A friend was writing a montage today and couldn’t figure out how to get quite the formatting he wanted in Highland:

If I’m moving quickly in a sequence I’ll frequently write IN THE GARAGE or BACK OUTSIDE or instead of a whole slug line. I want action to go on the next line, with no blank line in between.

The problem is, it’s interpreting this as a character name, and formats it as such, and the action beneath it as dialogue.

He wrote something like this: forced action screenshot In Fountain syntax, that looks like three blocks of dialogue, so Highland was giving him this:


B.A. works on the van.


Hannibal and Murdock rig the gatling gun.


Face works on his old man makeup.

Fortunately, Fountain has ways to override defaults. In this case, the easiest way to get his desired format would be to force those intermediary sluglines (“IN THE GARAGE,” “OUT BACK,” etc.) to be treated as action.

To do that, start each of them with an exclamation point. forced action screenshot 2 That keeps Highland from interpreting the uppercase lines as character names, leaving the lines neatly stacked up, just like my friend wanted.

In most cases, you’ll never need to do this, because you’ll generally want the blank line after the “IN THE GARAGE” or “OUT BACK.” Leaving a little more white space on the page helps the reader understand that you’re moving between multiple locations.

Here’s an example from Ted Griffin’s Ocean 11 screenplay:

And during the above rant by Benedict, we view...


now empty, Livingston’s monitors still displaying the masked men in the vault.


navigating the streets of Las Vegas.


tailing the van, security goons piled into each, and maybe we NOTICE (or maybe not) the Rolls-Royce tailing them.


pacing in Benedict’s suite, biting her nails, debating whether to blow the whistle on Danny. ON TV: a newscast of the contentious aftermath of the prize fight.


bound and unarmed, unconscious to the activity within the vault.


opened and unmanned.


listens -- the line has gone dead. He hangs up.

The forced action trick can be useful in other cases where you want to override default behavior.

Perhaps you have a time bomb, and you’re using ellipses to indicate the countdown. You write:


Highland reads that third tick as a forced scene header, because it starts with a single period. But you can force it back to action with an exclamation point:


Both Highland and Fountain are sophisticated enough to catch most edge cases, but we’re always finding new situations in which writers are trying to do something that doesn’t quite match expected behavior. And that’s okay! The screenplay format is a set of shared assumptions, not a straightjacket. If you really need to include something unusual, do it.1

You can find all of the possible forced elements in the Syntax section of Fountain.io, most of which are supported by the popular apps. (Forced Action wasn’t part of the original spec, so some early apps haven’t included it yet.)

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

  1. Both Fountain and Highland support extended character sets, including emoji. Final Draft doesn’t.