Only haters hate rom-coms

Scriptnotes: Ep. 225

John and Craig talk romantic comedies with screenwriter Tess Morris, whose film Man Up is unapologetically part of the genre.

We discuss what distinguishes rom-coms from other comedies, and why they get singled out for disdain and death-of articles.

Also this week: Amazon Storywriter, overused dicks, and follow-up on Whiplash.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 11-27-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Whiplash, on paper and on screen

Scriptnotes: Ep. 224

John and Craig take an in-depth look at two scenes in Damien Chazelle’s WHIPLASH to see how conflicts were structured — and what changed from script to shooting.

In follow-up, we discuss the myth vs. reality of Zola, and what we mean by a character having agency.

We’re having a live holiday show in Los Angeles! It’s December 9th in Hollywood, with special guests Riki Lindhome, Natasha Leggero and Malcolm Spellman. Tickets will sell out, so be sure to click the links below.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 11-20-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Confusing, Unlikable and On-The-Nose

Scriptnotes: Ep. 223

John and Craig look at some of the least helpful notes screenwriters receive, and strategies for dealing with them.

Then it’s a look at novelists who adapt their own books into screenplays, and the pros and cons involved.

In the premium feed over at, you’ll find two bonus episodes: the live Three Page Challenge from Austin 2015, and my interview with The Martian screenwriter Drew Goddard for the Writers Guild Foundation.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 11-13-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Live from Austin 2015

Scriptnotes: Ep. 222

Craig and John return to the Austin Film Festival for a supersize live show with guests Nicole Perlman and Steve Zissis.

We talk with Nicole about what’s changed in her life after the breakout success of Guardians of the Galaxy, and how she juggles multiple projects.

Steve Zissis tells us how he transitioned from waiter to co-creator of HBO’s Togetherness, and the unusual origin of the show.

Then all four of us play How Would This Be a Movie, looking at #Zola’s adventure, the runaway blimp and the lonely death of George Bell.

Plus audience questions!

Our thanks to the Austin Film Festival for hosting us, and our terrific audience.

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 11-6-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Nobody Knows Anything (including what this quote means)

Scriptnotes: Ep. 221

Craig and John get to the bottom of William Goldman’s famous quotation about Hollywood, which is so often misapplied. Then it’s a discussion of zombie cars, wind-tunnels, blockbusters, and the paradox of choice.

Finally, we look at the intersection of luck and talent behind a screenwriter’s career, and why struggle isn’t a useful yardstick for much of anything.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 10-28-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Formatting a montage in Highland using Forced Action

A friend was writing a montage today and couldn’t figure out how to get quite the formatting he wanted in Highland:

If I’m moving quickly in a sequence I’ll frequently write IN THE GARAGE or BACK OUTSIDE or instead of a whole slug line. I want action to go on the next line, with no blank line in between.

The problem is, it’s interpreting this as a character name, and formats it as such, and the action beneath it as dialogue.

He wrote something like this: forced action screenshot In Fountain syntax, that looks like three blocks of dialogue, so Highland was giving him this:


B.A. works on the van.


Hannibal and Murdock rig the gatling gun.


Face works on his old man makeup.

Fortunately, Fountain has ways to override defaults. In this case, the easiest way to get his desired format would be to force those intermediary sluglines (“IN THE GARAGE,” “OUT BACK,” etc.) to be treated as action.

To do that, start each of them with an exclamation point. forced action screenshot 2 That keeps Highland from interpreting the uppercase lines as character names, leaving the lines neatly stacked up, just like my friend wanted.

In most cases, you’ll never need to do this, because you’ll generally want the blank line after the “IN THE GARAGE” or “OUT BACK.” Leaving a little more white space on the page helps the reader understand that you’re moving between multiple locations.

Here’s an example from Ted Griffin’s Ocean 11 screenplay:

And during the above rant by Benedict, we view...


now empty, Livingston’s monitors still displaying the masked men in the vault.


navigating the streets of Las Vegas.


tailing the van, security goons piled into each, and maybe we NOTICE (or maybe not) the Rolls-Royce tailing them.


pacing in Benedict’s suite, biting her nails, debating whether to blow the whistle on Danny. ON TV: a newscast of the contentious aftermath of the prize fight.


bound and unarmed, unconscious to the activity within the vault.


opened and unmanned.


listens -- the line has gone dead. He hangs up.

The forced action trick can be useful in other cases where you want to override default behavior.

Perhaps you have a time bomb, and you’re using ellipses to indicate the countdown. You write:


Highland reads that third tick as a forced scene header, because it starts with a single period. But you can force it back to action with an exclamation point:


Both Highland and Fountain are sophisticated enough to catch most edge cases, but we’re always finding new situations in which writers are trying to do something that doesn’t quite match expected behavior. And that’s okay! The screenplay format is a set of shared assumptions, not a straightjacket. If you really need to include something unusual, do it.1

You can find all of the possible forced elements in the Syntax section of, most of which are supported by the popular apps. (Forced Action wasn’t part of the original spec, so some early apps haven’t included it yet.)

As always, you can find Highland on the Mac App Store.

  1. Both Fountain and Highland support extended character sets, including emoji. Final Draft doesn’t.