Prolost Amazon Store

The easiest way to support Prolost is to begin your Amazon, iTunes, Mac App StoreZacuto or B&H shopping here. You can drag those links to your bookmarks bar so you never forget. It costs you nothing and it really helps. Thanks!

Prolost & Found (search)
Subscribe

 

Want to know what it’s like to almost never get email? Subscribe to the Prolost mailing list!

Tools

Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

Needables
  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in iPad (20)

Thursday
Mar082012

Write Better With Fountain

Integrated Story Outlining in Plain Text

What you set up with the inciting incident…

The simplest way to begin screenwriting with Fountain is to open any text editor and start typing something that looks like a screenplay. You can then send that file to the free Screenplain web app to turn it into styled HTML, or a Final Draft file. You could also import the file into Fade In or a growing number of screenplay apps that support Fountain. Soon you’ll also be able to use Highland to convert a Fountain file directly to a printable PDF.

But if you’re just getting started with Fountain, you may like some assurance that your text is being interpreted correctly. And even a seasoned Fountain writer could benefit from a bit of WYSIWYG.

Marked for The Kill

Enter Marked. As I’ve mentioned, Marked is a simple and powerful HTML preview app for writers using the popular Markdown syntax that inspired Fountain. Marked is flexible enough to be configured to use other syntaxes—so Marked, combined with the Screenplain engine and some custom CSS, becomes a live preview tool for writing in Fountain. Use whatever text editor you like. Every time you save, Marked will update, showing you what your screenplay will look like.

Click to enlarge. Don’t make me say it for all of them.

Simple enough, and a great way to get used to working with Fountain. And there are some nice perks to Marked, such as the navigation pop-up that shows you each of your Scene Headings in a menu. That feature, while handy, suffers from a common screenwriting software pitfall: Scene Headings are often not a very useful way to navigate a script, as they don’t necessarily line up with what we think of as the beginnings of actual “scenes.” What you or I might consider a single “scene” might contain several Scene Headings.

Outliners

Organization and structure are such an important issues that I made sure Fountain had some provision for supporting them. Fountain’s Sections are invisible, hierarchical markers that you can use to demarcate the structural points of your story—or anything else you like. Synopses allow you to annotate a Section—or a Scene Heading—with non-printing descriptive text.

You can add Sections and Synopses to your Fountain screenplay as you work, or as a part of rewriting. You can also begin the writing process with them. You can use them to denote scenes, sequences, act breaks, or whatever is helpful to your writing process.

Every writer is different, but most utilize some method of outlining their story—usually in a completely different app, or in no app at all (3x5 notecards are a popular meatspace method). My problem with those techniques is that they’re not writing. When I’m several days into the road trip of my story, those disconnected outlines feel like a map locked in the glove compartment of the car we decided not to take.

Fountain fixes the disconnect between the outlining and writing process. You can begin your outline as a text file using Sections and Synopses, and then seamlessly fill in bits of the actual screenplay as they come to you. All without your hands ever leaving the keyboard, all in whatever text app you prefer, on whichever platform.

That last bit is important: Although you may not see yourself writing an entire screenplay, or even a scene, on a tiny device such as your phone (yet), I bet you could imagine jotting down an idea for an outline there.

Sections and Synopses: The Syntax

A Section in Marked is exactly like a Header in Markdown: you simply precede it with any number of pound signs. The more pound signs, the more “nested” the Section:

Synopses follow Sections or Scene Headings and begin with a single equals sign.

Screenplain and Marked will display your Sections and Synopses in HTML, using a lovely style sheet created by Jonathan Poritsky. Of course, they are not meant to be included in printed output, so Screenplain ignores them when creating a Final Draft file, as will Highland. But seeing them while you write is nice, and reminiscent of Movie Magic Screenwriter’s integrated outlining features.

And that navigational pop-up in Marked? It displays your Sections, indented according to hierarchy, and allows you to navigate by them. Scene Headers are still there as well, nested below Sections.

This behavior is also available in some Markdown editors. MultiMarkdown Composer, for example, displays your headers as a live, nested Table Of Contents on a side panel.

Writing Kit for iOS also has this Header-based navigation built in.

To demonstrate how an outline might look in Fountain using Marked, I whipped up a quick outline of Die Hard using only Sections and Synopses. Even in plain text, this document is readable and clear. In MMD Composer, the structure is navigable via the TOC panel on the left. And in Marked, the outline is presented in a clean, attractive layout.

And here’s what it would look like if Jeb Stuart had started writing his amazing screenplay right within this hypothetical outline:

If you’re the kind of writer who likes to work with a general-purpose structural guideline, Fountain’s Sections and Synopses are perfect for you. Much to the chagrin of seasoned writers everywhere, you can begin your writing with a template. Here’s the well-known Save The Cat beat sheet in Fountain format:

Or maybe you’re the anti-structuralist who poo-poos “templates” and even rejects the classic three-act structure. You can still use Sections as simple bookmarks to mark important beats and make navigation easier.

Story Arch

…you must pay off at the climax.

Sometimes, when writing, I feel that my story is too unwieldy to grapple with. It’s composed of thousands of tiny details, and yet they must all add up to a singular experience that carries the audience on an emotional journey. I like what the current Wikipedia entry has to say about the architectural innovation known as the arch:

An arch requires all of its elements to hold it together, raising the question of how an arch is constructed.

Writers, too, know this feeling.

Of course, the answer in arch-building is to use a wooden frame, or a centring. You build the frame, and lay the stones over it. When you remove the frame, the stones remain in place. The shape of the frame defines the shape of the arch, but the frame itself is discarded, an now-useless artifact of the arch-building process. The arch, however, is more beautiful for the precision of the frame—and appears to hold itself together impossibly, an intoxicating combination of monumental might and graceful weightlessness.

Can you tell how I feel about outlining my writing?

Marked for The Law

I hope this exploration of Fountain’s outlining features sparks some ideas for how you might begin putting Fountain to use. And I hope it’s clear that neither I nor Fountain are trying to prescribe any particular workflow or writing style. Quite the contrary—Fountian is designed to be flexible enough to support any screenwriter’s habits.

Marked is available for OS X on the App Store. Download links and installation instructions for Screenplain can be found on Jonathan Poritsky’s blog.

Friday
Feb102012

What I Do With My iPad Part 3: Read Screenplays

Final Draft Inc. announced yesterday that they’ll be releasing Final Draft Reader for iPad next week. The company had already warned us that they were scaling back their iPad efforts from a full screenplay editing app to just a reader. It will be interesting to see what they’ve come up with.

There’s nothing new about reading FDX files, the native format of Final Draft, on an iPad. Screenwriter and Fountain co-creator John August has an excellent app for just that. FDX Reader is a must-have for any screenwriter, and a model of iPad beauty and simplicity. But it lacks annotation features, so there is room for Final Draft Reader—if FDX files and their embedded “scriptnotes” are exclusively the world you tread in.

But of course, that’s not the case for most filmmakers. Most screenplays are shared in PDF format, and that’s a very good thing.

A Thousand Screenplays in Your Pocket

Before the iPad was even announced, I dreamed of a better way of reading screenplays. The only real option I considered was the (now discontinued) Kindle DX, which could correctly display PDFs and cost $489.

So for this reason alone, the price of the iPad felt “pre spent” to me on the day of the announcement. I knew that there would be some way that the iPad would become the powerhouse document reader I’d dreamed of. And it did—but not right away.

It’s painfully obvious that the iPad is good for reading. Maybe not as good as a Kindle, but darn good. Reading screenplays, however, is more than just “reading”—it’s work. You’ve promised to give a friend your honest opinion on her latest effort. You’re “breaking down” a script for production. You’re proofreading your own draft, checking for plot holes, misspellings, or colossal suckiness. Even if you’re reading a screenplay purely for fun, you’re reading something that isn’t a final product. You’re reading a recipe book while your stomach is growling.

All of these tasks require attentive reading and some form of note-taking. The very least I do when reading a screenplay is mark character introductions and major plot beats. When you’re watching Ocean’s Eleven, it’s never a problem to keep track of the characters. Brad Pitt is rather memorable, and quite distinct from George Clooney and Matt Damon. But when reading a screenplay, they’re not movie stars yet—they’re just “Danny,” “Rusty,” and “Linus.” You’re going to need some way to keep track of them amongst Frank, Reuben, Livingston, Virgil, Turk, Saul, Yen, and Basher. You’ll be forgiven for flipping back to that dog-eared page to remind yourself who is who.

No one reads a printed screenplay without a pen in hand. So a tablet that allows “reading” a PDF isn’t enough to replace a hardcopy for the work of reading a screenplay. We need digital dog-ears.

Of course, one could simply use a computer for this. But there’s something both awful and impossible about reading off a laptop screen. My computer feels like a thing to do work with. I lean forward to use it. It bleeps at my with distractions and beckons me to be productive, or to research how felines behave when video cameras are nearby.

The iPad, on the other hand, invites you to lean back. To not switch apps. To read attentively.

On my sixth day of owning an iPad, I wrote about my experience reading screenplays on it. I’d found an app I liked called ReaddleDocs. I’d bought, but was not happy with, the most popular iPad reading app at the time, GoodReader from Good.iWare. I found it ugly, clunky, and un-iPad-like—but I relied on it for its bevy of features that Apple couldn’t or wouldn’t include in the initial iPad release, such as Dropbox file access and handling compressed files.

A year and many apps later, the two apps I use for reading screenplays now? GoodReader (now $4.99) and a newer app from Readdle called PDF Expert ($9.99).

Pretty vs. Practical

Rather than build true PDF annotation into ReaddleDocs, Readdle instead chose to launch an entirely new app. PDF Expert does a lot of what GoodReader does, and it is much prettier. But I’m a little grumpy with Readdle for making me buy a new document-reading-and-management app rather than simply improving their existing one (like Good.iWare did with the orginally 99¢ GoodReader). I shared this feeling with them, and it obviously fell on deff ears—they recently released yet another PDF annotation app.

GoodReader on the left, PDF Expert on the right, both with their dismissible HUD UI’s shown. Click to enlarge.

Compared to PDF Expert, GoodReader still feels clunky and cluttered. It’s un-Apple-like in that it excludes no features for lack of polish. But it has been getting steadily better. And those plentiful features are pretty handy.

PDF Expert, on the other hand, is gorgeous. It’s also quite feature-rich, so it can be a bit daunting, but the taste level will be refreshing to aesthetically-sensitive filmmaker types. While this prioritization of prettiness is mostly welcome, it potentially fails the user in one very important case: the text selection widget—the tool you’ll be using more than anything else while annotating—feels a tiny bit laggy and tap-resistant compared to GoodReader’s unadorned iOS-native version. It’s pure speculation on my part that PDF Expert’s extra UI chrome is to blame for this of course. I’ve mentioned it to Readdle and they say they’re looking into it.

My favorite feature of both apps is, of course, Dropbox sync. Every time I get a new screenplay, I save it into a specific folder on my Dropbox, and then press “Sync” in GoodReader or PDF Expert. Not only do the apps load any new documents, they also save back to Dropbox my annotated copies. The annotations that GoodReader and PDF Expert add to PDF files are standardized and compatible, so I can open a marked-up scripts in Preview on my Mac and see—even edit—my notes.

GoodReader and PDF Expert have nearly identical popover windows for browsing your bookmarks and annotations. This makes going over your notes a breeze. If I’m sharing my thoughts on a script with the writer, I’ll sit with this window open and tap each note, which takes me to the correct page. It’s a live list of things to talk about.

Digital dog-ears.

The best notes-givers follow up an in-person or over-the-phone conversation with a emailed write-up of all notes discussed. Both apps make this wonderfully easy. You can email the annotated PDF, or a summary of your annotations, or both. The annotations summary is probably the “killer feature” of these two apps for me. The only bummer is that your page numbers will be off by one, since PDF screenplays tend to have a title page before page one. I have contacted both Good.iWare and Readdle to request a solution to this problem, which is not unique to screenplays. To their credit, Readdle replied, where Good.iWare did not.

Surprise: I Choose The Hot Russian Model

Very much due to their responsiveness to my feedback (not that they’ve implemented any of my suggestions—just that they replied), I now use Readdle’s PDF Expert almost exclusively over GoodReader. Software is about relationships. So PDF Expert gets my recommendation as the screenplay reading app of choice. Its polish, design, and the communicativeness of the developer is well worth the negligible extra cost.

I know there are many out there who accuse the iPad of being a “manufactured need,” a device that fills a gap that, for many, is a hairline crack, if it even exists at all. But for me, reading screenplays is something I honestly wonder how I ever accomplished before the iPad. With PDF Expert and FDX Reader already so well suited for the task, I somehow doubt I’ll be doing it any differently next week.

See also: What I Do With My iPad Part 1: Storyboarding, and What I Do With My iPad Part 2: Writing with a Keyboard

Wednesday
Jan042012

What I Do With My iPad Part 2: Write With a Keyboard

The iPad is a wonderful focused writing tool. Both Harry McCracken and James Kendrick have perfectly described how its simplicity and one-app-at-a-time model encourage attentive productivity. McCracken writes:

With the iPad… You can devote nearly every second of your time to the task at hand, rather than babysitting a balky computer. I don’t feel like I’m “using an iPad to write.” I’m just writing. It’s a far more tranquil, focused experience than using a PC or Mac.

McCracken and Kendrick agree that using an iPad to write tranquilly and focussedly requires a physical keyboard (both like the Logitech Keyboard Case). I love using my iPad with my Apple Bluetooth keyboard. I really wish someone at Apple did too, because unfortunately, the device’s keyboard support feels like a bit of an afterthought. I can’t help but feel that if anyone on the iPad team was passionate about the physical keyboard experience, a few glaringly obvious shortcomings would be corrected.

  • Command + Tab, optionally in concert with the left and right arrow keys, is the keyboard shortcut for switching apps on Mac. I want this functionality so bad on my iPad that I actually mocked up what it might look like. I hope this video makes it as clear to you as it is to me how incredibly useful this would be.

I know, first I extol the virtues of the iPad’s focus and single-app view, and then I beg for an easy way to bounce among my apps. What can I say—the only thing a writer likes more than a distraction-free environment is distractions. Now on with the gripes.

  • When a search or other text entry, such as an email field, presents a list of suggestions based on what I’ve begun to type, I should be able to use the arrow keys on the keyboard to navigate that list, and Return to select—just like we do on OS X. iOS 5 added this functionality in a few places (address fields in Mail, for example), but there are still many text fields where it is frustratingly absent (most notably Search in Safari).

  • If you purchased your Apple keyboard after July 2011, your F4 key is devoted to Launchpad, the iPad-esque app browsing screen in OS X Lion. This key, with its grid-of-apps icon, is just dying to function as an iPad home button.

It’s not just Apple that thinks of iPad keyboarders last, if at all. Most of my writing apps exhibit an understandable, but nevertheless frustrating behavior when used with an external keyboard. Writing often means adding text to the end of a document, so frequently the part of the screen that I’m focussed on is the very bottom, as far from my eyeballs as possible (especially when I’m using my Incase Origami case/stand). You can work around this by padding the end of the document with a bunch of empty lines (or, better still, raising the iPad closer to eye-level if possible—not easy, but if you can pull it off you’ve created something much better for your posture than any laptop), iA Writer in full-focustard modebut I do wish that some of these apps would recognize that without the on-screen keyboard naturally pushing my words up to the center of the screen, there’s utility in padding out the bottom of the screen and keeping your typing area near the vertical center—the way, say, Scrivener does on the Mac in its excellent full-screen mode. Of all my iPad writing apps, the only one that nails this is iA Writer—but only in its full-focustard mode.

McCracken wrote about using his iPad as a laptop replacement. That’s not how I see it. There are many occasions when the power to do anything that my MacBook Pro offers is exactly what I want. But there times where that potential creates such a distraction that I long for something simpler. The amazing thing about using the iPad for creative work is that the device goes away, and the task at hand becomes the entire experience. With a just little more of Apple’s characteristic attention to detail, the physical keyboard experience could be just as transparent, and the iPad would truly be the best writing tool I’ve ever known.

If you agree with all or any of this, consider letting Apple know via their iPad Feedback form.

See also: What I Do With My iPad Part 1: Storyboarding

Tuesday
Nov292011

Holiday Gift Ideas 2011

I’m hard to shop for. If I want something, I tend to buy it. This annoys and distresses those around me. But there is an opportunity lurking in that situation—every once in a while, I get the delightful surprise of a gift I didn’t even know I wanted.

Usually socks.

Looking for gifts for the DV Rebel in your life? Or for an easy link to send those flummoxed by your bizarre filmmaking nerd lifestyle? Here are some ideas.

Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation

Another in the must-have series of big-ass ILM books. Enough said.

Visual Stories: Behind the Lens with Vincent Laforet

It’s rare that a photographer is even consciously aware of the specifics of their style and technique. Rarer still that a world-class photographer with such an awareness has any interest in sharing these insights with the world. And then there’s the rarest of all cases: A world-class photographer who can inspire and educate us with truly revelatory words about some jaw-dropping pictures.

Rare as in, just this one book. Vincent slam dunked this one.

Screenwriting Tips You Hack

Images on the screen start as words on a page. A blank, terrifying, soul-crushing page. I’ve been following and enjoying Xander Bennett’s Screenwriting Tips You Hack blog, and now he’s compiled the best of it into a book. If had just been a collection of his pithy and insightful blog posts, that would have been great, Instead its, like, an actual book type book that expands on the blog’s best bits. Even better.

The Art of Pixar: The Complete Color Scripts and Select Art from 25 Years of Animation

Animation studios use something called “color scripts” to plan out the color palette of a story. These long, filmstrip-like pieces of artwork are loose in detail but rich in storytelling color.

In other words, they are my favorite thing in the world. There’s so much beauty and inspiration in this book that it’s a bit overwhelming. That’s why I keep it in the bathroom.

Dot

Strap this little gumdrop to your iPhone 4 or 4S, download the companion app, and capture 360º panoramic video.

On your telephone.

For $79.

I need to sit down.

The DV Rebel’s Guide

Is it possible that you still know someone who doesn’t have this book? Heck, maybe the thing to do is buy the friend who already has it the Kindle edition. Speaking of which…

Kindle

This might be the Kindle year for me. I love my iPad, but I also love the imaginary notion that I’ll someday be somewhere sunny and the iPad will suck for reading there. I’ve also recently become infatuated with the indie author phenomenon, and I feel like simply owning a Kindle helps that movement grow.

I changed by mind since the last Kindle post. I think the simplest, cheapest one is the one to get. But I’d splurge and grab the one without ads.

A 50mm Lens

Please stop with all this “roughly what the human eye sees” baloney. The reason 50mm lenses are great is that they are fast and cheap. On anything but a full-frame DSLR, a 50 is a portrait lens. You know, for taking pictures of people. Which are the only pictures anyone cares about.

If you have a friend who has a DSLR with the crappy kit glass, get them the thrifty fifty for Canon or Nikon, show the the Aperture-priority mode on their camera, and transform their photography overnight from information gathering to emotion preserving.

Lightroom

Another photography life-changer. Whatever you’re using for your photography, if it’s not Lightroom, you’re doing it wrong.

Incase Origami Workstation for iPad

I’m writing this blog post using my iPad 2 (a great gift idea as well of course, if you are a Super Pimp Monster of Giving), Elements, and Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard. When I travel for less than three days (a carefully-tested and validated threshold), I don’t bring my laptop. The reason this works is that if it’s more than one day, I bring the Bluetooth keyboard. But the keyboard is a bit awkward to pack and lug around. In fact, mine has gotten a bit beat up, with some keys held on by tape and school prayer.

Enter the Origami Workstation. It’s a case for your keyboard, not your iPad. But when you open it, it becomes a stand for the iPad. It’s simple, brilliant, and best of all, non-commital. Your iPad never gets connected to the thing, it just rests on top, in whichever orientation you like. It even works with iPads in cases (mine is in the Apple SmartCover, which is so wonderful that there are days I don’t even think about how overpriced it is).

Apps

Speaking of Apple stuff, everyone’s favorite evil company makes it easy to gift apps for both iOS and Mac. This is a really cool thing to do, and it’s often cheap as bad coffee.

  • Of course I’ll start by suggesting that if you still have a friend who doesn’t have Plastic Bullet, Noir, or Movie Looks, you can set them on the path of righteousness for just a few bucks.

  • Similarly, giving Plastic Bullet for Mac to your friend is a gentle but firm way of saying “You have no idea what to do with five dollars, do you?”

  • I mentioned I’m writing this using Elements. It’s a great little iOS writing app. Thanks to SPMD, I’ll probably write a good chunk of my next screenplay on it.

  • On the Mac side, Byword is a simply lovely app for writing. Both it and Elements work beautifully with Markdown. Life is good in textopia.

  • Here’s a fun double-whammy. Order your friend a Wacom Bamboo Stylus for iPad and the ArtRage painting app. It’s like handing them a license to smoke clove cigarettes.

  • The gift of a Kindle is an invitation to read more. But maybe you don’t really care, like $100 care, that your friend reads more. Maybe you more like $5 care. In which case, buy her Instapaper. It’s the best app for reading web articles on your iOS device, and it’s integrated with Twitter. The next time someone posts a link to a cool article that you don’t have time to read right now, you’ll tap “Read Later” and it gets saved to your Instapaper library. Or you do it from your web browser using an easy-to-install toolbar bookmark. Later, you can read the day’s articles in a lovely book-like presentation, even when away from your internet connection. This is a home-pager for me on both my iPad and iPhone.

    Either this or a smack in the head would be a perfect gift for your friend who types “TLDR” a lot. Your choice.

Monsters

Inspiration. It’s a strange thing. Sometimes a great movie inspires me, other times, a festival of back-to-back terrible films is what it takes to get me writing like the wind. But the film that has kicked my ass up and down the block with shameful, abusive inspiration lately is Monsters by Gareth Edwards. He flew to Mexico and shot this movie himself with a crew of fewer than ten, including his two lead actors. He had a loose plan and a ton of faith in his ability to make something out of nearly nothing. In his own words:

I guess creativity is just being stupid enough not to realize you can’t do something.

The Blu-ray is gorgeous, and packed with supplemental features. I keep the slipcase tacked to my office wall.

Happy holiday shopping from Prolost!

Oh, wait—one more:

Point-Blank Sniper Gear

The man’s a myth.