Which apps are screenwriters using?

We had 57 entries for the Three Page Challenge we’re conducting on May 15th.

I wondered which apps these screenwriters were using, so I checked the metadata for each file.1

App # of Entries % of Total
Final Draft 8 18 32%
(unclear)2 7 12%
Fade In 7 12%
Final Draft (Windows) 6 11%
Slugline 5 9%
Final Draft 9 4 7%
Screenwriter 3 5%
Celtx 2 4%
Final Draft 7 2 4%
Highland 1 2%
TextEdit 1 2%
Word 1 2%
Total 57 100%

Adding up its various incarnations, we find that Final Draft created just over half the entries. That’s about what I would have expected.

But I find it interesting that so many users have stuck with Final Draft 8, rather than version 9. There are still holdouts with version 7 as well.

I was happy to see six dedicated screenwriting apps (Final Draft, Fade In, Slugline, Screenwriter, Celtx and Highland) among the entrants. I didn’t find any Adobe Story or WriterDuet scripts.3

Writers submitting to the Three Page Challenge are, almost by definition, listeners to the Scriptnotes podcast, in which we’ve discussed Final Draft, Fade In, Slugline and Highland among other apps. I wonder to what degree that has influenced their choices.

Three Page Challengers are also generally aspiring screenwriters, rather than working pros. To me, that makes entrants more likely have recently purchased software (or web-based subscription services) than established writers, who tend to stick with what they know.

The online submission for Three Page Challenges worked well enough that we’ll keep using some version of it. In the next incarnation, we’ll ask upon submission which app the writer used.

  1. Mac Nerds: After a lot of Googling, I couldn’t find a way to display creator information for each file in a folder; I had to do them one-by-one using Finder’s Get Info. If you have a command-line trick for this, I’d love to know it.
  2. The (unclear) category is for PDFs that don’t have a recognizable creator. For example, some PDFs show up as being from Preview on the Mac, which is primarily a reader but can be used to paste together multiple files.
  3. If you submitted a script written in Adobe Story or WriterDuet, let me know and I’ll amend the figures.

The ruins of Spectre

Kelly Kazek looks at what became of Spectre:

Spectre was a “town” built as a set for the filming of the movie “Big Fish,” which premiered in December 2003 but had its wide release 10 years ago, in January 2004. With the exception of one scene in Paris, the entire movie was filmed in Alabama, a rarity in a time before the state offered film incentives.

The road and fake trees leading into the town of Spectre, and the buildings, mostly just facades, were never demolished but were left to the elements.

We shot Big Fish primarily in Wetumpka, Alabama. The town of Spectre was constructed on a privately-owned island.

In the film, you see Spectre in three incarnations:

  • The magical little town young Edward encounters at the start of the film.
  • The rundown early-80s version after the road is build.
  • The fixed-up version after Edward gets everyone to sign on to a trust.

We shot the rundown version last, so that’s what remains on the island: the ruins of the ruins.

Spectre doesn’t exist in the musical version of Big Fish. Instead, Edward’s home town of Ashton plays a much bigger role, ultimately becoming the town he needs to save at the end.

Several years ago, Derek Frey (Tim Burton’s assistant for Big Fish) visited the Spectre sets to see how they were holding up. You can see his photos on Flickr.


Voting for the Three Page Challenge

At the live Scriptnotes show on May 15th, we’ll be conducting a Three Page Challenge with special guest judge Susannah Grant.

Tuesday was the deadline for entering. All of the entries are now available for reading, both on Weekend Read and here.

Once you’ve had a look, vote for your favorite(s) — you can choose up to three entries you’d like us to discuss on the 15th. We will probably only have time for two three-pagers on the live show, but I wanted voters to be able to support more than just one entry.

Should you vote for the best written entry, or the one that needs the most constructive criticism? Your call.

Voting is open now, and runs through noon on Wednesday, May 14th.


On error messages

Brent Simmons has straightforward advice on error messages:

They should be of the form “Can’t x because of y.”

A similar form is this: “Noun can’t x because y.” (As in “‘Downloaded.app’ can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer.”)

Badly-written dialog boxes make me lose faith in an app very quickly. Here’s Final Draft 9 when you hit Next on the last element in the Reformat box.

dialog box

Oh. Okay.

It has the icon for “important warning,” but it’s nothing I need to be warned about. We’ve reached the end of the document. That’s all.

Rather than making you close a new dialog box, the app could place a notification within the Reformat box itself.

Or better yet, do nothing. If you’re at the top of a script and hit Previous, FD9 doesn’t give you any warning. This feels like the better behavior, because you can see where you are anyway.

Simmons also warns against pronouns:

One thing error messages never say is sorry. They’re just reporting, and they respect you enough to know you want the facts, clearly expressed, and don’t need to be apologized-to by a machine.

Also: they rarely (if ever) use the words I, me, my, you, and your.

Here’s Final Draft 9 again:

dialog waring

A better way to phrase it might be:

Can’t delete across a page break because pages are locked.

Getting rid of the pronoun subtly changes the tone: “It’s not your fault, it’s just how things are.”


How to Write a Photoplay

Today’s one awesome thing comes from the Internet Archive: Herbert Case Hoagland’s 1912 book How to Write a Photoplay:

To write a photoplay requires no skill as a writer, but it does require a “constructionist.” It requires the ability to grasp an idea and graft (please use in the botanical sense) a series of causes on the front end of it and a series of consequences on the other end. An idea so grafted will surely bear fruit; and to learn the art of this sort of mental horticulture it is necessary first to understand, in a general way, how motion pictures are made and what is done in the studio, in the field and in the factory. Let us learn something of these things and begin at the beginning—in the office of the Scenario Editor.

The photoplay was the precursor to the screenplay. It’s essentially a list of scenes, designed for silent films. Without dialogue, it can be challenging to establish the relationships between characters:

The scenario writer must bear in mind that the first thing to do is to introduce his characters on the screen in a way that almost immediately determines their position in, and relationship to, the story. Many photoplays are failures because a proper beginning has not been arranged.

If, for example, the scene opens in a young woman’s home and her lover is coming to see her, the fact that he is her lover and not her brother or husband should be clearly shown in the action, and the action of the play is the thing to write.

Scene geography and narrative sequence are extremely important. So are hats.

If a man is to go from a room in one house to a room in another, there should be a scene showing him entering the second house, but it is unnecessary to have him leaving the first because in the first room he can be made to catch up his coat and hat and exit. Obviously he is going out, and when one sees him on the street and entering the second house the entire thought is conveyed to the spectator.

The question may arise, if his action of putting on his hat and coat suggests leaving the house, why his entering another room and removing them doesn’t mean the reverse. The answer is simple—because he may have simply gone into another room in his own house and the man in the theatre seat wonders, “Why, in thunder, did he put his hat and coat on to go along the hall or just from room to room.” Seems farfetched, but it isn’t. The spectator asks just such questions.

Hoagland’s scenario writers are now called screenwriters, but many of the issues remain the same.

Revising is the hardest part of a writer’s work. The first copy flows from the inspired pen like the proverbial water from a duck’s back and under the influence of watching the story grow the writer finds incentive to continue, but oh! the drudgery of rewriting and revising. Inclination may writhe and squirm and plead to go away and leave the work undone, but Determination must grab Inclination and club it into submission if the writer ever expects to flirt with the elusive Goddess of Success. Revision is imperative. All the big fellows in the literary world do it. Only by careful rewording and rewriting can any production of this nature be flawless. A good way to do this is to read your scenario aloud to members of the family or to friends; better still is it to have some one read it to you that you may hear the words with another’s intonation and vocal shades.

Hoagland’s book has a list of all the major motion picture studios, few of which exist today. But his warning sounds familiar:

Don’t send Biblical stories to a manufacturer who makes a specialty of western stuff. Study the needs of the firms producing pictures and direct your scenarios accordingly. On another page the class of story most sought for by the different studios is touched upon, and ambitious writers cannot do better than to subscribe to The Moving Picture World or some other trade paper and carefully study the comments on the films as they appear week by week.”

You can read the whole thing here.


Wait for it

Robin Sloan wonders whether all-at-once seasons like House of Cards work against shows by denying viewers the joy of anticipation:

If Game of Thrones was delivered all at once, I’d scrub right past [the opening title] sequence, as beautiful as it is. But thanks to that wait, that week eternal between episodes, I watch the clockwork castles every time. I savor them. You can pick your metaphor: appetizer, foreplay, warm-up act. We like those things, all of them! They all enhance the main event, even as they delay it.

Delay, withhold, restrict, release: This is storytelling 101, Scheherazade stuff, and it’s deeper than marketing and distribution. We bring all of our creative talents to bear on matters of plot and character; the anticipation that precedes and interpenetrates a story deserves no less. More than ever, the shape of a season can be designed and managed. More than ever, anticipation can be art-directed.

When Craig and I discussed True Detective on the podcast, I argued that much of its popular success came from the build-up each week. Without it, the series might have become merely Really Good rather than Must See.