Malcolm Spellman, a Study in Heat

Scriptnotes: Ep. 185

Screenwriter Malcolm Spellman joins Craig and John to talk about his big break, blown opportunities, and getting momentum back. Now part of the smash hit Empire, he talks about the changes and challenges African-American writers face both on the small screen and the big screen.

Also this episode, we look at a review that credits the director with the screenwriter’s work and the role trailers play in shaping audience expectation. Plus the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Three Investigators, SNL and literally losing your voice.

Trivia: “A Study in Heat” was the name of the sandwich Malcolm ate after recording this episode.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-25-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Is automatic (cont’d) a bug or a feature?

We got a question in the Highland support queue this morning that is less technical than philosophical:

I started using Highland to finish a script I started in Final Draft.

In Final Draft when a character speaks, then stops to do something physical, spots something, etc, then speaks again, a (CONT’D) is automatically added.

When I finished writing the script in Highland I noticed that Highland does not add the (CONT’D) so I had half a script with (CONT’D) and half without it.

In short I am curious is the (CONT’D) needed? Should I add it to what I wrote in Highland, or do I go back and remove it?

I am going to submit this script to the Black List website, and am still an aspiring screenwriter. I personally think the (CONT’D) just takes up space, and understand why Highland doesn’t automatically add it, but wanted to get your opinion first.

Many thanks. I love using Highland, and won’t be going back to Final Draft ever.

What he’s describing is automatic dialogue continuity,1 which is a source of no small amount of consternation to screenwriters. I wrote about it back in 2010, and that advice still holds true.

But my opinions have clearly influenced the direction of Highland, so it’s worth revisiting.

In some cases, you’ll absolutely want to use (cont’d) to indicate a character is still speaking. It’s a signal to the reader (and the actor) that the character is continuing the same thought, regardless of the intervening action.

An example:


(looking at his phone)

According to Dark Sky, a storm is coming in four minutes.

A tornado suddenly touches down, flipping over cars. Tom is oblivious.


We should probably go inside.

In other cases, it’s much less clear whether dialogue continuity makes sense. If a bunch of action has occurred between the last time the character spoke, is it really correct or helpful to have that (cont’d)?

Consider Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity. Minutes may elapse between her spoken dialogue, but Final Draft will default to adding the (cont’d) since no other character has spoken in the interim. You can delete the (cont’d), but it’s a hassle, and it will come right back if you reformat text around it.

With Highland, we made the decision not to do add the (cont’d) automatically. The screenwriter is always the best judge of whether the dialogue is continuous, so you can just type it yourself.

That’s sort of the philosophy of Highland and Fountain: your script is exactly what you type, nothing more, nothing less. If you want a (cont’d) there, it’s deliberate.

In recent editions of Highland, we’ve given users the option to have Highland automatically add (more) and (cont’d) at page breaks.

Again, I think that’s consistent with the Highland philosophy. The app is doing behind-the-scenes work to make the page look great, with algorithms to break dialogue at the period where possible, and squeeze in an extra line if necessary. This kind of (cont’d) only shows up if you really need it, so there’s no reason to bake it into the text itself.

On the subject of Highland, we have a new release in the Mac App Store today. It fixes a bug that was preventing .fdx export.

  1. “Continued” can be noted as (CONT’D) or (cont’d). Both are fine. Pick one and stick with it.

Go Set a Spider-Man

Scriptnotes: Ep. 184

From Harper Lee to Sony to the Wheel of Time, it was a big week for studios trying to hold onto intellectual property. John and Craig discuss why those deals take such strange turns, including 1:30 a.m. airings on cable.

In follow-up, we look at why the WGA isn’t directly involved in the Gravity lawsuit, and how Rebel Wilson was lucky she never ran afoul of Australia’s classifiers.

A listener writes in with a question about “a film by,” prompting one Craig rant. John returns the umbrage about award season, and how we keep our best filmmakers from actually making their next films.

The 200th episode of Scriptnotes is fast approaching, and we want your suggestions for what we should do. A live show? Something else? Tweet or email your thoughts.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-19-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

The Deal with the Gravity Lawsuit

Scriptnotes: Ep. 183

John and Craig do a deep dive on Tess Gerritsen’s lawsuit concerning Gravity, using the case as a way to talk about contracts, chain of title, adaptation and corporate ownership. Spoiler: It’s really complicated, but it’s really interesting too.

Both novelists and screenwriters will find a lot to discuss.

We also talk about editing while writing, and when it’s worth it to cut now versus later.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-17-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

The Dirty Show

We try to keep the Scriptnotes podcast relatively PG, something you could safely listen to in the car with your kids. But some topics and some guests need a wider range of vocabulary to suit the subject, which is why Craig and I have long talked about doing a dirty episode.

That time has come.

In this very-NSFW bonus episode, we sit down with writer-actress Rebel Wilson and author-columnist Dan Savage to talk sex, television, swearing, and poop.

Rebel and Dan were on our normal show this week as well, but the contents of the dirty show are all new and all filthy. It’s 68 minutes of stuff you won’t hear anywhere else.

This special episode is available only on the premium feed, which you can find at The premium feed is $1.99 per month, and includes access to the entire back catalog and occasional bonus episodes like this one.1 It’s how we pay for editing, hosting, and transcripts of every episode.

Huge thanks to our 1,000+ premium subscribers, and to Dan and Rebel for joining us.

  1. If you’re using the newly-redesigned Scriptnotes app, you can listen to any episode in the app.

The One with Rebel Wilson and Dan Savage

Scriptnotes: Ep. 182

John and Craig discuss exploding scripts and stock scenes. Then in the second half of the show, we welcome two very special guests.

Actress, writer and comedian Rebel Wilson joins us to talk about writing for television and Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Author and sex advice columnist Dan Savage tells us what he’d like to see Hollywood do better when in comes to sex on screen.

Both segments are out-takes from the much longer and much filthier Dirty Show available only on the premium feed. Our thanks to the 1,000 subscribers who made it possible, and to Rebel and Dan for joining us to talk about fish baskets, berets, anal sex and The Blue Lagoon.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-6-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.