The Mystery of the Disappearing Articles

Scriptnotes: Ep. 159
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John and Craig take a look at four new entries in the Three Page Challenge, ranging from galactic drama to medieval comedy. Along the way, they talk about the nature of one-hour teasers, trust, plausibility, and how to properly address religious authorities.

Screenwriting is often described as a compressed form of writing, but one can take it too far. “The” and “a” are often useless articles — but you notice when they’re gone, as we did in one of the entries.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.


On trust, drama and corporations

The project I’m writing centers on trust. The more I think about the word and the concept of trust, the more complicated it becomes.

Most definitions of trust contain some combination of “confidence” and “reliability,” both of which often include trust in their own entries. Circular definitions are not especially helpful, so let’s try to pull them apart.

Confidence is an inner conviction, a firmly-held belief often (but not always) supported by facts or prior experience. I have confidence that it will not rain today, because it’s below zero outside.

Reliability is the quality of being able to depend on something to consistently perform as expected. They’re expensive, but the reliability of these hard drives is unmatched.

Combining these two ideas, we can arrive at a pretty good definition of trust:

Trust is confidence in the reliability of someone or something.

Or, in longer form:

Trust is the inner conviction that someone (or something) will do what you expect.

When you look at trust this way, you see several fascinating characteristics:

  1. Trust is something internal, a personally-held belief.
  2. The focus of trust is something external.1
  3. The focus of trust is something that can take its own actions. You can trust your neighbor or your dog. But it’s weird to talk about trusting a chair or a newborn.2
  4. Trust is a prediction about the future. Even in the past tense, it’s referring to the then-future: “I trusted him, but then he slept with a barrista.”

Trust has many thematic cousins — faith, hope, belief, honor — all of which can be explored in fiction. But for the screenwriter, trust is better.

Trust is dramatic.

Trust works well on screen because it’s about a relationship between two characters, and can be explored with actions rather than just words.

The rival soldiers who find themselves stranded behind enemy lines? Trust.

The husband whose wife snoops through his email? Trust.

The scorpion and the frog? Trust.3

Like faith, hope, belief and honor, there’s an internal aspect to trust, but it manifests outwardly. You don’t just trust; you trust someone. And the process of one character growing to trust another character lends itself to interesting scenes and conflicts. Often, late-story actions reveal whether that trust was well-placed.

We often speak of trust when it’s broken. Or shattered. Or destroyed. Worth noting: when we lose trust in someone, it’s rarely described gently. It’s almost always smashy and violent. In fact, we often discuss trust using crystalline metaphors:

Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that motherfucker’s reflection. (Lady Gaga, Telephone)

Trust means drama.

Impersonal trust, and corporate anthropomorphization

Trust is also supposedly at the heart of the sharing economy we live in, but what does it mean to trust Facebook, or Amazon, or Uber?

In the case of Uber and Lyft, the companies have a human face: the driver who picks you up. You have a pact of unspoken trust between you. You trust the driver to deliver you to your destination; she trusts you not to vomit in the back seat.4 Both of you trust the service to handle all the money details.

But with Amazon or Google, there’s no person in front of you to trust or distrust. When Stuart says he “trusts Google Maps,” what is he actually trusting?

I’d argue he’s trusting an anthropomorphized entity he’s created in his head. He’s already granting it a sort of consciousness: “Google Maps wants me to take the 10, but that’s crazy, right?”

The Supreme Court was criticized for recent decisions that treated corporations like individual persons, but the truth is we do it all the time. It’s a useful shorthand (“Apple fears Android growth”), and allows us to distinguish the employees of a corporation from the corporation itself. “I admire the engineers at Google, but not Google.”

And we’ve always done it with countries. (“France wants a carbon tax.”)

In personifying abstractions like countries and corporations, we’re able to talk about whether we trust them. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing overall.

Maybe if we looked at them for what they are — a collection of moving pieces, more like a swarm than a single entity — we’d be more prudent. Can you trust something that is constantly changing and reassembling itself?

That’s a good dramatic question. I call dibs.

  1. In a phrase like, “trust my own eyes,” the eyes are not the person speaking. Even in phrases like, “trust yourself,” it’s still a transitive verb. I’d argue the “you” you’re supposed to trust is a projection of an idealized person.
  2. Can you trust a robot or a zombie? The answer depends on the degree to which you believe it’s making its own decisions. If it’s just following its coding or brain-chomping instincts, the best you can do it predict it, not trust it.
  3. And overdone. Can we please stop referencing the scorpion and the frog?
  4. My last Uber had paper bags, much like you’d find in airplane seatbacks, ready for drunken Saturday night customers.

Less IMDb gets unbroken

We love IMDb, but man, there’s a lot of clutter on those pages. That’s why one of our very first coding projects was Less IMDb, a browser extension that rearranges IMDb pages to emphasize credits and minimize everything else.

screen shot

For the past four years, Less IMDb sat in the righthand margin, quietly doing its job. Occasionally it would encounter an odd IMDb page that didn’t play nicely — often a themed page with oversized ads — but for the most part it worked as intended.

Then last month Less IMDb broke altogether. So Ryan Nelson dusted off the code and got it working again.

The Safari version of Less IMDb has been updated to 1.3.1 and is available here. He’s working on the Chrome version now.

Unfortunately the auto-updaters for both Safari and Chrome won’t work properly, so you have to download and install it yourself.

For best results, uninstall your existing version of Less IMDb first. (After all, you don’t want More Less IMDb.) You can find it in Preferences > Extensions.

Then download the new one and follow the instructions. (There is also a video walkthrough.)

What’s New:

  • The sidebar is back when Less IMDb is turned on.
  • Fixed formatting of release date, genre, and runtime information.
  • Added retina display support to Less IMDb controller icon.
  • Fixed bug that hid ratings even when Less IMDb was set to off.
  • Changed extension permissions to allow Less IMDb to run on any subdomain for better international support.
  • Fixed bug that prevented video from playing.
  • Fixed bug that prevented ratings from working.
  • Future versions will automatically update once 1.3.1 is installed.

Known issues and notes:

  • Older versions of the extension will not automatically update to the latest version, and should be deleted before using the updated extension.
  • Pages with heavily-branded content may look funky, particularly those using dark backgrounds.
  • Photos and video thumbnails don’t always load when Less IMDb is turned on.
  • Apple’s Safari Extension gallery doesn’t yet link properly.
  • The Less IMDb page is old and FAQ is out of date (update coming).

Once Ryan get the Chrome version finished, we’ll be open-sourcing the whole project. We’d love for coders to springboard off what we’ve done to build a Firefox version, for example, or incorporate it into some of new WebKit goodness announced for Yosemite.

Less IMDb continues to be a useful little utility, something you don’t notice until it’s gone. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot.


Putting a price on it

Scriptnotes: Ep. 158
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From Amazon to animation, there’s drama this week about prices for books and movies and even internships. John and Craig take a look at what happens when companies wrestle over how much things cost, and the effect it has on people trying to make a living as writers.

We recorded this episode with a live audience listening in online. It went well enough that we’ll try to do it occasionally.

Craig won’t be able to make to this year’s Austin Film Festival, but never fear: Kelly Marcel will take his place at the live Scriptnotes show.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 8-22-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


Texting in film and television

Craig and I may have taken umbrage at his video about comedy directors who aren’t Edgar Wright, but Tony Zhou’s newest video looking at how filmmakers handle texting and the internet on-screen is all good.


Zhou’s underlying point is that we still haven’t settled on conventions for showing texting or the internet. And that’s good! Filmmakers can and should experiment to see what works best for their needs.

In ten years, some of our choices will look quaint and foolish, but that’s the fun and challenge of making new things.


Secrets of Highland’s Dark Mode

When you’re writing a script in Highland, you can turn on Dark Mode (⌘D) to flip the colors in the edit view. So instead of this:

screenshot

In Dark Mode, you get this:

screenshot

Dark Mode is useful for writing at nighttime or in darker locations, when you don’t want to be staring at a bright screen. It can also be easier on your eyes.

But you’re not limited to white text on a black background. You can customize the colors to your heart’s content in Preferences.

screenshot

color picker Under Colors, click on any of the color swatches to bring up the color picker. Here you can set your choices for text, background, scene headings and notes, for both Normal and Dark Mode.

In the color picker, I often click the magnifying glass, which sets the color to anything I can click on screen. It’s a handy way to get exactly the color I want. (In the first version of this post, I called this an eyedropper instead of a magnifying glass, because in most image editing apps, the equivalent tool is an eyedropper. As a UI metaphor, which tool makes more sense? Discuss.)

Most days, this is the color scheme I use in Highland:

screenshot

It’s pretty close to Ethan Schoonover’s Solarized Dark theme, and works particularly well with Highland’s default typeface (Highland Sans).

If you feel like going down the color theme rabbit hole, there are myriad options out there, most of which were originally designed for coders.1 The magnifying glass is usually the easiest way to try these different configurations. Just click on a theme’s color swatches in the website.2

Because Highland will let you pick any colors you want, we have to be smart about what color we use for selecting text. We’re generating the highlight color programmatically, using the following code:

CGFloat selectionAlpha = 0.2;

NSColor *invertedBackgroundColor = [NSColor colorByInvertingColor:backgroundColor];

[self.textView setSelectedTextAttributes:@{NSBackgroundColorAttributeName: [invertedBackgroundColor colorWithAlphaComponent:selectionAlpha], NSForegroundColorAttributeName: invertedBackgroundColor}];

In English, this means we’re setting the background color of the selection to the inverse of the normal background color, with the opacity knocked down to 20%. Meanwhile, the text color is set to the inverted normal background color. As a result, you’ll always be able to read highlighted text, no matter what colors you choose.

If you haven’t tried Dark Mode or customizing colors, give them a shot. They’re both small things, but they make working in Highland just a little more delightful.

As always, you can find Highland in the Mac App Store.

  1. In many ways, screenwriting resembles coding; you’re writing the plan for creating something else, using specific and esoteric terminology.
  2. We’re discussing whether to build editor themes into a future edition of Highland. If you have an opinion, let us know.