Portada » Don’t pay for your screenwriting software

Don’t pay for your screenwriting software

It looks like the Earth must go another quater of its orbit around the sun before I get down to writing on my blog (actually, more than that if it’s in English). It comforts me that -due to the humble number of readers, I haven’t done any harm. Well, no. That’s no comfort at all.


Let’s get started

For years Final Draft has been the standard software for writing screenplays. It is a few MBytes at the intimidating price of around 250 dollars. Surprisingly, it contains a Catalan spell-checker. And I am grateful for that.

But even if it contained the largest dicionary on Earth, it would not be worth -in my opinion- that price. Not for writing screenplays.

The layout of a screenplay is no big deal

The standard format of a -say cinema- screenplay is not quantum physics. As long as the script matches the layout (font, size, line spacing, indention and margins) usually expected by readers from the industry, anyone can write a script with MS Word, LibreOffice or a typing machine -as long as they can find one that works.

True, software like Final Draft goes beyond what an ordinary text processor can offer. Everything is simpler: you don’t have to mess with buttons to apply the right format, it generally includes a card system to create the outline of your film  (or TV episode, or radio drama…), and there are production tools too (which, honestly, a writer will probably never use).

But the core of that kind of software is always the same: a text processor with some pre-defined styles for the scriptwriter to decide, by changing it or leaving it as it is, which kind of text is being typed at every moment: (a character’s name, an action or description, a scene header, a transition…) That way the computer applies the right style to that line (mainly indentation, and previous and subsequent line spacing). This is nonsense. And if you don’t think like this now, you will when you finish reading this post.

My point is: although these programmes do a bit more than this (spell-checker, page numbering, adding MORE’s and CONTINUED’s…) most of them are still MS Word-based.

Final Final Draft

I always thought that Final Draft would rule for ever, at least until not long ago, when thanks to an article at the blog guió.cat (in Catalan, sorry) posted by Eduard Sola I found about the fantastic Fade In, another programme for writing scripts which does essenciallythe same as Final Draft at a fifth of its price. Some people even think it is better… So I seriously considered purchasing it.

But hey, not so fast, put your money back in your pockets! At least I considered it until browsing the internet (with the never too valued objective of wasting my time), I came across something called Fountain which was created a few years ago. At least, that’s what it looks like. I haven’t spend much time doing research.

What the heck, let the computer do the hard work

So what is it about? Well it’s not software, but a “language” we can use to type our screenplay. If you take a walk around Fountain’s website you will find everything properly explained. But no, no, no. Don’t click away from me. Let me summarize it for you.

It turns out that someone wondered: why do we have to spend loads of money on a computer with the latest processor, if we still have to decide what style we are going to use. What the… With four core processors and more memory than an elephant with an unfinished bussiness, a today’s computer should do our taxes, go shopping, walk the dog and, obviously, make a clean copy of our screenplay. And that is what Fountain is all about: being able to type our script on any software, platform or device,  without having to worry about the layout. When we’re done, the computer will take care of it.

At Fountain’s website you can test yourself how the language works

And how does the computer know if we are introducing the name of a character (to indent it at four and a half inches from the left n) or we are typing an action (which is supposed to be neartly page-wide)?

The idea is simple:

Stop fiddling around and use any programme

It’s all about writing in ANY WORD PROCESSOR. And when I say ANY processor I include Window’s notepad and even any programme you may have on your smartphone, if inspiration comes when you are in a difficult situation, for instance. If we do it correctly, we won’t have to type those words again.

You only need to keep some very basic standards: capitalize the character’s names, begin every scene header with INT. or EXT, don’t forget to press return to start a new paragraph, and little else. Nothing that any screenwriter doesn’t normally do. In a few words: we forget about styes, margins, indentations, etc… And when we finally finish our work (easier said than done, ha ha), we save it as a .txt text file.

Then, for the computer to take the text and turn it into a perfectly formatted, numbered script  is a piece of cake.

The main quality about Fountain is being a “language” (and not precisely complicated). As far as I know, it is open source and doesn’t have its own software. If you already have any of these 30 programmes (including Final Draft, Fade IN or CELTX), chances are you can import the text you have saved (you might have to specify import as Fountain) and see it transformed on your screen straight away. You can even skip that step by using this web which converts it for free. Upload your .txt file and you will get a PDF with your script nicely arranged.

What about outlines?

I expect you didn’t think the screenwriters behind this project haven’t thought about outlines or synopses. We know that screenwriting work is problably more about writing synopses, treatments, character profiles and outlines than actions or dialogues. This article tells us how to do it. Surely, Fountain contains special characters or instructions to force “styles” in case you have to go out of the standards and type something differently, but the thing is you won’t probably need it.

It’s devastatingly simple.

So start writing.

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