Today we’re announcing the beta release of Highland, our new screenwriting utility.

highland logoHighland lets you convert files between PDF, Final Draft (.fdx) and Fountain. It works in all directions.

→ It creates perfectly-formatted PDFs from Fountain or FDX files.

→ It creates future-proof Fountain files you can edit in any text editor.

→ It melts PDFs, making them editable.

That last part is basically magic. Highland can take almost any screenplay PDF and convert it back to an editable file in seconds.

Here’s a quick walk-through video I made to show how it works:

Highland is a Mac app. We’ll be selling it through the Mac App Store. But before we do that, we need screenwriters to beta test it.

This changes everything (into everything else)

Screenwriters generally work with two kinds of files.

Native files like .fdx are for writing and editing. You need specific applications to use these files. They’re prone to obsolescence. If you have any old WriteNow files on your computer, you’ll have a hard time reading them.

PDFs are universal, and can be opened on nearly any device. Like digital paper, they’re basically frozen versions of the screenplay. They’re difficult to edit, in part because all the semantic information has been lost.

Last week, we introduced Fountain files, which split the difference between native files and PDFs. Because they’re plain text, they’re both universal and highly editable, since they can work with any text editor — and should for decades to come.

Highland is a quick way to move between these three formats.

Obviously, Highland is extremely useful for screenwriters who want to work in Fountain, or want to open a Final Draft file but don’t have the app. But its ability to convert PDFs is probably going to be its most-discussed feature.

Melting PDFs

It’s standard practice for screenwriters to deliver PDFs. Readers can easily read and print PDFs, but it’s onerous to change them — so they don’t.

As screenwriters, we’ve relied on security through difficulty: producers, directors and executives aren’t likely to mess with the PDF of a script because it’s just too much hassle.

Fountain takes away the hassle, for better or worse.

I fully expect some pitchforks: How dare we assist the meddlers?

I’d argue that there’s nothing inherently “safe” about turning in a PDF. Producers have always been able to muck around with scripts — it was just a lot of work. Relying on laziness is really no security at all.

With Highland, we’re going to respect the basic safeguards a screenwriter might take:

  1. If you password-protect your PDF, Highland won’t convert it.
  2. If your PDF is just a bunch of images, Highland won’t convert it. (For example, you could print your script then scan it, or use a feature like Bronson Watermarker’s “Deep Burn.”)

Could a meddling producer work around these safeguards? Absolutely. But she could also just have her assistant retype your script. That happens every day.

Highland and Fountain

LA-based screenwriters will have already guessed the origins of “Highland.”

Highland Avenue is a major north-south artery through Hollywood, just as Fountain is the famous east-west shortcut.

Much like how the real streets intersect, Highland and Fountain work well together — but they’re not the only ways to get somewhere.

Just as you can take many routes to drive through Hollywood, you should have lots of alternatives for working with your screenplay.

Fountain is an open-source markup scheme. We’re happy to see a lot of other developers embracing it. Some of them will come up with apps that are better than Highland, either by doing more or doing it smarter.

That’s the goal. That’s success.

But for today, Highland makes working with Fountain a lot easier. After this beta test, we hope to have an app that makes it effortless to move between formats and platforms.

If you want to help, we’re accepting beta-testers now. For this first round, we’re looking for fairly tech-savvy screenwriters — the app will fail, and we’ll need your help figuring out why. Down the road, we’ll expand the beta to get a better cross-sampling of users.

[Updated at 3:30pm: Due to great response — thanks! yikes! — we have all the beta testers we need for now. Follow us @qapps for news on future betas.]

We’re only going to add a few beta testers at a time, so not everyone will get picked. But if all goes well, we should be an inexpensive download before too long.

One More Thing

Remember my frustration about Final Draft’s old, incompatible .fdr format? The one with the five-step workaround?

Well, Nima solved that last night. Highland will be able to open and convert .fdr files to modern formats.