How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Courier

[Geek Alert]I originally posted this as a reply in a screenwriting forum, but it’s pretty relevant here.

When I bought my first LaserWriter printer (probably 1993), I freaked out because Courier was suddenly ghastly thin. On my old StyleWriter inkjet, it had looked properly typewriter-like, but coming out of the laser printer, it was a shadow of its former self.

It bothered me enough that I used Fontographer to pull the Type 1 Courier outlines from the printer, then chunk-ify them a bit and save them as a Type 3 font, which I called Dorphic. (I have no idea why I picked that name, but it seemed to fit.)

So for many years, I happily used Dorphic on all my scripts. GO, for example, was in Dorphic. I would probably still be using that face, but the shift to OS X made Type 3 fonts impossible. I scoured the net for new options, and settled on Courier Ragged, which I used for a year or two.

But a new problem came up. Up until about 2003, when I needed to turn in a script to a producer or studio executive, I would print it out and call for a messenger. I could be certain the script would look right, because I was printing it myself. But once executives (and their assistants) became more internet-savvy, it made a lot more sense to turn in scripts in .pdf form. So, while I could use Courier Ragged, there was no guarantee it would look right when they printed it out.

All of which leads me back full-circle to plain old Courier. Of the natural alternatives (Courier New, or Courier Final Draft), it’s the best-looking to me, both on-screen and printed.

A side-note: Before I became a screenwriter, I made a meager living in graphic design. So the cruelest irony is that I’ve now spent a decade using nothing but 12-pt Courier, or its imitators.


Formatting for sign language

question markI’m having a little trouble with this current script that I am writing. A character in my story is deaf and uses sign language to communicate. I have no idea what the proper writing format is for that and I was wondering if you can help me. That character also reads lips and I do not know how to incorporate that into my script as well. Please tell me the answer oh great one.

–Donnie Nguyen

Just this week, I encountered a similar challenge, with a mute child who uses sign language to communicate with her parents. In these situations, you really have two problems: how to show it on the page, and how to make sure the audience understands what the deaf/mute/whatever character can and cannot do.

Let’s take the second problem first. You need to set up a situation that makes it clear to the audience what’s up with this character. In John Logan’s The Aviator, Howard Hughes’s partial deafness is first set up at a movie premiere, when the character obviously can’t make out what the presenter is saying. The extent of his hearing impairment is left a little ambiguous, but we get the sense (backed up with a later scene), that the problem only really manifests when many voices are speaking at once.

Since your character reads lips, you should try to make this clear as soon as possible. Here’s one possibility:

CARL SCHWARTZKOPF is looking through the neatly-folded sweaters on the table. A SALESWOMAN comes up behind him.

SALESWOMAN

Can I help you find a size?

Carl doesn’t answer her. In fact, he doesn’t acknowledge her at all. Not certain he heard her, she repeats herself, louder:

SALESWOMAN

Sir, can I help you find a size?

She’s about to tap his shoulder when he turns around. He jumps, startled to see her.

SALESWOMAN

Sorry, I didn’t mean to…

CLOSE ON her lips. We’re in Carl’s POV as she continues to speak, but there’s no sound. He’s reading her lips.

BACK TO SCENE

Carl waves a hand, somewhat dismissively: no, he doesn’t need help. He heads over to the wall of khakis.

In terms of writing out the dialogue that is meant to be sign-language, you have many options. If two deaf characters are carrying on a conversation in sign language, you’re probably going to want to subtitle it. Before the conversation starts, just write, “In sign language, SUBTITLED…” Then write dialogue as usual. The reader will understand.

If one character is speaking aloud (such as William Hurt’s character in Children of a Lesser God), you may want to format the deaf character’s sign language dialogue differently to keep the distinction. In these situations, I often use italics:

SHERYL

Who told you?

CARL

MARGARET.

SHERYL

Margaret wasn’t there! She couldn’t have known.

Notice that in these scenes, the speaking character’s dialogue needs to help us understand the lines we’re not hearing.


Finding the RSS feeds

Stephen wrote in to say that the RSS feeds were acting up. I think I’ve addressed the problem, particularly with Firefox’s “live bookmarks” pointing in the wrong directions. (If you’re having an issue where “Live Bookmark failed to load,” delete the bookmark and make a new one.)

You can always find the right links for the RSS and Atom feeds in the cleverly-named “Feeds” section on the right. But for your convenience, here they are as well.

For Atom: http://johnaugust.com/feeds/atom
For RSS 2: http://johnaugust.com/feeds/rss2
For RSS .92: http://johnaugust.com/feeds/rss

Copy and paste these URLs into your newsreader of choice. Or, if you’re using Firefox, just click on the tiny orange button in the bottom-right corner of the window, and select your preferred version of the feed.


Phantom of the Opera

phantomFirst off, this is not a film review. If it were, I’d write about the performances, production design, music and all all the other factors that make or break a movie. Also, I’ve met the director and co-screenwriter, Joel Schumacher, who is every bit as nice as his reputation. So I don’t want it to be weird next time I say hello to him at some event. Rather, I just want to point out some story issues that stuck out to me — things I’d want to tackle if I’d gotten the script before it went into production.

I saw Phantom of the Opera last night. This was my first exposure to it — I never saw the stage musical, nor read the book. I can say I’m glad I saw it. There were things that really worked, and things that didn’t. What was interesting, and frustrating, is that a lot of the film’s biggest issues were on the page.

Be advised that everything from this point forward is full of spoilers.

Phantom is essentially a love triangle. You have Christine, the gifted chorus girl. Raoul, the unaccountably hot viscount. And The Phantom, a deformed genius who lurks around the Paris opera house where the story is set.

Christine is an orphan, natch, who was raised by Madame Giry in the opera dormitory. Before he died, Christine’s father promised an Angel of Music would watch over her. And in fact, that’s what the Phantom has been doing. He’s the voice in the darkness who’s been giving her singing lessons. So far, it feels like Beauty and the Beast.

Here’s where the movie gets into some very un-Disney territory. The Phantom has been essentially a surrogate father to this girl, and in fact pretends to be the spirit of her father at times — and yet he wants to marry her and, well, ravage her. Don’t get me wrong: I love that it’s kind of sick and twisted. But the movie never really does anything with this idea. No one calls him on it, or points out that Madame Giry has essentially been pimping out Christine to an evil lech who lives in the sewers.

(more…)


Why does anyone still use Internet Explorer?

One benefit of switching my new webhost, TextDrive, is that they have a much cooler statistics program called Urchin. With it, I can see a lot of information about who’s visiting the site, and what articles they’re reading. Plus, I can learn what browsers they’re using. Here are the current percentages:

26% Internet Explorer
22% Firefox
 5% Safari
 3% Opera

(The numbers don’t add up to 100%, because I’m omitting RSS readers, robots and specialty browsers, such as those on mobile phones.)

I’m genuinely curious to find out why anyone is still using Internet Explorer, when there are much better options. Firefox is available for both Windows and Mac, and is superior on just about every level. It’s faster; it blocks pop-ups; it offers modern tabbed browsing. It even automatically imports all your old bookmarks.

If you haven’t at least tried it, stop reading and get it.

One thing the official site doesn’t explain is that it actually makes web pages look much better. That’s because it properly supports modern standards like CSS and .png graphics. For instance, compare the brad icon in the upper left right corner:

brad comparison

Currently website developers have two choices. They can make their sites compatible with published standards (and support Firefox, Safari and Opera), or they can support Internet Explorer. Increasingly, they’re simply giving up on Internet Explorer, which hasn’t been properly updated in a long time.

That’s what I’ve chosen to do. With a day or two of work, I could probably get johnaugust.com looking better with IE, but I’m convinced it’s not worth the bother.


Non-errors in English

Via The Tin Man comes this helpful site listing a lot of the most common “non-errors” in English. A non-error is defined as one of those prescriptive rules of grammar or usage that fussy people insist on pointing out, even though they’re generally wrong. For example, “since” versus “because.” I agree with pretty much every point made. In this case, if a “mistake” has been consistently made since the 14th Century, you really can’t call it a mistake.

It’s certainly worth a look.

While you’re at it, you might also check out my earlier rant about “data.”