Highland 1.6 uses the force

highland iconHot on the heels of the Weekend Read update, we have a new Highland in the Mac App Store today.

Highland 1.6 features all the improvements to PDF-melting from Weekend Read, including better support for PDFs created with Fade In and Celtx.

There are also a slew of little bug fixes, with more coming. I use Highland for all my daily screenwriting, so whenever I encounter an issue, Nima tackles it immediately.

The force is strong with this one

Highland is the first app to support the basically-official Fountain 1.1 spec, which adds several new features:

  • Forced character elements
  • Lowercase character extensions
  • Forced action elements
  • Lyrics

The ability to force a Character element is helpful for names that require lower-case letters (i.e. McDONALD), and for non-Roman languages, where a character might be named something like 黒澤.

To force a Character element, precede a line with the “at” symbol: @

@McCLANE 
Yippie ki-yay! I got my lowercase C back!

                    McCLANE

Yippie ki-yay! I got my lowercase C back!

The parser will remove the @ and interpret McCLANE as Character, preserving its mixed case. We picked @ because everyone is already accustomed to thinking of @name referring to a person.

Character extensions, those notations like (on the radio) which live on the same line as a Character element, are no longer required to be uppercase:

Sometimes you really want two lines of Action, with no blank line between them. You’re going to for a style — but Fountain doesn’t know that. So instead you get:

BOOM

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

In Fountain 1.0, we allowed the user to force Action elements with two trailing spaces.

BOOM{two spaces}

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

This has turned out to be problematic in practice. The spaces are invisible, and can be introduced by accident as you write. Highland and Slugline users got confused. Hell, I got confused, and I co-created the syntax.

In the end, we’d like more transparency and less invisibility. Using spaces to force Action is now deprecated.

Instead, you can force Action by preceding a line with an exclamation point:

!BOOM
BOOM BOOM. Closer.

The parser removes the ! and interprets BOOM as Action.

BOOM  

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

Highland has had Lyrics for a while now. Nothing has changed.

For screenplays, we use the same basic margins as dialogue, but set the text in italics. For stageplays, we move the lyrics to the left margin and set them uppercase.

You create a Lyric by starting with a tilde ~.

~Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka! The amazing chocolatier!

~Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka! Everybody give a cheer!

Lyrics are always forced. There is no “automatic” way to get them.

What’s next

Fountain is an open-source project, and continues to evolve. Right now we’re discussing:

  • Flagged changes (the equivalent of asterisks in the margins)
  • “Logical pages” independent of device or font
  • Multi-cam formatting
  • Better title pages

Some of these are deferred issues (multi-cam), while others are just things we got wrong (title pages). As with Lyrics, we’ll likely use Highland to experiment with some of these ideas before they become official parts of the spec.

An upcoming build of Weekend Read will feature the new Fountain 1.1 elements, but you can get started with them in Highland today. Enjoy.


Weekend Read gains new powers, new scripts

product photo Weekend Read has an update in the App Store today. Version 1.0.2 greatly improves PDF reading and adds a lot of new content. It’s free, so go get it.

As promised, this release tackles issues with screenplay PDFs originating in Celtx and Fade In, and has much better support for A4 paper sizes and international characters.

We also worked with The Black List (blcklst.com) to allow members to read watermarked scripts inside the app.

If you have script that didn’t look right under the old build, delete it and load it back into your library. There’s a good chance it will work now.

Ripping apart and reassembling PDFs is an imperfect art, so we’ll never be able to read every screenplay PDF.1 But this build gets us closer than ever. And because Weekend Read shares code with Highland, these improvements will carry over to the next build of our flagship Mac app, which should be out soon.

While bug fixes are great, I’m most excited about our new content.

Filling the shelves

A great reader needs great writing, so we rebuilt the For Your Consideration section in a way that lets us add new material — new scripts, new outlines, entire new categories — in real time. We’ll use this ability to feature both established screenwriters and folks you’ve never heard of. And because so much of the best writing is happening in television, we will regularly include pilots and series as Featured Shows.

  • Our first Featured Writer is Rian Johnson, who brings us his scripts for Brick, Looper and The Brothers Bloom.

  • Our first Featured Show is Hannibal, offering all the scripts from the first season, courtesy of show creator Bryan Fuller.

  • We’ve also included the transcripts for every episode of Scriptnotes.

Our plan is to add and replace content frequently, so if you find something you like, make sure to add it to your library so it doesn’t disappear on you.

One final note: As a developer, one downside to frequent app updates is that each new build hides the reviews from earlier users. So if you love Weekend Read, please consider leaving us a review, even if you already did for version 1.0.1.

Thanks, and enjoy the read.

  1. Some PDFs are nothing but images, while others use watermarks that deliberately prevent text-parsing. And some are odd for their own odd reasons, such as Asghar Farhadi’s script for The Past. It looks normal to the human eye, but under the hood it’s anything but.

Outros needed

Every episode of Scriptnotes starts with the same five notes:

Beginning with episode 98, every episode ends with a new listener-created outro, each one a variation on that same five-note theme.

We’ve had some amazing outros, both because our listeners are geniuses and the basic melody is so adaptable. You can hear all of them here.

Our stockpile of outros has started to wane, so consider this an official call for entries. If you’d like to submit one of your own, send a link to ask@johnaugust.com. SoundCloud is terrific if you use it, but you can also attach an mp3.1

While we’ve had a wide range of styles, I can think of a few variants no one has submitted:

  • an Old West theme
  • anything baroque
  • Gregorian chanting
  • something like The Clapping Song
  • the style of Aaron Copland
  • the style of Danny Elfman (surprising, really)

Some of my favorite outros are riffs on familiar movie themes. Matthew Chilelli has done two. The first one in the style of Close Encounters:

The second one was for our Frozen episode:

I can imagine some other promising movie-homage riffs, if anyone cares to try:

  • the flute melody from Alien
  • the violin theme from The Godfather
  • “Everything is Awesome” from the LEGO movie
  • the Downton Abbey theme
  • the Harry Potter theme
  • every James Bond title song

The best outros we get are short, usually about 30 seconds. They quickly establish the stylistic idea, then weave in the five-note melody, before getting to a smart conclusion. The endings are especially important. We avoid fading out if we can.

  1. If you use SoundCloud, be sure to enable downloading. Also tag your entry as Scriptnotes so users can find it.

So Many Questions

Scriptnotes: Ep. 134
Play

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.

LINKS:

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
Play

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.

Links:

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 Blcklist.com. 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.