It should not come as a shock to you that I hail from the Boomer generation. Just look at the way the blurbs under my photos don’t center. Come watch me have a meltdown the next time my phone or laptop “updates” and everything I had finally mastered on my technology becomes moot.
It should therefore not surprise you that I arrived late to the podcast party. My younger colleagues at school would hammer on about Serial or some other true crime tale – or should that be “true” crime . . . didn’t they just prove the first season was bunk? I could care less about true crimes, at least those that didn’t happen in Hollywood before 1950, and if I was going to listen to anything while on the treadmill it would be an audio Christie or an episode of Jack Benny. (See? I am a Boomer!)
Eventually, though, I did get on the podcast treadmill, and I discovered that there really is something for everyone, including those whose tastes, like mine, run toward untrue crime. A couple of years after I started this blog, I received a note from Kemper Donovan and Catherine Brobeck letting me know that they were starting a new podcast about Agatha Christie. And now All About Agatha is an international sensation and a favorite of mine, as is Caroline Crampton’s Shedunnit.
My other passion is film and TV, and there are far more options available here. Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This is smartly written and produced, combining the sagacious with the salacious, and I have listened to other podcasts about The Dick Van Dyke Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I enjoyed. Currently, I enjoy listening to Danielle Gelehrter (aka Penny Dreadful) do a deep dive into Dark Shadows on her podcast Terror at Collinwood.
During a morning stroll in early August, I did a search on Spotify for “Agatha Christie” because I was all caught up on All About Agatha and hungering for more. My search yielded a brand new 2hour+ conversation about the best Agatha Christie movies on a podcast called Screen Drafts. And that’s how I “met” Clay Keller and Ryan Marker, the co-commissioners of a podcast that had premiered exactly four years earlier and was actually an offshoot of another podcast called Vidiots, named after the Los Angeles video store where they both worked. (I’m a Boomer – I’m a little late to the game.) Ryan is now the programmer at L.A.’s famed Aero Theatre, and Clay . . . well, I don’t really know what Clay does besides make episodes of Screen Drafts, but he always sounds so charming that I’m sure he works hard somewhere!
I listened to the episode on Agatha Christie. Sometimes I got really mad (all that love for Endless Night??) and sometimes I cheered. I found myself talking back quite vociferously to Clay, Ryan and their guests, and while I might have alarmed the neighbors on my walk, I had such a good time that I decided to scroll to the very beginning of Screen Drafts and listen. Since the average episode clocks in at 2 – 2 and a half hours (with Mega-Drafts coming in at over four hours), every episode is a commitment, but a happy one. I have been binging since August and, using simple math, I have listened to around 180 hours of drafting. I just reached the draft on Max Von Sydow, which also happens to be the first episode that was recorded after the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020. I figured that this was as good a place as any to pause and write the guys a Love Letter But . . .
Screen Drafts turns the discussion of films into a sporting event. It is a serpentine style draft where, in a typical episode, two drafters choose a topic and create a list of the seven best films of all time in that category. One drafter gets to select the seventh, sixth, fourth, and second choices, and the other one, while only getting to name three films gets to pick, as Clay would say, “the cherry on top.” The players each get one veto that they can use to toss out another player’s title – but this can backfire as the title isn’t eliminated but put back in that player’s pile where it could be replayed in a higher spot. Most of the guests (all of whom are connected in some way to the entertainment industry) have returned time and again for future drafts, and if they do not use their veto, it can roll over to give them (a maximum of) two vetoes, making that player . . . if not powerful, then quite the shit disturber.
Let me warn film lovers that the idea of a “Best of” list is played here with a huge smirk. All those pompous film critics who unleash their annual lists of Best Films Ever should leave their preconceptions and film school educations at the door. The idea here is to titillate, to provoke conversation and controversy and, most of all, to entertain. That doesn’t mean I don’t get angry all the time as a film that simply has to be on the list is not mentioned until possibly at the end when the drafters discuss their discards (the films they thought of including that didn’t make the list.)
The people who come on Screen Drafts are younger than me, and all too often classic era films fall by the wayside or are misinterpreted. Sometimes they get it right, as when Maureen Lee Lenker and Oriana Nudo put In a Lonely Place at the top of their Humphrey Bogart draft. But then Oriana came back for a draft on movies about Serious Kids and railroaded Clay into accepting The Innocents even though a rule was that the Serious Kids had to be the protagonists and EVERYONE knows that Deborah Kerr is the main character in that movie. (Did you ever punish Oriana for that, Clay?)
I have come to realize two things from listening to Screen Drafts and gauging my own reactions. First, and most obvious, film lovers are extremely passionate about what they watch and how they feel about it. Our tastes are varied and eclectic, which explains why I feel such a rush every time I watch The World of Henry Orient, a movie that nobody else on earth seems to remember. And even though I often feel punched in the gut at the end of a draft, the most important takeaway is how much I miss talking about films with friends.
The joy of listening to Clay, Ryan, and their guests talk, no matter what the subject is, touches my heart every time. It gets me through episodes like the Mega Draft on the Twenty Best Films in the Freddy vs Jason war. It’s good to know that I don’t ever have to watch another one of these again. What I do know is this: God, I miss talking about movies! The isolation brought about by both retirement and the pandemic has made these discussions all too rare. Writing about films like I sometimes do here isn’t the same. I like the Yeshiva feel of many voices raised in argument. I get some of it when I talk TV with my friend Viv on the phone, or when my buddies Jim and Sergio Zoom with me all the way from London, ostensibly to talk about classic crime stories, and Sergio and I usually zig zag into the world of cinema. We get so caught up in our discussions, particularly about film noir, that it takes us forever to realize that Jim’s Zoom square has been vacant for a loooong while. (I think he went to get something to eat . . . Jim doesn’t go to the movies!!)
It has been poignant listening to the pre-COVID drafts and hearing all the plans made for future film projects by the guests or outings planned by the commissioners. (Did they ever get to Disneyland and draft the rides?) I look forward to the next stage of my binge, but I know it will be somehow shadowed by world events. A few of the Zoomed drafts have made their way to YouTube, and I look forward to watching them.
This is my Love Letter But . . . to Screen Drafts. I would have written an e-mail to the guys, but Clay insists that everyone who writes must be pithy. Listen, man, I can be pithy. I choose not to be pithy! I love Clay’s joyful enthusiasm over what the podcast has wrought with every crazy topic, and I really love how it contrasts with Ryan’s cantankerous color commentary. Like me, he knows what films should have been played, and his woeful sighs stand in for our collective outrage. Like me, he recognizes the brilliance of The Manchurian Candidate. (I was whooping in the car as you placed it on the Cold War Films draft! I would marry you, Ryan, if you would have me.)
And yet, there is a “but” here. (I’ll pause while some of your younger drafters snigger at the thought of “butts.”) Naturally, I want more classic films – where’s the film noir draft?? – but I also recognize that your own interests might not always gibe with mine. I’m actually learning a lot about giallo movies and the film oeuvre of Kristin Stewart. However, gentlemen, there is one draft that you haven’t done. In fact, you have actually expressed fear of doing it on the air, so I imagine I’m not the only one who has demanded it.
Where’s Alfred Hitchcock?
Is there any director more deserving of a Mega-Draft?? Or, if you prefer, do a regular draft of the pre-Hollywood films and then turn to 1940 and beyond for a Mini/Mega draft! What are you afraid of, controversy? You, who kept Singin’ in the Rain off the best Original Musicals list in favor of The Little Prince, or had NO Dracula films on the list of the best Universal monster movies?? (Actually, that was the right call. You came up with a fabulous draft there!) No, the career of Alfred Hitchcock deserves to be discussed for as many hours as can be spared by the people who devoted episodes to Lucio Fulci and Agnes Varda!
If Darren Franich or Billy Ray Brewton are afraid of getting their knickers spattered with blood by drafting Hitchcock, I volunteer to fly down or Zoom in and get it done! I already have my lists prepared, and I could talk for hours about even the discards. What’s stopping you, Clay and Ryan?? Have your people call my people.
Boys, let’s get this done . . .
15 thoughts on “A “LOVE LETTER BUT…” TO THE SCREEN DRAFTS PODCAST”
Sounds great – will give it a go! Thanks Brad, as always.
Not surprised that you enjoy this show too, Brad. I’ve been a frequent listener since late 2019 and, though some of the lists are capable of raising my ire, it’s good fun to settle in for several hours with each episode. The Shakespeare Drafts remain some of my favorites. And, like you, I would only be too willing to join the ranks of their drafters and fill in some of those blind spots – Hitchcock, De Palma, Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes springing immediately to mind.
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I thought of you, Nick. I was thinking that we could have our own Hitchcock draft . . . and if it’s a mega-draft we could invite Sergio and then I would post about it. Of course, that’s stealing Clay and Ryan’s format, and I would feel terrible about it . . . for a second. Of course, we could do the Screen Drafts Home Game, which I would want to play as often as they record.
A film noir mega draft would follow.
Then The Best Sherlock Holmes movies for you. (Scarlet Claw would rate high for me!!)
Rather than just De Palma, I might do “The Heirs to Hitchcock.” That would give us a broader field.
We could invite Scott K. Ratner to help with a Pre-Code Hollywood draft. Or Pre-Code Warners followed by Post-Code Warners. I think we all have different enough tastes that there would be some snarking and veto magic. I could be like Ryan and moan if anyone dares to play The Trouble with Harry!
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Oh, count me in!
This is a plan I can certainly get behind!
Mind you, just listening to the Christopher Lee one and they are full of factual errors (getting Terence Young mixed up with Terence Fisher for starters) and some very, very strange opinions but the fun is definitely there 🤣
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Their guest GMs are knowledgeable AND they make mistakes; they are also highly opinionated (and often wrong in their opinion . . . in MY opinion) which makes all of this incredibly fun.
I’d love to add a few more topics to our list that they haven’t done, like Classic Detectives. We could all gather and play the Home Version and then report our findings! I don’t want to step on any toes . . .
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I enjoyed the podcast, and didn’t find it nearly as disturbingly “wacky” as many such rankings. I was glad to see their number one choice where it was. I would loved to have seen the 45 Clair film make the list, but at least they didn’t diss it, and I recognize that the major tonal difference from the novel is a bigger deal to others than it is to me (IMO it’s still the only version that makes its denouement its most compelling point, and that is of enormous importance to me).
I don’t care for Endless Night as much as they do, but I was not unhappy to see it on the list (for me its only two major flaws are the casting of Santonix and the casting of the house [who would be obsessed with living in THAT?). I think you and I, Brad, were probably surprised to see the same certain title not in the top 10 (the “alternate” choice to the #1 choice, so to speak— cheesier, but more enjoyable for many).
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Incidentally, I’m pretty sure Ryan Marker is the programmer at L.A.’s famed Aero Theatre, not the Arrow— we don’t have an Arrow Theatre down here anymore.
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Homophones – they’ll get you every time.
Hey! That means I’m very knowledgeable and I make mistakes – that qualifies me as the perfect GM. I also spoke too soon to Sergio above, as I am just coming up to a 1930’s WB draft. I was going to post my top ten Pre-Code movies and follow with, er, Post-Code faves but you sort of beat me to it last week on FB.
I’ve had it up to here with your homophonic comments!
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I thought of you, too, first as they edged toward the #1 pick and ’45 was nowhere in sight, and then I thought of your James Mason impression. Honestly, I don’t remember the list, but I figured either Witness or Nile would make #1. As I have listened to dozens of episodes, I have become more and more certain that I can never be certain what films will make the list.
Yeah, I wasn’t surprised that the ‘45 ATTWN didn’t make the list, but I think it should (again, I don’t believe in aesthetic absolutes, but there is such thing as alignment with cultural values). I’m glad Witness did well, but I was also glad that Nile beat it— there’s much I like about Witness, but I do think there are puzzle plotting weaknesses in it, include some unnecessary plot transparency (and I actually don’t care for it all that much visually— but the character comedy is wonderful)..
Nile, on the other hand, has some weaknesses, but is IMO overall the best representation of Christie’s strengths (though I would love to have seen the Louise Bourget death reveal from the Branagh film in the Guillerman film!). I don’t think most people recognize the plotting weaknesses of the Lumet Orient Express (which admittedly none of the other versions have overcome either). I too have qualms with the Finney Poirot, but there’s more to it than that.
My ranking would probably have been
1. And Then There Were None – 1945 (though I never expected it to make the top few spots)
2, Death on the Nile – 1978
3. Witness for the Prosecution – 1957
4. Murder on the Orient Express – 1974
5. Evil Under the Sun – 1982
6., Crooked House – 2017
7. The Mirror Crack’d – 1980
I might have switched 1 for 2, and maybe 4 for 5, but that’s about it.
Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I just started listening and I am already enjoying it. 🙂
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I remember The World Of Henry Orient – it was shown as part of a Sellers season on BBC about 50 years ago. One bit I particularly remember is when Orient is playing a modern concerto (by no means terribly avant-garde by the standards of the time) and someone says, “If this is music, what’s that stuff Cole Porter wrote?” (although I misremembered that line, replacing Cole Porter with Beethoven – fortunately I checked on ImDB).