Entries in Fountain (11)
Final Draft, Inc. released their much-anticipated iPad screenwriting app this week. Called Final Draft Writer, it promises complete compatibility with the desktop app, and near-feature-parity as well.
We’ve known this was coming for a while. As Final Draft, Inc. was beginning work on this app, they solicited the opinions of screenwriters on what capabilities it must have. To no one’s surprise, we wanted it all—the full Final Draft experience. And faced with a pile of surveys with nearly every box checked, Final Draft, Inc. hunkered down and did exactly what we asked for.
The touch interface for drafting a Scene Heading is nice. And there’s a clever extra with the omnipresent scroll bar—as you drag it, a callout displays not just the page number, but Scene Headings as well. Although I don’t believe in Final Draft’s reliance on Scene Headings as the sole organizational tool for writers, this is still a welcome touch.
The app is full of details like that—details that show this to be a sincere and earnest effort to create a best-in-breed mobile screenwriting tool.
On the negative side, the app’s performance is not so great. Writer promises a perfect match to Final Draft’s industry-standard pagination, revisions management, and scene numbering, as well as some nifty bells and whistles, such as character highlighting and colored rendering of colored pages. All of this would seem to come at the cost of a noticeable lag as you type.
Final Draft Writer supports Dropbox, but in a manual push-and-pull kind of a way. If you are accustomed to apps that sync with Dropbox automatically as you work, Writer’s method will feel antiquated and un-iPad-like.
“I’m rooting for Final Draft (and Scrivener, and Movie Magic Screenwriter),” August told us, “because I want to make sure there’s always a market for high-end professional screenwriting apps. The race to the bottom in software pricing is dangerous.”
I couldn’t agree more. There’s nothing wrong with Final Draft charging $50 for this app ($20 off until the end of September). Anyone who needs it can afford that. Conversely, if it seems expensive to you, then there are numerous other options.
Numerous Other Options
But when I look at these apps’ pop-up menus or little rows of buttons for assigning element types, I no longer see the most minimal screenwriting UI I can imagine. With Fountain, the notion of choosing a “container,” and then filling it with text, is obsolete. Instead of constantly reaching for the mouse or touchscreen to declare what you’re about to write, you spend all your time with your hands on the keyboard, just writing it.
Screenwriting Without the Tab Key
The innovation of the iPad was that it was a computer that intentionally did less. Like a fixed-gear bicycle or an electric car, it allowed us to more easily do 90% of what we needed to, by saving us from wading through a phalanx of features designed for those occasional 10% requirements. For possibly the smallest imaginable example: the iPad’s touch keyboard lacks something most screenwriters use a thousand times per day: a Tab key.
There’s no “innovation of less” with Final Draft Writer. It ticks every one of the feature checkboxes those surveys reported. The result is impressive, but it feels like 10 pounds of app in a 1.5-pound bag. And like every other iPad screenwriting app I’ve seen, it grafts a Tab key onto the iPad keyboard layout.
On the other hand, if you want to write a screenplay on your iPad without all those annoying screenwriting features getting in your way, consider Fountain, along with a minimal text app such as Byword, Elements, or Writing Kit. Screenwriting without the need of a Tab key is a rather liberating experience.
The name of Final Draft’s iPad app is actually oddly apt—it invites the question: Are you a “Final Draft writer,” or a screenwriter?
Because the days of those notions being synonymous are rapidly fading to black.
According to Final Draft, this constitutes a “rave review.”
Funny thing about life-changing ideas. It can take a while to warm up to them.
First in blogger, then in Squarespace (where Prolost is now hosted), I used to write my blog posts right in the blogging engine—in that little “WYSIWYG” window with its buttons for creating links, quoted text, and text formatting.
At some point I became aware of Markdown, the plain-text writing format created by John Gruber. I totally didn’t get it. Why would I want to learn some new “syntax” for formatting text when I have a tool that does it at the push of a button, and shows me exactly what I’ll get?
Even as I was thinking this, I was living through the exact pain that Markdown was designed to address. I’d often find myself battling that little WYSIWYG text window. I’d press Return after some quoted text and it would create another quoted paragraph. I’d press the “quote” button to un-quote the current paragraph, and an extra line would be inserted. I’d try to delete it and now there was no separation between the paragraphs. I’d press “Publish” and the extra line would be back. I’d eventually go into the post HTML and try to remove the offending line break, crossing my fingers that I wasn’t destroying something else in the process. After all this, I’d be afraid to touch the WYSIWYG editor again. A typo or broken link would have to be pretty important for me to risk touching this house of HTML cards I’d created.
I started writing my blog posts out in other tools before moving them over to the blog. I first did this in email drafts. Then Notational Velocity. Then TextEdit. But I didn’t dare write in rich text, because I didn’t trust that my links and italics and bulleted lists would come over to Squarespace correctly.
So I started writing in plain text. If I wanted to create a link, I’d just paste the URL below the paragraph, as a kind of reminder to build a link in Squarespace using the pushbutton tools. If I wanted to style some text, I’d maybe, I don’t know, wrap some *asterisks* around it to remind myself to italicize it.
I proceeded like this for a good year or more, still bizarrely unaware that I was painfully embodying the raison d’être of Markdown. I even filed a bug report with Squarespace, because the simple process of pasting my plain text into their WYSIWYG editor would create extra line breaks and other errors. I was close, but I was still lost.
It was around this time that I started tweeting questions about why any sane person would ever want to use Markdown.
The Funny Thing About People and Stuff
I have a few dear friends who are argumentative pains-in-the-ass of staggering proportions. I’m sure they feel the same about me, because I suffer from a condition I call overemphasitis—I am so obsessed with making my points heard that I often don’t give people time to properly absorb them.
Even smart, open-minded people take time to absorb new ideas. Especially smart, open-minded people.
And here’s the thing: the more worthwhile, the more valuable an idea you present to someone, the harder it will be for them to hear it.
Think of it this way: You’re smart. Your friend is smart. If the concept you’re proposing to them is truly worthwhile, then it falls into a rarified category of being both important, and something they hadn’t already considered—or had considered, but rejected. So there’s obviously something they need to get past in order to embrace this controversial idea of yours.
You should drink less at company parties. You have bad breath. It looks like you might be lactose intolerant. You and your husband don’t seem to like each other very much. You should try writing in plain text.
Having chronic overemphasitis, I would get super annoyed with my friends when they would push back against my carefully considered and inarguably brilliant advice.
But over time, I noticed a pattern. That same friend who rebuffed my ideas upon first hearing them, would often embrace them soon thereafter—and even pitch the ideas back to me as if they were their own.
I can’t believe people still go to Starbucks. Rendering and compositing should be done in linear-light. Of course a real Martini is made with gin. The first Terminator is so much better than the second. A spoon has no role in the making of a cappuccino.
Oh, really? Interesting. I wish I’d mentioned those things to you like a hundred times.
A worthwhile idea challenges us. If it really has value, then it means we may been wrong about something, or failed to realize something. Coming to terms with these possibilities take time.
In my case, I practically had to invent Markdown on my own before I realized how great it was.
Getting Lost in the Neighborhood
I once led a splinter unit in setting up a shot for a famous cinematographer. When he arrived to take over our setup, he didn’t quite love our camera position, which was limited by the geography of the set. It had been quite a puzzle to negotiate our big lens into the cramped space, but he decided to tear down our setup and start fresh. Ten minutes later, he had the camera exactly back where I’d placed it.
There’s a common understanding that in order to truly learn your way around an unfamiliar neighborhood, you have to get lost there a few times. Ideas stick more when you discover them organically—via your own process.
And then they can stick pretty hard. In my case, about a week after I embraced Markdown for my web writing, I began to think about how I could bring the same portability, compatibility, and universality to screenplay writing.
Take Your Time
The best thing I can do is gently lay out some of the reasons I love it. Go ahead: reject them. Fight back. Argue with me. This is one of those ideas that’s worth it.
Then slowly discover plain text on your own. Get lost in the neighborhood.
From the Writing Kit Blog:
Today I’m excited to announce Fountain support in Writing Kit 3.2. You can now open, edit, navigate, and preview Fountain screenplays right within the app.
This is exactly the kind of thing John and I hoped would start happening, and it’s happening fast.