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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

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Entries in Fountain (12)

Thursday
Dec082011

Screenplay Markdown Lives!

Thanks to the hard work of Brett Terpstra, creator of the Markdown preview app Marked, along with Martin Vilcans and Jonathan Poritsky, there is now a functional workflow for SPMD.

Screenplay Markdown, or SPMD, began as some musings here and matured into a full syntax proposal. Martin adapted his pre-existing Screenplain engine to SPMD’s syntax, and Brett was able to use that engine within Marked to create HTML that could, via a CSS style sheet, be formatted to look exactly like a screenplay. Jonathan stepped up and worked on the CSS, dialing it in to match Final Draft’s formatting, and making sure that it would print as accurately as possible.

If you’re not familiar with Marked, here’s what it says on the tin:

Marked opens MultiMarkdown, Markdown, Text or HTML files and previews them as HTML documents. It watches the file for changes, updating the preview any time the file is saved. With a full set of preview styles, Marked adds an ideal “live” Markdown preview to any text editor.

Marked is designed for Markdown, but flexible enough to use a custom processing engine. So you download Screenplain, point Marked at it, and then add Jonathan’s CSS file to Marked’s Custom CSS list. Complete instructions and download links can be found on the Marked support site, and on Jonathan’s blog.

Once you have this configured, you can type your screenplay text in your favorite text editor, and Marked will show you a preview, updated every time you save.

Martin’s updated Screenplain engine is live at screenplain.appspot.com, where you can upload an SPMD document and get a PDF or Final Draft .FDX file in return.

Like the Markdown syntax that inspired it, SPMD is designed to be as transparent as possible. If you just type some text that looks like a screenplay, SPMD should do a darn good job of interpreting it. If you want to do fancy things like text emphasis, non-standard sluglines, or overlapping dialog, there are simple tags to learn—and Marked will show you right away whether you’ve got the hang of it.

So now you can write a screenplay anywhere, using any writing software you like, on any device you like, without sacrificing any formatting capabilities.

You can also, for free, on any platform, convert this text-only screenplay document to printable HTML or or a legit Final Draft document.

For the tiny cost of four dollars you can get a live preview of your screenplay while you work on your Mac, and print to paper or PDF.

Awesome.

I’m so inspired by this whole process—four guys who have never met in person collaborated on making something awesome, and now it works.

Are we done? Not even close.

There’s room for writing applications, whether WYSIWYG or more Byword-MultiMarkdown-preview-style, that support SPMD internally as their native format (Fade In currently has limited SPMD support via import/export). And not every feature of SPMD is implemented in Screenplain, notably cover pages and notes.

I’m not sure how fun it would be to work on a very long screenplay using the Marked workflow, even with the super cool feature of navigating by sluglines. And screenwriters think in pages, so a screenwriting tool that doesn’t paginate will rapidly feel like a car without a speedometer.

What something like this needs most is users, and I’m thrilled that we’re at that stage that you, the Prolost reader, could use SPMD for your creative work. We need the feedback to keep this project going.

See also: Brett’s blog post, Jonathan’s blog post, and Martin’s blog post.

Buy Marked on the Mac app store.

Tuesday
Sep062011

Test Drive SPMD

Martin Vilcans is in the process of updating Screenplain to use SPMD. You can give it a test run here. Try feeding it this sample file, or make your own. Any text file that contains anything remotely like a screenplay should work well.

This is a very early work in progress without any real utility yet—the only output is a simple “look, it works” page—but it’s still exciting to see. There’s no forced line break support yet, nor any text emphasis, but he does have dual dialog working.

Martin is not the only developer to express interest in SPMD, but he’s the first to show progress. Nice work Martin, can’t wait to see more!

Sunday
Aug142011

Screenplay Markdown Progress

The response to my Screenplay Markdown post has been wonderful. It’s a bit hard to follow the progress by reading the blog page, so here’s a brief recap.

I wrote about my recently discovered joy of working with plain text and Markdown, and that I’d concluded that a simple text file would not be such a bad way to begin work on a screenplay, given that Final Draft and many other screenwriting apps do a fine job of interpolating proper formatting from imported plain text documents.

Turned out I was not the only person to consider this, and some commenters called my attention to other plain-text-to-screenplay projects (post update 1).

This led to speculation about a simple syntax that would account for the few things not supported by plain text import/export, such as emphasis, dual dialog, title pages and and centered text.

This led to me going bananas and writing up a proposal for a plain-text screenplay format called SPMD (update 2), and creating a video mockup of how an app like Byword might soft-preview your screenplay formatting while you work (update 3).

The Byword guys tweeted about the video and got some excited responses from their followers.

Kent Tessman, creator of the Fade In screenwriting software (and its iOS companion, which I just learned of), wrote a detailed reply on his own blog. Other developers have emailed me privately and shared their valuable thoughts.

This has resulted in some changes to the spec, and to some real hope on my part that SPMD might becomes something useful someday. So if you’re at all interested, please take a look at the proposal, download the sample files, and let us know your thoughts.

Tuesday
Aug092011

Screenplay Markdown

Or: How I Fought The Battle With Usability and Lost, But Received Actual Productivity as a Consolation Prize

Thanks in no small part to the wise ramblings of Merlin Mann, I’m hooked on the portability and flexibility of doing as much of my creative work as possible using simple text files stored on Dropbox. Documents I’m working on are always accessible to me wherever I go. I can even apply useful formatting to these plain text files, regardless of which writing software I’m using, with the relatively intuitive syntax of Markdown. Markdown is, in the words of its creator John Gruber:

…a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).

Apps like WriteUp on iOS and Byword on the Mac show me what my Markdown-formated text will look like in HTML. Here’s this very blog post in Byword — first the raw markdown text:

And here’s the HTML preview:

Because the files are plain text, there’s no way to mess up their contents or formatting by opening them in an incompatible app. The value of this has been made evident to me recently as I tried to live the Apple dream and bounce some work back and forth between Apple’s own Pages app on iOS and Mac. The file became bloated with unnecessary crap, formatting was removed, comments were deleted, and use of niceties such as curly quotes was inconsistent. I won’t even mention the hassles of manually emailing the document back and forth between devices, since Apple is actively solving that issue with iCloud. But iCloud won’t be so hot for Pages documents if the iPad version persists in stripping out critical formatting and features from documents created on the Mac.

Markdown solves all these issues by eschewing WYSIWYG and instead prioritizing something that, I’ve come to realize, might be far more valuable: keeping your hands moving on the keyboard.

The putzing-free fluidity with which I edit Markdown documents across devices has made me even more grumpy about the sorry state of mobile screenwriting. On iOS, I use two screenplay writing apps that support the industry-standard .FDX format: ScriptsPro and ScriptWrite. In all honesty, both have tremendous potential, and tremendous bugs. I’ve been skittish about using either for real work. Celtx Script, which I wrote about when it launched, is stable and lovely, but does not support FDX. Like Merlin (roughly) said in a recent episode of Back to Work, “I’m not going to row out to your island.”

Out of desperation for a mobile screenwriting solution that would be as fluid and flexible as my Markdown text work, I engaged in some procrasductivity the other night and began researching ways of writing a screenplay in plain text. After much fiddling, I finally remembered that Final Draft actually has a heuristic for guessing the implied screenplay formatting in a plain text file. If you feed it something like this:

It will correctly import it as this:

So the ultimate mobile screenwriting solution may be, for the time being, your favorite among the many lovely Dropbox-based plaintext writing apps out there.

Are other screenwriters as dissatisfied with their workflow as I am? Is there a part of your workflow where you’d give up WYSIWYG and accurate pagination to just get words on the page in a way that freed you from a specific device, and specific software? Or do we expect that Final Draft, Inc.’s promised-but-delayed iPad app will be what we’ve been wanting? Or that one or more of the existing iPad apps will become awesome?

Screenwriting is challenging enough that I often catch myself “fiddling” (in the Merlin Mann definition: spending more time putzing with the tools than doing the work) with ways of making it more visual and intuitive. And now here I am fiddling with a way of making it less visual for the sake of more portability.

Maybe I should just shut up and write. Which is exactly what I did after I got this all figured out. I put all the toys away and wrote a six-page treatment for a feature I want to make.

I wrote it in Markdown. And yesterday, as I was out walking my dog, I got an idea for a small tweak. I sat down on a bench in the sun, pulled out my phone, and made the adjustment while it was still fresh in my mind.

Awesome.

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