There seem to be three primary ways people learn screenwriting these days: film school, screenwriting books or the Scriptnotes podcast with John August and Craig Mazin. In most cases, probably a combination of all three. Film school has an obvious downside, it costs about $100,000. Ask any screenwriter about screenwriting books and you’ve clearly hit a touchy subject, and don’t even mention the gurus. Yet, it’s hard to find anything negative about the weekly Scriptnotes podcast, which means it’s hard to find anything negative to say about John August. So, who is John August and why is he such a valuable resource for aspiring screenwriters? Let’s meet the man.
Who is John August?
Okay, so he has a podcast like everyone else in the entertainment industry, but who is John August? Why should he be the one to listen to?Well, as people diversify into multiple outlets, it can be difficult to place a label on someone, so instead, I’ll place multiple labels, starting with what came first.
John August is a prominent Hollywood screenwriter and has been for over 20 years. In those years, John August has used his voice and platform to start the weekly Scriptnotes podcast on screenwriting, help fight injustices within the entertainment industry, create software to aid writers, and more.
A Quick John August Resume:
- Screenwriter — Go, Big Fish, Aladdin, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, et al.
- Scriptnotes Podcast — Co-host, along with Craig Mazin, of a free weekly podcast for screenwriters
- Novelist, playwright, social justice advocate
John August’s Hollywood Career
John August, screenwriter
Despite voicing somewhat mixed feelings on the necessity of film school, John August himself attended USC’s film program. He completed a Masters of Fine Arts at USC after studying journalism as an Undergrad at Drake University.
His feature film debut came with the release of Go (1999), an action-comedy-crime film that playfully fragments timelines and echoes a Tarantino-esque blend of violence and comedy.
August was 29 when Go was released and quickly got to work on his next projects: Both Charlie's Angels (2000) and Titan A.E. (2000) came out one year later.
Another notable moment in August’s career came with the release of Big Fish (2003). Directed by Tim Burton, this was the first of many collaborations between August and Burton on whimsical, fun, fairy-tales.
Now 49, August has over 20 years in the industry and 10 feature length screenplays to his name. His other most notable works include:
- Aladdin (2019)
- Frankenweenie (2012)
- Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (2005)
- Corpse Bride (2005)
- Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
Did You Know?
From 2003-2012, John August worked on 6 feature films, 5 of which became some of Tim Burton's best movies. The only exception is The Nines (2007), which August directed himself.
August is long time friends with actress Melissa McCarthy and 2 of her first 3 credits came on John August projects. They met largely thanks to McCarthy’s small role in Go.
He also has a website that includes August's script library where he hosts a lot of his screenwriting, including PDFs of his scripts, rough drafts and outlines, available to the public on his website.
One that’s unavailable is the John August Dark Shadows script. Only given story credit on Dark Shadows (2012), August had originally written what he describes as a “Godfather-like saga” about vampire families, but the final film was eventually re-written by Seth Grahame-Smith in a more comedic fashion.
August claims his Dark Shadows script was one of the best he’s written, unfortunately, we’ll likely never see it.
The Scriptnotes Podcast
Scriptnotes: the John August podcast
In 2011, John August started the weekly Scriptnotes podcast with co-host Craig Mazin. The podcast is defined as “a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.”
Who is Craig Mazin?
A writer on Scary Movie 3 & 4, The Hangover 2 & 3, Identity Thief, and most recently the Emmy winning Chernobyl limited series, Mazin has been working in the industry since 1997.
He is the more outspoken of the Scriptnotes duo, frequently pointing out wrongdoings and contradictions within the entertainment industry.
To date, Mazin and August have released over 450 episodes of the Scriptnotes podcast on nearly every screenwriting topic imaginable. The podcast is 100% free, without advertisements and currently holds an average rating of 5/5 on Apple Podcasts after 1800+ reviews.
The aim of the podcast is to help screenwriters in this often cutthroat, manipulative business. John and Craig provide a free alternative to film school, dismiss many of the self-proclaimed screenwriting gurus and demystify a lot of “unwritten rules” of the craft.
Unsurprisingly, August also has a YouTube channel hosting short workshopping videos like the one below or even video versions of Scriptnotes. In this video, he walks us through how to rewrite a scene.
Common segments of the Scriptnotes podcast are:
- The 3-page Challenge — John and Craig encourage readers to send in 3 pages of their script for review on the show. After reading the script (and allowing the audience to read it as well) they provide helpful, friendly notes.
- Listener Questions — John and Craig answer various questions sent to the show email. Questions range from advice on what to do in Hollywood meetings, screenwriter salary, and writing habits.
- How Would This Be a Movie? — John & Craig talk about real-world hot topics and discuss the best way to turn it into a film.
- Anything else relevant and/or interesting to screenwriters, like the video below.
Guests include Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, and many others.
John August Books
John August books and plays
After over a decade as a screenwriter, August began to dabble into other writing formats, with significant success.
In 2013, he revisited his 2003 film Big Fish and turned it into a Broadway musical. Since then, the musical has played all over the world with performances in Munich, Glasgow, Sydney, and London.
In 2018, August published a fantasy young-adult novel called Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire. This served as the first book of an Arlo Finch trilogy about a boy scout-type with dark forces lurking in his backyard. Here's a trailer for the book series.
The third of John August’s books, Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows, came out in February 2020.
Pay Up Hollywood
John August, social justice advocate
Aside from their writing careers, John August and Craig Mazin have been very outspoken about fixing Hollywood practices.
They’ve created a number of movements within the industry, notably:
Pay up Hollywood — A cause meant to raise assistant pay.
Under the hashtag #payuphollywood a survey was conducted exposing the earnings and working hours of Hollywood assistants.
A big component of #payuphollywood is the natural, systemic barrier of entry on minorities, only allowing those of privilege, or those who can afford to work for free/cheap to pursue a career in entertainment.
No Writing Left Behind — A cause focusing on the unseen amount of unpaid work screenwriters complete prior to being paid. Essentially, studios using their leverage to get free labor.
The best example of this comes when going to pitch an idea. Instead of sending the studio your document, No Writing Left Behind urges you to present in person and leave with it — a.k.a. don’t leave it behind.
Developing that pitch deck is fine, you own that and developed it to show different studios. Just don’t give them the pitch deck, and once companies ask you to write treatments, in-depth treatments, or even a rough draft… This is work you should be paid for.
This is different from a spec script, where a writer writes a script and tries to sell a finished project. That is very normal, but if someone HIRES you to write a script based on their idea, you need to be paid.
To help quell this issue, John and the WGA (Writers Guild of America) started the WGA start button, a feature meant to help track the length of writing contracts so writers are paid on time.
Craig and John have also been very outspoken and supportive of the #Metoo movement. Craig often details his horrid experience working for the Weinstein company.
John August was on the WGA board during the recent writer vs agent war, fueled largely by the writers’ frustrations with packaging deals and conflicts of interests from their agents.
John August Software Company
John August, software entrepreneur
Despite all we’ve mentioned so far, there’s also a John August software company called Quote-Unquote Apps.
Using this company, he has developed:
Highland 2 — John August’s screenwriting app and software, made to be more user friendly and affordable than industry standard Final Draft. August and Mazin are both very outspoken against Final Draft.
- Weekend Read — an app that makes screenplays easier to read on iPhones and iPads. It also has an extensive script database.
- Bronson Watermarker — a way to make custom watermarks.
- Assembler — an app made to combine text files.
- Courier Prime — a font he created that is “better” than screenplay standard Courier.
Best Free Movie Scripts Online
Now that you know about John August, it’s time to get to know some other writers. And there’s no better way to familiarize yourself than by reading their scripts. Check out our library to download and read a massive collection of Hollywood screenplays.