: Common sense is dangerous; not all CGI is bad; and, believe it or not, it is possible for a movie producer to be a good person. I know, I was shocked, too. All of that and more will be explained by YouTuber Michael Tucker, today on Follow Friday.
: I'm Eric Johnson
. Welcome to Follow Friday, a podcast about who you should follow online.
Every week, I talk to internet creators about who they follow. These creators have great taste and they will be our guides to the best people on the internet, who we should be following, too.
Today on the show is Michael Tucker, the creator of the YouTube channel Lessons from the Screenplay
, and co-host of its companion podcast, Beyond the Screenplay
. If you're not familiar with Lessons from the Screenplay, these are short, smart video essays that explain how and why a movie script is so good at telling the story.
Here is a clip from the introduction of the Lessons from the Screenplay video about Pixar's Soul. MICHAEL TUCKER
: "Two fundamental elements of character design are want and need. What the character wants usually drives the story forward. But it's often through the character's need that a story expresses its theme and creates an emotional impact. In Pixar's Soul, these aspects of story structure are right on the surface, because the protagonist is so preoccupied with pursuing a goal that he ignores the joy to be found along the way. So, today, I want to explore how the film creates the arc of the protagonist, Joe; to examine how it makes the audience deeply empathize with his want, while subtly signaling what he actually needs; and to reveal how Joe's finally understanding his need creates one of the most emotional scenes in the film."ERIC
: You can find Lessons from the Screenplay on YouTube and Beyond the Screenplay wherever you listen to podcasts. And you can follow along with us today: Every person Michael recommends will be linked in the show notes and in the transcript at followfridaypodcast.com.
Michael, welcome to Follow Friday. Thanks for being here.MICHAEL TUCKER
: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited.ERIC
: So you and the team at Lessons from the Screenplay have a really high bar for what you talk about on the channel. The movies that you pick to talk about, the topics you choose, sometimes you are filtering screenplay fundamentals through a great movie like Soul, other times, you're taking a movie and you're drilling into it, trying to find something really interesting that's buried inside of it. What was the hardest one of these videos to take from start to finish?MICHAEL
: That's a great question. I feel like if you were to ask me during the writing phase of any one of these videos, my answer would be whichever one I was working on. ERIC
: I think because, like you mentioned, we try to create a high bar of quality and want to make sure the lessons that we're teaching are accurate and communicated clearly, that there is a pretty rigorous testing process that we do when we're in the writing phase.
So, yeah, every video is difficult. Because I've been reflecting on this one recently, I'm thinking about our video that we made on Iron Man vs Captain America
: I loved
: Thank you. Yeah, their character arcs across the entire MCU. One of the writers, Brian Bitner, pitched it and we were like, "Oh, that's such a great idea." And then immediately realized, "Oh, that means we need to understand 21 movies worth of storytelling."ERIC
: [laughs] Oh, no! What have we done?MICHAEL
: So that one was challenging just because of the scope of the video, basically.ERIC
: Right. Well, let's find out who Michael Tucker follows.
Michael, before the show, I gave you a list of categories and I asked you to tell me four people you follow who fit in those categories. Your first pick is in the category "someone who makes you think" and you said Malcolm Gladwell, the author of books like Outliers and The Tipping Point. He's on Twitter @Gladwell
And in your email to me, you specifically cited his podcast, Revisionist History
, as what makes you think. I have heard amazing things about this show. I haven't listened to it yet. I have too many podcast subscriptions, so please enlighten me. Why do you love it and how does it make you think?MICHAEL
: What I love about his podcast and many of his books is that there kind of is this running theme almost, at least that I received from it, which is "don't trust common sense." In some ways, it's like a lot of his books and his whole podcast is about, let's take a look at some event or something that we think we have a good understanding of and really pick it apart and dive in.
There are people that criticize some of his conclusions and all that stuff, but I think, overall, what it's always trying to do is getting you to think twice, to second-guess your assumptions. And I really appreciate that, just as someone that tries to be very self-aware.
I think that is a skill that is useful when creating analytical videos about storytelling, and trying to look at yourself as a creator. And how do you improve yourself? That requires a lot of introspection and stepping outside of what your assumptions might be. If you write a scene and you think it's great, if you never stop to second-guess yourself, you might not see there are other angles or other ways to tell the story and get feedback from people.
I think he's also just a very great storyteller. The podcasts are just fun to listen to when I get engrossed in subjects that I never thought I would have been interested in. So I appreciate him as a storyteller and I appreciate that the message of most of his stories is kind of about second-guessing our assumptions and not just relying on gut reactions and the human common sense idea. I like things that poke holes in the idea that common sense is always correct.ERIC
: Yeah, because if you don't take the time to second-guess your assumptions, if you don't take the time to explore other possibilities, the best-case scenario is — if you're a writer, you might write something really clichéd.
I was just listening to a different movie podcast, Story Break, and they were talking about, you know how in dramatic moments in movies the characters walk to the windows? No one ever walks to the window to make a point in real life!
That's the best-case scenario, right? You just write something kind of lazy and hackneyed. And the worst-case scenario is you could potentially be taking some sort of action or creating something that's going to do harm in some way or that's going to make things more difficult for someone else.
Is there a specific example that comes to mind, something that comes from Revisionist History, either a favorite episode of yours or something like that, that really turned you around on something or really challenged you to think differently?MICHAEL
: That's a really good question. There have been several. One that I think about pretty frequently is there was an episode that was taking a look at memory and just the way there's always a framing story where it's like, this person went on TV and said this thing, and everyone was upset at them for not accurately portraying the events.
But would any of us have really portrayed it accurately? What does that even mean? So it was this one that went into memory and we all have this idea that big moments in our lives, we'll remember down to the details. It looked at 9/11 and these researchers that track people.
Right after 9/11 happened, they talked to people, interviewed them, like, "Tell us the story of where you were and what happened." And they could tell you with confidence, every little detail. And then they went back to those people several years later and said, "Tell us the story again." And basically, invariably, the story had changed, sometimes dramatically from the people, but their level of confidence of, "I remember exactly everything," had stayed the same.ERIC
: So I found that just fascinating. And that's an example of that thing where you, as a person, you can feel very confident in your memory or anything, but your feeling of confidence doesn't necessarily mean accuracy.ERIC
: It doesn't mean you have it right.MICHAEL
: Yeah. So it's a reminder to second-guess yourself and check things to make sure you're conveying what you actually want to be conveying.ERIC
: Have you been listening to the show from the start? I think it's about five seasons in at this point. Have you listened to all of it?MICHAEL
: Yeah, I have listened to all of it. I think I came in around the second season. Otherwise, it's been the one that I look forward to. And every time there was the announcement of a new season coming, I get excited.ERIC
: Since I haven't listened to it, is there a place where you'd recommend new listeners start? Like, should they start with a certain season or just pick any episode? Any recommendations?MICHAEL
: I would say, maybe start with the second season. The first season, I found difficult to get into, and I think by the second season, they'd kind of found their rhythm. It's also just a very well-produced podcast where he interviews people. And so they cut in the interview and there's music. I think some of that was still a bit rough in the first season. And then it's just gotten better and better since then.ERIC
: All right. Well, that was Malcolm Gladwell, the host of the podcast, Revisionist History, which you can find wherever you listen to podcasts, or at revisionisthistory.com
Let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for someone who's an expert in a very specific niche that you love. And you said Todd Vaziri, who is on Twitter @tvaziri
. Explain what Todd is an expert in and why you love his work.MICHAEL
: Todd is an expert in visual effects. I don't even remember how I came upon them. I think someone had retweeted something that he had tweeted and I was like, "Oh, this is so cool. I want to follow this person." I love visual effects and that was one of the reasons that I got into film in the first place.
As a kid, I'd watched Star Wars and there were spaceships and things blowing up. And so I wanted to know how that was done. So I've always been really into visual effects and the technological side of filmmaking, because technology is deeply intertwined into what film is. You need cameras and all this stuff.
Todd has worked on a bunch of movies. He's just one of the best visual effects artists in the industry: Star Treks, Star Wars, Mission: Impossible, and just all the big things. A lot of his content on Twitter is picking out cool shots from movies, whether they're recent movies or old movies, and highlighting, "this is how this technique was done." Or, "In this shot, you may think this part is live action, but it's actually CG. And the way that they marry these two techniques is so brilliant."
So he's become almost like an advocate for CGI, which I appreciate because there's kind of this blanket stigma that "CGI is bad." In reality, it's just that bad CGI is bad, or rushed CGI is bad.ERIC
: It's like makeup. Just because you notice it when it's done badly doesn't mean it's all bad.MICHAEL
: Yeah. So I feel like he does a good job of making it fun to point out and reveal that all these things are visual effects. Isn't it great what they can do when used properly and folded into the storytelling process? It's a really fun Twitter account for me, to see all that highlighted.ERIC
: And does that include blockbusters like the ones that you listed that he worked on, or this is all sorts of history of film? What is he pulling from?MICHAEL
: He goes all through the history of film, which I think is what's partially so fun. He really appreciates all the visual effects techniques that have been around since the beginning of film.
He also recently did a video on Wired
where they interviewed him and had him answer Twitter questions about, "How did this happen and this technique and stuff?" And he went all the way back to the 1930s King Kong movie and how those visual effects were done, and how they used to use map paintings and all these different techniques.
So he's kind of this library of film trick knowledge. And he is really good at explaining and revealing those tricks in a fun way that deepens your appreciation for all the craft that goes into creating a film.TODD VAZIRI
: "One thing that we'll always be coming up against, and battling, is the human being's ability to recognize human beings. Our emotional essence — how our eyes work, how our brains work, how we relate to one another — is built upon this vast memory bank of understanding how real humans look, emote, and act. Doing this stuff, simulating this kind of stuff, is very hard. And that's why some call it the holy grail of computer graphics or visual effects."ERIC
: Absolutely. No, I was looking at his YouTube channel
where I think he posts a lot of the same stuff he posts on Twitter, but he had this video about Bullitt, the Steve McQueen movie from the 60s where there's the famous car chase scene in San Francisco...MICHAEL
: I haven't seen that.ERIC
: You haven't seen it?MICHAEL
: I've seen Bullitt. I haven't seen this video.ERIC
: So he had this video about the car chase scene in Bullitt and how there's this one shot where a car magically disappears. And it looks amateurish if you notice it, which most people don't. He said he had never noticed it until his most recent viewing, but it looks a little bit amateurish.
Then he explains, "This is why they did this. This is why they cut in this fractional second of additional footage to make this shot last a little bit longer. This was the best option they had if they wanted the impact of this car smashing into this other car to actually feel like something."
I love the fact that even though visual effects for modern movies is his profession, he's paying attention to these little details, clearly, when he's watching stuff for fun. That speaks to his passion for the craft.MICHAEL
: Yeah, for sure. That's really interesting. I haven't seen that video. I should go check that out. As a filmmaker who loves obsessing over these little things, anything that helps put you in that mindset and trains you to really pick things apart and figure out how it works, I love. And that's what his Twitter does for sure.ERIC
: Is that what you're doing with the screenplays when you're watching a movie? Are you pausing the movie to pull out your copy of Adventures in the Screen Trade, or whatever?MICHAEL
: Not to that degree, but it is difficult sometimes to watch movies. Sometimes watching movies does feel like work because I have my analytical brain running all the time.
It's become almost like a meme in our household now, where around the midpoint of the movie, I'll just tap our little Apple remote control to confirm that the scene that's happening, "Is this the midpoint? I'm pretty sure it's the midpoint. Yes, that's exactly the midpoint. Okay." ERIC
: And it's like, we know that that's going to be a thing that happens.ERIC
: You have an intuitive sense, "This must be the midpoint that's happening right now." I also have to admire, back to Todd, the randomness of some of the things he posts. Again, this is from his YouTube channel, but I'm sure it's on Twitter as well.
There's some of these where he's explaining visual effects or editing concepts and there's others where he's just playing around. This one that I really liked that he did; he took that viral video of the drone flying through the bowling alley
Do you remember this, from like a few weeks ago, where some really talented amateur drone pilot
made a commercial for a bowling alley flying down the lane and it went down into the mechanics and then through the bar? So, he took that video and he added the speeder bike sound effects
from Star Wars because he's worked on Star Wars movies. He is allowed to do this.MICHAEL
: That's so cool. It feels right. I've pulled it up now and I'm watching and I'm like, "Oh yeah, this does kind of feel like how the speeder bikes felt when flying through the forest and stuff." That's really fun.ERIC
: Exactly. Yeah. He has the license to do that. Hopefully, Lucasfilm doesn't give him any hassle for that. I think he's earned the right to do that.MICHAEL
: I would think so.ERIC
: Well, that was Todd Vaziri, who is on Twitter @tvaziri
. We're going to take a quick break now, but we'll be back in a minute with Michael Tucker, from Lessons from the Screenplay.
: Welcome back to Follow Friday. Michael Tucker, I asked you to tell me about someone who inspires you and you said Sev Ohanian, who is a movie producer and a screenwriter. You can find him on Twitter @SevOhanian
. So talk about what Sev does and how that inspires you.MICHAEL
: Like I mentioned, Sev is a writer and a producer. I happened to meet him at a film festival in New York and we talked very briefly. And then got back to LA and realized that, friends of friends, there was this connection there. Then he realized that I did Lessons from the Screenplay and he was like, "Oh, I'm such a big fan."
So we got to meet and chat a couple of times. Recently, he co-wrote and produced Searching
, the John Cho film.ERIC
: Really good movie. Yeah.MICHAEL
: Yeah. And then also Run
most recently, which came out on Hulu which was really fun. So we had him and his co-writing partner and the director he worked with a lot, Aneesh Chaganty, on our podcast.
So we've gotten to talk to him a lot and I think what I like about him is just that he's a good person in the industry that is also talented. Like when I first moved to LA, I had some exposure to the industry and working with people and spent some time trying to develop a pilot and all this stuff and I was pretty disheartened by a lot of the personalities I was running into, which isn't surprising. It's a common thing.
I'd kind of purposefully distanced myself from that a little bit. So, meeting Sev and getting to know him, and how passionate he is about the work he does, how talented he is, and also how good of a person he is made me feel like there's hope for the film industry. He's really thoughtful.
He has a really fun backstory where, I think when he was 20, he released this micro-budget feature film called My Big Fat Armenian Wedding
because he's Armenian. And it's funny because my partner is also Armenian, so she remembers when that came out because it became this big hit amongst the Armenian community. So he has a cool, unique background, which I think also has inspired him to care a lot about thoughtful diversity in his films.
It's just like all the things you would hope someone would be doing in the film industry, I feel like he's doing and being thoughtful. And the people that he's surrounded by are all cool people.
So yeah, him and the people that I've gotten to meet through him have made me feel like there is hope in the industry. I'm just really glad to see him having success because he's the kind of person that I want to see have success in the industry.ERIC
: Well, we've had such a reckoning in recent years where so many people who have achieved fame and fortune in Hollywood — I'm thinking, Harvey Weinstein, Scott Rudin, and people like this who are just terribly abusive, really just horrible people. We are seeing that their gains have been ill-gotten; that a lot of their success has come on the backs of just nameless people who are not famous, who they've really hurt.
So, I agree with you 100%. That is such an inspiring thing to know that someone like Sev is on the rise. And as you mentioned, he co-wrote Searching, which was a really original movie. It's a thriller that takes place entirely on a computer screen. You did a video about this
for Lessons from the Screenplay. When you met Sev, was that before or after you'd already done the video?MICHAEL
: I met Sev before that. We had talked very well briefly before that. And then he had mentioned that he was working on this film, Searching. He invited myself and Alex Calleros, who's also on the podcast, and also helps make the videos, one of the team members, to an early screening of Searching. And I was worried because the idea of "it's a murder mystery told entirely on screens" could be very gimmicky.ERIC
: That's exactly what I was worried about. I was like, "Mm, is this going to work?" There'd already been a horror movie
that came out that was like that and I was like, "Yeah, it was fine. But this one really worked a lot better for me, I thought.MICHAEL
: Right. Yeah, they did all the things that you need to do to satisfy that, but also told a really cool story. That's why it was really fun to have him on the podcast; have him and the director talk about their process and how they just wrote a good murder mystery first, and then adapted it to this format.
So I thought that was really cool. They talked on our podcast about how they had to change the Final Draft format, like how you write a screenplay and how you write text messages into a screenplay. There isn't an actual format for that. So they also got to be experimental with even the form that the writing took, which I thought was cool.ERIC
: Final Draft is the software that a lot of professional screenwriters use to make their screenplays. And so it's designed for person A says this, person B says this, and it's assuming that they will both be in-person together on camera, or maybe on the phone. But because of Searching, I guess everything is coming through in so many different media that they had to find a way to distinguish it.MICHAEL
: Right, which I thought was really interesting because we spend so much of our lives now on screens and through text messages. And so that's always a question. How do you portray those things on screen? And it was cool to hear how they portrayed it in script form, because they were very clever about even just the way they use text messaging. When you start to type to someone, it notifies you that so-and-so is typing, so you're waiting for a response. And they managed to use that mechanic and you see the character write a text, but then delete it and write a different one. It creates subtext.ERIC
: That was brilliant.MICHAEL
: So, he's talented, telling good stories, and also a good person and all these things. He's an inspiring person for me, for sure.ERIC
: Wonderful pick. Well, that was Sev Ohanian, who is on Twitter @SevOhanian
. We have time for one more follow today.
Michael, I asked you to tell me someone that you don't know, but want to be your friend. And you said Tom Scott, who is on YouTube at youtube.com/tomscottgo
. I am obsessed with Tom's videos so I already love this pick, but explain for people who don't know; explain what he does and why you want him to be your friend.MICHAEL
: Yes, Tom Scott does a lot of things, but his main thing is this YouTube channel. It's kind of hard to describe because he makes these videos that fall into a couple of different categories. There's a trivia category, there's location-based, he does a lot of cute computer science videos and linguistic videos. I'm mostly super impressed by how he takes a topic and makes such a concise, clear, fun video out of it.
It's the purified version of what I want when I go to YouTube. I want to get a little hit of education and I want it to be fun and to come out the other side feeling like I've learned something. I'm just endlessly impressed with his ability to do that.
I think I really only discovered him a year ago, maybe? Because he's been making videos for a very long time. One popped up in my feed and I was like, "This is great. I want to watch another." And then I watched another and then I watched all
of his videos.ERIC
: And then it was like, "Well, now what do I do? I guess I'll watch them all again
." So, as a creator, he seems like a really great person and a really smart person. And I very much admire how he can convey these interesting and seemingly inaccessible topics in a really accessible, fun way.ERIC
: Yeah. And a lot of his videos are just him talking to the camera like a vlogger would, but he's out in the English countryside. And sometimes something will blow up in the background as he's explaining how explosions in movies work
. It's one of these things where it seems like it's ... what is the term, deceptively simple or deceptively hard? He makes it look easy, is the point.
As someone who has been in front of the microphone, been in front of the camera before, how simple he makes it look ... One of my favorite videos of his is about the classic holiday song "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells
." So, Michael, I want your honest response to this. What line comes after Jingle Bells, Batman Smells?MICHAEL
: Robin laid an egg?ERIC
: Thank you. That's the correct answer, but according to Tom and a lot of other people online, it's "Robin flew away".MICHAEL
: That's insane. It doesn't make any sense.ERIC
: But it's this great video where he's talking about how he surveyed more than 60,000 people about that line, and he's trying to figure out whether or not The Simpsons influenced a cultural schism, if The Simpsons using the line "Robin laid an egg" influenced people to prefer that line over "Robin flew away." I don't know. It's extremely nerdy, extremely weird, and I love it so much.MICHAEL
: Great. I don't know how I have not seen that one. I don't know how I missed that one. Oh, it's right there. All right.ERIC
: That was the first one of his I ever saw. And then YouTube realized that I was into it and has been giving me a steady drip-feed of his videos ever since.MICHAEL
: Are you friends with other YouTubers like Tom? I guess in pre-COVID times, do you hang out with other people who are making stuff for big YouTube channels like Lessons from the Screenplay?MICHAEL
: Unfortunately, I don't get to hang out with people a lot. I am kind of part of a Slack channel and this collective of a bunch of really great educational YouTubers. So a lot of the other film video essayists I've gotten to know like Patrick Williams and Sage from Just Write, Nando v Movies, Lindsay Ellis, are people that I've gotten to chat with.ERIC
: All my faves.MICHAEL
: And then at VidCon 2019, we all got to hang out in-person, which was fun. We're looking forward to that happening last year; obviously, VidCon didn't happen last year. But it has been cool ... That's something that's changed since I started YouTube. When I first came in, it felt like I was just completely in isolation. But now, there's been a lot more communication and places where other YouTubers can interact with each other.
And I think that's been really great because making YouTube videos is a weird job and there aren't a whole lot of people that do it. Unlike in the film industry, you're in LA and you're surrounded by people that do the same thing. But as a YouTuber, you can be living anywhere and be creating YouTube videos. That might also mean that you're in isolation and you don't have a whole lot of people to talk to.
So, it's been cool to have more outlets like that. I was at an educational party at the 2019 VidCon where Tom Scott was there, but I didn't get a chance to talk to him. I watched in admiration across the room. I was like, "That's Tom Scott."ERIC
: When you are talking with people, either on Slack or at VidCons in the past, when you're talking to other YouTubers, are you ... I'm thinking of the stereotype, where I am in San Francisco, everyone is always talking about tech. In LA, the stereotype is everyone's always talking about some movie deal.
Are you talking about YouTube, like the YouTube algorithm or DMCA takedowns, or are you just enjoying their company just as regular folks?MICHAEL
: There's definitely a lot of that shop talk, for sure, of sharing the latest copyright complaint or thing that we got and. And it's cool because it's part of Standard
, this company that represents a lot of these YouTubers. And also, through that, we've created this streaming platform called Nebula
, which is where all of us can create and experiment with content.
So all of the Nebula creators are all in this Slack channel that has all these sub-channels. Some of them are places where we can just hang out and talk about like, "I saw this cool video. Isn't this fun?" And then some channels are dedicated to YouTube shop talk and the algorithm and "My views are down," "Do you know what happened with this person?" or "How do you deal with...?" So it is cool because it's a very supportive environment. Again, that's something that can be hard to find when you're a YouTuber because you're just in isolation, in your room, making videos by yourself.ERIC
: If you were friends with Tom Scott, what would you want to do together, or what would you want to get out of the friendship?MICHAEL
: [laughs] I don't know. I kind of just want to nerd out with him. He's made videos about why video compression is so bad in dark areas of videos
. And there's only a handful of people I can think of in the world that care about that kind of thing. ERIC
: So I would just want to be like, "Yeah, that's the worst!" I feel like I just want to hang out and nerd out with him about all these random little nerdy things that he has this expertise in, that I actually care about also. But I'd probably be too nervous to do any of that. I want to hear him talk about all that and I'll just listen.ERIC
: You just want to hang out and just be like, "Wow." [laughs] Well, fingers crossed for the next VidCon, the next chance you get to do more than just admire from across the room. That was Tom Scott, who's on YouTube at youtube.com/tomscottgo
Michael, thank you so much for sharing your follows with us today. Before we go, let's make sure our listeners know how to find you online. Where do you want them to follow you?MICHAEL
: You can follow me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @michaeltuckerla
. And then on YouTube, you can find me on Lessons from the Screenplay.ERIC
: Awesome. And you can find me on Twitter @HeyHeyESJ
and this show on Twitter
The most important thing you can do to support this show is to tell someone else about it, and one way to do that is to go to LoveThePodcast.com/FollowFriday
and leave us a review. And of course, please follow or subscribe to this show in your favorite podcast app to get more Follow Friday every week.
Our theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie
. Our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan
. Additional music by Katherine Chang and Purple Planet Music
That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson, reminding you to talk about people behind their backs, and when you do, say something nice. See you next Friday!