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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

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Entries in Writing (27)

Tuesday
Nov272012

Reading Screenplays on the iPad mini

John August responds to the question of whether the iPad mini is good for reading screenplays:

It is. It’s really good.

I agree completely. Even without a retina display, the mini is a thoroughly pleasant device for reading. And dictating script notes via Siri feels enough like living in the future that I barely miss my flying car.

John’s feelings about the inexpensive but unpretty GoodReader app match mine, and my recommendation hasn’t changed since I wrote about reading screenplays on the iPad Maxi: Spend a few extra bucks and get PDF Expert. It syncs with Dropbox, exports annotations as text files, and won’t hurt your eyes. My only complaint is an old one: with no ability to offset page numbering (to account for page 1 of the PDF corresponding to the unnumbered title page of a screenplay), your exported annotations will be off by one page.

Small price to pay for a hundred screenplays in your pocket.

Monday
Sep102012

Fountain for Sublime Text

Jonathan Poritsky has put together a lovely Fountain syntax highlighting package for Sublime Text. Here’s what it looks like in action:

A great (and free to try) way to write your next movie in Fountain.

Friday
Aug312012

Final Draft Writer vs. the Innovation of Less

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.

First Impressions

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.

The Price

John August told Macworld:

“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

Of them, I would say that the recently-updated Scripts Pro and the feature-rich Storyist seem to have broken away from the pack as clean and reliable, FDX-compatible screenwriting tools for iOS.

It’s hard to imagine typing a screenplay without relying on buttons like these. Unless you’ve ever seen a typewriter.

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.

A Fountain-format screenplay in Byword for iPad

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.

Friday
Aug102012

Story in Lego

I read a lot of screenplays. None of them are perfect. It’s a big part of my job as an unemployed movie director to evaluate these scripts and suggest improvements.

Almost every script I’ve ever read could have been better if the writer had followed the advice of director and story artist Emma Coats, who famously tweeted a series of “story basics” learned during her tenure at Pixar.

1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Read them all at The Pixar Touch blog, and follow Emma on Twitter, because she’s still rockin’ the badass thoughtfulness every day.

I found myself so enamored with Emma’s observations that I wanted some way of reminding myself of them while I work. I considered printing them and pinning them to my office wall, or turning them into a text screensaver.

Then Alex Eylar, known on Reddit as ICanLegoThat, worked his lego-illustration magic on a dozen of the “rules.” Perfect.

Alex, I wish you’d do the rest, and make them available as high-res JPEGs.

Then I could finally start writing.