, you know, and “You men are of stones, had I your tongues and eyes I’d use them so that heaven’s fault should crack,” sorry I’m quoting Shakespeare, but –

Jordan Carlos:    This is a first on the podcast.

Michael Arndt:  But you can have your hero fail externally, you can have your hero fail internally, but a lot of times what you want to do, if you can just give them, not even a victory philosophically, but just a moment of lucidity, or a moment of clarity about their own life, that’s something that’s satisfying to the audience. That’s something that, again, they can put in their pocket, and walk out of the theater and go “Oh my god, I’m not going to be so arrogant, I’m not going to be an arrogant old man when I grow older, or whatever.”

So that’s hopefully the takeaway.

Jordan Carlos:    Well I feel like this has given me a way to watch movies, because usually, you now, I suspend my disbelief, hopefully I liked it, I don’t know, but this has given me-

Jordan Carlos:    …I suspend my disbelief, hope you liked it, I don’t know, da da da, but this has given me, like, I love to add a kind of like, like an augmented kind of reality, where you’re like okay, well is it pumping on all these pistons…

Michael Arndt:  Is it firing on all cylinders?

Jordan Carlos:    Yes, is it firing on all cylinders? You know, and I love that. I want that.

Michael Arndt:  It’s funny how you can, listen man, I’ve watched the last, that climactic few minutes of Graduate, I’ve watched it like 100 times.

Jordan Carlos:    Me too.

Michael Arndt:  With an audience.

Jordan Carlos:    I love it.

Michael Arndt:  With an audience, it always works with an audience. Like it’s incredible. You just feel it. You just go, this engine is revving high and it’s firing on all cylinders. And you just, like a good story, when it’s working, you just feel it.

Jordan Carlos:    But I did think, and please, disagree with me, the final shot does have a bit of melancholy in it.

Michael Arndt:  Yes, this is, I’m glad you brought that up. Because this is a question I always get, and I was almost going to put this as an addendum in the video because when I’ve shown this video I’ve given this lecture, there’s always somebody in the audience that raises their hand and said well, the ending of The Graduate isn’t a happy ending, right, because they’re sitting on the bus, they look lost, they look like they don’t know what they’re going to do, and they could break up tomorrow, blah blah blah. And so my answer to that is, in a story, the problem that you’re solving at the end of your story is the problem that you set up at the beginning of your story.

So if you go back to the beginning of The Graduate, Ben is talking to his father in his bedroom, but he’s not saying Dad, you know, I want to meet the girl of my dreams and I want to fall in love and I want to get married and I want to find my life partner. Like that’s not Ben’s problem at the beginning of the story. He says, I’m worried about my future, what about, I just want it to be different. So what Ben is concerned about on page five, basically, page one practically, of the story is this question of, is he going to be a conformist, materialist like his parents, or is it going to be somehow different.

So when Ben runs in the church, right, and he’s looking down and he’s seeing Elaine and Carl there, it’s the drama of conformity versus nonconformity. The choice that he’s making is, is he going to be like everybody else and like walk out of the church quietly and go get a job in a plastics factory somewhere, or is he going to just follow his feelings and listen to his heart and start beating on the window and calling out Elaine, Elaine, even though it seems like a futile gesture. So because he follows his heart, because he’s a nonconformist, right, he, you’re tipping the whole fulcrum towards nonconformity, he is literally running out of the church, grabbing the princess out of the dragon’s cave, and running out. And it’s a triumph of nonconformity over nonconformity. So I would say that Ben got what he wanted, and it doesn’t, in a weird way it doesn’t matter if he and Elaine are going to stay together or break up the next day.

Jordan Carlos:    Right.

Michael Arndt:  Because what they both wanted was to live a different life than their parents, basically. So it is a happy ending, and it’s just not a happy ending in terms of the romance. You don’t know what’s going to happen.

Jordan Carlos:    But Nichols is like that, though. That was what’s great about Mike Nichols was he wasn’t going to give you, it was just a little…

Michael Arndt:  It’s just really smart. It’s like you’re giving your audience so much sugar at the end that you want to take a little bit of lemon and squeeze it on top, right?

Jordan Carlos:    Oooo, absolutely.

Michael Arndt:  It has a little bit of like tang to it.

Jordan Carlos:    I always liken it to, I don’t know if you’re a dork like me and love Lord of the Rings, but just like the balrog, when they’re escaping through and they’re about to cross the bridge, you know, he takes Gandalf with him. You know. He’s able to…

Michael Arndt:  I’m lost. I don’t remember, I don’t remember, sorry.

Jordan Carlos:    You’re lost? Well I was lost in Ozone. So now we’re both equally lost. Anyway, Izzy gets it. Let me ask you this. What do you hope to inspire from writers that might like be listening to this podcast, you know, like, that are in their little cellars, and you know, in their root basements and hopefully, yes…

Michael Arndt:  I’m just hoping I can solve just sort of some basic nuts and bolts problems. And I’ll give you an example that I mentioned before we started the interview, which was one of the reasons I feel like it’s important to know what’s philosophically at stake in your story is that it can help you figure out things like the geography of your third act. If you look at a story like The Wizard of Oz or you look at Apocalypse Now…Wizard of Oz, big fan?

Jordan Carlos:    Oh my gosh, she loves, Izzy, you like Wizard of Oz, right? That’s right. What happens? Does the Tin Man get his heart?

Michael Arndt:  Yes.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes, absolutely. Okay, she’s you know…

Michael Arndt:  But he had a heart all along. He had heart all along.

Jordan Carlos:    He did all along, my gosh, right. So you’re saying The Wizard of Oz, I’m sorry.

Michael Arndt:  So The Wizard of Oz and Apocalypse Now, basically have the same structure, which is you start off at home, more or less, you know, you’re in Saigon or whatever…

Jordan Carlos:    Lot of violence…

Michael Arndt:  You go on the road, you’re going up the river, or you’re going along the Yellow Brick Road, but you end up in the worst place in the world, right? You end up either in Kurtz’s compound or you end up in the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle. This is a classic thing, it’s the same in Lord of the Rings, right? You start at home, you go on the road, you end up at Mount Doom. So what’s important about knowing what’s the governing ethos of the universe you’ve created is, in Star Wars for example, the governing ethos is violence and coercion, right? That’s what drives that whole universe. So the worst place in the world in Star Wars is the Death Star, because it’s the ultimate epitome, the apotheosis of violence and coercion, right?

If you’re, in The Graduate, you know, it’s all about like bourgeois conformity, right? So the Death Star of bourgeois conformity is a church in Santa Barbara with a wedding going on. Like that’s the Death Star of bourgeois conformity. In Little Miss Sunshine, the Little Miss Sunshine universe is all about like mindless competition. So the Death Star of mindless competition is the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.

So if you’re knowing what’s philosophically at stake in your story, is going to help you figure out where to locate the ending of your story so that your hero is going into the dragon’s cave, whatever the dragon is, whatever, if it’s bourgeois conformity, if it’s violence and coercion, if it’s mindless competition, whatever the dragon is that your hero is fighting has to be in that cave and your hero’s now got to go in and confront the worst thing in the world.

Jordan Carlos:    So you figured this out on your own. But Michael, I want to ask you like, it feels like you’ve got, like you’re very, like I said before, the Jonas Salk reference I made, you’re giving this away essentially for free. Are those the kind of values that you uphold? Are you a believer in the force? Like what, what’s your deal?

Michael Arndt:  I’m really a [Jedi 00:39:55]. Yes, no, I just, I mean for a long time I hesitated to turn this into a video because I though oh, I’ll get sued by the powers that be, right, for using these clips from The Graduate and from Star Wars. And that could still happen, I don’t know, we’ll see.

Jordan Carlos:    Hope not.

Michael Arndt:  Hope not, knock on wood.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes, yes.

Michael Arndt:  And then I finally, you know, I was so tired of like going around and giving this lecture and I really wanted to just turn it into a video. And I talked to my lawyer and he’s like, as long as you’re not charging money for it, as long as you’re using it for educational purposes, it falls under fair use, you can do whatever you want.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes.

Michael Arndt:  And I feel like, you know, people have said well why don’t you turn it into a book, but I feel like a book doesn’t work the same as a video, because you’re able to just show those moments of help me, Obi Wan, you’re my only help. Again, a lot of this was just, I had all these ideas in my head and I just wanted to get them out of my head and put them [crosstalk 00:40:40]

Jordan Carlos:    Is it something that you enjoy doing, do you enjoy teaching? Do you…

Michael Arndt:  No, it’s really, it’s just, you know, it’s a way of procrastinating, basically. Like anything is…

Jordan Carlos:    How is this progressing?

Michael Arndt:  It’s like going to the gym. It’s like any way that you can avoid writing, you know, is you know just distracting yourself with something else.

Jordan Carlos:    Do you mean being more efficient in your writing? Like because I feel that I don’t know how you write, but do you avoid writing sometimes?

Michael Arndt:  I avoid writing all the time. Like constantly…

Jordan Carlos:    We’re doing this podcast.

Michael Arndt:  Yes, exactly. I feel like that’s all I do.

Jordan Carlos:    Are you on assignment right now? What’s going on? Oh my gosh. Do you have some Avengers draft to turn in, or what’s going on?

Michael Arndt:  I’m trying to focus on writing originals, but it’s always easier to go critique somebody else’s script or think about story structure like in a general way than to sort of like sit down in the chair and actually confront your own screenplay that doesn’t work, right? Like that’s always the frustrating thing is that you open it up and you’re like oy, this thing still doesn’t work. And so part of putting this thing together for me was looking at these examples, these shining examples, you know. The Graduate is such a great ending.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes.

Michael Arndt:  To me at least Star Wars was the ending that taught me how to write an ending. And you go like, what’s going on here that makes it work so well.

Jordan Carlos:    I would just say this, it also helps, there’s some, like I’m figuring out a script right now myself. And there’s elements that I put in that I don’t know why I do.

Michael Arndt:   Right.

Jordan Carlos:    You know what I’m saying? So those kind of, to articulate and to kind of like suss through why you’re doing it, I think is very helpful.

Michael Arndt:  Well it’s interesting because like, when I wrote Little Miss Sunshine, right, you’re just, the rule of thumb is you’re always trying to make things worse for your protagonist. And so you get to the Little Miss Sunshine contest, you get right down to the end, she’s about to go on, and I’m like okay, what’s the worst thing that could happen to Olive at this moment? And it’s like, instinctively I’m like the worst thing is that her brother Dwayne goes backstage and confronts Cheryl the mom and says I don’t want Olive going on. She’s not a beauty queen, mom, she’s just not. And Olive overhears that.

Jordan Carlos:    Mmmm.

Michael Arndt:  I mean, that’s a heartbreaking moment. I remember writing that, but I just did it out of instinct, because you just go like, that’s a really bad thing to happen to your hero and it makes Olive all the more brave when she decides she’s going to get up, put her hat on, and go dance anyway. But it was only when I go back, and you look at The Graduate or Star Wars, and you go, oh, there’s a repeated gesture here, which is your hero’s closest ally, Han Solo, at the beginning of the third act, turns his back on Luke and turns his back on the good values of the whole story and leaves. And says, I’ve got my money, I’m out of here.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes.

Michael Arndt:  There’s the moment in The Graduate when Mr. Robinson shows up, takes Elaine away, and she writes this letter to Ben and says you know, you must understand, my father is so angry, I love you but it would never work. And again, it’s your hero’s closest ally is stabbing your hero in the back philosophically. And I had done that just by instinct with Dwayne and Little Miss Sunshine going backstage. But when you, I mean this is why it’s nice to just map stuff out because you go, oh, it wasn’t just a random thought I had. Like that instinct is born out of a…it’s really born out of the organic logic of narrative. That you’re just trying to make things worse and worse and worse for your hero.

Jordan Carlos:    Or the ancient organic logic of narrative, you know. I mean it goes back and back.

Michael Arndt:  But you’re just trying to make things as bad as possible for your hero as they head into the climax.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes, yes. And you do that very well. Well, what’s next for you?

Michael Arndt:  I’m just trying to focus on original scripts and I have a comedy that I’m working on.

Jordan Carlos:    What are those seven that you wrote in a year? Did you take what you’ve got here and look back and like try to apply them?

Michael Arndt:  Out of those seven I have like, I don’t know, 10 or 12 unproduced scripts sitting around. But there’s probably six of those that I’m willing to write off and just go, those were just bad ideas, so there’s no salvaging them.

Jordan Carlos:    Aren’t there any angels with a dirty face, that you’re like, you know, I’ve gotta do something with this.

Michael Arndt:  There’s a couple, there’s a couple that I’m like you know, that wasn’t a bad idea. Like and I just didn’t know how to execute it at the time. So there’s a couple that I’ve gone back to and started sort of like putting on the back burner. But you’re always getting new ideas also and you’re always excited by like, the latest idea that you’ve had, so I’ve got a couple of, you know, irons in the fire, but there’s one that’s sort of closest to being finished, and it’s a comedy, and…

Jordan Carlos:    And you’re working on it currently?

Michael Arndt:  I’m working on it right now.

Jordan Carlos:    Okay, great. And do you make your home here or Los Angeles?

Michael Arndt:  I’m in LA. Excuse me, I’m not in LA. I’m in New York.

Jordan Carlos:    It’s all right, man. You’re all over.

Michael Arndt:  I’m in, I’ve always been in New York. I spent one year in LA when I was working on Star Wars, but other than that. And then I was in San Francisco off and on for five years when I was working at Pixar.

Jordan Carlos:    Oh, okay. Cool.

Michael Arndt:  But other than that I’ve just been in New York.

Jordan Carlos:    So what is it like to be in New York as a writer? Do you often go to LA? Do you go back and forth?

Michael Arndt:  I go back and forth a lot. Actually my mom lives out there, so it’s…

Jordan Carlos:    Are you from Los Angeles?

Michael Arndt:  No, I’m from DC, actually…

Jordan Carlos:    That was my second guess.

Michael Arndt:  My dad worked in the State Department, so I grew up actually in India and Sri Lanka also when I was a kid. Yes.

Jordan Carlos:    So you seem like a very narrow-minded person.

Michael Arndt:  Yes, exactly. I try to be, at least.

Jordan Carlos:    No experiences whatsoever. Never exposed to anything.

Michael Arndt:  But I think that the, just to go back to your question about New York, there’s something about…

Jordan Carlos:    Do you like the give and take here?

Michael Arndt:  I think that, I’ll just put it this way, when you’re making a film in New York, it seems like this heroic thing. It seems like you’re getting away with something…

Jordan Carlos:    Don’t it, don’t it?

Michael Arndt:  It feels like you’ve pulled off a heist or something like that because you’re actually making a film in New York, and you’ve got the money, and you’re doing it. And in LA…

Jordan Carlos:    It’s a robbery as opposed to a heist, because we have blueprints? Why do people…now there’s a good question. Why do people like heists more than robberies? I have no idea.

Michael Arndt:  Because heists are like vacations. It’s like all the pleasure’s in the planning.

Jordan Carlos:    You’re totally right. You’re totally right. And maybe De Niro will lead the crew. You’re right.

Michael Arndt:  But I think that just in New York, like, there’s something just magical about making a movie in New York, and when you’re in LA, it’s such a, it’s just so commonplace out there that it just lacks that sense of magic to it.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes. So you want to keep that. And is that the spark that kind of lights the flame in what you do?

Michael Arndt:  Yes, I guess. I mean, I just, you know, I just love movies.

Jordan Carlos:    Are you a subway guy? Do you take the subway?

Michael Arndt:  Actually, I took the subway every day when I was living in Brooklyn for almost 20 years. And when I moved to Brooklyn I was a young guy on the subway, and when I left I was the old guy on the subway.

Jordan Carlos:    So how do you keep it fresh? How do you keep your writing fresh, how do you keep your ear for dialogue and things like that?

Michael Arndt:  I think that you, my advice is always, just do the thing that makes you excited. Do the thing that you feel passionate about. And I feel like a lot of times, if your script is starting to feel like homework, like if it’s starting to feel like ugh, like I have to deal with this thing again, sometimes you cheat on your own script and you sneak off and you have like a little affair with another script that you’re working on. And you can get a lot done when nobody’s looking. And you’re just working on, you put aside your science fiction epic and you work on your, you know, small comedy or something like that.

Or if you’re sick and tired of your small comedy, you put it aside and you work on something else. But I always just feel like, eat the dessert first. Like that’s my philosophy. It’s just like, whatever is the thing that you most want to consume, put that right in front of you and do that right now, because that’s, you know, the problem always is, you wake up in the morning, what’s going to make you excited to sit down and write? And I just go, like, don’t treat it like it’s homework. Like find the fun in it. I think that, just for me, either find what delights you the most or the thing that outrages you the most. And that’s going to be a good guide to writing.

Jordan Carlos:    Well, I think that is a great ending. I think that is an insanely great ending.

Michael Arndt:  It was only okay, it was only okay.

Jordan Carlos:    No, it was good. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot ever since I watched the video. And I appreciate you making it. I really do.

Michael Arndt:  I hope people find it useful. Again, I’ll just say, it’s the video I wish I had had 25 years ago when I first started out.

Jordan Carlos:    It’s definitely Prometheus fire. And that is not an understatement.

Michael Arndt:  Well, I hope people find it helpful. That’s all I can say.

Jordan Carlos:    Yes, of course. Michael Arndt, I thank you so much for sitting down and taking the time to talk to us.

Michael Arndt:  Thanks so much for inviting me.

Jordan Carlos:    That will do it for this episode. On Writing is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. Nicks, tech production, and original music by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America East online at wgaeast.org or on social media at @wgaeast. I’m Jordan Carlos, and you can find me at JordanCarloscomedy.com and on Twitter at @jordancarlos. Thanks for tuning in. Write on.


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