So Many Questions

Scriptnotes: Ep. 134

John has questions about the questions Craig answered on his Reddit AMA, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg as we answer six great listener questions:

  • What’s the deal with the “mystery insider” Twitter accounts?
  • Can a screenwriter use the n-word?
  • If we had to start from scratch, what would we do?
  • What did we mean by “lens selection?”
  • To CONT’D, or not to CONT’D?
  • Starting over after big life events.

Also, a reminder to Oscar winners: if you’re going to thank the creative team, don’t neglect to thank the screenwriter.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 3-14-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Groundhog Day

Scriptnotes: Ep. 133

John and Craig pay their respects to Harold Ramis with an episode devoted entirely to Groundhog Day.

Ramis and co-writer Danny Rubin fashioned a deceptively simple story that upended expectations and essentially created a new genre of supernatural predicament comedies. Often imitated but never surpassed, Groundhog Day is smarter than you remember, cleverly side-stepping logic traps to explore deeper philosophical questions.

So grab your toaster and give Ned Ryerson a hug. It’s time to relive Groundhog Day.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 3-6-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Weekend Read: Learning from Launch

product photoThe response to Weekend Read has been terrific. It’s by far the most popular app we’ve made, and its success has had a nice spillover to its cousin on the Mac, Highland.

While it’s still early, Weekend Read’s pricing model seems to be successful.

The app is free, but the library is limited to four scripts. Upgrading the app via in-app purchase allows you to store hundreds of files. So far, 33.2% of users upgrade when presented the option.1

Since it’s free to install, there’s no reluctance to sampling; the only people who pay for the app are the ones who’ve tried it and like it. I think that’s why reviews have been so positive, and why support emails have been about actual issues and feature requests rather than unhappy feelings.

The wonder and horror of PDF

Weekend Read supports Final Draft, Fountain and Markdown formats, but its special magic trick is the ability to extract text from screenplay PDFs. We weren’t sure what the split would be among the various file types.

It turns out 86% of the files loaded by Weekend Read are PDFs. FDX and Fountain are running equal at about 4% each, with the remainder being Markdown or plain text. I was surprised to see to see it skewed so far towards PDF, and for Fountain to have achieved parity with FDX.

We spent two years getting good at handling PDFs for Highland, yet our thousands of new users for Weekend Read have revealed some things we missed.

  • A4-sized PDFs. Sorry, Europe. We didn’t mean to cut off any lines. Fixed in next update.

  • International glyphs in PDFs. For Fountain and Final Draft scripts, Weekend Read does a solid job with Ørni’s über-piñata. But our PDF parser often omits or mangles non-English characters. Fixed in the next update.

  • PDFs from Celtx. None of our beta testers use Celtx, and apparently none of the For Your Consideration scripts were written using it. Until users pointed it out, we had no idea about the wordsrunningtogetherwithoutspaces problem. Fixed in the next update.

  • Scripts from These screenplay are watermarked, but we worked with Franklin Leonard and his team to make sure users can read them in Weekend Read. This should work reliably in the next build.

  • PDFs from Fade In. PDFs created with Fade In resist all efforts at extracting meaningful text. Fade In’s Kent Tessman has working hard with Nima to get it sorted out, but for now neither side can fix it. On the bright side, Fade In has the ability to save in Fountain and FDX format, both of which Weekend Read handles natively. That may be the best solution we can offer.

What’s next

The 1.0.2 build focuses on squashing these PDF issues, and adds new features to the For Your Consideration section.

The most common feature requests have been for an iPad version, and the ability to add notes. We’re working on both, but have no ETA.

We’ve also had inquiries about volume purchases from studios and agencies. There’s currently no way to offer bulk in-app purchases, but we’re considering creating a special Studio Edition that ships already upgraded. If you’re interested, contact support.

One final note: The Oscars are this Sunday, so some studios may begin taking their awards-season scripts offline. If you’re interested in reading any of the screenplays in the For Your Consideration section, grab it now.

  1. We don’t show the Upgrade Now choice until the library is full, so some users will never get the chance. In the next build, we’ll give users the option to upgrade at any point.

The Contract between Writers and Readers

Scriptnotes: Ep. 132

John and Craig look at the implicit contract made between screenwriters and readers — and ultimately, movies and their audience. That’s a natural introduction to our Three Page Challenge and the three new entries we look at this week.

Also: Late Payments suck. You shouldn’t tolerate it, and neither should your agents.

There are still a limited number of tickets available for the great Scriptnotes/Nerdist Writers Panel crossover live show on April 13th. You can find a link in the show notes.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-27-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

When you think someone stole your idea

Randall Girdner is a screenwriter living in Shanghai who wrote in with a question that became a conversation. I asked him to share his experience as a First Person post.

first personThis morning, I was listening to both John and Craig’s comments in regard to the billion dollar lawsuit against Tom Cruise and the general legal entanglements in regard to theft of ideas. As a whole, I agree with all of their points. I am forever astounded at the frivolous lawsuits that get bandied about and the inflated self-importance of the people that pursue them.

But something happened to me last year that was a very weird coincidence.

I have been writing for many, many years, but I’ve never sold a script, nor had an agent (and have only really tried in a half-hearted manner). I’m sure I’ve sent a couple of my scripts around at some point, but considering I’ve lived overseas for a good deal of my adult life, it’s never been a high priority.

Last summer, I learned of a thriller that was about to come out that had an idea that was similar to a script I had written in the past. Very similar.

It wasn’t “two-guys-and-a-girl-move-into-an-apartment-together” similar, or “an-asteroid-is-going-to-crash-into-the-planet” similar. The idea for this new film was unique and was almost exactly the same as mine.

I had registered my original script with the Writers Guild in 1995 and had forgotten about it until this movie came out. Suddenly, news of this movie was everywhere. I felt somewhat ill at the notion that my idea might have been stolen.

Worse but related: the premise of the movie is so unique that this particular movie has rendered my original script dead in the water.

I contacted an entertainment lawyer through friends, who advised me to watch the movie and compare plot points. I never did, partially because I lived in mortal fear that the movie actually would be similar to mine and would make my brain explode.

I wrote to John, and told him basically what I wrote above.

While I was waiting (hoping) for a reply, I ended up watching the movie.

Similar yet entirely different

Aside from the initial premise and some general, large-scale ideas, it turns out that my script is pretty much unlike the this movie at all. The execution is very different.

While I was pondering how this could be, John wrote back:1

I know it’s hard to wrap your head around that there are probably four other guys who saw this movie and said, “Hey wait a second! That’s almost exactly like the script I wrote!” But I guarantee there were. I bet some hardcore googling would find them bitching in message boards, and that might give you some solace.

Can you remember when you got the idea? My hunch is that there was a moment of inspiration/inception…And it’s a goodish idea. But that bare idea doesn’t have characters and story and detail. It has nothing protectable.

This was true and I needed to hear something like that to help calm my brain.

But those feelings are still there. Partly because there’s a sequel coming.

As a writer, my uncontrollable imagination can envision nine thousand elaborate scenarios in which someone (a studio, a producer, a writer/director) could have conspired to screw me over, but the truth of the matter is that I cannot conceive of any possible way in which my script could have been stolen.

Even if it was, the planning and execution of that theft would have to be so incredibly elaborate and dastardly that someone should have just bought it from me in the first place. Nothing is worth that much thought and energy.

Hmm…there’s an idea for a movie.

When I encounter this with projects I’ve written — or have on the drawing board — I try to remind myself, “This means I have commercial taste! People make movies like mine!” It’s small comfort, but it’s something.

You can reach Randall through his website or on Twitter @randallpgirdner.

  1. I save most questions for the podcast. In this case, I had a hunch there was a First Person post possibility, which is why I wrote Randall directly.

Scanning scripts on your iPhone with Weekend Read + Prizmo

This falls more into the category of “because you can” than “you definitely should.” It’s more tech demo than recommended workflow.

The Prizmo app for iOS has built-in OCR, which means you can scan documents and access the underlying text. Learning this, I immediately tried using it to go from a printed screenplay to Weekend Read.

It actually works.

It’s far from perfect. Prizmo has no inherent sense of what a screenplay is, so it sometimes divides text into blocks it shouldn’t. (Double-spaces after periods are often a contributing factor.) Weekend Read does the best it can with the somewhat slapdash PDF Prizmo gives it.

If you have an entire screenplay to convert, you’re likely to have a much better outcome with an actual scanner and Highland to make a real, editable document.

Still, Weekend Read + Prizmo kind of works. In certain cases, it might even be useful. Actors with audition sides, for example.

And the fact that you can do it all on the phone in your pocket is amazing.