Weekend Read can read scripts aloud

Weekend Read, our app for reading screenplays on the iPhone and iPad, can also read them aloud. Here’s how to do it.

Ask Siri to “speak screen.” If you don’t already have Speech turned on, Siri will offer a link to the proper settings page:

siri setting

Tap Open Settings, then switch on Speak Screen.

speech settings

While you’re here, you can also choose a speaking voice in the Voices menu.

Then go back to Weekend Read and open a script.

To have it start reading aloud, swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingers, or just ask Siri to “speak screen.”

A set of controls appears, allowing you jump forward and back paragraphs, and adjust the reading speed.

speech HUD

Once you start it speaking, you can even change apps and it will keep going.

How did we do it? Honestly, we didn’t have to do a lot.

Almost all of this is built-in functionality provided by Apple’s Accessibility features. Behind the scenes, Weekend Read converts everything to Fountain, a plain-text format that feeds right into the system. By keeping it simple (and not cheating with view controllers) it just works.

For an upcoming version of Weekend Read, we’re working on small improvements such as “Mary says” and automatic expansion of abbreviations like “INT” and “V.O.”

You can find Weekend Read in the App Store.

My writing setup, 2016

In 2011, I wrote a post detailing my writing setup. Over the past five years several things have changed, so I thought I’d give it an update.

Where applicable, I’ll include links. (Amazon links include my referral code, so you’ll help keep me stocked with pens.)

I work in an office built over my garage. My assistant Stuart works downstairs. Twice a week the rest of my staff (Nima and Dustin) comes in to work on app stuff and other projects. This year, we finally added a giant whiteboard. It’s been a godsend for planning and visual thinking.

I’m “in the office” from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., but I wander in and out of the house pretty freely.

I do a fair amount of my morning work — emails, listening to cuts of Scriptnotes — while walking on the treadmill. I MacGyvered an old film festival lanyard to hold my iPad, and use an Apple bluetooth keyboard. I find I can think coherently up to about 3.2 miles per hour. (Beyond that speed, it’s genuine cardio and I can only listen to podcasts and such.)

When I’m really writing — that is, buckling down on a specific draft of a specific movie — I do a lot of writing sprints. It’s one hour of focused writing with no distractions. If I do three of these a day, that’s a lot of pages written.

Getting away

When I start a new screenplay, I generally go away for a few days. I find that barricading myself in a new hotel in a new city helps me break the back of a story. I hand-write pages, trying to plow through as much as possible; my record is 21 pages in a day. Writing by hand keeps me from editing and second-guessing. At the start, it’s crucial to generate a critical mass of pages.

Every morning, I send what I’ve written to my assistant to type up. The Scannable app is great for this.

I find I can generally get 40 decent pages out of a good barricading session. I won’t paste the scenes together until I’m more than halfway through a script.


When writing by hand, I like a white, lined, letter-sized writing pad with a very stiff back. It should barely bend. I’ve been using some generic Staples brand.

My preferred pen is the black Pilot G2 (0.7mm size). It’s cheap; it writes consistently; I never worry about losing one. For proofreading, a colored felt-tip pen is key. I like the Papermate Flairs. Again, cheap and losable.

I alternate between index cards and whiteboards for mapping out stories. If you’re going to be working in television, get comfortable with the whiteboard, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time staring at one.

My main computer is a 27-inch iMac. I love it.

Overall, I print very little these days. Almost everything is PDFs. But last year we replaced our decade-old laser printer with the Brother HL5470DW. It’s crazy how cheap and fast it is, and it uses a lot less power.

Stuart uses the DYMO LabelWriter 4XL thermal label printer for packages. It ends up being faster, better and cheaper than using laser printer labels.

Years ago, I had horrible carpal-tunnel problems, so I changed my setup significantly. I use the SafeType keyboard and an Evoluent vertical mouse. The keyboard is great, but command-key combos are a bear with it, so I’ve mapped a Logitech G13 gamepad to handle most of them. My desk raises so I can use it standing up. I try to be on my feet at least half the day.

For travel and kitchen duty, I have a 13-inch Macbook Pro. It’s good, but the screen is always getting overwhelmed with windows.

I used to talk on the phone a lot more, and found the Plantronics S12 headset essential. I still use it, but phone conversations are not nearly as important as they were just a few years ago.

We generally record Scriptnotes over Skype. I’m using the Shure SM7B microphone and Sony MDR-7506 headphones. This combo has worked well enough for me, but everyone has different opinions and preferences.

For recording in the field, I use the Zoom H5 four-track recorder. I love it.

When recording in the office with multiple guests, I use the Mackie 802VLZ4 8-channel mixer with a bunch of XLR mics and send the output directly into my MacBook with this cable.

After years of not using Time Machine, I just set up a one terabyte Samsung T1 Portable SSD to use as a backup drive. (If you get it, follow the advice in the “Most Helpful” Amazon review to remove the extraneous software Samsung installs.)


I do all of my writing in the Highland beta. Highland was originally just for screenwriting, but version 2 adds robust Markdown support, so now it’s the only app I need for writing anything — including this blog post.

Slack is absolutely transformative. Our team doesn’t use email anymore. Everything is in Slack, sorted in channels.

Dropbox still seems like magic. In addition to storing my active projects, I keep a folder named Pending in the Dropbox with an alias on the desktop. Anything that would normally clutter up the desktop, I throw in Pending.

I still use Evernote, but mostly for household things like the grocery list. Random links go to Pinboard instead. (On iOS, I use the Pinner app.)

I’ve used a lot of GTD productivity apps over the years, including OmniFocus and Things. For the past few months, I’ve been using 2Do, which works very well on both Mac and iOS.

For outlining and show notes, I love WorkFlowy. Because it’s web-based, we can all edit the same document.

I use both Mail and Airmail, with some addresses going to Sparrow instead.1 I use Google Calendar with Fantastical 2.

I do all my RSS-reading on the iPad, using Reeder.

What I’d change

I’m pretty happy with my setup, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

My mail setup is a mess. The right combination of rules would probably allow me to sort out the wheat from the chaff, but I haven’t invested the energy. Plus, getting it to work properly in iOS would be a big challenge. Increasingly, the iPhone is where I’m doing email triage.

I’d like to push more of my email over to Slack, where it would be a better fit. An example is my D&D group. It’s six writers, so anytime there’s a conversation, it’s a chain of 20 emails, and you can never tell who is responding to what. In Slack, that thread would make a lot more sense.

Overall, the best thing that could happen to email would be to get rid of it.

  1. Google discontinued Sparrow, but the Mac app still works for now.

Tuesday Reviewsday, vol. 2

One of my goals for 2016 is to be better about writing reviews for the products I love. Every Tuesday I’ll be leaving reviews on the applicable store.

Today’s picks are:

  • Noizio (iOS) A really good background-noise maker, and free!
  • 2Do (iOS/Mac) A fantastic getting-stuff-done app that’s replaced OmniFocus for me.
  • Reply All (podcast) A “show about the internet,” but really about modern culture.
  • Forbidden Island (Amazon) A great cooperative game.

If you’re looking for something to review, many readers are probably familiar with some of the things we make, including Highland, Weekend Read and Writer Emergency Pack.

Podcasts are especially review-dependent, because they signal to the powers at iTunes to feature certain shows. A review for Scriptnotes would be much-appreciated.

The Script Graveyard

Scriptnotes: Ep. 234

Where do screenplays go when they die? John and Craig take a look at their movies that never were, looking for patterns among dozens of their unproduced works. What can screenwriters learn from the dead, and is it ever worth trying to resurrect these flatliners?

We also have lots of follow-up on finding a place to write, and news of an old-man-robbers movie already underway.

Yesterday’s live show will be released as an upcoming episode.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 1-28-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

The rise and fall of Relativity

Benjamin Wallace looks at Ryan Kavanaugh and the implosion of Relativity:

Not yet 30 when he founded Relativity Media in 2004, he very quickly became not only a power player in Hollywood but the man who might just save it. With a dwindling number of studios putting out ever fewer movies, other than ones featuring name-brand super­heroes, Kavanaugh became first a studio financier and then a fresh-faced buyer of textured, mid-budget films. To bankers, Kavanaugh appeared to have cracked the code, having come up with a way to forecast a famously unpredictable business by replacing the vagaries of intuition with the certainties of math.

As we’ve discussed on the podcast, anyone who claims to have developed a mathematical system for picking hits is either delusional or willfully deceptive. Data analysis relies on numbers, and it’s easy to cherry-pick:

Relativity actually did look at whether to finance that Untouchables prequel, Capone Rising, with Nicolas Cage and Gerard Butler attached to star and Brian De Palma to direct. The company ended up passing, but someone close to the financial modeling recalls doing a double take at the rosiness of the Relativity algorithm’s prediction. “I read the input log for it. I thought: What’s missing? I said, ‘Where’s Snake Eyes?’” — a Cage flop. “They said, ‘Uh, we’re leaving that out.’”

What Kavanaugh was selling wasn’t an algorithm as much as a narrative: you can trust me, because look at these other people who trust me.

Say you’re a Chinese billionaire looking to invest in Hollywood. Meeting Kavanaugh, it was easy to see how successful he was. He had his name on lots of movies, some of them award-winners. He had celebrity friends and a private jet. He made huge donations to charities. And there were glowing articles portraying him as a boy-wonder maverick shaking up the system.

The thing is, almost everyone in town knew it couldn’t last. When you were selling a spec script, you wanted Relativity to bid, but you didn’t want them to win. You wanted the movie to get made, and everyone knew the clock was ticking.

Relativity filed for bankruptcy in July.

To Hollywood’s more sophisticated power players, Relativity’s declaration of bankruptcy was less intriguing than how long Kavanaugh had been able to stave it off, reeling in money over and over again despite mountains of evidence that the product he was selling was not what he claimed it to be. “You have to give him credit for keeping it going as long as he did,” says an old hand at a major talent agency. “The people inside the system were in on the joke.”

I’ve never met Kavanaugh, and as far as I know, he hasn’t been involved in any of my movies. I see him at parties and premieres, and he’s always struck me as an interesting character: bouncing and bold, eager to be at the center of the action.

It’s tempting to dismiss Kavanaugh as an opportunist, but I think that’s unfair. From the very start, Hollywood has depended on dreamers and schemers. Many of our best films exist only because someone was brave or foolish enough to risk money on them — and charismatic enough to keep finding new money when the first batch ran out.

The fall of Relativity makes for good reading, but I wouldn’t mistake it for a cautionary tale. Right now, young upstarts are devising the next way to raise hundreds of millions to make movies. Whoever they are, we need them. We always will.

Torrenting the Oscars 2016

Every year, Andy Baio tracks online leaks of Oscar-nominated films:

The median number of days from a film’s release to its first leak online was only nine days, the shortest window since 2008.

More than a month before the ceremony, 97% of Oscar nominees have leaked online in DVD or higher quality, more than last year at this time.

Baio notes that since Blu-ray screeners have proven unpopular with studios and voters,1 most of the leaked films are “only” DVD quality. And the number of cams (surreptitiously recorded in the theater) has dropped.

As Baio pointed out last year, there’s no point torrenting a DVD rip if there’s already a higher-quality telecine or HD version available. You only need one, which creates a race to be the first to put up a given movie.

One group, Hive-CM8, was responsible for 15 of the leaked films, including The Hateful Eight. Afterwards, they offered an apology-slash-justification to Quentin Tarantino:

“If let’s say 5% of the people planned to watch this movie at cinema date, due to this media push we unintentionally created, we believe that now 40% of the people will watch this movie in the cinema [because] everyone is talking about it and everyone wants to see the movie that created so much noise. This will push the cinema ticket sales for sure.

“We really hope this helped out the producers in the long-run, so that the production costs are covered and more.”

So by leaking the movie before it was released, then backtracking, they’re pretty sure Miramax will make its money back because imaginary math is magic.

  1. Each year, the studios send voters a postcard asking which format they would like for screeners. I have a Blu-ray player, but always choose DVD so I can watch screeners on vacation.