The Automatic Gate

As a screenwriter, I’m always looking for ticking clocks to increase the tension in a story. One of my favorite sub-tropes is the Automatic Gate.

No matter what you do, it’s going to shut, and you’re either in or you’re out.

maze runner gif

At noon Friday LA time, Kickstarter’s automatic gate will slam shut on One Hit Kill. The backers will be inside, and the rest of the world will need to wait.

I think part of the appeal of Kickstarter is that it’s an Automatic Gate at heart. From the moment I launched the campaign, there was nothing I could do to speed up or slow down the closing gate. The deadline really is a deadline, and nothing can stop it.1

We’re more than triple funded, and will be shipping OHK to backers in September. Some will see it a lot sooner at playtests.2 Everyone else will need to wait.

If you want to get it on One Hit Kill, and you want it in September, now’s the last chance. The clock on the Kickstarter page is literally counting down.

ks last day

In just a few hours, it’s One Hit Kill or squish.

  1. One of my favorite Automatic Gates comes in The Abyss, where (mild spoiler) Ed Harris’s ring does in fact stop the gate. But I couldn’t find a good gif for that.
  2. We’re always looking for great playtest venues, so by all means reach out if you have a spot.

The 200th Episode Live Show

Scriptnotes: Ep. 200

Craig, John, and Aline record the 200th episode of Scriptnotes live with a worldwide audience listening in — and chiming in — as they discuss TV showrunning and whether quality really counts at the box office.

Then it’s time for listener questions, ranging from presidential plagiarism to locked drafts.

Hard to believe it’s been 200 episodes. We wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks to all our listeners, both for the live feed and all the weeks that came before.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 6-5-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Go ahead and send happy support emails

Most of the support emails we get are about problems. Something isn’t working right, or is confusing, and a customer needs help.

Roughly once a week, we’ll get a support email that is, well, supportive. So I thought I’d single two of them them out, both to thank the users who took the time to write them and encourage everyone to tell developers when things are great.

Nabeel wrote in about Weekend Read:

Hey just wanted to say I love your app. I read tons of screenplays and I was actually looking to re-download Final Draft Writer (what I bought an iPad for!) and your app also popped up alongside.

I took a look and it was apparent that you guys have provided a solution to a problem I never realized I had: I hate reading screenplays in iBooks on the iPad! Keep it up guys.

Btw, will you also provide a Mac version in the future?

Thank you, Nabeel!

We originally had plans for a Mac app called Weekend Read Assistant, which was designed to help load scripts onto your devices. With rise of iCloud Drive, that’s become much less necessary. You can simply drag scripts into the Weekend Read folder to automatically push them to all your devices.1

folder screenshot

Sam wrote in about Highland:

I’m sure you get this suggestion a million times a day, but I’ll still add my voice to the mix: Highland is a phenomenal app, and I would love to see an iPad version. I love that I can use any text editor to write something up in Fountain, but: A. Highland is just beautiful, and B. If I could easily sync between an iPad and a Mac, I’d consider that pretty dandy.

Anyway, I know you probably hear that a lot, so I’ll at least leave you with this: you make a great app. A lot of stuff came up in my life that made me drift away from film for several years, but I’m finally coming back and trying to create something, and Highland has made it a real joy to re-immerse myself in doing creative work (and an affordable joy, at that).

Thanks for your wonderful app.

Thank you, Sam!

We actually have Highland for iPad. It’s on my device right now.

We’ve had a working prototype of the app for more than a year. But the distance between an app that functions and one we’d be happy to ship is much greater than you’d imagine.

A huge part of that is expectation. Does Highland for iPad need to be able to do everything the Mac version does? Should it print? Should it email from within the app? Where should its files live? Does it use iCloud Drive?

My least favorite thing about the otherwise-terrific Ulysses apps is how files often fall out of sync — and it’s a much simpler text-editing app than Highland.

I also wonder if there’s enough money to be made on an iPad app. It’s hard to get real dollar figures on categories within the App Store, but my hunch is that by the time you get into the teens and twenties of the top-grossing productivity apps for iPad, you’re not seeing any real income.

So instead of an iPad version of Highland, we’re working on the next Mac version. That’s what I’m typing this in right now. We have no ETA, but I think you’re going to love it.

In the meantime, if you love an app — one of ours or someone else’s — I’d encourage you to take the time to tell the developer. In our case, every support email gets Slacked to the whole team, and we love virtual high-fives.

We also get notices for every app review. Leaving a positive review for Highland or Weekend Read or Bronson Watermarker lets us know you’re enjoying the app, and lets other App Store users know the app has fans.

  1. Nima Yousefi will hate that I said “automatically” because the process of getting scripts to sync is witchcraft that nearly killed him.

8 Common Mistakes Made by New Screenwriters

B.J. Novak is all about lists. He asked me to write this one about issues I frequently see in scripts written by beginning screenwriters.

1. Starting with a concept rather than a character
We don’t want a movie about a lost relic. We want a movie about Indiana Jones.

2. Being too nice to the heroes
I’m glad you love them. Now make them do something and suffer.

3. Trying to adapt their favorite book
It will only end in tears, because the thing that makes the book so great is probably not what would make a great movie. Adaptation is more like transmutation. It’s arcana narrative distillery. It’s not a great place to start your screenwriting journey.

4. Stock scenes
Hitting the alarm clock. Complicated Starbucks orders. Harried mom making breakfast. Parents at the principal’s office. Guys watching the football game.

You may think a stock scene will help shorthand the hero or world, but it just makes the reader stop paying attention. Unless you’re presenting a clever parody/inversion of a stock scene, you’re better off doing anything else.

5. D&D scene description
“This small bedroom has a twin bed, a bookshelf and a desk. There are two lamps, both lit.”

6. Characters with confusingly similar names
Wait, was Lucy or Lisa the girl in the museum?

7. Shoe leather
You rarely need to walk characters into and out of a scene. Most scenes can just be the heart of the idea and done. No doors, no hellos, no goodbyes.

8. Starting off in Final Draft
This isn’t even because of my frustrations with Final Draft as an app. It’s more about process.

If you were writing a song, you wouldn’t sit down with Finale and start dragging in notes. You would use a guitar or piano and start figuring out a melody. You would futz around until you had something you thought was good, and then finally jot it down. You wouldn’t make tidy sheet music until you were ready to show it to someone.

Scenes are like songs. They shouldn’t be made pretty until they are good.

Full disclosure: My company makes Highland, which follows my theory that words should come first. But pen and paper are completely non-proprietary, and another great way to start.

Saving water and power

Every month, my husband logs information from our utility bills into a spreadsheet. Comparing the past 12 months to the same 12 months in 2005, we used:

• 40% less water
• 46% less natural gas
• 75% less electricity (from the grid)

Bragging about efficiency plays into the worst stereotypes of California: smug, self-righteous and self-congratulatory. Yet conspicuous underconsumption has actual benefits, both to the individual and society. You’re showing what’s possible, and helping to nudge trend lines and public policy in the right direction.

So here’s how we did it. We didn’t do it all at once, and we didn’t do it all right. But if it helps provide some inspiration, it’s probably worth sharing.


Seven years ago, we added solar panels, which provide the bulk of our electricity. During daylight hours, we sell power back to the utility.

While battery technologies like Tesla’s Powerwall might one day become common, for now most residential solar works like ours. Beyond permit hassles when we first installed it, selling back to the grid has worked out well.

We’re paying less than a dollar a day for electricity, and that includes charging our primary car, a Nissan Leaf.

In addition to generating power, we’re also using less wherever possible. We have almost entirely LED lighting, including outdoor lights. Lighting only accounts for 14% of total residential electricity consumption, so while it’s important, it’s not the only thing to look at. For example, we got a variable-speed pool pump, which uses 80% less electricity than a single-speed version. With rebates, the new pump paid for itself in the first year.

In colder climates, thermostats are mostly for controlling heat, but they also regulate air conditioning in the summer. We switched to Nest thermostats, which include an Airwave feature that makes smarter use of the compressor coils.

Water and Gas

We moved to a more-efficient hot water heater with a circulator pump, which gets hot water to the tap faster, sending less down the drain. We use solar to heat the pool.

Because we live in California, we’re always mindful of the drought. Our water use is down 25% from last year. We had already switched to native landscaping, so most of the savings this past year probably came from better sprinkler timers that use an iPhone app. (We have the Rachio.)

Could we push our consumption of water and power lower? Maybe, but to do so, we’d need to able to identify where we’re using utilities in a much more granular, real-time way.

We still don’t have a smart meter. We don’t have anything like Google Analytics for amps and gallons. Without that kind of information, it’s hard to know what areas are really worth our attention.

So we’re left guessing, and relying on other people’s experience. That’s mostly why I’m blogging what we’ve done. If you have suggestions for great ways to do more, hit me up on Twitter.

The 200th Episode Live Feed

scriptnotes is on Mixlr

On Wednesday, May 27th at 8pm LA time we recorded the 200th episode of Scriptnotes. It was a live show, but recorded at the office rather than a theater.

Aline and Craig were here in person, along with 1.5 glasses of wine each. We had the whole internet — or at least several hundred people — listening to the live feed. We answered questions and suffered through some robot voice issues. Thanks to everyone who came.

We’ll have the episode up on Tuesday as usual.