Screenplays on the Kindle, 2015 edition

A screenwriter friend just emailed me to ask how she could get one of her scripts to look good on the Kindle. She had Googled and discovered I’d written about reading screenplays on the Kindle twice back in 2009. (I was an early Kindle adopter.)

Back in 2009, I found there to be a lot of potential for reading screenplays on the Kindle, but a lot of frustration.

Six years later, what’s changed?

Nothing. Kindles and screenplays are still a bad fit.

Attempting to get screenplays to look screenplay-like on Kindle is a fool’s errand, so let me actively dissuade you from trying. Down this path lies futility and despair.

It’s not the Kindle’s fault.

Kindles are designed for free-flowing text like books. They don’t know anything about how screenplays work, and they will fight you at every step. We know. We tried. That’s a large part of why we made Weekend Read.

If you’re starting with a PDF, the closest you can probably come on the Kindle is to run the script through Highland and save it as a Fountain file. That’s just plain text, so if you then import it into Kindle’s parser, you’ll get a rough approximation, with everything set on the left margin:

Mary and Tom carry in groceries.
They oughta call it, “Whole Paychec—
— THWACK! Tom is impaled by a spear.

I write in Fountain, so this looks fine to me. But that’s not what my friend was looking for. She wanted something like a printed screenplay, and you’re just not going to get that on the Kindle.

But you can get closer. If you dig into the text file and carefully set tags for character names and transitions, you can have them centered or moved to the right margin. Or you can bail on the screenplay formatting. Dave Trottier has instructions you can follow to make something that looks more like a published stage play. It’s incredibly tedious, but it’s possible.

With a lot of work, you can make something that looks okay — but only okay. That’s the best you’re going to get, and it’s not worth the effort. So in 2015, I use my Kindle for books and my iOS devices for screenplays. Each is the right tool for the job.

Malawi is flooded, and needs your help

In 2007, Ryan Reynolds and I visited the southern African nation of Malawi. I’ve blogged about that trip and subsequent work on behalf of FOMO, a local charity that runs day centers for thousands of orphans in the region.

Here’s a video I shot on the way to church with the kids:

Over the last week, Malawi has been hit with flooding unseen in 40 years. At least 48 people have died, and 70,000 have lost their homes. Kids literally got swept away. According to weather reports, the flooding could last for weeks.

flooded malawi

Floods are always costly, but in a country that relies so much on subsistence agriculture, floods can be ruinous.

After the rain stops, how much of the crop can be saved? Which infrastructure will survive? We won’t know the full effect of the flooding for months.

In the near term, FOMO is raising money for supplies to help children and vulnerable families already displaced by the flooding. I donated to their JustGiving campaign, and urge you to do the same.

I’ve worked with FOMO for seven years; I know they’ll get stuff done right. They’ll keep kids safe.

I hope and assume the big international aid agencies will come to Malawi as well. There will be huge challenges in the months ahead, including rebuilding roads and schools and hospitals.

More than anything, I’d urge you to remember that Malawi exists. Because it’s a small, peaceful, landlocked nation in Africa, it’s easy to overlook. But it needs the world’s attention to avoid greater tragedy.

The Conflict Episode

Scriptnotes: Ep. 179

Craig and John discuss conflict — why it’s bad in real life but essential in screenwriting. We define six forms of conflict common in movies, then look at ways to sustain conflict within a scene and throughout a story.

We also look briefly at Whiplash, both the conflict between its two main characters and the controversy over whether it should be considered an original or an adapted screenplay.

If you can spare the ten seconds it takes, leaving us a rating on iTunes is a great way to help others find Scriptnotes. Thanks!


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 1-15-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Weekend Read, for your consideration

weekend read iconWeekend Read, our app for reading screenplays on the iPhone, now features scripts from 21 of this year’s award contenders.

  • A Most Violent Year
  • Belle
  • Big Eyes
  • Birdman
  • Boxtrolls
  • Boyhood
  • Calvary
  • Dear White People
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Foxcatcher
  • The Gambler
  • Get On Up
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Into the Woods
  • Kill the Messenger
  • Locke
  • Love Is Strange
  • St. Vincent (de Van Nuys)
  • Still Alice
  • Unbroken
  • Whiplash

Weekend Read doesn’t host any of these files; we’re always linking to the official PDFs hosted on studio websites. In most cases, those scripts work great, but there are exceptions.

This year, the troublesome scripts are Gone Girl, The Imitation Game and Theory of Everything. Weekend Read 1.0.8 — in review now at Apple — handles these screenplays fine. It should be out later this week.

Weekend Read is free, with a paid upgrade option to increase your library storage.

Doing, not thinking

Scriptnotes: Ep. 178

John and Craig start the new year by discussing Chuck Palahniuk’s advice to avoid thinking verbs. Then it’s a new round of the Three Page Challenge.

We also do follow-up on the Sony hack.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 1-8-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Don’t use “thought” verbs

I love Chuck Palahniuk’s advice to writers:

From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

Palahniuk argues that every time you use one of these verbs, you’re robbing yourself of the chance to describe something fully — to show rather than tell.

For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take..”

A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

In screenwriting, we’re already forced to do a lot of this self-restriction, since we can’t directly state characters’ inner lives. And Palahniuk’s absolutism isn’t always suited for screenplays; there will be times when a parenthetical (realizing) is exactly what you need.

Still: it’s great advice.