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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

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Entries in SPMD (5)

Wednesday
Feb082012

SPMD is now Fountain

Screenplay Markdown has a new home, a new name, and some very cool new friends.

Screenwriting Nerds Unite

As the SPMD spec was making the rounds late last year, I was contacted by John August, a well-known screenwriter and the creator of Scrippets, an elegant tool for embedding short sections of a screenplay in a blog or web site, using formatting hinted from plain text. It turns out John was actively working on expanding Scrippets into something that could support an entire screenplay—in other words, exactly SPMD’s charter.

When we compared notes, the similarities between his format, called Fountain, and SPMD were overwhelming. We decided that we would merge our efforts into one. And his name was way better.

Check out the beautiful new Fountain site, created by John, Ryan Nelson, Nima Yousefi, and me. You’ll recognize much of the content as originating from the SPMD spec.

I’ll pause here to gush a bit: I am delighted to be working with John. That he is a respected, working writer/director, a huge nerd who both blogs and podcasts eloquently, a software designer, a father, and a genuinely nice guy, makes me feel a little less crazy for attempting do be all those things at once as well.

Your New Screenwriting Software: Anything You Like

Fountain is everything SPMD was, now with the support of a respected industry pro with a track record of creating best-in-class apps for screenwriters. There are some minor changes to the syntax, but the mission is still the same:

  • Allow screenwriters to write anywhere, using any tools they choose
  • Support all the formatting conventions of a modern screenplay
  • Archive screenplays in an obsolescence-proof format
  • Welcome developers to support the format

If this is the first you’re learning about all this, read more on the Fountain FAQ, or check out John’s announcement post.

Apps Out the Gate

Using Writing Kit for iPad to edit a Fountain screenplaySPMD champions Martin Vilcans, Brett Terpstra, and Jonathan Poritsky have been working hard to bring the SPMD + Marked workflow in line with the new Fountain spec. Check out Fountain for Marked.

Kent Tessman, creator of the Fade In family of screenwriting apps, was an early contributor to and outspoken advocate of the SPMD spec. He has updated Fade In to import and export Fountain files.

There is open-source code available now on Fountain’s Developer Resources page.

For a complete list, check out the Fountain Apps page. But remember: the best Fountain app is one you already have—your favorite text editor, on any platform.

Fountain: Act I

Neither John nor I are done with Fountain. There are wonderfully cool things to come. So stay tuned. Or just get busy! Script Frenzy is coming up—maybe you could be the first person to write an entire feature-length screenplay in Fountain.

Read John’s announcement post here (if for no other reason than to learn the origin of the name Fountain), and if you haven’t seen his screenwriting-related apps, check out FDX Reader for iPad and Bronson Watermarker for Mac.

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.